Then Kay took over. She placed the brick again in front of Phoebe. Phoebe approached the brick, about to repeat the behavior but got a click before she got there. Kay kept clicking on Phoebe's approach to the brick, rather than for the desired ultimate behavior. What was she shaping? The slant of her shoulders and shift of her weight. Kay was marking Phoebe's muscle movements so that when eventually she did place both paws on the brick she would already be balanced and in perfect position; Kay was polishing the behavior before it was established.
The Phoebe Chronicles
Clearly, Phoebe's comfort level with children, to the degree that she seeks them out and prefers their company to all but mine, is a gift from her mother. It's a part of "the inherited pack of traits," as her breeder Kay Laurence says, that could have been put to use gentling a lamb, but has been applied instead to coddling children.
One of my neighbors has a bumper sticker on her car that reads: Every mother is a working mother. I think I'll have one made up that reads: Family dogs are working dogs. McCaig and the expert in the park are right; Border collies are working dogs. That is precisely why I have chosen the breed for our family dogs. Of course they need training and an interesting, stimulating life. Every dog does. I provide that, and in return, rely on their intelligent, companionable usefulness to keep things running smoothly around here.
Last month, my family and I took our annual week on Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. We rent a barebones cottage and spend all day, every day at the beach. Our favorite stretch of shore has a big sign at the gate that says No Dogs, just above the sign that says No Nude Bathing. Both rules are enthusiastically ignored. Phoebe immediately made friends, human and canine, up and down the beach for a half-mile. Soon our daily arrival was greeted with calls of "Phoebe! Here, Phoebe!" from other families already settled under their umbrellas.
I've been fairly relaxed about letting Phoebe play at the park with any dog who comes along, confident in her ability to assess and respond appropriately. If she is able to tell another dog to back off, so much the better. I can bird watch and daydream while Phoebe manages the canine situation. Lately, however, her communication with a dog here and there, always some unknown, over-enthusiastic teenager, moves swiftly from merely a raised lip to raised hackles, fierce snarls, and bared-teeth snaps. "Dammit, you dope," I imagine her saying, "don't you speak DOG?!"