In the service dog world, people often refer to a service dog handler and a service dog as a team. For instance, instead of saying, "Today I met another service dog handler and service dog," they will say, "Today I met another service dog team." I understood why they would use that word, or at least I thought I did, but before today, I wouldn't say I felt it myself. When I thought about my relationship with Isaac, there have been many different ways I might describe it, but teamwork wasn't one that came to mind.
Earlier today, I was throwing Isaac's Kong for him. We probably spend a good hour a day, or more, playing fetch with his Kong. Well, it bounced behind the Christmas tree. Isaac started to crawl under the tree to get it and the tree began to tilt dangerously and I thought the whole thing was going to come crashing down. I guess Isaac thought so, too, because he backed out from under the tree. And it didn't fall.
Isaac then looked back at me. It was as if he was saying, "Well, what am I supposed to do now?"
I love the way animals figure out how to communicate with us and we learn to communicate with them. I think they learn our language more than we learn theirs, at least in most cases. But it's interesting.
I remember once when I was visiting my sister, she was out somewhere and I was at her house alone, and her cat decided it was time for dinner. The cat very clearly announced to me that it was her dinner time and I should feed her right away. I didn't even know that cat very well but she got her point across.
And on Thanksgiving, when K's mom was walking Isaac for me, he managed to talk her into feeding him a whole extra meal. He's only seen her a few times before and yet, he was able to communicate with her. That's just fascinating to me.
Of course, Isaac and I know each other well by now. I can often tell what he's thinking. I know when he wants to go out, I know when he needs to poop, I know when he is thinking about taking off after a squirrel, I know when he is considering eating the cat's food.
So anyway. Today when he looked at me, looked at the Kong, and looked back at me, I knew he was asking what he should do. If I had told him to get the Kong, he would have gone back under the tree and retrieved his toy. I didn't tell him to do that, though, because I didn't not want his to knock the tree over and I didn't think he could get the Kong without toppling the tree.
Instead, I got up and walked over to the tree. I think he thought I was coming to rescue the Kong for him, which is what I do when it lands someplace he cannot get to it, like under the bed. I didn't want to get down on the floor, though, because I knew I would have a hard time getting back up. Instead, I held onto the tree to steady it and then told Isaac to get the Kong. He looked a little bit uncertain, like he wasn't sure I was going to keep the tree from falling, but decided to take my word for it and go get his Kong.
There is a point to this story.
I was reflecting on how well we had communicated with each other around this event. But it was more than just communication. Isaac wasn't sure how to get his Kong and he looked to me for an answer. I decided to hold the tree so it didn't tip over instead of getting the Kong for him and communicated that plan to Isaac. He had a moment of worry that the tree would fall, then decided to trust me to hold it. We were working as a team to solve the problem of the Kong under the tree.