Tell us about the nicest thing you’ve ever done.
Two things come immediately to mind when I reread this prompt. First is the mantra to be a ‘nice girl’ which just makes me shudder. Second is the thought that we use “nice” as a command for our dogs to do something gently – like take food from our fingers – it is about being gentle, restrained and well-mannered in a very specific situation so everyone is a winner. To some extent it is about being “good” but the dog isn’t being immoral when he snatches food from my hand, he’s being a dog who is hungry. But when I impose my expectation of nicely doing so – he not only gets the treat or bit of food, he also gets praise, so it’s in his best interest for me to enforce niceness.
Now, I was about to seguway into a deep analysis of the distinction between being “nice” and “kind” but I think I’ll stick with the dog component.
I get out some sort of delicious thing – usually meat. Two butts hit the floor with tails wagging and tongues drooling. One smaller butt wiggles in joy as the rest of her dances around. This is not exactly a controlled situation but all eyes are on me. I hold out the treat to the nearest dog. I remind him “Nice, Nice” and he licks my hand, knowing that as soon as I feel his tongue, he can have the treat. This works 99% of the time. If I feel his teeth scraping me skin, I immediately withdraw my hand and simultaneously put him back in a sit or a down. Repeat with the other dog or sometimes use both hands.
This is very useful now that I have some nerve impairment in my hands. I can still feel their tongues so it is a win/win for all of us.
But truth to be told – this is solely about behavior. If they behave appropriately, they will be rewarded. It is for everyone’s benefit. Nice carries no value judgment. If they are too aggressive or snappy, it doesn’t lessen their moral value. But learning how to exert some restraint and gentleness and heed humans is important for civility sake. When I give them a Kong stuffed with the same treat, I don’t make them lick it nicely. I enforce other behaviors, like not resource guarding and no Kongs on the couch.
The dog doesn’t lick my hand to be nice to me – he licks it to get the reward, both food and verbal. Other times, he licks me to convey something – but I think that’s more about kindness in a doggy way, licking me to remind me of our emotional bond.
I’m nice when I want to be civil. Nice is a behavior I use, a skill I use to manage social situations. When someone approaches me with the clear intent to air kiss, I’m nice even though I want to cringe and say “NO KISSING.” I’m nice when I want something. I’m nice when I want to avoid a scene. I’m nice when there’s a treat and I need to get it.
I’m kind because it is a value I cherish. I’m nice as a matter of necessity.