Normalizing

Rosie denying the evidence I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream when I came home the other day and found this.  Rosie had torn open a bag of plastic bags that was headed for recycling.  They were everywhere.

Rosie first crouched down as if waiting for the blow that never came.  I did express my dismay — not to her, but to the world in general.  Not yelling, just my patented (hah!) technique of dramatically expressing woe at normal speaking volume, said woe not directed at any perpetrator.

I’ve very good at sounding like one of Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegles: “Waily waily!  Bags on the floor!  Waily waily!”

But the perp always knows who’s really guilty.  Rosie would not look at me nor, after she sat up again, would she look at the mess.  She gazed fixedly out the door, as if no bags were there.  Or maybe as if she was simply bearing witness to someone else’s crime.  Perhaps she expected I’d believe one of the cats did it.  Or maybe some other dog.

No, none of those things.  I think it was a test she had devised for me, to see what I would do.

The good news is that Rosie was seeing if she was a bad dog.  On purpose.  Yes, that’s good news!  Tearing up a bag of plastic is such a normal (if unwanted) thing for a dog to do.  It makes me happy that Rosie feels comfortable enough to risk exploring what the rules are in this house.  Even I, dense human that I am, know that she can’t ask me in any other way other than by doing.

That’s the trick, isn’t it?  I can’t just tape a list to the refrigerator door.  I can’t expect her to try to learn if I punish her for exploring the boundaries, either.  I do expect her to notice my reactions and to remember them, though.  I expect her to not repeat the actions that elicited my reactions, and then — eventually — to understand the rule that governs that set of circumstances.  That sounds pretty complicated but dogs are good at figuring the rules out, as long as the human is consistent with respect to the actions governed by those rules.

Think of it as an inter-species game of charades.

One day Rosie picked up a slipper and marched across the room with it while I was sitting at the computer.  I removed it from her mouth and put it back.  She has not done exactly that again.  Instead, she next gathered all my shoes that were not in the closet and brought them to her bed by the door while I was out of the house.  When I returned and discovered the pile of shoes there I picked them up and put them back.

She did not chew on the shoes.  She just moved the shoes.  She hasn’t touched any shoes since.  So could she assume that the rule is don’t touch Lif’s shoes?

Maybe.  How could she be sure without testing?  So next was the plastic bags.  While there were some bits and pieces of plastic scattered around, I don’t think she was purposefully tearing them up as much as accidentally doing so as she pulled them out of the containing bag and separated them from each other.  And again, she did this right by her dog bed near the kitchen door — not by her other bed next to my own, but where I would see the crime the moment I came entered the house.  Again I expressed woe as I picked up the bags and then put them out of reach.

To me this was about Rosie asking questions and not about Rosie being a bad dog.  The questions aren’t like we would ask.  They’re more like hot and cold (a form of charades).  If I do this, how will Lif respond?  If I do more of this, what will she do?  What if I do this other thing, which is kind of like those first things but different?  

Because I’m not punishing her when I discover these things, Rosie is free to ask the questions in a way that makes sense to her.  I don’t mind people or critters asking questions.  Picking up a few shoes or plastic bags is not a hardship for me.  It’s a small thing in the bigger picture.  Rosie has only been here a few weeks and she’s trying to learn a whole bunch of rules all at once. Not only rules like going outside to pee and poop, or not messing with the cats.

Rosie is learning that Lif’s stuff is Lif’s stuff, not Rosie’s. Also, she’s learning that Lif is a safe human being to be around.  Maybe even a fun human, someone a dog relax around.  And I think most important of all, Rosie is learning to feel that this is her home — and as a resident she can ask questions without fear.

I say, ask away.

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Me & Rosie

photo of a person and a dog

Me & Rosie

This first week of me and Rosie has been full of ups and downs.  I lost my temper with her yesterday.  It didn’t involve hitting, but it involved anger and Rosie knew it.  My day wasn’t going well and Rosie was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I apologized for my outburst immediately.  But I felt like a shit for doing it.  She forgave me, but I’m not sure I can forgive myself.

What did she do?  I wanted to go for a walk.  She was reluctant, mostly because she’s unhappy on a leash.  She’ll come along but not enthusiastically.  I needed her to go on leash for the first part of the walk because we had to thread our way through cows.  I needed her to keep up and didn’t want a 40 lb dead weight on the end of that leash.

I yanked.  She cringed.  I yanked again and demanded that she come.  She cringed some more.  And then when I caught myself — when I realized I was the one being the jerk, not her — I had to make it right.  She watched closely as I reached into my pocket for a doggie treat, but when I bent over her to offer it she flattened herself to the ground.

She expected to be hit.

I don’t hit dogs, but how would she know that?  It was my fault, dammit.  I was in such a bad temper, though, that I could not continue on the walk with Rosie.  So I took the leash off, told her we were going back to the house, and she followed just fine.  She licked me when I sat down on the porch stairs to apologize.  I felt like an even bigger shit.

I have to remind myself that she’s had five years or so being treated one way, and I’ve had a week of my way.  There are no instant results when training critters of any kind, not unless there’s fear or pain involved.  I know that.  I just have to keep remembering that the memory of pain and fear is a very loud one.

Meanwhile, Tux and Lili and Rosie are working out a kind of detente.  I still don’t trust them alone with each other, but I’m talking to them a lot, asking them to get along.  Tux is still the king of outside, but inside he’s not in his own jurisdiction.  Lili and Rosie seem to be getting along okay — no love there yet, but they’re well into toleration.  Neither of them has any desire to share the house with Tux, but if Rosie is going to have access to the yard then everybody knows Tux will come inside.

Always the challenges.  But there are successes, too, or at least signs of progress.

Rosie occasionally chews on the dental bone (gotta deal with that tartar, don’t you know) but is flummoxed by the ball.  I bounce it and she watches it, but that’s all.  She’s still wary of the horses — and rightfully so — but is now willing to go near the horse pens.  She doesn’t pee in the house, doesn’t go in the garbage, and after being told only twice that the slippers were mine and not hers to chew, she left them alone.  In the evenings when it cools down, she gets a sudden burst of energy.  She drives me crazy pestering me for attention, licking whatever body parts of mine she can reach.  She does a kind of little dance when she sees Tux at the door.

And she barked yesterday.  I had run the neighbor’s cows off my property (I really need to fix the fence but that’s so low on the To Do list) but missed two calves that decided maybe they’d come into my yard instead of following the grownups.  Rosie barked at them, twice, before skedaddling back into the house.  The calves weren’t impressed with that bit of noise, but I was.

Rosie is claiming her space.  I like that very much because it means she’s feeling like she’s home.  Rosie is finding herself, but she won’t be able to leave her past behind just like that [snaps fingers].  Part of it is just time but mostly it’s on me.  Human-animal relationships aren’t about making the animal do things as much as the human controlling her own thoughts, feelings, and actions so that the animal can respond willingly.

The good news is that I’m trainable.  The better news is that I think Rosie has faith in me.

 

< Rosie, day 4 (visit to the vet)      Normalizing (learning rules) >

 

Rosie update – day 4

sleeping dog

Rosie napping after a visit to the vet
2019 Lif Strand photo

Just a quick report on Rosie’s veterinary visit today.

She was such a good girl!  She had to be helped up and down stairs — she seems to not have had to deal with them before in her life — but did not squirm or object to being lifted.  She spent a lot of time giving me, the vet, and his assistant kisses, and cooperated so nicely that Rosie earned a treat for her efforts.

Dr. Duncan said that most of her scabs are from fly irritation, and as he poked at them some scabs fell off so they are about healed.  The lump under her chin is a scar from an abscess, now healed, probably several months old.  She has several other old scars.  None of them appear to be from fighting.  What I thought was a hot spot on her foot is also an older scar, but she has been licking it and irritating it.  I’ve got to watch that so she doesn’t make it worse.

She got vaccinations including rabies.  Her heartworm test (done right there at Dr. Duncan’s mobile clinic) was negative (yay!).  He gave her a dewormer for regular worms, too.

Dr. Duncan looked at her teeth and said they’re in good shape other than a little tartar.  There’s some wearing of the incisors indicating she’s around 5 years old.  He could find no evidence of Rosie’s having been spayed, and in fact it looks like she’s coming into or going out of heat right now.  He thought she’s had at least one litter, possibly more.  I got the number of SNAP in Silver City, a place that helps out with the cost of spaying, so I’m going to give them a call.

As for what she is, breed-wise:  No guarantees, but she is more like an American Staffordshire Terrier than an American pit bull.  She’s more delicately built than a pit bull, with a less broad head and jaw.  Which is not to say that she couldn’t be pure pit bull, or a pit bull cross.  But I’m going to tell people she’s a Staffie and avoid the stigma attached to pit bull.

Rosie is sacked out now after such a stimulating day.  She deserves the rest, and when she wakes up there’s another yummy treat waiting for her.

[Edited to add info about SNAP:  They help low income people with spay and neutering, but the dog has to be brought to Silver City.  The participating vets there do surgery before they open in the a.m. so that would mean a 3 1/2 hour drive one way plus an overnight.  The cost for that would equal the savings in the cost of spay.  So much for that!]

< Rosie, day 2            Me & Rosie, one week >

Rosie Day 2

Rosie the dog sitting and looking at the camera 2019 Lif Strand photo

Just look – where is the big pit bull smile?  Rosie is too uncertain still, though she has smiled for me once or twice.

Yesterday was Rosie’s first full day with me. She was, of course, on her best behavior. Rescue/rehome dogs are like that – they tiptoe around, not knowing the rules and not wanting to get busted for breaking one.

Then they start getting more relaxed as they figure out that the new digs are safe. That’s when they start testing the boundaries, which is a way of zeroing in on the rules of the new place. Or sometimes it’s not so must testing as being clueless.  Today, day two of Rosie, is the day of clueless.

I’m pretty sure Rosie is not house-trained. If she lived in a backyard all the time, why would she be? Yesterday she was still too intimidated to test any rules or do much of anything at all except lay on her bed and look around. In the evening she tentatively checked out a radius of maybe twenty feet from her bed but hesitated to do more.

Knowing she might not tell me when she needed to go potty, yesterday I took her on walks every few hours. The last one was pretty late in the evening.  Didn’t matter.  This morning I woke up to find two pee puddles on the floor. One was right next to Lili Kitty’s litter box, so Rosie gets points for that. The other was near the kitchen door that she’d been in and out of, so she gets points for that, too.  She wasn’t sure it was okay but hey, the cat did it there, and the door she had gone out to pee was there…. I sprayed the spots thoroughly with enzyme spray (if you’ve got cats – especially males — you need that stuff) while she watched. But I didn’t say a word to her about it. I just did it and moved on to the next thing that needed doing in my house.

The thing about living with animals is that you have to learn to communicate. For most people communicate seems to mean that the critters have to learn to understand English. For me it doesn’t. For me it’s about body language, intent, and maybe a little bit of ESP.

Animals are masters at reading body language, which makes sense given that their verbal abilities are limited by physiology, if nothing else. Horses are so good at reading body language that some of them have become money-earners for their owners. A hundred years ago Clever Hans could do math problems, and a couple decades after him, Lady Wonder could not only type messages but read minds.

Read minds?

Except that it turned out both horses were just experts at reading human body language. When they were asked questions, the horses could give correct responses nearly 90% of the time when the questioner already knew the answers, but less than 10% of the time when the questioner had no idea — which is not to say that what the horses were doing was any less incredible. They could read body language whether or not the questioner intended them to, including when other human beings could perceive no cues at all.

Dogs can howl, bark, groan, whine, whimper, yip, grunt – but they don’t have spoken language like humans do. Humans can make the same noises dogs do, but humans don’t really know what the sounds mean. They’re just noises to us, not words.

A dog that hasn’t been asked to learn words, that is, a dog that hasn’t been trained, isn’t going to understand the meaning of any words at all. But they can get by just fine without it. They can read body language as well as a horse can.  Better than a human, too.

A rescue dog has way more incentive to be accurate in that reading than a dog that’s comfortable in its own home. I didn’t tell Rosie she was bad for peeing in the house because she would have no clue what the words mean.  While she might not be Border Collie smart, though, she’s smart enough to understand my tone of voice and my body language. I wasn’t happy when I sprayed the pee spots but I didn’t tell her that – I was careful to say nothing at all.  I didn’t have to. Just my having paid attention to her pee made her so nervous that for the next couple hours she cowered anytime I walked near her.

I ignored that, too.  I didn’t want to make a huge deal, I just wanted to make it as clear as I could that yes, there was something about peeing in the house that was different than eating, sleeping, and all the other things that go on in a house — but no more than that.  It was not a punishable offense.  Rosie was not a bad dog.

It was the same with how I wanted her to know that looking too intently at a cat in the house was a thing in itself, and that licking the hot spots on her paws is another  thing. There will eventually be a whole bunch of things that will be differentiated over time, but we’ve started with just these few.  These will become the words in the language that both Rosie and I understand.

Once she learns to differentiate between actions — to identify that there are differences — then those actions become units of understanding.  Meaningfulness, if you will.  After meaning comes learning whether actions are permissible or not.  And from that comes understanding of the rules.

So has Rosie become house-trained, just like that? Not likely!  At best Rosie knows that that there’s something going on.  If I’m lucky she’s already made the connection between peeing in those spots and me being unhappy. She doesn’t know what or why, not yet.  She’s still learning to trust that I won’t hurt her, that I will behave in predictable ways, and that I expect her to behave in certain ways, too.  She doesn’t know the ways, mind you. Heck, she doesn’t really know her name yet.

We don’t have communication established, not yet — but we’re getting there.  It’s early days still.

Oh, and about that ESP?  Next time.

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