Its been awhile since I have blogged for the Pittie Committee, and partly because I haven’t had that “light bulb moment” as far as what is great topic to write about. Believe me, my brain is always going 90 miles a minute, we have big plans and awesome things happening in the background. But, what about the blog? I apologize because it has been lacking!
In many of my interactions the last few months, I have noticed some things; People always know my dog better than I do. Dog folks are a friendly bunch who typically don’t have the kind of personal boundaries that “cat people” do or people without pets. My mother pointed out recently, my animals amuse me to no end. (and truly, they amuse me quite easily.) Non-pet people find that odd. I find that the best part of my day, every day.
Let’s talk about these 1 at a time. “People always know my dog better than I do.” You can tell there is sarcasm dripping from that statement, right? In a recent interaction while I was at PetCo, an ECPC member and a recent rescue she adopted were there to start training classes together. A young girl asked her dad if he would put her down as she wiggled to get to the floor to come pet the beautiful doggie. Dog and Dog Mom were both a little nervous as the little person bounced and moved toward the cautious dog. Mom had the dog’s leash firmly in her hand while the Jessica (ECPC board member and dog trainer at PetCo) and I stood there observing. The adorable little person did exactly what most people do and she went over the top of the weary dog and started patting and petting her on top of her head. Jessica and I breathed a heavy sigh and Jessica instructed her to pet the doggie on her shoulder or her chest because she didn’t much like being pet on the top of the head. At this point the dog, being a super fantastic dog, and tolerating a position she both wanted to be in to get the attention, and really didn’t want to be in because it made her uncomfortable, tolerated this little person so well. Although she was nervous and took a slightly cautious body posture, Jessica moved in to ensure proper interactions with little person and dog. To which the little person’s father commented “wow, if you can’t pet her on the head, she must be a really skittish dog.” Jessica and I both tried to explain that the action of coming over the top of the dog, who doesn’t know you and isn’t comfortable with you, can be incredibly unnerving for the dog. Some dogs just don’t like when people come over the top of them. To which he responded, as many people do, explaining how many dogs he’s had in his life and how he’s never been around a dog that doesn’t like to be touched that way, and there must be something wrong with the dog in front of us if she doesn’t like that. I tried to engage with him while Jessica engaged with the dog and the child on the floor. Mom had a good hold of the leash and was ready to leave the situation if it escalated for any reason. Jessica had to remind the little person a few times to not go over the dog’s head and to pet her on her side or chest. Meanwhile, he told us about how he can’t afford a dog because people charge too much for just a puppy. As usual, we were in full “teachy” mode. We discussed spaying and/or neutering. To which he wrinkled his nose and said that he didn’t think that was necessary. We discussed proper nutrition and vaccinations. He said that he can do all of the necessary vaccines so he doesn’t need a vet. I reminded him of Rabies, which by law has to be administered by a vet in our state, to which he replied that PetCo does the vaccination clinics periodically so the vet could do that one for cheap. All the while Little Person is interacting with the dog, and really being a pretty darn good little person. And the dog is being a super fantastic dog, but kids and dogs should always be actively supervised.
When I say “people know my dog better than I do” in this instance it wasn’t my dog, but this guy had all the answers. He’s been around a LOT of dogs, he has had (insert ridiculous # of dogs here) in his lifetime and he knows that dogs like to be pet that way and all dogs like children so there must be something “wrong” with this dog if she was “skittish”. Jessica finally used the “well, she’s a rescue” line. To which he went “Oh, so she was treated pretty badly, then.” *facepalm* nope, not necessarily. We don’t know that. But, if that’s what it takes to keep people from invading your dog’s space… then use it (but please also educate. Rescue doesn’t mean abused, broken, aggressive, etc.). Also, equally acceptable by most people is “we’re training right now, I need him/her to focus, it’s not a good time. Thank you, though”. People tend to be more respectful of our bubbles sometimes than our pet’s bubbles, and occasionally I will pull my dog into my bubble. I mean… WAY in to my bubble. I have been known to put my dog in a down and then stand with them in between my feet, or have them sit or lay as close to me as they can get. It’s just easier to protect their bubble that way.
I also love it when people look at my dog(s) and tell me what their personality(ies) must be like. Not that long ago, a co-worker said to me, (in reference to being around her dog, who she states is very territorial and (I am quoting here) “quite vicious” about people being in her yard) “But you have pit bulls so you will totally be ok.” As in, I have pit bulls so my dogs must be vicious and need to be pulled apart? I am somehow immune to aggressive dogs? My dogs want to disembowel the mailman? My dogs try to tear apart the fence when someone comes over? I have to muzzle them and separate them from people and other dogs? No. Just No. To all of the above. I put my dogs away when company comes over because they get too excited when they are in a pack and there are new people. They lose their ability to have impulse control in a group. They jump, they lick, they compete for attention. Most people don’t appreciate 375# of dog and 16 legs, 4 noses, 8 eyes, 8 ears, 4 tongues all up in their personal space. I don’t put them away because I can’t trust them to be “nice” around company. I just get that most don’t appreciate them in the same way I do. And, honestly, most don’t read them in the same way or exhibit the same type of energy and body language with them that I do. They are, after all, my dogs (even the one who isn’t). I should be able to read them better than most. I know that she didn’t necessarily mean anything derogatory by her comment. She said it as a reflex, without thinking of the implications behind the words. So many people do. With the portrayal of Pit Bulls in media, movies, TV shows, magazines, etc., the general public says things like “you’ve been around pit bulls, so you know (*implication of vicious or aggressive dog tendencies)” or “It’s all how they’re raised. If you raise them right, any dog is a good dog” (I don’t completely disagree with that statement, but if that were the complete truth, dogs that have aged, are sick, have had transitions in their lives, have had to be rehomed, etc. would never, ever bite… because they were raised “right”. Also, if that were the case, any dog that was mistreated at any point during their lives and especially between puppyhood and 5 years old would never be able to be trusted as a solid pack member or family member. It’s just not truth.)
For those of us who hear those things regularly, they grate at us. We know that no matter our dogs’ backgrounds we have a pretty darn good idea of what they are like, and hopefully we all understand that ALL animals with teeth and a heartbeat are capable of biting under certain circumstances. It’s a matter of being able to read my dogs, understand their personalities, not put them in a position where I set them up to fail, and remove them from uncomfortable situations before they feel the need to take control of a situation themselves. I have made a promise to my dogs with my expectations of them; “I will handle it. Period. Non-negotiable. When I tell you to back down, you back down. When I say I will take care of you and of the situation, I mean I will take care of you and the situation.” Sometimes there are sneaky moments where one of my dogs in particular thinks he is in charge and tries to act that way, even with me. Seriously, have you ever had a dog “talk back” to you? Tell him to do something and have him take 2 steps back and “woof” at you in defiance? It’s like a 2-year-old calling you a dirty name and telling you no! Its infuriating. (and hilarious all at the same time.) Now, you have to keep a straight face and follow through with your expectation of them or they, like a 2-year-old, figure out really quick that the defiance got them what they wanted. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that snowball rolling downhill. I have 2 dogs with big toothy smiles, strong jaws, muscular builds and square heads. The kind people run away from and I will never truly understand why. They are already “judged” before they act (even by people who don’t necessarily have a negative view of pit bulls), I don’t need them proving ANY of that perception true. They need to be little, furry gentlemen. I intend to see to it that they are to the best of my Dog Mom ability.
Have you ever noticed that “cat people” have a tendency to be more aware of other people’s personal space (and other animals’ personal space) whereas, dog people are inclined to sometimes be a little bit more of the “close talker” on occasion? This is something we have to address regularly at pack walks. Cat people seem to know that people don’t always want to share their space, but dog people with excited or overly friendly dogs can sometimes be oblivious to the fact that not everyone wants to share space, including other dogs. Picture if you will… a dog who is a little uncomfortable with the surroundings. This might be his first pack walk, he might not be socialized, she may be a rescue with a traumatic background that no one knows anything about. He might just be a dog who prefers his own company to the company of other dogs. Along comes Suzy being drug down the trail by Bounder the “close talker” who is SOOO FREAKING HAPPY to see new friends! “Strangers are just a friend I haven’t met yet!! Hi! Who are you? Are you new here? Is that your mom? Do you like to drink from the toilet? I think it’s awesome! Do you know those guys over there? They look AWESOME! Hi I’m Bounder. That’s what my mom calls me when she’s not calling me ‘No!’ or ‘Handsome’ or ‘Dammit Dog’. I don’t know what those mean but I think they’re my name, too. Do you like car rides? I think the car is the best! I run from window to window and bark at the wind. It’s the best! Hi! Hi! Hi. Hello. Hello. Hello. Look at all these peoples here. Do you think they all carry treats and poop bags like my mom? My mom’s the best. Have you met my mom? This is my mom…” Meanwhile, not so happy dog may not be amused by the antics of Super happy dog. “Hi, I’m Spot. Yes, I’m new here. (looks away in an attempt to get through to happy dog that he is not interested in a conversation. But happy dog is having NONE of it. So, he continues his overly-excited antics) Ugh, no the toilet is gross, dude. Mom… psst, Mom… can you make him go away (moves to Mom’s other side) ugh, dude… I just wanna be alone, ok? Mom… really? (mom takes 2 steps past Bounder’s leash boundary) sigh, thanks mom. Can we go now? I don’t want new friends. That’s way too much work if they’re all like that.” As a friend said to me recently, “that one came from the factory defective”. His point being, dogs are living creatures, when they don’t react the way others expect them to we are reminded that they are not “pre-programmed” to behave a certain way. We can’t buy a dog knowing what we are getting like we can with machines. Dogs, much like kids, have their very own little (sometimes not so little) personalities. We have to respect that, we have to acknowledge that “one size does not fit all” when considering things like training, socialization, appropriate interactions and supervisions. Every dog is different.
This is so incredibly important in ensuring appropriate and safe interactions between dogs (and people). I equate dogs to perpetual toddlers in most cases. “Where are you?” “you’re too quiet.” “What are you in to?” “no, you can’t go to the neighbors and help yourself to the burgers on the BBQ. Not appropriate.” “GET OUT OF THERE!” “Down.” “leave your brother alone!” “Why are you digging?” “What is in your mouth?! SPIT IT OUT!” (Come on now, people with kids… you know this sounds familiar, and people with kids and dogs, am I too far off the mark here?) In my assessment of perpetual toddlerhood for our dogs, that means a doggie lifetime of toddler-appropriate supervision. Uff-da. That sounds exhausting. Well, it can be. Which is why it’s so important to reinforce the good behaviors. Teach appropriate boundaries (for people and other dogs as well as property and leash).
With personal boundaries, all my dogs have different ideas. Trace is pretty good about maintaining his own bubble. He sits and waits. He reads other dogs pretty well. He isn’t overly eager to charge into another dog’s personal space, and although he doesn’t particularly LOVE dogs pushing their way into his personal bubble, he pretty well rolls with the punches. His body language is always sending mixed messages, so I am always cautious of his interactions in the beginning. He meets a new dog and almost immediately, it looks like this: Hackles up, tail soft and wagging (like crazy usually), back legs stiff and straight, front legs half play bow, ears up, nose sniffing like crazy and he has even been known to be licking his new friends. I’ve always told him he’s socially awkward and doesn’t send out the right signals to new friends. Hackles up, stiff legged is a bit off-putting sometimes. He’s so weird, but He’s never not met a “friend” that way. Then, there’s Target. He LAYS DOWN The boundary from the get go. “This is my mom. This is my brother. This is my fence, my yard, my leash and my circle. Everything I can reach is mine. If I let you in, it’s because I like you and you’ve passed the friend test. We can go to my yard after our walk. I will teach you how I catch bees, and how to ‘man-up’ when they sting you. I’ll teach you the secret paw shake later where no one can see us.” Target is my heart dog. Seriously, everything about this dog speaks straight to my heart. He is sensitive, and protective, and he knows me. But, I know him too and he has a bubble. One that not every dog or dog handler respects. When Mr. Protector is on the clock, I have to constantly keep him in check and remove him from overly social dogs or people who are oblivious to his body language, subtle and not so subtle. Because of those things, I don’t take him places as often as I would like to, or as he would like to. Its not because he is a bad dog, or uncontrollable. Quite the opposite. I choose to set my dogs up to succeed, so he doesn’t go to the dog park where I can’t control the interactions and especially the introductions. We don’t go off-leash in places where there may be other off-leash dogs. Controlling what I can about the situation allows me to create boundaries, both psychologically and physically. Its allows us all to remain as safe as possible (or at least as much as we can control and prepare for.
If you are anything like me, these faces bring the happy to your every day. I know they do to mine. Even on the days they frustrate me, make me question my sanity, and the amount of dog hair the vacuum can contain, they make me laugh, like down to my toes laugh. I am either easily amused, or dogs are really just that awesome.
I’m going to land on, “Dogs are really just that awesome.” And it seems there is something especially charming about a block head, a big smile and a goofy attitude. Burley has had a rough go of the last year, long story, but he has been a bit insecure. A little shy of men who look a certain way, and just sure that he needs to be touching me at all times. I forgot how carefree he used to be, until he wasn’t anymore. My goofy dog had suddenly become all business, and I didn’t notice, because I was all business most of the time too. We had to recreate boundaries around the house. He needed reassurance and consistency. He needed to know he didn’t get to push boundaries, and that life would all still be ok. When he started rolling in the grass again, throwing his own ball for himself again, finding his 5 foot vertical “hop” at the front door, cocking his head to the side, tongue hanging out around his giant tennis ball again… I realized I forgot how much fun this dog was. How much he made me laugh. How much he made me enjoy things, the little things. I started to watch my other boys, Target- The Fierce Hornet Slayer makes me laugh with his antics. Chasing bees with complete and total disregard to the fact that he looks like a goober. Trace is shameless. He steals the chair the second I move from it, promptly spreads out as much as he can and wills me to find a different seat. The back scratches in the grass. Trace’s need to have a “Throne” atop the outdoor table on the deck. Smiles, tail wags, hugs; it all makes my day. Some might say I need more time with humans vs dogs, but I disagree. My dogs keep me grounded. They remind me to enjoy the little things. They are a fabulous example of why life is good, no matter what. They keep me silly, they keep me sane, they keep me smiling.