Doggie Rehab — Part 9 — Insight

When we got home from the park, I crated Cricket and posted my angst over the whirling dervish episode on Facebook. I have awesome friends, many of whom own dogs, and received a lot of support and advice, which was exactly what I needed. The first couple of messages calmed me down enough to start thinking about why I’d ended up with a whirling dervish, and I figured it out.

Cricket was young and had lots of energy and a short attention span. She’d been cooped up in shelters for goodness knows how long, and I had to continue cooping her up. Partly because the spay required it. Partly because she had so much to learn that her life consisted of baby gates, crates, and drag lines. She was understandably itching to move. So she was fine at the park at first, because it was stimulating and new. My mistake was in sitting still once she stopped playing with the skunk. She wasn’t ready for a rest–she was bored with that spot. So me settling in with her was stepping on the brakes, while simultaneously hitting the accelerator. Confined to the spot, her energy built up and finally bubbled over into a whirling dervish.

If we’d walked to another area when she lost interest, I bet the meltdown would never have happened. But the meltdown was useful in that it gave me more insight into Cricket. Dogs, like people, are who they are. Sure, I could teach Cricket manners and boundaries and obedience. I didn’t need to accept a whirling dervish of a dog. But I did have to accept that her basic nature was one of high drive, and provide room for her to expend her energy and engage her curiosity.

This is the drawback of getting a mutt from a shelter, rather than a purebred dog from a reputable breeder. One of the big advantages of purebreds is that you pretty much know what you’re getting, if you do your homework and pick the breeder who has the sorts of dogs you want. Don’t want high intensity? Get a pug. Want an intense dog with a love of wrestling? Get an American Staffordshire Terrier. Get a Cricket and…well, what did I have, exactly? It would take time to sort that out. I knew she was high drive. I knew she adored people, and once I’d gotten past the fear of the whirling dervish, I realized there hadn’t been an ounce of aggression involved. She simply wanted to play, and her style of play was to rumble.

We had a bit of a mismatch there. I don’t like roughhousing. I’m not fragile like I was when I was very ill, but I am easily injured, and I don’t like rough and tumble activity–even though I’m active. I could see the mismatch, but sorting out what to do about it to keep both her and me happy didn’t come until much later. The solution evolved in stages.

In the meantime, I had to figure out how to teach her that mouthing me wasn’t appropriate. I also needed to get us into obedience classes–although she couldn’t start until she’d been quarantined for two weeks. We had to get past the incubation period for Bordetella. And I wanted to see about doggy daycare, to help her burn off some of that energy. Since she wanted to roughhouse, she needed some canine buddies who liked doing that. But that also had to wait for the incubation period to expire, so in the meantime, we were just going to have to cope.

Part of the solution to the mouthing and roughhousing was to give her appropriate outlets for those behaviors. I got her Nylabones, and she really went to town on them. Sometimes she craved mouthing something soft, though, and to redirect her from things like my dishtowels, I bought her stuffed toys with squeakers in them. She’s a big fan of squeaky toys, and it’s incredibly fun to watch as she zooms around with them in her mouth, squeaking away. Fortunately, she doesn’t seem prone to eviscerating these toys, although I’m sure she would if I left them in her crate for a day.

Any time she’d start to mouth or chew on something she shouldn’t, I told her “uh uh” and removed whatever shouldn’t be chewed and handed her something that could be. It’s basic training advice, but it felt like bailing out the ocean at first. She didn’t like the switch, and would ignore the offered alternative. Or she’d take it for two seconds, and then be right back at whatever she wasn’t supposed to be doing (if that something was mouthing on me) or searching out the next forbidden chew item (if I’d removed something she’d wanted). Was this dog EVER going to learn?!?

Those who had been there, done that, reassured me that even though it didn’t seem to be helping, I simply had to persist. Well, I’m sure it’s good advice, but in the beginning, it simply didn’t work. Not one bit. Nope, the “switch to an acceptable alternative” tactic didn’t help until after I figured out ways to communicate to Cricket that teeth were not always welcome, and that paying attention to what she was doing with her mouth even mattered. With zero awareness that her mouth entered into the equation of anything, how could redirection possibly mean anything to her? She just thought we frequently played this fun game where I’d come in and switch objects with her, and the object of the game was to figure out how to beat me at that goal. Wooohoooo! She loved that she had an owner spicing things up a bit.

I ended up finding many other ways to deal with the mouthiness, though, starting with hitting on a way to help her understand that her mouth and what she was doing with it was even something to consider. I’ll share all of that in the next post, however, as the journey through that problem is its own topic.

As for the roughhousing, one of the toys I bought her was basically a plush sock with a ball in one end and a squeaker in the other. My goodness, she loved that toy. Treated it like a flail and would grab the squeaker end and whip her head around to swing the ball. It was self-flagellation, with the ball whipping first into one side of her and then the other, and she loved it. So did I, as long as I stood well out of the way!

She also hit on another physically-engaging toy–my kitchen step stool. She started the game one evening when she discovered that she could slide it along the floor by hitting it with her nose. Then she figured out she could tip it over to “kill” it. Next, she discovered she could loop her drag line around one of the legs, and grab the rope with her teeth to drag the stool back to the other end of the kitchen. And at some point, she figured out the greatest fun of all: standing in the overturned stool and spinning in circles. It was a doggy Sit-and-spin:

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Eventually, she learned to pick up the stool in her mouth and carry it around, waving her head to bash the stool into the kitchen cabinets. I indulged her this activity in spite of my better judgment. “Sounds dangerous,” proclaimed a vet tech. “Yes,” I said, “but she’s got to get the yayas out somehow.”

Sometimes I’m a little wistful about the indulgence, as I can no longer leave my step-stool in the kitchen and have to close it up in the closet when not in use. A bit of a PITA, but once Cricket earned the freedom of the house, the roughhousing with the step-stool turned too destructive. In the confines of the kitchen, however, where she spent most of her time those first few months, it was scratching an itch that badly needed scratching. She wasn’t hurting anything in the kitchen with it, so I chose sanity for her and for me, and let her play with it. What parent stops a kid from pulling out the pots and pans from the kitchen cabinets and bashing them together? Kids have to be kids, and that game has been around since humans cooked with pots. They aren’t hurting anything in the kitchen. Let them play.

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About Amy Hunter

Amy Hunter is an avid gardener and occasional photographer.
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