Well, I made a very interesting discovery this morning. For the first day in a long time, I was able to get an almost undisturbed night of sleep. I got up once, for Grace, but that was it. The members of the canine deer patrol slept all night long, and I didn’t even have to worry about getting up early, since my big concert was done.
So I woke up naturally, without an alarm, and gradually, since all the dogs were still peaceful. I was groggy. Sadie was either already right next to me, or she scooched over closer, and I began petting her, still only half awake. But then my blog about Tellington T Touch popped into my head, and I woke up fully and decided to try it on Sadie.
The only thing was, I knew just one technique, and wasn’t even sure about that one. You’re supposed to draw imaginary circles with your fingertips, all over the dog, starting at six on the clock, going all the way around and past six, and finishing at eight. Until I order a book or find more online or take a class, this is all I know. But there was no way it was going to do any harm, so I tried it.
Well, let me tell you right off, I think this T Touch is important. I tried it later today on Simo, and feel I can now attest to the fact that it really means something to dogs. I’ll be investigating it a great deal, I have a feeling. But for now, back to Sadie.
I told you I’d been petting Sadie in my groggy state, first. I hadn’t been paying much attention, doing it almost absent-mindedly. But when I switched over to trying to draw my little six-to-eight circles, Sadie’s vibe changed. She became more alert, almost tense. And now I think I need to do a little backtracking and explain about what I’ve noticed about Sadie’s aggression.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, because Sadie is my best chance to get insight into Sawyere, who’s coming soon, I hope.
There are people who’d probably say that Sadie bites without warning, but they’d be mostly wrong. There’s always a second when she tenses, right before she does it, and if I can ‘jolly her along’, either with my voice or by petting her, I can forestall the bite.
I have to interrupt this for something funny. I’ve never told you this, but P.D. is the only dog I’ve had who really does seem to think that size matters. He always wants to play with big dogs, mostly ignoring little ones, and he does things like peeping and even pooping as high up as he can, so that dogs who visit his spots later will think he’s big. He scoots his butt up against tree trunks, as high as he can go, and poops, hoping it’ll stick. I think if he were a man, he’d be quite obnoxious. 🙂
Well, just now I had escorted Anna Belle out and back in, and wanted to make her a cozy nest among the blankets, without disturbing any of the others. I looked around, and got confused, because just a minute ago I’d made note of where Burbey and Simo, my big dogs, were sleeping, in the outer room of our suite. But now there was a large lump under the comforter on the queen-sized bed, which is in the inner room. Burb must have moved, and covered herself–how cute! I patted her, and jumped out of my skin when ‘she’ growled. It wasn’t Burb, it was P.D.! (He’s a bed snark, like Simo, although nowhere near as snarky. He won’t speak harshly to you unless you actually touch him, and by ‘you’, I really mean, ‘one of the other dogs’–he doesn’t get mad at me, and this time probably thought I was a dog). He’d made himself appear to be a sixty-pound dog, under there! Could that possibly have been on purpose? I really doubt it, but until I saw him poop high up on a tree, I would have doubted that.
Back to Sadie. I was saying that there’s always a moment of perceivable tension right before she bites, and I try to get her through that moment. I pet her and talk in a light, happy way, and, as long as I can keep my hands on her, she won’t bite Burberry, who’s her usual target, or anyone else (if someone else canine gets too close, she will occasionally turn on him or her).
She hasn’t bitten me since the very first day she came. That time, I could feel the subtle signals she gave that led up to her nip (it was really very minor, and the word ‘bite’ is misleading, I think). So anytime I felt the pattern of those signals again, I would just change it up somehow. And she stopped even thinking of nipping me, several months ago.
The point is, I can feel Sadie’s tension, and if I can keep her from letting it escalate, she’s able to think more clearly and decide not to bite Burb, especially since I’m verbally asking her not to. I also work on calming Burb, by talking to her, and by petting her with my other hand, but that works less well with her. I don’t know why, but suspect it may be what I wrote earlier–she’s always been used to petting and takes it slightly for granted, and Sadie doesn’t. During the times of tension, I give both of them praise for signs that they’re allowing the situation to relax. More and more lately, one or the other, or both of them, will take themselves away from the encounter. And they’ve begun sleeping near each other, and even, just two nights ago, touching one another, and they’ve begun to play. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen in dogland, actually. I have high hopes there. I like the idea of these two strong girls forming an alliance. Wait, that reminds me…
At first, when she was turned over to me, I thought that Sadie was going to be what they call a fear biter. But I feel it’s a little more complex than that. I wasn’t expecting to write about this tonight, and so I haven’t gathered my thoughts. All I feel prepared to say right now is that I believe the underlying emotions which make her want to bite are complex, and possibly mutually incompatible. Maybe it’s that way when any dog bites.
Along with trying to help Sadie decide not to bite, I’ve been trying to help her learn to play, and I also spend a lot of effort on accustoming her to all kinds of petting, even a little of what you might call ‘roughing her up’–not just stroking her in one direction, but doing what, on a person, would amount to messing up her hair. I believe that all of these things are helping her to grow more confident. I was reading this morning in Bark magazine about fearful dogs. The article said that play helps a dog’s confidence, and it started me thinking about my gut feeling that my ‘roughing her up’ would help her tolerate it better from the other dogs, which would then encourage them to initiate play with her more often, which would help her get used to it and tolerate it…and so on and so on, until she could play like a ‘normal’ dog. And it’s working! But here’s the strange, interesting thing I wanted to tell you about all this.
Sadie, when she came to me, had a certain look in her eyes which made her look…well, a little less intelligent than all of my other dogs. I’d look at her and look at her, trying to pinpoint what caused the ‘dumb’ look, but I couldn’t. I also couldn’t deny that it was there. She just looked a little dopey. And now, that look is vanishing! At first, I thought I was seeing things. But no, the look in her eyes is truly different now.
Was that look, not stupidity, but fear? I have to say–and I have no preconceived ideas on this subject, never having had a dog before who looked at all dumb–that I really think so. Or , if it wasn’t exactly fear, it was confusion. Or awareness that the rules might suddenly change, so it would be a waste of her time to have her own wants, or to try to decide things on her own.
Whatever the truth may be, I am thrilled to see this new look in her eyes.
So back to this morning. I switched from petting her absent-mindedly (which, by the way, is the first kind of petting she’d accept–accidental petting; for instance, when I was on the phone and just began touching her without thinking), to trying what I hoped was T Touch on her.
I felt, or so I believe, two separate reactions from her, both of them indicating a state of heightened alertness. I felt that on one hand, she had gone into red alert, into her state of pre-bite tension, and that it was because I myself had gone into a state of…well, not exactly tension, maybe, but of high concentration, a kind of stillness of body coupled with quick mental activity, which probably caused me to project a different vibe.
On the other hand, I felt an alertness coming from her which was due to the feeling of the circles on her body, and this alertness, I think was a good sign. She liked the way I was touching her, although the newness of it, and the power it had to affect her, were startling to her. The reason I tried the T Touch on Simo, later in the day, was to ‘test’ this hypothesis. He reacted the same way she had, but without the other tension, the pre-bite kind. He became very still and alert, wondering what this new thing was. But it was clear that he liked it, and was prepared to settle in and accept it happily, for as long as I was willing to do it.
I won’t be surprised if T Touch turns out to be a wonderful new thing for us, even, or especially, for Sadie. In fact, I think that, if she begins to associate her heightened alertness with something pleasurable, it may help her even more to switch off her ‘red alert’ button, the one which causes her to bite.
I really don’t know. I’m not a dog trainer, not even close. I just have my instincts and observations to work with. I’ll do the best I can with them for now, and hope that I’ll learn much more through Sawyere.