Knucklebone Knucklehead

should be required reading for all dog people

Early this morning, I went out to Sawyere’s dormitory to give him his breakfast and have our first play of the day.  I don’t think I’ve explained here before that Sawyere has a journal, which is kept in his special bin–it’s like the ‘cubby’ that a little child has in school.  Each of us writes in his journal whenever we spend time with him, to keep the other members of his team informed about his progress.  This morning, I was delighted to read that he’s had a few excellent visits in a row, and seems to be on a roll.  My visit was no different–he was fairly angelic, and I couldn’t have been more happy with how he’s getting on.

So it was a real bummer to come home from the note factory and find an email from Sawyere’s dorm manager, with a subject heading indicating that there had been an incident at the dorm.  My stomach dropped, and I almost didn’t want to open the mail. 

She wrote that there had been a knucklebone left in the area where I’d been playing with Sawyere this morning, and a bunch of the dogs using that room later had gotten into a squabble over it, and one of the employees had been bitten.  She asked if I’d left it behind, and from the way she wrote, I could tell that she was expecting to find that I had (the incident had happened soon after I’d left).  When I saw that, I relaxed, and all I could think was, As if!  I wrote her back instantly, and followed it up with a call, letting her know that, A) I hadn’t left it and hadn’t taken any toys at all into that area this morning, in fact, and, B) Sawyere shouldn’t come within a football field of a knucklebone yet, until Sherri has tested him on a very high-value treat like that.  And then I started thinking, and realized that the prominent issue for me today is resource guarding.

Two days ago, I bought a book by Jean Donaldson, teaching how to help a dog with resource guarding issues.

I bought it mostly on behalf of my own dogs, because some of them tend to get into arguments about what appears to be their most valued resource–me.  There is competition for the spots in bed that are closest to my head and body, for instance.  And my ‘tricky’ dog Sadie guards her high-value treats from the other dogs.  Also, we were told that Sawyere guards rawhides, so I wanted to be prepared with some knowledge before Sherri started to work with him on that, and I figured I could get started with my own dogs.

The book is excellent.  Honestly, there are amazingly compassionate and insightful trainers out there, to whom the workings of a dog’s brain are so clear, that I just can’t understand why someone would need to use a shock collar on a dog.  I’m just a private citizen, so to speak, and this information is readily accessible to me.  Why would someone, a trainer, choose to ignore it?  I just don’t get it.

Anyway, with my brain filled with resource guarding thoughts, I decided to try, this morning, to begin investigating exactly where Sawyere drew the line between what he guarded and what he didn’t.  I knew, for instance, that he is only a tiny bit nervous about his food bowl–if I pet him while he’s eating, he wags his tail, indicating to me that he’s just slightly conflicted over it.  I will ask Sherri whether that’s true.  He lets me hang on to the other end of any Nylabone-type thing he’s chewing.  He had a real marrow bone at Sherri’s classroom, and he didn’t guard that, but it was an old, dry bone. 

A fresh, meaty bone or a rawhide would probably coax a different response from him, and my feeling was that it was much too soon to put that to the test, and if and when that happened, it would be a job for Sherri.  So how could I make some headway in helping him, while still provoking no strong guarding feelings?

I knew that his favorite toys were the so-called, ‘Jolly Balls’ kept in one of the play yards at his dorm–hard plastic balls about the size of volleyballs.  These are the toys he uses to play snout soccer with, and he’s quite amazingly skilled at it.  I wondered whether these balls were so important to him that he’d display a little guarding behavior over them, and so it proved.  So I began asking for a sit before I would throw or kick the Jolly Ball for him, and had a little bit of success with that.  I hope I can try again tomorrow, but the knucklebone incident may jeopardize our use of that play yard, which is a bummer.  It might be a blessing in disguise, though, because I want to read more in my book, and check with Sherri about the right way to help Sawyere.

Soon after I spoke to the dorm manager, they figured out who had left that big meaty bone behind.  It was someone from one of the prior evening’s classes, and he or she was being spoken to and ‘written up’ because of the incident.  I spent the rest of the day being grateful that we hadn’t made that mistake, but especially for the fact that Sawyere hadn’t encountered that bone, which could have created a major problem for him and for us.  I don’t understand how any dog person would think it was a good idea to bring something that even the easiest dog tends to guard, into a place where scores of dogs congregate each day.  Must have been a newbie.  I hope so, anyway.

Well, bedtime with dog pack for me–the little hand and the big hand will swing around to Sawyere time again before I know it!

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4 Responses to Knucklebone Knucklehead

  1. Kate says:

    People just don’t think…more often than they should. I’m happy to read he’s making progress. You’re doing great things!

  2. Anja says:

    Ha-ha!! Jean Donaldson rules!!!!
    “Mine” is a book I want to read, too! For now, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of “Fight” which is about dog/dog aggression! The excerpt I read from it has me chomping at the bit!! Canine behavior is so highly ritualized and even “bites” must be evaluated by what KIND of bite! Not all bites are bad in the dog-world….
    I’m glad Sawyere is doing so well!!!
    Ingrid, you must get into taking some video’s of your dogs interactions!!! Not many households have a pack your size and there must be canine body-talk galore all the time!!! It’s a great source!!!
    So glad we’re friends!!! : ))))

    • cellopets says:

      Who wrote, ‘Fight’??? THAT’S the book I need. In the Patricia McConnell book, it says that she does work with dog/dog aggression, but lists no title about that subject. Is it Jean Donaldson? Oh, that would be wonderful. Re. the videos, you are SO right, only I don’t have a vid cam, and I also have about as much shutterbug in my genetic material as I have sense of direction–almost none. So all these great moments are going by…this morning I had my arm around Grace and Jim was curled around my head, and Grace rested her muzzle on Jim, and I wished for my camera, which was in its dock near the upstairs computer. I used to have a friend who was a whiz with a camera, and who had an excellent one, and all the really good shots of my dogs are from him or from my ex-husband. But this is something on my to-do list, because I want to remember and show everyone else. You are quite right–I think a person could learn most of what they need to know about dog body language right here (EXCEPT for dog/dog aggression–and that’s why I’m going to go find that book–thanks!)

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