Saturday, July 5, 2014

Finding Balance -- Thinking beyond common sense.

Last night I watched this: The Paw Project on Netflix (

My thoughts were just spinning by the time the documentary on declawing cats was done. My head was so abuzz I had to quit writing the next Spirit installment and share this, because it parallels a line of thinking I've been working my way through for a long time.

Once I've gotten through this, I'll get back to my horse story. The thing is, in the past week, I caught an infection making it's merry way through my Rat Terrier, Charlie, just in the nick of time. I'm talking a serious nick.

"If you had let this go one more day you would have been at the emergency vet tomorrow," my vet told me.

 Which would have been the 4th. Any of you who have been to a city weekend emergency vet clinic know what I'm talking about. Six months of hay $$ out of savings to pay them, that's what.

Normal Mugs, if there is such a thing, would have noticed the signs of Charlie being off at least a week ago. He was off his feed, scooting his butt across the ground and way too quiet. My automatic reaction was, worms.

In the good old days, Charlie massacred so many of the vermin population at the barn, he needed to be wormed twice a year. If I didn't keep up, he would show the above behaviors for a day or two and then start pooping worms all over the place.

So I wormed him. He didn't feel better. We went to the vet and in short order, began treatment for an infected anal gland. Poor Charlie.

Here's the thing. Normal Mugs would have noticed the symptoms and responded within a day or two, not a week. Normal Mugs would have thought, Charlie doesn't hunt much anymore, he's really quiet, we should see the vet.

Why wasn't I thinking like Normal Mugs? Because I have been submersed in the fascinating psychology of dogs. I mean buried.

Since I landed a dog who needed real, well thought out training and behavior modification, and I decided to write about it,  I have been sucked into the world of dog brains, dog/human relations, positive and negative reinforcement, eugenics, blah, blah, blah.

With my own dogs I have been thinking about pack behavior, body language and What are they REALLY thinking.

Since my right hand dog Dinah died, the pack has been a mess. Brockle wants to be boss, but he's a micro-managing lunatic, and has been doing a crappy job. Charlie has been staying out of the way, he's a born minion and he knows it.

Ever since I've started watching, thinking and observing my dogs in a new light, my common sense has flown out the window. So much so, I almost endangered my dog and my hay money. Mania Mugs was ruling the roost.

Take this declawing the cat thing. I was a kid when I first heard there was such a thing. I had never even had a cat, but my immediate thought was, But they use their claws to protect themselves-- so that's stupid. As a kid, I had common sense.

I kept the same opinion for many years and eventually had a few cats share space with me. I knew people who declawed their cats, usually because of new furniture. I also observed, all on my own, that declawed cats were almost always, "no-seeums" cats. They were afraid of everything. Which to me, make perfect sense, because they didn't have their claws. I jumped to the conclusion that getting their claws taken off made them crazy and never considered declawing a cat. Ever.

Maybe my facts weren't completely accurate, but I was close, just by using common sense.

I started researching dogs, thunderstorms and fireworks.

I read from trainers who suggested ignoring the anxious behavior and sticking with known routines so the dog learns storms aren't scary.

I read from trainers who went to great lengths explaining that reassurance isn't the same as reinforcing behaviors.

Both sides went to great lengths to vilify the other.

Which was weird, since both sides made it clear that rushing to your pet, smothering them with kisses and becoming overly emotional WILL become reinforcement.

Both sides went to great lengths to provide their long and involved training techniques.

Thankfully, Normal Mugs made an appearance.

In the past, when I got a new dog, I always paid attention during their first thunderstorm.

Bolters were put in the car, or a secure room, with an article of my clothing and a favorite toy. Anxious dogs were allowed to cling as much as they wanted while I proceeded with my day. They would get a kind word and a pet, then I'd show, by example, that it wasn't so bad.

The bolters were always welcome to become a clinger and eventually they always made that choice. The clingers got better or they didn't. Common sense told me air pressure, noise, whatever, bothered them and I made sure they were safe and left it at that.

Charlie is a leaner, Snocone doesn't notice and Brockle runs outside and barks at the heavens. If he had a fist he's be shaking it.

Dobby is my daughter's nervous, twitchy, loud, opinionated Min Pin/Italian Greyhound cross. We have been spending looooots of time together. If Dobby wants my attention, he has all four feet on the floor and is quiet. Period.

Thunderstorms terrify him.

Yesterday was hardest on Dobby. He trembled and shook.  He didn't run for the hugs and kisses and consolation he's used to. He chose to sit next to me.On the floor. Quiet. Not asking for more reassurance than leaning against my leg.

Dobby chose common sense.

I think I will too. Thinking and learning are good things. But it's easy to get lost in a new concept or idea and ignore the things you know in your gut. I call it Horse Whispering Syndrome.

You know what I mean, we've all done it. That first taste of magic when our horse joins up makes us a little crazy. We want more of this magic and dump everything we knew before in order to learn it. For some, we eventually remember, Hey, I knew how to saddle a horse and lope around the arena before I started whispering. Maybe I knew some other stuff too. Then reason seeps back in and hopefully, we find a balance between the practical knowledge we had before and the new stuff we're learning.

I'll keep watching my pack, observing their behavior and trying to find the best training and behavior shaping approaches for all of us. In the meantime, I hope I can keep my head on straight. Poor Charlie and his infected butt are counting on me.

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