On the 6th day of Christmas my true dog gave to me…
six socks a-hanging,
five TASTY TREATS,
four chewing toys,
three painted faces,
two brand new dog beds,
and a picture in a Christmas hat!
On the ninth day before Christmas my true dog gave to me…
Nine extra treats!
I found myself perusing through the aisles of a Petco the other day. Now, Petco is not my usual stomping ground for dog (or cat) supplies. To be honest, most Petco stores are small, further away, and slightly more expensive than my go to Petsmart. It just so happened though, that this particular day I had some extra time to waste between activities and so I thought I’d wander Petco to see if it had any interesting treats for sale to surprise Simon and Rosee with. And as luck would have it, treats on sale is exactly what I found.
You see, my Petco (and I’m sure others too) had a little section in their treat aisle dedicated to more homemade-looking treats, packaged in small plastic tubs rather than the typical plastic bags that you have to tear the top strip off of in order to open. Intrigued, I made my way through the several different tubs that were on display. There were ones that looked sort of like mini Nutter Butter cookies, ones that looked like little éclairs, and even ones that looked like small pinwheel cookies. However, the ones that caught my attention were modeled after apple turnovers.
Similar to mini apple pies, these little turnovers look like half-moons with puffed up centers (which is where the filling lies) and a sprinkling of something enticing on the outside. As is expected the turnovers are not soft little things, but have a nice crunch to them, though they are still pretty easy to break in half if need be. They are probably about six inches long, so for my two barking buddies they are just the right size to be a special daily treat.
Aptly named Peppy Turnovers and made by the Gourmet Tails company, they seem to be made with good stuff. The packaging even calls the treats’ ingredients “quality and palate-pleasing” to make it clear that their treats are better than others. And, I’d have to agree. So far these turnovers have not upset the delicate balance that is the digestive systems of Simon and Rosee. They have not made either pup gassy, extra poopy, or given them any extra spots to sport (i.e. hives).
Unfortunately, both Simon and Rosee have shown themselves to be quite sensitive creatures, especially when it comes to particular foods. The fact is peanut butter is so far off the table it’s been relegated to the laundry room cabinet. The few times we tried to give them peanut butter, both ended up developing tiny bumps all over their backs that our veterinarian labeled as an allergic reaction, so no more peanut butter for them. And it made Theresa and myself even more wary about what ingredients were in the foods and treats that Simon and Rosee end up consuming. However, I thought that I’d splurge and take a chance on these turnovers because unlike peanut butter apple-things do not give the pups hives, though they do tend to amp up the out-pour of gas (if you know what I’m saying). Lucky for us humans who have to be around them, this has not happened with these particular treats.
Now, it was not just the adorable look of these treats that caught my eye, but their price. Anyone who has ever bought dog treats knows that they can be expensive. The least expensive dog treats that my family buys are little tiny baked bones that we can buy in bulk at our local pet store. However, most other mass produced dog treats can start at ten dollars for a small bag that, let’s be frank, might last about a week in our household. So, to find these treats, specialty ones no less, for three dollars a tub—um, yeah I bought the two they had left. I had never been so excited to purchase turnovers not made for human consumption in my whole life. Before I get to far gone in fantasies of saving money on dog treats I should say that these treats were on sale. Normally, a tub costs about six dollars, so when I bought them they were half off. Still, six dollars for a tub seems like a steal to me. Other specialty treats I’ve found (you know, those ones that look like frosted sugar cookies?) will cost six dollars for one single treat, let alone buying close to the fifteen that fill up the tub. I say: sweet deal.
Sweet indeed! These turnovers sure have been a hit with Simon and Rosee. (They wouldn’t leave me alone while I tried to take pictures.) Though I can’t say I’ll find myself driving specifically to Petco just to pick some up when the tub we have now inevitably runs out, I can say that the next time I find myself passing by a Petco I will find it in myself to drop in and buy a tub to surprise the pups with. I’m sure Simon would appreciate it. (Am I the only one who can see the drool?)
Simon knows no boundaries, and it’s not for a lack of trying. Really. My family and I tried and try and will try to always give Simon limits, borders, and edges. However, he is a very willful boy. Apparently, that has meant just being calm and assertive when telling him what to do is not only harder than it looks, but needs to last through every minute of every day. Simon needs his people to constantly and consistently be calm and firm. Turns out, Simon is extremely sensitive to everyone’s wayward emotions. When I’m upset, he’s upset. When I’m excited, he’s excited. When I’m tired, he’s not tired (have I mentioned he could play for 23 hours a day before?). Anyway, learning to be Simon’s point persons and taking control of his defiant ways has been a seemingly endless rollercoaster ride, one that probably won’t reach its end until Simon does, but of course I wouldn’t have it any other way. This doesn’t change the fact that Simon needs boundaries.
When Simon was a puppy my mother stumbled across the idea of tethering. Tethering usually consists of setting up a slightly long, slightly short leash somewhere within the house, and when he is attached to that tether Simon would be forced to stay in one spot instead of being allowed the free reign of the house. Ultimately, tethering would provide a way of teaching him boundaries and limits because he would be unable to just do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Simple idea with a simple action.
So, armed with new knowledge and fledging optimism my mother purchased a rubber-coated leash to attach to the leg of something in our living room that could act as a tether for a puppy Simon.
Now, the tether is useful for many reasons, the main one being it ties Simon down to his bed. When both Simon and Rosee (who received her own tether when she joined the family) are left alone they cannot be left to their own devices. My family tried to leave them outside in the backyard, but unfortunately that caused more problems what with Rosee barking at the fence with the neighbor dogs, so that idea was quickly squashed. Instead, it became much safer and quieter to tether the pups to their beds and leave them waiting comfortably inside the house. And since they each had a tether of their own it worked out perfectly. Scoreboard standing—tether: 1, free reign: 0.
You see, Simon never “got” the tether and whatever it was trying to teach him. This being the same dog that even when buckled up in the car will pull on his seatbelt and collar until he’s practically choking himself, so clearly the tether was yet another object for him to just pull, and pull, and pull. . .
Where Rosee will give up and give in, though not when it comes to giving up her favorite rubber football, Simon’s brain just does not have this function. He would steal food from the kitchen counters while I was making dinner or jump on people walking through the front door, so he would promptly be tethered in order to show him some restraint and his place when certain exciting activities were happening. However, Simon never seemed to understand the connection. Anytime I walked into the kitchen to cook he would be there. No matter how many treats he received for being good while tethered to his bed, the lightbulb never went off signaling the fact that he realized when I go into the kitchen to cook he goes to his bed. Now, my mother might disagree with me, but I believe that tethering Simon wasn’t actually making him learn anything. Tethering just forced him to stay in one place, it did not actually teach him to do so.
After more than a year of fighting with Simon and the tether, and him not actually learning from it, I stopped. My sister Theresa and I decided, a little more implicitly than explicitly, to just stop tethering Simon and at this point Rosee too unless we were leaving and they needed to be left on their beds. No more having to deal with Simon’s whining howl voicing his displeasure with his tether. No more having him endlessly gnaw on the tether as if he could try break through the wire one day. Instead, Theresa and I just told Simon what to do. When I started to cook in the kitchen we would make him sit in “his spot” right off to the side, so he could see what I was doing, but he was far enough away to not be a nuisance. Anytime people come through the front door both Simon and Rosee have to go “park it” on their beds. Sure, their commands didn’t work overnight and once in a while Simon doesn’t want to stay in his kitchen corner, but for the most part it does work. Simon, when he’s feeling cooperative, will put himself in his spot while I cook. The first time he did it I was amazed! I couldn’t believe that this was my dog deciding to actually give himself boundaries!
Of course, I had to be frank with myself. Simon was learning what behaviors were expected of him. He was learning what was considered good and acceptable. Case in point: he was learning!
Now, I say he because Rosee has never exactly been the chowhound that Simon is. Sure, she loves her food and any treats she can get, but she’s never been as pushy or audacious as Simon. Where he has jumped up on the kitchen counters to steal food since the time his tongue was long enough to reach (his legs hadn’t quite grown tall enough yet), Rosee is content with just sitting and waiting for food scraps to be given to her. Rosee has always had a better sense of boundaries and limits than Simon. She just has a more people-pleasing personality whereas Simon is a little more self-centered. I believe this personality difference is mostly due to Simon being an only child for the first year and a half of his life with four people constantly doting on him (yes, I take one-fourth responsibility for his rascally ways). However, a slightly older dog can certainly learn new tricks and Simon did wonderfully.
Don’t take my split from tethering as any indication that it doesn’t work for other dogs. It just isn’t a useful technique for Simon. Tethering has really only shown itself to be beneficial for both pups when all adults are gone from the house and they cannot be left in the backyard or to wander the house unsupervised. The fact is Rosee steals pretty much anything she can find around the house (socks and tissues being her favorite) so she can chew, and Simon would just break everything left on countertops because he loves to surf on them without any regard. At least when they are tethered to their beds while we are all gone they do have to stay in one place, but they still have enough length to move around and be comfortable. However, for my guy Simon it is more important for him to learn commands by way of his people directly teaching it to him, rather than the more indirect way of tethering forcing him to exist only in one place. So, learning boundaries and limits is certainly still a work-in-progress, but it is actually progressing.
In fact, it seems this whole foray into tethering was a way for me as a human to recognize the ways in which my dogs learn. I had to distinguish between making Simon do something and teaching him good behavior that he will know for the rest of his doggy life. And it seems that Simon’s brain is particular in that forcing him to do certain actions, making him stay in one place for instance, had absolutely no effect on him whatsoever. He needed to go through the process of sit, stay, good boy. It may take longer, it may be more frustrating, but it is also very gratifying.
As for Rosee, well she’s always a good girl compared to her crazy brother Simon!
Rosee has a best friend. No, it’s not Simon. He’s more her partner in crime, her devoted little follower, her antagonist at times even. Rosee’s best friend, on the other hand, is our neighbor’s dog, a Pit Bull that shall henceforth be known as Sunny. Now, Sunny is sort of an enigma of a dog. She’s been around for about the past eight years, adopted when she was just a puppy. She’s also had the run of the backyard for that same number of years, being the only dog in the neighborhood of backyards that includes four landlocked together. However, it was just over three years ago that Simon launched an invasion on the backyards when he became a part of my family. Simon’s entrance was soon followed by other neighboring dogs, a Pit Bull and an older Great Dane . It was around this same time that Rosee became a permanent fixture in my backyard as well, firmly taking control of guarding her fence (for better or worse). All of a sudden, Sunny was bombarded on all sides with dogs, dogs, and more dogs. No longer was she alone to wallow in her backyard, but she was surrounded with new best friends.
It became clear when Simon was a puppy that poor Sunny did not get much socialization with other dogs. When she found Simon outside Sunny would immediately rush the fence and start huffing and running. While never outwardly mean, her behavior was slightly aggressive, though to be fair Simon thought it was all in good fun and would run back and forth along the fence practically smiling as he did it. Overall, Sunny’s reaction to Simon was never that worrisome because Simon didn’t know any better and Sunny’s owners always made sure to call her back to them when she became too much. However, it became clear as more dogs joined the “Backyard Crew” that Sunny’s reaction to other dogs had the potential to be quite dangerous. It turns out that most dogs do not react to slightly aggressive dogs like Simon does. In fact other dogs, including Rosee, and the two other neighbor dogs, get rather upset when another dog acts the way Sunny does, thereby reciprocating with similar gestures. It all starts with some huffing and running to catch glimpses of each other through the fence. Then a staring contest to see who will break first. An ear-piercing war cry is launched (seriously I never knew Pit Bulls could be so high-pitched until getting one of my own and getting to know the neighbors’) and finally comes the jumping at the fence and barking. The fence shakes and the whole episode sounds vicious. The first time it happened I actually thought that Rosee and Sunny had gotten a hold of each other, but fortunately the decade-old fence held up. Simply put, Sunny was not a fan of the new dogs encroaching on her territory. Also clear, as much as Sunny liked to tussle with all four neighbor dogs, Rosee was her favorite. In the beginning Sunny and Rosee would fight at the fence up to three times a day. It was summer and both dogs would go inside and outside as they pleased, which meant more often than not they ended up outside in their respective backyards at the same time, spelling loud, loud trouble for the rest of us. Rosee and Sunny were perfectly matched. The same size, same height, same build, both females, and both terribly territorial. It was this sameness though, this commonality that ended up sparking the fights at the fence between Rosee and Sunny because, come to find out, they were (and still are in some ways) both anxious and nervous dogs that had no real socialization with other dogs during that crucial time growing up. That’s it. They weren’t inherently aggressive dogs. They weren’t stereotypical Pit Bulls. They were just un-socialized.
Such a simple concept really, socialization. The process of learning how to behave with others by participating in social situations. The shaping of behavior to fit social norms. Socialization. Easy, not so much.
Dogs usually get practice at socializing as puppies, interacting with their mothers and siblings. After that, socialization can come in many forms, including meeting other dogs, people, animals, being trained, and just basically being introduced to the world in interactive ways. Now, Simon’s socialization was easier to help because we adopted him as a puppy. Unfortunately, before we adopted Rosee she basically spent the first nine months of her life in a kennel and the few times she was around other dogs she ended up getting bit. It wasn’t until my family brought Rosee home that we saw exactly what the lack of socialization early on in life meant for a dog. Rosee hated dogs walking past the front door and window. She couldn’t stand anyone making any sort of eye contact with her. She would bark incessantly if she heard the neighbors’ voices when she was out in the backyard. Any time she saw a dog while out on a walk she would just go nuts by barking, whining, and jumping up. It wasn’t until consulting a trainer that my family realized she wasn’t doing these behaviors because she’s aggressive. She’s doing it because she’s scared, anxious, and nervous. Talk about mind blown. Even more out of this world was recognizing these nervous and anxious behaviors in Sunny. So, how did recognizing Rosee and Sunny’s actual problems come to be useful to diffusing the numerous fence fights? Well, by knowing the reasons behind Rosee’s actions Theresa and I were able to tailor training so that Rosee began associating good thoughts with the fence. For the past year and a half Rosee has been subjected to an obscene amount of treats for any good behavior she displayed while at the fence. When she didn’t bark just because she heard the neighbors’ voices she got a treat. When Sunny was in the backyard, but Rosee didn’t notice she got a treat. When Rosee wandered to the fence, but then turned away she got a treat. Basically, anytime Rosee did not concern herself with what the neighbors (the human and the canine variety) were doing she got treats. Lo and behold, it actually worked!
The tussles at the fence have gone down dramatically, and not just in number, but also in intensity. Now, Sunny and Rosee spend more time staring at each other rather than jumping at the fence. Instead of seconds lasting between the staring and the war cry, there are minutes stretching between the two. When I do hear Rosee at the fence with Sunny I can just walk outside and call her away, and she responds! The fact is Rosee has learned, and still is learning, that she doesn’t need to guard the backyard fence, that the neighbors’ dogs don’t need to be barked at (same goes with their humans), and that she can actually be friends with Sunny. This everlasting experience of dealing with non-socialized dogs, both directly and indirectly, made me realize that barking dogs do not always equal aggressive. Jumping dogs do not always equal aggressive. Howling dogs do not always equal aggressive. Yes, if teeth are being bared, jaws snapped, legs running up and attacking, those are pretty clear signs of aggression. However, barking at the fence, jumping up and down, and war cries may have deeper meanings. Both Rosee and Sunny were simply dogs that did not get enough socialization as youngsters, and it had big implications for their behavior towards each other. And this isn’t just a call for ensuring people socialize their dogs, but also a spotlight on why it’s important to listen to dogs when they talk. Sometimes they are just saying hello, other times to stay away, and once in a while they are letting other people and animals know that they just don’t know how to interact with them. In Sunny and Rosee’s case they had to learn to be okay around each other, which also meant learning to be okay with others as well. It may have been a long, frustrating year and a half, but I have to say I am definitely looking forward to summer this year. Want to know why?
I came home this past Friday afternoon only to have my mother tell me that earlier when she was out in the backyard with Simon and Rosee, the two found each other at the fence, stared, sniffed, and moved on. Rosee walked away to go lay in the sun on the grass and Sunny did the same in her own backyard as well. Now, that is a delightful best friend moment.