Maintaining a Healthy Balance is Imperative
By Diana Logan
I watched with joy as my lovely little 2.5-year-old Havanese guest dog reveled in charging around our big yard, bounding through the bushes and tall grasses, then emerging again to race around the yard with 3-year-old Skipper. Then repeat… Pure uninhibited Doggie Delight!
It’s September in North Yarmouth
It was no surprise to discover that as a result of her travels through the tall weeds, Peeper was freshly adorned with hundreds of miniature green burrs, expertly woven into her overgrown white coat from nostrils to feathery tail. No worries, though, I could just brush, comb or pick them out.
One of the best doggie investments I’ve made is the purchase of a small grooming table. In addition to grooming Skipper on it, we regularly introduced puppies at my school to being positively handled on the table. Simply being on the table earned them delicious rewards. We were diligent about keeping sessions short and fun and rewarding, not pushing a puppy beyond her comfort level. It was imperative that the association they had of being on the table was good. Ensuring that puppies were willing participants in the process meant that we could quickly advance to more grooming, handling and nail clipping with ease. It’s much more efficient to invest the time up front to create a happy partner than to try to repair the inevitable damages incurred as a result of pushing a pup too far.
Peeper was one of those puppies who had had the same positive introduction to the table two years prior. She was very food-motivated, making the process smooth. We had a trusting, loving relationship with her from her early puppyhood until she graduated at 6 months of age.
I picked up a burr-covered Peeper and offered her a treat. She started to take it, then saw where we were headed: the grooming table. She panicked before I’d taken two steps toward it. It was as if I’d flipped a switch to activate the direct line to Death-by-Torture. She would have leapt from my arms if she could have. She outright refused treats and fought me with all her might, the muscles in her entire body coiled up, taut and ready to propel her into another universe.
Clearly, this was not going to go as I had anticipated. Time to abort, immediately. I carefully placed a now rigid dog onto the floor. She instantly launched herself away, putting as much distance between us as she could, avoided any movement I made in her direction, even refused to eat treats that were tossed behind her. She clearly loathed me even though I’d “done nothing” to her.
What on earth happened??
Peeper’s funds in the Handling Department had clearly run completely dry. All the deposits we’d made earlier in her life had been used up and then some. In fact, so much had been withdrawn that it was to the point where not only was handling affected, but recall, attention, and most significant of all: Trust. It profoundly saddened me.
A Joint Bank Account
The relationship we have with our dogs is like a joint bank account, and it rests at the very core of our shared lives. If we are aware of this, we know that frequent, strategic deposits across the full spectrum of behaviors create healthy positivity in all areas. Occasional withdrawals, even those unexpected and significant ones, can be withstood because there are sufficient funds in the account as a whole.
Whether or not we are aware of it, we are living a joint account with our dogs every single day, and every interaction we have with them affects it. The choice is ours: do we want to build it or take away from it? Which “departments” need more strengthening? Perhaps recall? Confidence-building? A simple cued “sit”? Handling? The balance in our Relationship Joint Account should remain as high as possible, in a perpetual state of growth.
The fun lies in how creative we can get as we make deposits into this account. Maintaining a robust balance requires strategy and observation. Know your dog. What does she love? Toys, games, treats, tug, a game of chase…? Add more of whatever that is, and pair it with something your dog is doing. What does she dislike? Take very tiny doses of one of those dislikes and add something she loves. Over time, if you are consistent and careful and very generous, those dislikes should dissipate.
Are you paying your dog with the right stuff? Don’t be afraid to be generous!
[Note: Peeper’s aversion to grooming and handling is so extreme that sedation is likely the best option for her next grooming appointment. She has a long way to go… please don’t allow this to happen to your dog.]
Testing our Balance
Skipper Logan had to make a late-night visit to the emergency clinic one Saturday night to induce vomiting after he’d ingested a corn cob. We played some simple games in the waiting area before he was taken away. When he came back (success!), I took the time to play some more games with him. I wanted 1) to assess his level of comfort and 2) to make more deposits to the “visit the vet” account. The visit was a withdrawal and I needed to add more funds so future visits were less likely to be affected. I specifically chose to ask him to bow to help him release tension in his body. His happy responses and high tail told me that the balance is good!