Monday, September 19, 2011

The Parable Of My Dogs

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. ~MLK

If parents at Woodland Park really knew how much of what I know about working with young children I learned first from my dogs, they would, I think, be appalled. 

Athena is the standard poodle and Waffle, the golden retriever. I'm pretty sure I can read their minds, but will stipulate that I'll never really know for sure. I will just say that I've known both of them, together, for their entire lives and they are my most constant companions. And I'm certain that they can sometimes read my mind, or at least anticipate me with such precision that it amounts to the same thing. 

Athena is the older sister, more intelligent by just about every measure, slighter, yet more athletic. She was struck with Addison's disease a couple years ago, a rare condition in which the adrenal glands stop producing the hormones needed to stay alive, which means she'll be taking hormone replacements for the rest of her life. That has slowed her down some: she used to be the fastest dog in a the dog park (excluding greyhounds). Most of the time, she is confident that she is the best loved dog in the family and generally feels herself to be the superior dog despite being outweighed by a good 50 lbs.

The younger sister, Waffle, is always happy, eager to please, appears overweight, but is really rock solid, weighing nearly 100 lbs. She is a classic "dog" in the sense that she is what my human daughter Josephine and I used to call "a jumpy, licky dog." The word I use most often to describe her is "lurchy." I honestly believe she agrees with Athena about her status in the family, but her larger size and lurchiness means that she often bulldozes her older sister without realizing it.

Since we live in an apartment, the dogs get lots of walks, each one for Waffle being the greatest thing that has ever happened in her life. The moment she is convinced that I'm preparing to leave the house, she begins to jump up and down. Not necessarily wildly, but in place, up and down, up and down. I hear her saying, Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Sometimes she'll run over to me and start jumping up and down right in front of me, wiggling her rectangular prism shaped body slightly in the air, every now and then poking me in the stomach with her nose. There is never any mystery about what she wants. In this regard she is a master communicator. I sometimes get frustrated with what strikes me as her boneheaded lurchiness, and recently scolded her, "Why can't you ever figure out what I want you to do?" She explained herself, answering, I only don't do want you want because I don't understand you. If you were easy to understand -- like me -- then I would know what to do and you wouldn't get mad at me. Fair enough. It's something I need to work on.

Athena, on the other hand, is the queen of subtlety. She has always understood me with no special effort on my part. I just tell her what I want her to do in regular human sentences and she responds appropriately.  I believe she takes pride in the fact that I don't use "commands" with her. Sometimes when I'm have trouble being clear with Waffle, she will, however, start responding to the commands intended for Waffle, demonstrating to me her superiority. When Waffle is being particularly challenging, Athena has taken to "helping" me by pouncing on her sister's neck, biting her over and over like a mother dog correcting one of her litter.

Recently, Athena has decided to start "helping" me when Waffle jumps in anticipation of her walks. When I put on my shoes and head for the door, Waffle starts in with the jumping. Athena races to her, looks for an opening, then comes down assertively on Waffle's neck. Waffle nips back, but ineffectively as her more agile sister dances away, poised for a second, then a third launch, sometimes at the neck and sometimes at her heels, with a clear intent to take her legs out from under her. They go round and round like this, forcing me to wade through them to get to the leashes, positioning my body so as to protect a hallway table that is mounted to the wall and that they've already knocked down once.

I know I could "command" them to stop, but they both seem to enjoy it, and with her medical history, I take pleasure anytime Athena shows extra spunk. Yesterday morning as they tussled, I asked Athena, "Why do you always bite your sister? Huh?"

She answered, Because she's bad. I'm biting her to make her good.

I said, "But it just makes her crazier? It just makes her jump more."

She replied, That's why I have to keep biting her.

"Do you think you'll ever make her good?"

Athena didn't answer. She was too busy punishing Waffle.

Well, what do you expect? I mean, they are only dogs.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share


Aunt Annie said...

Sometimes I swear you're reading my mind. Yesterday I referred to my dog as a permanent toddler... constantly testing the boundaries, experimenting, full of enthusiasm, but with a bottom line that he wants to be with me All The Time.

I learn a lot about handling my dogs from working with very small children!! And that isn't a derogatory comment about either the children or the dogs- it's all about love and boundaries.

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

I had a conversation with a parent of one of my students where she referred to "time outs" when her child is defiant. I asked how it was working...was he still being defiant? Um, yes.'s that working for you? She said he also HATES the silent treatment. Hm. I gently suggested that love-withdrawal and isolation don't really seem to work, if the child is still acting up.
Funny how parents and teachers keep trying the same ineffective things generation after generation, with no real results. And we don't even have the "Hey, I'm a dog, what can I say?" excuse...
This post made me smile.

Beansprouts said...

You could have been telling the story of my dogs (except they are Mitch and Dexter, and Mitch takes prednisone for a chronic digestive condition rather than hormones...otherwise, exact same story!)

And I can say that I learned the term "calm assertiveness" from Cesar Milan. I think of this as the "kind and firm" teaching practices I employ.