A couple of friends have pointed me to the blog Hyperbole and a Half. The writer, Allie Brosh, is a spaz and hilarious, and mostly people point me to it b/c they say we sound alike. I don’t say this to brag about my capacity for funny or spaz-ish behavior, but more to point out that you should read her. You’d like her, I think. Anyway, one of my friends recently called attention to her post about her retarded dog: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/07/dog.html. After reading this, I felt inclined to brag about my similarly-retarded dog, who’s actually quite smart and only retarded in the emotional capacity. Since she’s been going through some amazing changes in that area recently, I figured it was time for The Story of Nell. Coming to a theater near you in 3-D. While supplies last.
So this morning, I scored a very small victory: Nell licked a treat that was in my hand when I offered it to her. Licked it! Twice! WITH HER TONGUE! This represents a pretty big victory to me, since from the time that we got her, she’s shown a reluctance to eat where a predator (read: any human) could see her being vulnerable. This is why I should she was going to literally starve herself to death when we got her and she refused to eat for the first 5 days we had her. Over the course of the year that we’ve had her, this has improved slowly:
- First, she’d eat after anxiously watching me and pacing for about 20 min. while I waited across the room (occasionally directing her back to the general area of her food when she paced away from it).
- Then, she allowed me to sit on the couch next to her, while casually ignoring her, while she waited 30 min. before deciding I was more stubborn than she.
- After that, she let me touch her head after I put the bowl down.
- Then I could touch her head and ears.
- Then head, ears, and body.
- After a while she seemed to figure out that food was kinda ok.
- Then she figured out that I was the one that brought the food, so she started acting more interested in going to the kitchen (where I prepped the food) in the morning.
This dog absolutely fascinates me, because everything with this little dog has had to be in baby steps. Did she backtrack when you tried to move forward a step? Then you backtrack to the very beginning and start all over until she’s ok with the increase. Neither Clayton nor myself previously would’ve said we had the patience for this sort of expedition, having to feel out when it’s better to give her space to figure things out while still setting boundaries for expected good behavior. How to dis-incline her from bad behavior while not ruining what trust she might’ve built up, or know when the bad behavior’s because “Screw you, hippie, I don’t wanna” or “I’m too scared/ignorant to know what to do.” And it’s hard not to take it personally when something whose life you’ve saved seems to adamantly hold to the impression that you’re just trying to eat her. Which I think is a bit egotistical on her part, since we’d have had to fatten her up anyway to make it worth the effort:
We tried to be patient and show her that we were trustworthy. We used calm tones and didn’t raise our voices. We even cursed quietly under our breaths when a loud noise would send her flying into the office, leaving a turd trail like breadcrumbs behind her. We’d clean it up and call her insulting names with affectionate tones. We educated ourselves on dog body language, chatted with dog behaviorist friends, and prayed to Cesar Milan for insight. Clayton would sometimes lose his patience, like when he would try to pet her and she’d scurry away with a mistrustful look that clearly said, “You smell hungry and I see right through you.” And he’d look right at her and throw his hands up and exclaim, “WHY DON’T YOU TRUST ME? I HAVEN’T KILLED YOU YET!” while helped a great deal. We dressed her in humiliating clothing so she’d realize that scary things don’t always kill you:
But she slowly came along. Dog owners in our neighborhood would stop me to point out how far along she was coming, as her body language changed, as did the techs at our vet, who had to clean up fewer and fewer nervous puddles. She finally became interested enough in pleasing me that we could work on “Sit”–she learned that I wanted her to sit when she was upset or anxious, instead of trying to pull me the opposite direction fast enough to break the sound barrier. And that she was supposed to sit next to Sam and wait patiently for meals, which kinda introduced “Stay Put and Don’t Fidget.” All kinds of progress. To the point that I figured she was probably as far along as she’d be for a long, long time—that the rest of her emotional retardation would get healed only with more time.
And then we took her in for a money-hemorrhaging visit to clean her teeth and remove that pesky cyst on her back and a mole under her chin. And while they were working on her teeth, the surgeon decided to pull the right canine that had been a dead tooth since we had her. Never seemed to cause her pain, but hey, while we’re in here, right…?
After she started to heal and the pain lessened, we began to realize that we had not come home with the same dog as we’d given to the vet. The dog we had now wanted to play. Play? When the vet had told me to be careful of letting her wrestle with Sam, so that she didn’t pull the stitches in her back or mouth, I just laughed in her face. I was like, “You obviously don’t know this dog. It’s like you just told me to keep Stephen Hawking from playing basketball.” And when the vet said, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Stephen Hawking doesn’t even like basketball,” I almost hugged her. (Finally a vet with a sick sense of humor!)
So for a while I had to play bouncer while Nell tried to put Sam in a headlock. And I grin every morning when my little dog sleepily trots over with a wide-wagging tail to get loved on b/c I happened to coo at Sam and they’re both ridiculously jealous of the other getting attention. (My little dog is jealous over not getting loved on!) And I laugh when she whines and barks at me (yells at me, really) b/c I’m testing her ability to “Stay” when I put down meals. And so she licked at a treat I offered her this morning and ate it the second I put it on the floor.
This after this morning’s walk, where I’d been detained by another dog owner I’d never met before, a nice lady with a punchy Pom in a sweater (I’m not even going there right now). The lady had JUST finished asking me about Nell’s history, and no sooner had I made the comment that, “We think she might’ve been abused or something, but she’s come a long way,” Nell stands up from where she’d been quietly sitting like a Good Dog and lunged to the side b/c she spazzed over a jogger ACROSS THE STREET. So I lean over and casually whack her butt with the back of my hand, making a nice meaty THWAP noise on her haunches. And she jumps like she’s been goosed and sits back down like, “Yeah, sorry. Forgot myself.” When I stood back up, the lady’s looking at me like I just admitted to a baby-torturing fetish, excused herself, and walked off.
That’s right, I beat my formerly-abused dog. That’s why she behaves so beautifully. Also why she hides in a corner whenever I come home:
So, you might wonder what’s the motto of all of this? Keep your pimp hand strong to keep the bitches in line.
(As a side anecdote, I’ve noticed that Clayton’s developed the habit of joyously crying out, “Bitches!” when he comes home as his new way of greeting the dogs. To which they leap and cry in ecstasy of being noticed. He delights in explaining why this is factually accurate. I’ve threatened him to get out of the habit before the baby arrives. The last thing I need is for that to be our kid’s first word.)