It’s Not Cute, Damn it.

Yep, it’s another month, another installment of “Better Humaning Through Dogs.”

Generally, I try to write about the positive elements of dog companionship – or at least, the interesting ones. And generally, people who love or work with dogs understand the psychology of these animals, or are willing to learn.

But sometimes, I swear to dog, er, god, media makes education difficult, and I just have to scream.

Recently I saw a People magazine article, one of those clickbait headlines squibs, about a puppy so protective of a new family member, it wouldn’t even let the baby‘s mama touch baby. And it was, as these things always are reported, done up in a sweetly twee, isn’t it cute! tone.  Isn’t that a good dog?

No, it’s not cute. At that level, it’s called resource guarding, and it’s not something you should be encouraging in your dogs, OK? (Or your cats, for that matter.)  Yes, dogs are excellent guardians, and are often very careful and watchful around the younger members of their pack, four or two-legged.

But when the family dog gets upset when anyone else comes near the baby, to the point of growling or showing teeth, Rover or Fluffy isn’t being protective over your offspring. Rover or Fluffy is claiming them as their property, their territory.  That’s a version of resource guarding, and it’s not a healthy situation, much less “cute.”

Resource guarding, within context, isn’t a bad thing.  Between dogs, it’s annoyingly common – I’ve seen this play out more times than I like, working with shelter dogs, with friend’s dogs, with my own dog. Between dogs, its a way of laying down boundaries: this is mine and I will share it, this is mine and I will not. Most dogs will recognize and accept those boundaries, and back down (when they don’t, that’s when you get dog fights).

But humans, for the most part, are clueless about the warning signs, and very bad about backing off.  And no, you can’t count on your dog recognizing you, and knowing that you are to be trusted.  Not in the instant of reaction, anyway.  To the resource guarding dog’s mind, everything is a potential threat to their possession of the beloved object.  Even another pack member, maybe even alpha pack members.  And they’re not going to sit back and rationally think it out; they’re going to respond the way they’re designed to, quickly, efficiently, and potentially bloodily.

And a dog’s idea of defensive behavior?  Involves teeth.

That means anyone attempting to reach for the child, in the case of this article, or a person in need of medical care, or even a partner attempting to show affection, risks getting bitten.  Maybe badly.

So yeah, articles like the one I saw are the worst kind of narrative, assigning emotions and motives inaccurately, and making it seem like a good thing. A trained guard dog does not behave that way. An untrained guarding dog is a danger to everybody. Including that dog. Because you know what too-often happens to dogs that bite. Even if they’re not at fault.

So yeah, please, please.  If you have a dog that is showing signs of resource guarding against humans, particularly if they’re resource guarding another human, get them (and you) professional help to stop it.

The life you save may be theirs.

for more information, I’d suggest starting here.

My Life in Dogs

I live with a geriatric half-Dalmatian former-athlete dog. She is sweet and stubborn and ridiculous… and approaching the end of her sell-by date. I had not thought to see my own mortality mirrored in my dog, but there it is. She’s not my first dog, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t get to see my earlier dogs age.

When I was seven and away at my school’s spring camp for a week, my parents had some friends over for dinner. As a hostess gift of sorts they brought… a beagle puppy. They had stopped at a gas station the week before, and found a litter of orphaned pups in the ladies’ room. They spent the next week distributing these tiny animals who were really too young to have left their mother to all their friends. This included my parents. I suspect my mother greeted this new addition to the household with mixed feelings. She wasn’t anti-dog, but she had two small children and here was another lifeform to be responsible for. By the time I suspect she was thinking that a beagle puppy was one lifeform too many, I got home from camp Continue reading “My Life in Dogs”

Too Many Dogs

Wait, what, you may be thinking – Laura Anne saying “too many dogs?”  Is she all right? Has she been replaced by a canid-hating alien?

No, it’s still me.  But my fellow humans have once again tipped the scale and made me rant.

I admit it: I am in many ways the quintessential, stereotypical PNW dog owner: I see no reason why my dog should not accompany me pretty much anywhere and everywhere.  Within reason, okay, and not to get up in the face of people who don’t like dogs. I get it.  I mean, I don’t  GET it, but I respect their dislike, whatever the reason for it.

Now, I’ve got some reason for my feelings: Max is (for the most part) a well-trained dog who understands how to behave in public spaces.  And there’s little pleases me more than seeing other well-trained dogs sharing public spaces.  People, mostly, are happier when dogs are around.  Lord knows, this world needs more happiness.

Last week, however, I had to reevaluate my position on, “dogs, yay!”

Because of a change in my schedule, I went to a different farmers market than I usually attend. This one was slightly smaller, and it was all packed into one street. Which was a complication, but they’d laid out the pedestrian traffic lanes pretty well. 

But because of the location, and perhaps because of the neighborhood it was situated in, they were a number of people with small children, and dogs — and occasionally small children and dogs. They were also, because of the location, a great number of people sitting at café tables outside of restaurants and stores, watching the crowds go by.

This was a little problematic for me, for reasons of Covid and crowd trauma.  But it was outdoors, people were mostly-masked, it was fine.

But.

There were too damn many dogs.

These were good dogs, as far as I could tell.  They seemed to be well-behaved, and completely under their owner’s control. Normally I would consider it an excellent example of why dogs and humans should be allowed to interact.

But.

There were just too damn many of them for one already-crowded street.  Every step, another dog, every turn, another dog.  Dogs under a barrage of noises and smells, including the doubtless distracting smells from the food booths.

And people being careless about where their dog was poking their nose.  Yeah, your dog may be the friendliest thing that ever wagged.  But you still need to pay attention to what’s going on.

So there I am, being hyper alert, and I could feel Max starting to stress, partially because she could sense I was worried, but also partially because she wanted to play with a lot of the dogs, and they wanted to play with her, but she knows that market time is not playtime.  Probably a lot of other dogs had the same tug-of-war going on behind their big brown eyes.

There’s only so much you can ask a dog’s brain, and its desire to please you, before something’s gotta give. And when something gives in a dog, you get stress, and when you get stress you get barking, and occasionally you get biting.

So we did our shopping and got the hell out of there.  And I won’t be going back.  Because hell yes, I’m leery of crowds these days.  But sometimes it’s not trauma.  Sometimes it’s just knowing the odds.

So fellow dog owners, real talk: our dogs don’t have to go everywhere with us.  Honest.  And if you just gotta take them with you to the weekend market, deputize someone to wait with them outside the market while you wander in and out of the booths.

The disaster you avert may be your own.

Max, getting a little too excited….

A slightly saltier version of this post originally appeared at my Patreon.

Have Dog, Will Hike? The First Adventure

When I first started thinking about getting a dog, I knew that I wanted a companion who could come along with me on hikes.  I thought a lot about the physical characteristics I’d want – and kinda overlooked the mental elements.

Most healthy dogs will take a long walk with you. Not every dog is cut out to be a camping buddy, with its discomforts, intrusions by other people – and wildlife – and often unpredictable weather.I knew Max had the legs and stamina to keep up with me on a camping trip.  But would she enjoy it?

Continue reading “Have Dog, Will Hike? The First Adventure”

Feeding Frenzy

One of the preoccupations of our household for the last few months has been what to feed the Elder Statesdog.

Emily is now 15+, which is a substantial age for a mid-sized dog. And for 14 and a half of those years she has been an enthusiastic, occasionally rapacious, eater. That changed last summer, when she started picking at her food… and having GI problems with which I will not burden you. The vet prescribed a (very expensive) specialized low fat diet, which immediately put an end to the GI issues, and which she ate happily (with a side eye of “I was always hungry, you dopes. You just weren’t feeding me right.”)

Fast forward to the fall, when she began to disdain the new food. Rather than go back on her old diet (of which we had quite a lot–half a bag of kibble and a flat of the wet food) we started feeding her rice and canned chicken, about which she was quite enthusiastic. And that lasted through… about the end of the year? At which point she decided that that wasn’t any good either. 

How does Emily show her displeasure? She snouts: which is to say, she gestures with her nose all around the bowl, as if she were trying to bury the bowl and its contents. This spring there has been a whole lot of snouting going on.

So the feeding frenzy has been ours, not hers. She may not be skin-and-bones these days, but she’s very skinny. So we’ve gone back and forth between the old food, the new food, rice and chicken, egg-and-hamburger, and some days, a steady diet of treats, just so she has some calories in her. She thinks the all-treats-all-the-time diet is just swell (she particularly likes the supermarket brands–the fancier desiccated liver or reindeer shreds from the pet store are okay, but she’s a Milkbone/Beggin’ Strips girl at base). So she’s getting them. And getting spoiled, and why not? She’s a 105-year-old Moldavian Leaping Dog.

We’re not going to be able to keep Emily going forever, we know that. She has cataracts, she’s rather deaf, and if she stands anywhere for more than a minute or two, her hind quarters begin to sink toward the ground as her muscles fatigue. Yet, if we take her out of a walk she still wants to chase a ball–a few times, anyway, before she stands with the ball in her mouth, looking at me as if I’m the Idiot.  She’s a very old dog. And we have decided that whatever makes her happy and keeps her comfortable is what we’re feeding her. The vet concurs.

A Different Kind of Fostering

Previous posts have been about fostering dogs.  This one is too.  Just not in the same way.

My friend B. was one of the first people to welcome me to the neighborhood clique of dog-people, the two of us bonding over dog names (her little pup is Minnie, my gangly beast is Maxi).  

Minnie is a recent adoption.  Her previous dog died recently, at an advanced age, and she waited a while before getting another.  They’d only been together a few months when Minnie started acting off.  They ran tests, and everything came back clear…. until this month it didn’t.

Minnie has lymphoma.

We walk along the curving path through the park, as she tells me the diagnosis, Max and Minnie trotting just ahead of us. They’ve put Minnie on prednisone, and it’s drastically improved her mood and behavior.  She’s not in pain any more.  But it’s only buying time. Continue reading “A Different Kind of Fostering”

I Can Stop Any Time… I just Don’t Want To. Mostly.

My last post, I talked about fostering a puppy (who has since gone on to his furever home, huzzah!).  And I thought, “okay, I’m going to take a break from all that, for a while.”

And then an email landed from the other shelter I volunteer with, and without hesitation I said, “I can take Bella.”

Bella is a six-year-old Pomeranian mix, a delicate little lady with the spine of a dragon (when a friend’s Great Dane pup got too close, she opened her little mouth and showed her little teeth, and told him to get fucked.  He backed down.).  We call her the cat-dog, because all she really wants is to cuddle, ideally and preferably in my lap, but she is perfectly happy to trot alongside Max for nearly an hour on our walks.

(and then she demands to be carried, like the princess she is).

It hasn’t been all snuggles and walks, though.  Her first few days, her tummy was stress-upset, and I spent a lot of time washing shit out of her fur.  Her housebreaking broke (also due to stress) and I spent a lot of time cleaning carpets. And recleaning carpets.  And throwing out soiled pee pads (and keeping Max from eating the fresh ones).  Sweet Bella is demanding of my time, to the point where Max started to get cranky about it.  And god help you when you tried to crate her at night!  Her place was on the bed with you, thank you very much.

(Once she regained her house training, she got to sleep on the bed, yes).

And then she had to have dental surgery, and I spent four days trying to convince her that yes, she did need to take all her meds….  Trying to get a tiny dog to swallow a pill is not like pilling a larger dog.  Their mouths are so tiny and you feel guilty AF for even trying.

But she’s still the sweetest bundle of fierce fluff, and I love her dearly.

I said that in conversation recently, and  got another round of the usual, “I don’t know how you can bear to foster, and then let them go.  I’d end up adopting all of them.”

As I said to that friend: no, you really wouldn’t.  And no, we’re not saints for doing this.  I joke that having a third animal in the house for a short period of time is how I remind myself that one dog and one cat is the perfect balance for this household.  More than that, and chaos is set loose.  Chaos, and exhaustion.  But more than that, the truth is that with animals, as with people, loving someone doesn’t always mean you want to keep them. 

As you read this, I’m bringing her back to the shelter to meet with prospective adopters.  I have all my fingers and toes crossed that they will be a perfect match, and Bella will be going to her furever home, to spend the rest of her life loved and comforted and allowed to sleep on the bed.

And then I’m going to take a break from fostering for a while.

And this time I mean it!

EtA: Bella did in fact charm her potential humans, and their resident dog, and went home with them this evening. <3.

The 13th Month of 2020

This month has been a hell of a year. It would take me all of my space for this post to recount everything that has happened in the past 29 days, and honestly there’s no need, you were there too.

And you know what?  I’m taking it personally.  I started off the year thinking that this year I would hit all of my deadlines, got everything in early not just on time, got seven hours of sleep every night, and actually made dinner regularly. Oh, and I was also going to have enough time to make myself lunch ahead of time. Raise your hand if you think that lasted more than a week.

I see none of you took that sucker bet.

There’s been a thought in the back of my head, that has moved to the front of my head this week. How long do we give ourselves a free pass, by saying, “well it’s 2020.” Or, the 13th month of 2020. At what point do we know, it’s over, everyone has to get back to being competent again?

OK, whatever level of competence we had before *waves hands* all this started.

The answer is, depressingly, we’re not going to know.  Not until we look backward and say, “oh yeah, around X, that’s when things started to get better.” And even then, we’re not going to suddenly discover that our focus has come back, our energy returned, our depressions lifted.

Trauma is never that goddamned considerate, or communicative.

So when I got the call from one of the shelters I volunteer with, asking if I’d be able to take in a six-week-old puppy, part of a litter that had been pulled from a bad situation and needed a fast home, I said, yes.  Because hey, if you’re already drowning, why not dive?

This, like so many of my decisions in the past 13 months, was both horrible, and brilliant.  Horrible, because six-week-old puppies need constant attention, and by that I mean, you’re up every hour and half, all night, to take them out and encourage them to pee and poo, hopefully but not always on the pad provided for that action.  And if not, you clean it up, put them back in their kennel, and try to get 85 minutes of sleep before the next round.  And then you do that all day, too, only without the sleep

Brilliant, because there is nothing like holding a small bundle of fur and heartbeat, and knowina dog and a small puppy, playing tug with a length of red ropeg that you are its entire world.

(okay, me, and Max.  Max turned out to be a pawsome big foster-sister.)

But also brilliant, because when I handed him off at the end of his fostering – and took a two hour nap – I suddenly realized that I had so much more energy and time to accomplish things than I’d had just a week before!  Suddenly, everything was still painful, but manageable.

Of course it’s a mirage.  Shhhhh.  Don’t let my brain know.

Going Out? Cover Your Snout!

Capt Jack - masked up

After all these months of wearing masks and taking proper precautions, I still have trouble remembering to put on a mask when I go out—especially if it’s something quick and routine, like taking the dogs for a walk. It’s not like I’m hiding the masks; they’re hanging right by the door. Am I the only one with this problem? I can’t be.

I decided I needed a mnemonic reminder. So now when I go out, I (try to remember to) chant to myself, “Going out? Cover your snout!”

It helps. Just like “Going out? Don’t go without!” helps me remember to take my wallet when I’m going to the store.

Neither is foolproof. I’m grateful for Google Pay on my phone, which saves me about once every few months, when I find myself at the grocery checkout, patting my pocket, and cursing softly because there’s no wallet there.

Some of us need all the help we can get, these days.

Not everybody likes it, though.

Got Goat?

Travel back with me to those long-ago pre-Pandemic days when we went out of the house to do… well, everything. My husband, who has an antic sense of humor, got a screaming goat. This is a toy based on the internet meme. Press on the goat’s back and it screams. It’s a silly object, but one that has become central to our household functioning.

How so?

When California went into lockdown, both my husband and I started working from home. He is a recording engineer and tech engineer for a Major Motion Picture Sound Company, and suddenly he and his teammates were tasked with finding ways that they–and the sound and music editors they support–could work from home. He brought home a slew of equipment (my living room looks like the NASA Control Room) and went at it. The task came with a prodigious learning curve that they scaled fearlessly and quickly, but there were moments of frustration. Fortunately, with all the gear, he had also brought home the goat. When he was frustrated, he’d trigger the goat, which would scream. A useful outlet.

So useful that I decided I needed one too. Now, when I’m working from home and the urge to scream hits, I can hit my toy goat and it screams, and in a moment, from the other room, will come an answering scream. And vice versa.

It is a curiously satisfying way, both of discharging irritation and expressing solidarity. So much so that, when a friend became ill, I sent her a pair of screaming goats for herself and her husband. And when I came down to visit my 94-year-old aunt for the first time in 10 months (having been tested, scrubbed, and proved to be as safe as I could be, COVID-wise) I brought her a goat.

It is her new best friend. It makes her laugh, but more, in those inevitable moments when the indignities that come along with considerable age hit, the goat is a helpful outlet.

Since the goat seems to have a calming effect on my family, I wondered where the expression “got my goat” came from. If you get someone’s goat, you upset them. The true origins of the phrase are not confirmed, but one suggestion: apparently, high-strung race horses are often given a goat to keep them company when they’re at racecourses. So if someone takes the goat and your racehorse becomes distraught and therefore loses the race, you become upset. Because someone got your goat.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I kind of like it anyway. The goat, miraculous soother of racehorses and humans. Who knew?