I published Stalled, the third book in the Truman Blue, Cozy Mystery Series. Publishing is always mixed blessing. This book is a success for a fledgling Cozy writer. I am well into the next book, Staked Out.
The sorrow was that I unhooked a virtual leash for Leala trot over the rainbow bridge. She was 14 years old. Leala was my first therapy dog. We started together in 2009. She was a stray, terrified of people, but gave them a second chance. She ended up as a premiere therapy dog. She is now in the “memory kennel” with the rest of her buddies.
Last month, while gardening, I picked up a shovel and Bear ran. It broke my heart. This month I noticed a huge change in his guardedness. I think he has adopted us. I credit Truman for a good portion of Bear’s trusting turnaround. Truman is top dog, and Bear finds comfort in his friendly and confidnet leadership.
Bear led a complicated life before he came to our house. He loves to come up from behind walk between my legs as I walk. He happily stands perfectly still while I put on his harness and leash. He loves to have his face held and rubbed. He loves car rides. He was house broken. He came with those trusting traits. Someone loved him. Then somehow, he became a stray.
Did his owner die from Covid? He is a fence jumper. Maybe he aggravated a neighbor to the point he was “relocated”.
He came to us with many fears. If you took hold of his collar quickly, he turned his head gaping his mouth, even putting it his mouth on an arm. He never bit. He was just very defensive. The click of a pen sent him running out of the house. Touching his legs terrified him.
We had him three weeks when he decided to start jumping our fence. He would run up and down a busy highway. I have no idea how he avoided being hit. We spent a bundle on a electric fence (feels like a 9-volt battery on the tongue) and raising the height of our 1-acre dog yard fence. Bear doesn’t try to escape anymore, not because of the fence, but because he doesn’t like to go too far away from us.
In another year, this dog will be one of those heart dogs, I can tell. He is respectful. He is obedient without formal training. He loves to touch and be touched. He often has a paw touching or is leaning against us or one of our other critters. He is one of us.
I admit, I hadn’t read the scientific research papers. When I learned about the connection between behavior and left/right handedness in dogs, I was delightfully shocked. How had I missed that?
As it turns out, there are predictors of a dog’s propensity to be a more easily trained, and less troublesome. The predictors are based on observable physical characteristics that are associated with left or right paw preference.
On the left you can see Truman and Bear playing. Bear has a definite preference of using his left paw to whack Truman. He doesn’t just “paw” at him, he actually whacks him, like a–well–bear would. Bear usually steps off to a walk with his left foot first. He was too “playful” for me to get a snapshot of the whorl on his chest, the whorl being another predictor. I tried several times.
On the other hand, the right-hand photo shows the whorl on Truman’s chest. This is the first and only picture I took because Truman was so cooperative. The whorl goes counterclockwise. A sign that the dog is more trainable. I’d put money on Bear’s whorl going clockwise. Truman generally steps off with his right foot.
Truman is the easiest dog I have ever dealt with. He loves to please. He listens to everything I say. He listens and learns so quickly that he seems like a dog genius. Bear, on the other hand, while sweet as he can be, seems head strong, persistent. He is fearful of odd things even though I have worked on desensitization. (Nutcracker cracking pecans at a distance). Bear runs out of the room if he sees the nail clippers. Truman offers me his paw to get nails trimmed.
Below is an over simplification of right and left brain functions in humans (which is comparable to dogs with obvious differences). Possible dog behaviors in italics
Right side of the brain controls:
Physical: left side of body (left dominant)
Thinking: attention, memory, reasoning, problem solving
Escapes from fence
Helps themselves to food on the countertop
Feeling: alertness, determination, disgust, avoidance, fear
Digs the whole yard trying to get a mole
Hates going to the vet
Left side of the brain controls:
Physical: right side of body (right dominant)
Thinking: language, number skills, reasoning, scientific skills, spoken language
Quickly associates words or signals with actions
Good at solving “dog puzzles”
Watches you to try to understand what you want them to do
Feeling: comfortable approaching and engaging with the world, happiness, pride, anger
Good therapy or service dog
Easy to get along with
Bear isn’t really a bad dog. He does have different behavior than Truman. That doesn’t make him bad, it does make him more challenging.
Of course, selective breeding pre-determines many behavioral characteristics. But within each breed, there are differences. The moral of the story is, as a general rule, if you want a dog that is more tractable, and less worrisome, pick a pooch that is right-pawed and has a counterclockwise chest whorl.
Truman’s best buddy, our new shelter pup Bear, has some aberrant behaviors. He is preoccupied with putting toys in certain arrangements.
After reviewing Bear’s toy alignments, I am convinced it contains a message to his home planet. I am in need of help from an astrophysicist. Being a tree hugger, I know angles are important in astrophysics, but I don’t know how to calculate or interpret the small angle approximation. I am certain this arrangement is a signal indicating an impending invasion of aliens from Bear’s home planet. I suspect the planet is in the Sirius solar system, in the Canis Major Constellation. Please help, or we may be overrun, by playful puppers!
Do dogs have horrible nightmares? How would they know that a nightmare is not real?
Bear had been making steady progress in acclimating to our home, until yesterday.
It started with breakfast. When Bear came to our home 2 months ago, he hated being crated. I believe dogs should not fear being crated because at some point in their lives, they may have a need to be crated for such as an injury that needs confinement to heal. Bear’s meals were in the crate, so he had learned to associate crate time with good things. My other dogs (and cats) rotate turns for naptime in the open crate. Bear still doesn’t choose to nap in the crate, but he is desensitized enough that he now willingly walks in for meals and patiently waits for me to let him out.
Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, he refused to go in the crate for his breakfast. He ducked away and sniffed at the bowl from the outside. When I finally convinced him to go in, he took a bite, then stood at the door to be let out. I sat next to the bowl, and he finally relaxed to eat.
I wondered if he had a nightmare. Did he dream that we did something hurtful to him? We have not, but his behavior indicates that he was traumatized by someone more than once, most likely when he was a stray. He’s terrified and runs outside at “click” sounds, like the ones made by a lighter. Loud noises don’t bother him, except for the pop like a balloon. He comes wagging his tail when I hold up a leash and stands still to be hooked up, but he shrinks backs and runs if I try to take hold of his collar without a leash in my hand.
Uncharacteristically, yesterday Bear spent most of the day in the yard by himself, not coming in until dark. Usually, he follows the other dogs in and out, adhering to their routine. The other three dogs are bonafide house pets (all former rescues). We frequently encouraged him to come in many times with treats, but when treat time was over, he retreated outside.
He is a typical 10-month-old chewer but has learned that anything in the doggie toy box is okay. He usually frequents that box several times a day, hauling several toys from the box to the middle of the living room. Yesterday, he didn’t touch the toys. When I picked up one of his favorites and held it up to, him he turned and ducked away. We have never hurt him when he chewed the wrong thing. A simple showing him the toy and saying “no” and immediately handing him a dog toy, with a “good dog” praise, has taught him which toys are his without trauma.
The only difference between yesterday and the day before that was, what to me, was a calm night. I can only imagine the pupper saw his new home in a dark dream. One of those dreams where your worst fears come true, but regardless, when you awaken and see you are safe, the fear lingers. My heart aches for him. He is such a sweet and normally happy go lucky dog. I am confident that he will eventually trade bad dreams for good. Until then, his mom’s heart hurts when he does.
I know Truman’s calm and comforting nature will help heal Bear’s doggie soul.