9.03.2008

the creative canine mind

Ever since our first dog, the amazing Gypsy, took over our lives and nearly destroyed my sanity, Allan and I appreciate the necessity of training our dogs and establishing leadership.

Our dogs are generally well-behaved. We work with them on training, and we've also seen them learn from each other. That's a fascinating thing to observe. With our second dog, Clyde, we never did formal training. She picked up everything from Gypsy, and quickly knew everything her big sister knew.

the girls


On the other hand, we're not into extended obedience training or any kind of certification. It looks terrific for the folks who do it. It's just not something we've wanted to put time into. We do the training to the extent that's needed for us all to live happily together, and the rest is play.

Lately I've been noticing that my favourite things that our dogs do are the behaviours they've made up themselves. Each of our dogs has done something like that.

Gypsy was very vocal. She talked a lot, and used all different sounds to express different meanings. In one of these, she would play a game. One of us would snuggle up to her, face to face, and emit a quiet mmmmmmmmm. She would reply. We'd do it again, then she'd do it again, each time a little softer and shorter. Eventually it was a barely audible mm. She'd keep going, and she seemed to want to out-do us, making sure she exhaled the tiniest of ms as you were leaving. She had to get the last word.

AL pookies bennett rest


Clyde was a jumper. She would hit the ground and spring up in the air in the same motion, as if on a trampoline. We found Clyde on the street, so we didn't know her background, and had never had a small dog before. We later decided she was a terrier mix, part Jack Russell, part Smooth-coat Fox Terrier (and undoubtedly part many other things). Jumping is definitely part of their M.O.

We never did anything to curb the jumping, so she would just fly through the air whenever she got excited. I saw her kiss the forehead of a man who was 6'2". Then she'd hit the ground and rise back up again.

I'm not sure if this counts as inventing behaviour, as she was obviously hard-wired to jump. But when I came home, Clyde would catapult herself through the air, on a horizontal line. Her front paws would hit my upper chest - with force. She'd often knock me back into the door. She only did this to me. I hated it. I bruise very easily, and I often had small purple marks where Clyde had greeted me.

clyde upstate


Buster was a soldier, and lived to obey. He wanted nothing more out of life than for us to tell him what to do, and for him to do it. His aggression towards other dogs - he would have killed any dog who wasn't Cody - was beyond anyone's control, the permanent scars of torture. And it was partly because the sadists who trained him (and then left him to die) took advantage of his fierce need to obey.

But the one area where Buster was spontaneous was in giving us affection. If I was doing something standing up, he would come over, lie down beside me, and put his head on my feet. He spontaneously would give his paw, hooking it around your arm or ankle, whatever he could reach.

I actually have a photo of this, taken on the last day of his life. Some of you read this blog then, and helped us get through it.

buster & allan 11.15.05 006


And for happier Buster times.

pups at play 002

b 11.16.05 001


Tala invents lots of games for herself in the backyard.

I taught to her to fetch a ball so that she would leave Cody alone - a way of exercising her without taxing Cody. But she quickly grew to love fetching her kong ball.

It's always just been throw, chase, retrieve, throw, chase, retrieve. Then one time she caught the ball in mid-air, on the bounce. And ever since then, with no prompting from us, she seems to really want to catch the ball in mid-air.

Now we try to throw it that way, and she's really getting into leaping to catch it. You can see her timing the jump, either speeding up or waiting depending on the throw. I totally love it. This is the kind of thing that, for me, shows a dog's natural intelligence. She made up a game, a challenge for herself. She enjoyed it and decided to keep doing it. We're just coming along for the ride.

Together, Cody and Tala have played tug-of-war with a stick. The other day they found a length of rope, and were playing with that. It reminded me that when we did training with Buster, Cody would pick up the long training leash and drag Buster around the apartment. The leash was attached to his head-collar, and he would just walk obediently behind Cody and she dragged him through the rooms.

tala cody backyard snow2 007


True to her quirky personality, Cody's creative behaviour is the oddest. She's dug herself a nest.

cody dirt 002

cody dirt 001


You can see how deep it is. She dug it one night last summer. Allan filled it in with soil over the winter, but as soon as the weather warmed up, the ditch reappeared. She doesn't like to dig when it's wet; she prefers the dry, dusty soil.

cody dirt 007


I often call it Cody's Womb, because she curls up in fetal position. (A bit of fetus humour that not everyone would appreciate.) She likes to hang out and relax in her nest. But she also goes in when she's had enough of playing with Tala. It's Cody's "home base," where Tala is not allowed to bother her. And Tala respects that.

cody dirt 004

16 comments:

M@ said...

Awwww! Sweet dog stories.

We just saw my brother-in-law's dog the other day for the first time since her accident -- I don't know if I told you about her accident. She was hit head-on by a car and lost an eye, and a good portion of the vision in her other eye. Luckily my BIL didn't put her down as the vet advised him, and she's a healthy and happy pup.

But one thing she does is dig shallow trenches in the dirt in the backyard and lie in them, something like Cody! She doesn't curl up though; she stretches out, so that her belly (such as it is -- she's a boxer) rests in the hole. It looks strange but also quite comfortable.

Ah, dog talk!

Btw, Tala's love of being sprayed in the face also qualifies on your list of crazy dog-play behaviour.

L-girl said...

I don't know if I told you about her accident.

You defintely did and I've forgotten to ask how she's doing!! I'm so glad to hear she's out and about. How is she doing with the near-blindness?

But one thing she does is dig shallow trenches in the dirt in the backyard and lie in them, something like Cody! She doesn't curl up though; she stretches out, so that her belly (such as it is -- she's a boxer) rests in the hole. It looks strange but also quite comfortable.

How cool!

Btw, Tala's love of being sprayed in the face also qualifies on your list of crazy dog-play behaviour.

Oh yeah! You should see her trying to get the neighbours to spray her when they're watering their garden. She barks at them - single, high-pitched barks - until they spray her in the face. Then she trots happily away!

That is many people's favourite wmtc dog post.

M@ said...

I'm so glad to hear she's out and about. How is she doing with the near-blindness?

I'm not sure how sighted she is -- definitely not 100% -- but she's almost the same as before the accident. She has enough sight to run around, she can chase her toys when you throw them, and I was chasing her around the yard and she was her usual cunning and playful self.

She does have problems sometimes tracking things that move too fast (if you're not careful she'll miss it when you throw her toy). And her depth perception isn't great; she runs into walls and fences pretty often. However, I'm not sure how much more it happens than when she had both eyes. She's a big, happy, clumsy puppy.

When the accident happened, we were all worried she'd be totally blind and that she'd have severe brain damage. As I said, the vet at the hospital advised Sheng to have her euthanised right away. From that point of view it's a miracle she's doing so well. Not many dogs get hit head-on by a moving car and get away with such relatively minor injuries.

David Cho said...

Awesome pics. I read this before you alerted me.

This makes me wish I had taken more pictures of Noah :(.

Every dog is so different, and each has its own personality. Is Tala the most energetic of the bunch?

Did you see my email about the two greyhounds I've been befriending?

L-girl said...

She has enough sight to run around, she can chase her toys when you throw them, and I was chasing her around the yard and she was her usual cunning and playful self.

Brilliant! Just fantastic.

As I said, the vet at the hospital advised Sheng to have her euthanised right away. From that point of view it's a miracle she's doing so well. Not many dogs get hit head-on by a moving car and get away with such relatively minor injuries.

It's miraculous.

We had a really sad animal-related accident a couple of weeks ago. My sister's cat fell off their balcony. There were no broken bones (amazingly), but bad internal injuries, including lung damage.

They tried everything, kept her comfortable and out of pain, but after a week finally had to put her down.

My sister is so upset. The violence of the accident is what's really getting to her.

L-girl said...

Awesome pics. I read this before you alerted me.

:-)

This makes me wish I had taken more pictures of Noah :(.

Aw, I understand. We don't have that many pics of Gypsy & Clyde (no digital cameras then), and I wish we had more.

Every dog is so different, and each has its own personality.

So true. Each unique. We marvel at that.

Is Tala the most energetic of the bunch?

Oh no, not at all. Clyde was a whirling dervish. Terriers are pure energy.

And when Gypsy was young, I would bring her to Prospect Park (in Brooklyn) every day - she would basically drag me there, choking herself. I'd unhook her collar and she'd streak away from me, just disappear. About 10 minutes later she'd show up again, still running at top speed.

Prospect Park is huge, I have no idea where she went. :)

Did you see my email about the two greyhounds I've been befriending?

I sure did. I haven't had a chance to reply, but I'm waiting for updates. :)

impudent strumpet said...

Awww! My gramma had a dog who looked like Clyde but smaller, and when we were kids we were so amused at how she'd jump (the dog, not Gramma) that I think we inadvertently trained her to jump over the barriers my gramma would set up to keep her in/out of certain rooms.

Cody would pick up the long training leash and drag Buster around the apartment. The leash was attached to his head-collar, and he would just walk obediently behind Cody and she dragged him through the rooms.

THAT is the funniest thing ever! Do you have pictures?

L-girl said...

Awww! My gramma had a dog who looked like Clyde but smaller,

JRT?!?!

I think we inadvertently trained her to jump over the barriers my gramma would set up to keep her in/out of certain rooms.

If we had Clyde now, she'd jump right over the fence into the neighbours' yard - easily!

Cody would pick up the long training leash and drag Buster around the apartment. The leash was attached to his head-collar, and he would just walk obediently behind Cody and she dragged him through the rooms.

THAT is the funniest thing ever! Do you have pictures?


NO! I so wish we did. She would also walk around Buster while holding one end of the leash - a thick string really - in her mouth, wrapping him up. He would just stand there and let himself get tied up.

This big alpha male pit-mix, and he would just stand there while the bottom of all bottom dogs practically hog-tied him.

It was hilarious.

Also, Cody humped him. She mounted him from the rear and made humping motions with her pelvis.

She is a spayed female.

impudent strumpet said...

I'm not sure, she was a shelter mutt. She had the colouring and most of the shape of a JRT, but was kind of...the best word I can think of is daintier.

And if Cody and Buster were people, I think they'd be writing to Savage Love.

Nancy said...

Animals are such a joy. I think all humans should have a non-human friend to keep them humble.

I had a dog that purred. I have a cat that acts like a dog. (She comes when called, greets me at the door, and knows "Sit" and "Roll over".
Animals are wonderful.

Amy said...

I love these stories. I am always amazed by the distinct personalities each pet has. We saw it right away with Smokey and Luna, the two kittens who are now over 5 months old. From day one, Luna was more comfortable with people and with being held. Smokey is shyer, more timid, and more apt to resist being held. Yet Smokey is physically more adventurous---jumping on the cabinets over the refrigerator and jumping on the railing over the stairwells. Why did they end up this way? Nature or nurture?

M@ said...

My sister is so upset. The violence of the accident is what's really getting to her.

I can totally understand that. Trauma is trauma, and when it happens to a loved one it just isn't easy to deal with.

I think all humans should have a non-human friend to keep them humble.

I totally agree, Nancy! The wonder of animals is how much they teach us about ourselves.

Time to go hug the pups. Lil' cuties.

L-girl said...

Cody definitely needs Dan Savage. :)

Animals are such a joy. I think all humans should have a non-human friend to keep them humble.

So true!! Or better yet, only people who will be good to animals should have them. Wouldn't that be the best...

I can't imagine my life without dogs. Sometimes having dogs conflicts with my other great love, travel. But one is a sometimes thing, and the other is every day. It's obvious which I choose.

L-girl said...

Why did they end up this way? Nature or nurture?

How could it be nurture if you saw it from the beginning? From what I can tell, you can see the dog's personality - shy, assertive, confident, tentative, dominant, submissive - right away, within a litter of puppies.

From what I've seen, nothing any human can do can change a dog's personality. You can only work with who they are.

Amy said...

How could it be nurture if you saw it from the beginning?

I agree. But who knows? Maybe the mother cat scared Smokey or the mother's owner did? Although I do think most personality traits for both people and animals are there at birth (I saw it with my daughters as well), like many traits, we can never be 100% sure that it wasn't something else that molded that personality very early on.

L-girl said...

I don't know about people - our brains are much more complex, our personalities much more nuanced, and human culture and influences are much stronger and more complex.

But with animals, to me it seems close enough to 100% to be certain. :)