When Denim is being her brattiest, we usually say she’s “toddlering”. You know, behavior like running around with toys even when she’s exhausted to prove she’s not tired. Or she’s insisting on laying on top of you with her favorite toy and whining the whole time because nothing is good enough for her.
With a new foster in the house, she has been toddlering harder than ever lately. We thought Melon would be the problem (and she has had a few issues that I’ll talk about in a minute), but Denim has been jealous, and insecure, and wants to play, but only HER games with HER toys.
It made me think about how “dogs have the intelligence of about a two year old child”–a toddler. And how people tend to assume that means their learning capacity is really limited. But have you ever MET a toddler? Toddlers are resilient and brilliant. They’re learning a whole language, constantly doing science experiments to figure out what happens if they chuck something across a room–they’re little beacons of operant conditioning at work. Toddlers’ brains are working much harder and faster than an adults, they just don’t have the breadth of experience or maturity to create flying cars or cure cancer.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that the emotional intelligence of a two year old is not great. It’s that experience/maturity thing again; they’re still learning how to behave, and their limited experience means that small experiences can yield big, undesired results. That’s where Melon comes in.
Melon is a sweet, smart, black german shepherd who came from a really bad background. That’s how we ended up fostering her. She was seized by animal control and had to have her front left leg amputated. We got her about ten days after the amputation, once she was released by the local PD.
We spent the whole first day just with her, loving her, spoiling her, and trying to figure out a way to keep a tshirt on her so that she wouldn’t lick her stitches. (In case you’re wondering, adult small t-shirt, pin the empty arm to the collar, and tie the back with a hair tie.) Then we slowly introduced Denim. It worked well, until Denim accidentally landed on Mel’s stitches. OUCH. We had a couple scuffles that day, leading Denim to being insecure around Mel and Mel to stay really close to me, too close for Denim’s comfort.
But how does this relate to the intelligence point? It all goes back to attachment theory. I’m hardly an expert, but from what I understand, a child with a secure attachment to its parents feels like it can go out and explore and always come back to a safe place. Dogs have the emotional intelligence of toddlers. I don’t know what happened in Melon’s former life–though you can damn sure bet I’m following the court case–but I know she was treated poorly. If the people who were supposed to care for you treated you poorly, you would attachment issues too. You would hitch yourself to whoever treated you kindly and work to make sure nothing changed about that.Well. That situation wasn’t going to work.
I got on the internet and found information about the Two Week Shutdown. We’re not doing exactly what we should–Melon and Denim are allowed to go outside to potty together and go on walks together and play a little bit outdoors. They’re allowed indoors together if I’m up and moving about and doing chores. As soon as I’m ready to sit down and relax, everyone gets cookies and Melon goes into the spare bedroom to allow all doggies to process the interactions they just had and what rules were important. Rules like:
- Playing gently–No muzzle punching Melon in the side to invite play!
- Denim goes in and out first and gets her cookie first.
- Laying/sitting down calmly near each other reaps benefits.
- The Lady is not a fence or a coveted object. She is going to go about her business and ignore the both of you. You are not going to be able to block her or hide behind her. She’s doing the laundry, and you don’t have thumbs.
It’s working. Both dogs are starting to get the routine and are more apt to sniff each other, investigate each other, and even roll around to show off their bellies when they play. Right after a really positive interaction, everyone goes to their own corners to relax for a little while. I think we’ll be able to have Melon and Denim relax together in the living room within a week.
For the record, Grant and I have already discussed it and we will NOT be keeping Melon. There are several people who have expressed interest in being her forever family, though, and we know she’s going to go to a great home. Melon has been a fun first foster, and we’re enjoying watching her heal and get stronger. Her staples already look better than they did when we picked her up and she can lope across the backyard on three legs without a problem. Okay, there is one problem. Turning around to walk or run in the other direction takes a few extra steps. She is steering with only one oar after all!