4: Brindle Tackles His Ghosts
If you know me, you are aware that I try hard to protect everyone in my sphere: humans, canines, felines, equines, and chickines LOL. (A search reveals the scientific classification is gallus but not what a group of chickens is commonly called… Anyone know?)
Rabbit trail, as my husband says! Back to the story of Brindle.
Before we continue! I want to assure you that his safety and the safety of everyone around him is important to me. I stress this because it quickly became clear that one of Brindle’s favorite people is my young daughter.
EARLY CHILDHOOD TRAINING
I would never risk her safety to test his appreciation of children and I carefully monitor their interactions. They never get close to each other without my focused supervision and Brindle on the end of a leash so I can remove him from her vicinity before a bite can happen. He has never shown a desire to bite or snap preferring to run or, when pressed, growl. She is well trained to move in the opposite direction at the right time. All the prep for safety that could be done, was.
Svea is an unusual child who has extensive experience with dogs most children do not have.
I took over Red Rover, already an experienced trainer and dog daycare owner, the very week I found out I was pregnant. After Svea was born she showed no stress when dogs bark, easily sleeping through bouts of barking at dog daycare and at home. Shortly after adjusting to life outside the womb she demonstrated understanding of dog barks beyond my own. I noticed her cry sadly when dogs barked at each other in anger while not turning a hair for alert or play barking.
Around food, still a major issue for him, my daughter is never anywhere present. None-the-less it is clear to me that Brindle is over-the-top in love with her and the feeling is mutual.
CHILDREN AND DOGS
So while I’m at it here’s my unsolicited, professional input on dogs and children. Where children are concerned, no dog is safe for play and affection at all times. As I carefully taught my daughter, if something has teeth it can bite. If you have a very young child in school you know this is especially true of their human playmates!
Children are, quite simply, rough. My experience with my daughter taught me that empathy is learned. Dogs should never be subjected to rough handling by children and a reasonable adult must always supervise carefully for the safety of both.Read the story of Posy in these articles to learn more about how children can unintentionally change a dog’s life for the worse, forever.
BACK TO BRINDLE
The best bet was to take Brindle home with me. The warehouse was too hot and a more relaxed environment seemed the best way to continue his progress learning to trust humans again. On the way I stopped by my favorite dog grocery, Dizzy’s Dog Wash, to buy Brindle a treat or two for enjoyment in relative isolation. There I got a rude awakening about how edgy he is around food.
He happily shopped around the store like he’d gone to heaven. When the person in charge stopped to talk to me, accidentally blocking Brin from his desired treats, he growled at her. QUICK retreat to the car and kennel so I could buy treats without his “help”.
At home I set up a huge, metal kennel in our dog room. Ladybug and Banjo, my aging standard poodles, have their own room under our bedroom. They enjoy easy access to the yard, big windows, a no-slip floor, comfy beds, and room to play without worrying about running into household furnishings.
Quickly it became clear that Brindle could be unsupervised, and cage-free, with Lady and Jo without getting into trouble. His concern about limited food made him rather crazy at mealtime so he ate in his kennel.
SAFE FEEDING – INTENSE FOOD AGGRESSION AND INSECURITY
I noticed that Brindle gobbled, gagged, and wheezed as he ate food at record speed from his bowl. When dogs do this it is recommended to scatter their food on a cookie sheet or to use a special bowl that slows food consumption.
We developed a pattern of me scooping a bowl of food while he bounced – necessitating a few, gentle reminders not to actual bounce off me, moving to his closed kennel where he is asked to sit and stay outside, finally releasing the stay and tossing the food from the bowl onto the bottom of his kennel as he dashes in to eat.
Always cautious, I hold the door closed firmly with my foot as I shoot the locks – keeping fingers out of reach – and close him safely inside.
After a few days of this I realized how wise I’d been. Accidentally bumping the cage while shooting locks, the door made a hard clanging sound. Brin immediately spun around, abandoning his food, and faced me with teeth bared and pupils dilated. Yikes! Dog gone… Safely on the outside of the kennel I was able to stand my ground and again soften my face and eyes, gently averting my gaze.
I didn’t accept the behavior but I understood it. My desire was to assure Brindle there was no threat to him or his food. His defensive posture didn’t drive me away and his intense reaction was unnecessary. Inside my heart sank. I have never seen a case of food aggression this severe… pupils dilating?!?!?!
Reading whatever I could about food aggression and the physiological response led me to believe the reaction was more about extreme fear than a tactic for protecting food. When I approached the kennel early in his life with me (read “The Dead Dog”); I got the same reaction with no food present.
What I read hypothesized that pupils dilate during a fight or flight response to improve eyesight for a short-term escape. OK but the question remains, can I get Brindle beyond this response with humans? Will he respond in abject terror every time something goes wrong? Although he has never bitten or even snapped, would he feel at some point that it was his only solution to managing this terrible fear?