Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bedtime badness & Things that make me uncomfortable with the Dog Whisperer

OK, so after the fireplace incident the evening wore on, with me still at the computer and the dogs separated by the gates.

They seemed to be facing each other more than usual, with Petunia in the dining room at my feet, facing toward the living room, where Buddy was lying near the gate, facing back at us. I worry about that configuration because I can't always tell whether they're giving each other the eye. Until the lunging-incident at the trainer's office I'd never seen Buddy be anything but calm or submissive toward P. I'd never notice either dog giving the other nasty eye contact, except for those time P would growl at B for entering a room. Which, again, was periodic but not hourly or daily.

But tonight I put Petunia in her crate first, then let Buddy outside and when he wandered into the bedroom (P's crate faces the door) she snarled at him and he fled the room and would not re-enter until I walked with him in toward his crate. Which is pretty much where things stood last month when their crates were side by side. Right now the crates are separated by my bed.

The C2C trainer recommended putting the crates in different rooms, even at bed time, and I've been resisting that because I don't want them to lose their sense of us all being a pack. But then I also know it's bad to let this stress between them be a 24/7 scenario. If it would give Petunia some emotional relief to be in a separate room from B then perhaps, over time their relationship could heal and then I could move us all into the same room.

But if I do that, which dog gets to sleep in the room with me? P or B? How do I make such a heart-breaking choice? I could rotate them. Get two additional crates (another$300) and have them take turns. (I don't want to drag giant crates around the house every night.)

Given that they both seem to be dominating me, I don't know whether it would send a strong signal to either one if he or she was chosen to stay in the room with me. From day to day I waver on which dog seems most or least calm and well-adjusted. Seems like I wouldn't want the more aggressive of the two to be the one that got to stay in my room at night. But which dog is that? The fear-aggressive one or the sneaky aggressive one? The sneaky dominant one that climbs on my pillow at night after ducking out of crate time? Or the stealthy dominant one that seems like Mr. Mellow for weeks then poops upstairs in the guest room?

And are words like "aggressive" and "dominant" even the right words for what's happening here?

I've begun watching my Dog Whisperer CDs and he uses the words 'dominant' and 'aggressive'. But I hate the finality of those words. They sounds like death sentences, like criminal convictions.

And if it's so uncommon for a male and a female to have this sort of combative relationship, why is it happening to us?

Today as I watched Season 1 of DW Cesar told a woman, "this dog has been dominating you since you first took him in" and that's definitely true of Petunia. My husband and I encouraged her to come between us (both because we adored her and because we didn't adore one another anymore). We slept with her between us. She was our conduit, the one thing we both cherished. We poured nearly all our affection into her or through her. When we were away from her she was what we talked about. The whole world was about Petunia. For us. And our imbalanced life fostered an imbalanced dog in an imbalanced relationship with us imbalanced humans.

I get all that.

And evidently I did a number on Buddy as well. Whether or not either or both dogs was born with the tendency to be aggressive or fear-aggressive, or whether one or both were damaged by their experiences of or before abandonment, I cannot say. But it still seems to me that if Cesar Millan lived in my house that these dogs would be okay together.

Speaking of Millan, here are a few things that make me uncomfortable about his show:

  • He keeps telling people to leave their dogs' choke collars and leashes on all day. I understand that it could be a good thing for a dog to be on its leash all day. But isn't it awfully dangerous to leave a dog to ramble around a house or yard wearing a choke collar? He never prescribes the choke collar, but whenever owners use them and say, "So I should leave his choke collar on all day?" He says yes. And this includes dragging dogs into swimming pools in choke collars. Seems dangerous to me.


  • He keeps telling weak people to be [whatever strong job they do for a living]. As if being a nurse or a teacher will generate all the calm-assertive energy they need to fix their relationship with their dog. I'm a teacher. Cesar would surely say, "Be a teacher. Be that strong, calm-assertive teacher you are in the classroom." Well, for one thing, I don't feel like a mighty, calm-assertive leader in the classroom. I'm just me. And my teacher persona isn't one of those tough cookies. I'm not entirely a marshmallow, but I'm not Cleopatra or Eleanor Roosevelt. I'm not an actress. I'm pretty much just me all the time. And who I am is a fundamentally and sometimes excruciatingly sensitive person. A worrier who wants people to get along and not upset one another or damage me. I speak up and get in the middle of things but I hate confrontation and only do it when it appears to me that someone in a vulnerable spot is being treated unfairly. So telling me to Be a powerful teacher isn't going to enable me to generate powerful energy for my dogs.


  • He goes away. Even if he came here and used his mojo and my dogs began to frolic together it would be just for television. He'd leave and I'd panic.


I must sleep now.

I'll wander off, though, wondering how much of today's confrontation business is a product of my behavior and how much is about something else.

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