September 2014 archive

Creatures of Habit

We all know someone who defines a “Creature of Habit”. You know, the guy who wakes up at 5 AM every day, walks to the corner store, grabs a cup of coffee, and reads the paper. If he doesn’t, he can’t function. To many of us, myself included, this is foreign. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. Too little time and too many distractions.

To an animal, especially a domesticated animal, this is life. What makes this easy, is routine. Wild animals make their own routines. Wake up, collect food, mate, rinse, repeat…all in a radius of 100 feet. Place a Polar Bear in Johannesburg and life becomes difficult, very difficult.  Life is now full of strange, unnatural objects to figure out.

Most of our domesticated animals face this every day. They went from making their own bedtime, finding food themselves, and everything in between to relying on their human friends to provide them everything in a radius of 20 feet or less. Every time we break their routine, their world gets turned upside down.

Whether we realize it or not, we are more creatures of habit than we realize. We wake up, bathe, eat, and go to bed at roughly the same time every day. Using our own daily activities as a trigger makes it easier for us to incorporate a consistent routine for our pets. Dogs are probably the most dependent on their human counterparts, as there is very little they can do without us. Generally, the younger we can create a routine, the better.

Rather than making normal decisions and just assuming our pets are going to interpret our decisions rationally, assume they will not and each action we take will affect their temperament.

As an example, take the postal worker. Whether it is Fedex, UPS, or USPS, they all come at a different time of day, every day. Sometimes they ring the doorbell, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they talk to you, sometimes they don’t. Always, they involve a lot of distraction and noise. We know what to expect from them, and hopefully more often than not, they deliver.

Imagine this from a dogs perspective.

Mommy and I eat lunch together, only to get interrupted by an obnoxious, loud sputtering rumble, followed by another annoyingly perfect pitch bell. Mommy needs to check on the noise, so she get’s up. There it goes again before mommy can get to it. That awful bell with that horrible rumble continuing in the background. It just rang yesterday when daddy came home. It was starting to get dark, Daddy grumbled,yelled, and slammed the door. He didn’t even pet me on the way back. Hopefully that does happen with mommy. Mommy finally gets to the sound, talks to someone and carries this large, brown, square object inside. Whatever it is, mommy’s happy. Mommy then takes a sharp object, stabs it, pulls something out and starts chasing me around the kitchen like a crazy woman. Next thing I know, I look like a bumble bee, she’s pointing a little silver item at me with a flashing light. So much for a nice afternoon with mommy. Humpfhhhh.

This may not happen every day, but a similar scenario does. The talking picture box is weird, so is the food petrifying object, or that awful green thing that shoots water out.

The timing of a postal worker cannot be altered, but you can make the scenario more familiar by giving Fido a job to do. Work with a friend or family member to recreate the situation as best as possible. Make a plan and stick to the plan every time someone rings the doorbell. Find a comfortable spot in the room a few feet away from the door, associate the spot with a command and sit, stay position. Remember, when we think of a job, it has a specific set of tasks. For a dog, this is a job with a specific set of tasks. Finally, as always, a bit of positive reinforcement, consistency, a cookie or two, and Fido will be happy the doorbell rang. Ok, that’s probably going a bit far, but you get the point.

A few final notes:

Often times, our natural reaction to a pet’s stress is to treat them as we want to be treated, when it’s probably best to think of how they should be treated.

Gradual changes are always best.

Coddling can actually reinforce the pitiful stress reaction.

If it’s called the doggy paddle, why can’t all dogs swim?

In our recent camping trip, we mentioned that we only brought Sake with us. Sake is much better off-leash, has less energy, and there are no misguided Pit Bull beliefs from other campers. Also, Seyval hates the playing near water. Having missed out on the first two years of Seyval’s life, we aren’t sure if she had ever encountered a large body of water. It’s reasonable to assume that an inner city dog’s only experience with water is her water bowl and a bath. Although we’re not sure how much of either Seyval experienced.

Early on, we brought Seyval and Sake to the South Mountain Reservation. Flowing through, are some shallow streams with only a few relatively deep spots. Upon approaching the stream, Sake perked up, ran, and jumped into the only deep spot. Seyval barreled in after her. Never again. We’ve tried meekly to introduce her, but it hasn’t taken.

Sake’s first experience with water was cause for a different concern. Already a great off leash dog, and ready to introduce Sake to a pond, Sake decided to beat us to the punch. She sighted a duck, sprinted after it, and didn’t look back. Eventually she realized she wasn’t going to catch it and turned back.

So why do some dogs love water, and some hate it. In an earlier post, ADinLOS talked about natural instincts of dogs and here it returns. First, a bit of evolutionary history on dogs:

Canis familiaris, the modern dog, “descended from the gray wolf, domesticated about 130,000 years ago.” [1]

“Recent molecular evidence shows that dogs are “this domestication may have happened twice, producing groups of dogs descended from two unique common ancestors.” [1]

“Years of selective breeding by humans has resulted in the artificial “evolution” of dogs into many different types.” [1]

This artificial evolution is the same reason we get to enjoy seven different groups in the Westminster Dog Show. Very rarely do pet parents need their dogs for anything other than companionship, but this was far from the truth as little as 100 years ago. This need begins to explain how we have such variation when every dog began as a wolf with a long snout.

Thousands of years ago, as humans forced dogs out of their natural habitat in Europe and Asia and into agricultural areas around the world, dog owners began specializing and cross-breeding dogs with desired characteristics.

Hence our modern day dog groups, including ADinLOS’s much beloved Sporting Group. This groups snout, legs, chest, and eyesight all go into a dog’s affinity to water. Dogs owners learned what their water dogs were deficient in and sought out dogs with specific characteristics to breed. Combining this with natural evolution, “canines generally fall into one of three categories. There are those that can swim, those that can be taught to swim and those that should steer clear of all aqueous environments.” [2]

The middle category is often the most precarious. There are mutts like Sake, where part of their genetics make them natural swimmers. Their other half is not so inclined. If the mental portion is inclined and the physical portion is not, more precaution needs to be taken. When these physical attribute aren’t present, injesting too much water, fatigue, chills, and panic are all too common. Unfortunately, even though Seyval is strong, her chest is too dense and her snout is just too short.

It becomes much more obvious why some of our pets just are not meant for the water.

So keep an eye out on your pets!

[1] “Evolution of the Dog”, ‘PBS’, Retrieved 10 September 2014 from  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/5/l_015_02.html

[2] “Do all dogs know how to swim?”, ‘Animal Planet’, Retrieved 10 September 2014 from http://www.animalplanet.com/pets/do-all-dogs-know-how-to-swim.htm