What I Wish My Old Dogs Would Learn From Me
by Suzanne Engelberg
In my last guest blog I wrote about the important things I’ve learned from my old dogs. This month I’d like to share a few things I wish my old dogs would learn from me. Here are my top five:
When something hurts, tell someone. Like most dogs, mine don’t let me know there’s a problem until they can’t hide it anymore. I know the stories about their canine ancestors developing that technique to thwart predators, but my dogs don’t have predators, unless you count baths and nail trimming. If dogs can learn to ring a bell when they want to go out to relieve themselves, why can’t they learn to alert us when something hurts?
Don’t roll in smelly things. Danny, my Lhasa-wheaten mix, seems to get more joy from rolling in stinking rotting things than he does from anything else in life. His current favorite is possum poop. My previous dog Raffy, a Lhasa-Scottish terrier mix, used to love to shimmy in rotting fish on the beach. I think of these awful substances as canine cologne. I’m sure Danny, and Raffy before him, has that opinion of the scented doggy shampoo I use to remove their gleeful anointments. Perhaps my dogs feel the same way about my scented lotion, though they seem to love the coconut oil I sometimes use. (Actually, they like licking it more than smelling it.) Perhaps I’ll make a deal with them—I’ll stop wearing my smelly things if they stop wearing theirs.
Although going to the vet isn’t fun, it’s even worse not to go. My shih tzu mix Kai is so terrified of the vet that he starts to tremble as soon as we enter the waiting room. I’m sure that if it were up to him we would never go to the vet. Unfortunately for him, it’s not his decision. Vet visits are one of the best ways I know to prevent many health problems and minimize others. I admit, though, that often I don’t like going to my own veterinarian (humans call them physicians). I get anxious too, even though I’m in control of what the doctor does. I can always say “no”, or simply get up and leave. And I would definitely leave if my doctor tried to take my temperature the way vet techs do. On the other hand, I know that even the things I don’t like are ultimately good for my health, just as the things Kai doesn’t like are ultimately good for his health. Even with that knowledge, at times I feel badly that I’m actually going out of my way to have icky things done to him. After all, I’m the one who calls and makes the vet appointments, and I’m the one who drives us there, and tries to distract him while the vets do uncomfortable things. I also consent to them taking him to a back room where they do the procedures they don’t want me to see. Still, I know that the few minutes of fear and discomfort are important for his health. I just wish I could help Kai understand that.
Nails are sharp. Kai is very good about letting me know when he wants to be petted. He comes right up to me and paws me. Being a little dog, his paws are always about half-way between my ankles and my knees. It’s not a problem when I’m wearing pants, but it hurts like heck when I’m in shorts. I was able to teach Danny to use his nose to get my attention, by responding only when he used his nose. Since he never got a response when he used his paw, and always did when he used his nose, he learned to always use his nose. That technique of ignoring negative behavior and rewarding positive behavior is an excellent way to teach many things, but it doesn’t work with Kai because he almost always touches me with his paws, and rarely with anything else. I’m working on teaching him to sit when he wants attention, but he hasn’t figured out that if he sits before I ask him, he’ll get even more attention because I want to reinforce that behavior. I’d even be happy for him to pick his own non-painful way of alerting me to what he wants. Whatever we settle on, I sure hope it starts working before shorts season.
Don’t pee on the rugs. I used to have nice rugs. I had one in my bedroom I especially loved. It was soft and plush, and felt wonderful in my bare feet. I had wonderful rugs in another parts of my house too. Then I brought home my ODH Final Refuge dog Fred, a wonderful black lab who seemed to truly believe he was supposed to pee on rugs–even the small ones I scattered so he could lie on something warmer and softer than the bare floor. Danny was very young then, and always tried to emulate his elders. Soon he was peeing on rugs too. Even after Fred crossed the rainbow bridge, no matter how much or what type of cleaner I used, or even if I bought new rugs and put them in new places, they always acquired mysterious urine stains. I finally admitted defeat and got rid of all my rugs and runners. I haven’t completely given up, though. I recently bought a new bedroom rug. Although it’s seen a few accidents, they are dachshund-size and not too hard to clean up. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the other dogs won’t join in, and that ChiCha, my ODH Final Refuge dachshund mix, will continue her newer habit of using the puppy pads. If not, perhaps I’ll hang up a sign for them that reads “Please stop peeing on the rugs. There are special places to do your business. You can go outside, or inside on the puppy pads. You can even relieve yourself on the wood floor or linoleum if you have to. Just please stop peeing on the rugs.”