Thursday, April 23, 2015

Time for a Penny Post

When Gossamer and Penelope first came into my life, there was a pretty regular stream of posts about their development and ours as a little community, with the occasional nod to making these points relevant to publish, but mostly just the indulgent and frustrated emotional responses of a pet owner and Virginian dealing with that ultimate trial: CHANGE.

“How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?”

Five. One to actually do the job. Two more to stand off to one side, tut-tutting about how much better the old light bulb was, and fretting with semi-religious fervor about the implications of a new bulb. And two more to write the history of the original bulb with maps and Civil War footnotes.

My dear old Sweet Siddy La was the absolute finest in mellow, sittin’-at-your-feet dogness. She knew my dad a little when she first came around, and he approved of her. He tole me when I got her, “Don’t you feed that dog from the table, don’t you let her get fat.” She got the occasional treat (she loved pizza crust), but I never forgot what he said, and she did eat pretty healthily. To her last months on earth, you could see the shape of the muscles in her legs. And she had beautiful legs.

Lolly was a wonderfully “well behaved” dog, as defined by a bit of fulsomeness in the greeting department and a tuggy deportment on walks, but never causing messes in the house and always calming down fairly readily.

Miss Penelope, by comparison, has always seemed like a handful. For one, she’s still only three; not even the age *yet* that Siddy was when I was blessed to take care of her. For another, she is just a very different dog. Massively energetic, terrifyingly intelligent, skittish where Sid was calm and oblivious to storms (the one area in which Sid would lose composure. aww.). Penelope was untrained when I got her, and fed off the faintest energy from me with exponential emotional results. If I was upset, Pen was beside herself; if I became excited, she was rendered utterly uncontrollable.

And yet, from the beginning, she submitted to me in ways Siddy never did (and never had to). Pen was still juvenile when we came together, with all the dependence and the lack of discipline that comes with. I’d sworn I would not adopt a puppy, knowing the limited time I have to commit to training and so forth – and there she was. My dog. My baby, scared, confused, lunatic dog. And I loved her.

I despaired of time ever passing and her ever Being Like Sid (I never would have admitted it then, least of all on those terms).

But I reveled in her incredible trainability, and especially the fact that she would take command not only from me, but from others who came around; my friends and family.

It wasn’t long before she behaved almost as if she had a button – the alacrity in her obedience is still so speedy and so emphatic it’s as endearing as it is comical. She binds me to her, and I am overjoyed that she and I can communicate. She still thinks, “Oh! Mom told me to sit, so I will do that, then I will lie DOWN, then I will give her BELLY, because that is even more than she asked for, and I want to give my ALL!” – and we’re working on “that’s not sit” in the gentlest way, still. But “back” she has down to a tee, which is unbelievably handy for us both, and “stay” she’s getting better at though still likes boundary testing.

But in non-command behavior is her magic.

Siddy, right out of the box as they say, had some of the subjective behaviors one most wants in a pet. She would no more touch my food even if I weren’t in the room than she would poop in the house. I never had to teach her – and, after perhaps one incident of “HEY THIS DOG IS DIFFERENT” with Penelope getting tentative at my supper, she really didn’t require teaching on the point of food heirarchy either. Siddy was far more aware of her food surroundings, indeed, than Penelope is – a single molecule of anything people-edible going astray was instantly claimed and cleaned up by that Hoover of a Good Girl, but Penelope misses a surprising amount. She’s getting better, but actually drops even her own kibble and forgets about it from time to time. I drop a piece of it and tap my toe to indicate she should pick it up, she’s so het up about feeding time she can miss after three tries. Into each life, a little kibble must fall.

Gossamer’s even worse. But I do get a warm mommy smile at my Pen, when she is oblivious to tiny morsels available for the pickin’.

Penny turned three-ish on her made-up birthday, April Fool’s day. And it’s been during the past month or two I’ve been watching more changes in her, more maturity. She’ll never settle down, quite, but her ability to greet visitors with less wee-ing and tungsten-clawing (all well-intentioned love and submissiveness, but no more appealing to most contemporary humans) has  markedly improved. Though perhaps markedly is the wrong word to use …

In her own space and on her own time, Pen has always been a pretty mellow kid; prone to bursts of energy, and occasionally instigating, or being insitgated into kerfuffles with, Gossamer. But generally a dog – lying around and not being a complete drama queen about every last instant of her existence.

But seeing her regulate herself a bit at social moments is – well, I won’t say exciting. It’s just nice.

One of the best parts is this: Penelope is in her own skin, and she’s comfortable there. Her home, her dogmommy, her semi-pal Gossamer. She’s got this thing, y’all, she doesn’t have to freak about it alla time.

She’s home. It’s a good place for us both.

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