Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pet Mood

It is almost astounding the extent to which the dog's house training has affected my mood.  It may be the other issues summer and onward have left mouldering on my plate, and one will continue to loom over me for some time to come, but the literal and figurative tone and position of my life over the past month or two has been "in the toilet" - as, indeed, since adopting Penelope five and a half weeks ago, the house has become.

Of course, I'm not immune to the romantic ideas we're all prone to, and "getting a new dog" was supposed to be a time of unmixed joy perhaps, even as realistic as I try to be about things most of the time.  Or, at least, if the joy had some frustrations mixed in - they were supposed to be *dwarfed* by the extent of gooey love I was supposed to be falling-in with My New Dog.  Frankly, it was rather like that with Gossamer - and it's no coincidence I adopted him two days after a literal car accident - and it's no accident, at that, the two adoptions were timed as they were, with an all-but-unadmitted desire to pack on a sense of blessings and excitement at a time otherwise marred by the loss of my Sweet Siddy La, the accident, the health issues, the overwhelming awareness of being without a partner, the damned inconvenient fallout of life itself.

So the gap between the foster mom's statement that she was "almost there" with house training and the reality, that she could scarcely be persuaded that outdoors even represented an opportunity for eliminating her extras at all ... was, at first, incredibly dismaying.

I've tried to focus on her whip-smart intelligence, though, and her extremely clear desire to please me as her alpha dog.  She learned peeing outdoors fairly well, but the poop issue was beginning, even only last week, to seem to be a vanishing goal I would never reach, with her.  I despaired of learning, myself, how to speak Puppy well enough to get her to understand.

When it became clear she "got" that mom wants no poop in the house, oddly enough, I was gratified.  Even though, at first, her method to meet this goal was ... eating the poop.

Yeah, I know.  But she is a dog, people, and dogs exist outside the human penchant for getting squicked.  I look at animal behavior in my home not as a shocking joke or offense, but as ANIMAL behavior coming from an ANIMAL - and I never forget that I too am an animal, when it comes down to it.

As a wise person I'm fortunate to be acquainted with online put it:  "you speak puppy with such an accent she can't understand you."  Well put, that, and it's not about HER understanding ME - it's about ME making myself coherent to HER.  The mountain goes to Mohammad, when the mountain is made of poop and it's continually rebuilt in the dining room.  (Ugh.)

So she saw what the goal was, and - like a puppy - she dealt with it in a fairly nervous manner which a human observer might find ineffective and nasty, but (I had to focus on this) *she dealt with it*.  That and a hundred other things have shown me - this dog is not stupid.  She is, in fact, probably the smartest dog I've ever had - AND she is the youngest I personally have had responsibility for, of course, which is all to the good - because, untrained as she is, she is *untrained* - so I have a lot of opportunity for communicating with a fresh, nimble, and eager-to-please mind here.

Depressed I may have been, focusing on this to the exclusion of the actual ultimate causes (ahh, humanity - easily squicked, and so eager to glom onto proximate causes rather than ultimate solutions), I've been paying attention, and the saving grace has been not quitting on one strategy.  My accent is bad, but I can modulate my puppy-speak, where Penelope can't really modulate what she's able to "hear".

So after two foolish walks, where she did go poo outside, and I was slathering on all the "GOOD GIRL, GO POOP **OUTSIDE**!!!" I could, I realized - duh - what she needs is immediate reward, and a more potent one than the verbal.  Bring a damn Milk Bone along on the walk, stupid.

She'd HEARD the "good girl, go poop OUTSIDE!" speech, to be sure.  She likes verbal praise.

But damn if the remediation hasn't been pretty much instantaneous, clockwork-schedulable (!!), and almost entirely reformed as long as I keep to the proper behavior.

Penelope finally got me trained.

It's stupid this should make me so happy, but holy hell several days now of NOT fearing the moment I smell dung in my dining room (the entire house, that is) is better than Zoloft, for so MUCH of my general outlook.  I'm actually performing better already at work, seriously.

It all comes down to communication.  And I finally got it right, at last.

Says little Miss PeNED-opy:  "I won't poo in the house if you remember WHEN to walk me and don't forget the Milk Bones - m'kay?"

And, dear readers, Diane is listening ...

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