Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Anchor of Stability

Abby had a stabilizing effect on Andy. When he first came to the house, Abby became a big sister or a mother to Andy. She guided him to the rules of the house. For example, her actions demonstrated to Andy when and where to use the bathroom, ‘how to ask’ to go to the bathroom, how to beg for food, and how to ask to go out to play. In the process, Abby shed her last traces of puppiness and took on the role of the matriarch of this new dog pack. She grew up quite a bit after we got Andy. Father, too, looked to Abby for guidance, but his behavior stemmed from naivety and willing subservience to her. Deep down, Father wanted to be in charge, but he was the one who came to our home, so he had to submit to our rules. Abby was the queen, and everyone knew it.

Abby’s protectiveness made it difficult to discipline Andy. As sweet as Andy was, he made mistakes and needed to be disciplined. Andy learned so quickly, and he did respond to negative reinforcement. However, giving Andy a spank could be impossible at times. Abby knew when I was mad and when a spank was imminent. Abby would sit on her haunches and lightly paw at my leg to distract me and prevent me from spanking Andy. This tactic worked well with Abby when she was a mischievous puppy so she used it to ward off spankings for Andy. Unfortunately, there were some bad habits of Andy that persisted well into his adult years because I never had a chance to teach him any better.

Andy, on the other hand, looked to Abby as his anchor of stability. Andy always had a lot of hang-ups. He was scared of many things. When he was scared, he withdrew into himself, shut down and tried to hide. He was scared often. He is a sweet dog, but his borderline neurosis meant I couldn’t play with him in a manner I did with Abby. I couldn’t tease or roughhouse Andy. Acts of aggression like this upset him. He viewed such aggressiveness as a challenge. He was no alpha dog, and wanted no part of any challenges.

When someone rang the doorbell or a strange sound entered the room, a normal dog such as Abby or Father would look to the door in the room or the window. Not Andy. He would jostle around in an agitated state and nervous state; he would look to Abby for direction. If she thought things were OK, then he would stand down and relax. I always thought it was cute he would look to Abby for guidance. Abby would always take charge, and Andy would faithfully follow. He needed her to assuage his fears. She was his anchor of stability.

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