Archive for August, 2008

Bones Would Rain From The Sky

August 19, 2008

Somewhere along the line, possibly day one of dog ownership, I decided that I had taken up residence with a living, breathing, black and white crossword puzzle. And not one of the easier ones either. I’d adopted a New York Times Sunday edition puzzle. And ever since I’ve been puzzling away at it.

So when I discovered a book last month that could give me a few clues–maybe not every clue but say twelve across and seven and eight down–I was thrilled. This book is Bones Would Rain From The Sky and is due back to the library in two days. I’d hurry up and get reading but it’s so good I’ll be buying it and reading it over and over and passing it along to some friends.

I found out about Bones by listening to The ROO Show–a podcast dedicated to Greyhoundies. The podcast isn’t bad but it was short lived. I think they discontinued it after a few episodes. I also liked the Greyhounds Make Great Pets podcast–also discontinued.

Anyway, as I’m jogging around this endlessly long lake I listened to all the ROO episodes and was struck by this one where they interviewed a woman about her favorite animal behavior books: Bones came up number one.

I was intrigued, honestly, by the title. It comes from a Turkish proverb:

If a dog’s prayers were answered, bones would rain from the sky.

So sue me: I judged the book by its cover. But something about that quote resonated with me. And happily I also ended up liking what was inside–alot. While this is no “how to” book, it has been deeply helpful. It’s not about teaching Spot to come or to sit or to stay. It’s about getting to know your dog for who she by understanding the world from her end of the leash.

Bones asks you to step into your dog’s world and not humanize it or judge it but to accept it for what it is. This world is not our world–its physicality and langauge are quite foreign from ours. Author Suzanne Clothier asks us to get to know our dog as dogs. As simple as this sounds it’s actually deeply profound. As is her assertion that dogs will never, ever lie to you. Simple but profound. If your dog will always tell you the truth–and they will–all we have to do is to learn to listen.

After reading through maybe 25% of this book I already felt more comfortable relating to Stella and more attuned to trying to really see the world from her perspective. Instead of chalking up her not sitting next to me one day to her being moody or aloof, I realized that sitting where I sat would put the sun right in her eyes. It would move her away from her favorite hole. It would not allow her to stretch her very long legs.

I also learned that growling is a dog’s way of honestly communicating how they feel. And that most growls are good–the dog is letting us know that something isn’t sitting so good with them. Stifle growling, correct your dog when he growls and you’re telling him that you don’t want to hear from him when he’s upset–that you don’t want any warning signs before he gets really, really upset.

For example, Stella very mildly growled at me the other day. I kissed her snout while she was sleeping. Dialogue is as follows:

Stella: I’m really, really, really tired. I ran 8 miles with you and then you took me for zoomies on the beach. I’m exhausted.

Me: Can I pet you? Please? Let me pet you. You look so cute all exhausted. You look like a corpse!

Stella: (No response, sleeping, snoring.)

Me: Oh, let me just give you a kiss on the snout you’re so damn cute. SMACK.

Stella: (light growl=> translation: Please let me sleep? Please?)

Stella has growled lightly at me maybe ten times in her whole life and five of those times it was because I was bugging her. The other times did require some discipline. But in this case, Stella was being honest and direct: I’m trying to sleep—bugger off, would yah?

Clothier points out that humans have their version of growling each and every day and we all learn to deal with it for the most part. This could be anything from eye rolling to getting a nasty email from the boss to fisticuffs. Same for dogs. Growling intensity can vary but if you can listen, especially when it first starts, you can learn a lot and save you and your dog from a lot of unecessary drama. This was a huge piece of the puzzle for me. I now know that a mild growl is Stella’s way of letting me know she’s not happy versus freaking out and not listening or respecting what is being communicated.

I could go on and on. Maybe I have. But here’s the bottom line: Bones Would Rain From The Sky tells us that the answers to understanding our dogs are out there–we just need to approach this puzzle with open ears, open eyes and, most of all, an open heart.