Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Speaking of Oliver...

So, Oliver has been a big hit in the family.  Everyone loves him.  The boys have forgiven him for not being a German Shepherd or a Husky.  Even Edison, the cat, has come to terms with the interloper now that he's sure Oliver understands his subordinate position.  Oliver is properly cowed by the 9-pound cat thwapping his nose with a de-clawed paw, so all seems good. 

Only one cloud darkens the sky as far as Oliver is concerned, and that involves my youngest daughter, L.  I can't quite put my finger on how it all got started, but L and Oliver butt heads.  For one thing, she's a much more nervous mother than I have ever been, so she jumps and scolds at the first suggestion of misbehavior on Oliver's part.  All he has to do is sniff at a granola wrapper left on the floor, and she's sure he's ready to down the thing in a flash and inconvenience us with a blocked intestine.  Come on, the dog swallowed an athletic sock whole the first week we owned him.  I'll admit, that had me concerned when it happened -- it was down the hatch before we could stop him.  But he passed that thing just fine and hasn't seemed inclined to do it again. So I can't get excited about shredded Kleenex and french fry wrappers.

Taking him for a walk with her in those early days was enough to send me to the doctor for blood pressure medication.  She insisted that this happy ball of puppy energy walk at her pace and not pull on the leash.  Very authoritarian.  Very adamant that he know who was the boss.

I solved that problem by training him to walk well off leash, much more fun for everyone.  We only walk when there are few people out, in the middle of a weekday or at night, so he can dash back and forth at his own pace, sniffing away to his heart's content.  He is nervous about losing us, so the minute he can't hear our feet crunching along behind, he darts back to find us.  He learned quickly to stop at corners and wait to see which way to go.  He waits at my feet until I give him permission to cross streets.  And if I see another person or a dog and call him, he's great about coming back right away.  (He charges back to me and hurls his little body against my legs.  So crazy cute!) 

Somehow I think it has been L's determination to show him who's boss that has set up a bit of a tension between herself and Oliver though.  She annoys him, but she thinks his very status as DOG means he is not allowed to be annoyed, and definitely he is not allowed to show he is annoyed.  He isn't allowed to have preferences.  The minute he dares to "smile" when she touches him, or breath a little loudly (the precursor to a low rumbly growl), she gets more authoritarian and demands he stop.  Moreover, she demands that I make him stop.

I say, "Well, L, you're laying your whole head on his chest while he's resting.  He's not liking that.  He'll stop growling if you stop annoying him."

Or on a car ride with Oliver in her lap, "Well, he doesn't want you poking him every 10 seconds just to get a reaction from him.  He'll stop growling if you stop annoying him."

Or, "Can't you just leave his bone alone?  He'll stop growling if you stop annoying him!"

To which she says, "But he shouldn't be allowed to growl even if he is annoyed!  If he's annoyed he should just get up and walk away."

She's right.  It's tricky.  We can't have a dog think he can growl at a family member under any circumstances, so in that sense she's right that he is not allowed to have preferences.  But at the same time, I think we command more respect from him if we're willing to respect his preferences because we love him.  I can nuzzle him with my whole face while he's resting and he either nuzzles right back or ignores me, but he never growls.  In the same minute, she can do it and he growls.  There's a tension already there between them that he's responding to, and I think she's created it by pushing his buttons on purpose and by being ridiculously authoritarian.

Oliver arrived in our home after having lived 7-months with another family, and we noticed right away that he had certain "sensitivities."  I suspect that these sensitivities were not inborn, but were helped along by the 5-year-old girl in this other family.  Specifically, he cannot abide his tail being touched.  If anyone so much as brushes the fringe of his tail with their feet as they pass by him, he's up like a shot.  And he was nervous about his paws being touched. 

So guess what.  I respect that.  I'm very careful about his tail and his paws.  As it happens, over the year I have worked with him on it.  I'll very gently stroke the fur on his paws, and more lately I'll tease him by taking a bit of paw fur between my thumb and forefinger and giving it a gentle tug. He responds by nibbling or licking my fingers, just enough to say, Hey, I'd prefer you not do that!  He seems to know there's no threat, that it's all in good fun. But I'm careful not to ever squeeze any of his feet.

And like most dogs, he feels protective if we give him a bone.  And he's smart enough to know when he's being teased for fun versus being teased to be made fun of.

So although in general he is a happy little lover, Oliver is not completely issue-less.  He does have "buttons," a few certain preferences, that I feel need to be respected.  L would never squeeze his paws, but she does take a certain delight in pushing his buttons in other ways. She laughs that he gets annoyed, but then gets mad when he ends up growling. 

What is a mother to do????  And more importantly, what will happen when she has kids of her own???  She'd better send them to Grama's house!

[To be fair to L I must add that in general she does have a good relationship with Oliver.  She loves him, although less than her cat, and in general he responds well to her.  They just bicker, like the youngest two children in any family I suppose.]

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