Saturday, December 22, 2012

Raising Maudie

I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t produce as much felt this year – that I’d focus on raising Maudie, particularly when Coda was killed one morning while I was focused on my stuff in the studio. We’d had Coda for a little over a month and I had ‘shared’ responsibilities for her with P, my partner.  Actually, P took the greater part of it: feeding her, walking her, teaching her ‘tricks’ such as how to use a bell to tell us she needed to go outside to toilet, teaching her how to ‘go to her room’.  Coda was a runner.  She’d had a traumatic beginning locked up in a small apartment while her ‘parent’ was at work; and she’d more than likely been physically abused.

A dog needs attention – time spent playing, as well as the discipline of walking and the quieter moments to chill out.  It’d been a while since I had a dog and dogs had become my shadow animal – terrorized in dreams by Cerberus.  I had become fearful of dogs and found myself crossing to the other side of the road to avoid encountering a dog, even if that dog was pint size.  Coda was different.  It was love at first sight when we were introduced.  I thought her sweet natured.  She was – but perhaps she’d had the aggression beaten out of her.
First days at home, finding comfort in the cat's cubby
She was like a big rat when we first got her
First lesson, 'Watch' Maudie
I've got her on such a short lead
First graduation from beginner's class
First Road Trip
From the moment we brought Maudie home at six weeks of age, she was bossing me around.  At three months, she wouldn’t accept discipline from me.  She’d growl and bark.  She saw herself as above me in the hierarchy of the pack and I’d given her cause for that.  We have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals and attribute to them human qualities.  I have learned in the past twelve months to think more like a canine and to assume the leadership that Maudie as a young pup deserved from me. When she jumped up on me – it wasn’t to look soulfully into my eyes - or perhaps it was to see me at eye level – and to assert her dominance.  Jumping was accompanied by growling and barking.  She reduced me to tears. I read and watched tutorials on how to handle aggression in dogs and tried to change my attitude and being with her.  I took responsibility for her feeding and handling. We enrolled in Dog School for training.  When I thought I could take a back seat – I was now the main driver.  
Having my morning coffee as Maudie joins me on the couch

Having a puppy was not a joy – as a few friends continually reminded me.  The bond required work and time, as well as patience. Choices – to spend time with her – not only disciplining her but playing and having fun. I was unable to hold her on a lead when she got excited by the sight or smell of another dog, or the sighting of a bird or another human being. It’s a mind game.  It requires assertiveness and confidence on my part to think and feel that I can do this – that if she remains calm, it’s because I have the assertiveness to be her leader. However, when it comes to holding her when she’s excited – I’m still failing.  

I find it intriguing that having a dog is teaching me about how I am in the world and in my relationships. I’m neither a leader, nor a follower.  What I am is someone who has chosen to march to the rhythm of her own beat – and as an adult I haven’t had to bring up a child or a pet.  I preferred to have a pet rock to a relationship.  Of course people who knew about my pet rock thought I needed sympathy or therapy – but I chose a way of life that didn’t require much from me, and where I wasn’t required to have much responsibility for others.  I could lie in bed and write – and more recently I could spend time producing felt.  A pet rock is perfect for someone self absorbed like me. I thought with Maudie, as with Coda, that I could sit back and enjoy an occasional cuddle without putting in the time, without taking any responsibilities for her development.  But to survive in this pack or family requires living differently. As with any other relationship, I needed to put my weight into the relationship with Maudie.

With the onset of Winter, when P decided he needed a few days away to get some sun and see a football game, it meant Maudie would be all mine for those few days. I was anxious about how I’d cope if she jumped or growled, or if she started bullying Jose the cat.  She’s not so cute baring her brilliant large canine teeth.  Surprisingly rising to the task I was able to be the strong leader (not as strong as P) but strong enough, none the less.  I made time for walks, throwing a ball around, for training and learning tricks. I also decided I needed a 'Gentle Leader' collar for our walks, as she pulled too much and it made walking with her exhausting and not much fun for me.

Then there’s Dog School every Sunday morning, come rain or shine.  Maudie and I have passed Class 2 and are in Class 3 working towards off lead and agility training. I would even like us to do ‘dancing with dogs’ if she shows an aptitude for it, as I can’t get P to go dancing with me. Surprising the twists life can take.  A year ago I never would have imagined myself at a place where there’d be over a hundred dogs training or socializing. 

What’s suffered is my creative life – but isn’t that the case for any creative woman who makes the choice of raising children.  At the risk of offending those with children, raising a dog is no different. Unlike a child you can tie a dog up, put her in her crate, or put her in dog care, but that’s not growing a relationship or trust.  Keeping up with a puppy requires twenty times more energy than keeping up with a toddler child; and puppies can be more destructive when they don’t get the fun and stimulation they need. Nearing Spring I thought Maudie had become more trustworthy.  I could leave her for short periods of time without supervision, and she would take herself off to bed, or amuse herself with her toys. Jose had taken up residence with its actual ‘mum’ and he wasn’t around for Maudie to hassle to play when all he wanted to do was sleep.   I took up a little sewing, within earshot or sight of Maudie. Then one day I let her outdoors with a treat but forgot about her when I became engrossed in the task I had  – then thought she was awfully quiet and must be up to no good.  I was right… she was ‘playing’ with one of the chickens that had flown out of its run.  The chicken had to be killed because it had sustained several wounds and its gizzards were exposed. 
She can now sleep on the couch in my studio without running off with my roving, prefelts or plastic

Recently celebrating her first birthday with carrot and peanut butter cupcakes

More recently I have begun to spend time in the studio and Maudie will wander in and if she behaves, has been allowed to stay.  So she may become a studio dog after all. A creative woman's dog.

Now she's becoming a joy to know and have as a pet and companion. P has rigged up a backyard 'agility' course, and we can both take the opportunity to practice with Maudie during the break from school over the holidays, while she also has some exercise and fun.  With the days hotting up, the pavements and streets are too hot for Maudie's pads and our walking jaunts have been curtailed.
P leading Maudie into the Zig-Zag

Of course I crave the times when I used to only have a pet rock.  It demanded less of me as a person and I could lie in bed and indulge my whims like Proust.  But that's not what becoming a person is about, and a dog can certainly add to our lessons about that...