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Friday, July 22, 2016

Group Dynamics

Part of being a puppy is learning where and how you fit in with the humans and other animals in a household. And part of bringing home a new puppy is that the people and animals learn how this new being fits in. Sometimes, this can be a difficult lesson - such as when adorable puppy noses get snapped at by older dogs who are trying to teach some manners.  Vinny has had a couple of those during his time here.  

Treasure has her own way of communicating that she would like the dog bed now.
Vinny did take his bone and move out of the bed right after this was taken.  

It's normal for adult dogs to discipline puppies at times - this is how puppies learn.  But it's harder when that puppy is blind and deaf.  Harder for the puppy, and harder for the adult dog.  Dogs give a lot of signals before they snap - signals that say stop that or go away.  They may give a hard stare or lift a lip, or they may growl.  A blind and deaf puppy cannot read these signals accurately and so will usually keep doing the behavior that the adult dog doesn't like, which then results in a snap.  It can take some time for an adult dog to learn how to communicate differently with a blind and deaf dog too.  

Thankfully my dogs are well-versed in this already, but to them, it seems to be case-specific.  They treat the other blind and deaf dogs differently, but this did not carry over to Vinny.  Now they are beginning to learn that he too, requires special treatment.  By this, I mean, they are starting to realize that if they growl or lift a lip while chewing their favorite bone, he is not going to respond.  So, they now are picking up their bone and moving to where he can't get them with it.  This is the behavior they do with the other blind and deaf dogs.

Of course, I have tried to keep a close eye on them when they are together and want the adults to have some time away from worrying about a puppy, but still there are times when something needs to be said by the adult dogs.  

Adult dogs can play a bit rough for a puppy, and so there is learning about just how much is enough to keep the game going.  Too rough, and the puppy stops and leaves the game, or the human steps in to referee.  Just the right amount of tumbling without getting too rough allows the game to continue indefinitely.  Just this past week, my rougher players are figuring out the perfect balance with Vinny.  And my shy one is beginning to get in on the play also.  

Playing with puppies that can see is different for dogs than playing with dogs that can't see.  If they bounce or run away from a blind puppy, inviting a chase, the game just isn't as fun, since the blind puppy can't see which way they went.  But they learn to play close by, inviting contact by touching or poking to let the blind puppy know where they are - also a tactic to keep the game going. 

There is more learning to be done - learning that play with humans must be different than play with other dogs!  Vinny likes to pounce on me and bite my skin and clothes, and those puppy teeth hurt!  Sometimes I think he thinks I am one of the dogs and if I happen to be nearby he pounces and gets me instead.  But often he just gets excited playing and can't stop.  He is learning that human skin is for being gentle with.  I am careful to only play with him with toys, and it's important to use toys that are longer when playing with blind puppies - give them plenty of room to grab the toy without grabbing your hand, since they can't see where your hand stops and the toy begins.  I don't want him to think that my hands are play things.  My  hands always touch him gently and give him soft and calm touching so he can learn the difference.  

It is working.  I don't correct him for biting me in any way.  Using his mouth is one of the few senses he has to learn about his world.  I don't want him to stop using his mouth.  I want him to learn how to use it gently. If he learns to use it gently, then one day when he grabs my hand instead of the toy, he will immediately loosen his grip and be gentle.  Or, the day that he bites down too hard for a piece of food and gets my finger, he will immediately know the difference and will become gentle. This is an important lesson for any puppy to learn. By being consistent with  my examples to him when to play and when to be gentle, simply by how I interact with him, he is learning what is expected.  

He has progressed to the point that when he is getting too excited at playtime, I can scoop him up into my lap for a moment, and just by my hands touching him gently, he can calm himself for a moment. And then I can let him go play again.  

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