Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Base Seven

One of the gospels of dog breeders who make a good-faith effort to do right by their puppies is the popular "Rule of Sevens."

Not a bad floor. If someone pays enough attention to a litter to meet this criteria, it's likely that the pups will go to their homes well-socialized and fairly resilient, ready to be well-adjusted pets or show dogs.

But if one is aiming to develop the most confident, flexible, intelligent, unflappable working companion allowed by each pups' genetics, one should be aiming higher and thinking more about process than checklists.

When I learned to do bodywork on animals, my witch doctor friend Maryna taught us a low-velocity, deep-penetrating pulse in-hold-pulse out pattern. One's fingers "intrude" on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, remain at the point of deepest intrusion until they detect the desired change (a release of tension, or of some of it) and then gradually retreat, allowing the animal's mind and body to register the change and assimilate it into the whole.

This principle of pressure and release works in behavioral rehab, too -- you push your student/patient/subject to the point of discomfort, hold that degree of pressure while the mind copes with the challenge and achieves some incremental change, and then gradually take the pressure off, allowing a period of rest while the change assimilates into the whole animal.

Without pressure -- challenge -- there is no forward momentum. Without pausing and holding the pressure, there is no change. And without retreat and rest, there is no processing of what just happened, no long-term application.

The Roseannadannas don't need rehab. They are clean and shiny and new; they are perfect, and so is their world. But their world will expand, and they will expand to meet it, through the same process of pressure, hold, release.

Much of the "pressure" comes from inside the puppies. They are bursting to grow. They push their own comfort levels in order to satisfy their intense curiosity. This is the pressure to expand that is natural to every intelligent creature, and all we need to do is support it.

Monday they were enjoying their free-range time. Now, whenever I can, I close the gates and open the doors so that they have access to the puppy-proofed kitchen and living room, the deck, and the whole outdoors via the front door (which opens from the kitchen). They are lightly supervised as we go about our business. The big dogs can mingle with them, or go in the back door to the parts of the house that are gated off -- pups can't get there yet. There's nothing between pups and poultry other than the poultry's good judgement and speed.

In general, they move in groups -- this is their time to learn about dog society with one another. They spend a lot of time playing and contending, and a lot of time sleeping. They play with Cole or Ernie or mob their mother. They play with any humans who are among them. The social world takes precedence.

But some of the time, they are pulsing out -- pushing the physical boundaries of their world. On
Sunday, the theme was to climb the landscaping boulders in the front yard, push leads into their crevices, and generally work in three dimensions. Monday we were all about getting into the mint patch for a little aromatic puppy caving. (Few photo ops in that endeavor.)

Generally, when I walk a hundred feet from the front door, the pups fall back. But not always. On Sunday, Garrett followed me all the way to the barnyard for night chores, then found his way back without drama. This meant negotiating some stone steps, down and then up. Monday, tiny Gilda followed me to the pole barn, hung out while I assembled tools, and then followed me back. These are long treks for little puppies, precursors of the pack walks that will start in a few days.

As they develop, we also provide some pressure -- not often to push them further outwards, but to direct their expanding psyches.

Chevy roo-roos and wants to be picked up. I love his drive to engage a person, but he's a bit pushy and full of swagger. I pick him up and cradle him, and he becomes slightly stiff -- he did not want to be cradled on his back, he wanted to come into my lap and nibble my chin and generally have me enable his agenda. I keep him cradled and he pitches a minor tantrum. Alas, it does not succeed in granting him his wish. When the tantrum abates, not before, I set him upright in my lap for stroking and kissies. Pressure ... hold ... hold ... hold ... hold ... releeeease. We will repeat this many times.

Gilda is playing with a bit of cotton rope. I take the end and apply gentle traction. We play "tug" while I stroke her whole body with long, firm, calming strokes, the way I've seen the best schutzhund trainers work with a young puppy. Nothing exciting, no thrashing around, no proving I'm stronger than a five-pound furball. Her grip stays firm. I let the rope slide out of my hand (gradual release). We will teach her to release a toy in a few weeks. To my delight, when she finds she has full possession of the rope, she cheerfully brings it back to me and asks me to re-engage. Playing with someone is more fun than having something. A lesson she will learn many times, in many contexts, until one day she is teaching it to some pup in the dog park or some toddler who is learning about grabbiness.

The pups have the routine and the familiar, and they have challenges to the routine and familiar. I put a new obstacle onto the deck -- it is a challenge and a diversion. Can I climb on it? Under it? Does it move if I hit it? Is it shreddable? This is exciting! But other things stay the same. If I get too stimulated, I can always go sleep on my same pillow with my same brother. Mother changes -- now she says no to me, and sometimes she plays with me -- but she is also the same -- she smells the same and the milk still tastes so good and she still cleans me like she did the minute I was born. With every pulse of pressure to grow and change, there's a corresponding path back to the familiar, a physical or emotional space to rest and contemplate that becomes the springboard to dive back into the unfamiliar. Each pulse-hold-release strengthens the whole pattern, until the familiar becomes the puppy's own sense of herself, and to the degree that her genetics permit, nothing can faze her.


  1. Almost feel like I am there. Love that Garrett did the bard trek.


  2. What a start on life. I almost begin craving one of these little great-start fluffballs.. until I picture their mother.. Oh, yes, Rosie. Nevermind little puppies, ya'll go find ranches and SAR work to do.

    It reminds me of Gina's old PC post: Why would anyone not want this for their puppy?

    What a great start. A great base from which all of them can go on to do great things.

  3. I love your blog. Really beautiful pictures and informative and clever writing! I stumbled upon it while cruising "puppy porn" (as my family refers to my obsession with all-things-dog). I have a 21 mth old tri-color ES named Cal. Keep it coming!

    Lisa Grose

  4. I am enjoying your puppy blogs so much. Thanks.

  5. *love* this post and LOVE those puppies.
    and what a philosophy... with puppies, people, and life.

    i love the difference you make with your furry family, and i love the ripples of difference that makes with the people you touch. thank you.

  6. Such a lovely clear piece of writing!

    Could you write one for humans to use for babies?

    About the body work. After a while, even just doing massage on a dog, you can find the "holes" where there's tension.

  7. This is an excellent essay. I must remember to nurture my curiosity and excitement when a new obstacle is placed on deck.

  8. Great article! Love finding a framework to help puppy buyers understand this process.
    I start walking my ( Australian Shepherd) puppies ( with and without Mom) at about 6 weeks. We go out in all sorts of weather on trails around the house. Short stroll around the pond first, then longer forays into the back forty.
    It puts good muscle and brain on them. They have to sort out how to cross tiny streams, climb brambly hills, and most importantly that it's their job to keep track of their human - not the other way around ( I pretend!). They quickly appreciate my call when they are "lost" and find following my voice provides the relief of safety. That's (along with calling them to eat) a powerful reinforcer! Puppies go home VERY interested in a whistle and the words "Here,pup!" and ready for off-leash walks. Plus, I love watching how they handle themselves.

  9. Lovely, just lovely...what lucky little beings to have such loving cultivation. Your writing evokes the same wise,loving and gentle touch - so clear I can remember the feel of my young dogs under my hands...

    As always,thank you.



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