Friday, July 11, 2008

Alpha Bits

I mentioned to my therapist at the last session that I seem to have a very short fuse of late. My patience is wafer thin. Little things make me explode. And I realized I had a discernable problem when

1) Bella told me it made her "sad" when I "yelled at the dogs," and
2) I caught Bella roaming around the kitchen saying "Fuck" over and over.

Yeah. That would be MY cheery (sea-faring) disposition she's channeling, thank you very much. Please spell my name correctly when you submit that mother-of-the-year award.

Ostensibly, this has zero to do with grief and everything to do with my life as it is currently. Except for the fact that I was never a short-tempered person. I was told by many that I had the patience of a saint, sometimes to my detriment ("Why on EARTH did you wait around that long?! Don't you realize we're going to be LATE now? I would've said something!")

I once wrote that the deadbaby thing had caused me to undergo the following change: Big things slide off my back like water off a whale. Little things freak me the fuck out.


We're renovating the kitchen. Which is a short way of staying, altering four staircases, blowing through a wall, moving a fire-box, and getting some new appliances and flooring while we're at it. And our architect and contractor have gone out of their way to tell us that we're by far the easiest people they've worked with in a while. We make decisions quickly. We're clear-headed and grasp changes. We put up with a lot of hassle (strange guys running through my house, a big smelly dumpster parked outside my back door, noise a go-go, using a wee kitchen on the third floor until Halloween at the least) with aplomb.

And then my dog eats a block of Manchengo, and I dissolve into tears cleaning up shit-sour-cheese barf off my floor, while I call him all sorts of things I think I heard in a Sopranos episode.

Gaping holes with 10-foot drops under my staircase? Whatever, we'll work around it. Dog puke on my rug? Madly scramble for my therapist's email.


We never trained Buddy properly when he got here seeing as I was in a state of shock, and Buddy was hardly able to right himself -- what with the two metal plates in his leg and the umpteen screws holding them in and the hip that never went back in the socket. But we decided a few months ago it would behoove us all if Buddy knew some basic commands, most especially "leave it" (he lives to chase and bark at neighbors down the fenceline) and staying off the counters. Mr. ABF called a dog trainer who had successfully turned a couple of high-wired dogs we knew into docile, obedient pups, and one morning we were all introduced to The Dog Whisperer.

This trainer is into the whole pack mentality thang, where you -- owner -- are the Alpha. There was a lot of chatter about wolves which I found somewhat fascinating, but honestly was fairly distracted by considering whether to blog about the dream-catcher I saw affixed to her auto's rear-view mirror. She lay down some rules and scenarios, I tried my best not to giggle. And Buddy actually responded. For 2-3 days there, I thought she was onto something.

The real plus to this method of training is that she doesn't want any negative reinforcement. In fact, she wants no speaking whatsoever. She wants all of the initial alpha-induction to be done with body language -- posture, eye movements, heavy sighing. And so I suddenly found myself not yelling at my dog. Which was nice for everyone. It was actually a significant blood pressure reducer to know that when I caught Buddy on the counter gulping down the cat food, that I didn't need to dream up some other combination of "fucking asshole," that I could simply grab him by the collar and give him a time-out for a few before letting him back in the room and ignoring him. That's pretty much how I try and treat my husband when I'm mad at him anyway, so I thought I'd be pretty good at it. I began to worry less about catching Bella chastising a poor stuffed Clifford in her room: "You Motherfucker!"

But I think we all missed a critical component here: As it turns out, I cannot be an Alpha. I dare Runs-with-Dogs-Woman to find a pack of wolves where the Alpha is interrupted from food allocation to tend to finding a roll of toilet paper for a whining pup two caves over. I'm willing to bet I can find a National Geographic episode that clearly demonstrates some strong yet complaint female wolf off the side, exhale deeply and mutter "Don't worry, I'LL get it," while stalking off. If anything, the counter-surfing problem has become worse since we instituted this program. Buddy now hangs around while I cook dinner, knowing full well that somewhere in there a scream will emanate from Bella's room or the bathroom -- "MOM! HELP! NOW!" -- that I must tend to immediately, and in the 12 seconds I'm around the corner making sure I don't need police assistance, Buddy eats dinner. And now knows all he's getting in return is silent, solitary confinement. He actually snarls a tad when I go for his collar now. According to Dances-with-Canines, Alphas are to enter the room with authority, and not look at their underlings until peace is assured. Well! She shoulda seen me enter the room after finding out Jamie Lynn Spears named her daughter "Maddie." Shoulders drooping, in search of coffee, needing 30 minutes to steel myself with space gazing before moving onto something else constructive, Buddy read the signs and aimed for the stale pastry I had left sitting next to my mug. I didn't even bother.

And I knew I was in trouble at my aunt's when I went to correct him and he gave me what can only be described as a "HaHa, you think you can handle THIS?" look. I turned to my husband and said:

"I am his bitch."

Buddy has figured this all out. He was never Alpha to begin with -- that was Max ("Like HELL it was," snots Tucker Cat, chortling over my keyboard) -- but I really think this whole programme has elevated his status. Our little den experiment here has shattered any authority I may have had over my dog, and clarified for me that I really don't give a shit about the process, I want the end result. I'm devoid of patience, and lack the time. I no longer yell, which is good, but now when he eats the loaf of bread through the wrapper while I'm inconveniently poking my head around the corner to tell Bella to please leave the clothes dryer alone, I mutter not-so-much under my breath: "g'damn it, shithead." He smiles. Bella takes note. This has not been good for the reduction in bad language. Not so very much.

I have made it rather clear that while I see how this method can work, that it is probably not for us. I would much prefer getting the electric fence guys to come into my new kitchen and mining the counter so that Buddy gets a rude awakening the next time he goes to see if Bella left any cereal in her bowl. I figure one or two of those and he'll get the message. I may not be Alpha, but mama is no fool.


There's a lot more to the patience-thinning-swearing-uptick in my life that has to do with my overwhelming "To-Do" lists and the fact that I can't seem to break out of the fire drill status that takes over my day beginning with "Mom! My clock says it's 7:00! Yours does too!" I'm also not so vapid to understand that there is most likely some subconscious reason for not straying too far in advance of the present, and not prioritizing things like "Call RE" and "Make mammogram appointment" and "Fix Up Bella's playroom" on the list because they are psychologically fraught. They all involve discussions, ghosts, disturbing locations, medical technology I now find deeply suspect and rather pointless, future appointments, decisions, moving forward. Much easier to fill the days with insurmountable tasks like ordering goody-bag favors.

I told Mr. ABF when he announced he had an appointment set up with She-Who-Communicates-by-Barking (on a rare Bella-free morning near the onset of summer) that I didn't consider this a priority. Sure, Buddy was a bit of a headache, but a nothing a good loud stream of profanity couldn't fix (at least in my psyche). I poke fun, but really I believe her methods are valid and work. I've seen her with Buddy, and he is an entirely different animal around her. But not around me. I'm not an Alpha. I have never wanted to lead, I have never wanted to shoulder the responsibility for the entire pack. I like sharing and getting welcomed immediately at the door. I just like my dinner where I left it 10 seconds ago. And so, we may revert to methods that cause the DogHealer to shudder through her dream-catcher and pick up the phone to the ASPCA. I'd like to use shock-treatment to get us quickly to the end-game. In more ways than one.


Aunt Becky said...

I'm ridiculously bad at dog training, too, despite being an alpha myself. I just...I don't know. I suck.

Mrs. Spit said...

Couple of thoughts, from someone who has had more psycho dogs than she cares to admit. (Mostly because you would wonder why, when the person fostering the dogs says "she has some problems." and Mrs. spit blithely responds, "oh, that's ok!" Normal people aren't like this.

My first thought is that Buddy is a bit bored. There are two things you could do. You could either start lavishing him with attention and playing all sorts of fetch games, or you could send him to Dog daycare, or you could get him another dog to play with.

Before you point out that Buddy as a single dog is driving you crazy, and what on earth am I smoking to suggest another dog, let me tell you about Maggie.

Maggie is a neurotic border collie. She missed her life as a strange woman with OCD who would spend her life neurotically picking up pigeon feathers and worrying aboout killer bee's to anyone who would listen to her. She went to daycare every day. 3 years, 5 dog trainers, a citronella bark collar and prozac. We couldn't control her. She was a neurotic mess. A puddle of goo who had spent her entire day throwing herself against her kennel and howling. She was nothing if not persistent. She couldn't be left alone. The car dealership started sending her Christmas Cards after she ate the fourth seat belt.

And then, we got the bipolar mastiff. And somehow, these dogs, who don't actually like each other very much (they aren't trying to kill each other, but they do make sure that we get at least one look a day that makes it clear that life would be so much better without that *other* dog around). Somehow with these two dogs, they are content. They keep each other company in the kennel. In the car. We haven't had a thing eaten in the longest time.

Honestly, I'd get buddy his own dog. Try borrowing one for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference.

You could also try some bait food heavily laced with tabasco. Couple of times with that, and he might get the point. Barring that, remember, in dog training, it invariably gets worse before it gets better.

janis said...

Oh Tash... ... you make me laugh so hard, bringing tears to my eyes in more ways than one.
IMO you are a saint putting up with that renovation. I will leave the husband, kid and dogs behind, and abscond to Bali for a few months while the men are at it.

There can only be one Alpha. Can Tucker take over? Or Mr ABF? Although I will also be tempted to use electric shock...

And, I'm with you about those lists of things to do. "Escape" seems to be the guiding principle...

Tash said...

Mrs. Spit: Will respond in full over in email, but just to clarify before someone else picks up this ball and runs with it: we HAVE two dogs. For that reason. He's actually not that bad, all things considered, just has a counter-surfing problem I'd like to remedy along with some other basic stuff. I took Max to basic training back when I had scads of time to do things like, oh, practice, and he's quite well behaved. Buddy not so much.

c. said...

I have the same problem with our cat, although it is clear, he is much more picky than Buddy is about what he'll steal from the counter . Wish I had some assvice to dish out, but I'm so many ways.

As an aside, when I heard what JLS named her babe, I thought of you immediately and what you must have thought about that. I can't imagine it was any good.

Hope you can find the Alpha in you. Barring that, you could always ask the doggy whisperer to move in - what's another person in the whole scheme of things.

luna said...

this is too funny, even though you might not have meant it to be... I love your self analysis, and I do the same thing with my lists, sticking to the inane things instead of the loaded ones.

we had a dog like buddy. not max's twin, but her predecessor. alpha queen bitch. she'd stare you down while you ate, eye your food on the coffee table and swipe it the minute you glanced away, and gorge on cat food no matter how many times we tried to train her no.

she'd growl if you got near her while she ate, so we started growling at her while we were eating, and she totally got it. walked away.

she was a garbage hound. she'd escape to scour the neighborhood for bbq grease, anything. she ended up in the ER twice due to food-related incidents, once the fri. after thanksgiving with trky bones in her gut, and another time with tin foil and illicit brownies from next door...

but her most predictable act was counter cafeteria. she especially loved licking dishes from the sink. the instant we'd leave the house, she'd be up on the counter, then she'd go right to the cat food... one time we came right back and caught her with the cat food back stuck on her head. instead of helping her take it off, we ran for the camera...

our next dog was never like that at all. you could leave food out and she'd respect it, she worshiped the cat, never had any food issues. not an alpha queen, but a princess...

sorry for the long comment, but you got me thinking about our old girl...

luna said...

typo: cat food baG was on her head, not baCK. oops.

k@lakly said...

I've returned to a life of only felines only for many of the Alpha reasons you mention,plus I hate paying boarding bills when we go on vacation...
I wonder tho, is there something you could put on the counter that would scare the begeezus out of him next time he hopped up? Something sticky or slippery or loud? Or could you squirt him in the face with a high powered water gun? Or would that be fun to him? Hmmm.
Children swearing, I watched my 6 year old daughter chase a single pea around her plate for the longest time, trying desperately to get it on her fork and then suddenly just as it seemed victory was within reach, it bounced off her plate and rolled onto the floor. She watched it with utter amazement and then muttered to herself, sounding remarkably like her mother, "Son of a bitch."
Can I be runner up?

niobe said...

Awww.....there's nothing cuter than a little kid swearing a blue streak.

(though why blue? perhaps I'll look it up later)

Antigone said...

Last Feb, I got a 1 yr old GS-mix. She's now 70 pounds and still poops on the rug, still chews remotes and my favorite shoes, still won't walk on leash,...

It's been hard to care. Mostly because she's also the one who cuddles up to me the most.

Bon said...

i know nothing about dogs, but man, do i know me some good swear words when you're ready to come back to the dark side.

and the alpha wolf thing was the best laugh i've had all day.

the Jamie Lynn Spears thing? not so much. ouch.

Sarah said...

When our dog began to prefer our furniture to the hardwood floor for his day-long siesta we broke him of the habit with mouse traps. I know, but before you even say it, the local SPCA already has our names on their short list for "Pet Friendly Owners of the Year".

(and this bit is unrelated: you have been very kind to the writer of another blog I read, and I just wanted you to know that your kindness is noticed by even those you do not know.)

Natalie said...

We have a dog like that. I have learned to live with it in many ways. My dinner will be eaten. Tissues will be pulled out of my purse and eaten. And I just kind of... don't care anymore. Like you I tried the training thing... I'm not alpha. Do not want to constantly be alpha. This one dog just doesn't get me, I don't get him. So I ignore him. I let DH handle him.

I feel your pain.

Julia said...

I was the same way about the big/small stuff for a long time. I think I am starting to let the small stuff roll too.

It's interesting. I am definitely the stricter parent. But I am pretty sure that when we do get a dog, JD will a good alpha. He trained the dog that he got before leaving the Old Country (and the dog, in the care of his parents) pretty much that way. That was one smart and devious dog. He got hit by a very careless driver five and a half years ago. It's taken me years to talk him into thinking of getting a puppy. He promised me one next year. But you are scaring me, a little, here.

Also? Can't help it-- love the kiddie swearing. :)

And I am so glad celebrity news crosses my radar only occasionally and in very small doses. That couldn't have been easy on you, though. Hope there was some liquor at some point dedicated to helping you deal. Please tell me that there was.

Lollipop Goldstein said...

No dog training tips (because we don't have a dog), but I loved this post.

Kymberli said...

My rat terrier Spunky had a knack for eating my shoes. Never Frank's. Then she graduated to books and socks whatever else she could find on the floor. We put a bunch of coins in a soda can and taped it off. Every time she chewed something, we showed it to her, sternly told her "no chewing," and shook the can at her. It was especially effective if we caught her in the act. Within a couple of weeks we noticed that she was chewing less, and within a month she stopped altogether. She'd have setbacks here and there, but we'd just let out a loud NO CHEWING and she instantly looked guilty with her ears flattened and her head bowed submissively to the floor. That was 6 years ago, and now she's an even-keeled, calm, well-behaved dog.

She gets a bit yippy with visitors and small children, an telling her "no chewing" still calms her right down.

It might not work with Buddy, but if doggy yoga and sighing "namaste" fails to work, I guess it can't hurt to try.

As for the cursing, if I really feel like I need to let a few rip, I try to replace them with similar nonsense words. "Motherflippin' sonofa biscuit-maker" is my personal favorite. It makes me sound like a pretentious wannabe badass, but y'know - whatever works.

CLC said...

Oh, Tash, I know nothing about dog training. I admire you for trying to train a dog though. As lovely as dogs are, I just don't have the patience to even try!

As for the JLS thing, I also thought of you. It pisses me off for many different reasons, one being, why does she get her baby to bring home? Two, being why does she have to take your baby's name? Yes, it is awful, and sounds selfish on my part, but I am resigned that I will feel like this every time someone else has a baby. Especially, when that someone else is 17 and unmarried.


So when are we going out? I am free for the next few weeks!

Aurelia said...

After all this stories I've suddenly become very happy I have a kid who is allergic to dogs.

You are a saint with that reno...I'm about to go into one and not sure about how bad....arghh on the 10 foot drop.

Kathy said...

I don't have any pets either, but still really appreciate your post.

I can totally relate to when you wrote: "Big things slide off my back like water off a whale. Little things freak me the fuck out."

I have felt that way for a long time, because of some family issues we had when I was in jr. high (I always felt like I had to grow up too fast) and I agree that post-dead baby dealing with things in that manner for me has intensified.

Anyway, thank you for sharing.

Little Miss Hopeful said...

oh good lord I could have written most of this. Well, aside from the dog parts. The anger, the swearing, the renovations...
Heres hoping we can both try and make it through!