A Lesson

November 15, 2010 at 5:51 pm 9 comments

One of Charlie’s remaining quirks is a continued profound fascination with, and sometimes irrational fear of, reflections and other shiny or sparkly things.

One of the ways this manifests is in his unswerving conviction that his reflection is some kind of unspeakably evil thing.

Early this morning I was having a cup of coffee and catching up on a bit of reading when Charlie caught sight of an evil thing in the glass front of the fireplace.

Charlie was transfixed by his reflection. He went stiff-legged and bug-eyed. He piloerected from the front of his forehead to the tip of his half-raised tail. He started growling softly but quickly escalated to an eerily accurate imitation of the demon Pazuzu.

I looked down at Audie, who was lying at my feet. Audie met my gaze with the kind of deep look that conveys an entire conversation. He got up, trotted across the room and picked up Charlie’s favorite stuffed toy. He carried it over to his irrational, ranting buddy and playbowed. Charlie woke from his trance, went soft, wagged his tail at Audie and the two of them moved away to play tug games together.

Audie (whose play was rooted more from of a sense of duty than real enthusiasm) quickly tired of the game and returned to his spot at my feet. Unfortunately once he was no longer distracted by the game, it didn’t take Charlie long to discover that the unspeakable evil had returned to the fireplace and he continued his tirade.

Audie and I had another silent conversation and, being a dog with a strong sense of duty, he trotted over to the horrid little dog at fireplace again.  Eschewing the toy, this time Audie put on his best bendy, prancy, head-rolling, come-hither body language and successfully flirted Charlie’s attention away from the abomination in the window.

The ploy worked and the boys wrestled a bit. They got distracted by a squirrel on the deck and Audie laid at my feet again.

And once Charlie’s attention was free to roam on its own – it made a bee-line for the same ugly, obsessive place.

I could tell Audie had moved from dutiful to annoyed because this time he didn’t even look at me. He just got up, snatched a dirty sock off the floor, marched over the fireplace and stepped between Charlie and the object of his obsession in a coldly calculating way. Audie blocked the fireplace and stared at Charlie in obvious contempt until Charlie quit ululating and averted his gaze. Audie returned to my feet, spat out the sock and sighed in a distinctly annoyed way – but instead of relaxing he remained alert.

In the mean time Charlie had hopped up onto the couch to sulk. He averted his gaze from Audie’s direction (and mine) and fixed it on a blank spot on the wall, apparently trying to stare a hole through it. He remained like this, hunkered down, ears pinned back, glaring at the epic unfairness of it all until the sound of the UPS truck broke his rumination.

All the dogs ran to the door, but we’ve worked on this. They barked a bit, then sat quietly and attentively near the door while the driver dropped off two boxes and three dog treats before he rang the bell and walked away. They were antsy, but stayed generally sitting until I picked up the boxes – and the treats – and rewarded their good behavior.

The three dogs drifted around me for a while in a soft, curving, happy mass. Glad to be together, pleased to have been given an unexpected treat and proud to have earned it. Sadly, the serenity didn’t last long. And when the joy of the moment had passed, each of the dogs wandered off to pursue his own interests. Unfortunately Charlie’s interest went immediately back to staring down his demon.

Audie had settled on one of the dog beds to work on a bone. He tried to ignore the shrieking abomination across the room, he really did. But the utter wrongness of it could not be denied. And it could not be allowed to continue.

Audie dropped the bone, narrowed his eyes, laid back his ears and darted across the room. He’d given up on asking Charlie to agree to stop his annoying, unbalanced behavior. He would make it happen.

Audie delivered a swift muzzle punch to Charlie’s left flank. The impact threw Charlie off balance and instantly pulled his attention away from the monster in the fireplace. He spun around and yelped more, I think, in surprise than in pain. He took one look at Audie’s intensely annoyed expression and dropped to grovel softly – and quietly – at his feet. Audie stalked around Charlie to block him once more from the fireplace and Charlie got up and slunk away to the kitchen.

Audie stood claiming the fireplace until he was sure Charlie wasn’t going to return. Then he resumed his preferred position at my feet.

A while after Charlie banished himself to the kitchen to process events I took the dogs outside for a break. Charlie and Audie romped together as if nothing had happened. Charlie didn’t express any fear or mistrust of Audie. And Audie showed no trace of resentment or unwarranted bossiness toward Charlie. (And Zip was as haughty and aloof as she’s ever been.)

Life in my dogs’ world went on much as it always has with only one notable exception. This happened more than seven hours ago – and Charlie hasn’t so much as looked at the fireplace since.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

Entry filed under: dog training, dogs. Tags: , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob McMillin  |  November 15, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    I do wish we had an Audie to take care of Maddy when she gets bug-eyed crazy.

    The spray collar has helped an awful lot in the short time we’ve had it, but it’s no substitute for actual training.

  • 2. Erin  |  November 16, 2010 at 3:20 am

    You’ve gotta love that ES rules enforcing. Thanks for the smiles!

  • 3. H. Houlahan  |  November 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

    This is astonishingly like what Cole does with our GSD, Sophia. It has taken him a while to get to the point of trying to distract her with play — his first option was, for a long time, the shoulder punch, which is clearly shocking to her — very surprising, and I do think it hurts.

    The irony being (for those who need a program to follow this saga, and who can blame you?), that Cole is Charlie’s brother.

    It makes me believe even more that Charlie was “patient zero” in that triad of three brothers who fought one another like little piranha, then moved on to jumping other dogs when they were all living as prisoners evidence while their abuser walked free.

    I think that baby Chuckster, suffering from now-known and suspected physical woes as well as, like his littermates, the absence of mothering, became so overtly unbalanced that his brothers tried to “enforce” on him.

    But this was too much responsibility for them, at such a tender age, and without a maternal model. So they became unbalanced themselves.

    I remember the first time I saw them freak out. They were about eight weeks old. Two puppies locked onto one another like little Tasmanian devils. Two volunteers picked them up while I force-pried their tiny evil jaws off one another. Meanwhile, the third brother was leaping in the air and trying to climb my leg, snarling, trying to get in on the fracas.

    I really think the leaping puppy was probably Cole.

    Too much responsibility and too little guidance for a baby puppy. And it did his brother no favors.

  • 4. Rick  |  November 16, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I love this. I also wish one of mine would be more like Audie. But, then again, mone don’t seem to see “demons”, just something passing that we can’t see. Something we are working on and getting better at.

  • 5. Melinda  |  November 16, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Jet also gets weirded out by distorted reflection, becomes transfixed, and totally “stripes” from top of his head to base of his tail. He stands there mesmerized, and will woof low and quiet. For him, I think it’s the distortion…that “dog yet not a dog” image. And he will go back to his reflection time and again even after some distractions and even after seeing it multiple times. There is a place in front of the TV cabinet that is a no-go zone for him due to this weird reflection. If a toy rolls there while we are playing, he will stop the game and stare at his reflection.

    But sadly, we have no big brother Audie to take care of business. My guys all lay there thinking “Go ahead, Jet. Freak out for all your worth, dude. Maybe that reflection will kick your ass. Yeah, that would be cool, you Dork.”

  • 6. Erin  |  November 16, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I remember in March, after the little guys had been moved to the barn, and was asked to go in and watch Cole at feeding time. The mere sight of a food dish (didn’t even have to be anything in it yet) had become such a trigger that he immediately turned to Jake and latched on like that. In reflex, I picked Cole up, and immediately put him back down, as I realized that Jake was hanging from Cole’s grip, and both were now dangling. Pried Jake loose, the moved Cole to a safer distance. Yeah, they all could have been the better for it if they could have been allowed to get out in the real world sooner, poor guys!

    Banjo did a similar thing the first time he encountered my mirrored closet door. But he was a fast learner, and like the incident with the Evil Bathrobe, very quickly figured out that the Dog in the Mirror really wasn’t a threat after all.

  • 7. Dana  |  December 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Nothing like a dog to enforce things. We had a Malanute once that taught a puppy in two minutes what her owners had tried for weeks to teach her.

  • 8. Rachael Roper  |  January 7, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Skye is confused about her reflection and gives a low growl, but forgets about it easily.

    I also had an experience with that group of pups before they were moved to the barns. They were ganging up on one pup (may have been Josie) and this was not normal puppy playing. I picked up Josie and then had several other pups trying to climb me all biting, snarling etc. I had never seen anything like it. I had become their target because I was holding her. I was lucky they were so little at the time.

  • 9. NoniB  |  February 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    While researching “American shepherd” I found finally exactly what breed was our dog, Queen. She was my brother’s dog and was the very best canine. Period. Now my grandchildren have a mama with ten pups. Mama is pitbull/American shepherd cross and dad is an Australian shepherd. Queen was a true Old Time Farm Shepherd and I never understood until today why my parents always said she was “a shepherd” when I’d ask what breed she had been. Thanks for all the information on this site; and for the wonderful pictures.

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