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Grace Notes, 4

3/3/18-- Happy Birthday, Alexis! Dog is not an easy language to learn-- for me, harder than Norwegian-- which was already too hard. But my current necessity has me rivited on understanding what Grace's behavior, in all its bewildering variey and speed, means in human terms, in my terms. In many many respects, her dialect is different from Buster's or Gaia's, my companions over the past 20 years.

Neither of them was obsessed with licking and nibbling hands, for example, as Grace when she came to us three weeks ago. That's the way she greeted people when they'd lean down to scratch her ears affectionately, and that's the way she'd relate to people sitting in chairs, walking around or anything else.

"Oh, that's just her way of getting attention" said the vet. She spent most of her time sitting on the floor playing hand/mouth with her while she chatted with us. Well, sure, if that's the game you play with her, she'll come to rely on it. I was aghast to see her reinforcing unacceptable behavior.

Of course dogs are interested in human hands-- a primary source of affection, food, signals, maybe pain. You want to sniff and lick because hands smell good, and doing so might be rewarded with food. As it no doubt has been for Gracie much of her life. We don't play hand/mouth games with her, and we scratch chest or belly to give affection, rather than head and ears. She gets frustrated when I withhold my hands, and sometimes barks aggressively.

But she/we are learning to communicate thru all channels available to us.

Sniffing is Gracie's go-to sense (followed as often as possible by taste); she has sniffed out every nook and cranny of the house we've given her access to. She's a hound dog, and acts like one. When she is on-scent of prey, she doesn't even know I'm holding on for dear life at the other end of the leash. Voice commands are useless at that point-- she ain't listening.

What works is to make her Stop. Then she Looks, and Listens. Now she's learning about the larger world through her wonderfully acute eyes and ears. That's what I want-- and need-- and now.


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