I’m Cute, But Please Back Off

The chihuahua invasion of Saturday got me thinking, and then yesterday I took these two photos of Mozzie.

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They were taken about twenty seconds apart. He was snuggling happily with me on the couch, then there was a very, very loud boom of thunder.

Mozzie isn’t usually afraid of storms, which is good because he’s afraid of so many other things. I can control when I open the freezer or take out a plastic bag, but my superpowers do not yet extend to controlling the weather. This thunderclap, though, was incredibly loud, close, and seemed to go on forever. Even made me jump, and I love storms.

So, why am I showing a photo of my scaredy-pup? Because a lot of people look at the picture and think how cute it is, sweet, look at the adorable, meek golden-boy. And, yeah, he’s cute.

This photo is a very good illustration of a dog who is freaked-the-f**k-out. He’s panicking inside, almost paralyzed with anxiety over things he doesn’t understand and can’t control.

But I realized a lot of people don’t understand dog body language. If you or your child were out at a park, and you saw an adorable golden retriever who looked like Mozzie, I bet you’d like to pet it. I would too, because golden retriever, but I would know to absolutely not pet this dog.

He’s not growling, snarling, barking, showing his teeth. He’s not crouched defensively with his hackles up. He couldn’t be dangerous, right?

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Wrong. Look closely. His ears are back and down tight against his head. He has “whale eyes,” that wide, unfocused expression saying “get me out of here.” If you saw him in person, you’d see his shoulders are hunched, his tail is tight against his body, and his body and legs are trembling.

Yes, I wanted to cuddle and hug and snuggle his scared little face, but that would only reinforce to him that there’d been something to be frightened of. I forced myself to stay calm, speak to him normally, touch and react to him normally, until he was more relaxed.

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Your instinct might be to approach a dog who looks like this, to comfort or reassure him as I wanted to do, but that’s how you get bitten in the face. Do not ever, ever do this. Not in the park, not with your aunt’s dog, not with any dog who is not your own…and not even then if you’re not 100% certain how he’ll react. I know Mozzie wouldn’t have bitten me, but I didn’t want to reinforce his fear response. I don’t, however, know for sure how he’d react if a stranger tried to grab or snuggle him when he’s that close to the edge.

When you’re panicked, you react out of character. Even I, if you cornered me and freaked me out and got too close, would bite you. Though, to be fair, I’m a known fear biter. Point is, even the sweetest, meekest dog can lash out if it is approached mid-freakout.

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Every time I see this picture, my blood pressure almost makes my head explode. This dog is doing everything it can to “tell” the kid (and the parents, who sure as hell better be nearby) that it is not enjoying this interaction. But people say “awwwww, how cute,” and the next thing you know, the kid is missing a chunk of her adorable little button nose, the dog is wondering why everyone is screaming and trying to hit him…yeah, nothing good is going to happen.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend Canine Body Language: A Photographic QPlfDwAAQBAJGuide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog by Brenda Aloff. I’ve had it for years, and it’s the best all-in-one guide I’ve seen. We used it often in our veterinary practice, and most rescue groups use it as well.

Dogs aren’t toys. They’re sentient creatures with feelings, and those feelings matter. You expect your dog to have good manners, right? Well, you’d damned sure better have them too. Failing to understand and respect their language and pushing them beyond their endurance will not end well. You’ll end up with a traumatized, injured person, and likely a quarantined and ultimately euthanized dog.

People who love dogs but forget their language isn’t as straightforward as ours when it comes to saying “back off” are all too often loving their dogs…to death.

Intruder Alert

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The very first thing we did when we bought this house 4 1/2 years ago was install a fence to keep our dogs secure and safe. The two gates have a small gap under them, but we had Darwin (85 pounds of golden) and Brody (105 pounds of Pyr) at the time, so that wasn’t really a problem.

When they were gone and we got Mozzie and Oliver, we put boards and logs and such at the gaps to keep their little puppy-butts in the yard. The front and right side are six-foot white privacy fence, and the left and back, which border the woods, are four-foot chain link. I’m sure Oliver could clear the fence in one leap if he wanted, though he’d probably immediately impact a tree, but so far he hasn’t tried it. They’re both almost two years old now, 65 pounds each, so policing the gate-gap hasn’t been an issue.

Until yesterday.

I was sitting in my “office,” AKA my spot on the couch, from which I command my World Headquarters and Petting Zoo, at about ten a.m., when I saw an animal on the deck, right up against the sliding doors. Something small and tan. Maybe bigger than a squirrel, but not by much. Possibly a small cat, because there are a lot of free-range cats in the area and they sometimes (foolishly) come in the yard. Could also be a good-sized guinea pig, but I found that unlikely. I couldn’t get a good look, because the Direwolves rushed to the door and were blocking my view, so I got up to investigate.

Uh-oh. It was the little chihuahua I frequently see at the rental house across the street. Not good.

I opened the door a crack, squeezing myself out while shoving the very excited Direwolves back. The little dog scooted to the steps, but once I was outside and the door securely closed, she wiggled over to me, and I picked her up. Yes, I checked; she’s definitely a girl. Perhaps four very solid pounds. Four wiggling, squirming, vibrating, very-much-needs-a-nail-trim pounds. The ten or twelve long red claw marks down the middle of my chest can testify to that last part.

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She looks kind of like this. But wigglier. So…much…wigglier

What to do? Mozzie and Oliver were quivering with anticipation of my returning to the house with what they believed was their new chew toy. I didn’t even dare go inside to find the key for the gate so I could go out front, where I was sure the neighbors must be looking for the little intruder.

I decided to go to the gate and peek through to see if they were out there. Two kids, a boy and a girl of maybe ten or so, were visible, so I yelled, “Are you missing a puppy?” The little girl confirmed they were. I told them I’d have to hand her to them over the fence, as I didn’t have a gate key handy. The pup-nugget, who it turns out is named Zoey, was delivered safely to the girl, and I advised them to watch her, because I didn’t know what would happen if she got in while my guys were outside. If it had been back in the Darwin days, I know exactly what would have happened, and it would have ended with a “burp.”

Okay, mission accomplished, excitement over for the day. I came in, calmed the ‘Wolves, and went to wash the chihuahua smell off me and change clothes, because she might have peed on me a little.

I went back to work. At a little after three p.m., Oliver and Mozzie were having raw bones, Oliver in his crate and Mozzie on the rug by the couch. And then…there she was again. Apparently, I am Zoey’s new BFF.

Since Oliver is the one who can jump higher than my head (He’s a standard poodle) and he was in his crate, I decided to risk bringing her through the house to the front door, which I did, Mozzie hot on our heels. I returned her to the little girl again, and asked if she’d seen how she got in the yard. The gate on the right. Yep, pretty big gap there. I reminded her I have two large boy-dogs, and even if they thought they were playing, they could easily hurt such a tiny dog. I was thanked profusely, and came back inside and through to the back yard to find some stuff to stick under the fence.

I honestly don’t know what would happen if Zoey came to visit while the boys were outside. They can run about 86,000 miles per hour in pursuit of squirrels. Luckily, squirrels can run 86,001 miles per hour, and they have yet to catch one. They have, however, caught and killed bunnies and mice and voles, and once scared a possum into playing dead, after which I picked it up with the pooper-scooper and deposited it outside the fence. Mozzie, especially, despite being an overall timid golden, has a high prey drive, and I don’t know how he’d react to seeing a small, furry critter in his yard, even if it is (technically) a dog.

Tom declines to get involved, saying he’s tired of being responsible for other people’s problems, despite my pointing out that if she got in the yard and they killed her (on purpose or accidentally) it would most definitely be our problem, if not from a “neighbors are hysterical and furious because we killed their dog even though she was trespassing” standpoint, at least from an “I am horribly, permanently scarred because I saw my dogs tear apart another dog” one.

Actually, this is par for the course in terms of my neighbor interactions. I still don’t know the names of anyone who lives there, or even who really does live there since people are coming and going all the time. But I know the name of the dog, and she has been in my house.

If Tom brings some landscape blocks from the shed, I’ll put those by the gate instead of the flimsy board-and-log barricade I put there yesterday. In the meantime, I hope they manage to keep Zoey at home. But there are always small kids there, going in and out, and it’s inevitable she’ll get out at some point.

Just hope my puppy-predators are in the house at the time.

New Book Page

Managing various online identities can be confusing and time-consuming. I had my previous blog, Fermented Fur, an author page, personal and author pages on Facebook, and a page for my editing services. I eventually discontinued my editing services page, because my work for Limitless Publishing takes most of my time, and I have plenty of long-time indie authors to keep me busy.

My author page has been sitting around not doing much of anything for a long time. While I love writing and care deeply about my books, it’s never been my top priority, and I don’t have anything new in the works.

My author website at loriwhitwam.com was hosted on a friend’s server. He never charged me for it, and helped me set everything up, because he had a lot of accounts on there that more than paid the operating expenses. But as he’s gotten out of the business, I was soon the only one left, so I needed to find a new home for my domain.

I’m not a skilled tech person. So I decided the best thing to do was to redirect my domain to point at a page here on WordPress, so now everything is in one place. Amazingly, I didn’t screw it up too badly.

So, now you can see all the information on my books, including links to them on Amazon, right HERE on Lori’s Books on this blog. Please stop by, take a look, and let me know what you think. Ellen and Quinn and Ty and Seth and Abby would love to meet you.