This is Mr. Darcy’s 10th week of life; he’s halfway through the most critical period in a dog’s life.
Puppies, like all young predators, are wired for almost frantic, try-everything exploration of their world. (Prey animals have a similar period, but their curiosity is, I think, modulated by greater caution.) Everyone knows the puppy mantra: What’s this? What’s this? What’s this? Gotta pee…all day long, punctuated by meals and naps. “What’s this,” for a dog, means “take it in my mouth.” That’s what almost killed Mr. Darcy two weeks ago.
I think it’s most useful to think of what’s going on in this period as a kind of undulation from neophobia to neophilia and back again. At twenty weeks, the undulation comes to rest on neophobia: for the rest of its life the dog will tend to assume the worst about new things. (It’s analogous to the language-learning period for children. You and I can learn a language, and an old dog can learn new tricks, but it’s harder.)
Add one more thing to the equation—that dogs don’t generalize anywhere near as well as a human toddler—and it’s obvious that our task, as Mr. Darcy’s parents (more on that anon), is to expose him to as many different stimuli as possible before his prime learning time is over. People, places, things (he thinks power saws are fascinating), noises, scents…I’m even thinking of asking a skating rink to let us take him on the ice just before they run the Zamboni.)
As I wrote in a previous edition of The Darcy Chronicles, in the process of encountering these wonders, Mr. Darcy will naturally offer a range of innate behaviors while we encourage the adaptive ones and discourage the non-adaptive ones. (“Adaptive,” in this Anthropocene Era meaning “capable of coexisting with humans.”)
On the Internet, Everyone Knows You’re a Dog
At least, if you’re @MrDarcyGSD. You can follow his daily adventures on Twitter now.
This week he:
- Tried to figure out the deformed puppies that hiss and shit candy
- Worried about the possibility of his “gurgley drinking bowl” exploding, thus denying access to the candy left nearby by the hissy things
- Blundered over a nest of yellow stingey-bitey things with his dad. (4-5 yellow jacket stings for each of us: for Mr. Darcy, 25 mg Benadryl every four hours as needed; he needed only one. I took three; my right arm was aching fiercely.)
- Started to get his adult double coat along his back. In the picture you may be able to see the wavy pattern of the long guard hairs growing through and over the undercoat that he will “blow” at least twice a year (3+ grocery bags full) for the rest of his life.
- Checked out power tools (They’re ok when they’re off, and fascinating-from-a-distance when on.)
Dominance and Centrifugal Force
I said above that we’re “parents” to Mr. Darcy. Just as one, I hope, does not look at child-rearing as a process of “dominating” the child, neither should one think of dog training as a process of dominating the dog. (Yes, there he goes again. You’ll be hearing a lot about this from me.)
If you remember your high school or college physics, you may remember struggling (as I did) with the statement that “there’s no such thing as centrifugal force.” True, what is actually happening is the acceleration of a body constrained to follow a non-geodesic path through space-time, but you can handle everyday “bucket on a rope” scenarios without knowing this. OTOH, if you try to construct a barrel ride while still “believing” in centrifugal force, people will probably die. So it is with “dominance” and dogs.
All of that dominance crap arose from one flawed in-captivity study of what the researchers (at least one of whom has since recanted) called a wolf “pack”. In reality, it was a group of wolves that was not, as all natural packs are, a family, but a group of mostly unrelated animals (from families that had been destroyed by hunters) that were trying to build a peaceful society without family bonds to help. All packs are families, whether wolf or dog; a group of dogs without family bonds should be called something else.
Now, as the dreadful Cesar Milan has demonstrated, you can use “domination” to cow a dog into submission, and provide a simulation of good behavior. You can also plan a space shot using Ptolemaic astronomy, but the epicycles will chew up a lot of computing power and you’re much more likely to fail. Just as an emergency mid-course correction for your spacecraft will expose the weakness of a Ptolemaic navigation system, domination can’t be trusted to hold in emergencies. My own opinion is that far too many of the dogs killed in shelters each year are the victims of domination theory, applied by well-meaning owners who don’t understand the difference between primates and canines, resulting in a dog that they can’t handle even though it is plainly telling them what is wrong.
Instead, why not have a real relationship with your dog based on their true nature, rather than some crackpot theory? It’s going to be a lot easier, and at the end, you’ll have, not a robot with teeth, but a civilized animal whom you can trust to make its own decisions across a huge range of situations, while knowing that it, as your “child,” will always check in with you (if possible) before acting. For me, spending 20 weeks with my life on hold for a puppy (or feeling like it is) seems a little easier knowing what joy I’ll have for the next 10-12 years.