Flannery is such an interesting dog.
The puppies are cute and Hula Hoop is a sweetheart, but Flannery is complicated and funny and just so not-your-average-dog. I adore her. Even though she is nothing like any dog I’ve ever wanted.
She’s little. Only 30 pounds.
She’s a busy-body – always in the middle of whatever is happening and worming her way onto the couch or dog bed, even if there is clearly no room for her.
She is the first dog up at the slightest noise. And weirdly, if I stare at her while she’s sleeping (or hold a camera up to take a picture), she will wake up and stare back—it’s like she senses me.
Flannery is a clever, clever, clever, but not necessarily an obedient dog, unless it works in her best interest (there’s a treat to be had, a door she wants opened, a dinner served). I admire this in her – she’s scrappy. She can definitely take care of herself.
Flannery is a love. She is always ready with a smile and a wag and makes certain I go nowhere alone in the house, whether that be to the bathroom or the basement (she’s one of only 3 dogs who has ever ventured down into our ‘cellar’ – Frankie and Gracie refuse to go down there – what do they know?).
But Flannery is also complicated, a conundrum. She earned her bite addendum.
It’s not that she would ever attack someone. In fact, lately, I’ve told visitors to not touch her. This works fine; they ignore her friendly greeting (mostly) and she doesn’t bite anyone.
The nipping that I’ve witnessed has happened while she is enthusiastically greeting someone (almost always women) and they’ve reached down to pet her head. She hasn’t truly hurt anyone, so I assume the nipping is a warning. It’s a ‘don’t touch my head’ message. Which is weird because I can scratch her head all day long; I can pull her ears and hold her nose and rub her chin and….nothing. Just a nudge for more.
So, I don’t know what the initial nips are about. When we fostered her previously, I only saw that kind of nipping when she was tired and someone vigorously rubbed her belly. It seemed to be a signal that she’d had enough. It wasn’t mean, but it was clear what she meant.
As I said, the dog is smart. Apparently, she is happy to have you rub her belly, but only for so long and then she tells you to stop in the one way that has worked for her. I’m guessing it’s the same with patting her head. Until she really knows you, she would rather you didn’t pat her head. The training books I’ve read say that dogs don’t really like to have their heads patted. It’s a sign of dominance. They’d much prefer, you pet their sides.
So maybe, it’s not that Flannery is a biter, it’s that she’s just an effective communicator. Like I’ve said to many visitors who worry when they see my alpha mare, Cocoa wave a hoof at another horse—“If she wanted to kick the other horse, she would have. She’s just sending a message.”
If Flannery wanted to really bite anyone whose hand she’s nibbled, she would have. Because this little dog knows how to speak for herself. Most bites are simply that—messages. Of frustration, fear, defense, but I don’t believe actual aggression.
Flannery needs people to respect her boundaries and apparently one of those boundaries is not patting her head if you’ve not been approved. Last week and this week, I’ve participated in the K9&Kds program. It’s a free educational program for kids that OPH volunteers present at libraries, camps, schools, scout troops, or pretty much anywhere there are gatherings of children. We teach kids how to safely interact with dogs, read a story, make a dog toy, and practice petting live dogs.
I’ve learned a lot, being a part of K9&Kds. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t look a dog in the eye and that they are less frightened if you turn your side to them, rather than face them head on. I’ve learned that baseball hats, glasses, and hoodies can be scary to dogs. I’ve been around dogs all my life and hadn’t realized any of that.
Many of the dogs who are turned in to shelters (or returned to rescues) are abandoned because they have bitten someone. Living with Flannery makes me wonder if the bite that earned her a return had more to do with miscommunication than aggression. Dogs are not people, so we don’t naturally know how to communicate with them. We have to learn.
My daughter just returned from a trip to Hong Kong and Myanmar. She had to figure out the customs and unspoken rules of both (very different) cultures. Some of the things she saw were confusing and strange and the people didn’t always act the way she was accustomed to.
For instance, in the crowded streets and airports, pushing and shoving is normal. If she had reacted by punching someone or screaming at the top of her lungs, there would be cause to call the police. And the police would have no idea why she screamed or punched a person.
Consider the same scenario, only Flannery is Addie, thrust into a new culture where she doesn’t speak the language or understand the expectations. So when she is shoved, instead of ignoring it because she knows it doesn’t mean anything threatening, she protects herself, she bites. The police (OPH) are called and she is removed from the home, but no one knows why she bit. They are not dogs, so they can only guess.
Maybe this is more common than not, especially when a dog is introduced to a busy home after a life on the streets or in a shelter. They don’t understand us, so we need to be very careful and deliberate and take the time to learn their language and show them our expectations for their behavior in this new world.
Just a thought.
Like I said, I love my Flannery girl. Like any good dog, she is teaching me a lot!
Thanks for reading!
If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, check AnotherGoodDog.org, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, the schedule of signings, and what you can do right now to help shelter animals! You can also purchase a signed copy or several other items whose profits benefit shelter dogs!
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog Facebook group.
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available now