Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Devil Inside

Oregon Sunshine asked about the influence of Luna’s JRT half, and the answer deserves a whole post.  I’d describe Luna as a personality perfectly split by her genetics.  From the Aussie side she is smart, driven, clownish, sometimes moody and a little pig-headed.  From the JRT side she is tenacious, driven, agile, potentially dangerous and a little pig-headed. 

Potentially dangerous?!? Let me explain. I know lots of JRTs and mixes through flyball, and one trait that I consider to be typical of the breed is a no-shades-of-gray reactivity.  When something triggers this response the dog basically becomes possessed by their alter ego – a Mr. Hyde over which the dog’s normal Dr. Jeckyl simply has no control.  My friend Fiona has a border jack (border collie / JRT) who is an extreme example.  Tempus is a perfectly nice dog when his life is managed in such a way that his triggers are controlled, but he is downright scary when something gets the better of him.  Probably 99.9% of dog owners wouldn’t be able to cope with a challenge like Tempus, he was lucky enough to find Fiona through That’ll Do Border Collie Rescue.

Luna is not such an extreme case, but it is getting easier for me to understand how she originally ended up homeless.  In a recent post The Food Lady made a great comment about benign neglect – most dogs who end up in shelters or rescues haven’t been abused per se, but no one has invested anything in them.  That was not the case for Luna, who has all the hallmarks of a dog who was raised with care and purpose: she looks to humans for leadership and companionship; she offers behaviours with hope of reward; she knows all basic obedience commands and a few tricks; she wants to please and is mindful when you tell her that she’s displeasing.  My theory is that Luna has been the victim of inflexible good intentions.  Not abuse per se, but a failure to recognize a particular training doctrine (i.e. Cesar Millan’s) simply wasn’t going to work. The humans wouldn’t move on to something different, so they moved Luna on instead.

The thing about Luna is that she is quick to perceive a bodily threat from humans and quick to defend herself against it.  David gave her a playful tap with a shoe the other day, to which she raised her rough and gave him an distinctly unplayful growl*.  I grabbed both of her front paws too quickly when she was lying beside me this morning, and she told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t copacetic.  I have no doubt that anyone foolish enough to engage in a battle of wills would get themselves bitten, but anyone sensitive enough to back off and apologize for the misunderstanding will get themselves kisses.  We at Farcical Farm are quickly learning how to be the latter -- Luna is making us better dog handlers, better people. 


*Luna *did* bite David the other day when he tried to disentangle her from a mole she caught.  I blame this entirely on her JRT parent and not at all on followers of Cesar Millan.


Jody said...

I like her already! She reminds me of a certain bossy little bitch...Can't wait to meet her!

AareneX said...

We had similar experiences with Mimsy, whom we got through Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue. She came to us from the second owner--her first owner was repeatedly deployed and had to give her to the second person.

When I went to pick her up from the second owner, the lady told me that Mim came with a (very nice) airline crate, but she might not ever have been trained to use it.

"Well, let's see," I said, and tapped the crate. The dog went in and sat down. Yup, I'd say she was probably trained to use it!

Similarly, the lady didn't think the dog knew anything , whereas we discovered that she knew all kinds of tricks and had even done some agility training--all you had to do was ask! Owner #1 knew what he was doing. Owner #2, not so much.

And yes, she came with some "rescue-dog-weirdness", including some body-space issues and some misplaced prey-drive issues. They are mostly resolved, but in some cases it's a case of the human knowing that the dog can't handle a particular situation, and actively preventing her from getting into that situation.

That's our job, folks. Keep 'em safe.

dt said...

Those are not the eyes of sanity. Everything you need to know is in that picture.

Funder said...

dt is right - those are bonkers blue eyes. Interested to hear how she comes along!

Maybe for my next dog I'll be ready to rescue an adult. I'm good at puppies that need homes, but not so good with the grown ones.

EvenSong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EvenSong said...

Hey, dt and Funder! There's nuttin' wrong with blue eyes, on dogs OR horses! Just an old wives tale! (Coming from one whose babies have ALL had the white schlera that some say denotes a mean horse, and some had blue eyes as well--and not a nasty one among them!)
dp, I'm sure you (and David) will be able to show Luna the patience she needs to trust again.

Anonymous said...

I have more JRT experience than I ever wanted. I have witnessed (and broken up) pack attacks on members of their own pack, in which one dog picks on another and pretty soon all the others are joining in. I have seen a JRT stud asphyxiate a bull simply by latching on and not letting go of it's nose, no matter how hard the bull shook. And no one could get there in time to do anything about it.

Hearing about Luna reminds me of how much I don't want a JRT or JRT mix. Thanks for the reminder. I'm not always 100% stable when it comes to wanting a new dog now that Freya's passed. (It's clearly not time yet).

jme said...

she sounds a lot like my molly in some ways. i got molly through the aussie rescue because she was supposedly uncontrollable and possibly dangerous. the previous owners had kids, so it wasn't going to work out.

i have often wondered if they tried 'training' her not to nip at heels and chase the kids with a choke collar or something, or if it's just a 'pigheaded' quirk; even now at 18 yrs old she refuses to let anyone even think about grabbing her by the collar or putting pressure on a leash or she goes ballistic. it's no big deal because she's always been the kind of dog you can just talk to and she understands what you say. she's never needed a leash, so i just never pushed the issue. it's something that we've all just learned to work around.

good luck with her, she's a cutie :-) and i'm sure you'll find just the right creative approach that works for both of you :-)