The Setting: Exam room one at some point in time on almost any given day.
Me: “Hi. How is Sam doing? Any problems at home?”
Mom: “No, not really. He’s good…just doing some biting, teething stuff…”
Young Son: “Yeah. He bit dad down to the bone.”
15 week old puppy: Hiding under the client chair, he resists coming out and as the technician reaches down to pick up the puppy, his ears go up and back while his tail noticeably drops and his posture shifts to a suggest anxiety and instability.
Technician (Secret Behavioralist): Pauses for the briefest of moments in his movement, letting me know he sees and registers exactly what I see, before proceeding to gather the puppy, pick him up, and put him on the table. His hands are expertly positioned on the puppies neck and throat to indicate to the puppy through canine behavior that he is being appropriately dominated, and thus, he should refrain from misbehaving (challenging us through biting or wiggling or yelping….very much like a child throwing a temper tantrum).
Me: I start my exam on the puppy, who is behaving pretty good, and look at mom. “Is he challenging you in other ways at home…like jumping up on you or growling when you get near his food or toys?”
Mom: “Not really. He jumps up on us a good bit, but I think he’s just being a puppy….he might growl a little, but I don’t think it’s serious or anything to worry about.” She has a blissful can’t- be-disturbed with any care in the universe smile stretching across her face and her body posture is laid back and relaxed in a matter-of-fact way as she sits on the exam room chair-bench, arm and elbow behind her head, listening and responding.
Technician (Secret Behavioralist): Slightly increases the flexion of his forehead skin creases, nods his head ever so slightly down and to the right, and twists his lip mass slightly to the left, all as a sparkle begins to glean in his eyes and the corners of his lips lift in inner humor and bedazzlement.
Me: Short glance to the technician followed by a brief, but pronounced expiration.
Telepathy: &$@%#~*#=$¥*!…all humorous….sad…astounding….disappointing….and ultimately, tragic…a’round and round we go.
Me: Redirects a more serious, but still friendly and playful glance back at mom. “Well, Sam is challenging you a lot and that could become a big problem. His body language….doggie language, if you will, is displaying signs of fear and some instability which could easily get worse. We see this happen a lot. I know we have talked about this before, but I am going to try and give you a way to understand which of his behaviors are acceptable and which are bad and potentially very bad. Anytime he does something to you or anyone else, I want you to consider that it is your son or even a grown man like myself doing the same thing to you or the other person. In other words, if he jumps up on you, consider that I just ran over there and jumped up on you……and if he bites you, consider that you son is biting you with the same intensity….and if he growls at you, even a little, consider that me threatening you…just a little. Okay? I know it sounds silly, but I promise you this is very important.”
Mom: Smiling, smiling, smiling…happy, happy, happy. Relaxed as all get out. No worry lines. “Okay.”
My Mind: *&$%$*#@*&%@!
Telepathy: #!*^%$# &*!!@%*….he’s gonna eat them…maybe it’s better that way…but the kid seems pretty cool…hope he doesn’t get hurt.
Me: As I finish my exam, “Is he humping anything at home? Do you ever see him do that?”
Mom: “Oh yeah…everything. He does that all the time to whatever is around…”
Young Son: “What???? What is humping?”
Mom: “Nothing…nothing….don’t worry about it…Shhh.”
Technician (Secret Behavioralist): Snicker…baby laugh…snort.
Me: Looking directly at mom. “Humping is a sign of dominance in a puppy…it is not sexual at this age….it has nothing to do with it…he is trying to dominate everything he is humping. He is declaring his ownership of anything he humps. You need to be aware of that…it ties in with what we already talked about.”
Mom: “Okay.” Smile, smile, smile.
Me: “Alright, we are done here today and we’ll see you back one more time in three weeks for your final puppy boosters. The receptionist will check you out and set you up for the next appointment. Thank you. We appreciate it.
Technician (Secret Behavioralist): With an enormous grin worthy of a clown, he looks friendly and playfully at the child and says “You got the line of the day…’down to the bone!’….no doubt about it….’down to the bone'”
Telepathy: No doubt…no doubt.