The Dog With Eighteen Elbows

Following up on my goal of sharing some writing which is lingering to become a book, here’s a chapter I pulled from my intended tome “The Dog Trainer’s Guide to Human Happiness.” See the prologue that I posted a couple of days ago HERE.

I don’t want this comment to be take the wrong way, but when I read this today, after not seeing it for a few years, my first thought was, “this is some good s*it!”

I’m not bragging on my writing when I say that, but I am considering the turmoil that exists in the world today. Now, more than ever, I realize the importance of sharing my understanding about being social. First, my parents taught me about that concept. Then, teachers and even the people with whom I shared a home in South Africa and Costa Rica during foreign travels imparted their wisdom on how to live peacefully with others, even those who may not share all my own views of the world. But, to be frank, my deepest understanding of being part of a society comes from my experience observing dogs – not just any dogs, but dogs that live in a balanced pack. In this chapter, I offer the most basic principles of co-existing with others – which supports the ideology that all social creatures (including dogs and people) want to live with free-will, unrestrained and as a valued member of the group. Those luxuries do not come free.

Young, excessively exuberant and lacking a connection with his canine roots, Dozer the nine month old Boxer raced into the yard where he encountered a gathering of socially balanced dogs.  He bounced, jumped and vaulted himself across the lawn seemingly unaware of his effect on the others.  With legs flying high and elbows, knees and hocks appearing to elude normal canine locomotion, the dog expressed himself as the free being he believed that he was.

From across the yard, where he was often seen assuming a sentry position on the back porch, Old Pete, the twelve year old patriarch of this pack took notice.  As Dozer flew past, Pete dropped his head a bit.  His eyes tightened in a glare.   His ears shifted slightly forward.  His lips curled back ever so faintly.  

Taking notice of Old Pete’s behavior, four month old pup Danny dropped his ears back in submission.   Worried that he may have disappointed the top dog for snatching a stick, he dropped it, lowered his tail and froze in place.  Yoli, a five year old female that was lying next to Old Pete took heed.  She turned her gaze toward Dozer.

My human brain interpreted Old Pete’s actions as if he were shouting, “Get a grip of yourself, young Boxer.  Pull those elbows in, you could take an eye out with one of those things!” Yet his actions were so subtle, it took a trained eye to perceive them.

The Boxer seemed deaf to Pete’s subtle message.  However, the other pack members immediately recognized the slight squint in the senior dog’s eyes, the minor twitch of his ears and the slender tightening in his lips.  To them, Pete’s communication was obvious and still, Dozer didn’t even detect Pete’s presence.   Feeling disrespected, Pete stood up, stiffened his body, raised his tail a bit and lowered his head.  It caused puppy Danny to drop to the ground.  He was still learning the ways of his pack mates and having been taught to value and revere Pete’s rank, he wanted nothing more than to remain on his good side.   

Dozer, on the other hand, continued to appear blind to the events that were unfolding around him.   Yoli, a dog I referred to as a “nanny”, turned to Pete.  As if she winked and proclaimed, “No worries, Pete, I have this one,” she calmly walked towards Dozer until he had no choice but to notice her.  The adolescent pup froze under the influence of Yoli’s gaze and cocked his head in wonderment.  Yoli slowed but never stopped moving into his personal space.  She lowered her head and then unhurriedly opened her mouth as she engulfed the back of his neck in her jaws.  Dozer squealed, dropped to his belly and turned on his side.  It was obvious that she was not damaging Dozer, but she was teaching him a valuable lesson.  A moment later, Yoli released her grip but remained standing over the wayward pup like a statue.  She was waiting.  When Dozer’s body eventually relaxed, pressing into the earth like a heavy sack of potatoes, she calmly turned her head, gently lifted her leg from over his body, turned and walked away.  Once Yoli assumed her position next him, Old Pete sat and then laid down on his thrown once again, releasing a “humph,” then lazily scratching his ear before he put his chin down between his front paws.

Little puppy Danny had observed the entire episode.  He absorbed the lesson as if his life depended upon it.  He was right; if he wanted to have a good life.  The best life he could have was to live unrestrained with free will and under self-control.  Maintaining membership in a family group was imperative for his security, well-being and happiness.  Learning the ways of the society was paramount to his successful integration into the clan.  He didn’t know all of those things at a cognitive level, but his genetic code motivated his aspirations to be accepted and the older dogs that surrounded him encouraged Danny to learn how to be a valued member. 

Even at twice the little pup’s age, Dozer could achieve the same comfort of social acceptance as long as he chose to respect the boundaries set by the elders in the pack.  Time would tell if he could adjust his behavior, but based on his first interaction with Yoli, there was hope that he would be assimilated into the tribe and live a wonderful life.  Such is the way of the social canine.

2 Comments on “The Dog With Eighteen Elbows

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