… on dog behavior whac-a-mole

When we first brought Belle…

Side note: The hyphen in Belle-ah is very hard to remember to type each time, and is also wasteful. In addition, I have rationalized that, if I just type ‘Belle’, I may avoid an overuse injury called ‘over-extended-hyphenization’. Just to be clear, dashes are not hyphens. Dashes are used to separate parenthetical statements, like if you already used too many parentheses so need another tool – which I do (all the time). Hence, I will not be including dashes in my hyphen conservation efforts. I don’t even think dashes are endangered.

Where was I?

Ah, yes.

When I first brought Belle home, nearly seven months ago now, I felt so lucky. Not only had I managed to bring ‘my girl’ home, but I also had some great resources available to help us introduce her into our lives.

For example, the initial introduction with our resident princess, Blaze, was based on a centuries old, tried and true training approach shared by my friend Nancy. I can’t remember the exact name of it, but it’s something like ‘Murder Avoidance’.

Nancy happens to be a certified dog trainer which means she has lots of letters after her name. ‘C’ and ‘P’ and ‘D’ and ‘T’ and ‘K’ and ‘A’ come to mind (also, there is a hyphen in there somewhere but you know how I feel about hyphen waste). In a big picture-sense, Nancy’s advice was simple and straightforward: “Keep everything light and positive.”

To be clear, Nancy was not saying,  “Let her get away with everything” (because she would have said that instead). She was all for establishing boundaries and rules, but encouraged us to do so by keeping things… unbootcampy. My friend Beth, Mom to ‘Thatcher’ (also a second-hand dog (with a great name!)) stuck the landing one night, when we were talking about new dogs settling in: “It’s all about trust.”

This all made sense to me!


When a One-Week-New-To-Me Belle decided to scoff down approximately one-third of ONE HUNDRED little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, exactly 3 minutes before fourteen guests – some of whom were young enough to have found magic in a crystal cake plate topped with my carefully crafted pyramid of tea-sized sandwiches – were scheduled to arrive…

Did I scream at her or wallop her cute little freckled behind?

No I did not.

Instead, I spat out a laugh – which resembled a guffaw – and screamed “OH MY GAWD!” at JoHn instead. Luckily he is used to this.

We turned to Belle, who was busy smacking her lips (because peanut butter), and explained that ‘all paws on the floor’ was the rule.

Then we ordered pizza.

Also we quickly made some adjustments to our own behavior… and informed anyone and everyone who came into our world who might even consider placing their plate of food within, say, twenty-eight feet of Belle, that they need to keep their eye on it.

Along those lines, we proactively encouraged Belle to not surf the counters, or try to steal food from our tables… or plates… or hands… ever. And we thought, ‘Hey, if this is the toughest thing we need to train her out of…’

Then she climbed a tree.

Soon we noticed that she was… er… curating the stuff we threw away in the bathroom waste baskets. Apparently, there were items – soap boxes, used tissues, the chewy centers of toilet paper, and receipts come to mind – that didn’t belong in there. Luckily, the razor cartridges got to stay.

Shortly after that, she began steeling little pieces of wood out of the firewood bin and eating them.

We remained patient, and positive, and firm (and, luckily, laughed a lot). We were keeping it light and positive. Friends and loved ones were, on the whole, completely supportive.


Was not.

‘Light and positive’, when it comes to rules, is not Blaze’s thing.

Blaze is more… shock and awe.

In case you have forgotten – and she wouldn’t let you if you were here –  Blaze… is a German Shepherd.

She is very particular and rules-based and also she is very serious. She says, proudly, that this is because she is German (as an aside, her current training revolves around the dangers of stereotyping). That being said, she is so precise and in control that I have seen her scheduling spontaneous play time in her planner. 

So, over the past seven months, Blaze has frustratedly watched The Powers that Be (that would be me and JoHn) acting all ‘no big deal, just do it this way instead’ when it comes to Belle’s digressions.

To be clear(er), Blaze considers herself to be a Power That Be when it comes to other dogs in the household (JoHn and I are mere back ups). When Marshal Dillon Dingle was alive, he would appropriately whine and suck up and… most importantly… back down when Blaze made it clear that he was breaking a rule and had better get back on the straight and narrow (and right now).

Belle is… different.

When Blaze gets all self-righteous?

Belle just looks at her like she’s nuts.

Belle climbs a tree. Blaze sounds the alarm. Belle comes back down, looks at Blaze as if she’s missing the whole point, and then tries to show Blaze how fun it is… by climbing back up.

Belle eats 1/3 of one hundred little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches off of the counter. Blaze sounds the alarm. Belle puts her snout in Blaze’s face to let Blaze smell the peanut butter. Then turns back around and attempts to get more before we can stop her.

Belle will steal Blaze’s tennis balls and toys – from right in front of her. This is an action Marshal would never have considered.

Blaze sounds the alarm.

Belle starts tossing the toy all around and play-bows, just as she’s doing in the photo at the top of this post (that is Blaze’s ‘wooba’ between Belle’s paws).

Blaze verbally accosts her. This would have sent Marshal scurrying from the room.

What did Belle do when Blaze blasted her a few minutes ago?

Belle climbed right onto Blaze’s bed and just sat there!

No amount of coaxing could get Blaze to look at the camera after that.

Blaze is a German ShepHerd… and Belle has turned out not only to be fundamentally unHerdable, but also completely incorrigible!

Belle is unafraid… seems confident in herself and her decisions… and is apparently quite certain her life will not be ended by anyone in her new home.

Which must mean…

She trusts us.

And her new life.

And even HRH the Princess Bunny Blaze.

Wahoo! We didn’t break our second-hand dog!

That being said, it feels a little like ‘Whac-a-Mole” (necessary hyphenation) in the dog behavior department.

Because, while it now appears that Belle is all comfortable and confident…

Blaze might need a therapist.

Thanks for readin’.

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