A Matter of Degrees

Koi Pond
Koi Pond

    Having spent many hours watching animal moms discipline their children, I am still amazed at the results they can achieve with very little correction on their part. Mom barely has to rumble a warning, and the kids go dashing off.

    My dog, Ammulett, is over nine years old and lives with her two grown daughters. They are six years old. Ammulett, being in her position, sleeps on my bed while her children must use the floor. Every once in awhile the girls forget where they belong in the hierarchy and put one foot on the bed to ask permission. Ammulett, not even opening her eyes, emits a soft growl, sending the girls racing out of the room, wiggle butts bouncing like they were six weeks old instead of six years. Almost immediately they return, heads lowered, tails wagging, asking forgiveness and Ammulett obliges by cleaning their ears as if to say everything is fine, but don’t be so foolish next time.

    Translate that into how we might work with our animal companions of all different species. Somehow we must balance letting them be their own selves and placing boundaries on inappropriate behaviors. We can then take it to the next step when teaching them behaviors that are not natural but desirable in whatever tasks we wish their help with, like walking on a lead, riding them with saddles and bridles or asking our birds to pooh in a specific place when out and about.

    How did Ammulett keep her two children from getting on the bed without any effort? It was a matter of degrees. In other words, a small misstep incurs a small response; a serious infraction will bring about a serious response. Previous experience had taught the girls the warning grumble was a very serious infraction.

    The response must be in balance with the offense if we follow mom’s lead. When we start out with a medium response, (we will call it a ‘five’ on a scale of one to ten), when a puppy that has chewed the dining room rug, there is no backing up. That is puppy’s ‘small’ misstep in his mind because he has a small reference pool, after all, puppies chew to investigate (they don’t have hands remember). Where do you go from there when he starts to chew an electric cord that can hurt him? You have to go up. What do you do if the puppy growls when you take away a bone, a major offense? You may be left with only physical correction, not a desirable discipline on many levels. It breeds fear, mistrust and squelches the spirit. Animals encounter many fearful things in their world as they develop, you should not be one of them.

    Consider devising a scale of discipline ranging from one to ten and use mom as a model. Mothers will use ignoring, walking away, distraction, gentle restraint, verbal warning and teeth popping. Probably no one will master teeth popping, but you get the idea. And do not forget the vibration of the words you want to incorporate (See previous blog). For generations, this method has been successful, causing no pain and no emotional damage. Give it a try. Watch as the true spirit of your animal comes forth and she grows into a well behaved being with her own unique personality.

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