When last we met, Maisy was resting and I had big plans to continue working with Squash alone in front of the scooter. After he and I took the scooter for a walk last week, my next magical trick was going to be to recruit my husband to help build Squash’s pulling drive by being alley-bait: “See dad at the end of the alley? LET’S GO GET DAD!”
Instead, I’ve spent the last few days not-scootering and not-training, intermittently worrying and watching BOTH my dogs resting the weekend away. And between the two of them, this whole experience has gotten me thinking a lot about communication with these beasts who share our homes, lives, and sports but not our languages. How do we listen to what they are trying to tell us? And specifically, how do they tell us when something is wrong?
With Maisy, it was extremely subtle: She was running slowly, unenthusiastically, slack-lined. But in front of the scooter she’s what mushers sometimes call an “honest dog” – she could be tired, she could be distracted, but she will almost always be pulling. What you see is what you get, and if she’s running off then you can be sure something is actually really wrong. As far as her general demeanor around the house, though, she’s inconsistent. Sometimes jolly, sometimes subdued, sometimes worried. Not acting the same way all the time doesn’t mean much of anything.
Squash is honest, but not in the same context as Maisy – that is, not in front of the scooter, where if he’s running off it could be something physically wrong. Or he could have seen something shiny. Or he could be tired. Or he could want to eat some grass. Or a lot of other things. But as far as his general demeanor goes, he is always ALWAYS a jolly goofball wherever he is. If he’s not, you can be sure something is actually really wrong.
Which brings us to Saturday morning, when I slept in long after my husband and dogs. Normally when this happens, when I finally do come downstairs Squash goes crazy-bananas to greet me in the usual YOU WERE NEVER COMING BACK manner of dogs everywhere. But after a half-hearted greeting, he immediately laid down on the ground. All the way down, with even his chin pressed to the floor. When I tried to get him to stand up, he cried and laid down again. He was happy to go outside, he wasn’t limping, he was eating and drinking and eliminating fine, but whenever he was in the house – where he is normally very, very busy – he was just lying there, flat. And the kicker: When they were outside together, he completely avoided Maisy (who is feeling much better), ignoring her desperate play bows in favor of sitting or lying down making sad ears.
Without going into all of the gory details: He’s ok, and as best we can figure he has some neck or upper back pain. He’s had an exam and some normal lab work and some acupuncture, he’s responding well to pain mediation and is doing a surprisingly good job of continuing to rest himself (he’s slept almost all weekend which has been eerily, horrifically calm; I’m never going to complain about him being busy in the house again). I think he probably hurt himself when he took off after that deer when we were scootering alone last Thursday; in retrospect he was pretty quiet on Friday although certainly didn’t yet have the more dramatic signs that started on Saturday.
So, how DO we listen to what they are trying to tell us? We listen by knowing what each individual is like in the first place and paying attention when they aren’t acting normal. You know your dog(s), so trust your gut and don’t be afraid of overreacting. Maisy unenthusiastically greeting me in the morning wouldn’t be a big deal, while for Squash it was a huge red flag. Squash running with some slack barely registers as a cause for concern, while Maisy might as well be screaming SOMETHING HURTS into a megaphone. When something isn’t normal, they’re trying to tell you something. Listen to them.