Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Heading Toward the Dark Side"

This is a comment on Finna's behavior has been on my mind for awhile now. I probably don't have the exact words but the idea was clear. Because Finna deals with things that frighten her by trying to scare them away with voice and teeth she's on her way to becoming an dangerous aggressive dog. She's choosing the dark side rather than the light side of the force. By this logic a dog that has given up on affecting their environment and shuts down in the face of their fears is making a better choice.

The more I've thought about it the more I realize I don't see it that way. First, I don't think it is really a choice but rather a combination of genetics and learning. A dog that has learned that nothing they do will affect the outcome and is already genetically predisposed to timidity is going to shut down while a dog that has had some success in affecting the outcome and is genetically a more confident dog will take action. So Finna is not choosing to go to the dark side she's reacting the way her experiences and genetics incline her to react. Second, whether diving into a mental hole and pulling it in after them or putting on an aggressive front and scaring everything away the root cause is the same--fear. When Finna is confronted with something that frightens her she wants to make it go away; a genetically more timid dog will mentally shut down--that dog goes away in the only fashion available. 

Sadly, for Finna and dogs like her the way they react when frightened is a big societal no no. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely do not believe Finna's way of dealing with things is appropriate. I completely understand that if I do not succeed in giving Finna some better ways of affecting her environment she could be pushed over the edge into biting and wind up paying with her life. I also understand that she is a scared dog with very limited understanding of humans and human society and only one tool she trusts in her toolbox of responses. 

In my way of looking at things Finna has an advantage over her more timid counterparts; Finna already knows she can affect her environment. My job is to teach her other, appropriate, ways for doing this and to guide her to an understanding of how to behave in human society. I don't expect Finna to become the social butterfly that Ranger is and I don't expect her to be happy to have everyone in the world handle and touch her. I do expect that when handling and touch is necessary--at the vet's, for example--she will tolerate it. She doesn't have to run to every visitor with an eager desire to interact but she can't charge them barking and growling wildly. Finna needs to learn to accept that there will be visitors and that she needs to be polite. 

Ultimately, it boils down to helping Finna understand the "force" she has within herself and how to use the response that will maximize good things for her. And to showing her that things that are scary now can be the source of good things if she can move beyond that fear.  I want to go beyond the management techniques I have in place now in order to keep everyone safe to a place where Finna has the skills to keep herself and others safe because she has lots of good reliable tools in her toolbox. My greatest fear is that I won't be up to the task and she will be the one to pay the ultimate price.

I've never been one for passivity. I think that's part of what appeals to me about Finna's "fighting" spirit. Finna is determined to do everything she knows how to make her world one where she feels safe. Sometimes I look at her think that had she been given the socialization and skills needed to navigate human society she would be a truly awesome dog. Maybe she will be someday despite her rough beginnings.

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