The Explanation of the New “Life With A Mentally Incompetent Dog” Category

We were horrified when several of the kids were involved in a fight several months ago, and Willy was seriously injured.  There had never been a fight before at Run A Muck Ranch.

At the time, I wasn’t sure if I should say anything, but I did, to keep this blog honest.  We didn’t know who started it, but we knew Slugger was involved.

Changes were made to procedures, and I posted said changes in the hopes others making the same mistakes we were making would be saved the anguish that fell on Run A Much Ranch that day.

It happened again, 2 weeks ago.

This is another one of those posts with almost 20 revisions, trying to tell the story, but also trying to keep it under 20,000 words.  It hasn’t been easy.

Back to the incident:  Again, Slugger was involved,  but this time with Sarah.

This time was not as bad as the last.  When the incident started, most of  the kids scattered.  The first time was enough for them, they wanted no part of another incident.  Unfortunately for Sarah, she threw her back out in the scuffle, and couldn’t run.  Any marks on Slugger made by her were defensive, not offensive.  That being said, Slugger took the brunt of the damage.

Other than a few scratches, and a hurt back, Sarah was fine.  By the second day, after starting a Prednisone series, and a little Tramadol, she was same old Sarah.

Slugger’s injuries appeared superficial the evening of the scuffle, but in the morning, not so much.  The vet gave him antibiotics and sent him home to think about what he’d done.   I went home armed with the telephone numbers of 2 trainers.

Not as bad or worse than last time, doesn’t matter.   That it happened, does.  Fights are unacceptable.  Period.    There was only one common denominator in both instances:  Slugger.

Good, bad or ugly, Slugger is family.  You don’t throw away family, you work through problems.   At the same time, if a member of the family is a danger to others, steps must be taken.

This is where this post is going to take a strange twist:

Our "Special" boy.
Our “Special” boy.

When leaving the vet with the trainer names, I did so believing they were for Slugger.  I was wrong.

Rain puts a lot of us out of work here on the desert, and just happens one of those trainers, like me, was rained out that day.   Also just happens she was very close at the time I called, so she came over immediately.  She was not concerned that Slug was less than 24 hours post fight, or less than an hour post vet.  Indeed, she said if he had triggers, she would find them faster in his compromised condition.

Once the trainer arrived  she asked me to bring Slugger to her in the back yard and then go back in the house.  She’d call me when she needed me.   Yes, I peeked from time to time to make sure she wasn’t doing anything weird, but for the most part, I behaved.

About 1/2 hour later, she asked me to Release The Hoard.  Once the pack was bounding about the yard, I was again ordered to “go do something”.

When the knock at the door finally happened some time later, and the trainer came into the house, this is what I was told:

First, she said the house was a lot cleaner than she expected….  sorry, had to put that one in, but I digress.

Second…  she compared Slugger to an adult human man, with the mind of a small child, “you know, the one who has to always wear a football helmet and rides around in circles on a tri-cycle.”

Slugger failed, not just one, not just a few, but ALL of her evaluation tests as far as, for lack of a better term, mental capabilities.

Here’s one example she gave:  She fed Slugger treats from her right hand. Then she changed it up:  she had a treat in her right hand, showed it to Slugger, then made fists of both hands and asked Slugger to pick.  Even though the treat was never offered to him in the left hand, that was the hand he nosed and pawed at,  5 times in a row, even though he was shown the treat in the right hand each time.  Apparently even a ‘stupid’ dog goes for the right hand immediately after receiving a treat from the right hand.  Not Slugger…

There was no command, just a promise of a treat if the correct hand was chosen.  You can’t make a test any simpler!  It was supposed to have been repeated many more times, the treat being switched between hands, and as a result, the dog’s attention becoming greater as he or she concentrated, giving the trainer a measuring stick as to how easily the dog could be made to focus.   Didn’t matter the treat never left the trainer’s right hand, Slugger kept asking for it from her left.  In his defense, Slugger was indeed very focused on the left hand….

Yes, Run A Muck Ranch fans, we now have confirmation from a professional that Slugger is indeed mentally deficient, even by dog standards.

As far as working with Slugger, the  trainer said she would be happy to do so,  but that we, the residents of Run A Muck Ranch, would have to be reasonable in our expectations.   Slugger isn’t very bright, and as such, isn’t able to ‘learn’ the way other dogs can.  Yes, sit, down, stay, all can be done, but make it more complicated and his brain might explode.  Perhaps Morty could use some work, however.  (Huh????)

Overall, the trainer couldn’t imagine Slugger actually picking a fight.   She found him to be ‘adorable’ and very sweet, and kid you not, as she was leaving, she smushed up his face and gave him a kiss, right on the mouth.  Not what one would expect from a trainer who is evaluating a ‘dog who fights’.

Turns out, as with mentally disabled humans, Slugger is easily influenced by his environment.  In a calm setting, playing with the little ones, Angus, Gracie, Marcy or Sarah, Slugger acted appropriately.  His behavior didn’t get questionable until he began interacting with Mortimer.

Now, let’s stop right here to throw out a disclaimer:

The whole time the trainer was watching Slug interact with his siblings, Willy was charming her, batting his long eye lashes over the liquid pools of pure devotion we know as his eyes.  Where the others, including Morty, were being themselves, Willy was pulling a sham.  So well executed was his act, I seriously doubt the trainer believed me when I described the Real Willy.

The point of this disclaimer:  What the trainer said about Morty ALSO applies to Willy.

Back to the relationship with Morty, to give you examples of what we’re talking about, but remember, Willy is not innocent!:

When Slugger played with the other dogs, he played appropriately.  However, when Morty and Slugger played, they played rough, and when the 2 of them together played with others, they played rough with the others.  If Slugger was playing rough with Morty and then decided to play with someone else, he continued to play rough.

If the 3rd dog didn’t want to play, and gave signals to say as much, Morty backed off.  Slugger didn’t.  If non-Morty influenced Slugger did something to annoy another sibling, and said sibling told him to knock it off, Slugger backed off immediately.

Also, several times during the ‘evaluation’ Morty ran to the horse’s stalls, jumped up on the bars, and barked ‘aggressively’.

When Slugger was close, he did the same thing.

When Morty wasn’t around, Slugger crawled into the horse stalls to peacefully eat horse manure, or didn’t acknowledge them at all.

In sum, left to his own devices, Slugger acted appropriately and was very attentive to the human.  But when worked up by Morty, (the trainer used the word ‘excited’) through rough play, horse barking, or similar ‘potentially aggressive’ actions, Slugger’s appropriate behavior became inappropriate, and he became harder to control even by a human.  Once he was ratcheted back, Slugger immediately returned to being the simple oaf we all know and love.

The above examples are only of Slugger’s behavior with Morty, outside.  There are certain behaviors inside that Slugger has picked up from Willy, equally unacceptable.  Still, they exist, ergo, I lump Willy in the same category as Morty.

Moral of the story:  Since Slugger can’t think for himself we have to control those that might influence him into doing things he wouldn’t do on his own. This means keeping  the ‘excitement’ level to a range within which Slugger doesn’t go too far.

The way to control Slugger’s ‘excitement level’ is to rein in Morty, and despite what the trainer believes, Willy.

And to be fair, there are certain behaviors we as the ‘responsible adults’ have probably ignored or encouraged, safe with the rest of The Hoard, probably not so much with Slugger, that need be altered.

So, yes, we as an entire family, have to make changes and adjustments to accommodate our mentally incompetent, yet incredibly lovable boy.

Changes have started and I will show them to you in separate posts in this new category.  Indeed, a couple so far… should have made them ages ago for the positive effects they have immediately had, and I’m not talking just about Slugger.

For those new to the blog, go back and read Slugger’s Bio.  The writing was on the wall back then.  The dynamic at Run A Muck Ranch did indeed change with the inclusion of Morty and Willy, both the most ‘independent’ of The Hoard.

That we didn’t monitor more, and that negative results occurred, well, whose fault is that?

Slugger’s? Apparently he’s too mentally challenged to accept blame for anything!

Morty’s or Willy’s?  They’re both good kids.  Except for how they behave around the horses, there is really nothing we can criticize.  They can’t be held responsible if their ‘special’ brother amplifies their actions.

Sorry folks, it’s the people, not the dogs who are to blame.

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8 thoughts on “The Explanation of the New “Life With A Mentally Incompetent Dog” Category

    1. It’s just when you know it could have been avoided if only (insert simple act you could have done to prevent it here).

      R U feeling better? I had it last week, Crabby is just now getting it.

  1. I think it is great that you love them all and your first thoughts are of helping them – not rehoming a “problem” dog. The more experience I gain as a trainer, the more I realize it is usually not the dog that is the problem but the environment. Recognizing that is the first step to fixing it. I look forward to following your progress and have no doubt it will be good! 🙂

    1. As a trainer, Linda, have you ever encountered a dog like Slug? Someone posted to our FB page that they had a dog similarly ‘diagnosed’ that one due to an injury.

      It never occurred to me that like humans, there can be dogs that are ‘mentally special needs’. I’m just wondering how wide spread a situation ( I refuse to say problem) this is.

      On the chuckle side, we have always said there was something ‘off’ about Slug. Nice to know we have validation! He has always been my ‘special’ boy, now he’s just my ‘special’ boy with a reason!

  2. I have not personally worked with any that were officially diagnosed as “special” but I’ve seen a few who seem to have something a little “off”. One in particular was a Rottie who actually had a dent on the side of his head. He was a rescue so they didn’t know if it was from an injury or a birth defect. He did eventually start having seizures and had to go on meds.

    I know a lot of people joke that their puppy has ADD but it is usually just puppy energy and lack of impulse control but I have read that dogs can have a form of OCD (compulsive behavior like tail chasing or spinning). I recently read that fear can actually be passed down from one generation to another because it changes something in the dog’s makeup. There is so much we don’t know about the mind of a dog but fortunately there is a lot more research being done now.

  3. Glad everyone came through ok, and at least now you know what the problem is! I can’t imagine how stressful it must be… we have four dogs in our family, and there have been a few spats, but nothing requiring medical attention.

    Also, I nominated you for The Liebster Award! If you’re interested, you can find the rules on my blog.

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