Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mixed signals

Charlie is an incredibly well-behaved dog. I know that those of you who have been around him do not get to see that side of him. Unfortunately, his love for people (especially visitors) diminishes his listening skills. Yet when he is comfortable, just at home with his parents, his true colors and personality really come through.

Early on in the "potty training" process when Charlie was a puppy he would never really signal at the door when he needed to go outside. I assume that most good dogs would go to the door and paw at it to let their human owners know they need to go outside. Or maybe bark at the door? Or something canine-like. Rather, Charlie has always preferred to just stare at us. Or walk around nervously for a while. Or claw at the bedroom door. Or something equally strange. We just could never figure out what his signal was to go outside.

Then, one day, Michelle and I were both sitting on the couch in the living room. Charlie came up to the couch, took his front paw, lifted it, and clawed at the side of it. We asked what he wanted. He did it again.

"What do you want?" (that's right, we talk to him like he is a person).

The incessant pawing continued, more intensely.

Michelle said, "Do you want to go outside?"

Charlie took off running from the living room into the kitchen.

That is how we figured out his signal. Ever since that moment, when Charlie would claw at the couch, we knew that he needed to go outside. Sometimes he would jump at us and claw at our leg or chest when it was apparently urgent that he get out immediately.

Then about a month ago, Charlie did his infamous signal. We were all being cozy on the couch, cuddling up with quilts. Charlie got up from his cuddle spot and pawed at Michelle. She asked if he needed to go outside and he just looked at her. And then he pawed at her again. She said, "OK, Charlie, let's go outside," as she began to get up. Charlie jumped down to the floor and Michelle got up but Charlie just stood there looking at her, confused. She walked through the kitchen to the back door and Charlie followed. She opened the back door. He didn't move. Or go outside.

This relatively similar scenario happened multiple times. We couldn't figure out what was going on. Was the universally understood signal being changed on us? Was our dog confused? Was there a fear of something outside? Had the cooler weather made Charlie reluctant to leave the house? He had us stumped. He seemed equally confused by our reactions to his clawing.

One revealing day, the clawing happened again. This time, Charlie gave us another clue: he put his nose down to the quilt we had to keep us warm, nudged it, clawed at it, nudged it again. At first annoyed, Michelle instinctively lifted up the corner of the quilt, and then Charlie crawled under the covers and went to sleep. And ever since, he claws at us when he wants us to get under the quilt. Even smarter yet, he will claw at us when he wants us to get out the quilt so he can snuggle with it.

I guess Charlie clawing can mean many things: snuggle time, or a need to poop. Our signal has distinctly different, multiple meanings.

Oftentimes, signals in life can be confusing. We think we know what things mean and then we can find later that we were wrong. This happens in our interactions and judgements of other people, in our communication with each other, or sometimes even in conflict. Our judgements can be misleading. Or even flat wrong. When we are not patient, understanding, or persistent, we become jaded, frustrated, and even alienated. Yet, when we try again, take our time, act with caution, and are honest with ourselves and others, we become more willing to forgive or see the best in what otherwise might have been a misguided or misdirected interaction.

I've had a crazy couple of weeks full of misguided signals and energy. My work life has been exhausting to the point where I've wanted to throw in the towel and give up and give in. But I've been forcing myself to view the positive, look for the good, and give up what I can't control. This is not easy for me because I easily forget that there isn't always one signal in life. I can thank Charlie for helping me understand.

No comments:

Post a Comment