The Holding of the Antlers: Alpha Female or Dog Nanny?
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
As I was getting ready to write my blog yesterday Jackson came up to me with an antler in his mouth and laid the end of it on my lap. He rested it there and with the other end in his mouth, looked up at me with his big brown eyes.
“Do you want momma to hold that for you?” I asked him. He answered by pushing the antler closer to me. “I think that’s a yes,” I said to him.
I moved from the chair to sit on the floor and I took the antler in my hand while Jax happily gnawed on the end of it. Pretty soon Tinkerbell came over with a different antler hanging out of her mouth and dropped it on the floor in front of me. I picked that one and held it out to her and she began to chew on the end.
“Well, today’s blog has been delayed by the holding of the antlers,” I laughed and said to my husband who was sitting nearby.
“That sounds like a blog all on its own!” he exclaimed.
“Hey, I like that!” I answered, and so we have today’s post: The Holding of the Antlers: Alpha Female or Dog Nanny?
It was never my intention to get my dogs in the habit of chewing their bones with a human holding them for them. This is not anything I’ve done for my other dogs. All of them chewed their bones and antlers like normal dogs: by placing them between their paws to hold them.
Thinking back to Jackson’s puppyhood, it seems that we started this when we were teaching him which items were his to chew and which were off-limits. It was during this process that his keen intelligence was a blessing and a curse; a blessing because he was a fast learner but a curse when there was something that he just really wanted to chew like the leg of our desk chair or the spines of our coffee table books. Those items were so amazing for a little puppy that he did not care that we had told him no, he was going to chew them anyway.
He really, really wanted to chew the leg of that chair in particular and no matter how many times we told him no, no matter how many times we removed his mouth from the chair and gave him an appropriate chew toy, he went back to it over and over and over and over, those razor-sharp puppy teeth making new dents and marks every time. In fact a few times I turned my back for a minute and found him gnawing wildly on the chair legs, huge chunks of wood missing after such a short amount of time!
As a result, I spent most of Jax’s puppyhood thrusting dog toys and bones into his mouth. When he redirected his attention onto them, I continued to hold them while he chewed. I remember so many days, exhausted from puppy rearing, that I sat on the floor in a sleep deprived daze while my beautiful destructo dog chewed on a toy that I held for him. As time went on, he finally learned which things were off-limits and also conceded defeat and accepted that we would not in fact allow him to destroy our chair or books, and we stopped following him from room to room. Instead, he started to bring his bones and toys for us to hold while he chewed.
When Tinkerbell joined us, she was about 100 times easier to train about what to chew and what not to chew than her big brother, but she figured out that we held onto the antlers for Jax and she started to bring them to us to hold while she chewed. Gradually we have evolved into synchronized bone chewing, with me holding an antler in each hand and each dog happily gnawing away side by side.
Of course I will never deny them this service. For one thing, I love being an integral part of their pack, that they come to me to do things like this for them. Every mom wants to be needed, whether it’s by her kids or her dogs. I even researched to see if this was something a wolf mom might do, perhaps when the pack was feeding on a freshly hunted animal, but could find no such thing. Tink does like to lick my face near my mouth like a wolf pup does, but I do draw the line at vomiting to share my most recent meal with her. As Meatloaf would say, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”
It may sound crazy to people, that I do this for the dogs, but it’s just another unique part of our lives and something special for these two dogs of ours. It’s yet another reason that this interspecies friendship is so amazing, that we’ve been able to establish these little traditions and quirks without speaking a word to each other.