Jelly’s past is a mystery to us. She was found wandering as a puppy without identification and thrown into doggie jail. She ain’t nothing but a pound dog. How anyone could have abandoned the sweet little stinker is beyond us.
So we’ve had to imagine where she came from and what her parents were like. Lately I’ve been wondering whether her background is more noteworthy than what I had assumed. I’m thinking she may be a the greatest granddaughter of one of Pavlov’s dogs.
You must know Pavlov. He’s the guy who discovered classical conditioning by ringing a bell when he fed his dogs. Over time, the dogs started salivating when they heard the bell even without food because they had learned to associate the two stimuli.
I’m thinking Jelly’s Pavlovian heritage might explain her invincible biological clock. We don’t mind when Jelly awakens from a deep sleep to whine for her dinner at 6 p.m. exactly. We ignore her and feed her when we feel like it. The problem is that at 6 a.m., and often much earlier, Jelly starts whining for breakfast.
Long ago, Jelly learned that after the furnace kicked in in the morning, i.e., shortly before J. needed to get up for work, breakfast would follow. She didn’t wait until J. got up; she woke us both up to make sure she was fed on time. It’s classic classical conditioning: dog hears furnace, dog anticipates breakfast and salivates, kibble is served.
But then Jelly started awakening whenever the furnace went on through the night, thinking it must be time to get up. This didn’t go over very well with us at 2 or 3 a.m. We tried to outsmart her by turning the furnace lower and lower, and nixed the automatic start in the morning. Thankfully, it was an unseasonably warm winter or we would have awoken with frostbitten fingers and toes.
Without the furnace cue, Jelly has been searching furiously for some other indicator that it is time to start the day. She tried the newspaper delivery man who leaves our paper on our steps at 3 a.m. Then it was the neighbour who revs his noisy car at 5 a.m. workdays. With this, we had no choice but to throw the Pavlovian descendent theory out the window. It’s not like we’d feed her at those times.
So maybe Jelly is not of such noble lineage after all. If she were, she’d have learned that the only thing that will happen when she arises too early is that we will tell her to go back to sleep, which she will do, for 5 or 10 minutes or, if we’re really lucky, half an hour, until she starts whining again.
If we try to ignore her rather than getting up to feed her, she will pace until she vomits. Yes, that’s our girl. Which is the lesser of two evils, getting up to feed her, thereby reinforcing her whining, or getting up to clean up vomit and then feed her so she doesn’t vomit more? That is a question only Pavlov can answer, but he’s long dead, unfortunately.
Maybe J. and I are the real descendents of Pavlov. Jelly has certainly conditioned us to get up on her schedule. Trainable dog or trainable owners? We all know the answer to that.