Our dog’s noble lineage, or not

Two dogs in room in front of dog bowls, arm holding bell off to side. One dog says to another: "I don't know about you but that bell's starting to put me off my food."

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.

Dalmation says: Day 19, I have successfully conditioned him to smile and write in his book every time I drool. -Pavlov's dog


6 thoughts on “Our dog’s noble lineage, or not

  1. Sounds just like my cat Simon. I’m breathing….it must be his dinner time. I’m in the shower….snack time….I’m watching TV, other snack time. You get the picture.


  2. Please remind me, next time I offer to babysit Jelly that I add it will be for daytime only. Oh wait, luckily for me (and you), you already have an excellent dog-sitter so I don’t have to worry


    • Dear PHM: If I recall a conversation we once had, you mentioned how, in the early morning hours, if you do not lie completely still, your dogs will know it’s time to wake up and it’s game over. In light of this information, are you sure Jelly would be the problem were she to sleep over? XO

      P.S. Funny enough, Jelly seems to have little difficulty sleeping later when the excellent dogsitter is here. This, too, suggests our parenting is the problem.


      • You’re absolutely right, it would probably not be Jelly who wakes me up. So thinking about that, are you sure it is not just you or J. wriggling your big toe that is the signal for Jelly?


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