Chaiary: 6 days with Scarlett

I dropped Chai off with my dogsitter-turned-friend for 6 days: April 30-May 6.1

Scarlett has become one of Game’s favorite people. If anyone needs a dog sitter in Mexico City – reach out to me and I’ll pass on the information!

Scarlett sent me videos and pictures of Chai throughout the week. She also started training her to go on a potty pad in the corridor of her apartment: she was looking after a German Shepherd puppy as well. That dog’s owners had asked Scarlett to potty-pad train their puppy, so Chai just got the same approach. I am proud to report that according to Scarlett, Chai simply picked up that skill (“Oh, is this where you want us pups to go? Sure; will do!”).

Scarlett’s teaching approach was praise and feeding Chai (a single time!) when she went on the pad and gently scolding her (a single time!) when she went somewhere else in the apartment. From then on, according to Scarlett, Chai knew where to go! Smart girl!

Some pictures I got over the course of the week:

I can’t believe how tiny Chai used to be! (It’s July 24 as I’m intending to publish this post and Chai is a lot bigger today than she was in this picture!)

… and the videos! Scarlett looked after several other dogs and Chai got to play with them all. Below are 6 short clips I edited together:

Apart from conviviendo with all these dogs, Chai made friends with Scarlett’s housemate (her primo) and another primo of hers who was visiting the days Chai stayed with Scarlett. She also taught Chai a rock-back sit to ask for food and took her out 3 times every day – sometimes by herself, sometimes together with another dog.

Chai slept by herself in the corridor without complaining and went on pee pads for the first time. Lots of great new life experiences in a new neighborhood (Polanco) for a little Border Collie!

Chai is getting to know different parts of Mexico City – and her third apartment since being with me!

Avoid routines?

Some dogs – among them Border Collies – thrive on routine. They are the high-strung, highly sensitive individuals of the dog world: intense and sensitive, intelligent and maybe just a little neurotic (in the best colloquial sense of the word). Of course not every Border Collie is that way, but I venture (based on my own breed stereotypes as well as personal and anecdotal observations) that compared to other breeds, many individual Border Collies score high on one or more of the above traits. Both Hadley and Mick did – in very different yet similarly intense ways. So did client’s and colleagues’ Border Collies. Then again, my clients are often my clients because their dogs are difficult, and my colleagues are crazy dog people like me. My sample may not be representative of the Border Collie population as a whole. But I digress!

I remember reading – it must have been years ago and I may be misremembering the source, but I believe it was on Sara Carson‘s FB page – that they purposefully avoided creating a routine for their dogs, starting in puppyhood, in order to guard against routine dependency. I don’t think this has been studied in dogs, but it’s an interesting thought.

I suspect – just watching different dogs and humans grow up, hearing friends reminisce about (or shudder thinking back at) their own childhood and parents talking about their kids – that there is only so much influence we have on our animal’s (or our own or our kid’s) dependence on structure and routine versus go-with-the-flow-ness. Just like raising your kid to be an extroverted person doesn’t seem to make them so if that’s not who they already are. I suspect – and again, I have zero citations for this so it’s really an opinion – that routine-dependency is a relatively stable personality trait for most (not all – nothing is true for everyone) animals and robust to change.

Take, for example, dogs who perform in front of large audiences (like The Supercollies) and travel a lot. Yes, Sara may not give them a routine when they grow up (for example they don’t get breakfast or dinner at a certain time every day). But of course Sara also selects for dogs who are already likely to succeed living their kind of lifestyle by choosing as wisely as they can. Being an excellent trainer with lots of connections in the dog world, Sara knows how to choose wisely and has access to the kind of dogs they want – dogs the average person may not have access to or know to select.

So are we seeing the result of genetics OR of having grown up with a carefully instrumented lack of routine when we see a resilient Border Collie who does well with change? I don’t think we can tease the two apart (without doing experiments over several generations of dogs).

My dogs have traditionally not had strict routines, and ever since reading Sara’s post years ago, I think that it can’t hurt to keep things that way – even though I’m suspicious of the idea that we humans could possibly have this much influence on a dog’s personality. It’s a scary thought that we can mold another being to that extent (I mean not teach them skills or develop a relationship, but sculpt their personality). Which is a good reminder: I should probably be equally suspicious of my home-alone and dogsitting theories as I am of Sara’s lack-of-routine theory!

Be that as it may: Chai is growing up without a strict routine. For example, there are no fixed meal times because most days, I use all her food in training. There are no fixed training times either: I train when I have time and that’s different every day.

So far, Chai seems to do well with that just like my other puppies have. (I do think that’s just who she is though, and the same goes for Game. Both these dogs are VERY easy-going examples of their respective breeds. Not of the dog population as a whole – but of their respective breeds for sure. Game, like Sara’s dogs, was carefully selected to do well with my lifestyle. She’s not from a random breeder around the corner – I flew to Amsterdam to pick up a puppy from a particular breeder and a particular litter after doing my research. Chai on the other hand? Pure luck!)

Grit was raised the same way as my other puppies but never turned into an easy-going dog. That’s just not who she was (neither were her parents), and my training and socialization didn’t change her personality. (They did, I believe, make her the most reliable and socially neutral she had it in her to be. But there is a genetic and in-utero/early-life-experience ceiling that we cannot break, try as hard as we may. That, too, is my opinion based on personal experiences with my dogs and client dogs.)

And just think about yourself: were you born the way you are? The answer is probably yes and no. You both already were and you have become: every day, we get incrementally closer to who we are going to be and at the same time, the person inside of us is still the one who was born however many years ago and will always be. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

(1) If I had publishing this post right after getting Chai back from Scarlett, it would have been a personal story about what Game and I were up to in the meantime. But time has passed and things have changed. So today’s post is about Chai’s adventures with Scarlett, and the upcoming May posts will be about Chai, Game and dog geekery. I’ll leave out my most personal stories, pictures and videos. In case someone in these stories reads my posts: I’m NOT leaving out the personal parts because they were not important and meaningful – quite the opposite. They were SO important and meaningful that I don’t want to share them with strangers on the Internet. I’m leaving out the personal parts because I hurt. They are still very much with me and close to my heart. That said, they don’t take away from Chai’s May adventures – so those are what I’ll be talking about on this blog!

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