Creatures of Habit

We all have habits or routines that we have fallen into, be we humans or animals. I’ve become more aware of these behaviors in my dogs following the death of our senior Border collie, Buddy. Little Jack, our erstwhile Texas Brown dog, following a suitable interval has taken to lying under the coffee table where Buddy exclusively laid.

Bella previously had adopted the routine of lying just outside “Buddy’s Office” which was a dog bed placed in a corner of the living room behind a decorative Oriental wooden screen. Buddy would nap in his office while Bella laid just outside the entrance to his “office”. Now she has left her prior “secretary’s spot” just outside and sleeps on Buddy’s prior dog bed in the “office”.

Buddy in his younger days

I suppose this means Bella’s period of mourning has passed. I am convinced she sorely missed Buddy after his death. She just didn’t act like she normally did. She was still anxious to ride in the pickup but frankly acted droopy. Of course Bella was the same breed of dog as Buddy and had always had her big friend around. This was quite a change for Bella, not nearly so much for Little Jack.

Bella enjoying a ride in the Gator
Little Jack in his favorite place (note the two pillows)

What gives? I know we all have our preferred places at the dinner table, favorite comfortable chairs, and habitual coffee mugs. In the case of my dogs I had assumed their “habits” were a dominance thing. That is, even at his advanced age Buddy was the dominant dog and had the favored spots in which to snooze. For the most part, the other dogs did not intrude on his space. Toward the end of Buddy’s life, I noticed Little Jack begin to take license with Buddy’s spots. But just maybe, like humans, these were learned routines that they had fallen into.

My two horses will almost always go to a specific end of the trough and await my pouring of their portions of feed. The chosen spots may in part be because Fancy, the Paint horse, will dictate the end of the trough she wants and run the gelding, Dandy, off. I assume she takes a glance at the mounds of feed and, if his feed looks more attractive and catches her eye, she none too subtly “relocates” him. Yes, this sounds like a dominance thing.

Fancy, our dominant female Paint horse
Dandy while larger than Fancy, tends to defer to her (the secret to a happy equine marriage?)

Other dog behaviors exist as when my dogs watch me get dressed in the morning. They particularly scrutinize me when putting on my ranch clothes, but not so when I pull out the golf togs. In the case of ranch clothing Bella becomes very excited and begins to bark vigorously. Her behavior proves quite annoying for me and Trudy. Little Jack’s role is to come between Bella and me and attempt to block her from excitedly jumping up on me. Both dogs clearly recognize patterns to my dressing and have their separate routines as how to behave.

With cattle I have also noticed a feeding “pecking order.” Quite predictably certain cattle (the younger Longhorn and one or two of the Black Baldies) will head pall mall for the feed sack as I begin to pour. They stake out the beginning of the feed line. Other cattle jostle for intermediate feeding positions with the calves and certain Black Baldies ending up at the end or in the case of younger calves not in line at all. I always attempt to make a particularly long line of range cubes so that all the cattle will feel comfortable getting in line for the range cubes. Clearly an ordering exists in the bovine food line.

You may not be able to tell us apart. but we sure know which of us are in charge

I’ve assumed this behavior in cattle was an act of pure dominance. Those will horns have a clear advantage, if not too old to do minor combat. Why some of the full grown Black Baldies end up as “Tail End Charlies”, I don’t know. I’ve assumed they are not quite as big or strong or perhaps were from a smaller herd when they joined my herd and haven’t been completely accepted as yet.

I would love to hear comments from readers as to the behaviors of their animals and how they mirror or interact with their humans. Remember our pets are always studying us, just like we study them.

If you haven’t already read my book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, please consider picking up a copy. It is available via Amazon or your local bookstore. It is a fun read, demonstrates a lot of humanity and courage from patients, and has been well reviewed. I would welcome your thoughts.

Carrying the Black Bag book

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4 thoughts on “Creatures of Habit

  1. Janet Hagler Lindemann November 15, 2020 at 12:33 pm Reply

    As always, I enjoy your musings, and in this case, probable conclusions. I am glad you didn’t mention that the animals were “social distancing.” I prefer to think the animals are immune and unaware of this human result of our present affiction.
    Janet

  2. tomhuttonmd November 15, 2020 at 2:20 pm Reply

    Thank you Janet. Am also hoping our animals are unaware of this sad pandemic that has changed so many lives and shortened far too many.

  3. LaNelle Ethridge November 16, 2020 at 7:15 am Reply

    Since Jasmine has become deaf, I am aware of how dependent she has become on Attie. Jasmine wants Attie to go outside with her, especially at night. Attie even waits for Jaz befoe coming back inside. If I am asleep, Attie is the.one to wakes me if I don’t hear Jaz. They arrived at this solution by themselves.

  4. tomhuttonmd November 16, 2020 at 7:58 am Reply

    Wonderful example of a dog helping another dog. Way to go Attie!

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