AAfter a week of running Basil through my house—the ticking sound of a strange, long dog on all legs and a suspicious eye scampering down the hall—I came up with the pea theory and didn’t could stop myself thinking about it. The Pea Theory, while mostly specific to rescue greyhounds, mostly about their weird adorable little brains, helped me understand their world a little better. It also expanded my own weird little brain.
Basil suffered for a few years as a racing dog. The effects of this era are physically significant – a handful of racing accident scars on his shiny black coat, his dirty green trademark tattoo, bald buttocks and legs caused by the unnatural stress of being forced to race. He’s almost the archetype of a greyhound – black with distinguished salt and pepper spots on his long, tall, long and clumsy muzzle, the sweetest eyes in the world. A friend once described greyhounds as looking like “an old bag full of clothes hangers” and having one in my house only makes that description more evocative and true.
But as with most rescue dogs, it is mentally that the true consequences of being mistreated kick in. Compared to other rescue dogs I’ve trained, Basil is a dream – barely responsive to other dogs, loves people, doesn’t suffer much from resource guarding (being territorial around food/beds) which is common with older runners. But what we discovered is that Basil, above all, hates situations.
It’s not an official diagnosis – technically he has anxiety, which manifests itself in a variety of ways – but my partner and I have identified that in simple terms Basil hates recognizing and enduring situations. A situation can be anything – leaving the house, being around a pigeon, dealing with people in two different rooms, being served food at the “wrong” time, someone knocking on the door – and it will confuse him so much that he will be stressed and sooky for the rest of the day.
Adoption agency behaviorist Gumtree Grays told us all about stress and cortisol levels, pointing out that cortisol lingers in their brains and stress can be cumulative, so after being spooked by a carrot falling off a bench, three hours later during a walk, he could freeze on a street corner and not move for 15 minutes, not looking at anything. His brain is always flooded with cortisol.
Not being a scientist, I found the description of the cortisol level difficult to understand, and after a few weeks settled on the pea theory: Basil’s brain is a pile of frozen peas floating in Coke. -Cola. All it takes is a little stress for the Coke to start fizzing and the peas to start swinging frantically like popcorn on a skillet. Of course, he can’t make rational, calm decisions – his peas are bursting! We’ve learned that once a situation has been endured, it’s a matter of calming him down, removing him from the stress if possible, and waiting for those frantic peas to calm down before asking him to do anything. which even requires a skerrick of focus or discipline.
I love the Pea Theory because it helps us understand the particular needs, wants, and fears of this creature that now lives in our home. Greyhounds can be almost alien. I’ve had dogs all my life, and I’m always amazed at the differences. They don’t sit down because they can’t; they express affection by great signs; they basically sleep all day. Add in the trauma of an exploitative and violent racing life, and it’s no wonder they end up with the soda and pulse situation.
But I also like the pea theory because it helped me overcome my own horror of situations. Recently I came back from minor day surgery and found myself unable to concentrate on work. I realized that having a huge square of flesh cut into my neck caused my own peas to fall out. So I sat down with a cup of tea and a romance novel and let them settle in. When I feel my own Coca-Cola brain starting to heat up and the peas starting to mix together, I try to be nice to myself.
Adopting Basil was in itself something of a situation. My partner and I were well prepared. I had already adopted two rescue dogs, I have a good background in training responsive dogs, and we had invested all of our savings in beds and toys at Petbarn. We were ready for the work we would have to do to help a dog who had lived a horrible life, who probably hadn’t known much kindness, who had been through a confusing series of foster homes, and we believed in life. importance of I do it. The first night we put him in his bed in our bedroom, and when we turned off the lights to go to sleep, he cried – not howled or moaned, but actually sobbed like a lost and abandoned child. That first week, learning about his limits, fears and anxieties was enough to make us stressed and fearful, worried that we wouldn’t be able to take care of this terrified dog-snake. We found ourselves just sitting and watching him, tense, our own peas a tornado of worry.
So it was kind of a surprise when we fell overwhelmingly and disgustingly in love with Basil. It’s been two months now, and it’s more than gratifying to watch him come out of his shell, grow into a goofy, affectionate dog who loves his routine, learns to play with toys, grows into a local celebrity to whom old shout compliments as we pass the nearby retirement village in their stylish outfits. I have never met such a sweet and kind dog.
My peas, where I was preoccupied with the work ahead of me, with the disruption of my life, with the responsibility of owning a traumatized dog, fully settled in, and I couldn’t imagine life without this strange bag of bone leaning against me, without a snoot nestled in the crook of my arm as I type, without his beautiful, bubbly, glowing little brain.