Stanley’s Skunk Suit
My mom has a jack russel terrier named Stanley that I have always wanted to collaborate with but never really knew what kind of project he might be interested in. After spending a lot of time with him last winter break and trying to think of possibilities I came up with a plan. Stanley, like most jack russel terriers is extremely hyper, the fact that he still seems to be going through his puppy stage at four years old probably intensifies the issue. Stanley will sometimes get so overexcited that he can’t help but jump up and down in his place, getting all four paws at least three feet in the air. However, my mom doesn’t really like it when he acts crazy when there is company over, especially because there are often little children among them who can get trampled by Stanley’s incessant craving to play. One Halloween (I’m guessing) my mom figured out a way to solve the “problem”. She realized that when she puts a costume on Stanley, he freezes up a little and seems to be a little uncomfortable with himself. As a result, he is far less reluctant to play and be his normal self. The effects are immediate and it is obvious that he is unhappy, but that fact seems to be overlooked by the fact that he is behaving so well around company (not to mention that people seem to find humor in dressing up animals as other animals).
So in order to sort of “untrain” Stanley from acting so timidly while he is dressed as a skunk, I’m going to see if I can break him out of his shell. I do not intend to embarrass him in the making of this project, as I feel embarrassment is the main reason that he acts the way he does while in his suit. In order to do this I am going to make a similar skunk suit for myself, complete with a tail and a headpiece just like his. Hopefully, when I try to play fetch with him like he usually likes to, he will see that I too have to put up with the ridiculous costume too and feel more comfortable about it himself. Some of the other activities that he usually partakes in but seizes to while in costume include: chasing butterfly shadows, jumping up and down in front of doors, jumping on furniture and running in tight circles around portions of the yard. I am interested to see if I can get him to play and if afterwards he will revert to his normal behaviors all together. If everything goes well, in the future when my mom gets the skunk suit out to make him calm down, instead it will register in his mind that it is now play time and he will get even more hyper. Perhaps the practice of putting the Halloween costume on the dog regardless of the occasion will come to an end.
I decided that this would be a good project for Stanley even though he has to deal with an outfit he doesn’t particularly favor because if everything goes well, this could be the last time he ever has to where it again, once and for all. Plus, he will get to play fetch for a whole weekend. The next step for me at this point is to find some materials and construct myself a human-sized skunk suit. I will probably try to find some sort of black jump suit or sweat suit that I can add a tail to and paint a stripe down the back. Then I have to go to the bay area, where my mom and Stanley live so that I can do the project over the course of the weekend. I hope that will be enough time to give him this untraining. He is an incredibly smart dog though so I’m confident this project will go pretty well and that Stanley will be an awesome collaborator. I plan on taking photographs of this project in order to document it and have the option of having a formal way to present it.
Sketches and pictures please! And did you check the book about the human practice of dressing up animals that Carol suggested?
05/27/10 11:53:34 - Results
Last weekend I traveled north to the Bay Area where Stanley lives in order to try and make this collaboration happen. I made my skunk suit and had it ready to go. When I first came home I was not wearing it and Stanley was his usual self around me, jumping up and down and running around. I took him outside and began to put on the hat and tail of my costume as he watched curiously. Then came the tough part, having to put the horrible dog-sized skunk suit on Stanley while knowing that it is the one thing he hates most. Needless to say he was not too happy about it. Originally my plan was to try and allow Stanley to be comfortable in the suit by wearing a matching suit and playing with him. The result, however, was very different. Rather, my family watched me in my skunk suit with glaring eyes and a “what the hell?” expression that made me feel as uncomfortable as Stanley must when he is the center of attention dressed as a skunk. I realized that Stanley hated the skunk suit even more than anticipated and there was no way he wanted to play any sort of games while wearing it. I decided to take a few pictures with him in our matching suits for documentation, and the pictures seem to show both of our discomfort in the situation. While I did not have the results I was anticipating, I was still able to see the world from Stanley’s point of view for a little while. Rather than making Stan comfortable with himself in the suit, I learned that it is nearly impossible to be yourself while wearing uncomfortably goofy clothing and being the punch line for spectators. In the end this was a fact that I was able to express to my mom in hopes that she would no longer use the skunk suit to control Stanley‘s behavior. I am pretty sure she got the point though, no one feels good about themselves knowing they are subjecting others to such embarrassment.