So, it was a crazy summer, and I don’t think I actually documented some of the craziness that went down here. You might recall that we had a real scare with Rudi, who spent a week in the University of Florida Small Animal ICU — she’s fine now, and back to normal. But, apparently, her temporary absence (and maybe some behavior changes that were imperceptible to us) created a bit of a change in the relationship between the dogs. Which we learned when we went up to New York for a wedding in July and got a call from my friend Fitz, who was watching them, saying that they’d gotten into a fight. Like, a real, serious fight. One that left Rudi with a pretty big gash, and, as it turned out, a broken tooth.
Gratuitious Rudi picture from last summer.
Fitz and her family took care of the dogs, getting Rudi back to the UF emergency room for stitches and treatment. (Hollie had just a few small nicks and was basically fine.) We were home a couple of days later, and figured we’d have a trainer come out to work with them, but it was just so hard to believe — they were just like normal, sleeping on top of one another, playing together, being cute and cuddly and snuggly. We kind of assumed it was a fluke, as did anyone who’s ever seen them together. They’re besties, and so lovey! Nobody believed it could repeat.
Until it happened again, this time, when I was there. And, you know how all the experts say NOT to jump in the middle of a dog fight? Yeah. Listen to them. When they’re in the middle of a fight, they just see red. They don’t hear your voice, they don’t see you, they don’t know that you’ve stupidly put your arm in between their mouths because OF COURSE they won’t bite you. (They will.) At the end of it, everybody was bleeding and two of us needed a trip to the doctor.
(Needless to say, immediately afterward, the dogs were back to snuggling with each other. Weird.)
But I’ll tell you, the emotional toll far outweighed the physical for me. Not so much because I got in the middle of the fight — I know dog owners have a hard time dealing with that, but I honestly did understand that they weren’t going after me. I mean, I’m the moron who stuck my arm in their mouths. But I was terrified that the situation wasn’t rectifiable. I was worried that I had created an environment that wasn’t safe for the dogs I’d taken in and promised to care for. I was worried I’d created a situation that wasn’t safe for people to be around.
See? Only best friends share a water bucket.
We called in a local dog behaviorist right away to assess the situation, and were fully prepared to hear that we’d need to find a new home for Hollie. At that point, I was ready to do whatever was best for the dogs and whoever they were around. Happily, he determined that there were no real aggression issues — it was really a case of misplaced anxiety (apparently this is quite common). Basically, it comes down to this — Hollie is a spaz. This is not news. Rudi lets her go only so far before stepping in to let her know that enough is enough. Prior to Rudi’s hospitalization, Hollie always listened to her, but afterward, she started putting up more of a fight, which meant that, in order to get her point across, Rudi escalated her message. And then they tried to eat each other.
The solution? We now keep a closer eye on their play, and when it’s clear that Rudi is done and Hollie is still trying to play, we step in. We’re also doing obedience class. Hollie has passed the beginner class and is more than halfway through advanced beginner. We’re doing all the same training at home with Rudi, and, as a matter of fact, I’m planning to take Rudi to the class in Hollie’s place tonight to see how that goes. If it goes reasonably well, I’m seriously considering enrolling both dogs in the top level class, which deals with working off-leash and in public.
I have to say, I never understood the importance of obedience training before. I mean, sure, I saw why it was helpful and important to have them sit, stay, come, and all that on command, but I had no idea how it would change my relationship with them. I can take either dog for a walk without them pulling (although I’m not quite up to walking both of them together — that’s, like, advanced, man). I’ve learned that a lot of Hollie’s loudmouthing is done out of fear, and while she’s still loud as hell, she’s getting better about realizing that, if I’m saying it’s okay, it really is okay.
I won’t lie — I’m completely nervous about taking Rudi to class tonight. She’s a little unpredictable around other dogs, and she’s got Hollie by 20 pounds, so when she wants to do something, it’s harder to correct her. But I know it’s the right thing, and I’m so excited to see where we are in another couple of months.
Wish me luck! I think we’re all going to need some special treats tonight.