The New Order
Last week, before it turned 90 and ridiculously humid, I went hiking in the woods with Hazer. We hadn’t gone hiking in a long time and I was feeling pretty nostalgic, especially when we came to Hazer’s “up” rock. The “up” rock is a very large bolder that graces the side of this one particular trail. When Hazer was a youngster he learned to run ahead, jump up on this rock and wait for me to come along, praise him. and give him a treat. It was a game we always played. We’d approach the general vicinity of the rock and I’d say, “go find the up rock” and Hazer would run ahead, jump up on the rock and wait for me to come give him a treat. It was great fun and we’d play the up rock game both coming and going on that trail. Although the trail is littered with large boulders in several areas, this is the only rock Hazer has ever climbed.
We hadn’t hiked this trail in about 2 years and I’d kinda forgotten about the “up” rock. As usual, Hazer trotted along in front of me, veering off the trail from time to time when something piqued his interest. At some point Hazer jogged ahead out of view and when I came around a bend, there he was waiting patiently on his favorite rock. I was so amazed that he remembered! It really warmed my heart. Fortunately, I always carry a little pouch with treats and I gave him several as I praised him for remembering our game. I called him down and we continued on our way.
The trail crosses several small streams, but all have dwindled to barely a trickle in most places. Our final destination is a larger stream that, despite a recent dry spell still sports a pretty little water fall and a deep-ish “swimming hole.” Hazer’s never been much of a swimmer, but if opportunity presents he likes to wade in a stream. At this particular spot he’ll usually walk in until the water is about belly deep, then stand there to cool off and have a drink. There’s a nice crop of ledge that I can sit on while he putters around for a bit. This is our turnaround point, so there’s never any hurry to rush off. Many a deep conversation has been held there between Hazer and I and today was no different. We had a lot to discuss.
Hazer is getting old. Oddly, I’ve noticed him aging more so than Neena, who is the same age. He sleeps a lot more during the day and his movements aren’t as quick or as steady. More often than not I’ll come home from an errand and Hazer won’t run to greet me in the kitchen like I’m the second coming of Christ. When I put my things down and go looking for him he’s usually sacked out somewhere comfy, awake and well aware that I’ve returned, but not inclined to jump up and carry on like before. Sometimes he picks his head up off his pillow, other times he just glances in my direction before sighing and drifting off to sleep again. It makes me a little sad. He’s not always like that, but it’s not unusual either.
I’ve spent most of Hazer’s life wishing he’d shut up and behave more like a normal dog. He could be the poster dog for Autistic Dogs. To say he’s a difficult dog to live with is a gross understatement. Quirky, irritating, OCD and socially inept, he’s the kind of dog who’d have been better off being the only household pet. But he’s not, and so he takes it upon himself to make life hard for everyone. Back in early June Hazer jumped Gus and they had a nasty fight. Hazer doesn’t signal these things and even though I’ve always got one eye trained on him when Gus is around, his usual MO is to wait until he’s behind my back to make a move. There was no pre-warning growl. His posture didn’t change. He just launched. And for the first time ever, Gus didn’t ignore the challenge. Oh, there have been other instances when I’ve had to step between the boys to “break” Hazer’s locked-on, I-dare-you stare. But Gus has always let Hazer’s nonsense roll off his shoulders. You see, Hazer is an alpha-wannabe and I think most dogs get that his nonsense stems from his insecurity. But this time it was different and Hazer finally barked up the wrong tree one too many times.
I’ve lost count how many fights Hazer has started. It’s not a lot, but any fight is one fight too many. And every time it happens you’re horrified, even when the outcome isn’t all that bad. Why do dogs who live in the same house and seem to get along fine suddenly snap and want to kill each other? Something has to take place between them that humans can’t sense or see. Some invisible trash-talk, some insult or challenge must get hurled through space in a glance or a stare. Humans always can’t hear this “inaudible” dialogue and sometimes we can’t even see it, but it’s there. And it can get ugly fast.
I pulled Hazer off Gus, who was reluctant to let go of Hazer. Gus is a terrier and he’s got a strong gripping instinct. Tapping the super-human strength that adrenaline brings to these situations, I hurled Hazer across my kitchen and herded Gus into a corner of the foyer. He was injured, bleeding and threatening to bite me, but there was pain and fear in his eyes, not angst. I paused for a few seconds to give Gus a moment to calm down. It was not a good scene, but at this point I was just thankful that Neena hadn’t jumped into the fray and that for the moment, Hazer wasn’t the least bit interested in finishing the job he’d started. I got both ACDs into my office, closed the door and directed my attention to Gus, who was shaking his head, splattering his blood all over my kitchen cupboards and floor.
As far as ears go the damage was minimal. It could have been MUCH worse. It seems like the bigger the ears the more the target, and Gus has HUGE ears. He sustained a puncture wound about halfway up one ear and the very tip of that ear had what looked like a small divot in it. I couldn’t tell if the divot was just some fur missing or if the tissue was gone too, but it was clear Gus wasn’t going to let me touch it. At least not right away. I grabbed some sterile gauze which I dampened with cold water, then did my best to clean the blood away so I could decide if we needed to make a trip to the vet. Experience has taught me that ear wounds might bleed like heck, but they don’t always require vet attention. After about ten minutes or so the bleeding started to abate and I got a better look at the wound. I didn’t think there was much the vet could do besides clean him up and send him home with some antibiotics and pain meds. I’m not a big on treating every little wound with antibiotics, so I decided to keep an eye on it and pass on the vet unless things took a turn for the worse.
The bigger problem was figuring out what to do from that point on. Living in a small house with two dogs who don’t get along is a serious problem, one I’ve always said I’d loathe to do. Baby gates were dragged down from the attic and covered with polar fleece blankets to discourage any visual challenges. A new routine and protocol had to be instantly implemented to keep the boys from having any interaction. This meant having to think about who was where at all times and carefully planning for trips in or out. Gus now eats upstairs, the other two dogs eat downstairs. Being a reluctant strategist made me grouchy and made my brain hurt, not to mention that I was constantly living with pet strife.
Gus healed, both physically and emotionally. He also got neutered. Zip-zip, just like that, Gus went from a show dog to non show dog. I was seriously bummed, but the alternatives weren’t good. Hazer was neutered at 16 months because he was starting to pick fights with one of my older dogs and now I was neutering Gus because Hazer was targeting him. This so sucked. For about a week I felt like I was living in some endless version of pet hell. Since all my dogs want to be with me, one of them is always whining or yipping or acting out their misery in whatever room I’m not in. All the trainer’s I’ve ever known have told me that if you ignore their noise and nonsense they’ll eventually give up and quit. They’ve never met Hazer. He’s in the living room right now, where he’s been whining for several hours. Pet hell.
Slowly, we’ve started going outside together as a group. I keep the dogs busy playing ball and Frisbee for a bit and then everyone seems pretty content to mind their own business. I have 6+ acres so nobody needs to be right on top of one another. It still requires management, but it’s pretty doable and I’ll take any improvement I can get. Inside we’re still a work in progress. I’ve had the boys “mingle” a little because if I keep them apart for too long they’ll start to think something’s wrong if they’re suddenly together. Better to give them small, heavily supervised doses of togetherness and mix things up to keep them guessing. I want them focused on me, not each other when they’re in the same room. But they can’t be together unless I’m able to have my full attention on them. When the weather permits, I try to hike Hazer, then he and Neena do several hours in the outside pen. Gus hangs out with me. Some days I feel like my whole existence revolves around managing the dogs, but I have hopes that this situation won’t last forever and eventually we’ll return to a more normal routine. I’ll never trust Hazer around Gus, but as more time goes by without any further issues, the better it bodes for all. Although Gus seems to be letting go of any angst he had about the fight, I’m sure he doesn’t trust Hazer. Who would? Gus gives Hazer a pretty wide berth. For now, that’s the new order of things around here. We’ll see how it goes.