Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Devious Dogs

My apologies on the length of time since the last blog post.  I’ve been so busy wrapping up the manuscript for my second novel that I really haven’t had time for much else.  The good news is book two is in the hands of my editor for the next couple of months, so I will have no excuse for being tardy with future posts.  That brings me to today’s blog. 

Having worked with rescue and pound dogs since 1997, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with hundreds of dogs, and I have learned that most are wonderful animals.  I’ve also learned that a select few are, well…somewhat devious.  Now I’m not talking about the aggressive dogs, though aggression often comes into play in these devious canines’ behaviors.  What I’m referring to are the dogs who scheme for nefarious purposes, dogs in whom, when you look them in the eye, you can see the wheels turning in their brains. Oftentimes, this is so much so the case that you realize the dog is thinking on a level higher than many people you know.  It is these dogs I’m thankful don’t have opposable thumbs because, if they did, they’d be running the world by this point. 

Now, this devious behavior comes in many forms.  Sometimes it looks like sneaking away items the dog knows you need, only to return them after you have given up looking and bought a replacement -- my girl, Belle, was notorious with this one.  Other times it may look like acting out a part in the movie The Great Escape.  My friend’s dog, Bailey, is a master escape artist who could have easily played a role next to Steve McQueen in the film. These devious behaviors are harmless enough for the most part, but then there are behaviors that reveal a bit more of an evil streak in a dog.  These antics are the ones used to intimidate people and, in all honesty, the dogs seem to enjoy causing people to jump back in fear.  My aforementioned dog, Belle, played this very game well but with a subtler twist, and this game always started innocently enough.  Belle would move into people’s personal space until she became a nuisance, and if the person tried to make her leave she would let them know that it wasn’t an option.  If I had guests over, she would identify the most dominant one with which to play her game, and make her approach with the classic ‘pet me’ puppy dog eyes.  As she was petted, she would move closer. Next she would put her front paws up on the couch next to them.  They would pet her more, and she would proceed to climb up onto the couch with them.  Now, most dogs would lay down with their head on the person’s lap so they could have a belly rub, basically submitting and accepting the attention.  Given that the word submissive wasn’t in Belle’s vocabulary, this wasn’t her intention.  She would stand eyeball-to-eyeball with the person.  If the person dared to stop petting her, she would give a soft, low, but very intimidating growl. Keep in mind, Belle was over ninety pounds and built “like a brick outhouse’, as my friend Angie once said of her. Of course, if I saw her pulling this stunt I would stop her well before it got to that point, but she learned to only attempt such a move if I was in the kitchen or elsewhere. Thankfully, Belle never snapped at anyone. She just gave the deep Rottie rumble that was rather frightening to most people, telling them that the petting must continue.
 Yes, some of this behavior could be classified as dominance; Belle was protection trained, after all. Perhaps dominance was part of the issue since another Rottweiler, named Oz, displayed similar behavior in his home.  Still, when I caught Belle in the act, I noticed a glint in her eye and could almost see the thought bubble above her head saying, “Did you see how scared they were, dad?” I honestly think she enjoyed this little game.

Belle’s minds games were subtle by nature but still devious. One not-so-subtle method is employed when the dog purposely puts themselves into a position where they can scare someone by barking at them.  I’m not talking about typical territorial barks but an ambush with the sole purpose of making someone jump.  An amazing dog, named Bo, was the first dog I saw carry out such a thing.   

Bo was a rescue that came into the Humane Society of Gallatin Valley back in 1998, I believe.  He had spent much of his life in a small pen, in his owners’ back yard, and he was often tormented by the neighborhood children. As a result, he was very territorial. After several months at the shelter, however, he came to be rather calm and accepting of people passing by his kennel.  This is true except when he was in the mood to make people jump. 
The staff started telling me that he was being cage aggressive when in his indoor kennel.  I was concerned as this behavior makes it difficult for a dog to be adopted, so I wanted to see what was triggering him.  I positioned myself inside a small room in the main kennel area and had the staff bring Bo inside. They put him in a kennel where I could watch him through the door, without him seeing me.  Everything looked normal enough until I heard the main door, at the end of the room, open as a group of visitors came to view the adoptable dogs.

The individual kennels had solid panels on the bottom half, so in order for a dog to see the visitor’s door, they needed to jump up on their hind legs.  I expected to see Bo on his hind legs; however, he crouched down so that his body was against the panel closest to the approaching people.  I realized, about two seconds before the people reached his kennel, that the little bugger was waiting in ambush.  Sure enough, the moment they passed his kennel, Bo went full Cujo on them, hitting the kennel door and barking like crazy.  And right on cue, the poor people nearly jumped out of their skin as the hundred pound, black and tan hell hound pounded the chain link.  I rushed out of my hiding spot and scolded Bo.  Do you think he cowered, looked guilty, or perhaps slunk into a corner after being caught?  Nope.  Bo grinned ear-to-ear,  his stump tail thumping back and forth at hyper speed. Once again, I saw the little thought bubble over his head with the words, “Did you see how high they jumped, dad?” 

From that point on, we ensured that Bo was in his outdoor kennel during public viewing hours, and I worked with him to try and convince him that, regardless of how much fun it was to make people jump, it wasn’t appropriate behavior.  Thankfully, Bo was adopted so it was not an issue for too long. 

Once again, though, I’m dealing with another devious dog, one of my own.  My girl, Carly, like most dogs, can read people like a cheap paperback book, and she knows more about their emotional status than they do.  Because of this she has buffaloed a few of my friends who are, by their own admission, terrified of her.  Carly doesn’t intentionally do anything to stoke the fire of that fear, but she does seem to enjoy it when she is around them.  Her behavior is manageable enough, but the one antic I find rather annoying is her propensity to bark at joggers, and not just any jogger, but typically the attractive, female joggers.  Being a single guy, I keep trying to tell her that I’ll never get a date if she keeps up with that behavior.  Then again, being the devious Rottweiler she is, this might have been her plan all along.
If you enjoy stories about dogs and their relationships with humans, be sure to check out my first novel, Stranger’s Dance, and tell others about it. Click here to be taken to it on Amazon.

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