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Buddy's Newest Incident

We've had another incident with our dog Buddy, who is the most lovable and playful dog in the world 99% of the time. But that other 1% has been troubling, and got very troubling again recently.  By now you may or may not have heard about it. We wanted to tell you about the incident, and also tell you about the changes we’re going to be making.

But first, for completeness, we need to put forth a teeny bit of animal psychology. This may not be anything new to you, but it plays a role in what happened and why we’re going to implement the changes we’re going to implement.

Dogs are pack animals, and packs are based on a very specific hierarchy.  The first pack distinction is PACK, or NOT-PACK.  Either a dog is a member of the pack, or they’re not.  If you’re a member, you’re accepted (more or less). If you’re an outsider, you’re not accepted… ever.

Within the pack, there’s a pecking order, almost exclusively determined by who would win in a fight.  The “top dog” (no pun intended) is the one who can win any fight with any other dog in the pack. Some call this the ALPHA dog.  Every other dog in the pack falls into an order according to this rule.

Sometimes, dogs want to move up in the pack, so they pick a fight with the dog above them in the pecking order, to see if they can win.  If they win, they move up in the hierarchy, which in the wild means more food, better sleeping conditions, etc. If they don’t win, they stay where they are in the order.  Higher-ranking dogs must always be alert for challenges - lower-ranking dogs picking a fight with them or slighting them in other ways.

Dogfights are an ingrained part of a dog’s life.  Its how they advance in their pack society, and how they defend the pack from outsiders. Dogs that are kept as pets have their family as the "pack," so there are dogs and humans in the pack, but in the dog's brain it's still a pack.

Different dog breeds have stronger tendencies to this “pack” mentality than others. Buddy is a lab-chow mix, with possibly some shepherd or snow-dog (husky, elkhound, etc.) mixed in. Labs don’t tend toward a strong “pack” mentality, but chows and snow-dogs do.  As Buddy has gotten older, he’s become more and more “pack” oriented – his “chow” tendencies have become more prominent.  In Buddy’s mind, I (Gene) am the ALPHA in our “pack,” Lynn is the ALPHA-PRIME, and Buddy is below us, but it’s a small pack (Gene, Lynn, Megan, Audrey, Buddy) so Buddy isn’t far from the top part of the hierarchy.  Chows also have a one-man-dog reputation… they are intensely loyal to their masters.

Also, Buddy has always had difficulty with other dogs.  Male dogs were almost always disliked by Buddy (with one or two rare exceptions), but female dogs were often (but not always) dogs that Buddy got along with and played well with.  We always thought it was caused by a lack of socialization, he was rarely around other dogs so he wasn’t used to them.  That may indeed be a root cause, but there seems to be more to it.


Now back to the incident...

We were babysitting a sweet lovable retired greyhound named Smudge for Lynn’s nephew while he was away.  In the past, Smudge and Buddy got along like great friends.  They romped and played together and co-existed quite well during visits.  Recently, however, Buddy has gotten more nervous and agitated around Smudge, whether Smudge was visiting here, or Buddy was visiting at Smudge’s house.  The previous weekend, while Buddy was staying over at Smudge’s house, they had a spat (we’re not sure of the details because no-one was in the room at the time), and Smudge ended up with a bite on her leg.

Because of that, we decided that they needed to be separated for most of the time they were in the same house, and they needed to be supervised closely whenever they shared a room.  So the next weekend at our house, when Smudge was downstairs, Buddy was upstairs, and vice versa.  Under supervision, they were both allowed upstairs (both preferred to be upstairs rather than down), and usually when that happened Buddy would remove himself of his own accord, going downstairs on his own, or going to another room.

Saturday evening, after both animals had been fed, Buddy was upstairs in the kitchen with me, and Smudge was out back on the lead doing her business.  Lynn let Smudge in from the lead, and the door at the foot of the stairs was open so she scooted up the stairs. Buddy heard Smudge and went to the top of the stairs, but when he saw her coming up the stairs he came back into the kitchen and sat down beside me where I was standing by the sink, both of us facing the stairs.

Smudge came up, came directly into the kitchen, and in her sweet friendly way came directly over to me to nuzzle my leg and look for a pat, pushing by Buddy to do so.  Buddy lost it.  He bit Smudge on the back and the back leg, and evidently caught her in a couple of other places too, including the tail.  I was shouting and yelling and trying to stop it, and it ended fairly quickly, but not quick enough.  Buddy was extremely agitated and upset, but he followed my (very loud) commands to stop and go downstairs. Smudge retreated into the dining room.

Lynn and I left Buddy downstairs (shut up in the apartment), called the vet and arranged to meet her at the animal hospital close by (it was after-hours on Saturday night), and took Smudge over to the office. The vet patched her up, and kept her overnight to make sure everything was okay – it was.

As upsetting as the incident was, it was predictable from a “pack” psychology point of view, and I was fully to blame for not seeing it coming.  Smudge was an “outsider” pushing past Buddy to nuzzle up to the ALPHA in the pack.  We have watched Buddy become more “chow”-like in his instincts and less “lab”-like over the years, and with his recent agitation and nervousness and previous bite incident the weekend before, we should not have trusted him to be like his old self with Smudge.  We should not have let them share a room in the house together, supervised or not.

Buddy’s personality has changed these past 3-4 years as he has grown from being a big puppy into a fully adult dog.  With Lynn and Audrey and Megan and me, he is the sweetest, most lovable dog one could ever want. He is well-trained, he obeys a number of commands.

With 99% of adults, he is the same way – he turns inside-out with glee and excitement when people come to visit, especially the mailman (he brings dog biscuits).  There are a very few young adults he is not comfortable with (we’ve not been able to figure out why).  He has never been fond of children, and has become less so as the years have passed, even to the point of sometimes growling at them for no reason that we can see.

In spite of this, Buddy has endeared himself to us over the years and has become a cherished member of our family with a special place in our hearts. This episode has been stressful and troubling, but it was very much a classic dog episode. It was not Buddy’s fault, it was my fault for not remembering my pack psychology and preventing the confrontation.

But because of the incident, and because of his subtle behavior changes these past few years, we’ve decided to make some changes.

If you come to visit with a dog or another animal, you’re completely welcome, but give us a heads-up so we can put Buddy downstairs and away from your animal for the duration of the visit. If you come to visit with children, we will do the same, without exception.  Buddy will no longer be allowed to share a room with children or other animals.

If you come to visit without children or animals, we will either put Buddy downstairs as described before, or we will muzzle him while he’s with visitors, merely as a precaution. We’ve been working with a muzzle these past weeks, and he’s getting quite comfortable with it and it doesn’t bother him at all.





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