Looking Forward to this Phase Passing
Posted at 10:14AM - Comments: (5)
If I had to name my puppy’s most annoying trait, I’d have to say it’s “fooling around” with my older dog, Otto.
What do I mean by this? A person who wasn’t familiar with dog behavior would be likely to say that Woody is pestering my older dog. He jumps up into Otto’s face, licking and flopping around, and generally acting like a fool. The more he does it, the more irritated Otto gets. Otto may start out with his tail wagging, standing in one place and turning his head away, trying to ignore the puppy’s foolishness. Within a few seconds, though, he will start baring his teeth and growling at the puppy in a fearsome manner, until they are either interrupted (by me), or by Otto abruptly deciding enough is enough and flattening the puppy with a roar and a lot of snapping teeth.
Truthfully, Otto doesn’t actually flatten Woody, although that’s how it looks. If you watch carefully (and I have been), Woody throws himself on the ground, in an act of active submission. When the moment plays itself out without interruption, Otto will stand over Woody’s wiggling, lip-licking form for a moment, as if to say, “Seriously! Stop it!”
Does Woody have a death wish? Why would he do this several times a day?
“Fooling around” is the phrase behaviorists use to describe one of the dog’s most common indicators of stress; it’s right up there with fight and flight, in terms of “top five things that a dog might do when stressed.” Otto is clearly the leader of my little pack of dogs, and his mere presence nearby exerts a powerful influence on the most junior member of the family. Woody is both drawn to Otto and mildly afraid of him, and the combination seems to trigger moments of this over-the-top obsequiousness.
When we invite them to live with us, we ask dogs to mute – or at least, turn way down – much of their natural, normal way of relating to each other. Their noises, facial expressions, and behavior can appear to us humans as very dramatic – but the drama is meant to forestall actual violence. It wouldn’t make any sense for animals in a highly social group to genuinely hurt each other when they squabble on a day-to-day basis over resources like food, toys, the most comfortable spot in the room, or proximity to an owner. So, while I understand that Woody’s exuberant “sucking up” to Otto and Otto’s dramatic “Knock it off! Go find something else to do!” are natural and normal behaviors, things they have to do as they work out the intricacies of their canine relationship, I still find it annoying. It may be natural and normal for dogs, but it seems to be equally natural and normal for humans to be uncomfortable with sounds of growling, snarling, and roaring/snapping.
Woody is maturing day by day, and as he gains self-control and confidence, these little flurries of animated canine behavior are slowly giving way to more subtle interactions. Now, more often than not, Otto can walk into a room and Woody will acknowledge the senior dog with just a few flips of his tail and a lowered head, with low ears and a flicking tongue. I’m glad my bully breed puppy is showing appropriate deference to our pack leader, but I’ll also be happy when he’s completely confident in this role and the “fooling around” behavior stops.