Thursday, April 22, 2010

Two Dog Family

I am finally done doing tax returns and can write about my dogs again! I have been composing this in the car and during my commute for months. Now, I am not sure how to begin.

I have never lived with more then one dog at a time. Jazz and I have been doing OK together for the last six plus years, but I decided to add Coach to our family last fall. The whole "puppy" experience is kind of like child birth. It's pretty awful at the time, but you forget the bad parts until the next time. We are now past the really messy parts, (I hope) and I am watching my two dogs become a pack. It is absolutely fascinating.

The beginning was fun to watch. Jazz has always loved to play with other dogs, but didn't have a lot of opportunities. I thought that he would be excited to play with Coach. I was wrong. He snubbed the poor little guy! I was stunned until friends told me that is pretty natural. My suspicion now is that he was just proving who was the boss. Whatever the cause, Coach was amazingly persistent and after about two days, Jazz seemed to just break down and the party was on. They ran, jumped, barked, yelped, and knocked things over. (They are still doing that pretty often.)

When they finally started playing I worried about someone getting hurt or about the two of them fighting. I had no idea dogs were so tough. Coach did end up with a "black" eye from an accidental whack in the face. Jazz and Coach both got nicks and scrapes in their ears. I have to remember to take collars off so no one tries to drag anybody around the back yard by the collar. (That is scary.) They will get up on their back legs and snarl at each other as if they are fighting to the death, then wander off. I have learned that when Coach starts yelping like he is being killed, Jazz has usually already walked away. I think the yelping is more like hollering "uncle" than actually being hurt. I always check though!

The next thing I worried about was jealousy. They would start fighting if they were both near me at the same time. I think I am lucky because the fights were mostly warnings from Jazz and no one ever got hurt. They always stopped if I just said, "That's enough." I have worked through that with them and can now pet or cuddle both dogs at the same time. It is such a terrific feeling to be squished between two big, fluffy dogs!

I was most surprised by how mean Jazz was to Coach. Jazz would take every single toy he could get and pile them in the yard. Then he laid down over them and snapped at Coach if the poor little guy tried to get them back. I was really disgusted by this greedy, rude behavior. I am proud to say that I was smart enough to leave them alone and see what developed. I did give Coach toys in his crate. As soon as he came out of the crate, he took the toys out and used them to lure Jazz outside to play with him. In the end, Coach would get whatever toy he really wanted, but he had to wait until Jazz let him have it. I believe this is just a natural way for them to work out the order of things between themselves. Again - no one got hurt at all.

Now that Coach is very nearly as big as Jazz, things are changing again. I left a soft crate up in the living room for Jazz. He has never used a crate at home and I don't know why I left it up. Anyway, about a month ago, Jazz started coming inside in the evening and going into the crate to sleep. I was very surprised until I watched a little more closely. Coach would not let Jazz sleep anywhere else. He pounced and yelped until I could actually see Jazz wince with each screechy bark. Sometimes Jazz gave in and played. Sometimes he came inside and got in his crate.

That is the stage we are at these days. Coach tries to coax Jazz out of the crate. Coach tries to eat the crate. Coach sometimes tries to go in after Jazz. (That tactic is a really bad idea and results in some fairly serious snapping and snarling.) If Coach gets loud enough, Jazz comes snarling out of the crate and runs him off. Sometimes, I come snarling up and run him off! Mostly I try to distract him with something else to do. He is not an easy puppy to distract!

I have learned a lot about being assertive from watching Jazz with Coach. I don't see him as mean or selfish any more. I think he is a pretty good "big brother." He doesn't put up with a lot of really out of control behavior from Coach. They still play like crazy dogs for hours on end. Coach has learned a lot about self control and being gentle from his interactions with Jazz. Jazz has remembered how to have fun and behave like a crazy puppy once in a while. I have gained confidence in myself and the dogs. I am sure that I need to keep an eye on things, but so far they interact very well.

What they do not do is cuddle with each other, or show signs that I would interpret as love or even affection. They wrestle and fight and then go to their separate corners. Except when Coach suddenly starts using his "big boy" bark in the middle of the night. Then Jazz is right there beside him in case they have a fight on their hands. Or when I brought Coach home from the vet after surgery. I couldn't stop laughing at the amazing happy dance Jazz did. He sniffed Coach and then galloped around the yard. He wriggled and jumped and even licked Coach's ears.

I think I can watch these two interact for years and continue to learn things about dogs and maybe a little something about myself. I believe I am becoming a much better trainer by watching Jazz. It's not that I really DO anything differently. It's all about attitude with dogs. Maybe it's more about attitude in general than I realized. I'll have to keep you posted on that.


  1. Is that fun!!!! I can't believe he's that big already! What happened to your tiny polar bear cub?? I'm sure Jazz loves his baby brother, well, most of the time! G

  2. Jazz and Jamie would probably like to spend a week at a puppy-free resort. Three years later, Jamie still tolerates an incredible amount of crap from his little brother (although I catch him starting it, too!). He also does the "gather up all the toys and lay on them and snarl if Phoenix comes too close." Funny boys. Two is an ideal number. Nobody gets left out.

  3. Wonderful story, Kathy. We had two male dogs for 12 years. The younger one, Donald, was probably about 6 months old when we took him in, and was too sick and weak to act like a crazy puppy. But once he was healthy, he and Mickey played and fought and worked out their relationship. Then they were buddies forever. They ate side by side, drank water at the same time from the same bowl, and were always together. Like Jazz and Coach, they didn't snuggle. We didn't know how lucky we were.

    I agree with Melinda -- two is the perfect number. Also, with dogs, multiple boys are much easier than multiple girls. (Although you couldn't tear away any of my 4 current girls from me!)