Monday, February 11, 2008

Can we all just get along?

This painting reminds me of Kobi when she's sleeping peacefully at my feet. She really is a sweet, endearing beast when she's all drowsy and affectionate. I love to see her dreaming. She does the chasing rabbits bit, but she also still nurses sometimes in her sleep. That's adorable.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to train her to sleep 24 hours a day, and whenever she's awake there's a good chance all hell will break loose. I've already detailed her phobias, panic attacks and hypervigilance, but the thing that really gets to me is her sibling rivalry with Pearl, our other spayed bitch. Kobi is absolutely certain she is the boss of Pearl, but Pearl is not so sure, and therein lies the problem. Dogs are happy fascists, and any lack of clarity in the hierarchy of power leads to unhappiness--which in this case takes the form of fierce squabbling in which fur flies and (occasionally) blood is shed. Pearl, being slightly smaller and considerably saner, does most of the bleeding.

Yesterday afternoon I brought both girls in to feed them, just as I always do. They had been outside in the cold all day, so I filled their bowls with extra kibble and some treats they like. I headed back to my computer to work, certain that they would both sack out shortly, but no. Pearl committed some offense to the social order, some faux pas only dogs can discern, and Kobi jumped her furiously. By the time it was over one of Pearl's ears and both of her front legs were bloody, and Kobi was panting as if she were about to have a heart attack. I was thinking about running away from home.

Dog experts are always quick to say that such sibling rivalry is the owner's fault. Misguided humans supposedly fail to respect the dominant dog's status, thereby making her insecure and anxious to assert her authority. Dumb people also encourage the beta dog to be uppity, further provoking boss dog. All of which makes perfect sense--in theory. In real life, Dave and I have worked pretty hard to let Kobi run her canine crew without interference, and she still feels the need to hammer her sister. (For the record, she hammers Nio, too, but he never fights back, so things don't escalate. In any case, he's nearly twice her size, and I don't worry that she'll do him any serious damage.)

A good friend who has a whole slew of rescued dogs that get along beautifully tells me the secret is for me to assert my authority. If I fulfill my role as boss of bosses, everything will calm down. She recommends the "flip and hold" approach, where you put the aggressor on her back and hold her until she stops resisting. Again, this seems like sound advice, except that it doesn't work. I did it with both girl dogs in response to their puppy aggression toward me, and they have never, ever challenged me as adults. But my authority counts for exactly nothing in their canine disputes.

For the present, I've got the two girls sequestered in different parts of the house. (Nio is outside, having resumed his status as porch dog. That's a whole other story.) I really am concerned that Kobi might seriously hurt Pearl one of these days. I wonder whether some of Kobi's insanity is related to her epilepsy. There's no question she's somewhat improperly wired, but I just can't tell exactly where misbehavior ends and pathology begins. My vet is terrific, but so far hasn't had much help to offer.

Dog experts with novel advice should feel free to chime in here. I'll try anything, almost. And let me know if I can come crash with you when I run away from home. I promise not to bring my dog.

Dog Lying in the Snow, Franz Marc, 1910-11. Image via Wikimedia Commons.


Anonymous said...

Our dogs love each other, though I can claim no responsibility for their compatibility. One is big and male; the other is small and female. No doubt to the delight of James Dobson, the big male dog is dominant when they're in the yard, and the small female dog assumes dominant status indoors. They worked out this division of authority on their own, and I have no reason to question it.

They do, however, have a joint bad habit of jumping on cars in the driveway, and barking too energetially at the girls high-school track team jogging by the house every afternoon. They also tear up any packages left by UPS on our stoop. So I bought something at PetSmart which, when pressed, emits a sound they find horrible but which I can't hear. If they're doing something annoying and won't stop when I tell them to, I press the button, and then they stop. Maybe Kobi and Pearl would stop, too.

Anonymous said...

Oh baby, I know more than you do. Poor dogs, poor Maria!

BitterGrace said...

Sympathy much appreciated, Leo ;-)

Margaret, I have one of those evil sound thingies, and Kobi hates it. I use it sometimes when she gets out of control with the barking. I've never thought of using it for the fights, probably because I don't keep it handy enough to grab in time. I am definitely going to give it a try. Pearl won't respond--she's pretty much deaf--but Kobi might well take notice. Thanks.

chayaruchama said...

I'm sorry for all of you-
It would break my heart.

BitterGrace said...

What do you do when your kids fight, Chaya? ;-)

The two girls spent las night in the same room without any violent episodes. And I broke up a stand-off this morning with the evil noise wand.

Anonymous said...

I meant to say I know no more than you do - sheesh!

BitterGrace said...

Oh, I knew what you meant, Leo ;-)