Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dixie. Grrrrrrr

Dixie has the sweetest deep brown eyes and, when she frets, above them are a fold of red wrinkles that fall from her brow in stacks of perfect pancake shapes. Dixie is tall and lean, curious and excited. She is at oftentimes sweet, generous with kisses and an occasional gentle paw gesture.

Dixie is also aggressive and struggling to find her place in this household. Cheyenne has a scab on her ear and I have a bruise on my finger, both from an episode of Dixie exploding with anger because I dropped a green bean on the kitchen floor when I was heating leftovers on Sunday and both dogs naturally went for it.

It was not the first such event. The truth is that when she wants something that Cheyenne has or is moving towards, be it food, a stick or a toy, Dixie attacks and Dixie bites. She absolutely loses her mind and I have to use force to get her to stop, to calm her down.

The truth is that this behavior is severe and has had me struggling with what to do with Dixie.  I didn't choose her lightly and, although there are no vows between human and dog, when I got her my heart did promise to take care of her for all of her life.

Dixie is a happy dog but I'm not at all sure that she's living the best life she can. What I didn't consider is the absolute depth of struggle between elder dog and puppy, between Cheyenne's set patterns and our relationship and another living element thrown into the mix and what that life might need and deserve or how that life would struggle to find its place.  I thought it would be, if not easier, smoother.  

While the two dogs have interacted in wonderful play together at times, the past two weeks have been incredibly stressful for me and for Cheyenne, and Dixie too I suppose. If I could undo my decision to get Dixie, to drive past that moment, I honestly would do so.  But I did stop, I did choose Dixie and I will not unchoose her. I struggle because the responsibility is my own, not hers. She's young, just seven months, and it's clear to me that the aggression is a symptom of a larger struggle. What Dixie needs from me is love, understanding, patience. 

What she also needs is intensive training. While I've trained her on the leash and we've been working on the sit command, what she needs is beyond my ability.  Tomorrow morning, Dixie and I have a meeting at an organization that provides such training, over a two-week period while she's boarded at their location.  It's not an inexpensive exercise.  Over the phone, I was told that she has possession aggression.  Yeah, one could say that.  I was also told that my armchair diagnosis was likely correct, that's she's 1) young, 2) struggling to figure out her place in the order of things, and 3) in need of training beyond my ability. 

The goal is that once she receives that training, and I learn how to work with her on her lessons, that she will become a happier dog with her newfound understanding of the order in things. She deserves that happiness.  Wish us luck, won't you?



Linda@VS said...

I applaud you for your efforts to give Dixie every possible chance to fit in with your small family. More than that, though, I applaud your loyalty to Cheyenne.

When I first brought Levi home, he tormented Kadi by pouncing on her roughly, trying to make her play with him, every time they went outside. She was sick and wanted no part of it, and it broke my heart, much as I imagine Dixie's bullying of Cheyenne is breaking yours.

Levi's "training" to eliminate that behavior consisted of a few hard blasts from the water hose, but I understand that that won't work in your particular situation. I'm glad you're able to get Dixie the kind of training she needs. No doubt Cheyenne will be happy to have her out of the house for those two weeks.

Wishing you luck and hoping for the best possible outcome for all three of you.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I wondered about this when you got Dixie... the puppy / older pup combo can be hard.

Having grown up in the show dog world, my first thought is that Dixie may need way more exercise than she is getting. Tiring her out can definitely ease tensions.

The biggest secret to "dog" training is actually human training. Do you treat Cheyenne as the Alpha dog or hopefully, Beta to your Alpha? Feed her first, pet her first, give her the first cookie. You have to make it perfectly clear to Dixie that you, the provider of all things, sees Cheyenne above her. You cannot be the "I-love-you-both-equally-Mom" with dogs...

Velvet's water hose suggestion can be adapted... squirt bottles work so well inside that I've seen many dogs toe the line when their human mimic the water bottle sound after an initial round of training.

Good luck with this one! I know you will find what's best for all of you!

sdhb said...

I do wish you all the luck in the world. I've lived life with 2 dogs, one alpha (Guinness) one beta(Harp). It was a struggle those 3 years, and though we took both dogs to training, we never did fix the problems Harp had from her previous life of beatings and neglect. We've just learned to live around her problems, but I've always wished we could have helped her blend in more. Keep us posted!

Amy said...

Creek Hiker's insight into the exercise is probably 100% on point. do you have the will and energy to run that dog, every day, hard? it is a huge commitment, but the right commitment, to spend that amount of time exercising a dog. as a multiple dog owner of many years, a tired dog is a good dog. it breaks my heart that you brought this dog into the house before your old dog passed. i feel so bad for cheyenne. in her old age and decline and she is forced to be on edge and stressed out. she just wanted to be happy and relaxed. i feel bad for you, but i think you made a horrible, irrational decision.

Robin said...

Might computer won't let me email you, so I apologize...

I was a friend and reader of Carmon’s blog and I saw many of your comments there.
Carmon meant so much to me, though we never met in person. But that’s the way of the world, these days... you find you can truly love the intangible person.
Since she died I’ve visited her blog daily, out of habit and I’ve seen that you have visited often, as well.
I’ve logged in wanting to be there if Mike should write something. I wonder how he’s doing, how the animals are and I wish there were a place where I could speak to others who loved her. She left her blog with ‘approval only’ so whatever I or you have sent in the past couple of weeks... it goes into the ether....
People need a place to grieve and speak about the person they loved. I’ve created a blog, nothing remarkable... but a place where we can gather,
If you would like to have a place to go to talk about Carmon, say goodbye... whatever, the address is
Write your comments, letters, whatever and if you have a photo or anything you would like to share send it to me..... and I’ll create a post with it.
I don’t expect this to be elaborate... just a quiet space for us to share our memories and love for her... and then leave her to ride Star into a new existence.
P.S. You're the only other person I know who uses the term 'dog joy'. I mean, shouldn't that be common usage?