We lost a good friend this weekend… a member of the family. She was a pretty girl who was as loving as she was stubborn. In the end, it was the stubborn that got her. But I suppose we all have our faults, don’t we?
Cricket loved her family, of this I have no doubt. She loved having her belly rubbed, as most dogs do, her ears were silky soft, and she had eyes that you couldn’t help but smile at. For those of you who have followed me for a while, you may recall that Bella and Cricket have had a long history of getting into dominance fights. It got so bad last year that they had three bad fights in three months, and we were so afraid for Cricket’s safety that we actually tried to find another home for her. The problem was that even though she was half Bella’s size, she was the one who kept pushing for dominance, which resulted in increasingly severe fights between the girls.
When MBH found a description of our problem in a book about dog behavior therapy, we found out that we had unwittingly been the cause of those fights. We had two dogs of the same sex whom we treated equally. We treated them like children.
Here’s a word of warning, people. Dogs don’t think the same way we do. Deep in our minds, we know that they are pack animals, and that they adopt us as members of the pack. But all too often, we don’t know what this really means. We call ourselves alphas, without understanding that this implies a ranking system.
The book explained that you can’t treat all dogs equally. If you don’t establish which dog is dominant in the pack, they will often try to figure it out for themselves. And the way they do that is by fighting.
We began a recommended training regimen, putting ourselves above them by not allowing them on the furniture, and not allowing ourselves to get on the floor with them. Some of the fights had occurred when we were sitting on the floor with them, or when one of them was on the furniture with us. According to the information we read, this encouraged them to think of themselves as our equals. We refused to pet them when they nudged our hands (and this one was really tough) because it meant that they were initiating the affection, in essence telling us what to do.
We stopped petting them at all unless they first “earned” the affection by sitting, laying down, or in some other way doing as they were told. This taught them that good behavior was rewarded.
And for the safety of the whole pack, we had to choose one dog to be dominant over the other. Since it was painfully obvious that Bella could kill Cricket if it came down to it, we picked Bella as “top dog”. We fed Bella first, let her go to bed first, walked her in front of Cricket… even showed Bella affection first. It was hard not to think of the new regimen as “cold” or “mean”, but dogs are more comfortable with an established pecking order. And while it was difficult not to love on the cute little girl when she looked up at you with those eyes, we had to realize that the reason we did it was to keep her from picking fights that she couldn’t win.
And it seemed to work. Their last fight was almost a year ago… until this weekend.
We got complacent. They had behaved so well for so long that we felt it was under control. When Cricket got a “hot spot” on her tail and flank, we could tell she was hurting some, so we felt sorry for her. When I saw her on the couch, instead of a stern scolding, I shooed her off with a voice that was almost apologetic. When we doctored her hot spot, we once again treated her like we would a sick child, comforting her and showing her affection without always doing the same for Bella.
We weren’t in the room when the fight started this time, so we don’t know for sure which dog started it. All we know is that it started on the furniture, where neither of them was supposed to be. Even if we had seen it start, that doesn’t necessarily mean we would know what really happened. There are unspoken cues between animals that we humans simply don’t have the capacity to understand. At one point last year, I thought Bella was the one starting the fights. I later realized that Bella was silently being challenged by Cricket, when the smaller dog would claim Bella’s bed as her own, or in some other subtle way try to assert dominance on her larger packmate.
So perhaps Cricket was on the couch, challenging Bella. Or maybe Bella was trying to assert her dominance over Cricket, and so attacked Cricket. What we do know is that Cricket has always been the more aggressive of the two. Bella has always been our marshmallow with people, even refusing to bite either of us in the midst of their fighting when we’re trying to break them up.
Not so with Cricket. When she started fighting, she would tear into anything or anyone within reach of her teeth, and I have the scars to prove it. Like I said, we all have our faults. Whatever the reason, they got into it again, and this time she was wounded too severely. The vet told us she might live, but that she was unlikely to fully recover. She also warned us that the fights were likely going to continue to get progressively worse. In the end, we had to make the hard decision.
So we loved on her the way she always wanted, and we cried as she left us. Hell, I’m crying now as I write this. But we got several good years with her. I’ll try to concentrate on that.
The irony now is that Bella keeps going through the house, as if looking for Cricket. She’s still limping a little – she didn’t get out unscathed, by any means. But she doesn’t give the impression that she’s stalking an enemy. I’ve heard it said that dogs don’t hold grudges for most things, and I think for Bella that must be true. I don’t know if I’m just putting my thoughts into her actions, but to me it looks like she’s wondering where her pack mate has gone. She goes from room to room, and afterward she’ll come find me and lay down on the floor where she can keep an eye on me.
Yeah, we’re going through a rough patch here at the Brackett household. So I mean this with all my heart… love your family, love your pack. Not just in a way that makes you feel good, but in whatever way they actually need.
And stay safe.
Here’s the way I’ll remember her. (Our Girls Playing 20161016_091056)