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How The Hen House Turns: Dog Psychology

on April 13, 2019 - 8:31pm
DeeDee and Scooter. Courtesy photo
Formerly of Los Alamos
All the doges we adopted were more or less normal. They liked people--made eye-contact from their shelter domain and got along reasonably well with other dogs in our various neighborhoods.
Here in California we’ve been dog-sitting for our neighbor down the hall, while they attend a family reunion in England. The dog is sitting in his bed beside my living room chair, awaiting his morning walk around the Sequoioas’ campus and up the hill or down the trail along Sausal Pond--a delightful wildlife area right on the San Andreas fault.
Turtles in the pond don’t seem to worry about the fault. They come out on sunny days to their raft. There they can watch the giant blue and white herons fishing on the far shore. Our friend’s dog loves to walk the Suasal Pond trail, and I’ve “convinced” him that “Poison Oak” is not good for snacking.
He also loves people--anyone. He looks for attention from everyone we encounter, but he goes into attack mode whenever we meet another dog being walked, regardless of its size.
He attacks with serious intent, snarling and pulling at the leash, ready to do bodily harm--and he is only one foot high and has few teeth.
We have decided that he was probably on his own for a while and survived by being aggressive to other stray dogs in the San Francisco area. The owners don’t know his history. They adopted him from a place here in the Bay Area that specializes in older dogs for older people. He’s probably a chihuahua or terrior mix. He weighs about 10 pounds, but he can trot along faster than I can walk.
All the other dogs we have owned--Boots (my childhood through high school in Hayward, Calif.)--Skates (with husband Don at the University of Wisconsin graduate school)--Poncho (for our kids in Los Alamos)--and DeeDee and Scooter (fire rescue puppies for our retirement).--all were shepherd mixes. All enjoyed the company of other dogs, regardless of size or breed. My impression is that most dogs welcome the company of other dogs.
One day, Poncho, as a puppy, eagerly ran to make friends with the coyote that came by our back fence. The coyote was on his way past, setting off a lot of barking. But whatever he communicated to Poncho was not polite, for after a nose-to-nose meeting through the fence, the pup hurried back up the hill with his tail tucked way underneath his shivering body.
I had hopes that our neighbor’s dog here in the Bay Area hills might respond to my “no” command when he attacked other dogs, but I haven’t had any luck. He is too focused on viciously going after what seems to be a friendly canine. I’m afraid that he’s too convinced of his need to attack in order to survive.
My conclusion? Dogs are individuals persons. Like us, they have a history and a brain that can retain deep fears, invent modes of survival, and become warped by those demands. With time and patience, I believe they can be healed by the loving care of human beings, but it could take a good deal of patience.