Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Puppy in the Prince's Court

Baxter isn't quite sure what to make of Kirby. I think it's dawning on Baxter that Kirby is sticking around, and little by little he's getting used to the idea. At the moment, both are sacked-out under my desk, Baxter on the right and the puppy on the left. Peace. This is a relatively new development, however.

Baxter's first reaction to Kirby was "if I ignore him, maybe he'll go away." This has worked well for Baxter when we've had the occasional dog visitor in our home. If the puppy touched him or approached him, he'd just get up and walk away with a rather annoyed expression on his face. After a bit, when it was apparent that the little tike wasn't going anywhere, Baxter's look got a bit more hang-dog. He would acknowledge the puppy, (hard to avoid a determined puppy when he's jumping at your snout), but he wouldn't really interact. He looked kind of mopey. We'd play with Baxter, throwing a toy and having him chase it. But Kirby chased right along, and whenever Kirby jumped up at the toy, Bax just dropped it and walked away to lay down, looking up at us with his expressive, light brown eyes as if to say "when is this going to be over?"

We were concerned about introducing a new puppy into our home, where Baxter has been the only dog for more than seven years. I have a tendency to assign human emotions to Baxter, which I know at an intellectual level, is not right. But Baxter's hang-dog reaction had me feeling particularly guilty. Baxter is my little dog prince, and he always will be. He is such a gentle soul by nature, it was hard to see him so overwhelmed by this confident, playful, tenacious puppy (definitely some terrier in there somewhere). We wanted Baxter to feel like he has a higher rank in the pack than the puppy, after all, he was here first. But whether it's because the puppy is still intact or because the puppy has a slightly more dominant personality, Baxter seemed to be having a hard time figuring out who was in charge.

The dog behavior and training books we've read all say that when you introduce a puppy, you need to let the dogs sort out the pack order and never punish the older dog for being dominant. If anything, you should support that, otherwise the puppy will get a false sense of confidence and the big dog will get bent out of shape and that's a recipe for tears. But how much do we broker the relationship? At what point should we step in?

Yesterday we went out and bought the puppy a collar, a new crate (Baxter's old crate was far too big) and a couple of toys: a chew-bone for Baxter and a puppy teething toy that looked like an oversized keyring with colored keys dangling from it for Kirby. Baxter showed no interest whatsoever in his bone, but immediately loved the keys and proceeded to take them to chew on. Of course, the puppy thought this was a fun game and tried to get the keys back. At first Bax just stood there with the keys dangling from his mouth and the puppy jumping up to grab them. Then he did a low growl, which we'd only heard him do a couple of times with the pup. Finally, when Bax was laying down to chew and the puppy boldly barged right in to take the keys (which had worked with every other toy so far), Baxter bared his teeth and let out a growl that made everybody's hair stand on end. The puppy immediately rolled over on his back, like any self-respecting puppy would. Then Bax, suddenly realizing he may have done something wrong, looked at my husband (the Alpha male in Baxter's worldview) and me to see if he was going to get punished. When the Alphas (who were rooting for Baxter to stick up for himself) clearly didn't mind, Baxter got a whole new sense of confidence. The transformation was so fast, I almost worried he'd go overboard the other way.

Today, when some friends came over to see the puppy, Bax and Kirby had a second playful interaction, and this time it took on an even more significant tone. Kirby has been steadily building confidence over the past two days and now has no qualms about running right up to Baxter and jumping on him. Today the puppy started doing his little play-bows and running in circles around Baxter, jumping on him (as if to say "tag") and then running away. Of course, Baxter used to do this mercilessly to the older dogs at the dog park when he was a pup...but the tables were turned. Suddenly, Baxter had had enough and decided to join in the play, but this time the gloves were off.

At first it was pretty hilarious, because the puppy is so quick he managed to evade Baxter's moves. But the play got a little too rambunctious and when Bax finally caught him, we got the impression that Baxter didn't realize his own strength. Concerned for the puppy's welfare, we called a truce (without punishing anyone), calmed everybody down and peace was established once again. After that little event, Baxter seemed somehow more satisfied that he'd established his seniority. Since then, Baxter's been letting the puppy walk up to him when he's laying down without getting up to walk away. And Bax seems more content to have the puppy follow him around. So now they're both sleeping peacefully under my desk.

This is going to be an interesting process. Baxter is a pretty trustworthy guy, and I don't think he'd ever deliberately harm the puppy. But he doesn't realize just how big he is. And, like any terrier-type, I don't think Kirby realizes just how small he is. So I think close supervision will be the rule until Kirby's size more closely matches his personality.

No comments: