Our neighbors have befriended a big, orange, semi-stray cat whom they have named Julius. I call him a semi-stray because we think the cat actually does belong to one of the other neighbors who just never bothers to feed it or let it in the house. So our cat-loving friends have put out a little basket with blankets and regular food and water for a number of months now.
One of Julius' favorite hang-outs is the top of a rock wall around the outside of our friends' yard. Baxter and I (and now Kirby too) pass this rock wall nearly every day as we go for our walks, and on nice days we often find Julius sunning himself up there. Baxter knows this, so every time we get within eye-shot of the wall, he goes into cat hunting mode -- pulling anxiously on the leash, ears up (as far as they can go) and eyes and nose scanning the area for any sign of feline presence.
Today the rain clouds gave way to a sunbreak and we decided to seize the moment for a short walk on the local greenway trail. My husband took Kirby, I took Baxter and off we went. Our friends were out working in the yard and Baxter anxiously pulled toward them. Suddenly, as if Baxter's wish had come true, there appeared Julius, regally sauntering along the top of the rock wall. Of course, Baxter locked-in on the cat immediately and froze in place, trembling in a near-perfect pointing position as we stood there chatting with our friends.
Kirby seemed pretty clueless about it all until one of our friends picked up the cat. Baxter sat down immediately, as if he had been given a command (maybe he thought if he behaved well they would give him the cat...?) and Kirby, finally realizing there was another living creature there, started to bark.
It struck me yet again how our two dogs take such very different approaches to novel situations. When Baxter encounters something new he immediately locks onto it, goes silent and freezes, watching intently as he tries to figure out what it is. As long as the object of his gaze stands still, Baxter will stand still. If it moves, Baxter might take action: stealthily approach and investigate, walk away or, in the case of cats, lunge and scare the cat away.
Kirby's first reaction to something new is quite the opposite. When something new appears in his field of vision, be it a cat or a person wearing a funny hat or whatever, Kirby immediately starts to bark. I imagine him saying "Hey, I don't know what you are or what you're doing here, but I want you to know that even though I may be little, I'm tough, so don't even think about crossing me, you hear?!" He then usually jumps back and hides behind my legs. Bark first, figure it out later.
In today's case, the Julius was unimpressed by Kirby's bravado. The cat is about the same size as Kirby and Julius knows he could take him. At this point, Kirby doesn't even know it's a cat. But Kirby knows he is a force to be reckoned with...or at least that he's safe when he hides behind our legs.