Friday, April 20, 2007

Baxter's in Charge, Mostly

For months now, Baxter has patiently endured the puppy's tireless romping, chomping and wrestling. Sometimes Baxter will play along, getting down on the floor to even-out the playing field. Sometimes Baxter will have enough of it and flip Kirby over and pin him to the floor with a growl. Kirby sometimes takes this as a clue to lay off. Sometimes.

I have to say, Baxter is pretty lenient with Kirby, and it's really not doing Kirby any favors. For example, when Kirby tries to take a toy Baxter is playing with, Baxter usually lets him take it without a fight (there's the occasional growling threat, but Kirby usually prevails with persistence). If Baxter's eating and Kirby decides to try to eat or drink out of Baxter's bowls instead of his own, Baxter usually lets him do so without a fuss.

For months now I have figured that somehow, in Baxter's mind, he was thinking that Kirby outranked him. Or perhaps it's just been a courtesy to the puppy. I don't know. But of late, I'm noticing that Baxter is holding his own a bit more. Baxter is instigating more of the wrestling matches and backyard chases. Sometimes Bax just doesn't let Kirby take his toy. The other night, when Kirby started eating Baxter's food, Baxter went over and started eating Kirby's food, which threw Kirby for a loop. He just didn't know what to do.

As far as I can tell, two things happened that have really started to change things around.

1) Kirby has reached a level of maturity that signals he's no longer a puppy. This means the top-dog position is fairly up for grabs and the gloves come off. The signs: It seems like Kirby has stopped growing (height wise, anyway). While he's still playful, Kirby now has an air of dogness about him. He's a bit more clued-in to what's going on around him. A bit less flighty, a bit more savvy. Baxter senses this, I think.

2) Baxter's finally getting the message that he is special. I read a quote from Jane Smiley in a recent Sunset magazine where she talked about her relationships with horses :

"The nice thing about horses is that you don't have to hide the fact that you love them in different ways. They're not like kids."

I think this is also true for dogs. There's a definite hierarchy in dog society and it's perfectly OK to love dogs in different ways. Kirby is cute and spunky and charming and I love his quirky little personality. But I love Baxter differently. Baxter stole my heart the moment I met him and I've been smitten ever since. He's just special. I don't know how else to put it. People who know Baxter usually agree with me on this point, and to know him is to love him.

Last weekend I took Baxter for a long walk by himself, the way we used to before Kirby came along. That was truly special for both of us, and it's something I haven't done enough during the cold, dark winter mornings when I tend to opt for a trip to the gym. By the time the sun comes up, it's time for me to be at work, so the dogs get a short walk together. (If I don't get my exercise in the morning, I seldom manage to extract myself from work until it's dark again).

Anyway, last weekend there was a spring in Baxter's step I haven't seen in a while. It was like old times. We visited all his favorite spots, met some of his dog friends along the way and came home feeling re-energized for the day. Baxter was the lord of the manor once again, and he made that clear to Kirby in no uncertain terms.

Kirby seems to be taking it in stride. He still tries to get wrestling matches going, but he's more likely to back-off when Baxter gives him a firm "no." And Baxter, once he's decided to prove something to Kirby, is the one who doesn't want to back-off.

The struggle for the #3 and #4 slots in the family pack may go on for life, but one thing is clear: Kirby no longer gets extra credit for being a puppy.

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