Sunday, December 5, 2010

the "Peace Accord" on the sofa

I was at a dinner party the other night with some dear friends. I was talking about dog behavior and my friend said something along the lines of "It's so interesting to see a glimpse of what humans are like by studying the behaviors of dogs" I never thought of it that way before, that maybe we can learn how to act by seeing how dogs/pack animals resolve their disputes. As I watched the progression to family harmony from the introduction of a newly neutered male dog into my home and pack with a well entrenched 10 1/2 year old neutered male dog that we have had since he was 2 years old, I started to wonder if there was some sort of metaphor/model for human harmony as well. At first it seemed like I had one frightened new dog with some residual testosterone and one old dog who's home territory was being invaded. The newcomer was frightened, , half starved-25% underweight, had been tossed around from place to place with nowhere to call home, came close to being gassed, until some nice people rescued him and set about to finding an appropriate home for him. The old dog was very comfortable in his home territory, laid claim to the upstairs, the sofa, and strategically placed dog bed next to the outside view and had a long history with his people. The new dog finally had a nice comfortable safe place to call home where conditions such as food and comfort and threat level were in his favor. I guess he started liking his new home and feeling protective of it. "See that comfortable couch that I like to lay on? It is now mine. I never had one before and you, little old dog, seem old, weak and complacent. I've had to fight for survival and now I want to ensure it, get it? so it's mine and you stay away from it" This seemed to be the conversation between my new 2 year old Aussie shepherd and my old Blue Heeler. The Heeler was like" Hey wait a minute bub, this is my home territory and has been my sofa for years, who are you to invade and claim it?" I was somewhat of the Peace keeping Mission on the sofa. I would watch as they sorted out their differences. One time I tried to coax them both onto the sofa with me as mediator but my husband said no, "don't do that , let them work it out on their own" I had one long week of daily fights. Nasty sounding fur flying but not much actual damage to either dog. I figured that the new dog needed a lot of exercise in order to calm down. He also needed to know that his food bowl would be full, and that his needs would be met. The old dog needed reassurance that he was still important, that life would improve with this invasion- he got canned food instead of dry kibble every morning. Life was changing, but hopefully it could be a win win for all involved. I would have a new walking and dog training companion, the old dog could semi retire to guard duty in the car and house and occasional nature walks. The new dog would have a warm safe fun comfortable home, meaningful work to do, and his physical need for exercise would be met.For awhile, only the new dog would get on the sofa, and shoot dirty looks at the old dog in order to keep him away. I would intervene and make sure that the old dog was treated well and got attention and comfortable accommodations. As the new dog started to relax and settle into our routine, one day about 2 months after acquiring the new dog I saw both dogs on the sofa with me of their own accord. The old dog was brave and comfortable enough with the new dog to risk the retaking of his old territory. I sat and marveled at the progress we made. Then gradually both dogs started getting comfortable with allowing the other dog to feel a part of the home to freely move on and off the choice pieces of real estate, to share the attentions of their people and their environment and live as one family. Their are still mini power struggles, working out pack positions and duty roles. It seems that time, and minimum interference on my part and both dog's needs being met and the people as moderators to ensure that violence doesn't break out, and then both dogs have somewhat their own safe territory to retreat to. The old dog can go upstairs while the new young dog is somewhat afraid of the stairs. The new dog likes the chair with three comfortable protective sides surrounding him. I'm not sure how many parallels can be drawn between dog behavior and human behavior, dog's don't seem to have the big egos like humans have and are somewhat more tolerant of their species with less attention to their lineage as in not descending into "I am an Aussie Shepherd and you are a German Shepherd, therefore we are destined to disagreement." I'm glad my friend gave me a glimpse into another way to make observations about both dog and human behavior.

* I'd written this awhile ago, and both dogs are getting along just fine now.


  1. Very interesting observations. It is always surprising how animals work out their differences and often the opposite of how one might think that they will.

    We just inadvertently adopted a starving (literally) 3 or 4 month old kitten that I found in the barn trying to eat garbage, poor little thing. Anyway, we were very worried how our huge 2 year old male cat would treat it, he is neutered...but still. It was amazing, the little cats drive to obtain food was so strong that she was actually aggressive enough towards him that he is giving her a wide birth.I think he is afraid of her, and he even bullies the dog around. The funny part is she gets along great with the dog and he with her...very strange.

  2. Hi Mr. H, nice of you to take in the starving kitten. The survival instinct is sure interesting to observe. Happy Holidays to you and your family. I bet you will have an incredible homegrown holiday feast.