A few months ago I watched two of my dogs get into the world’s most avoidable fight.
Dog fights are always terrifying, in my limited experience. There is a lot of noise and drama, and it’s hard to tell how serious it is, and it’s even harder to get the dogs apart once they are in it.
I watched the fight in question unfold in the moment, and if I really think about it, I watched it unfold over two years. Our old medium-sized dog had been “training” our young extra-large dog in his rules of the house, which mostly (but not entirely) line up with our rules of the house. This was our first experience with this kind of age difference (9 years) and our first experience with a puppy, and we were torn between putting a stop to it and trusting that Old Dog knew more that we did about dog behavior.
So there were warning signs. And in the moment, the fight went something like this: both dogs showed up at the gate at the same time. Old Dog said “back off” and Young Dog did – immediately. Old Dog followed after him and said “And STAY there!” Young Dog said “Stop talking to me about it.” Old Dog said “No back talk from you.” Young Dog paused for a few seconds and then said “I don’t have to take this from you ANY MORE!” and then he lunged.
An almost silent dog fight, in which one extra-large Young Dog has his jaws clamped around the neck of one medium-sized Old Dog who is on his back crying, is even more terrifying than a sound and fury dog fight, it turns out. There are any number of ways not to break up a dog fight and I tried most of them. By the time I remembered to grab the back legs of Young Dog, Old Dog was in need of a good few staples, a drainage tube, and a couple weeks of antibiotics.
Everyone is fine now. I have a PhD in “now we know how not to do that,” and we now manage our dogs differently in many ways.
It’s the unfolding of the world’s most avoidable fight that I keep coming back to. And what I come back to most is that I have not only watched that fight, I have been in it. I’ve never actually throttled anyone with my teeth, or been throttled, but verbally, I have been in that fight.
You know those times you feel your blood pressure rising, and you can hear the thing you are about to say, and you know you shouldn’t say it, and you pause – but then you say it anyway? That fight. The one if you could stand outside of you could see where one of you just can’t let it go and the other one of you just can’t turn around and walk away, and next thing you know, you’re trying to figure out how to put the pieces back together? That fight.
Sometimes I am Old Dog: “Don’t you walk away when I am talking to you!”
Sometimes I am Young Dog: “I do NOT have to take this from YOU!”
What do we do with the dogs? Separate them when they obviously aren’t in the mood for each other. Pay a lot more attention to their body language and distract or deflect or remove them from the situation. Give them time alone to do things they like to do. Recognize that they don’t like to do the same things all the time. Notice (and act on) that they like to have one on one snuggle time with their people.
It’s like all those things that people tell you to do to find balance in your relationships work on people too. Damn it. I HATE that.
Like most lessons in life, I hate the way I learned this one. I wish it had been easier on me, and on the dogs. I realize that the dogs probably forgot about it as soon as it was over, and that how to shake things off and walk away would not be the worst thing for me to learn from them.
Luckily I have them to remind me, every day, that if you get to hang out with your favorite buddy and can play together and work together, it doesn’t matter if you fight sometimes. The fact that you are together is enough.