Thursday, February 07, 2008

Old dogs, new tricks, and hadeda birds

I usually park in the drive way, so the doggies don’t realize I have arrived home from a jaunt until they hear the garage door motor grind to life. And, ordinarily, they wait until they actually see me before they start their chorus of greetings. It was with great surprise…and a secret soupçon of pleasure…that I heard their little barky voices as soon as the garage door began its torturous journey upwards.

My joy, however, was short-lived. I stepped out onto the patio not to the expected milling of little doggie bodies milling about my ankles, but to the sight of all three of them milling about a hadeda bird they had managed to surround on top of the pool cover!

I enticed them away with the magic word. “Goodies!” I warbled. “Who wants a goodie?”

Six big brown eyes turned instantly in my direction, twelve little doggie legs churned madly off the pool cover and onto the patio, all making an eager beeline directly in my direction. The bird staggered around the patio cover for a few moments, then folded her ruffled wing feathers neatly against her body and then slowly, with great dignity, stalked her way off the pool cover, onto the lawn, and around the corner of the house where the little pack of goodie-snarfing wolf-descendants could no long see her.

Biggie-dog, the Foxy, had a harder time relinquishing her hunting instincts than the little white Maltese fluff balls. She dithered a couple of times at the ironwork that surrounds the patio, taking a step back towards the pool, but the lure of goodies is strong. She could see me standing at the kitchen door, my customary spot for dispensing dog treats, where the other two little miscreants were already bouncing up and down, loudly demanding their promised boon. Eventually the certainty of the treat won out over the potential fun of continuing to torment the bird and she, too, squeezed herself between the iron bars and presented herself at the kitchen door for the dog biscuit.

Treats in hand, I led the dogs through the house and out into the front courtyard and, once they were unable to return to the back garden and resume harassing the bird, gave them the promised treats. Checking through my bedroom window a few minutes later, I could see the bird indignantly striding back and forth across the lawn, occasionally stopping to twitch a ruffled feather into place with her long dark beak, her continued aggravation obvious. It wasn’t until she considered herself sufficiently presentable to rejoin her brethren that she powerfully flapped those long wings and, with a raucous cry, lifted off for less dangerous pastures.

Biggie-dog has been having difficulty integrating with the others and we have begun to grow concerned. At 14, she’s always been an “only dog,” and while she is friendly to other dogs, really has had no real experience in the group interactions and sharing that is part of being a multi-dog household. We do not allow our dogs to fight…aggression between them is swiftly and soundly discouraged…but you cannot force acceptance on them. At night, when there is just one large bed for the three of them, Biggie-dog often barks for us to come out and force the other two to let her into the bed, and if she gets up in the night for a drink of water or a pee break, the other two will spread out and growl at her on her return, prompting her to make that single yark, repeated incessantly, that brings us out to silence the growls from the Maltese Mafia.

But yesterday I saw them working together in a remarkably well orchestrated show of cooperation, as if their differences had been laid aside in order to pursue a common goal. Old dogs can learn new tricks after all!

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