i once told a story about the sacred relationship i have with my dog, charley. if the good lawd ever gave me a proper guardian angel, it would be this some sort of aussie/spitz/healer mix. i am her person. she is my dog. and so it has been since may 2004. end of story.
at least, that was the end of the story until h and i moved in together. she has a dachshund/aussie mix (i’m not kidding) named lucy. though she has no legs, she is still very much an alpha bitch. [read: serious napoleon complex.] charley, too, is a very alpha bitch. the two came to blows many times during their first year living together. lucy would end up with a bloody ear and wounded ego. charley won every time. when our boy dogs, moe and clem, entered the picture, a proper pack was established. charley was, by far, the leader of that pack, submissive only to h and me. the bloody fights ceased.
in the beginning, as we were establishing just how to go about living every day with a newborn, charley’s routines were severely messed with. gone were the frequent walks, the snuggles, the acknowledgement of her existence. when she was acknowledged, it was to be told to move, or go outside, or stop licking my hands and feet already. and then there was this squawking baby, who smelled like me, but wasn’t me. wtf was that thing? also, there was a steady stream of people coming into her house.
charley does not do well with transitions, and i know this has a lot to do with her life before me, when she was left alone all the time, chained to a pole, and tormented by neighborhood kids. when we pack for a trip, she worries. when we pack to move, she really worries. she becomes tense and insecure. and here was all this change, all at once.
charley and lucy had one smackdown fight, when jude was a few weeks old. they worked out their balance soon after, but i was hormonal and a new mama bear, and i was SO angry with charley for awhile. i know she sensed this.
fast forward several months. charley mellowed out considerably, and found her place in our bigger pack. she accepted jude as my puppy, or at least as an extension of me. as jude became more mobile, charley deferred to her when she approached. she simply stayed out of the way.
and then, jude began to walk. no longer was she this crawling, squalling, little creature. suddenly, she stood eye level with charley, and was intensely interested in her. though both h and i were relentless about showing jude how to properly approach, pet, and not sit on dogs, we began to experience harrowing split seconds when jude would dive for charley without warning, and instead of nervously trotting off, charley began to stand her ground. and then she began to growl nervously when jude approached, though she never bared her teeth or snapped at her.
[a little backstory: a couple years ago, h’s rough and tumble nephew, age 4, ran up to charley and kicked her hard in the ribs with cowboy boots. charley immediately retaliated by knocking him down and pinning him to the ground by his shirt. she could have easily bitten him, but she did not. she subdued him like a pup out of line.]
i didn’t know what to do, but when i smelled a threat to my baby, the balance of loyalty tipped mightily toward jude. and so h and i began to talk about the very real possibility that we’d have to rehome charley. but who would want a 6 year old, extremely alpha dog, who would undoubtedly revert to all her old unhealthy habits when ripped away from her pack? i put feelers out, sought advice from friends who’d faced similar situations, and began to work with jude and charley together.
though i’d made it a point from the beginning to introduce jude as a pack leader (i love you, cesar), i started working with charley and jude together to put jude’s dominance into practice. i began by teaching jude how to sign “sit” to charley, and i would let her make the command while holding her high above charley. charley acquiesced quickly to this. and then i set jude down to stand next to charley and tell her to sit. this worked too. several times a day, i would make charley roll on her back in submission while holding jude.
one day, something must have clicked for charley. she simply approached jude as she does me–with deference and affection–and licked her hand. we allowed jude to pet charley on the head, on the back, and then the ears and finally the snout. charley appeared a little nervous, but was submissive. since that day, charley has shown nothing but loyalty to jude.
h & i remain vigilantly watchful of jude’s interactions with charley, but charley has learned to relax. she has taken to guarding jude as she guards me. when jude is being danger baby, charley groans audibly from across the room, so that we will pay attention. she kisses jude’s toes and allows jude to pat her over and over.
once again, i trust my guardian angel.
in honor of uncle g’s birthday today (happy berfday! i love you! let’s have some whiskey!), here is an old photo of him with charley, who will continue to be my dog.