Thursday, October 13, 2011

On Meeting Maggie

Maggie was born in the suburbs of Massachusetts. She's blond, beautiful and comes from a great family. She has never missed a meal, always slept in a warm bed and has always known love. She's a bit of an airhead but exceedingly social and friendly to everyone. Maggie is our neighbor's Golden Retriever.

Bella is not a Golden Retriever. In fact, she's kind of the anti-Golden Retriever: she's not especially friendly, is afraid of people and insanely smart but she does love to play with other (non-threatening) dogs. She didn't learn her manners in a classroom - she learned survival skills on the streets of Puerto Rico which, sad to say, isn't about to win an award as the most dog-friendly place in the universe.

When Bella Met Maggie

Knowing that Bella "loves to play with other puppies", and being friends with our neighbors, we knew the dogs would have to meet and hoped they might even become friends. I have to give our neighbors credit for not moving out of town after the dogs' first meeting.

It went something like this:
Bella and Maggie, on-leash, spy each other from across the yards.
      They're aware...
                            and maybe a little confused...

Maggie: Wait, who's that? She didn't live there before, did she? What happened to that old yellow guy I used to run circles around?

Bella: Wait, who's that? What's she doing in my territory? Is she friendly
or is she going to try to beat me up and steal my food?

Bella had only learned about leashes when she came to live with us. Prior to that, she was always free to approach and retreat at her choosing. Her reactivity to meeting Maggie on-leash should have been anticipated. Suffice it to say, it was not.

So the dogs approach, there appears to be interest, enthusiasm and then.... Bella goes ballistic. Hrumph. It really wasn't that bad, she did what lots of dogs do: she barked, she growled, she tried to run away, she tried to charge. No blood was spilt.

But it was back to the starting line to try again another day. (I'm pretty sure Ron and Gail were almost as afraid of Bella as she was of them. Maggie seemed rather oblivious to the snarling dog in front of her: "So are we gonna play or what?" Did I mention she's a bit of an airhead?)

Second Chances

We continued to hope that the dogs would overcome their differences (ok, that Bella would stop being such a b* - oops, sorry, this is a family-friendly blog...) and allowed them to continue to see each other closing the distance slowly over time. And one day it finally happened.

Much to my dismay, I was not at home for the encounter, but Jan sent this along via email:

"I took Bella out for a walk when I got home from the gym. Ron was out walking Maggie at the same time and, since both dogs were straining to get to the other one, I walked over.

The meeting went well. Bella was still a bit scared but definitely interested. Growling was kept to a minimum. The dogs got nose to nose several times (both being cautious in the process).

Bella also tried to play with Maggie -- darting around and putting her front paws down as she does when we are playing in the bedroom. Unfortunately, Maggie didn't quite know what to make of what Bella was doing. That didn't seem to deter Bella. She is a little bundle of energy when she gets going.

Maggie was quite well behaved during the meeting. Ron told her to sit and she did. I think we have to change our impression of Maggie somewhat." (Maybe she's not such an airhead after all...)

Falling In and Out of Love

The meeting went so well, in fact, that we set up an actual playdate a few days later. Over the winter, when the dogs started showing signs of 'cabin fever', playdates became regularly scheduled events and in time, they played for at least a little while every day. Parents on both sides of the fence basked in the serenity of tired dogs.

A falling out last year (between the dogs, not the neighbors) has seen the daily playdates come to an end, as perhaps these things do when puppies turn into dogs, but we are certain we can walk the dogs together at a local track if the human schedules ever align again. With winter approaching though, it may even be time to remember the dogs sorted their differences out the first time and are likely capable of doing so again if their people would just get out of their way and let it happen.

So what do you think? Are Bella and Maggie destined to live their lives looking longingly over the hedge wishing for days gone by or "can this marriage be saved"? Do your dogs have any BFFs that don't live in the same house with them? Do they always get along or have there been spats and how was the relationship 'post-spat'? Did you do something to repair the relationship or did the dogs work it out themselves? Let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks!


  1. That's interesting!  Sometimes at the dog park, one of the doggie owners will say to their doggie, "there's your girlfriend" and he'll run right over to the incoming female dog.  I wonder if they ever don't get along.  I am going to have to watch this phenomenon!  

  2. Hi Finn! Thanks for stopping by.

    Bella actually has a boyfriend, too. She has snarked at him in the past as well but a) his parents understand that dogs snark and b) he does, too. :)

    Interesting to consider how gender, parents and temperament all play into how dogs develop relationships and how those relationships continue to develop.

  3. Gus is naturally jealous of any dog, male or female, that has Bella's attention.  In a more serious thought, Gus treats housemate Molly very different than he treats Bella.  Maybe he knows that Bella would not put up with the repeated frisbee poke to the head.  And we think that Molly is the dominate dog of the two between her and Gus.....

  4. Why did Bella and Maggie fall out, Leslie?  Depending on why, it's possible they will make peace.  Dogs can often sort out their differences if we give them a chance, but it isn't easy for us to not interfere.  I hope things work out for them, but if they don't Bella still has Gus:)

    Frankie has quite a few dogs (male and female) who adore him.  He's a bit of a ratbag in that he'll only acknowledge and play with them if it suits him.  Which probably just adds to his charisma!  Beryl isn't one for playing with other dogs unless they're Greyhounds, or she feels like brutalising Frankie.  

  5. Hi Cindy,

    Gus and Bella make a good pair because he's 'sensitive' to her.  When she snarks at him, he backs off (does he do that with Molly?), which is all Bella is really asking most dogs for.  I don't know why he's so smitten with her when she's so crabby to him but I'm so grateful that he is.  (He made it possible for her to enjoy the dog park back in the day. :)

  6. LOL - poor Frankie. ;)  I can understand why all the dogs love him.  

    The falling out is actually rather complicated and has many factors (including another neighbor's dog that Bella is afraid of) but the gist of it is: Bella and Maggie were playing on long-lines, they got tangled, Maggie's hu-dad reached over Bella to untangle her and Bella snapped (not at hu-dad) at Maggie. (Bella is afraid of people and Ron, Maggie's hu-dad, has never been able to pet her - she runs away.  This time, she couldn't.)

    No one was hurt - Maggie has a considerable coat so even if Bella had connected (she didn't), she wouldn't have gotten skin.  But Maggie's parents aren't used to having dogs stink at each other and they got frightened Bella was going to hurt Maggie.  I don't blame them at all, really I don't.  But I do think that their fear is adding to the complex mix.  (They're afraid, Maggie gets afraid, Bella senses all sorts of tension and she gets frightened...round and round and round we go...)

    There's probably a whole post involved in sorting out what happened and why but that's the 'short' of it.  I think it's fixable but I think we may have to get the neighbor's daughter to handle Maggie - she has no fear to broadcast down the leash. :)

  7. And even time of day can have an effect. 

  8. On-leash greetings are particularly difficult to manage. And, of course, that's the way our dogs meet each other most of the time.

    Having had a reactive dog in the past, I learned that intervening when we saw the first signs of tension was key. Not by pulling on a leash or physically interfering but by making happy sounds and running away to get the dogs to focus more on me and less on each other. 

    Don't sweat it too much. A kerfuffle between dogs isn't such a big deal (I'm saying this mostly for myself; it makes me a nervous wreck). And if your neighbors and Maggie are willing to set up another play date, I'd say go for it.

  9. Hi Pamela - thanks. I really, really like the suggestion of transferring the focus.  I can usually see when things are going to turn south and, like most training programs suggest, we head the other way but if I could just change the focus, she could still be in the presence of the other dog while still cutting the tension.  Great idea, thanks!

    I'm getting better at emotionally handling the "kerfuffles" (love that word!!), but I do feel it's always a set-back for Bella when they happen so best to avoid them if possible.  As for B&M, we're looking to recruit the neighbor's daughter for the next interaction (she's fearless!! ;)  So this is just another blog-post waiting to happen. :)

  10. Funny you should mention that because we found out Bella is hypothyroid which, as I know from having it myself, can send hormones into all sorts of fits based on how levels fluctuate throughout the day. Good point for us to remember as a result though.