You Are My Sunshine...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ten Months and Counting

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Ten Months and Counting

A few days ago, February 21, Benny turned ten months old.  Anyone who has raised a puppy, and particularly a Malamute puppy, knows that this is the period of challenge, the age where a young Malamute who has an eye to being top dog is going to start taking on all comers to test and eventually establish his status. It is also the age, someone told me, where the testosterone levels in an un-neutered pup peak.

Benny, for being a gentle soul, is no exception.  Being neutered of course takes the testosterone escalation out of the equation, but it does nothing to diminish the burgeoning  independence typical of the breed, nor the sense of hierarchy and the imperative for  Malamutes of  being clear about your place in it.  It is therefore with great relief and happiness that I report that even though Nico can no longer drag Benny around the yard by the scruff of his neck if Benny doesn't want to be dragged, Benny still frequently, and apparently happily acquiesces to Nico's idea of play, obliging him with the appearance of compliance. Nico, for his part, has grasped  that when Benny really doesn't want to go down,  its not time for that kind of play.  More significantly, Nico does not force him, which means it really is mostly about play, and not overbearing dominance.  

Our boys have been sleeping together  in the yard every night for about three weeks without incident.  We started leaving them alone up there after dark when we saw the play was stopping and they were settling into quiet mode. They went to bed together and, it would appear, in the morning they still respected each other.

This is an important marker for us:  previously in the evenings Nico would push Benny hard to play. But  Benny's efforts were half-hearted. He showed all the signs of a pup ready for bed while Nico would become increasingly more frantic and overexcited.  On three occasions we heard Benny squeal and rushed to pull him out.  Clearly no one was having fun anymore.  Taking Benny out at this point reminded Nico that lack of restraint meant being alone in the yard. His behavior after every one of these incidents consistently showed us that he got the connection.  Meanwhile, Benny grew stronger, more mature, and we watched for a pattern. I discovered that if  instead of taking them for a walk in the late afternoon just before dark, I just let them run in the yard together, both dogs enjoyed the play and then they settled for the night.  So I quit the late afternoon walk and soon they were spending every night together.

Sometimes at night when the animals come out of the woods and start prowling close enough to the yard for Nico to notice, he starts running. He gets very agitated; this is when he is most unstable. One night I heard growl and snarl and rushed up to the yard in my red flannel night gown and big green ugly boots to get Benny out.  That set us back:  Nico's still a nervous dog, and can be highly territorial about his safe places. When something comes near that he cannot actually get at he goes into high defensive gear. This is an aggressive mode and anything that's in his way is likely to get hit.  After this incident I said to Rick, maybe we just can't leave them together at night.

Nico on Intruder Alert

And yet, when I tried to take Benny to his kennel the next couple of evenings, he ran back into the yard every time.  The message was clear: nice big yard up here, two dog houses: Why can't I stay there like Nico does?  So we tried again.  A couple of nights passed without incident. Then one night  I heard Nico running again, panting, barking, even growling.  I went to the back door and looked for Benny. Nowhere in sight. He is mostly a black dog, and it was a dark night, but  I knew he must be up there somewhere.  I walked up to the gate and then he came out of his dog house towards me. Nico left off running to come and join in the greeting. 

Now that's a smart puppy: it only had to happen once, getting jumped by Nico in high stress mode, and Benny learned to stay out of Nico's way when he's running.  Rather than join in when Nico is clearly focussed on something outside the yard, Benny just lies down in his dog house.  Relax, Benny says. Nico's not interested in attacking me. He just needs some space. 

So our boys are doing alright  indeed. Better than alright.  They're a pretty devoted pair. The "play" appears ferocious sometimes, but when I step in to intervene both dogs look up at me as if to say, "What?" and then as soon as I step away pick up where they left off.  Benny is a few pounds heavier than Nico now, taller, bigger in frame.  Benny will likely always defer to Nico. Nico is older, wiser, and quite frankly, it's more important to him.  Benny just wants to have fun.

Yes: Benny does like to have fun.  So does Nico. Nico will be five this spring: he  really is quite grown up, and does try very hard to be sensible. But his inner puppy is never very far beneath the surface. On walks  Nico will behave quite sedately, ignoring Benny's overtures.  Then, he looks him right in the eye. The twinkle is unmistakable, and it's on:  jump and roll and laugh when the humans trying to untangle leashes and get us back on the trail.

How fast do you think Rick can run in the deep snow Nico?
I don't know Benny, but its more fun if you take them by surprise.
Look calm, get ready, now GO!

In the house the behavior is similar.  Nico truly is a fun loving dog who will always want to play and he does find Benny  irresistable.   More than that:  Benny is a playmate who is not afraid of him. Benny likes the same kinds of games as he does, and plays them just as hard.  Next to being rescued and coming here  to live with Thunder who taught him that life can be good to a dog, Benny is the best thing that ever happened to Nico. Sure they have their moments, these boys: we will continue to be vigilant, and intervene when the intensity escalates beyond what we are comfortable with. But over and over again Benny shows, as he grows up, that he can deal with Nico using his intelligence and his steadiness,  not his teeth.  He is just what Nico needs. In turn, Nico pushes Benny  to be strong, fit and always on the ball, if not chasing it.  Ten months, ten years, a lifetime: Its pretty old fashioned to count sleeping together as the marker of an enduring  relationship, but we are ready to celebrate.

We have to just lie here.
Mum says no playing in the house Benny.

This isn't  play.
I'm just telling him  a secret. 

What? We weren't doing anything?

On the other hand, if we fuss enough in the house
they will take us for a walk!