When to Intervene?

For some unknown reason Deuce’s guarding of certain objects, such as his precious ball, has gone up in frequency. I noticed just the other night that he began to vocalize in his typical high-pitched tone when he was lying on the couch next to me as Rio was cruising by. For the most part when this happens Rio gets the message as she slinks away or removes herself from the object diffusing the interaction. In other words, showing good doggie manners.

So the question is: When should one intervene in doggy-affairs and when should we allow them to “figure it out”? From my perspective, there are a few things to consider in order to make the correct decision. We must pay attention to what happened just before one of the dogs begins to communicate with the other that such and such thing is theirs to keep? Or, to notice what kind of resource is the coveted one and under what specific circumstances.

The second observation that I like to make is to ascertain the reaction of the dog at the receiving end of the threat. Specifically again, how is this dog responding?

Is he or she “getting the message”? Will choose to stand its ground? A potential dog fight as a result of this? Is the dog feeling emotionally “flatten”? If so, is their confidence diminishing? Since behavior never occurs in a vacuum, but instead it is always context specific looking at these details makes perfect sense.

Yes, it is also true that behavior is always in flux. I can see this so clearly when it comes to people forming habits. For example: someone watching a favorite show at dinnertime and now a new habit of eating while watching TV is born. Or hanging out with a particular person and suddenly we move on with our lives wondering why we spent so much time with this person or doing a particular activity.

I was pondering the above as Deuce growled at Rio when they were both eating their meal, which they done previously hundreds of times without incident. Now, Rio after hearing Deuce growling,  stopped eating and quietly exited the laundry room. I did not hear Deuce growl but it just took one look at Rio’s demeanor for me to realize Deuce had growled at her as she was chowing down her food.

What has changed in Deuce’s mind? Nothing seemed out of the ordinary nor have I seen any other changes in their relationship to warrant concern.

The truth is that at times the antecedents of a behavior are very obvious and sometimes they require close observation. At times too, we are not going to know what the motivation behind the behavior is- and this is the case with Deuce’s escalating his sometimes threatening display towards Rio while there are both minding their peas and eating their meals.

I decided to monitor their meals more closely to see if I could decipher what, if anything, is different for Deuce and to make sure that I had Rio’s back. So I stuck around once I lowered their food bowls and watched from the sidelines. If Deuce began to eat and they both appeared relaxed I moved on. But if this was not the case I would admonish Deuce and stick around until at least Rio was done with her meal.

A few days ago, I did hear Deuce emit a sound while they were both eating so I walked in the room and just stood behind Rio and in between both dogs. Rio was looking away from Deuce. I guess she felt my “support” because she continued to eat without missing a beat.

Deuce’s funny quirks might pass without a major incident, but it is also possible that it might escalate in which case I must re-think their eating habits.

The take-home message for me and I hope for everyone who has more than one dog (or more than one pet at home) is to constantly evaluate the status of the relationship between the pets and to be ready to make any changes so that all pets live as stress free as possible in their home. It is also much easier to keep things sailing smoothly than righting a relationship that has gone wrong.

I would argue that just like we can get into bad habits- such as eating our meals mindlessly in front of the TV, our dogs could get into behavioral patterns (are they also habits?). Of course, not all behavioral patterns are “bad” or undesirable. However, as the case might be, our jobs – as I see it, is to keep an eye  out for any change away from the “norm” and to make whatever adjustments are necessary (as easy as relocating a food-bowl or as complicated as engaging in behavior modification of some sort) so that the quality of life of the animals in our care is not compromised.