For a long time, Irène has been encouraging us to find another big dog that Spencer can go for walks with so that he gets used to just hanging with another dog and not feeling the need to jump on him constantly. This is, of course, easier said than done. You have to find someone with a similar schedule, who’s willing and able to walk at off-peak hours. You need another dog who likes the same rough-and-tumble style of play. Both parties need to be able to get to the woods, which eliminates anyone dependent on public transport. Perhaps most importantly, we needed someone who understands Spencer’s issues and who isn’t going to try to be helpful by coming too close too fast or any of the other well-meaning things people do that complicate training for us.
So we were pretty happy a couple of weeks ago when we were sitting, taking a break on a path in the woods, and a friendly German Shepherd bounded up to say hello and his mistress said hi. I responded and then exclaimed, “We know each other!” as I recognized them. We had already met Hummer (the dog) and Pascale (his human) at our local park, where the two dogs seemed to enjoy wrestling together.
I haven’t been going to the park for a bunch of reasons that I won’t get into, but they range from realizing that walking there through local traffic was stressful for Spencer to the fact that some very tolerant people were maybe getting tired of Spencer’s outbursts.
Anyway, it was a delight to see them. Pascale is really good about letting Hummer play with Spencer, but keeping a distance that Spencer is comfortable with. And Hummer and Spencer like to play. For her part, Pascale seems happy to see us because Hummer is starting to cause her problems too. He’s a rambunctious adolescent and — among other things, has developed a bad habit of barking and biting at other dogs. It starts out as play and then he kind of boils over. So for us, this is a great opportunity to teach social skills to both dogs and to feel a little less isolated ourselves.
That chance encounter went well. Hummer was loose and Spencer was on his long line, so they could play well, which they did until it was clear to me that Spencer had had enough.
The following week was a little harder. We met at the parking lot with both dogs leashed and a surprising number of people (the result of mushroom season, school holidays and a lovely autumn day.)
We revised our initial plan of walking them side by side at a distance and staggered them instead, with Pascale and Hummer in front. Every so often, they would both seem willing to come together and play, which we would allow until any misbehavior broke out. Hummer kept sniping at Spencer, so we mostly just walked in procession.
Spencer and I couldn’t stay long because he had a vet appointment: he was suffering from swelling and bleeding on his muzzle. That probably didn’t put him in a good mood for playing, because any blows to the muzzle would have been pretty painful.
This week went better. There was less barking. Spencer is clearly ambivalent about Hummer: he wants to play with him, but Hummer’s pseudo-aggressive behavior scares him. Pascale and I watch the ballet and laughed. One time, Spencer and I were gradually getting closer, with me following Spencer’s pace to make sure he’s always comfortable. Hummer suddenly turned around, stopped and stared at Spencer, who made a u-turn and headed back up the trail behind me. But he doesn’t seem to get overly stressed, and once Hummer backs off, Spencer is willing to start following again and gradually move up and attempt contact.
The day ended with a play session that really started to get out of hand. For the first time, I was nervous that Hummer was going to bite for real. Spencer tried to walk away, and Hummer kept after him. I finally inserted myself between them and confronted Hummer while Pascale came up to leash him and help separate the two dogs.
We then sat on two sides of the path talking and resting while the tension dissipated. Once we do manage to separate them, Hummer immediately ignores Spencer, so it’s not like he’s going after him in cold blood.
While Spencer and I had a cuddle, Hummer got impatient and wanted to be on his way. Pascale kept chatting with me. So, to make his point, Hummer picked up the handle of his flexi-lead and started a game of keep-away with Pascale. Look closely at the photo: Hummer’s muzzle is not that boxy: it’s the flexi-lead in his mouth.