Max’s behavior didn’t improve over the next few weeks, so I was very glad I had arranged an assessment at the SPCA. He was showing more dominance all the time, whining if he had to wait for his walk, and demanding his dinner by staring me in the eye and licking his lips. He had begun trying to mount Brandy instead of playing with her nicely, although he would give up when she turned on him and told him off. He also was taking to nipping Katie if she annoyed him, and since she wouldn’t leave him alone, this was a big worry. His possessiveness over food was becoming an issue too. He was thrilled when there was a thump on the porch and it turned out to be Dr. Ballard samples, but instead of eating all the kibbles, he would take the odd one and try to bury it in a corner. He actually ended up with a bald patch on his nose from all that rubbing against the carpet! Then, when I bought him a giant cookie from Tisol, he worshipped it for some time before he decided to eat it. Knowing how he snapped at Brandy if she tried to get his cookies, I didn’t want him having hidey-holes full of treats for some unwary person to stumble over and trigger an incident. I needed to be as vigilant as a Green Beret in the jungle. Where were the traps? Who was initiating an action? No wonder I was a nervous wreck!
Max’s pack attitude was also becoming firmly entrenched, and with it, a heightened degree of aggression. Our good friends, Josie and Dennis came to visit one day along with their dogs, Bobo and Sally, both of whom were females. Max was very excited to have these visitors, and it was love at first sight. After lunch we went for a walk with the dogs. Max was in clover, with his entourage of two pretty and doting females. However, when other dogs appeared on the trail, it was another story. He became snappish and aggressive. Bobo and Sally were his personal harem, and he was ready to fight off any other males that tried to invade his territory. And, unfortunately, male dogs were not the only triggers that set him off. I was also having to be selective about the people I introduced Max to. I could not allow anyone to pat him unless the atmosphere was relaxed and I could see that he wanted to be friends. His early experiences had made him fearful of big men, and unless they had a laid-back manner, he perceived them as the enemy. However, he could be as affectionate as a puppy as long as he didn’t feel threatened. On one of our excursions to the Arts Centre, he made friends with Dennis Nokoney, the affable administrator who had been hired as Burnaby’s Arts Director. Max behaved perfectly when introduced to Dennis, and then waited patiently while we reminisced about Artscape and what progress had been made since the festival. He could be good when he wanted to be, but I had to read his mood and act accordingly.
Although Max presented a challenge when there were other people and pets around, he was a great companion when he was home with me. The weather was warm when we were preparing for our first paid puppet-show gig, so I worked downstairs in the glass room below the deck. While I painted scenery, Max was happy to lie on the cool cement at my feet. He didn’t seem bothered that, occasionally, I managed to paint bits of his fur as well. He’d amble in and out, sometimes going to play with the tether ball that Hugh had rigged in the garden, sometimes just finding a spot in the shade. Max was quite interested in the puppets, and, to our relief, didn’t seem to consider them chew toys. One day, Nick, our friendly technician, called to ask if Max could eat 12 cans of dog food by Saturday. Nick had found the perfect tins for our lights, but was reluctant to waste the dog food. Max dutifully switched from healthy kibbles to canned food for a week, the lights were made, and the show went on to great success. We received our very first honorarium, which the girls were delighted to share. Max was not yet Max, the Ho Hum Husky, but he had made his first contribution to the puppet company.
The approach of summer brought Max a new skill. With the hot weather upon us, Max started to become more adventurous about going in the water. Katie was taking tap classes at the Burnaby Arts Centre, so Max had regular walks around Deer Lake, where he loved to bound through the long grass and paddle in the streams. On the far shore of the lake, I would stop and throw sticks into the water. The first time I did this, Max leaped in with such enthusiasm that he sank his stick. Then he turned and dog-paddled furiously for shore, riding very low in the water and looking utterly panic-stricken. He still hadn’t mastered keeping his nose above the waterline and he inhaled a lot of lake on those early attempts. Gradually, though, he gained confidence and began to like the water. Finally, when we never thought he’d manage to swim properly, he figured out how to keep his head up and breathe as he swam. After that, you couldn’t hold him back. He would glide around the lake like a stately battleship, head up, paws dog-paddling with the steady rhythm of a paddlewheel, and tail daintily poised just above the waterline. Not that he was always that sedate. We took the girls down to the park one evening so that they could see Max swim. As I walked through the bush on the far side of the lake, the girls raced ahead with Max. Suddenly I heard a loud quack followed by a noisy splash. Max had found a more exciting incentive than wood for his dip. He came up soaked and covered in mud, but I swear there was a big grin on his wolf-like face.
A change in the household rules came about with the hot weather, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, it was a change that was going to help with Max’s training. Hugh had insisted that Max sleep downstairs, even though I had wanted to have him in the bedroom with us. But with the advent of the excruciating heat, Hugh broke down and let Max sleep upstairs on the deck that adjoined our bedroom. Since we were leaving the door open to keep our room cool, I was amused to see that Max was always curled up at the foot of the bed by morning. After the hot spell, the precedent had been set. Subsequent diary entries say: “Max sleeping upstairs again as it’s very hot,” or, “Max tucked up beside our bed at night. He’s getting naughty about sneaking up at bedtime, which is fine with me. We’ll get Hugh trained yet.” Gradually, the habit was set, and when we finally began formal training, I was tickled pink to be told that, yes, Max should sleep in our bedroom, because this demonstrated the perfect lesson as to who was boss. The people were in the bed, but the dog was on the floor! Without realizing it, I was actually doing something right. Things were starting to look up.
Next: School Starts!