Walking with Edna was not only fun, it was also a wonderful education in pack behavior. Although the base group on these walks consisted of Edna, Brandy, Max and me, it was often augmented by other humans and pets. On professional days, Katie would get dragged along with me, and Edna’s grandsons would come with her. We used to jokingly refer to these walks as forced marches, although once they were out with us, the children thoroughly enjoyed seeing the dogs play. It was certainly entertaining watching Max and Brandy. On one long ramble in the woods after a particularly heavy rainfall, the dogs were having a wonderful time, racing through creeks and splashing through puddles. However, they didn’t realize how extensive the flooding was, and when they bounded through one puddle that was usually six inches deep, they got quite a shock. They sank in over their heads and came up looking very surprised. Naturally, the children thought this was hilarious.
Edna would also occasionally dog-sit other family pets, so sometimes we would have Neisha or Misty along. Neisha belonged to Edna’s mother. She was a small black terrier cross— cross being the operative word. She had no time for Max and his high jinks, and would plod along, ignoring him and sporting a don’t-mess-with-me expression. Neisha was not overly enamored of walks in bad weather, and her body language on rainy days signified, “Is this journey really necessary?” She was a funny little dog, and very appealing in her determinedly standoffish way. Misty, who belonged to Edna’s daughter, was a different story. A black Bouvier cross, she was good-natured and timid. She wanted to be liked by the other dogs and loved to play with them, but she always held back and behaved in a self-effacing manner. Misty was quite content to be the omega female. There was no way she was going to challenge any of the others for a higher position within the group. Then, in addition to these visiting canines, there were the dogs we met regularly on the trail, such as Kelsey, a yellow shepherd cross, whose owner would occasionally join up and walk with us.
At first, Edna and I didn’t realize that Max and Brandy were forming a pack. However, it soon became apparent that the dogs saw themselves in this light. The base pack consisted of the two of them with their owners (which included Hugh and Edna’s husband, Dick), but the extended pack included the children and the visiting dogs too. The dogs created the pack order within the canine contingent. Max, the alpha male, was the leader, and Brandy, the beta female, was his lieutenant. To Edna’s amazement, Brandy, the good girl who had never shown signs of aggression, would do Max’s dirty work for him, forcing the other dogs to stay at the back of the line, while Max breezily trotted ahead like the king of the castle. Woe betide other females who tried to make friends with Max. When Kelsey caught Max’s eye and attempted to play with him, Brandy darted in and told her off royally. Max seemed to enjoy having the ladies fight over him. He stood back demurely and watched as if to say, “Did I cause that?”
Brandy didn’t ever seem too concerned about Neisha, but Neisha posed no threat since she plodded along with an attitude that exuded contempt for the goofy white male with the pointed ears. Misty was a different story. She was an affable dog who wanted to be friends, and we were amazed to see how Brandy, who played with her happily when it was just the two of them, would nip at her hind legs and force her to go to the rear when the three dogs were together. However, once Misty accepted the pack order, the three dogs would perform hilarious loops on the trails, playing Round and Round the Mulberry Bush until they all flopped down panting and exhausted. How they could tell who was the leader once they kept circling the same tree was beyond us, but I suppose, by some sort of dog psychology, they had it figured out.
The only time Max showed aggression within the pack was over food. Like an alpha male wolf, he considered it his right to eat first, and eat as much as he wanted, after which the rest of the pack could have what was left. This meant that Edna and I had to be very careful how we distributed the cookies. We always made the dogs sit well apart, because if a cookie bounced on the ground between them and Brandy went to pick it up, Max swooped in and snapped at her. She might be his special girl, but she had to know her place.
Max wanted desperately to be the leader, but he was also very anxious to socialize with other dogs. He’d run up to them, and Edna and I used to swear he was saying, “Hi, I’m Max. I’m the king. Who are you?” With friendly dogs, or even other males that just wanted to roughhouse, this was not a problem, but idiot that he was, Max was quite ready to challenge the fiercest of the species. This was a real concern, because his desire to scrap was purely a test to see who was leader and he conceded defeat very quickly if the other dog put him in his place. We used to joke that he fought by the Queensbury Rules. He’d start a fight, but the moment another dog flattened him, he lay there, tummy up and paws flapping in the air. If he could speak, he’d have been saying, “Ok, you win.” On the one hand, it was nice to know he wasn’t a vicious dog, but on the other hand, given the number of pitt bulls and rottwiellers around, this behavior pattern could very easily get him hurt. On one of our walks, Max picked up a scent and kept running ahead of us. Finally tired of his naughty antics, I was about to leash him, when a couple with a pitbull, a rottweiler and a shepherd came round the corner. Max, oblivious to the fact that he was outclassed and outnumbered, put his head down and started to growl. Fortunately I was able to grab him before he leaped in and got chewed up, but it was an alarming moment.
After that, we started to explore the lower trails in the Derby Woods and looked for alternate walks where we were less likely to run into other people. The nice weather always brought out the seasonal walkers, not to mention the pound trucks, so we had to be more wary during the summer months. We tried walking along the Brunette River, but met too many people to let the dogs loose. We also met riders on horseback and Max didn’t like them at all. I wanted to find places to let him run, but it was becoming more difficult, as he was being increasingly naughty about coming when called. He would get wind of an exciting scent in the woods and take off, and no matter how we hollered, he wouldn’t return until he decided he was ready. Once again, I realized that I was failing at training him properly. After yet another incident where he went AWOL, I went to Tisol and bought a dog whistle. Not that this would solve Max’s behavior problems, but at least I wouldn’t ruin my vocal cords trying to get him back.
My inability to control Max was causing me a lot of worry. One of my diary entries indicated I had had a “Terrible night culminating in an awful dream that Max had fallen down a ravine.” I knew I needed to get a handle on the situation, and I knew I needed help. Remembering how helpful Carson Wilson had been when dealing with Lucky, I decided to give him a call. Sure enough, Carson passed on some useful tips. He also told me that the SPCA was going to host some assessment sessions with a qualified trainer in the summer. He said he would let me know when these were to be and I could bring Max down to get advice on what sort of program we needed to get him in line. We also arranged for me to bring Max down to the shelter so that Carson could meet him and size him up. I thanked Carson profusely and rung off, feeling relieved to have at least taken the first step.
What a challenge Max was, and what a strange mixture: affectionately compliant and willfully contrary; fearfully timid and determinedly aggressive; boisterously humorous and just plain cross. If someone made him feel threatened, his wolf mask would set in an angry scowl and no amount of soothing talk would make him relax. Yet with the right people, he was the most trusting and amiable little chap. I remember taking him to the vet for treatment of an infection, and he trotted off with Dr. Zinger without so much as a whimper. When we picked him up later that day, he was so drowsy that he almost fell over when he tried to lift his leg. Still, I gather, in spite of his bleariness, that he had tried to socialize with the dog in the next cage. I can just imagine it, too: “Hi there, do you want to be friends. It’s OK as long as you know I’m boss.” Max desperately wanted friends, both human and canine, but he had such a hard time learning how to get along. This was only partly due to his difficult start in life. The other reason was that he wanted so badly to be leader of the pack.
Next: No Bad Dogs? Hmmm…..