There are times that I wish I had a better grasp of animal psychology to understand what was going on inside their heads. This is never more true than when it comes to watching the interactions between Willow and Cat.
As I have mentioned before, Willow just wants to play a lot of the time and she extends this playfulness to Cat, seeing her as a substitute dog. If Cat walks into the room Willow will run up to her, tail wagging nineteen to the dozen and ‘bounce’ her in the way that dogs do to initiate play. Her forelegs go down, her bum goes up and then she bounces away and back again, there may also be barking. As we have wooden floors it can be quite amusing to watch as Willow’s paws scrabble all over the place with no grip. Cat, faced with a very excited and happy dog usually sits down and bats at her with a paw, generally without her claws extended. Willow is obviously saying ‘Play with me,’ and Cat is replying, ‘No, get lost,’ but at the same time she will put up with it rather than immediately leaving. Eventually, however, she does get fed up with the attention and walks away with Willow skittering around her as she does so until Cat breaks into a run. I’m hoping sooner or later Cat will realise that running is an invitation to be chased, an invitation that Willow can’t refuse. Cat usually ends the game by running upstairs or jumping onto a table where Willow can’t reach her, although that doesn’t stop her trying.
Rarely, however, does Cat appear to be stressed by all this attention. Once she’s safely out of reach she’s quite happy to sit and watch Willow. There are times when Willow will be curled up in her basket and Cat will come up to her and touch noses and have a good smell of her while she’s being quiet. It is rare in any of their interventions that Cat will arch her back, fluff up and hiss, although she has done it occasionally. If all else fails Willow is not allowed upstairs in the house so Cat always has somewhere to retreat to for some peace and quiet.
There is one game that they can play very happily together. We have an internal cat flap in the door between the kitchen and the living room. The game where Willow sticks her head through the cat flap and gets smacked by Cat sitting on the other side can keep them both happily occupied for long stretches of time!
Firstly, apologies that I haven’t posted for a while, I’ve been running to keep still with lots going on recently.
In the meantime, however, Willow has been to two obedience classes run by Pets in Practise. She was a little overwhelmed at the first class by all the other dogs, all of whom were much bigger than her and having not done puppy classes she was at a slight disadvantage but managed not to disgrace herself. It had helped that we had taught her a few basics beforehand and certainly by the second class she was a lot happier and even made friends with one of the other dogs.
Having learnt ‘sit’, ‘lie down’ and ‘leave’ before the classes started, she has now added ‘stay’, ‘paw’ and ‘high five’ to her vocabulary; we’ve also started doing some targeting work and getting her to go through a hoop. She’s obviously quite bright and picks new tricks up fairly quickly although using frankfurters to bribe/teach her obviously goes a long way to help! She is also a lot better at coming back to the ‘Come!’ command when she’s off the lead and again frankfurters had a lot to do with this, but she’s not completely reliable and if there is someone interesting nearby or, better still, a dog anywhere in the vicinity that might play with her she suddenly becomes very deaf. In Willow’s world there is NOTHING more exciting and interesting than another dog who might possibly play with her.
The setback we’ve had is with toilet training. She was partly house trained when we got her and we were continuing to work on it but all of a sudden she started messing and peeing in the house and refusing to go outside in the garden at all. Being of a nervous disposition and wary of anything new or unusual, I think she must have been scared by something when she was in the garden. This could have been a noise coming from nearby, the sound of a dog barking in one of the neighbouring houses or possibly even an interesting scent – we have had foxes in the garden in the past. Whatever it was, the result was a lot more cleaning required in the house. Over the last few days we’ve made a concerted effort to go outside with her as much as possible to show her that there is nothing to be scared of and every time she does her business in the garden she gets a lot of praise for it. So far she’s still not 100% reliable but she is getting better.
We’ve got another four training sessions to go with Pets in Practice and I’m confident that she will keep doing well. As she’s a bright dog I think it will be good for her to keep learning new tricks to stop her from getting bored. So if you have any suggestions for useful tricks for her to learn please feel free to let me know! One I certainly need to look into is teaching her to wipe her feet on the doormat when she comes through the door.
When I spoke to Willow’s foster mum before we collected her I asked what toys we should buy for her, only to be told, ‘She doesn’t really play.’ The first few days seemed to bear this out but then I realised that she became a different dog when she was let out into the garden – racing around like a mad thing, tail wagging furiously so I decided to try her with a tennis ball.
The first time I threw the ball Willow just watched. I didn’t realise that Cat was nearby, however, also watching, so I tried again. This time when I threw the ball, Cat ran after it and Willow, following her terrier instincts, promptly chased Cat who retreated up to a safe height to watch from the shed roof. That was all it took, the next time I threw the ball Willow chased it and retrieved it and gave it a good chew. I’m not sure it does her canine credibility any good to have to be taught how to chase balls by a cat…
After a couple of days we were playing with the ball and I noticed Cat was sitting on the shed roof watching. The next time I threw the ball and Willow retrieved it, Cat ran up the garden after Willow. When Willow realised what was happening she dropped the ball and turned round to Cat who promptly ran up the nearest tree. Unfortunately for Cat the nearest tree happened to be a very small tree and she only got about three feet above the ground. There was a brief pause while Cat held on to the tree looking down at Willow who was sat patiently on the ground next to her. Needing to get out of her current undignified position, Cat promptly let go of the tree and jumped down. Straight on top of Willow. Using Willow as a springboard Cat shot across the garden and up onto the fence on the other side, followed closely behind by Willow. She then sat on the fence for the next little while watching Willow and I resume our game of fetch.
Willow is very good about having the ball taken away from her to throw again. Several times now we have taken her out to a local playing field so that she has lots of space to run around in and chase the ball. The field is popular with local dog owners and often there are other dogs there. After her initial distrust of other dogs, Willow has now decided that she loves to a) run and b) play and will try and encourage any other dog nearby to play chase with her. If there’s a tennis ball involved as well then that’s even better. Luckily all the dogs that we have met so far have been friendly and only too happy to oblige her requests for play. For a small dog she has quite a turn of speed on her and can keep up with the bigger dogs. It’s great to see her out running around and enjoying herself so much.
Willow has come a long way in the last couple of weeks but more on that in another post. In the meantime we all learned a salutary lesson in the run-up to Christmas.
There is no doubt that Willow is a very sweet-natured dog. A lot of terriers like to play tug of war games with their toys, you can’t do this with Willow because as soon as you grab something she’s got she just lets go; if she’s chewing on anything, she lets you take it away from her without a murmur. She has a very gentle nature, however, we discovered that she does have a growl and a snarl in her.
The first surprise we had was when Daughter had a friend round to play. Willow had met the friend before and was quite happy and friendly around her, as she is around any people who come to the house. Having been playing upstairs the girls came downstairs where Willow was sitting by my feet. Immediately Willow started growling and snarling at the girls, it seemed totally out of the blue until I realised that both girls had liberally doused themselves in body spray. Unfortunately dogs can’t help acting on Impulse, it would seem. It didn’t matter what the girls did, Willow obviously didn’t like the smell and kept growling any time the girls were near. Luckily the friend had to go home soon after this and Daughter went upstairs and had a wash and everything was fine after that.
Then a couple of days before Christmas we were all sat watching a film on TV one evening. Willow had stretched out on the floor by the sofa and was fast asleep, in fact she was very deeply asleep. Son was sitting near her and got up to get something from the kitchen which woke Willow up but in doing so she went from deeply asleep to a little ball of growling snarling and snapping dog. It took us all by surprise and Son was taken aback that it was all directed at him. She calmed down relatively quickly and was rather subdued afterwards but we were all very aware of what could have happened if Son had been a much younger child. It was a very salutary lesson indeed.
Having done some research on the web, I can only conclude that it was a fear reaction caused by Willow going from sound asleep to suddenly awake and disoriented. She has not repeated the episode since then and as a family we have been very careful to wake her by calling her name if she is asleep and we need to wake her. She does not appear to have slept quite that deeply since but it is something that we are all very aware of. Thankfully it has not damaged the relationship between Son and Willow as he is aware of what caused it and it has been a useful lesson for him too. However, for the first time in my life I fully understand the old adage to let sleeping dogs lie.
Many thanks to Phill for the lovely photo.