Firstly an apology that it’s been so long since I last posted, but despite that I’m going to carry on in the same theme as the last post!
I have to admit to being somewhat flummoxed by Willow’s behaviour demonstrated today and would be happy to hear any theories from experts or amateurs to explain it. Here’s what happened…
Everyone else was out of the house all day today leaving me working from home with just Willow and Cat for company. I had to run a quick errand in town mid-morning which took me about half an hour. When I got back home Willow was pleased to see me as usual but strangely seemed very intent on getting into the kitchen, which was NOT usual. I should explain that our kitchen door is usually kept closed and there is a cat flap (minus the actual flap) cut into it so that Cat can come and go. Although Willow can get through the hole she categorically refuses to do so and has to have the door opened for her. So before I even took my coat off, and somewhat bemused by Willow’s behaviour, I opened the door and we both went into the kitchen.
My first thought was that the floor was dirtier than when I’d left and closer inspection showed that the dirt was in fact dark feathers. At the same time Willow was hassling me to go out into the garden through the back door. Again, this door has a cat flap in it (with an actual flap in this one) and, being the quirky dog that she is, Willow usually waits to be let out of the door rather than use it but if she’s outside she will quite happily come IN through the cat flap without needing the door to be opened. There is an exception to this but that’s a whole other story…
So I opened the door and out we both went into the garden where Willow made a beeline for our garden bench which has a large cover draped over it. She dove headfirst under one end of the bench and then wriggled out backwards with something in her mouth which she dropped in front of me.
It was a dead blackcap.
We get a lot of birds in our garden, mostly sparrows, starlings and wood pigeons but this was the first blackcap I’d seen for a few years and it was decidedly dead.
So, what I think must have happened (judging by previous behaviour) is that Cat had caught the bird in the garden and, as is her wont, brought it into the kitchen. Willow had seen this, got through the cat flap in the internal door and grabbed the dead bird, taken it out through the external cat flap and stashed it under the bench until I got home.
The only question is… why?
Sitting at my desk just now I heard the cat flap bang, followed by a squeak.
‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘neither of my animals make that noise.’ In fact, from past experience that noise is usually the result of Cat bringing home a still live rodent to play with so it seemed prudent to go into the kitchen and investigate. Sure enough Cat was sitting under the kitchen table, her go-to place where she takes her hunting trophies to play with. Usually there will be a small, still, furred or feathered body sitting in front of her which she will hit half-heartedly with a paw to see if it will move again (hint: it usually doesn’t).
However, this time there was nothing there. I had a quick look round to see if whatever it was had made a dash for freedom and was somewhere in the kitchen but couldn’t see anything. Then my subconscious nudged me that Willow had gone running in to the kitchen on hearing the squeak and I’d then heard the cat flap go again. Standing up, I looked out the window into the garden. Sure enough, there was Willow at the end of the garden sitting very still and watching something in front of her.
Taking my investigative skills out into the garden, I found a mouse trying very hard to burrow under a leaf on the lawn where Willow was sitting. I managed to pick it up without getting bitten for my pains and had a quick examination. There was no blood, all four limbs appeared to be intact and its eyes were open and it was breathing. It did, unsurprisingly, appear to be in deep shock. So I put it somewhere relatively safe and brought both animals inside and locked the cat flap.
I can only assume that Cat brought the mouse in and Willow promptly grabbed it and took it outside again. I admit to surprise that a) the mouse was still alive and in relatively good shape after being carried by BOTH my animals and b) that Willow didn’t tear it into bloody shreds as she’s half terrier and that’s what she’s bred for.
Here’s hoping it was that mouse’s lucky day!
One thing I have been struck by in the time that we’ve had Willow is the number of other dog owners who, whilst watching their dog playing with Willow, have said, “Oh, he/she doesn’t usually play with other dogs,” she definitely seems to bring out the playful side in her canine compatriots. This may be down to the fact that Willow is obviously on the small side but she’s also very non-threatening; I’ve also watched the way she initially ‘reads’ other dogs that we meet in the park and she seems quite tuned in to their body language. She will initiate play with a ‘play bow’ with some but just avoid the more aggressive, stand-offish ones.
I was interested then to chat to pet behaviourist, Jo Cottrell, when I picked Willow up from her first experience of doggy daycare in March. Apart from the fact that the first thing she said to me was, ‘What a cracking little dog,’ (proud owner moment), I mentioned that Willow had come from a puppy farm via a rescue charity. According to Jo, dogs from puppy farms often interact very well with other dogs but poorly with humans due to the fact that they spend their formative months with other dogs in poor conditions and have limited human contact. This may well be the case for Willow although she is a lot more relaxed around people these days.
I was also interested a little while later to read this blog about the interaction between cats and dogs. Cat is surprisingly tolerant of Willow and puts up with her ‘air nipping’ very close to her face. She obviously realises that Willow’s intent is not to hurt her but to play, even if Cat really doesn’t want to. This scenario usually ends with Cat having had enough and smacking Willow and running away. I wouldn’t say that I have ever really see them play together.
Until Monday, when I saw this:
To explain, Cat was lying in a very relaxed position in the flower bed poking her paw through the fence to Willow. Willow kept trying to put her nose through the fence to Cat and the to-ing and fro-ing of nose and paw continued for several minutes accompanied by lots of tail wagging on Willow’s part and very little on Cat’s part. Now, given that Willow can easily get over the fence and has done on numerous occasions to hassle Cat, this was definitely a bit of fun for both of them.
I have to say, I was very surprised but also very pleased at this latest turn of events. Later the same day they were back to normal with Willow hassling and Cat putting up with it, but I do think their relationship may be thawing!
Willow isn’t allowed upstairs as a rule. Mostly she’s pretty good about it but occasionally she does push her luck; when she does push her luck she does so extremely quietly – she sneaks upstairs very effectively so you can’t hear her.
Last night I was woken up at about midnight by the sound of Willow coming into our room which is pretty unusual. I assumed she was asking to go out so I got up, put a dressing gown on and went downstairs to let her out into the back garden. As we walked through to the kitchen I noticed Cat on the kitchen table. Except Cat is mostly black, not mostly white. And Cat isn’t that big. Or that fluffy.
We try and keep Cat in at night so we set the cat flap to in only – she can get in if she’s out but can’t get out again. Half of the cat flap was sitting on a kitchen chair; it certainly hadn’t been there when we went to bed. And a strange cat was on our kitchen table, panicking and trying to work out how to get out through a window, none of which were open.
He was gorgeous.
I say ‘he’ – he didn’t have the wide face of an un-neutered tom cat but he did have enormous paws so I’m guessing he was a tom. He had a lovely white coat with light grey markings and when I walked up to the table to make a fuss of him it turned out that he was also incredibly affectionate. Cat’s food is kept on the table to stop Willow eating it and he’d finished off what was in the bowl. Being a softie I topped it up with some more food – he was a bit damp and the weather had been foul all evening and into the night. He didn’t seem hungry though, more interested in getting some affection which I was happy to give, as was Husband once I got him out of bed to see what was going on. We opened the back door wide so he could leave, but he wasn’t in a hurry to go.
I would have kept him. Did I mention how gorgeous and affectionate he was?
Willow wasn’t too happy about all the fuss he was getting but every time she came close to him he growled loudly at her. She growled back but in a tone of voice that clearly said, ‘I don’t really understand what’s going on and why you’re here. I woke my folks up so they’d get rid of you, not make a fuss of you.’ Cat wisely decided to stay upstairs, letting everyone else deal with the intruder.
After about fifteen minutes or so, intruder cat realised it wasn’t raining anymore and decided to leave through the still open back door. I promptly locked the cat flap completely; I wouldn’t have minded if he came back but would have preferred it in daylight hours.
Husband and I went back to bed. Cat and Willow took a while to settle down but eventually the whole household was deeply asleep again.
“Are you a lark or an owl?” goes the question about sleeping habits. Are you up early like the lark or do you stay awake late into the night like the owl? Apparently it’s genetic but also changes throughout your life.
In this household, however, it would be more appropriate to talk about being a dog or a cat. On a typical day I will let Willow out of her crate around 6.30 whereupon she will bounce on me for a few minutes then run out into the garden and run around in circles. For the first couple of hours she’s constantly on the move until I take her out for a short morning walk after which she will nap for an hour or so and let me get on with some work. Later on in the morning she’ll be burning off energy again, asking to go out, playing and generally trying to get my attention until she gets a lunchtime walk.
Afternoons are usually calmer, at least until the children come home from school and although Willow would never turn down the opportunity for an evening walk, mostly she’s a lot quieter in the evenings. From around 8pm onwards she’s usually flaked out on the rug or quite often will take herself into her crate to doze and is quite happy to be shut up in her crate from around 9pm onwards.
Cat, on the other hand, is a whole different story. She will get up at six when I do but only because she knows that’s one of the two times of the day that I will put food in her bowl. She’ll have a quick snack and then get straight back onto our bed to sleep for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. Mid-afternoon she’ll get more food and then she’ll be out of the door and into the neighbourhood. She doesn’t have a regular routine, sometimes she’ll pop back briefly in the evening but most times she’ll stay out.
My personal opinion is that cats should be kept in at night, it’s safer for them and better for the local wildlife. In theory that’s what we try to do but Cat doesn’t always co-operate. If she does happen to come home after about 7pm I will lock the cat flap shut. However, particularly in the summer she often doesn’t come home before we go to bed and rolls in around three or four in the morning. Husband has suggested that her waking him up at this time by patting his face is the equivalent of the drunk coming home to say, “I really really love you…” before crashing out.
So, are my animals typical? Are yours the same? Do you crate your dog and keep your cat in at night? I’d like to know how they compare.
Incidentally, according to the RSPB, both owl and lark populations have decreased over the last few decades. Skylark populations, the UK’s most common breed of lark, have decreased by two-thirds in the last thirty years and consequently have been flagged up as being as high conservational concern.
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!