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!
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!
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.