“No, Teddy. No. Bad dog!”
“I’m sorry I ate Bear’s food, Martha,” says the mini-Aussie after being punished for purloining a bowl of food that was meant for Bear a giant breed dog, his big sister, his friend. And Bear? Thinks she’s being punished, too. She comes toward me, her right lip curled in her particular facial expression of submission.
“It’s all-right, Bear, but if you don’t guard your dish, Teddy WILL eat it and he doesn’t need it.” She dips her head. Until she senses that happiness is restored between Teddy and me, she won’t relax. She also knows I’m not really angry. It’s about disciplining the puppy.
I feed her and she eats. Teddy stares at her bowl, completely unfazed by his recent “negative experience.” He’ll eat Bear’s food again if he gets the chance.
Dogs and food. One of my huskies was killed over the crust of a ham sandwich that fell on the kitchen floor. It happened in seconds. My year old Labrador retriever knocked out Cheyenne’s canine tooth and slit open her throat. It was the saddest interval in my years of living with dogs. Another sad event happened over food, too. Reina, my Aussie some time back, got in a fight with Lily, another husky, while I was teaching. I came home to a Lily who needed surgery and a Reina who was sorry, but had to be rehomed. She lives with a friend of mine, and she’s STILL sorry, and I still love her. Bear is neither of those dogs. She will GIVE Teddy her food.
Dogs act out in a moment. Perceived scarcity can set them off. “She has what I don’t.” “There’s only ONE crust of a ham sandwich. I’ll starve if I don’t eat it.” Humans are no different. I see the great divide in this country as being based on one group reacting against what they perceive as scarcity.
I know we’re not supposed to ascribe human motives to animals, but from my point of view, we’re animals and ascribing emotion-based motives to us or to them is likely to be correct.
Bear is NOT going to fight Teddy for food. She WOULD fight an enemy to protect him (and me). My huskies preferred not to fight, but they could be pushed and if they were pushed, there were two levels. One was a simple dominance thing that looked bad but never led to serious injuries.
My male husky — Cody O’Dog — was extremely intelligent and fierce in this way. He couldn’t abide Dusty (a male dog who was “there first”) and he never liked or trusted the Evil X. He and Dusty had a few tussles and they each came away with bites on the back legs, nothing serious. As for what he would have done to the Evil X? I don’t know but it might have been ugly.
The next level for dogs is fighting to the death, and no one expected a Labrador retriever to be a killer — but she was. Everyone would have expected my husky/wolf hybrid to have an amped up level of ferocity — and she did. She was a murderous beast. But, other than her breeding, she’d also been used a breeding bitch, had known hunger and her loyalty to me was absolute, intense. She hated it when I was not there and would act out. She never made friends with her “pack mates.” I was her pack, her whole world.
There’s that “pack mentality” thing, and maybe dogs have such a mentality, but to differing degrees. Siberian huskies absolutely do NOT like living as only dogs, but Bear, an Akbash, a livestock guardian dog, is an essentially solitary being as are all her breed, bred to spend long periods of time out in the middle of nowhere watching sheep. She needs “alone time.” I think of the Basque sheepherders of Montana who, with their sheep-wagon and their dogs, also live months at a time in the high country without any other people around. Could everyone do that? Why am I here instead of in some big city?
I suspect we humans are also made up of different intrinsic “breeds.” No, I’m not making a pitch for eugenics. I just suspect that nature and nurture can work together to make a husky/wolf mix human or an opportunistic, loving, grateful little guy like Teddy or a gentle, humorous, protective being like Bear. Certain nationalities are renowned for certain traits — the little fighting Irishman? That was my dad and, uh, uh, uh…
Innate intelligence seems also to be a factor in this diversity. Bear is unlike any other dog I’ve owned. Her intelligence (part of her breeding as a livestock guardian dog) leads her to be gentle, very patient and “kind.” She shows enthusiasm and curiosity, but training her to do “tricks” (which Teddy thrives on) is a challenge. A trick I’ve taught them is to go “down” on the count of three. “One, two, three,” and Teddy goes down. Bear goes down on “One.” Not only does Teddy go down on “three,” he will not go down on “One, two, five” or “One, two, seven, twenty-three, forty-one, three.” It has to be “Three” in the right place. Teddy wants the treat but somewhere in his mind the procedure must be executed correctly. He’s a law and order guy except when it comes to filching food.
Meanwhile, Bear tries again and again (smirking inside?) or chills on the floor beside him, knowing a treat is coming sooner or later. Which dog is smarter? Bear is a lot more pragmatic. Teddy seems to have “book smarts.”
BUT…Bear has never known hunger. I think Teddy has. When I adopted him, he was skin and bones. He was found tied up in front of a 7-Eleven. How long had he been wandering? How long before someone caught him? His collar was too small — it could have been a while. When my friend Lois was walking him, he was always looking back, worried that I wasn’t there. Why?
Teddy fetches, puts the ball in my hand, and returns with it, prancing like a puppy. He loves it when the ball is difficult to retrieve so he can solve a problem and return to me with great pomp and circumstance. Meanwhile, Bear leans against me, a little jealous but basically knowing that Teddy’s tricks are irrelevant in the grand scheme of scaring off cougars and bears.
I think all this can be extrapolated to people. While dogs are dogs, and people are people, there’s the thread of animal nature weaving through all of us.
“No, Teddy. No. Bad dog!”