Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is it love? Or mere tolerance?

As I've written before, Lamar and Fozzie have their struggles with getting along with a healthy amount of brotherly love. Every night we have our grumpy struggles with Lamar's territory of the bedroom and Fozzie's desire to join us, and my heart aches for Lamar having to endure those sensations in his older years.


Other times, though, I wonder about how Lamar really feels about his kid foster brother. Last week we went to a gorgeous out-of-the-way spot where there was no one around, with spooky rocks, a great place for dogs to swim, and tons of sticks to chase and chew. 

Let me tell you that Lamar was once--and still is, despite his 11 years--an incredible athlete. Star frisbee catcher, champion seagull-chaser, iron-gripped stick-tugger, Olympic swimmer.

And he took off like a star after those sticks, front paws paddling strong. Of course Fozzie, thrilled with his new swimming skills that he picked up just a few weeks ago, took off right after him powered by those burly pit bull pecs of his (is that what you call them in a dog?), and grabbed those sticks right out of poor Lamar's mouth.

And I felt terrible for Lamar.


Here's an activity Lamar has always enjoyed so much, and he couldn't even have the satisfaction of bringing a stick all the way to shore because he kept getting interrupted mid-task by his bratty kid foster brother. 

Fozzie wasn't mean about it, just acting like a typical teenage kid who loves competitive sports. So we made sure we threw some for Lamar when Fozzie was occupied with a stick in deep water. And I fretted about finding Fozzie a home so Lamar can enjoy his favorite activities again. 

When they were on shore together though, I wondered if Lamar is really that miserable. Fozzie went after sticks with his usual intensity, even when they were already in Lamar's mouth, but Lamar was hardly a shrinking wallflower. There was some healthy, fun stick tug of war going on, and no scrappy tiffs broke out.

Am I worrying too much about Lamar's mental health? Can complicated interpersonal relationships be a healthy challenge for dogs, as for humans? 

Or do we owe it to our seniors to give them a peaceful retirement?


  1. I don't know if I can answer the retirement question YET (our oldest would be 7yr old Kiba right now) but I think I can explore the love vs. tolerance thing.

    I'm going to say he tolerates Fozzie. I know my shiba inu tolerate Kiba, and I know one tolerates Buckley while the other loves him. And I know they love each other. And I know Kiba just coexists and doesn't love any of them, while Buckley loves all of them :)

    It's just something about how they interact, not just that they do and it doesn't result in fighting. You know?
    The shibas are always grooming one another or cuddling. They always share between them and never ever have a tiff. Neither can do wrong by the other.
    As opposed to a shiba and Kiba, they don't spend time together voluntarily, but they do tolerate one another.

    Anyway thats what I've observed. And Lamar is a fantastic dog for being so flexible in your expectation of him. I think having a youngin' around keeps him moving and young. Probably not a bad thing!

  2. What a hard question! My childhood dog grew more and more intolerant of young dogs as she aged. By the time she was 14/15 she didn't put up with their presence at all. If a younger dog didn't take the hint and leave her alone right away, she was very clear she would follow up her growls with a bite if necessary. It may have been due to her athritis, it's hard to say. But at that point we let her set her boundaries with other dogs as much as she wanted. We had no intention of bringing another animal into our home at that point.

    Lamar seems much different though, it's hard to say. He does seem to enjoy Fozzie's presence, even if he can be irritated by him at times. Just like with human siblings, right?

  3. Tough to say - and I think anyone who's ever been in your situation has probably obsessed over it at least a little bit.

  4. I'm anxiously hanging on other commenters' responses here, because I know a time will come in 3-5 years when my Chick is your Lamar, and we have to consider the wisdom of continuing to foster to keep him young and tolerant vs letting him live out his golden years in peace. It's tough.

  5. Jen, I think you're absolutely right--it is tolerance. Lamar was just so stressed out when we had 4 dogs including our spooky white shepherd last year, so now with Fozzie I'm relieved that he's relatively happier. Doesn't mean he wouldn't like to just mellow out in his own space though!

    Kristine, that is important for me to hear...I get so wrapped up in my own monsters that I forget the perspective that lots of older dogs get testy around other dogs. Dogs' personalities change as they get older, just like humans!

    I think I'm working too hard at getting Lamar to like Fozzie, and need to just give him more space to feel what he feels!

    Tucker, that's also helpful to hear...that I'm not obsessing all alone :)

    Aleks, it's interesting to think back 3-5 years and realize that Lamar was definitely less testy toward other dogs at one point, although I'm not sure when it started shifting. And I guess it will also be a tradeoff between giving Lamar the peace I feel he wants, and continuing to try to save lives through fostering.

    That's one reason why for now I'm leaning toward short-term fostering, and volunteering at the shelter.

    Thanks for all the fantastic comments you guys! This is exactly the kind of feedback that helps me work through these thorny dog questions:)

  6. I think it's a fine balance between protecting a senior dog's dignity and letting them live life to its fullest. Our senior dog HATES getting help or even needing help, and she's always fought to be independent. Lately, though, she's realized she needs the help, and I realize how hard it is for her. I do intervene on her behalf with the younger dogs, because I don't want her getting hurt or just pushed aside. It's tough watching them get older sometimes!

  7. I think from what you've describe that if Lamar was as miserable as you think, he wouldn't engage with Fozzie at all. He wouldn't be eating or drinking, or would be having other symptoms, like showing signs of depression. If Lamar doesn't want to be bothered he'll let Fozzie know.

    Just a bit of my perspective from what you've stated.

    We had an older dog and got a puppy. He barely tolerated her, it took months of patience and coaxing for him to accept the new puppy. After that they were the best of friends and couldn't be separated.

    Sounds like they just need some time to work a few things out. And I've found from my own experience that any dogs that like to challenge or have any riff between them, when they are in the house it is worse.

  8. I struggle with this everyday. So many things Sampson used to be able to do, he doesn't anymore because of Delilah.

    She is so needy/greedy she has to have everything he has and she takes it away from him.

    I just try to do everything for Sampson first. He gets his treat before she does, he gets his meals before she does, he gets to be off-leash in the yard (she can't).

    While I love her to pieces, Sampson is my heart dog and I feel so badly that his life has changed because of her.

  9. HT, I agree! It is hard to see them struggle, but I don't know if I'm anthropomorphizing when I think that lamar is really suffering. I don't think dogs brood about things the same way we do, so maybe it's not such a psychological hardship for him as I think.

    24 Paws, I think you're right...Lamar may never adore Fozzie, but he does seem to like him at least a little :) it is good to hear your story.

    Jodi, that is very hard to watch. But it sounds like you're doing all the right things! It helps me a lot to spend individual time with each of my boys...the walks I take with Lamar alone are really special.


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