Friday, December 2, 2011

Unhappy scrappies

Now that the blood has been cleaned up off the bathroom floor, the scars have mostly healed, and Fozzie and Sandy are playing and romping about happily together again, I think I have enough perspective on the whole thing to tell the story of Fozzie and Sandy's recent not-so-playful interactions. 

One recent night I took the three dogs for a walk, as I had been doing uneventfully, and turned around sooner than usual as I was in a bit of a hurry. Fozzie and Sandy, frustrated by the inability to continue on their sniffing way, proceeded to attack their respective leashes with a vengeance, which vengeance they then transferred to each other. 

A harrowing several minutes later, my voice hoarse from screaming and with the help of two neighbors, we were able to extricate a slippery, blood-soaked Sandy from a trembling, huffing Fozzie and walk them up the hill to my house (I wasn't sure how best to thank them, but those neighbors got a care package with some organic soaps, energy bars, and sparkling beverages the next day). 

From the way they had gone at each other, I was sure there would be some hideous damage. But when I got them into the house and got Sandy into the bathroom, I was amazed to find that things weren't too bad. Some nasty lacerations and punctures around her neck, and a little chunk missing from her ear. Fozzie, as you might expect after a tall dog has a tiff with a short dog, had some decent gashes on his front legs. Nothing that couldn't be treated with some hydrogen peroxide, bacitracin, and hot compresses. 

This was actually the second of two tiffs between these two. A few nights earlier they had laid into each other when they were both on the bed and a bone was nearby, and a day later they got into it in the backyard over a stick. 

It was terrible to see two dogs I love hurting each other. I felt like the worst foster person in the world for not being more careful and protecting them from harm. But I did learn some things that will help me be a better foster person in the future, and will help me place these dogs into the right homes. 

I learned that dogs, just like humans, hold grudges. That just like humans, a fight makes another fight more likely, at least for some time until the tension resolves.

I also learned that Sandy, while she is generally well-disposed toward other dogs, has a tenacity that makes her difficult to extricate once her arousal crosses the line.

My real worry is that through having these experiences, Sandy learned to fear and be reactive toward other dogs in a way that she didn't know before. If I could have been a better foster parent, she may have had this predisposition but might never have learned this way of being.

Fozzie, I don't worry about so much. He's 2 1/2 years old, he's been snarled at by Lamar for the past two years, and seems not to have changed one bit--in either direction--in his responses to other dogs. 

I worry about the long-term consequences of not being able to give my foster dogs the best, most protected experience possible.  

But the reality for these dogs is that I am the foster person available to them at this time. And although these experiences were some of the worst I've had in a while, I didn't consider finding them another foster home or placing them in boarding (although I have redoubled my efforts to look for their forever homes). Though at times it fills me with stress, anxiety, and regret to have such high-maintenance foster pups, most of the time it is still rewarding to have around these complex little beings and to figure out how to do better by them while keeping myself sane.

The good news is that they are back to playing and romping and chewing on each other happily. I am interrupting the antics when they start to get louder and more intense, but the glee with which they greet each other seems to have returned to what it was. 

I so admire that resilience, that deep-seated good nature in these dogs. 
This is the scene on the sofa next to me as I write, less
than a week after the scrappies
Keeping their play at a more mellow level is surprisingly easy. When I interrupt them, they look at me with what looks like relief--like they're glad for the assistance in avoiding another painful altercation.

I realized a long time ago that the threshold at which I stop being completely calm and able to juggle things comfortably is two dogs, and if I take on more than that I will inevitably not have enough time or attention left over to do every little thing by the book every minute. 

But as I've thought with every foster dog and think now, being cared for imperfectly for several months is better than being dead. And I'm glad these two are alive, imperfections and all.


  1. I truly appreciate your honesty in writing about this. I can't imagine anyone who has multiple dogs (a pack) would feel that this was caused by something you did "wrong." You are doing a wonderful thing by fostering and loving, plus you know that we're all in a constant process of learning and then being surprised (and delighted) when there is always something new to learn. I'm sure you'll get some good comments from folks who have more experience in this area. I just want to say "thank you" for sharing. I'm going to check back and see what other comments you get because with 3 pups I'm always interested in how to keep my pack "balanced" and in a good mental place.

  2. We have the occasional fights here too. Even when two dogs LOVE each other, fights sometimes happen. The one thing that we never do anymore is let bones lay around. If one dog gets a bone or kong, they all get one & if one dog is not finished when the others are, that dog gets put in a separate room to finish it or the bone or kong gets put away. That seems to be the main thing that would "set" them off. And we also do as you are, when they get too excited playing, we have them back off. We have found our fosters to be very forgiving (or forgetful) with other dogs. Our Annie & Chloe have lived together for 12 years & even now, they will occasionally get in a scuffle (thankfully only 1 or 2 times per year, but within minutes are kissing & making up :)Hoping Fozzie & Sandy have gotten it all out of their systems.
    Thanks for giving these two a place to land!


  3. Please don't beat yourself up over their scrappies. You are a great foster mom and none of us are perfect nor should we expect ourselves to be. Every dog, every foster, every experience is an opportunity for us to learn and grow - sometimes painfully so at times.

    And dogs fight sometimes. It's a fact of life. We are lucky in that our pack hasn't had any major scrappies yet but we break up play when it gets too crazy, all or none get new bones & treats, etc.

    Perhaps some of the issues they have been having are due to change in weather and decrease in activity? They may have some extra energy that then gets ramped up into fighting. Just a thought.

  4. Most of the shepherds we've had in our family have taken, um, "bits" out of each other over the years. Sometimes Mom & Dad could figure out what happened, sometimes - no clue! You're a wonderful dog Mom and Fozzie & Sandy are lucky to have you! Keep up the good work!

    PeeS - we posted a sneak preview of the December page of the Pit Bull Frogs Calendar today on our blog and the Pit Bull Frogs blog. See if you can find Sandy & Fozzie. Those pics will cheer you up!

    The Road Dogs

  5. Hi Kirsten, don't be too hard on yourself. Things happen and as long as they're both fine and you continue to work with them, it'll turn out all right for everyone. Sometimes my brother Owen will get into it with my other brother Jetta. And while Jetta will remain a bit wary of Owen, they will be pretty good with each other most of the time.

  6. It's SO scary when that stuff happens. "They" say that you're supposed to remain calm because your agitated energy can fuel the fight. Yeah. Right! I agree that three dogs is a lot to handle - I can't believe how much easier two have been... But my guess is that as Sandy has become more comfortable in your home, they are establishing their hierarchy. Totally natural. I agree with your intervention - nipping play in the bud before it escalates, being more aware of the energy, and moving on - just like they seem to have done!

  7. Please don't beat yourself up over it. It's scary and we all blame ourselves for scuffles but the bottom line is, dogs will be dogs and we can't be perfect all the time.

  8. Dog fights are so scary! I have been blessed with five dogs that so far get along great. But we have had several foster puppies that have caused some issues. They seem to be ok until they are between 8 and 12 months old and then they start challenging the older dogs. My trainer said this is perfectly normal. Zoe, my current foster is eight months old now and spends her days driving all the other dogs crazy. I spend my days making sure she does not take it to far and start a fight.

  9. Awww...I luvs that last picture.

    You know, sometimes peoples have fights and shout at each other. And sometimes they say stuff that they might feel bad about later. But then after they have some time to get past it, they forgives each other and move on. I'm pretty sure that's what it's like for us doggies, too, even though I think humans expect us to not ever say bad things to each other. And I think we're prolly better at forgiving each other than a lotta humans are.

    I pawsonally think Fozzie and Sandy are awfully lucky to have you. Because of you, they gets to lay on a couch and snuggle and have sweet dreams.

    Wiggles & Wags,

  10. Ah, the dogs always teach us don't they! I am glad they didn't seriously damage each other, and hopefully with you keeping their play regulated they will learn to self regulate.

  11. We are glad they are okay. I guess they have bad days like we do. Are you okay?

    Nina, Myshka, Sasha, Betsy, Lucy, Phoebe and Lily

  12. Wow, thanks for sharing. We don't have any major scrappies with our foster dog and Izzy, but Izzy is having her own issues now so we're wondering if we need take a step back.

    Through reading these blogs, I've gained insight on some great techniques I can use with my dog and foster dogs to help make them the best they can be!

    We are working on "focus" with Izzy now and foster Mia has it down pat! Excited to pass that on to her new owners...if you need her attention, you got it!

  13. We're pretty careful with how our dogs interact all of the time. Morgan is a good girl, with good intentions, but she doesn't back off, and she doesn't read the signals that the others have had enough. Finding that balance is very tough for her!

  14. That last photo is a so sweet! Love it! They are such beauties!

    Please don't beat yourself up. Dogs need to find their place in the Pack, and in Nature, fighting is how they do it. You seemed to have handled the situation extremely well. You are learning their personalities and that will serve them well when it comes time to find them their forever homes. They are very fortunate to have someone like you as their Foster.

    Good luck and hopefully Fozzie and Sandy will work it all out and no more bad fights will occur.

    Suka and K

  15. As you can see, what you're experiencing is not at all unusual. And dog fights look and sound terrible even when they're not that serious. And one torn toenail can cause an amazing amount of blood.

    I adopted Agatha and Christie from the same litter at the SPCA. They periodically fought with each other and it was terrible.

    With the wisdom of hindsight and 20 years experience, I now realize that I should have rehomed Christie. She would have thrived with nearly any other family. And I should have kept the more neurotic Agatha as an only dog.

    You're doing something really tough in bringing foster dogs into your home. It's always going to be harder than working with dogs who will be with you forever.

    The best thing we can all do is keep spreading the word of what living with dogs is really like. We need to create more people who recognize that dogs are individuals with unique motivations. And that we're always trying to figure out what they need.

    It sounds like you're honing in on how to best manage Sandy and Fozzie's interactions. Don't get discouraged. You're not the only one.

  16. I appreciate the honesty of your post

    Stop on by for a visit

  17. I have a dog BabyGirl she is 6 years old she is a German Shepard/Pitt mix and Midnight who is a new addition she is 2 years old and full Pitt. BabyGirl is very dominate and very protective over me. So I knew there would be problems. Midnight came with a crate and BabyGirl who has never been crate trained had a corner.For safty reasons in the beginning I used a combination of muzzle time out and crate time out.I have only had Midnight for 2 months. Now they play with each other and if they do get into a fight they will stop at my command. I was really worried in the beginning but it has worked out.I have learned from the experience , and from them.The funny part of it all is they both hate when I'm on the computer. I have been on computer a lot recently and that was when the they decided to start playing. Go figure when I didn't pay attention to them they became friends. I have just started this blog and the link is
    I have another Blog that I have had for awhile it is

  18. I've been meaning to comment on this for a while - even though I'm usually a total wallflower - but was moved to comment today after my two current pups (both pit bulls) had the first scrap of their own. Although this is (very unfortunately) not my first dog fight, I've been thinking a lot today about what a complicated response we have when our two otherwise friendly and companionable dogs fight with each other. It's such a bizarre mix of fear, betrayal (on whose behalf - mine or the dogs, or both - I don't know), disappointment, and embarrassment, just to name a few. I totally understand your feelings of somehow not being able to protect them, or failure to help them to a place where they are sufficiently non-reactive that this wouldn't happen in the first place. Still, like you said, we do the best we can for them, which is a whole lot better than they might be getting otherwise. Thanks for this post (and your others!) - I appreciate how hard it is to talk about this, much less put it out there for other people to talk about, but it is comforting to know there are other folks who are working through similar issues with their dogs...


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