Tag Archives: animal behaviour

Still Looking for Mr Right!

Toffee 1

Chapter Four

I went looking for a rescue dog in March this year, to no avail, just before our Level 5 Lockdown. As most of you know, we have had a very severe Lockdown here in South Africa.

My plan was to have volunteered at the rescue organisation, spending time with the dogs and getting to know them. Maybe I would spot my Mr Right when he arrived, but our Lockdown just went on and on and on.

Toffee 2

As we have just downgraded to Level 1 Lockdown, I went looking again last week. Even on Level 1, there are still many restrictions and no volunteers at the shelter. I had to book an appointment and when I arrived I was stopped at the entrance to check I was on their list. My contact details and temperature were taken before I was allowed in, with a bright red sticker attached to my T-Shirt, saying, Screened! Everyone wore a mask and social distanced, and I sanitised my hands repeatedly.

I look on the shelter’s website beforehand and choose a few likely candidates, but you have to actually go and see the dogs in person to find if they are a good fit for you.

The dog above, Toffee, was estimated to be about 4 years old and described as having low energy levels; (2 out of 5); the kind of dog you take for a slow amble and then he sleeps at your feet all day.

Toffee 3

Well, he came out of his kennel full of bounce, kept jumping up on me, pulled hard on the lead and was very young and strong! Much too boisterous for me these days and with a great deal of training required. I worked very hard to get these calm-looking sits you see in the photos!

I really thought, on paper at least, that Toffee would be the right dog for me.

Smart Boy 1

I also wanted to look at Smart Boy, age about 7 years, even though I suspected he might be too big. Sadly, at 26 kg he was far too big and strong for me to manage; these days! Little Monkey weighed 23kgs and I need to go smaller.

Smart Boy 2

Apart from the size, he is just the kind of dog I like. Street savvy and very mixed breed; just like my old Jack. We liked each other at once and he was more responsive to training, sitting nicely for a treat.

But I cannot adopt a dog that is capable of dragging me down the street, if he so chooses!

Smart Boy 3

It’s not obvious from the photo above, but I am scratching his rump, which dogs like, not trying to get him to sit.

I walked round the rest of the kennels and came across Fluffy, who I thought had been adopted. I asked if I could see her too. She was estimated to be 8 years old and calm.

Fluffy 1

Now, she appeared to be fine, but I have been fooled before, by my collie cross Madam, so I was understandably a little hesitant. Madam was the most likely out of all my dogs, to bite!

Fluffy 2

I ask the kennel guy showing me around to take photos, so I can kook afterwards and see things I might not have picked up on at the time. Studying the photos afterwards, I could clearly see visions of Madam! My goodness!

So sadly, not this one either!

Fluffy 3

All the dogs I looked at coped well with people covering their faces with masks. I also wore sunglasses and a cap, so was even more disguised, but they dealt with it.

So no luck this time, but I’ll just keep looking.


My perfect guy, Mr Right, is out there – somewhere!




Madam - A Rescue Dog

Madam – the dominant female



Little Monkey

Little Monkey - Always ready for Mischief

Little Monkey – Always ready for Mischief


I used to have three dogs; Madam, TJ and Little Monkey. The old male, TJ, kept the peace between the two rival females; Madam, the Alpha female of the pack, and LM the runt of the litter and definite Omega. Whenever I took them in the car, I put Madam in first, and scooted her bum along the seat right to the door; lifted in TJ (gammy legs, unable to jump) then let LM bound in, tongue lolling, “Isn’t this great fun, Mum?” trying to stop her (unsuccessfully) from leaping all over TJ. Then off we drove, TJ lying down resignedly in the middle, Madam looking out of the window and studiously ignoring LM, and LM all hyper-excited and happy.

Most of the time the three if them lived happily together as a pack, but now and again, there would be a flare up, usually between the two females. You can read about the other fight here Fight!

In later years, when this incident happened, there was a lot of tussling going on for dominance between the now old and somewhat frail Madam, and the strong, in her prime LM.

One day, I came home after being out for a while and opened the back door to let the dogs in. TJ was lying on the stoep and Madam and LM were down in the garden by the Eugenia tree. It looked like there was something on the ground between them. I didn’t say anything, but I think the fact that I was now there triggered this fight, because next second Madam and LM were really going at each other; with lots of snapping and growling.

Often, if you can distract the dogs for a second they will break off. So I threw my car keys at them, luckily still in my hand. The keys shot through the fighting dogs, hit the wall and ended up under the mini hedge, making not the slightest difference.

So this was going to be more hands on! I wasn’t afraid of being intentionally bitten by the girls, even though the fight sounded so bad. As long as I kept my hands away from their heads I’d be all right. Madam was much more likely to bite me than LM, so I grabbed hold of LM’s tail and started pulling her away from Madam. I held tight and moved backwards, dragging LM with me; all the while the two girls were going at it. LM had now got Madam by the ear with her little front teeth, so Madam was coming with us, with her head on one side!

I pulled LM, with Madam in tow, all the way across the lawn to the apple tree fifteen metres away. Eventually, when I was wondering just what else I could do, LM let go and turned round to look at me, as if to say, “What are you doing, Mum? I’m trying to have a fight here!”

Madam, suddenly released, stood still for a moment, and I thought, “Great, she’s free. Now she can go in the house” only to watch in amazement as Madam threw herself back into the fight with gusto. This old dog wasn’t going to give up the reins just yet!

Finally, I pulled LM off again, shooed her behind me, and marched Madam into the house, where TJ was keeping out of it all, and shut the door. Breathe!

This wasn’t full blown aggression between the dogs; rather trying to find out who was the more dominant and leader of the pack. Madam was much more an Alpha dog than LM, who is way down the pecking order at the Omega end!

I quickly checked over LM. Some damp gobby bits of fur, but no blood. I went inside and checked out Madam. She was also gobby, but although she had no major damage, her ear was bleeding from being dragged across the garden by LM’s teeth. As she was very old, I decided to take her to the vets for a check up, just to be sure.

So I went in the garden to retrieve my keys from under the hedge. The car ignition key had broken open into two halves after hitting the wall, so I just snapped it back together again. I shut up the house, leaving TJ and LM behind, and went out to the garage with Madam.

I settled Madam in the back of the car and started the ignition. Click! Nothing. Oh for Pete’s sake! What a time for the battery to be flat, or whatever else it was. I tried again, but there was no way this car was starting.

Back to the drawing board; or rather, phoning my friend to take me and Madam to the vets. I sat outside and waited with Madam, and a bottle of wine for my trusty friend. A quick check at the vets revealed only superficial damage, but the vet cleaned Madam up and gave her an antibiotic shot and painkiller. I’m always more careful of old dogs, and had been worried about the after effects of shock on Madam.

The next day I tried starting my car again; no joy. Then I had the bright idea of trying my spare set of keys. The car started first time! So I phoned up the car manufacturers and asked them about the key, and the cost of a new one. They said there was a tiny chip inside the key, that was probably damaged, and depending on the type of key would cost anything from a few hundred Rand to a thousand or more to replace! Hmmm.

I opened up the faulty key again, and compared it to the working key. There was a tiny tiny chip missing! It was about 2mm by 3mm in size; and black with a little white V on it. This was going to be hard to find!

I went outside to where I had picked up the key under the hedge, 24 hours before. It had rained over night, was still drizzling, and under the hedge it was full of dead leaves and dirt. I scrabbled around with my hands, wondering how I was going to see something so tiny and dark as this chip! Well, I went through sections at a time systematically, gathering damp earth and filtering through it. And I found the chip!!

I wiped it off, fit it back in my key, and the car started again!

But what had the dogs been fighting over in the first place? I went to investigate after the vets. You won’t believe this, but it was pooh!

They were fighting over who got to eat the dog pooh! This certainly was a dominance issue, but really girls?


Chalk and Cheese

LM and SL

LM and SL

I have noticed over the years with my different dogs, that they all have a preferred way of sleeping. The older ones with short coats could curl themselves up into the tiniest ball and I would throw a blanket over them in winter. Jack loved this.

The long-haired dogs tended to stretch themselves out as much as possible, taking up the whole mattress, and presumably trying to keep cool. Lady excelled at this.

However, I saw a new first when I went into the kitchen at 2 a.m. this morning to make a cup of decaff coffee. Understandably, my dogs were fast asleep. But what was funny, was how they slept.

Little Monkey was sprawled all over her comfy bed, with her head hanging off the end and on the kitchen tiles!

Mr Spaghetti Legs always “makes” his bed; so his mattress was in the middle of the floor, with the top cover strewn elsewhere. But he seemed to have missed the point of a comfy bed, because, while his head and all four paws were on the bed, the rest of his body was on the cold hard kitchen floor!


How to – with Little Monkey. No 4. Run the Gauntlet.

There’s a road near my house that I call the Gauntlet, because it contains large dogs barking madly behind most of the gates. To walk down it with an anxious dog is nerve-wracking. To do so with three dogs is exciting, to put it mildly.

The road starts with a Rottweiler on the left, closely followed by a German Shepherd on the right. Then comes the most difficult part, with a German Shepherd cross Malamute on the right  and three large dogs opposite. Then there are more Rottweilers and other dogs on the right, and lastly more German Shepherds.

When I adopt a new dog, this road is always the most difficult to walk down. If my dog is calm, the reaction of the other dogs is less severe, and we manage to pass by them without too much of a problem.

Little Monkey, however, will always project anxiety and her unsocialised, unbalanced state. The other dogs pick up on her body language and energy and react even more vigorously than usual. It has taken me the whole 7 years I’ve had her, to be able to walk this Gauntlet with impunity. Yet she still reacts on occasion; leaping in the air, twisting, barking, and in general freaking out.

Mr Spaghetti Legs mostly minds his own business, only now and then responding to the other dogs. He is dominant, after all. A quick tiny tug on the lead and a “Stop that!” is all it takes to snap him out of it and continue the walk calmly.

My worst experience of the Gauntlet was when I walked Madam and Little Monkey. Madam was having none of this nonsense from the other dogs. She went for each and every one of them, lunging towards them and barking back, giving as good as she got. Basically she said, “You wanna piece of me? Come and get it! I’ll take you all on, with one paw tied behind my back!”

And she would have too – and won!

Unfortunately, this had a very detrimental effect on poor LM, who was already freaked out. Now she felt caught in the middle of a dog war. So here am I, crossing and re-crossing the road to avoid the barking dogs behind their gates. At the worst place, where there were dogs on both sides of the street, I checked there was no traffic and started walking down the middle of the road, to be as far away as I could from these dogs. Even so, the dogs barking madly, and Madam’s retaliation were just too much for the poor anxious LM, and she simply sat down right there in the middle of the road and refused to budge.

I thought for a second, then just started to run. This snapped her out of it, and got us through the difficult part as quickly as possible. And I never walked Madam and LM that way together again.

I pondered Madam’s behaviour afterwards. I knew she was dominant, but not an Alpha female. I figured a Beta maybe? Lately, I have more information on the Beta’s role. Apparently, they are the fighters in the pack. They will go out and defend the pack, while the Alphas hang back out of harm’s way so they can survive to re-propagate the pack. It explains so much.

And poor LM? She is dominant, anxious and unsocialised, but in a wild pack, she would still have a place.  She is an excellent hunter, and would provide for the pack. They in their turn would tolerate her and let her eat a few scraps. Would she be happy? Absolutely! Everyone just wants to belong.

How to – with Little Monkey. No1. Exit the House

I suppose you simply switch on the alarm and leave? Let me tell you how it goes with Little Monkey.

First, catch the dog. Little Monkey knows when it is walk time. So she takes the opportunity to hare madly round the garden, rushing up to you every circuit and leaping up to springboard off your body with her feet.

Once I’ve stopped this and got her inside and sitting on her mat, we can progress to the front door. More leaping in the air all four feet off the ground. Sit again. Pick up the lead. Leap. Sit! In the meantime put Mr Spaghetti Leg’s lead on. He is now standing nose to the door ready to go. Finally get the lead on Little Monkey. SIT!

Open the door. Dogs must not move. I get my keys, hat etc Dogs must stay calm, and the Idiot sitting. When I am ready, Little Monkey must look at me, then I nod, and we calmly exit the front door.

Now we face the same procedure at the security gate. Little Moneky knows to instantly sit, and to wait. I unlock the gate, and slowly open it. Dogs must not move. I then close the front door, we calmly exit the security gate and I turn around and lock it. This procedure must happen even if there is a squirrel in the garden, and Little Monkey desperately wants to chase it.

So far so good. We are one metre into our walk.

Next, a slow amble down the garden path. Dogs to the side, No pulling on the lead. Any of that and it is an instant sit and wait all over again. At the little side gate (where there is no gate any more) I go through first. No pulling. Now we are at the garage doors. Little Monkey sits, loose lead, and waits. I let Mr SL stand, since he is old and wobbly and does not pull on the lead anyway.

I open the automatic gate a little. Dogs do not move. When I say so, we walk forward and I go through first (sticking my head out and looking up and down the road for DOGS!). There is a lamp post right outside our house. Instant sit for Little Monkey.

Great! The walk is about to begin. How many sits and stays was that?

This process is repeated throughout the walk. Any time the Idiot freaks out at something, or leaps in the air because she’s seen another dog, I reel her back in, sit her down and pick up my finger that she just broke off – again. The walk can take a very long time. But doing it this way every single time is the only way to calm Little Monkey down. If I mess up just once, and miss a step out, I have to repeat it another thousand times before she does it automatically again.

This could all have been avoided if Little Monkey had been socialised as a puppy.



Lady and Jack Play-Fight

Lady and Jack Play-Fight *These are trained stunt dogs – do not try this at home!

It was 5.30 on a pleasant Spring evening, with the sun mellow rather than blistering. I sat out on the stoep with my glass of ice cold white wine and breathed a sigh of contentment. Just a short interlude before starting the evening meal.

Little Monkey was running round the garden with various toys, shouting, “Look at me Mum!” while the old dogs were up on the stoep with me. Madam the old girl came up for attention, so I gave her a quick pat on the head and she went away. Then TJ came up, and he got the same brief pat. Next second Madam has launched herself at TJ!

I jumped up and took my wine safely inside; not too bothered about the dogs. Maybe twice a year there was a little tiff and a reasserting of pack order. It was never aggressive or vicious, and never any injuries. Little monkey had now joined in, surprisingly on the side of Madam. Usually the two females squared off with a “There can be only one!” attitude and Little Monkey and TJ were best friends.

But this is all instinct. Attack the wounded, the weak, the sick, the old, the different. When it was TJ who had the underhand, the two girls joined forces.

Then Madam tripped over the chair and was down. Instantly the two other dogs laid into her. And though there was a lot of noise and teeth, it still wasn’t a serious fight. We’re talking seconds here.

But enough is enough, and I stepped in to separate them all.

Since Madam seemed to have come out the worst from the engagement, I shut the others outside and checked her over. Though there was no blood, unfortunately she had a six centimetre gash in the ruff of her neck. An unlucky accident; maybe Little Monkey got her fang caught in the collar when going for the thick neck mane.

I looked at the clock. Quarter to six. The vets shut at six. I downed the rest of my wine in one and rushed Madam to the vets for stitches, pain killers and antibiotics. Although she felt pretty sorry for herself, she was all right, and all the dogs were fine with each other again. Never a dull moment with three dogs.

So much for the interlude!

post script: I don’t have any photos of my dogs fighting. Not surprisingly, I rush to grab the dogs, not the camera. This photo is the best I have – great friends mock-fighting.