Stories from our annual Diwali “escape the crackers” vacation! We spent this year too on a farm and as always, the farm has its own dogs and there are other guests who have turned up with their dogs. So I get to observe. The videos are meagre this time because I was alone and my guards were UP UP UP. This is the first time I am doing this all by myself, after my husband Uttam and my dog Nishi passed away. Cheeru is ultra-sensitive to my moods and so her guard is UP UP UP too. I know this is not a good state for her to be in. So I am being very cautious about her meeting other dogs. Thankfully for me, when she is cautious, if I ask her to go into the cabin, she scampers gladly. And our cabin is away from the main cottage. So we do not have dogs around all the time. We have one-off visitors to deal with.
So far, I must give it to Cheeru and all the dogs I have met. None of them were good meetings and none of them resulted in friendships. But they were all done so cordially. It has been humbling to watch. We are so caught up in teaching our dogs how to meet other dogs well, we do not give them much of a chance to learn how to respectfully disagree. But I got to witness that and how.
Dog-One was curious about Cheeru, but not ready to befriend her yet. Cheeru was ready to meet Dog-One and Dog-One seemed to be in the right head space to communicate clearly with Cheeru. So I stepped back and watched. Cheeru did her usual dance. If you have not seen it, check out my earlier blog from last year’s Diwali getaway. She put on her little dance for Dog-One. He was curious, but I suppose it was too much too soon for him. So he backed off and started barking at her. She kept her distance but tried a bit more of her dance and then finally sniffed some grass, pee’d and walked away. I asked her if she’d go in the cabin, so we gave Dog-One a chance to turn his back and leave. She agreed and that was that.
Dog-Two was an ultra-friendly, calm, giant dog, twice Cheeru’s size. Cheeru does not like “ultra-friendly” which is now well established and given my recent life experiences, I may tend to concur. Ultra friendly and giant dog…erm…I get her discomfort. So I just tried to avoid situations where they may have to meet. But things don’t always go as planned. One of the times he approached the cab, Cheeru was outside the cabin, sniffing. I called out to her and pointed at Dog-Two and then opened the cabin door if she wanted to run in. She did not. She froze, hackles up, tail up and she stiffened. What was lovely to watch was how Dog-Two stopped in his tracks. He got the message, loud and clear. He stopped and turned his face. Cheeru eased up. They started walking around in large circles, sniffing, peeing, sniffing the pee….looked like a ballroom dance ritual. He approached her twice. She froze, hackles up and let out a low growl. He froze, turned his head and backed off. And they disengaged, just like that. She came running back in and he left her alone. Phew! That was tense…but it was so good to watch that both dogs knew how to resolve that without actually fighting.
Dog-Three was skittish. Cheeru and he accidentally bumped into each other. She got out of the cabin and he was exploring around the cabin. He darted and stood at a distance. She was interested in befriending him. So she tried her dance again. But he was quite clear. He froze and growled. She let it go quite quickly, sniffed grass, pee’d, ate some grass and returned.
While I have been cautious about letting dogs interact with Cheeru, these things happen on a farm and I am so glad they know how to resolve this. BUT…
And this is a big BUT…just because they were able to do this so gracefully here, does not mean they can do it in all situations. Dog-Two, who handled himself with such extraordinary grace around Cheeru got into several fights with the dogs at the cottage. I don’t think it was his fault or that of any of the dogs. There were five dogs in there, three of who were guest-dogs and a tiny farm puppy. Puppies bring in an extraordinary young-energy into the mix. Dog-Two was already quite annoyed with the puppy. I noticed him warning the pup a few times. If that pup was there when Cheeru and Dog-Two were sorting it out, it would have turned into a fight – 100%. If there were two other dogs, that would be a total mess. And if they did not have the space to do their wide circular ballroom dance ritual, how might have this gone? Well…I did not have to guess. It was playing out right next door. The very dog that was simply amazing with Cheeru was in the middle of a melee that he perhaps never signed up for and was struggling to cope with. Dogs are getting yelled at, whacked and whatnot. But I can see it in their frenzy…they are struggling to cope. Dogs need space to do their thing, to communicate. How else can we get to witness how good they actually are at resolving conflict with such sophistication and more grace than most of us humans resolve conflict with. We put them in impossible situations and then term phrases like “dog-eat-dog-world” and send the dogs off to “finishing schools” to behave better. Dogs do not have to learn to be dogs, they need space to be dogs. To create that space, we need to be aware of their needs.