So far, I’ve kept my resolution to push with Cholula every day in January except for one stomach flu day when I was mostly bedridden. I’ve been fitting it in at different times–sometimes before work on the morning walk, sometimes when I get home from work either on or after an evening walk–and every now and then I have to use my fall-back of pushing during our late night stroll right before bed.
And another wall has fallen. After pushing in the back yard one weekend morning, Cholula played tug with Pundit. And then a couple of days later, she did it again. I don’t have a picture yet–the two-dog tugging doesn’t last long, and I haven’t been in the right spot with camera at the ready when it happened, so I had to use this older photo of Pundit with his oldy besty BFF Callie to illustrate. I would looove to put up a photo of Cholula and Pundit tugging together soon.
I’ve written about Pundit and Cholula’s relationship on this site before. But basically, while Cholula and Pundit have always mostly gotten along okay, between Cholula’s fearful, high-anxiety and sometimes aggressive response to other dogs when she first came to live with us and my misunderstanding in the beginning of how significant her dog-aggression issues were, there were a few bad moments–maybe four–when Cholula attacked and pinned Pundit very aggressively after being aroused by something–once Pundit tried to hump her, another time the sight of a different dog by our front gate while we were out on the sidewalk so sent her into an aggression spiral that she attacked Pundit just because he happened to be standing next to her. Then there were a couple of food-related incidents. After that, they became very wary of each other for a while–while on walks they would sniff companionably, in the house they would not lie down in the same room or go anywhere near where the other one was eating. Slowly, over time, they have softened towards each other–Pundit will walk over and lick the corners of her eyes sometimes, or even play bite her shoulder, and she will lie calmly until she eventually walks away. But for them to stand eye to eye over a toy and tug–that is a whole new level of trust and intimacy for the two of them.
This is how it happened. Cholula has been becoming more and more interested in playing with me, and so I’ve been playing our funny, stop and start game of catch or tug of war with a floppy stuffed toy she has just about destroyed. In Natural Dog Training, Keven Behan recommends playing tug of war as hard as your dog will–and always letting your dog win. One of my first breakthroughs with Cholula, over a year ago now, was finally getting her to play tug. And I always let her win. But one of the challenges of creating the space for Cholula to play has been that Pundit, aged avid player that he is, always wants to play too, and he’s much better at all of it than Cholula–hones in the on the ball or tug toy with 100 percent of his attention and energy–and Cholula won’t compete. So I either have to put him in the house or play so they are taking turns–a throw in one direction for Pundit and then, while he’s chasing his ball, a throw in the other direction for Cholula. In the past, whenever Pundit has gone for the tug toy, Cholula has dropped it immediately and backed off. Game over. But this past week, Pundit grabbed my end of the tug toy, I let go, and Cholula hung on! Playing tug with Pundit! It didn’t last long. One thing about Pundit is that if he has the tug toy, he will never ever lose. No matter how strong the other dog is, Pundit will simply hang on and let himself be dragged around until the other dog finally gives up. He won every time last Christmas with his dear friend Callie (see photo). So Pundit hung on and Cholula let it drop. But she tugged it first–and then she willingly tugged with me again and then a couple of days later she held on again for a few rounds when Pundit grabbed the other side. Since Kevin suggests you always let your dog win at tug, and I know Cholula will never beat Pundit, I only let them play a couple of times and make sure to follow up with some rounds without Pundit where I let Cholula win.
It’s true that there is nothing especially useful about this new breakthrough–but it brings me great happiness because I did not think Cholula would ever be brave or relaxed enough to hold on when Pundit tugged. But maybe that is a key piece of the story for truly training and reforming a problem adult dog–to bring them to a place where they can discover that brave, relaxed platform–a space they may not have experienced for years– from which they can really, truly, learn new ways.