We have recently acquired another dog. A second Sussex Spaniel – the photo is not one of our dogs, but the same breed. He arrived somewhat unexpectedly. We were contacted by Sussex Spaniel Rescue, with whom we had registered some time ago. They had a dog that needed rehoming. Were we interested? We phoned the owner and arranged for him to come and see us and we would all decide whether we wanted to go ahead. (We couldn’t ask the dogs-although that would have helped no end!) Hamish and his owner duly arrived and both seemed pleased with us. We assumed that Hamish would go back with his owner and we would get organised for a new dog. This was not the way things worked out. Hamish’s owner left him with us that morning. “I know I should do things differently, but I can only leave Hamish once. I can’t go through this twice. ” A tearful owner then left us to go back home. We were now left with one new dog and one very put out regular dog. If Boris ( our first dog) had been able to talk, his language would not have been welcoming. Had we talked “dog” we might have explained things. We don’t! So we now had two dogs in the same kitchen, front rom and garden. Neither was prepared to be welcoming. Every day saw us pulling apart two fighting dogs. We learned how to grab their collars, haul them up and put them in their respective dog crates. With the door firmly locked. After a time we would gingerly let them out. And wait to what happened next. For the first fortnight World War Three would break out several times a day. Over nothing we could understand. (One particularly vicious fight was over the contents of a waste paper basket in the sitting room.)
This was followed by two weeks of night duty. Hamish would howl the moment we put out the kitchen light to go to bed. We ignored him. Ten minutes later he was still howling.Not living on a Hebridean island, we couldn’t simply let him howl. (We couldn’t presume on our long suffering neighbour’s good will indefinitely!) So my wife and I took it in turns to spend the night in the armchair in the kitchen. This calmed Hamish but made for a very long night. Week two came and we moved a single bed downstairs. Sleeping next door worked-mostly! Week three saw us sleeping together again! Hamish only howled occasionally. He and Boris only tried to kill each other once or twice more. And we only got bitten once- although my wife’s hand took three weeks, a tetanus injection and a high dose of antibiotics before it healed.(The dogs would say that it wasn’t personal. We were simply in their way!)
The dogs have now settled down. Six weeks on and they are living together well. There are even occasional outbursts of genuine friendship with mutual nuzzling and licking. Hamish is allowed off the lead and Boris trots along in his usual manner. We are very pleased to have two dogs and think Hamish a lovely animal. We are sorry for his original owner but are enjoying Hamish a good deal.
Looking back the triggers for aggression were food and attention. If Boris thought he was being neglected in favour of Hamish, it was teeth and snarls. If Hamish wanted Boris’ food,he would try to take it-also with teeth and snarls. Sometimes we intervened before war broke out. Sometimes it erupted out of nowhere and we learned to react quickly and adroitly.What we saw on a micro scale is what we hear about daily on the news. Wars break out over food and attention. The two requisites for survival. With our dogs it was also about power. Who was going to be top dog? Again this too seems to trigger so many conflicts. It seems to be at the heart of the battles in Ukraine as well as in the tube strikes coming up again. Power and resources. The same conflict also underpins many of our psychic / emotional conflicts. Which part of me is going to get the most resources? (Be warned. This conflict is every bit as deadly as any international one. Death, maiming, homelessness, desperation, hatred, revenge. All of this occurs on the internal battlefield. I shall look at these battles in part two.)