This image is soon to be on the cover of the 2016 Loudoun Pet Expo program! Here are a few rambling notes about cover girls Cookie and Annie, and the moment captured in the photo.
Fluffy on the outside, and steely on the inside, Cookie Cocker captured my heart during a volunteer dog walking shift at my local animal shelter. Her stunning recall, full body wagginess, and such a quick intellect that she was doing leg weaves before I’d gone on to walk the next dog on my shift, made it inevitable that she would come home with me.
What I didn’t know at the time was that some of her well-disguised concern about other dogs would manifest themselves in a behavior worthy of the Killer Bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The day after Cookie came to our home, we were about to give our shepherd mix, Flim Flam, medication for a hotspot, a process that he didn’t care for. Seeing the ointment tube, but not yet the tasty treats which would help him, he began his best fool-around diversion. Lunging, bouncing, yodeling, are all part of his coping strategies but were definitely not something of which Cookie approved.
She launched herself through the air, landing on Flim’s neck with her mouth, all 4 feet off the ground! When Flim shook her off, she returned to do it again.
Remarkably, Cookie disengaged and came right to me when I said her name. She was wiggly and waggly too.
As my husband contained the Cocker, I comforted the shepherd mix, and began to look for injury. Not only was there no blood, there were no punctures or scratches—not even a hint of saliva. It was all a spectacular display. The engineering of the event was impressive! How was it possible to even do that?
With careful attention to Cookie’s behavior around Flim Flam, we were able to achieve détente, followed by comfortable cohabitation. I became much more tuned into Cookie’s subtle clues to fear and concern, so that I could redirect, or add reinforcement so that she would come to like things such as Flim’s approach, sharing attention, or receiving treats for tricks when working next to one another.
Cookie was able to attend classes, and discovered that clicker training filled her with delight! As much as she loves food she loves getting to experiment with behavior even more.
Of continuing concern to Cookie, though, were out of control dogs and big dogs. The first time she saw an Irish Deerhound her brain fell out of her head. She was seemingly possesed by demons! Great Danes are troubling, and she’s not so sure about large sighthounds.
At 80 pounds, Annie Neighbor-Dog outweighs Cookie substantially. With the potential to be big and goofy, Annie seems like a dog who would be quite challenging for the Cocker. Along with her big goofiness, though, Annie is possessed of stunning dog-to-dog communication skills. If another dog is “too much” she can chastise them without rancor, and will reengage with them without holding a grudge. If Cookie is cranky, or indicates that she’s about to “Go Bunny“ Annie will make herself unassuming, easy, and of no concern. Made more confident by Annie’s support, Cookie has become increasingly comfortable, to such an extent that she now eagerly seeks Annie out.
The image in the photo, “Cookie Hearts Annie”, is a moment from the first time Cookie and Annie played together in my house. Cookie would run after Annie and Flim Flam when they played chase outside, but had never sought out play on her own. As this interaction began I grabbed my cellular camera and tried to be really quiet, lest I disturb the magic. Cookie hearts Annie, and I heart them both.