Amongst the pack – my musings on living with dogs

I have been living with dogs for most of my adult life. The other day I was counting in my head the number of dogs I have had the privilege of sharing my life with since I shared my dog Bogie with an old boyfriend back in 1990. There was Bogie, Jay Jay Star, Gator, Ally, Coach, Riley, Gus, Dave, Libby, Lemon, Rudy, Reese and Pierce- and a four day stint with Shelby(not a privilege) who tried to eat my husband. That’s 14 if you count crazy Shelby. Some were rescues some were not. I had dogs when I was a child as well (Jenny, Inkspot, Sam, and Mandy) and was always drawn to them in a way I was never drawn to people. In fact, the animal world held my attention much better back then. Humans were always harder for me to relate to.

Fourteen dogs since 1990 – that’s a lot of dogs. More than most people will ever have. For me having a pile of dogs around is easy. I am not saying that I don’t have my moments of frustration with them. I am not a saint. I do get impatient sometimes. Or overwhelmed when the fray move into the house as a giant blob of wrestling dogs. Add muddy feet to that and its a fiasco. Mostly though my dogs make me happy, centered and whole.

I have had many people call or write me for help with their dogs. They think because I have a mess of dogs I must be really smart about them and I should be able to solve all dog issues. I am fairly smart about dogs I guess. But smart in the way you live with a person and know their habits and moods. I understand dogs in general but I understand my dogs – the ones I live with in my home- best. So when someone asks me for advice I can only tell them what has worked for me in the past and I explain that what works for me might not work for them. I am no expert is my mantra. I am not of any one school when it come to training except I only work with positive reinforcement.  I have my ideas on food and leads and collars and harnesses. But my suggestions are just that – just ideas I am tossing out that might perhaps help your problem – and I do enjoy sharing. If someone calls me about dog aggression issues I answer only one way- call a trainer…an expert who has dealt with aggression issues before. Having dealt with an aggressive dog last year reinforced that I am no expert on dog aggression. It is one area in which I do not want to ever give the wrong advice – so I give none. Or one – call a trainer.

My dogs listen to me better than they listen to anyone else in our home. Is it because of  the tone I use? Or do I convey that I expect them to do what I ask? or maybe I am just a kindred spirit to dogs and I have this comfort with them that they grasp? I am not sure. But when I say they listen to me better then they listen to others in my home by no mean implies that they always listen to me and the are militantly obedient. No No! My dogs always need more training- training never ends. Rudy – my Golden caught the stubborn bug from his mentor- my dear departed OES – Dave. Rudy thankfully usually plays the stubborn card because he needs to stick to me like velcro. So his stubbornness isn’t really inconvenient. It’s rather endearing to me (not always to my husband). He does know when I tell him he is staying home and I can manage to get out the door without him stampeding me – so that’s a plus. Compare that to Dave who would not exit the car until he had good reason to do so. Dave would not do anything until he decided it was the thing to do –as if it was his own idea- we had some funny days with Dave -waiting on him to make up his mind. Rudy’s stubborn streak is a walk in the park compared to that!

Over the years I have normally had more than one dog at a time. I have up to six- crazy some might say. For me six was a lot but I could have been up for more had my dear husband not talked me off a ledge. I do have a habit of collecting things(no I am not hoarder I love purging non-living things). I recall getting my first horse – next thing you know I had three. Right now we have four dogs (two horses) and it is a good number. I have recently fallen in love with a tripod hound but that is another story. If I had unlimited resources and energy -Oh the many dogs I could love!

I have had as few as two dogs at once. I even had one for a time. When I was newly separated from a long term boyfriend we split up the dog children and he took Bogie and I took Jay Jay Star – my first greyhound. Jay Jay and I were together alone for a good while. I have to say that it was a very special time for me to be with just one dog. We were really bonded and she was my first heart-dog. I am not sure she loved when I brought another greyhound into her life when I added Gator to our little family but she lived with him in the best way she could. When I lost Jay Jay to cancer it was the first time I lost a dog since my childhood and Jay Jay was a heart-dog and it about ripped me apart. I took off two days from work. I couldn’t speak about her for weeks. She came into my life for a reason and she got me through some tough times. I will never forget her. I didn’t have another heart dog until I got Dave. But I loved many dogs in between. Losing one never stopped me from sharing my life with more. I could write for hours about all my dogs. They have all brought me so much and in many different ways. I love them all.

Because I live with packs of dogs I have watched in great depth the dynamics of dogs and the way the communicate with each other. With each addition or subtraction from the pack the dynamic changes. For a time our pack consisted of many old dogs. The dynamic there was much different than it is now. At one point it became almost like and old folks home. Throw rugs on the hard floors and medications spread out on the counters. I loved my old dogs. Now all my dogs are under 6 years old. I have one female dog, Lemon, who is a tough cookie and I have hesitated to add any other females to the group. She is uber smart and a tad bi-polar I think. I have three males all under three years who play quite a lot. We frown on play indoors if it gets too rowdy but try telling that to three puppy like males!

One things I have noticed is how the dynamic can change within the same pack. With my dogs now they have all taken on different roles in their group and sometimes in the family itself.  I see the two younger males, Reese and Pierce, vying for a higher position. Even trying to top Rudy as Alpha male. We have had tiffs too. We have had altercations that seem to come out of nowhere. But when you watch more closely you come to see they do have their reasons. I have taken to watching their dance to hopefully better understand how they work amongst themselves.  Most disagreements are normally worked out within the group. On some occasions we need to correct them. Lemon is our biggest issue and I will write more about her and how she has effected the dynamics of two different packs of dogs. It is quite interesting and she has had me puzzled on some days. I am not sure I will ever understand her but we try to live peacefully with her – letting her know our expectations. I sound like a parent now!

As I have been writing this I have been constantly asking Rudy to “go lay down” as he is trying to steal my tissue – he just ran in here with a throw blanket. These are his antics he likes to pull in the hour or so before feeding time. And as I have written this I have been up a number of times to let the dogs out- though I vow to not be the door man for them at their every whim.  I am a parent and a butler all at one time. It’s worth all of it. The late night pukes, the accidents on the carpet, the knocked over lamps and chewed non-dog approved items like throws, and newspapers and -yes- even couches (another story). The trips to the vets, chasing after them if they run off, and loving them as they get old and turn into wise dogs and the saying goodbye. I said goodbye to 4 dogs in the last couple years. My geriatrics left us one by one. Each time my heart broke just a little. To others that sadness  and pain may not be worth it – but to me it is. Living among dogs is one of the greatest gifts I have been given in my life. When one leaves me I open my heart to another. What they leave me with is not sadness – I miss them yes- but they leave me with the sense of hope. Knowing love is all that matters in this life, in its purest form we see what love can be when we love a pet. With humans it can get so muddled.  We are blessed to have these connections with animals. They can teach us so much and open us up. No wonder they use animals in therapy…they can go where no man can go sometimes..deep into a humans soul.

As an adult I have come to understand people better- though sometimes I have a hard time relating to them. And in their defense there have been people that find it hard to relate to me too. My affinity for canine companionship has only grown as I have grown. My appreciation for these beings has developed into gratitude. Dogs have helped heal me in more ways than I can share here. I hope they continue to do so in years to come. They have given me vastly more than I have given them but don’t tell them that. No … you can tell them that..they already know..and they are ok with it.

Thanks for reading….

Not my best quality photos but many good memories….


The boys relaxing together.



I thought this was sweet.



Humans are part of the pack too!




Pierce plays rough and for a while had some issues with Rudy. They worked them out and now are the best of friends.



Playing nicely – usually i try to make them play rough outdoors.. They do not love this idea!




I love this shot!



My current pack, Lemon, Rudy, Pierce, and Reese.



One of the wisest dogs I have known- Coach. Coach left in may 2013. It was because of Coach that we now have Pierce. Coach was very fearful when we got him and knowing how he changed made us know we were the right family for Pierce who was also very fearful.



I had two heart dogs at one time… who gets that lucky?



Riley and Dave – part of my geriatric group. They are no longer with us. Notice the throw rugs..helps make old dogs ambulatory!



Dave at 14 and my younger “yellows” as I used to call them.



Lemon often stays a bit away from the others. She has that female independence. She will play on her terms.



My greyhound Libby. She left June 2013. She was my last greyhound of five that I have had. I will have another one someday. She was an odd girl and did not get on well with Lemon. That was not her doing though. She lived comfortably in our bedroom for the last year or so of her life. Lemon became aggressive with her and I think it was bc Lemon sensed Libby’s cancer well before we knew she was ill. Greyhounds are too sensitive for the likes of Lemon.


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