You wouldn’t believe it if you met her. She’s blond, leggy, happy-go-lucky, and stops in her tracks right on the sidewalk when a stranger walks by. She will sit, actually pose, like the perfect beauty queen waiting to be crowned, but in this case petted and fawned upon.
Her name, LaRue, is actually the perfect name. She was found on the streets and picked up by the county pound. The white, fluffy girl was walking the green mile when I met and adopted her. So part of her name “Rue” for all of you who learned a bit of high school French, means street. I don’t think LaRue necessarily spent too much time on the mean streets of St. Louis, but she probably learned a few survival tactics.
Now, I’m not saying LaRue was ever on the attack, or tripping unknowing dogs as they trot in her path, or making dogs hand over their treats. No, my sweet little 3 year old Lhasa Apso/Maltese/ Shih Tzu (I still need to do a doggy DNA) was much more subtle. I discovered LaRue had a bit of Mean Girl in her, when my sister came to visit with her Chihuahua, Nemo. LaRue is young, vibrant and one that I’m still not convinced was not in a circus. She twirls and twirls and jumps, and leaps. Nemo, on the other hand, just likes to chill, but clearly not with LaRue. That is something my girl quickly discovered. LaRue would run and twirl through my house and get just close enough to Nemo and want to play. She’d do a little Crouching Tiger move on Nemo with her paws lifted in the air and Nemo would simply move to another couch or to his safe haven bed.
I thought it was slightly cute the first time, but my sister didn’t. LaRue is twice Nemo’s size, and his level of tolerance…zilch. It quickly turned into LaRue being the pestering little sister and Nemo growling and snipping at her. LaRue was quickly learning how to play the Mean Girl role, but running off when I would catch her doing it. Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Amy Shojai, and the author of “ComPETability: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Cat-Dog Household,” (even though LaRue and Nemo are both dogs) says “Dogs (and cats) often indulge in “pester” behavior as a game that’s fun for them but not necessarily for the targeted pet. Think of this in terms of the playground bully who gets kicks out of teasing and getting a rise out of playmates. It makes the other fur-kids miserable but becomes so rewarding for the bully that it can be tough to stop. Dogs that chase cats have the same mindset. It’s important to know the difference between aggressive targeting (intent to cause harm) and simply bully-behavior. Neither is good, but the one can be dangerous or even deadly to the targeted pet.”
So, I knew I had to change LaRue’s behavior. I didn’t want her known as the Mean Girl in the neighborhood, and more importantly, I certainly didn’t want her pestering to become something much more dangerous against Nemo or any other pet.
I knew LaRue was watching my reaction each time she had a Mean Girl mood. Shojai says, “Management is the name of the game with these pet relationships. Also pay attention to what the humans do in these situations. It could be that an owner rewards the bully-pet behavior without realizing it simply by offering attention. After all, even “bad” attention may be more rewarding than being ignored, so you may help the situation by analyzing when it happens (when you’re preparing dinner? otherwise engaged) and figuring out what you do in response that MAY be rewarding.”
So every time she would attempt to run up to want and play with (or pester) Nemo, I distracted LaRue with a favorite toy or game, but I would only use her preferred toy when Nemo was in the room. Shojai says, “With consistency, the mere sight of Nemo should signal to LaRue to come to you for her reward instead of driving the other dog bonkers.”
I’m happy to report that LaRue quickly stopped her Mean Girl tendencies. Nemo is much happier, and not looking behind his back when he comes to visit. Now, he still doesn’t like her but at least they can literally sit on the same couch and amazingly not even acknowledge each other. Can’t we all just get along?