Friday, August 15, 2014

The Tajji Diaries: “Cats and Dogs Living Together…”

Shakir invites play

In recent blog posts, Dave and I have discussed Tajji’s progress in dealing with other dogs. Tajji is our newly (5 months) adopted retired seeing eye dog, a 10 year old German Shepherd female who had major reactivity issues, especially with small dogs. The extraction of a fractured tooth has resolved her chronic pain, and enrollment in a reactive dog class (“Reactive Rover” taught by Sandi Pensinger of Living With Dogs, using only positive techniques, never punishment) has given us all tools to continue progress. 

It’s time for an update on Tajji’s adventures in Living With Cats. For the 8 years of her working life, she did not live with cats, although we assume she was exposed to them as part of her early socialization and training. We introduced her to our two dog-savvy cats in stages, beginning with barriers and progressing to escape-places for the cats and lots of human supervision. After some initial confusion on the part of the dog, because cats and dogs interprets many body-language signals in different ways, communication was established and détente soon followed.

The next phase was entirely the doing of Shakir, our black male cat who has a history of being extremely fond of large dogs. He adored our previous German Shepherd Dog, who was too intimidated to let Shakir cuddle with him. Tajji is of a much more phlegmatic temperament than our previous dog, and it wasn’t too long before she would curl up at our feet at the dining table and Shakir would come over, approaching her politely (no direct eye contact, curved path, looking away, soft eyes). A sniff became a rub, and soon he was polishing her feet, her muzzle, and the sides of her head with his jaw. Purring loudly, he’d pass under her head, turn and repeat, and I’m sure the banquet of kitty-butt smells was delightful to the dog. 

One of Shakir’s favorite pastimes became chewing on Tajji’s nails. This is fascinating for two reasons. One is that he loves to chew on his own hind claws (never the front ones). The other is that she has hollow nails and is sensitive about her feet. (We’re working on that.) We’ve looked down to see him curled at her feet, his tail draped over her nose.

From time to time, we noticed that Tajjir would rush at Shakir, often at great speed, and we became concerned that if her prey drive were sufficiently engaged, she might injure him. All dogs have some degree of prey drive, and German Shepherd Dogs tend to fall at the higher end, so saying that Tajji has the lowest prey drive of any GSD we’ve known isn’t saying much. For a time, we put up the baby gates across the division between living and dining rooms. Then we noticed that Shakir would duck under the gate, turn around, and with an air of feline insouciance, saunter back under it. In other words, he was inviting her to chase him.

Needless to say, our house is well supplied with places cats can jump up on or crawl or behind that are not dog-accessible. The logical conclusion is that any time either of the cats is running toward or away from the dog, it’s because they choose to.

The cats are fully in control of the situation. The dog only pretends to be.

One way Shakir invites play is to roll over on his back, waving his paws, claws extended. He is extremely careful to retract those claws once someone – human, canine, or feline – engages with him. (Incidentally, he also strongly prefers to be stroked gently, and will enforce that preference.) Tajji does not know quite what to make of this. I think she’d “get” a play bow, but cats don’t do that. Shakir has been rolling over for her, at first on the other side of a set of chair legs, then on the same side, getting ever closer and closer. Once or twice, she’s responded by trying to place her paw on him.  This hasn’t worked out all that well, as the touch is way too heavy and rough for him. He flips over and heads for the nearest no-dog zone.

One of these days, one of them will pick a play strategy (other than “Chase”) that the other will understand. Or we’ll find the two of them fast asleep, cuddled against each other.

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