The Importance of Being Aware

We have been taking our time integrating our foster dog (Jonah) with our resident dog (Frankie) because of Jonah’s unknown background and odd, shut-down behavior. Jonah has been really coming out of his shell and as he begins exhibiting normal dog behavior, we have been slowly increasing the amount that Jonah and Frankie interact.


We left you with a description of the behavior in the above picture on Jonah and Frankie’s Awkward First Meetings. A little later but during the same interaction when this photo was taken (after they had gone back to the ground to play), Jonah lunged for Frankie and it was my fault.

Let’s back up a little bit here and give some background:

We know that Jonah will guard his kennel and food (we learned this the first time he growled at her). That was easily managed by putting his kennel in an out of the way room and feeding him in his kennel. Frankie doesn’t approach his kennel (and there is actually a baby gate so she can’t go sneaking to his kennel) and he hasn’t had an issue since. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been watching him for potential guarding behavior, though. We watch carefully during all of their interactions, but I am especially cautious when there are toys nearby (he has not shown any interest in guarding these) or when he is on the couch or his bed.

Why would we be worried about the couch? Dogs that guard food are likely to guard certain spaces, like their kennel or furniture. We are careful about only allowing them on the couch together if Jonah gets up there after Frankie does (so she isn’t just walking into his space when he is comfortable or sleeping).  Anyway, it had nothing to do with the couch.

So what happened? Jonah and Frankie were playing in the living room and I was holding Jonah’s leash (because I’m overly cautious and neurotic). They are having a good time, Jonah is play-bowing and pawing at her. There is a water bowl a couple of feet away and Frankie detours from playing to get a drink of water. Because things were going so well it took me a couple of seconds to look down after he stopped moving.  At first, I laughed at him because he was sitting and his head and neck were almost touching the ground. Then I noticed that he was intently watching Frankie drink and Jonah’s body language no longer shouted play.  I said something to him and was going to move him away when Frankie was finished drinking. She walked past Jonah to go toward the couch. As soon as she passed him, he made a powerful lunge for her. He came pretty damn close to making contact with her but because I had seen him become still and was watching him, I was able to yank the leash back and keep him from connecting with her. Frankie didn’t even notice what almost happened. This whole incident happened in in less than 6 seconds, from him going still to lunging.

The picture below shows the general set up, although there wasn’t a toy, Jonah wasn’t tethered, and the water bowl was two feet further away.


What do you do after a near miss? It depends on the situation, but what I did was lead Jonah by his leash to his kennel and put him in it. This was not me angrily grabbing his collar and tossing him into the kennel as a punishment. I put Jonah in his kennel for the following reasons:

  • To remove him from the situation
  • To put him in a place he feels safe but isn’t rewarding like being out playing with toys
  • To give me time think about what to do so the situation doesn’t happen again
  • To get him out of my sight–this sounds harsh but it is true. Am I upset when my crown jewel almost gets bitten? HELL YES. And you know what you don’t do when you’re upset? Interact with animals. 

Resource guarding is often out of insecurity. The last thing an insecure animal needs is to get yelled at or physically intimidated. You know what that leads to? More insecurity and more guarding.  Also, screaming and being rough with animals is mean. The notion that you have to be alpha and dominate them is tired and should be put to rest.

Now we will watch their access to water (which is more difficult to do because it should always be readily available, but we will manage somehow) so that he doesn’t have an opportunity to guard. We hope to try and counter-condition him to her at the water dish over time.

We kept them apart for the rest of the night just to give Jonah some time to get out of the guarding mindset and to shake the negative interaction off.

When we reintroduced them, they did extremely well. We kept things low-key for a few days and then let them play again. It didn’t take them long to go back to their odd, overbearing playing ways, as seen in the photo below.


I always watch them closely when they are playing to watch for either of them getting overstimulated and turning that high arousal into fearful aggression. Frankie typically respects dog’s boundaries a lot more than in this picture (and I removed her so she wasn’t on top of him right after taking it..priorities) but Jonah is a full-steam ahead player. He runs smack-dab into her, paws at her face, tries to get the higher ground and has 800% more energy than Frankie does.

They had been doing so well that I let them play outside together for a while and was thinking maybe I didn’t need to be so careful and that they could be integrated in the house in the next couple of days.

A little while after they were playing, things had calmed down and Frankie was laying on the couch beside me. Jonah was off-leash and climbed over my lap to lay next to Frankie, which promptly changed into Jonah laying on top of Frankie and them sweetly interacting, gently licking.  I was watching them because I wanted to make sure Frankie was comfortable (she didn’t seem bothered by him being all over her) and not feeling trapped.  I was also just watching because they were being freaking adorable.

Then I noticed Jonah suddenly go extremely still. Before I could do anything to interrupt, Jonah attacked Frankie. He reared up his head and  growling, dove in toward her face snapping at her. I yelled and was able to reach in, grab his collar and pull him off of the couch. He did not make contact with her. The whole interaction from going still to getting pulled off of the couch was less than 3 seconds.

I repeated what we had done from a few days ago (from the water bowl guarding incident) and took him to his kennel. After I came back to sit on the couch with Frankie, my hands were shaking.My wife was sitting in the recliner right next to us and keeping an eye on things and didn’t see anything amiss until she heard the growl and saw the commotion.

Frankie didn’t do anything to defend herself so Jonah must have checked himself on some level or she would have had a bite land on her.

It left me questioning: What happened?

This altercation hit me a lot harder than the guarding one because it was difficult to foresee and predict. I had noticed how close their faces were (because they just haven’t had time to become that comfortable with physical closeness) and had (on several occasions) stopped them from ‘making out’ so they could give each other some space. Even though I was alert enough to make note of it, I didn’t think it was a big enough deal to stop it.

When watching Jonah lay on Frankie, I made sure he had an easy way off of her and could leave if he wanted. I didn’t want him to feel trapped, either, even though he was the one on top. In the end, it didn’t matter because his response to (feeling threatened? unsure? I still don’t know what he was reacting to and just hypothesize it was how close their faces were) was not flight, it was fight.

Honestly, I was really mad after he attacked her. Frankie is my pride and joy and didn’t do anything to warrant his response. I didn’t want my emotions to change how I interacted with him so I did the only thing I could–left him alone. My wife took care of him for the rest of the night and talked with me about what happened to help me re-frame how I saw the interaction.

My partner reminded me:

  • Jonah wasn’t socialized like other dogs and doesn’t know how to react in a lot of different situations.
  • He has come so far and experienced a lot of emotional growth in the month that we have had him. He is not done growing.
  • Frankie is fine. She didn’t get hurt. And she is a forgiving dog. So their relationship is not most likely not ruined.
  • Jonah is still learning how to be a real dog. He didn’t attack her because he was being mean. Something happened (real or imagined) that made him feel unsafe.
  • I got there in time. Because we were watching them, we were able to keep them safe.
  • Now we know he has a long way to go before we can trust him. If we can trust him.

It’s been a few days since this happened but writing about it makes me feel all of the emotions over again. What happened was extremely disheartening but it gave us the information we needed and told us to slow the hell down. Even though we are already going slowly.

Everyone needs a reminder once in a while and I’m glad that ours came without any permanent damage.









4 responses to “The Importance of Being Aware

  1. I’m sorry these things happened. I have learned with poor little, insecure Kiki that an escape route means very little to some dogs. Even when she is planted square on a human’s chest, she sometimes chooses the fight instead of flight (you’ve probably experienced it). I have though about it and can’t figure out why. As always, you’re doing great! Thanks for posting.


  2. I can really relate to your situation and give you a ton of credit for being so patient. I have 2 pitbulls, a mother and her daughter (both grown) and they have had a handful of fights in the past couple of years, but recently they had gotten into 3 fights within a little more than a month. For the most part, I figured out that the fights were stemming from some type of resource guarding but the last fight we were all in the bed, mom growled because her daughter got in her face (which this has happened all the time), but one of them attacked (I think it was the daughter) and they got into another fight. As a person who is dealing with dogs fighting, especially 2 75-pound pitbulls (and by myself, might I add), your adrenaline goes sky high. Because of this last incident that basically came out of nowhere, I’m actually afraid to put them back together again so I have resorted to the crate and rotate tactic which is really a pain to deal with, both for them, and for me. The dogs are my exes and he plans on taking the daughter within the next couple of weeks, and as much as I’d like to try to get them together again so we could potentially have future play dates (the daughter absolutely loves her mom), I’m so afraid and don’t know how to go about doing it. I’m also concerned that because I’m afraid that they would sense it and everyone will be on high alert which would probably cause problems if I were to get them together again. Do you have any advice on if/how I could get them together again? I am really enjoying your blogs — you and your wife are doing a great job with those dogs!


  3. I read your blog like a drama, on the edge of my seat. I really appreciate all of your knowledge. Can’t believe how much you’ve made me think about dog behavior.
    I think we all want things to be ” normal” quickly.


  4. Pingback: Weekly Woof from the Web | AniEd Ireland·

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