Reigning cats and dogs: the more around the merrier

PETS AT HOME

August 08, 1992|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

No sensible person has more than two dogs. You can pet two dogs at once, walk two dogs at once, carry two food bowls at once without spilling and snuggle two dogs on the couch at once, one on your left and one on your right.

But "sensible" has never been a trait I particularly admired, at least not as it applies to animals. So in my house, leashes tangle, food bowls spill and dogs sprawl across my lap as I try to read.

There's something fascinating about a group of animals, and I love watching the subtle body language they use with one another.

I know people who have three or more dogs and don't know which is the top one. In my house there's no doubt: 11-year-old Toni rules with an iron paw and flashing teeth.

Sometimes I'll catch her glaring peevishly at Andy or Bob, and watch her expression soften as she raises her eyes to mine. When I speak to her, she crumbles, but every morning she dances with the boys, putting her head over their backs and curling her long nose around to whisper threats into their ears.

Andy's the next down on the hierarchy, which means easy-going Bobby has to be clever to accomplish his goals. I'm amazed at his ingenuity.

The other day Andy was resting in the doorway of a room Bobby wanted to enter because he wanted to be petted. The younger dog approached a few times, but each time a rumbling growl and a flash of teeth from Andy kept Bobby at bay.

Suddenly Bobby raced to the back door and let fly a salvo of challenging barks. As Andy raced to investigate, Bobby doubled back and bounded into the room with the world's biggest canine grin on his face.

But Andy's easy to fool. The neighbor cats have been doing it for years and he hasn't caught on -- or caught one -- yet. The cats play it cool, sunning themselves on Andy's patio and putting just barely enough effort into the graceful leap that puts them out of Andy's fuming reach. After six years, he still hopes that one day the tables will be turned.

I don't think they will, but watching him try and seeing the smug looks on those feline faces is worth the extra craziness of living in a house brimming with animals.

Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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