I'd like to start out by saying it was just a normal day...a day like any other. In hindsight, however, that just wouldn't be very accurate. Yesterday was a bad day for Sarah. I knew this, I acknowledged it, but I didn't add it up until it was too late.
Sarah was feeling rather grumpy and moving kind of slow. I asked her to come lay by me while I was on the computer working so we could enjoy each other's company. She obligingly got up from her resting spot and laid down on her pillow and let out a deep, contented sigh. I went back to my computer screen to send a message to my boyfriend that went like this "I'm worried about Sarah. She isn't looking so hot..." In the middle of sending that message, the fight broke out. And it scared the crap out of me.
A little history: B is a very, very socially inappropriate dog. I (very seriously) liken her behavior to that of someone with Asperger's Syndrome: she doesn't understand dog signals and body language, she avoids eye contact but will often stare at Sarah until eye contact is made and then she looks away. She is extremely sensitive to her environment and becomes overstimulated quickly. She doesn't reciprocate smelling of hineys, meaning she's "allowed" to smell another dog but she gets very stiff and uneasy when another dog tries to smell her. And that is the exact behavior that landed her in a fight yesterday afternoon.
While Sarah was relaxing, Bizzle went in for a sniff of her lady parts. Normally, Sarah dismisses Bizzle's unfair and invasive actions with no more than a dirty look. I'm usually able to intervene and redirect their attention. Like I said, though, Sarah was extra-grumpy and she decided Bizzle needed to be told where to go. Sarah is pretty fair when she tells off another dog. She sounds ferocious but it's all noise...if the other dog says "Uncle", she lets them off with a warning. Bizzle is a do-or-die kind of dog. B doesn't say "Uncle". Sarah snapped at her and lunged on top of her. Bizzle screamed and retaliated. I yelled "HEY!" but it wasn't enough. I banged on the kitchen counter to make an interrupting noise but even that went unnoticed. My next move, although it is not recommended, was instinct. I got in the middle of it and tried to break it up.
I know, I know. Your not supposed to do that. But I'm sorry! Adrenaline was pumping, there was so much screaming and growling...I did what I thought I had to do, not what I should do.
The girls were latched on to each other before I even had time to process what was going on. There was no escalation. It was just all out brawl from the get-go. I always go for Sarah first. She's the biggest and can do the most damage. This leaves me plagued with guilt, though, because when I stop Sarah from fighting I'm now allowing Bizz a clear shot...and that is completely unfair. Bizz is the kind of dog that goes back for more. She doesn't run off sulking and hide to nurse her wounds. Nope. She gets right back in the fight, barking mad with her eyes wild. So when I grabbed Sarah by the collar and got her off of Bizzle's neck, B ran in for more and bit Sarah's tail many times before I could stop her. I was able to grab Bizz by her scruff in the middle of one of her lunges and separated them for enough seconds that the tension was eased.
It was quite a site - there I was, pushing 93 lbs of dog up against the wall with one hand while holding the scruff of a scrappy 20 lb puggle in the other...and all of us are panting like crazy. I separated the two of them and started triage. Score: Sarah received two punctures, one of which substantial but not enough for stitches, several lacerations and a swollen leg. Bizzle received three punctures, two received stitches, and several lacerations.
I couldn't help but feel completely useless as a dog owner and as a trainer. If I can't make better decisions with my own dogs, how can I expect to be worthy as an educator to other dog owners?! Thankfully, a lot of my peers comforted me back to reality. The truth is, like I'm always saying, dogs are not machines. They are living, breathing, thinking creatures who happen to have sharp teeth capable of solving any disagreement. As a trainer, I give my clients my undivided attention. I'm watching them like a hawk, studying their body language - I am far more prepared than when I am at home with my own dogs. To expect myself to be on guard 24/7 is unrealistic. To expect my dogs to get along every day of their lives is also very unrealistic.
The girls come home from the vet later this afternoon. They are getting shaved, cleaned and stitched. As expected, the repair of their physical state is doing some significant damage to my bank account. :( When they get home, they will be separated for several days until they can prove to me that the beef between them is over. And then we carry on.