Friday, January 28, 2011

the terror of terriers

This is Phoebe.
She is an almost-eleven-year-old Jack Russell terrier from the Fleck kennels in Woodinville, WA. Phoebe was not perfectly conformed for breeding purposes, so she was fixed and left to roam with the rest of the terriers in the kennel for the first few years of her life. Her fixation on tennis balls and increasing desire to pick fights with the alpha females at the kennel led her to be adopted by a friend of ours in 2004, and we trained her for flyball as a height dog. A few years later the friend could no longer take proper care of her, so between that and the club's need to continue having Phoebe as a height dog, we adopted her in May 2008. Two months later Ezri was born, and she came home two months after that, so in the space of four months we went from two dogs to four.

Phoebe likes to jump. Preferably for tennis balls.

Phoebe spends most of her time trying to find small critters/rodents to harass and preferably kill if she can reach them. She discovered mice in our shed, which we promptly had removed much to her chagrin, and she's been borrowed by a friend to help find where mice/rats were getting into her garage. These skills have proven excellent in a try at the terrier sport of BarnDog, where the point is to find a rat in a PVC pipe as quickly as possible. When we gave it a try while in Phoenix last year for a tournament, she had nine finds in five minutes - and most of that time was re-hiding the rat! Unfortunately every BarnDog and EarthDog event I've found around Seattle has fallen on the same weekend as a flyball tournament, so we haven't given Phoebe any additional work in this area.

Phoebe's insane prey drive and Napoleonic delusions of grandeur have resulted in unhappy events for her, although she refuses to learn from these experiences. We have to keep her and the cats completely separated, which results in the cats staying in the basement all the time. This is because despite both cats outweighing her and having much more formidable weaponry than she will ever possess, Phoebe is insistent that she needs to kill the cats. She's never hurt them, but they have hurt her in their defense, and it's a stressful occasion all around. Phoebe has also decided that she needs to challenge the border collie females as well, and again to her detriment as both Jadzia and Ezri will fight back and end the fight. This photo was taken last summer after an altercation that Phoebe initiated against Jadzia ended with a puncture wound just on her neck (but not quite in the jugular). Phoebe was less than happy about her head being wrapped in vetwrap, but it was necessary to control the bleeding. She's had two more serious altercations with Jadzia, and finally seems to have largely given up challenging poor instead she's started challenging Ezri. Now the demon princess Ezri is much younger and much scrappier than Jadzia, so she's more than happy to bring it to the table when Phoebe starts something. We've had two serious altercations, one of which occurred while Phoebe, Ezri, and Curzon were at play-camp over Christmas, and so we decided that it was time to minimize the triggers that make Phoebe so reactive and attack-prone.

The two biggest triggers for causing Phoebe to pull one of her kamikaze attack missions are a visitor at the front door and time out in the kennel (where the dogs stay while we are at work). We have no idea what the trigger is when the dogs are in the kennel, but my suspicion is that it is when someone walks by the house or pulls into the driveway, which would cause Jadzia and Ezri to do their "OMG I'm a guard dog bark bark" alert, which Phoebe hates and wants to stop. They've never done it when out in the kennel while we're at home, even if they don't know we are (i.e. one of us leaves and the other is still home), so we can't know for sure. But we've decided to block the possibility of an altercation from happening again via the Pen of Shame, shown to the side here. It's our old e-pen, attached to the fence using eyebolts and zipties, that makes a "kennel within a kennel" to corral Phoebe and keep her away from the border collies. This is working just fine so far, although this is the first week we've used it so I'm hesitant to say it's a perfect solution, but it is definitely promising.

Continuing on with our "separation is best" theory of dealing with this, Phoebe now has her own crate for flyball practice and tournaments (leaving the e-pen to the border collies), and we've been leashing her to the couch when people are expected over. We still have a few issues (especially with a surprise visitor), but I am hoping that with some additional training we can overcome these or at least stop the fighting. It's going to be a while before Phoebe can retire from flyball, and although we do plan to find her a nice "retirement" home where she will be happier (i.e. be an only dog), we still have to live with her until we do.

(edit) First two photos are credit to Artis Photography, who take wonderful photos and are tons of fun to work with!

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