In the house, I\’m always stepping over one or the other of my dogs, for they love to position themselves in strategic places from which they can monitor the household activities. I am told that this is typical of German Shepherds, who are apt, on their own initiative, to take responsibility for all kinds of things.
I also spend time pondering the mysteries of their dog-to-dog relationship. Lexi is ten. She is a very girly bitch, too smart for her own good, and with an independent streak. She is also beset by age-related aches and stiffnesses. Wolfie, not quite two years old, big of head and black of fur, outweighs her by some 15 pounds, and loves her with all his heart.
Wolfie has learned most of what he knows from Lexi. He watches her constantly, sniffs where she sniffs, barks when she barks. When we are outside, and she ranges far afield, he positions himself between her and me, looking anxiously from one to the other, worrying that we\’ll get separated.
Most of the time, she pays him no mind, hardly looks at him, except to occasionally take a bone away from him (she, who hasn\’t chewed a bone since she was a pup). She will no more let him lie down close to her than she will let him lick her bowl.
Wolfie badgers her a lot, sometimes roughly, to play, but in their games he\’s the only one I\’ve ever heard yelp. When she\’s had enough, she nips his leg, and that\’s the end of it. In every way, Lexi with her fine muzzle and her big eyes lords it over her galoot of a companion. Until recently I would have said that if they were to be separated, Lexi would hardly notice, whereas I would worry about Wolfie\’s sanity.
Lately, however, I\’ve begun to wonder. I first noticed something odd when I took both dogs to the vet a few weeks ago. Since they were only going to get their bordetella immunizations, I took them into the examination room together. Now Lexi in her long life has had blood taken and thermometers stuck under her tail innumerable times, and as a result she is apprehensive about the vet\’s. She paces restlessly while we\’re waiting, and though she never growls, she does her best to elude the hands that are trying to give her a shot or take a blood sample. This time, with Wolfie in the room, it was different. There was no anxious pacing during the wait. There was no trying to get away when the immunization was administered.
But it was during nail-trimming that I realized that something was really going on. If there is one thing that Lexi hates even more than going to the vet\’s, it\’s having her nails trimmed. Not that I trim her nails. I file them. This is the unsatisfactory compromise that she and I have settled on since the day I nicked her toe ten years ago.
When it\’s nail-trimming time, I put her on a down/stay, give her a treat, grasp a paw and start filing. It takes forever. My own fingernails get messed up in the process, and Lexi, even with the aid of treats, does not cooperate. She wiggles, she pulls her paws away, she struggles, she whines. I alternately encourage, implore, command, center myself and breathe, administer more treats, and eventually give up and let her go.
Wolfie on the other hand gets his nails done with a regular dog nail clipper. When I tell him to, he plops down on his side, leans his head on my thigh, and heaves a great big sigh. I give him a treat, and in a couple of minutes the job is done.
I used to put Wolfie in his crate while I worked on Lexi\’s nails, worried that he would upset her by coming near her, go for the treats, or otherwise disrupt the precarious balance of the procedure. But we\’ve put away the crate because Wolfie no longer needs it, so the last couple of times I decided to trust that he would stay out of the way while I filed Lexi\’s nails.
And here is the strange thing. Wolfie did not stay away. Instead he plopped himself down right next to Lexi, almost touching her, and put his nose down on his paws. I was steeling myself for major snaps and growls from Lexi when I realized that, instead, she was lying placidly on her back, her paw limp in my hand as I filed away, a look of utter relaxation on her face. Well, I thought, this will all change when I start to file her hind paws (always the more problematic), or when Wolfie gets antsy and starts moving around.
But nothing changed. Lexi let me work on her hind paws and Wolfie kept his nose millimeters from her fur, his body pressed against my leg. He was so relaxed that he could have been asleep, except that his eyes were open and alert. If I hadn\’t been afraid of interrupting the moment\’s magic, I would have hugged him, for seeing a job that needed doing, and stepping up to the plate.
Large dogs age quickly, and the day will eventually come when we will have to do Lexi the mercy of euthanasia. I have often wondered how I will plan it so that she will not feel stress or anxiety, for even more than about losing her, I am appalled by the thought that she might be afraid at the end. Now I know that, when that day comes, Wolfie will be there to ease the moment for his old friend, as well as for me.