I’m slow to become aware…

It’s taken me a few days… Perhaps four or five… to realize Chris is behaving somewhat differently.

I’ve had Chris since he turned a year old. That was three and a half years ago. He’s always been somewhat of a Scamp. His coat was fading from the red poodle coat when I got him. Now it has settled to a pleasing apricot hue, though his color shifts with the light.

Chris was extremely shy and quickly bonded to Bernie. Typical of the Goldendoodle breed, Bernie is never dominant. He’s tolerant of everyone and everything.

Chris is dominant and playful. Chris delights in harassing Bernie and they play-fight all the time. It’s delightful to watch two large dogs grabbing collars, legs and just about anything else to give them the edge.

Their tussle never lasts more than a few minutes. Some silent signal ends it. They separate. They both might seek water, or they might just walk away, totally ignoring each other.

I never know.

This playful behavior has a distinct pattern, and I’ve grown used to it. I look forward to it. It signals Bernie and Chris are happy and healthy.

That’s why I am concerned with Chris’s behavior. Although I spotted something a bit different a few days ago, I accepted it as temporary.

It took today’s therapy dog visit to realize I need to do more research.

Here are my observations…

Chris always enjoys wandering and investigating, but always flashes back to me. It’s become a game between us. He will disappear for a few minutes. I will stop walking and turn around, looking for him. Sometimes I spot him off in the distance… Maybe a hundred yards away in the next field. Sometimes I don’t see him at all.

Depending on my mood, I might turn back around and continue walking. Or I might blow my dog whistle, scan the horizon, and watch Chris appear.

He always shows up. He races toward me with a happy bounce. I gleefully encourage him, “There you are!”

Now here is the change.

For the last two days, Chris has been staying by my side. Oh, he will dart away in the beginning, but when he comes back, he stations himself either on my right or left side and matches my walking stride. I can walk more than a hundred steps, with him glued to me.

On a long walk, about a mile, he breaks off and wanders, but not far. Both dogs usually station themselves about twenty feet from me. I walk on the sidewalk, and they patrol about twenty feet off to one side or the other.

I noticed Chris’s new behavior, but I don’t understand what prompted it.

Today, during the therapy pet session a significant change happened. Both dogs are off leash and wander among the dozen or so folks in the room.

Our group forms a large twenty-foot circle. Everyone is either in a chair or a wheelchair. We visit for an hour, and the action can be fairly static. Sometimes the dogs are petted. Other times, one or both dogs may be laying down for a minute or two.

At some point, perhaps dog boredom, the dogs will eye each other and start play-fighting.

In the past, Chris always instigates the fight. That’s his spirited character. Bernie accepts the challenge. The fight is scripted. Chris starts it, and without fail, Bernie will be on his back while Chris straddles him.

dog fight-a.350

Bernie will manage to reverse the situation… But Chris is nimble-footed enough, so he rarely finds himself on his back.

Today, without any warning, Bernie made the first move. It surprised me. I fully expected Chris to accept the challenge.

Chris didn’t.

Bernie grabbed a leg and pulled. Chris froze. He didn’t resist. He planted all four feet. Bernie weighs 80 pounds, but 40-pound Chris didn’t budge.

Bernie let go of the front foot and shifted to grab Chris’s collar. Chris was a frozen statute.

At one point, Bernie had such a tight hold on Chris’s collar that Chris was yanked slightly off his feet.

Chris remained a wooden statue. Chris didn’t bark. He didn’t try to twist away. He let Bernie move him around.

All of this action took less than five seconds. Bernie suddenly quit all his moves to play with Chris. Chris didn’t acknowledge Bernie.

Bernie walked away, and Chris relaxed his posture and came over to me.

I didn’t know what to do. No harm, no foul. I petted Chris because he was there. I didn’t acknowledge Bernie because he had turned away. A man called to Bernie and Bernie went to him and was petted.

I shared my thoughts with the group. It was the first time Bernie had initiated a play-fight. It was the first time I’ve ever seen Chris display passive defensive behavior.

The entire time we were visiting today, Chris kept by my side with a tucked tail.

It’s a very friendly group. Most of them are regulars we see every Tuesday afternoon.

I didn’t observe any overt reason for Chris to feel afraid. He just wanted my protection.

It isn’t the first time I’ve been stumped regarding their behavior. Maybe someday I’ll find the reason.

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