I’ve always heard that if you have more than one child, they will all have different personalities. I never personally tested that, being content with the one child I had and no one to compare him to.
But a year ago, we became pet parents to our third dog, Lizzy the Lab-ish (meaning she’s part Lab and part who knows). Her “birthday,” which is actually the anniversary of the day she came to us, was this week, and as our three pups were gobbling their birthday hamburger, I was reflecting on how sibling differences work even on our three dog children.
Our chihua-mutt Buddy (meaning we’re not sure he’s all chihuahua, despite his assurance that he came straight to Magee from Mexico) is a true Alpha Male. Actually, he’s the only male of the three, but he’s up for the part. I call him The Head Dog.
Despite weighing in at a mere 6 pounds, he’s very aggressive. He’s a fighter, not a lover. A growl from him can put the 60 pound Lizzy on the ground, groveling for his favor. He patrols the backyard constantly, watching for anything that doesn’t meet his approval and giving it a piece of his mind when he finds it, be it Lizzy on the other side of the fence, a snake that crawls into the yard, or the neighbor’s dogs who visit occasionally.
They play along with Buddy’s power grab, pretending to turn tail and run home when he charges them at the fence. I can hear them chuckling all the way home about “Big Bud.” Either of them outweighs him by at least 50 pounds, but they’re too well mannered to disillusion him.
If you’re handing out treats, you have to treat Buddy first, or he turns up his nose at your offering. You have disrepected his position as Head Dog, and he will make you pay by ignoring you for days.
Betsy, the shih-tzu wannabe (meaning, she’s not all the shih-tzu she’s cracked up to be), is the polar opposite of Buddy in personality, though they’ve lived in the house together for four years now.
Though she is the No. 1 Top Assistant Dog, Betsy is a lover, not a fighter. Her favorite place is not patrolling the backyard looking for culprits, it’s piled up in my lap, turned over with her four paws waving in the air like a baby begging to be petted.
Despite being double his weight, she has a healthy respect for Buddy, who snaps at her occasionally to keep her in line. Betsy fears that snap. If he is already on the bed, she will jump up only as far as the ottoman we keep beside it, then peer up at me as if to say, “He’s up there waiting to snap at me! Will you carry me to the other side of the bed so I can get my place?” And I do. I remember bullies in school.
You never have to raise your voice to Betsy. A quiet “no no” is enough to shame her into obedience. She’s the child who wants to know what you expect from her so that she can do it. She doesn’t have to get the first treat.
And then there’s Lizzy -- Queen Elizabeth, who in the year since she showed up as a puppy on our carport, has turned into a huge, strong, fast, smart one-dog demolition company.
No good deed goes unpunished. I should have remembered that maxim when I told my husband we ought to keep her. He had taken one look at her and started calling people to see if they wanted a dog.
She is our “wild child.” She absolutely cannot be controlled unless I use my “I really mean it” classroom voice on her. Even then, it’s a crapshoot as to whether she will obey.
She is willful and “in your face.” Because of her energy level, we don’t let her in the house, and we don’t even let her in the back fence, where she tears up patio furniture, grabs plants out of pots and terrorizes Betsy.
This morning my husband said he needed to go out and visit with Lizzy a few minutes. He kept sitting. “I’m trying to work up my courage,” he said.
She loves us, but that loves comes across as an attack when you step out the back door. Here she comes, flying straight at you, ignoring your cries of “Stop! Stop!” We carry bandaids when we go to visit her. She’s so happy to see us and have company, but she doesn’t know she shouldn’t plow into old people and give them big slurps in the face. They may not survive the encounter!
I know what you’re thinking. You’d get control of her. We’ve tried. We bought her a leash. She grabs it in her mouth and pulls us along for the walk. We’ve tried the shock collar. So far, that has been a disaster. When she somehow got a super shock and went berserk, we jerked the collar off and had guilt attacks. We’re going to try again. We’re working up our courage.
But she’s so sweet, so joyous, so in love with life, that we can’t be too mad at her.
Isn’t that they way it is with your real children? They may not be like you, they may not all have the same nice personalities, but you love them just the same because they’re yours.