When we brought Max home, Mabel did not like him. Let me rephrase for clarity: Mabel despised him.
I think it was Max’s quick, jumpy movements that made Mabel think he was perhaps little more than a funny-looking squirrel. I could almost read in her eyes the desire to chase him and the sure knowledge that, unlike all the others, she could catch this one.
Max knew immediately that Mabel was one of his kind. She, on the other hand, would not lower herself to believe such nonsense.
Mabel was curious about Max, but did not want him looking at her. She would approach him when he wasn’t paying attention, sniff his fur, and then quickly look away the instant he turned his head toward her, as if to say, “It wasn’t me!” I swear, she’d whistle at the ceiling if she could.
All Max really wanted to do was snuggle with her. All Mabel really wanted to do was serve him with breakfast.
When he sought her out, inching close enough to touch her foot or sniff her leg, Mabel would jump in the air, execute a ballerina-football-player move and land three feet away, wide eyed and panting. Sometimes, the hair along her spine would raise as she glared at him for daring to touch her. Other times she would just look at me as if to beg, “Control that beast!!”
We brought Max home on a Friday night. On Saturday morning Mabel watched as Max tried in vain to haul off with one of her bone-shaped chew toys. When he finally gave in to the fact that the weight of the bone was more than he could lift, he abandoned the project in favor of chasing Victoria’s painted toenails. Seeing that her toy was no longer being violated, Mabel whisked it away to my flowerbed, where for the first time ever we watched her bury it so no one could find it. Never mind that she left it half sticking out of the ground like a waving flag. Her instincts were on and she was protecting what was hers.
That Sunday morning Mabel lay sunning herself in the grass beside my flower bed, likely as a means to guard what she had buried the day before. Max minded his own business on the patio until their eyes met. Then he began to slowly move toward her. Like a lion stalking prey in the outback, Max crouched to the ground and steadily put one foot in front of the other. Mabel’s eyebrow quirked upward. Her ears perked up and she watched him intently, not maliciously, for the first time. I thought I saw a flash of recognition in her eyes. “Hey, that thing might be a dog after all. Interesting.”
I took it as a good sign that Mabel might stop thinking of him as a walking hors d’oeuvre, and that hopefully soon we could let them play unsupervised. As it was, we monitored every single interaction. Because of Mabel’s fierce rejection of him initially, I feared any interest from her was self-serving and possibly detrimental to Max’s well-being, especially since she still gave him the “crazy eye” every time he came near her.
On the eighth day of Max’s life in our household, Mabel pawed at him before placing her mouth around his neck and giving him a quick spin across the patio. He righted himself, turned and lunged at her face. She ran far and fast to the end of the yard, leaving Max standing alone in her dust. She returned quickly and they faced off once again. She pawed at him again, but this time he was ready. He ducked, evaded her jaws, and displayed toes and teeth as he sprang at her face. She ran away, only to return again with a playful look in her eyes. Finally, I mused and let out a long held breath.
“So, Mabel,” I drawled as I scooped Max up and plopped him in my lap. “You think you can get by without eating him now?”
Mabel approached and ducked her head for me to scratch behind her ears. I held Max away from her so he would not run her off with the continued snapping of his little puppy jaws. His squirming calmed as he saw Mabel relax under my hand, and he watched as she moved herself along my chair so that eventually my hand was positioned at the base of her spine, her favorite spot to be scratched. Max inched across my lap and stood on the arm of the lawn chair before gently placing his tiny paws on Mabel’s rump. She didn’t seem to mind that, so he decided to take it a step further. He slowly leaned his head down…and bit her tail.
Mabel’s head turned quickly to look over her back and her eyes narrowed on the ball of ivory fluff partially balanced on her hind end. Then, with two quick swipes of her tail, she reprimanded him firmly and unmistakably. Wha-BAM! Max recoiled in my lap. And that was the official beginning to peace among pups in my home.
Now, they play together with reckless abandon, Max jumping to bite at her face, narrowly missing her jawline and landing his teeth sometimes around her collar. If he hangs on tightly enough, he gets worn like a new and cumbersome dog tag. She may not trust him implicitly yet, but Mabel is finally beginning to appreciate this new little furball in her life.
I compiled a little video of the past three weeks for your viewing pleasure. it is no great work of video skill, but it’s stuffed to the brim with cute. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Mabel and Max, wonderpups extraordinaire: