I have four German Shepherds
This is a picture of three of them. Danza in the distance. Milka in the middle and Bear is the closest. Danza and Milka made Bear. Danza is the Alpha. Milka is pure loveliness. Bear is the most affectionate, intelligent dog I have ever known.
But…I have four dogs.
This is the fourth.
This is Crusty.
Danza and Milka made Bear.
Danza and Milka then made Crusty.
Then my entire existence changed forever…
Crusty was from the second litter. He was a big beautiful boy, confident, strong willed and highly affectionate. I birthed him with Milka and then watched as he grew. I was there when his eyes started opening and he got stronger on his legs. I watched as he wobbled about the whelping box pissing everywhere and playing with his brothers and sisters.
Bear was amazing with the puppies. There was only four in the last litter and Bear confidently slipped into the role of big brother and proud member of the pack. When Milka was tired it was Bear that helped clean them and let them clamber all over him. He was gentle when they found they had mouthfuls of razor sharp teeth. He let them snuggle up and was constantly watching as each one pottered about the safe area.
Each puppy got a nickname. There was Romper Stomper – the biggest. Angel and Princess – two girls. Crusty was called Crusty as he kept taking a shit then sitting in it where it would dry before either his mum, Bear or me would have to clean it off.
They were sent out to new homes and new owners. However, Crusty came back. I won’t go into details here as it will set me off in a violent rant. The new owner for Crusty was an utter piece of shit that should never be allowed to be near animals again.
Crusty had two poky up ears when he went away and a week later he came back with one ear that now will never poke up again.
So, Crusty was brought back into the fold, or the pack, or the home, or whatever you want to call it. He came back and the plan was to re-settle him for a while then find new-new owners for him. But I started noticing things other than the floppy ear. If I dart about the house like a crazy man my dogs will run with me in a general state of utter excitement that surely something amazing is about to happen. I can charge about and run at them and they will drop to play or scamper about without fear or concern. With Crusty I noticed that if I made a sudden motion towards him – he flinched. None of my dogs ever flinch, they never get hit or smacked so there is nothing to flinch from.
Crusty flinched. He became defiant in an overly aggressive manner. Something bad had happened to him and he felt the need to protect himself. He tried to dominate his big brother and his mother and even his dad. My pack is stable with a clear pecking order but Crusty couldn’t find his place in it. The pack accepted him back without hesitancy so for him to show aggression portrayed a behavioural issue that stemmed from the bad thing happening for the week he wasn’t with me.
Bear still let him clamber all over him but at times, Crusty would go too far and become serious. Bear is as gentle as gentle can be and the confusion in him at his little brother being aggressive was evident.
The aggression was sometimes quite bad. Crusty would growl and show teeth. He would bite and attack if he felt cornered. He lunged and nipped and made noise to show how big he was. But he wasn’t big. He was a puppy. If strangers came to the house Crusty would back away and hide from them. If they got close he whimpered and ran. That wasn’t the Crusty that went to a new home.
At times the dogs, especially Bear, showed an almost human understanding for the complexities of an emotionally damaged child. I feared that one of the bog dogs would hurt him for being so aggressive. But they didn’t. It was remarkable how tolerant and gentle they were. Even Danza who is a full on alpha dog. He would grumble and warn the puppy but nothing more than that. Bear would do as Shepherds do and shepherd the pup if he felt there was a need. If the strangers scared Crusty, Bear or Milka would gently place themselves in the way, never with aggression and never with any risk of harm. But the intention was clear. It was an act of reassurance that Crusty was part of the pack and the pack stay together.
Crusty cuddling his father Danza after coming back. This is amazing as Danza never lets the others dogs initiate contact.
I knew within two days of Crusty being back that I would never re-home him again. He was one of us now and would stay that way. Come rain or shine, through the good and the bad. Commitment is just that. It’s a pledge that you will honour the responsibility of your actions and decisions. I chose to breed and I failed in my judgement of the new owner. Failing twice just wasn’t an option.
Crusty developed attachments issues and even at ten months old he would often go to sleep with his head resting on his mothers back. He would cuddle up to Bear and Bear never reacted to it. He stayed close to me. Always close. The hoover terrified him and still does but none of the other dogs are the slightest bit bothered by it. If Crusty became isolated, say a door got closed with him in a room on his own, he would go ballistic and the other dogs would be ballistic in return. Nothing would stop them being together and nothing would stop Bear being with his little brother. I’ve watched those dogs almost eat and plough through wooden doors and plaster to get to each other and it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Overtime, the confidence started to come back. Gently, slowly and with oh so many cuddles it came back. He still doesn’t like strangers and especially anyone that has a resemblance to the man who took him away for a week, and that can be hard work. Very hard work.
Crusty is almost a year old now. His shoulders are packed with lean muscle. His coat is shiny, eyes bright and alert and his countenance is spot on. But he has a mouth full of bloody big teeth and that puppy that felt the need to be big sometimes shows itself. A reaction to someone who looks the same as that new owner. Hackles up and he goes solid and strong. He shows that person that his teeth are big and his voice is very, very deep and he’s not alone now, he has a strong pack to back him up. That scares people and rightly so and I’m forever having to stop and explain why. Once they’ve heard the story and Crusty can watch me talking nicely, and watch Bear being fussed then he calms down and starts coming forward gently.
What amazes me is the reaction Bear will show. Bear is super friendly and loves everyone but even he stops and judges the situation if he spots his brother is unhappy. Bear will watch the person being barked at then watch me. Then his judgement is made and he accepts the person. If I show concern, say at a drunk fucking twat walking at us too quickly with his hand stretched out shouting at “how all dogs love him” then Bear shows a slightly different side…haha gotta love dogs.
Crusty and Bear are walked together, because having his big brother with him helped install that confidence a million more times than I could ever have done on my own.
He still has attachment issues. He stays close and will always either be in the same room as me or the same room as Bear. My dogs have freedom of the house, they sleep on the sofas and on my bed if they want and I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. It’s my house, my pack and my rules. Yeah the bedding is changed a hell of a lot more than normal beds and the sofas are scrubbed nearly every day but fuck it.
For the first few months of being back, Crusty would sleep on the bed right next to me. His body pressed into my legs with contact that was reassuring for him. As time went on he slowly learnt that it’s okay to have a little bit of distance and bodies produce heat anyway. He always gets on the bed for a snuggle when I go up but now he’s off again within ten minutes and doing as the pack does which is find a comfy spot, roll on your back and snore.
The last year has been really bloody hard work. Gruelling and at times even my patience was worn thin. At those times all I had to do was stop and think about Crusty flinching and it was enough to bring the perspective back.
I moved into this house in April. It was in a bad shape with rotten floors, rotten walls, rotten everything. But it has just about become liveable now. There were times when I had tradesmen in doing technical shit that I couldn’t do which meant the dogs had to be locked away. Crusty hated that and still does. The others are chilled out but not Crusty, the pack being separated – even for the right reasons – terrifies him.
He helps with everything. If I’m painting then he is painting. I’ve plastered walls and Crusty has decided that the new sticky plaster would be far better over here on the floor. A mop is better in the living room on the sofa…obviously. Freshly applied varnish is great to roll on and dust pans and brushes…oh good gosh….I counted the other day and worked out we’ve been through at least fifteen since I moved in. It’s got so bad that when I bring a new one home he wags his tail as though quite naturally it’s his new toy. Paint brushes, brooms, buckets, sandpaper, screwdrivers and everything in between. The tradesmen – once Crusty calms down – adore him. He’ll go to sleep for an hour then wake up and treat you, or anyone nearby, like he hasn’t seen you for a year complete with big sloppy kisses. The plasterer, Mike – a huge man will get down on his knees to give Crusty a big fuss. Steve the builder gets treated like royalty and it’s great fun watching them all chase Crusty to retrieve the vital tool that has just been pinched from their box. Jay – the plasterers apprentice, a nice 18 year old lad looks too much like the new-owner for Crusty though and is actively avoided – and it’s things like that that give me the reminder I need that Crusty is a little bit different.
We were on the beach two days ago. Bear, Crusty and me. The tide was out and we had the place to ourselves. It was early morning and gorgeous. The dogs had a run and swim, chased each other and all was content. I called them back and waited as they trotted back and sat down ready for the leads to be put back on. Crusty spotted a seagull. Nothing new there. Seagulls are everywhere down here. Crusty stared at the seagull. He’d already learnt that birds fly and it’s impossible to catch them. This seagull was different though. It was big and brazen. It landed with a soft thump in the sand and watched us through beady eyes. Bear wasn’t bothered. I wasn’t bothered. Crusty however, decided that this was the chance, the time. This one he would catch. He bolted. I was stunned and watched as Crusty went hell for leather across the sand. The seagull lazily spread it’s wings and lifted on the thermals…only the thermals weren’t as good as they should have been as the bird didn’t rise high enough. It started flapping, then really started flapping. Crusty was gone, in the zone and I watched as quite possibly one of the greatest chases I have ever seen took place. Over sand dunes, break waters, into the surf then back out, through pools and onto the hard sand and that dog chased that poor bird frantically trying to find the pissing thermals.
Me and Bear watched with interest. The beach was empty and no harm could take place. We even exchanged a meaningful glance. Bear looking at me as though to tut in disdain at the stupidity of his younger brother. I chuckled wisely and looked back to see the bird still being chased. I stretched my hand out to give Bear a scratch on the head, only Bear wasn’t there. Bear was off with a slightly apologetic glance before he decided that quite possibly this bird might just get caught.
Today has been a peaceful day with my dogs and I wanted to share this story simply because telling it has given me a great deal of pleasure.