Little Anastasija Mila arrived on 9/11 … bringing a happier anniversary for that date … after four days on the road, crossing from Macedonia to Serbia on the first leg, then Hungary, Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, the Channel and half of England to get here. It was 9:00 at night when I talked the driver on the phone, helping him find his way through our hamlet to the house, and finally met a bedraggled, disgruntled pup, who was very confused. What a time she’d had!
“Hello, little Mila,” I said softly as I slipped her new collar around her neck and attached a leash. Mila is what her breeder called her, so I thought I’d start with the familiar. I thanked the driver and brought her through the gate to meet her new family and see her new home.
We’ve had a month, now, of learning about each other, testing each other’s stubborn-nature. Patience is absolutely required. Sarplaninac are a protector breed and they need to assess situations and circumstances for themselves. House training was interesting, but quickly successful. Since she is so young, we cannot leave her alone for any real length of time, one of us is always with her. She is beginning to form relationships with both my sweetheart and me that are quite different and wonderful.
We are navigating the potentially treacherous waters of two dogs, one of them quite senior and ill, learning to share a space. The politics is really something. Aleks has accepted Anastasija’s presence all along. Her willingness to be happy about it has been tested, but she has accepted. Slowly, her willingness to be happy is less grudging. Often, she’s like an older sibling, looking at me with pained amusement, as if to say, “Can you believe what she’s doing now?!!!” Or just looking pained, “Mum, she’s touching me! make her stop!!”
I know that Aleks understands that I am training Anastasija. I can see on her face as she watches us work that this is familiar. Training takes a lot of treats, a lot, but Aleksandra wants treats, too, and thinks it’s unfair that the pup gets them all the time and she doesn’t.
Aleks particularly finds this unjust if I use treats to lure Ana away from pestering Aleks, which Anastasija loves to do. She tries to incite play, if Aleks is standing. She nips and butts her head into Aleks if she is lying down. Poor Aleks yells at her with her broken voice.
Often, I will get Ana’s attention and start training her. ‘Come’ is almost guaranteed when there is a tasty morcel waiting for a puppy. Then, the sense of injustice is clear in Aleks’ eyes, because Aleks knows that Ana is misbehaving and doesn’t deserve a treat. Honestly, the reproach in her eyes is real. “But I’m the good girl, Mum! Where’s my treat?!
While I am allowing Aleksandra to determine how far she’s willing to let the pup go, I make a point of stepping in if I sense that Aleks is overwhelmed and needs peace. My sweetheart does the same. She doesn’t need the stress and she needs to know we have her back.
Anastasija is wilful, stubborn, intelligent, playful, imperious, sweet, loving and utterly adorable. At the moment, she is tearing her bed apart. Aleks did the same thing at the same age. We’d forgotten. This will be Ana’s last bed for a few years!
She loves to run. When we go for a walk, I always run with her part of the way. We are attached by a leash, so her speed is absolutely governed by mine. This is a huge sacrifice on my part. Having broken an arm while running, running is not my friend. But for this little bundle of puppy fur and love, I will run. For a few hundred feet, anyway.
She’s generally quite good on the leash, except for her ‘immovable moments’ … that’s when she’s really not sure she likes what she’s seeing and won’t turn her back on what she’s seen … whatever it is. Sometimes, the cause is obvious, like cows; at others, it’s really not clear at all. This is the Sar’s nature. They need to suss out for themselves whether something is safe. They don’t do things to keep you happy. They do them because there’s some benefit, at first, and then because they think you’re right.
The puppy wants all the attention. She is jealous when I am giving love or treats to Aleks, and will stick her little nose in the way. Aleks is not amused. The only time I have ever seen Aleks bare her teeth at anyone in her life is when Anastasija interferes with my attention, especially if a treat is involved.
I’ve made a point of isolating Aleks from Ana periodically and spending time with her, just the two of us. Then, treats are happily given by me and received by her. When she’s done, I’ll sit with her talking and giving her head a rub, which she leans into gratefully. A hug around her neck and kiss her whole face, which she loves. Forehead to forehead, cheek to cheek.
Sometimes, I’ll just leave Aleks with her treat and let her sit at the door in the sun, while I close the connecting door to the kitchen and work with the puppy: ‘come’; ‘sit’; ‘down’ as it pertains to ‘lie down’; ‘up’ to sitting from lying down; ‘heel’ mainly to train her away from my feet — certainly not because any self-respecting Sarplaninac would ever actually heel; ‘down’ as it pertains to ‘off the counter/stove’; ‘stay’ for increasing periods of time and with me circling her to stand behind; ‘leave it’ to keep her from picking something up; ‘drop it’ to make her drop what she’s already picked up. The last two are still sketchy, but she’s also learning ‘not for puppies’, ‘gotta move’, ‘over there’ and ‘all gone’.
Aleks has always had a way of making herself clear. This is no exception. She wants my attention, too.
Slowly, over the past month, we four have formed a family. Our Wee Girl Ana is learning to respect our Little Girl Aleks. There is nothing ‘wee’ about Ana, who at just shy of four months, was the size of a small black lab and 20kg in weight (she was a bit underweight from her travels). Neither is there anything ‘little’ about Aleks, who topped out at 60kg. Yet, she is my Little Girl and I am vigilant about not calling Ana, by any of the many names I’ve given Aleks over the years.
“I’m going to have to come up with new pet names,” I said the day after Ana arrived, having already spluttered through several. “I gave all the good ones to Aleks!”
Ana’s names are coming to me, as are her songs. Oh yes, I sing to all my animals; always have. Aleks has ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’, which I act out by using her as the water spout. She loves when I tickle her nose with the ‘spider legs’ and ‘raindrops’. She also has the very first song I remember knowing, ‘You Are My Sunshine’. Because she is.
The obvious one for my Wee Girl is ‘Me & My Shadow’, as she is literally my shadow at times. She loves it when I sing to her and she, like Aleks, melts into my hand when I tickle her face with my fingers as we ‘stroll down the avenue’ of her nose. But my wee Faery Dog Daughter, Princess PadaPaw (huge feet, you can hear them all over the house) also has Simon & Garfunkle’s ‘Feelin’ Groovy’, going for her.
“Hello Puppy, whatcha knowing?
Can you tell how much you’re glowing?
Hanging out on cobble stones,
Looking for love and Feelin’ Groovy!”
It’s silly. I know. But it’s what I do. And the neat thing is that the only time Ana doesn’t horn in for attention when I’m with Aleks, is when I’m singing to Aleks. She respects that. Just curls up a little ways away. She’s a smart one, our Wee Girl.
The last few days, our girls, both Wee and Little, have begun to come to an understanding. Aleksandra has allowed Anastasija to touch her to varying degrees all along, but the other night, allowed Ana to curl up on her. Ana is becoming a bit more respectful, by fits and starts. I’m fairly certain puppy’s nose was nipped because she’d finally pushed the envelope too far.
Aleks is also relieved, I think, that Ana has taken on some of the duties of protector. Aleks’ bark is so broken she can’t be heard sounding the alert most of the time, and the meds making her sleep on her bed outside this summer made her miss delivery people coming into the yard. She was mortified by this. I know it. I could see it as she followed them up to the door. Trying to bark.
But now, she’s not alone with it. They are often on their feet at the same time, with Ana running to the gate while Aleks holds down the fort at the door; although Aleks does join her at least once a day.
I watched Aleks the other day as Ana did her thing. Ana is sensible about it. She doesn’t bother to bark if the danger doesn’t materialise. She’ll go half way down and stop barking to listen. If she hears more, then she’s down to the gate, but once whatever it was is gone, she stops barking fairly quickly. Often the last noise she makes is a humph, the last word. Just like Aleksandra.
There was gratitude in Aleks’ eyes as she watched from the door. Her posture relaxed. The baton has been passed to a younger generation. And Aleks is fine with that.
So much love.
And today, on Thanksgiving Monday, so much for which to be thankful.