Our friend Erik sent a text. He was planning a visit, driving out from California in mid-May. This was happy news! We'd not seen him in two years, had not had any overnight guests since COVID. But now we were all vaxxed up, and it was time to socialize.
I worried, though, about Angus.
Angus, our reactive and unpredictable 63-pound rescue dog, has met Erik many times, but it was long ago. For the past 18 months, not a soul except the guy who painted our living room has passed through our front door.
A few days later, Erik sent another text: Angie was coming, too — that is, his new year-old German shepherd.
Suddenly I was no longer worried about Angus' reaction to Erik. I became consumed with Angus' reaction to Angie.
Angus is what is known as "dog-reactive." Outside of a few canine friends he's had since puppyhood, he wants nothing to do with other dogs.
I knew that if worst came to worst, we could deploy the "crate and rotate" method of keeping the peace — that is, have only one dog out of the crate at a time. But I was hoping for something a little friendlier.
I thought back to the dog-to-dog socialization class that Angus and I had taken two summers before. In that small, careful class we learned a slow and proper way for wary dogs to meet.
It works like this: Go to neutral ground. Walk in big, slow circles so the dogs can see and smell each other but are far enough away that they don't react. Slowly walk toward each other, but keep a wide space between the dogs. Gradually, after many passes, narrow the space.
When the dogs are able to pass closely without reacting, it's time for the grand finale: the butt sniff.
Erik's visit was a good time to deploy these skills. But we were rusty; we needed to practice.
With the help of neighbors, we practiced with Viv, the calm German shepherd next door. We practiced with Molly, the golden retriever across the lake. Both encounters went so well I was almost giddy.
And then we practiced with Hopper, the world's friendliest dog, and it went so badly that we had to abort the mission while we were still in the lazy-circle stage. Gaaaa!
I tried not to fret. If worst comes to worst, there's always crate and rotate, right?
Erik arrived one evening after three days on the road. I muzzled up Angus. We met in the park and began the big, lazy circles.
Angie and Angus stared at each other as they walked, and Angus attempted a jump and a bark, but I corrected him.
We moved on to the next step. Angus was eerily well behaved. We narrowed the gap, let the dogs pass close by each other. No major catastrophes. The butt sniffing went well. Erik held onto Angie as Angus dived in and learned what he needed to learn, and then I hung on to Angus as Angie took her turn.
Suddenly there was a play bow, and the two dogs began to wrestle at the ends of their leashes.
We let them play all the way back down the park to our house.
The next five days were bliss. Wrestling and relaxing in the yard, long walks in the mornings and evenings.
But where, you might ask, was Rosie? Rosie, our friendly 9-year-old Lab mix who loves everybody?
Rosie was inside the house.
Perhaps because both Angie and Rosie are female, or perhaps because Rosie was more affected by the solitary life of COVID than I had realized, Rosie did not welcome Angie.
She was fine alone with Angie, but when Angus joined them, Rosie grew protective. Always loyal, Angus joined in. Poor Angie ended up on her back, unhurt, but exposing her belly in submission.
So crate and rotate — or a modified version of it — was deployed after all. When Angie was in the yard, either Angus joined her, or Rosie did, but not both.
Rosie, however, got her revenge. After Erik and Angie left on Sunday morning, I went down to throw sheets and towels in the wash and noticed a big puddle in front of the bathroom Erik had used. And then I found another big puddle soaking into the comforter he'd slept under.
Someone — not me, not Angus, and not my husband — had used her marking abilities and reclaimed the house. Take that, Angie.
Laurie Hertzel is not a dog expert, just a dog lover. She has been chronicling the life of Angus, her reactive rescue dog, since he was 4 months old. Read all the stories at startribune.com/puppy.