Max and Penny, the Terrible Two

We’ve had Max and Penny for a little over a year, two sibling chihuahuas from Trail’s End that were rescue dogs, neglected by their young owner, starving and extremely thin when they were taken away from that house by the owner’s father.  I think they are about three years old now.  We found out (after we got them) that their nickname was “The Terrible Two.”  We understand that quite well after this year.

Max is robust and black with brown markings, looks like an eternal puppy in his face, very ebullient when he’s healthy, very miserable when he’s not.  He trots with purpose, he dashes in and out of the house through the dog door like there is a fire chasing him, he likes nothing better than to lay on my shoulder and have his head next to mine when I’m on the couch, unless he’s busy burying himself beneath the covers.  He makes little snoring sounds when he sleeps, and he has a high pitched squeal that sounds like it’s coming from a rat or a guinea pig when he’s interested in a bird or squirrel.  He’s the one who jumps on everyone’s lap and can stare at you for many minutes with his soulful eyes until you give him what he wants.   He is the one willing to play with our border collie, even though she can get rough and bossy.  He never really seems afraid, although when her prey instinct kicks in because he’s running, he will tear into whatever room I happen to be in and leap onto my lap or whatever chair, couch or bed is nearby. Oh, I forgot one thing– he never seems afraid except for one circumstance:  earthquakes.  Both little dogs jumped out of bed during the last series of earthquakes, but Max has refused to go back into his bed since that time.  He actually trembled for about 5 hours after the earthquakes, and I thought he might be sick and was giving him our cure-all — chicken and rice soup, which Sarita went out to get at 6:30 a.m. Max would sleep down on the floor at the side of my bed rather than go in his dog bed.  He reminded me of when I was a toddler and wanted to get in bed with Mom and Dad, and they said, “Go back to your own bed” and I curled up on the cold floor next to theirs.  These days he will go to sleep downstairs somewhere when we go to bed, and then maybe creep up during the night.  I guess things are always changing, but generally, life is good for Max, wherever he is, and he is full of life as well.

Penny is more delicate.  She is tan, and looks like a little deer.  When she jumps on my lap it is so delicate and graceful, you hardly know she’s there.  She has become my shadow, and is the one who truly loves me with all her heart.  She is always on my lap or lying beside me, touching me somewhere, and is only now getting used to me being up and doing other things — cooking, playing piano, working on the desktop computer — in which case she is sitting somewhere very close by, watching to see if there’s a place closer to me that she can move.  In the car her place is across the back of my neck on my shoulders, where she can feel me to the max, and still see outside.  The hardest part of her life is when I leave the house, and she is totally distressed, trying to escape through the door to come with me, or trembling under the couch.  Nothing can pacify her, not food, not toys, not the radio playing.  She just isn’t happy when I’m not around.  She is a quick learner, though.  She knows that she has to sleep in her own bed during the night, until we get up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. to let them out, and then afterwards they get to snuggle in bed with us.  She sometimes takes herself off to bed if we are staying up late downstairs watching TV or something.  Max is still always trying to sneak in bed with us, but Penny is tucked into her dog bed, cozily sleeping.

It has been hard to figure out what to do with them when Sarita and I are gone.  If it is for many hours, we take them to the neighbor’s, or to a co-worker who has two kids who seem to love them.  But if it is for one to four hours, we leave them at home.  Three dogs, these two and Kallie, the border collie, who has always been excellent at home by herself.  We’ve never had a single problem with her at home, except when she decided to jump the 6 foot fence after squirrels or just out of boredom.  But she doesn’t chew, she doesn’t complain, she just sleeps and hangs out.  Not so for Max and Penny.  We tried training them to stay in the crate.  Although we got them to go in it and eat and seem comfortable while we were here, when we were not here, all hell broke loose.  Sometimes they would pee and poop in the crate, and then not only would I have to clean the crate, I would have to give them a bath when I got home.  Well, bending down is a major issue for me, I basically can’t do it.  So that didn’t work.  Then there was the case of the traveling crate.  I would come home, and the crate would be all the way across the kitchen from where it started, and the kitchen rugs pulled through the slats and chewed up.  (I actually had to laugh at that one, and leave it just as it was to show Sarita, or she never would have believed it!)  We tried a bigger pen outside.  The minute we left them they would set up a howling and barking heard by the whole neighborhood.

One day soon after we got them home to CA I tried leaving them all in the house together, with the dog door open.  Penny and Max managed to find a hole in the fence big enough to get through and were wandering around the front of the house.  The neighbors didn’t know who they were yet, and called the SPCA, who came out.  Max managed to squeeze back into the yard, but Penny was picked up, and a note was left on our house that a brown chihuahua was taken, who possibly lived here.  We hadn’t gotten dog licenses yet, and didn’t have name tags on them yet, and we paid the price!  When we got home and discovered the note and Penny missing, I was practically hysterical worrying about her, and I couldn’t do anything till the next day because it was after hours for the pound.  Max was fine without her, but I sure wasn’t.  The next day they said they wouldn’t let me pick her up until we got a license for her, which required proof of a rabies shot, which was in NM with the vet there.  That really got to me, so I talked and persuaded until they finally let me have her with a certain number of days to get it all in order or I would get the very expensive fine they had written me up for.  Many dollars later, microchipping, licenses, phone calls to NM, trips to city hall, etc. etc. I finally got it all figured out.  Penny got kennel cough from her stay at the pound, Max got it, and the vet bills started to add up.  What have we gotten ourselves into, we wondered.

The other incident of leaving them home unattended and free to roam, left Max sick, sick, sick. He doesn’t seem to distinguish between edible and nonedible substances, and must have eaten something in the back yard.  He could hardly move for days, his bowels weren’t working, I was in and out of the vet.  Finally, when I really thought he was going to die, we took him in to the vet and left him for a couple of nights.  They did ultrasounds, gave him fluids, etc. and he came out of it alive, although when we saw the bill, WE practically died.  We had always thought we would never ever spend that kind of money on an animal, but I found I could not take a chance that he wouldn’t make it.  Luckily, we had the money at the time.

Max and Penny did that whole vet thing one more time to us, when we left them in the car for 10 minutes with groceries, while we went to get a burrito.  When we came out, there was a whole bagel gone, and half of a dark chocolate mint candy bar, one of those large ones.  Back to the vet, Penny threw up a whole bagel, practically unchewed, and Max threw up plenty of chocolate, although the vet thought it wasn’t as much as he should have, based on how much candy was left.  So, another overnight, another thousand, oh my god.  We are really careful about that stuff now.

But back to leaving them alone.  We decided to try leaving the little ones in the house with treats and kongs  (with bedroom and bathroom doors shut), and Kallie in the kitchen, because she was pretty bossy and would steal their food.  We’d also leave toys for them and bones.  This meant , however, that when I got home, I would see a living room full of pieces of torn stuffing from every toy there was (and sometimes a chair or pillow that had been part of the frantic play or wrestling or nervous chewathon) and I would have to clean that all up, more bending, and crazy messy!  Plus, we’d have to give Max olive oil, wondering how much of the stuffing he’d swallowed.  Cleaning up the back yard of dog poop afterwards, convinced us that he had indeed eaten stuffing.

Then we traded places, and had Kallie in the house, and Max and Penny in the kitchen.  That wasn’t too bad, except that Penny could jump the gate and she was back and forth over it, and Max would just bang into the gate until he knocked it loose, and then go wherever he wanted.  Kallie was the only one with restricted access then, as we’ve taught her to fear the gate (by banging it on the ground — she hates the noise).  And eventually, Max got up his strength and agility and was jumping the gate as well, with much more ease than he should have had (considering his hefty little body).  When we tried opening the dog door again, Max actually chewed a hole in the fence (which we had carefully inspected and mended) and was found by the high school girls’ volleyball team, wandering around the street in front of the house.  Luckily, he had my phone number on his tag, and they were willing to sit with him until we got home.

Now, they seem to recognize that we will come home, the fence has been checked and mended again, and we’ve decided to let Kallie babysit them without any treats at all.  I don’t have anything to clean up when I come home, nothing is chewed up, because if they were to start playing or wrestling, Kallie would growl and stop them, and life, although not peachy when the humans have left, seems tolerable.  Please, let it stay this way.

Now my emphasis is on training them to be better walkers.  I used to walk all three dogs at once, but after some harrowing experiences, Sarita and I decided that it wasn’t such a good idea.  First of all, I don’t have the greatest balance.  Second of all, holding all the leashes and poop bags, doesn’t give me the ability to train or have much control if another dog goes by and the little pups are barking and Kallie decides to get aggressive.  So now I walk the little ones and later I walk Kallie.  Kallie is actually really good by herself on a walk, and stays calm in most situations.  She just hates it when they’re along, and barking and squealing, so she gives them a snap and a growl and tells them to shut up, but unfortunately, they pay her no mind.  Needless to say, Kallie is very happy with the new arrangement.

Perhaps the pups are too.  First I have to put on their harnesses at home.  They get so excited at the idea of going out that they just scramble around like little ants.  Max gets this circular path going on the couch till he seems like the energizer bunny and I have to catch him with a fast move.  Penny goes up and down from the floor to the couch, and they are quite hysterical for a few minutes when they’re hooked together by the leash, and still too excited to control themselves.  One or the other is dragged this way or that.  That is kind of the way they walk, too.  I have to transfer the leash constantly from one hand to the other, or around my back, because they walk in front of me, behind me, Penny will smell something she drags us all back to, and Max has to pee in every tuft of grass and on every bush, tree, sign and hydrant.  He is such a boy.  But that’s not to say Penny doesn’t love to do her own marking as well.  She has such a gymnast’s way of doing it — she goes up on her two front legs and balances or walks while peeing.  This seems to be a California way of marking — I don’t remember her doing this in NM!

But the real issue at the moment, besides the fact that they cannot walk in a straight line, is that they both bark uncontrollably when they see another dog.  It starts out as a little whine by Max, and goes into full fledged barking without boundaries.  I can’t stand this.  I am not fond of barking, and luckily, Kallie is not much of a barker except in her duties as guard dog when someone comes to the door.  So I now take a ton of treats and give them treats instead of having them bark at other dogs.  It really works!  Hopefully, I’ll be able to lessen the treat part of it someday, but I’m just happy to have found a solution.  They are smart enough to know when we go past a house where a dog often barks, or comes out by the fence, so Max starts a little squeal when we’re about a block away, and Penny starts dancing on two legs in front of me, looking at me like, “We know we get a treat!  We’re ready!”

Yes, I have to admit, I laugh a lot with these two, sometimes I think it’s their saving grace.  Other times, I know that I absolutely adore being loved by them, and loving them back.  I can pet either one of them, hard or soft, for a minute or for an hour, and they just love it.  They never tire of it, and I am a very touchy feely kind of person, who does even more of that when anxious or nervous, so I know I have the right dogs.  Also, we heard that in Mexico, chihuahuas are considered healing dogs, that they will pull the sickness out of you.  I am absolutely sure that mine do that, and I suppose they just release it into the air.  I grew up not thinking very highly of small dogs, and never never thought I would have one.  But when I decided I wanted a lap dog and we went to the rescue shelter, we were told that they had two chihuahas, but they had to go together, because they were siblings.   It took us about a second to decide that we wanted them, and even though I have to say, they can be a pain in the butt, they are the best things about my life.  I feel so lucky.  Penny and Max are my terrible twins, and I love them beyond  (even my own) belief!


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