The Rockwood Files: Backyard behavior analysis

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

The next time I get on a plane, I hope I sit next to an animal behaviorist. Because I have questions.

When I watch our three dogs plus my parents’ dog play together in our backyard, I see strange things. Is this normal “pack behavior”? Or maybe our dogs are just weirdos. Here are three examples:

The barking romp: When all four dogs go to the backyard together, they run in a clump around the perimeter, wearing down a grassy groove along the fence line. Three of the dogs are short and weigh 35 pounds or less. They gang up and chase the tall, 80-pound dog. They try to keep up with his long, galloping strides while yipping and barking at him, sometimes jumping up toward his face in a vain attempt to slow him down.

The big Goldendoodle, Mac, loves this game, even though he’s practically tripping over the smaller dogs swarming his legs. He’s never happier than when he’s got the wind in his ears, the grass beneath his feet, and the other dogs in hot pursuit. But are they picking on him? Is it because he’s the biggest or the youngest or both? Or are they just jealous of his speed and blonde curls?

The synchronized pee: I know dogs pee on things the way teenagers write on bathroom walls. They need other dogs to know they were there. They need to “own” that spot of the yard, at least until the next dog comes along. I’ve seen the same poor rose bush get peed on one, two, then three times by three different dogs in less than two minutes. Then invariably, one of those three dogs will circle back around and pee on it again. It’s like a bodily fluids version of “king of the mountain.”

What I don’t understand is why our dogs pee on the same spot at the same exact time, coming at it from two different angles. One morning last week, the tall Goldendoodle and the short Corgi marked the same spot from opposite sides, and they were so close to each other that their hiked back legs touched.

It reminded me of the way the Ghostbusters surrounded a phantom on all sides before blasting it with electric steams from their proton packs.

Is this a doggie “me-first” competition using the only ammunition they have? Or does the Goldendoodle know his height advantage means he’s likely to mark not only the coveted spot but also the Corgi competing against him?

The fetch hand-off: Fetch gets fierce in our backyard. But our oldest dog, Charlie, opts out of the game because he’s a Beagle who will only run for a squirrel or whatever scent his powerful nose wants to pursue.

The Corgi loves fetch in a one-on-one setting but won’t do it in the group. He’s too busy herding the other dogs and barking at them when they don’t behave like sheep.

That only leaves two fetchers – Freckles, who is my parents’ Spaniel mix rescue, and Mac the Goldendoodle service dog.

I throw the ball and they both sprint after it while the Corgi Fun Police barks orders at them from behind. Lightning-fast Freckles usually gets the ball first, but sometimes Mac catches it off a lucky bounce. That’s when things get strange.

When Mac gets the ball, he does a victory lap around the yard, glorying in his win. He doesn’t give it back to me, since the only thing more fun than catching the ball is a game of keep-away. So, he runs for a while and then lays down in the grass to wait for Freckles to catch up to him. When she does, he puts the ball down and noses it toward her. She snatches it up and sprints back to me, hoping to get full credit for the fetch. It happens this way every single time.

Is this good, old-fashioned chivalry? Does he defer to the lady because he’s a gentleman? Or is she the boss and he’s just trying to keep her happy?

Like I said, I have questions. If you have answers or weirdo dog stories of your own, send them my way. I’ll be in the backyard watching another round of fetch.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.