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Archive for April 2009

Adopting a Second Dog

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Wonderful, patient Libby

Wonderful, patient Libby

This comes directly from my own experience.  I had a wonderful dog, Libby, but the two of us were my entire household, and I was at work (bad old corporate days!) a lot of the time.  I felt that I needed to get a second dog for several reasons, mainly:-

  • As company for Libby, especially during the day while I was at work.
  • To take the pressure of what was an increasingly co-dependent releationship between Libby and me.
  • Purely selfishly, I felt that my world would collapse if anything happened to Libby – I needed another family member.

Since this dog would spend more time with Libby than with me, I made sure she was part of the interview process.  My criteria at the time were simply that the dog be a little smaller than Libby (I was worried about getting a dog too large for me to carry in an emergency), and a young dog 6 – 18 months old (not a puppy, I was not at home enough hours in the day to care for a young puppy, but still not yet fully grown up).  Libby was generally a quiet dog, so I thought she might like a lively dog to play with.  The two of us went to the shelter (Operation Kindness in Carrollton, a great place to adopt a dog, and Libby’s own alma mater) and I selected candidates, and the two of us would meet them. 

On our first visit, I picked out a sweet sandy haired spaniel mix who was very timid.  Libby growled at her.  Then I picked out a little male terrier, who Libby loved – he peed on my handbag the moment I took my eyes off him.  The third dog refused to interact with either of us.  At that point Libby was starting to look stressed, and I took her home.

On our second visit, the first dog I pre-selected was a little female terrier about 10 months old.  She was very sweet and lively with me, and she and Libby started to play together.  The adoption counselor and I stepped out of the room and watched them through a window.  It seemed like a great match.  We went ahead and adopted the dog, who was called Bailey.  As we went through the adoption process I learned that she had been adopted out before, but returned due to “allergies”.  She nipped the technician who clipped her nails just before she left the shelter.

As soon as we walked into my house, Bailey stopped and took a dump on the carpet.  The speed of it took my breath away – I had turned my back on her for less than 5 seconds, and when I turned back, she was squatting.  Still, I told myself she was probably very scared, and I should just let her know that was not the right place, and then go on as though nothing had happened.  Over the rest of the day, Libby and Bailey played happily.

For the next few days, Bailey was in a crate while I was at work, and I came home in the middle of the day to make sure she was OK.  For several days, she managed to have explosive diarrhea while she adjusted to her new life and diet, but that gradually faded.  In the evenings, she and Libby and I continued to have fun.  There were quite a few occasions when I found myself locked in power struggles with a 20 pound dog.

About day 4, Libby started to stare pointedly at me.  It was apparent that she felt our guest had outstayed her welcome.  While I had been interviewing for a lively long-term companion, Libby had been focussed on having fun for an hour or so.  She enjoyed her quiet life, and didn’t want an annoying yappy dog constantly trying to play-fight with her and instigating security alerts all the time.  For my part, I had started to realize that Bailey was a very pushy little dog with no interest in my plans for the household – she had moved in, and she planned to take over.  Although a lovable lap dog when she felt like it, any noise outside would put her on full alert; she would leap out of my lap and charge around barking fiercely.  On off-leash walks, she would torment poor Libby, who would run away from her at top speed.  Bailey’s little legs could not keep up with Libby’s speed, but she would run after her at full speed, barking “wait for me” at the top of her lungs.

In the first month that Bailey was with us, Libby and I were engaged in constant struggles with her for control of the house.  I quickly guessed that her previous home had given her up because of her personality, and just said it was allergies so she would stand a better chance of finding another home.  I did not have the heart to return her from another home – we had to make it work.

Terror Bailey (sorry, I mean Terrier Bailey)

Terror Bailey (sorry, I mean Terrier Bailey)

And several years later (and now with many more dogs in the house), she still torments Libby and she still considers herself in charge of Homeland Security.  She has learned that she is not the leader of the pack, and she did very well in obedience training.  People meeting her for the first time often remark on how cute she is (Libby can be heard muttering “take her, she’s yours”).

There is no guaranteed way to make sure the new dog will fit well in your household.  Of course, it is best to make sure that the potential newcomer gets on with your current dog(s), but the fact that they get on for half an hour on first meeting is a long way from proof that they will be prepared to shared a home, and a pack leader.  I know now that Libby was not interested in having a constant companion, and that she enjoys long, comfortable silences.  Having to adjust for a new dog in the house was really tough for her.

If you want to bring in another dog, that is a great idea.  Be aware of the following:-

  • Any increase or decrease in the household (human or animal) upsets the hierarchy, and your current dog(s) will have to work out who is leader of the pack all over again.
  • Some dogs are not prepared to share a home or a pack leader (you) with another dog.
  • Your current dog(s) need to have met and approved the newcomer before you decide to bring him into your home – but since you can’t explain to them what your plans are, they may still complain when he comes to stay.
  • You have to make extra time so you can work with each dog separately on house rules, obedience training, and walking politely on a leash.  If the newcomer does not follow the rules, your current dog(s) may decide they don’t have to either.
  • When you bring a dog home, his full personality will emerge slowly.  The dog you meet in a shelter or in someone else’s home is usually different from the same dog after he has been living with you for a while.  You will see him change over weeks and months, as he gains confidence in his new home.
  • The dogs will decide pecking order amongst themselves.  No matter how much you want a particular dog to be top dog of the house, you may not be able to make it happen.
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Written by eurekapaws

April 19, 2009 at 9:59 am

Case Study 2 – Leader of the Pack

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This is a painful story from one of my first clients.  This experience actually drove me to move to a location where I could bring dogs in for training if necessary.

Mike and Laura are a couple close to retirement age.  They had a very smart little Jack Russell terrier called Jack.  Mike called me in, explaining that Jack had become aggressive at times, biting him and just recently trying to bite complete strangers.  He was afraid that he would have to have Jack euthanized, and he was looking for help to avoid that.

When I arrived at the house, Jack was out in the back yard.  I saw that food was left out for Jack in the kitchen, and also outdoors.  When Mike opened the back door, Jack rushed in, and by way of greeting me, he jumped on to every piece of furniture in the living room.  Jack was a smart little dog, and could do many tricks.  Mike explained that he loved the little dog, who had been his companion as Mike battled cancer, but on several occasions, Jack had been lying in his lap, and had suddenly bitten him, drawing blood.  As he told me about this, Mike played a game of tug-of-war with Jack using a soft toy, and allowed Jack to win.  Laura arrived home soon after, and it was clear that she was avoiding contact with Jack because she expected he might attack her.

We went through a lot of Jack’s history, but the situation was pretty clear.  Jack believed he was in charge of the house, and Mike and Laura were his staff.  He may have started out with respect for Mike, but lost it when Mike became weakened.  There was always food available for him, so he did not see that he was dependent upon them for anything.  He had control of the “high ground” – his jumping on all the furniture made that clear.  He consistently won contests of strength (when I asked Mike why he let him win the tug-of-war game, he said “I thought it would break his spirit if he lost”).  His biting was not an act of aggression, he was disciplining members of his pack who did not act appropriately towards him.  It is likely that he would lie in Mike’s lap, relaxing, but when Mike put a hand on top of him to pet him, Jack corrected him with a bite (the bite would not have done any serious damage to another dog, but Mike was weakened by his illness).

The right approach was also evident.  Jack needed to learn that he was not the leader of the pack.  Until he had learned to follow the lead of the people in his family, he could not be trusted.  If I could have taken him away with me that evening, I would have suggested it.  A few days of boot camp would set him up for coming home to a new world order.  However, at that time, I had nowhere to take him, so Mike and Laura would have to make the changes in his life.  Given that Laura was already afraid of him, and Mike was afraid that he could not control him, I was not sure that they would be successful.  The Jack Russell is small, but full of energy and determined to get his own way.

Sadly, the next day, Jack again attacked Mike, and he was euthanized.  I met Mike and Laura again a few months later, when they were adopting another dog – this time, a calmer, quieter dog – and they assured me that they would make the house rules much clearer from the start.

So, Jack, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.  Now I live out in the country, so that if the situation arises again, I would be able to take the dog away for the first couple of days of the rule change.

For everyone else out there – please take a look at your household from your dog’s perspective.  More than half the time when I go to a new client, the question of who is leader of the pack is behind many of their problems.  If your dog believes he can demand what he wants from you (food, treats, petting, playing, going outdoors, coming indoors, etc.) then he thinks he is in charge of the house.  You don’t have to be mean to him, just make it clear that you are in charge – keep him off the furniture, have him sit before his food goes down, and pick up his food bowl after 20 minutes, have him sit (or down, or high 5, or anything) before giving him the things he wants, make him wait at doors so you go first, then tell him when he can come through.  And if your dog is putting any part of his body on any part of yours (even resting his head on your knee), then make sure that you have your hand on top of him – you are the king of the hill.

Written by eurekapaws

April 13, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Posted in Case Studies

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How Many Dogs are Too Many?

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Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun

We’ve seen a lot of problems and questions over the last couple of months around bringing extra dogs into the household. Everyone who loves dogs wants to save more of them from living rough, being abused, or being euthanized. The reality is, no one can save them all. You have to remember the effects on your household, and on your own dogs.  Don’t misunderstand me, I’d love you to adopt as many dogs as you can take proper care of – but please make sure that you have considered the impact realistically first!

Based on personal experience, there is a maximum number of dogs that each dog wants to see in the pack.  For some dogs, that number is one!  Most dogs are happy with a pack size between two and four dogs.  Once you pass that point, you are inviting trouble.  Of course, many people have had large numbers of dogs in their homes and it has been successful – but today, most people find it difficult to find the time to give one or two dogs the attention, care and exercise that they need.  Cesar Millan has a pack with many dogs in it – but he also spends hours every day giving them exercise.

So, let’s talk about a few recent conversations with clients, family, and friends.

“My older dog is getting on in years, and I’m thinking of bringing in a new younger dog to make the transition easier.”  This one sounds so sensible, but isn’t.  The older dog will be less than thrilled to have the new youngster throwing his weight about, being liveley and energetic, and trying to take control or make him play.  The middle dog will still have to adjust to a new dog coming into the household and the old one dying – that’s still two major adjustments, the same as if the new dog arrived after the old one had died.  The people in the household will be trying to teach a new dog the house rules (and making sure that the dog bonds first with the people, and then with the other dogs) while still taking good care of two other dogs, one now senior.  Don’t do it – give your old dog a peaceful retirement, grieve for him when he goes, and then consider a new dog.

“I have two puppies that I am still trying to get trained and under control, but two homeless dogs have followed me home.  They seem like nice dogs – what should I do?”  It’s great that you have a big heart.  But you have two puppies that still need a lot of training, and that are going to be at risk if these dogs have diseases (which homeless dogs often do, alas).  Find a no-kill shelter that will take them, if you can.  They will check to see if these dogs are sick, and will try to find a home for them.  If after mature consideration, you decide you can afford and have time for an additional dog, then go and adopt one.  But when these dogs placed their future in your hands, they were looking for you to do the right thing for them.  The right thing may very well be finding them another home, but it does not have to be yours.  I knew someone who took home a stray dog, and then found it might have parvo – if he had had a puppy in the house, that could have been a death sentence for the pup.

“I adopted a cute puppy from someone who couldn’t keep her, but now she and my dog are fighting – I have been hurt separating them, and I have a child in the house.”  I believe it was Clint Eastwood who said “A man’s gotta recognize his limitations”.  Yes, these were both nice dogs, and with work, they could probably have worked through their differences.  But it’s tough to keep everyone safe when there are children in the mix.  If the dogs will fight over the attention of the child, that is a dangerous situation.  In this case, kudos to Suzanne for finding a new home for the pup.  She didn’t just drop the dog off at a shelter, she took the responsibility and found a good home for her, and has followed up to make sure the pup is doing OK.

Written by eurekapaws

April 6, 2009 at 2:55 pm