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Archives for January 2015

Time to Add a Second Dog?

So, you’re thinking about adding in a second dog. There’s just one issue. Your current dog is a dog with issues. A special needs dog. A work in progress. When you think about introducing a new puppy to your dog, you can’t help but see a little bloodshed and maybe a trip to the emergency vet. You can’t think of what type of dog would be accepted the easiest and you don’t want to wait until your dog dies to get a second.

What to do. What to do. 10931173_10153002704150119_6877846261644560275_n

Adding a second dog into a reactive dog household is quite possible. It takes some planning, patience and organization. It certainly can’t be a whim but there is definitely hope if your goal is to get a second dog.

First, make sure you are clear about why you are getting a second dog. Many people think that a second dog will fix the first dog (nope, not gonna happen). Or, at the very least, they will tire each other out through play therefore reducing your obligation to exercise your dog (trust me, getting a second dog will not let you off the hook there, either).

A second dog is twice the money, twice the food, twice the vet trips and twice the training. At times it will feel like ‘twice’ has actually somehow morphed into four times as much work. You will balk at the math as you lay in bed wondering how you ended up in this place.

So, just be clear on why you’re getting that second dog. It’s for you. Not your other dog. Maybe your other dog will benefit, maybe not. It can be on the list of possible bonuses but it can’t be a primary motivator

If you really have your wits about you, you’ll start by doing some work with your current dog. Training him to do things like be in a crate or exercise pen, move out of a space on cue, and the unquestionably imperative Leave It/Doggy Zen skill.

You’ll also need to identify safe spaces for each dog. Using pens, baby gates, etc., you should map out your house into zones. There are safety zones where they are completely apart and there are training zones where they are safely in closer proximity.

Now that you’ve turned your house into a baby-gated, partitioned, interior design nightmare, you’re getting ready to bring the new dog home.

We’ll assume you chose the dog carefully. Ideally, you met him in advance and have identified some good traits like a) he’s not reactive but also not obsessed with making friends with every dog in the world, b) he can be in a crate without screaming bloody murder and c) he doesn’t have any weird issues that you know of. You don’t need more issues and despite doing your homework, the new dog will probably have something show up that requires some work.

It’s time. You’re bringing the new dog home. Where do you put your resident dog? Do you introduce them right away and, if so, do you tackle this feat on your own? Inside? Outside? On leash? Off Leash? Are treats involved?

SO MANY QUESTIONS! adorable puppy playing with a dog

Before the panic completely takes over, I’ll tell you that the first step is to get the new dog settled without any help from the resident dog. All that work you put into getting your old dog to be happy in a crate? It pays off now. While he’s munching away on some peanut butter filled trachea in the far nether regions of the house, bring your new dog in and help him familiarize with his new home.

Show him the ropes. Here’s the door to go outside. Here’s where we do meals. This is your crate. Check out the smells in this room! There’s the trash that you don’t dig through. This is a nice time. You’re relaxed and there’s no pressure.

Depending on your specific situation, you might follow a plan for complete separation (ahoy, divide and conquer works!) for a period of time…like, two weeks or so. Let each dog adjust to the smells and sounds of one another without having to actually see each other.

When it’s time to start the actual get-to-know-you, you’ve vetted the dogs on their calming skills and ability to express feelings appropriately. You go slow. You associate the new dog with pleasant and lovely things like chicken liver. You don’t rush the process.

Two key things to remember. 1) You want the dogs to associate one another with good stuff and 2) You need the dogs to know you’re going to keep each of them safe and there’s no need to be defensive.

From there, it’s back to what I said in the beginning about patience and organization. Soon, you’ll be a happy, harmonious family complete with canine cuddles.

Deciding to Adopt a Rescue Dog

A dear client from Holyoke emailed me the following: “Good Morning Elise, A friend of mine had to put her Golden Retriever down a few months ago due to health issues.  She is now considering adopting a rescue dog.  Is it more recommendable to adopt a puppy to try to avoid any behavioral issues due to the life that they have lead up to the point of adoption or is it just as much of a risk that a puppy would have as many issues?  Also any input or recommendations would be greatly appreciated”.

Just a few short weeks ago, I received a text from an Amherst client, “Big news! I’m adopting a big fluffy dog…just found out last night that everything went through…”.

And this is paraphrased from a phone message from a prospective client that came in yesterday, “My daughter just brought home a very young pit bull puppy that was going to be euthanized in 4 hours unless someone took him. She’s now left on tour and we are caring for him. We would love to talk to you to see if we’re doing everything right. He’s behaved very aggressively towards our older, mellow Lab. Also, when we left him alone for a brief time, he destroyed upholstery, curtains and woodwork”.

Let’s go back to the big, fluffy dog text. By the time I met with them, the dog (an adult male) had bitten two people without provocation. Within a month of that, he had shown numerous other aggressive behaviors and was returned to rescue. The first night in his foster home he launched a stalking attack, without retreat, on the foster owner resulting in multiple injuries.

So, when people ask me a simple question like, “is it better to get a rescue puppy or adult?” the answer is not about the age of the dog. It’s about the rescue. And you know what, the same rules apply to breeders. There are no guarantees that you’ll get a well-behaved dog from a breeder. The only way you’ll get a good dog is if you do your homework. What does that mean? Here are a few guidelines to help you in the adoption process (I’m going to focus more on rescue than private breeding):

  • What do you know about the breeder or rescue organization? Are they legit? If it’s a rescue, is it one woman with 20 dogs in her basement or it an established shelter or facility with legal status as a non-profit rescue organization.
  • What does the rescue know about the dog/puppy? Did they just pull it from a high-kill shelter in a panic to avoid euthanasia and nothing is known about its history? Has it received ANY form of behavior evaluation? Has it lived in a home or has it been outside? How many homes has the dog been in already? Why didn’t it work out? *It’s important here to read in between the lines. In the case of the big, fluffy dog he was supposedly returned from one home because the daughter was allergic. Yeah, right.* Has it been in rescue long enough for people to know about its temperament and personality? Has it seen a vet and are there vet records to prove it?
  • What sort of contract do you need to sign, if any? A reputable rescue will want the dog back if you can’t care for it for ANY reason.
  • Were you required to complete an application and have a home visit? The home visit might seem excessive and isn’t always necessary, but you should feel like you just went through the nth degree with the rescue. You want them to feel very invested in this working out versus them practically throwing the dog at you and taking off (I actually had a client that had that happen to them…the rescue transport drove to the house, handed them the dog out the window and took off).
  • Do you know other people who have gotten dogs from this rescue or shelter? Reputation matters. Don’t be shy about asking where people got their dogs. People generally feel proud that someone likes their dog enough to ask about it.
  • Can you meet the dog? See if it gets along with your children, other dogs, cats, etc.? So you can see if the dog is a good match for you and your family/lifestyle?
  • As far as puppy or adult goes, think about the amount of time you have to invest in training. Puppies need a LOT, adults come whatever good (or bad) experiences they’ve had so far. Have you raised a puppy before (in the last 20 years)? It’s a ton of work but also can be a lot of fun.

It is one of my grandest soapboxes – this current trend of ‘saving’ dogs at all cost. I understand the altruism. I own two rescue dogs – I get it. But, if I could somehow express the amount of heartbreak and stress people suffer from adopting dogs from irresponsible rescue groups, oh, you don’t even know. The last text from the owner of the big, fluufy dog: “Well, lesson learned”. That broke my heart. She now has R-PTSD – Rescue Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She will, most likely, never adopt from rescue again. She, like so many of my other clients, are terrified of adopting a dog that will hurt them or their family, hold them hostage with bad behavior, put them in a position of having to give away the very creature they were trying to save…or worse, euthanize the dog because the rescue guilts them or refuses to take the dog back.

So, to this wonderful woman who recently lost her Golden and is looking to rescue a dog. First, my condolences. Losing a dog is always heart-breaking. Second, thank you for being willing to take in a rescue dog who, otherwise, might not have had many options. Lastly, do your homework. Do not join the ranks of folks that regret adopting a rescue dog because of the behavioral fall-out. And feel free to call me or another reputable trainer. Personally, I have coached many clients through the process in order to ensure a solid adoption and smooth transition into the home.