Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Adding A Second Dog: The First Few Weeks

Everything begins with thought, energy, intention that, when strong enough, seeks manifestation. Everything begins with that, and that is all what is left in the end. That is my personal believe regarding all aspects of existence, in physical life and afterwards.
So when adding a second dog began to dance around in my mind, again and again, I knew it was just a matter of time before the right one was going to appear.
The right dog, I was sure of and Mike felt equally strong about, would come in the form of a female blue merle Australian shepherd puppy, bred locally by our friends Lisa and Stephen, who are one of the most conscientious breeders and nicest people I know.
The pup hasn’t happened yet.
This dude has! 

The Connection: Bowie, at the time called Billy, instantly caught my eye at the Halifax Dog Expo in February. If you compare his markings with our beloved Aussie Davie’s 

who died three years ago and we’re still missing like crazy, you’ll understand why. On a side note, I always thought that Davie was a funky blue merle, but thanks to Bowie I learned that that particular coat color is its own: Tri-color Merle or Seal Merle – which one, looking at the dog, I haven’t figured out yet. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

The Rescue: Bowie is a three-year-old male Border collie from Quebec who, due to personal circumstances, needed a new hook to hang his leash. Home to Stay Dog Rescue, who had a table at the Expo, helped him with that.
Bowie's appearance drew me in, his personality I got a feeling for watching him and chatting with Monique and Jim, his foster folks, was icing on the looks-cake, and I couldn’t get him out of my mind for the rest of the day, and filled out an application the next one.
Requirements adopters have to meet vary from rescue to rescue. With some, an unfenced yard, resident dogs unvaccinated or intact, even young children, lead to an automatic refusal. We do have the fenced yard, but don’t follow the traditional vaccination regime, and although Will is spayed, my opinion about blanket neutering also differs from the North-American norm.
Home to Stay asked about the yard but made it clear that it was not mandatory, didn’t mention neutering or vaccinations but wanted references, one from a veterinarian, a home check, and a bunch of general information how we’d plan to care for the dog.
I trust neither rescue nor breeder who doesn’t poke a bit into the life of someone who wants one of their dogs, so we didn’t mind answering the questions they had.
We were accepted.

Our Requirements: I love working with dogs and their humans. Seriously, humans too. Not always, but mostly my clients are caring, intelligent and open-minded people, albeit sometimes following bad advice.
I feel that I have the best job and truly enjoy every dog, regardless of breed and behavioral issues.
However, when it comes to living with one for a decade or longer, I am much more selective. I know what I want, what I am willing to work with, and what would be too taxing on us, particularly on 12-year-old Will.
One deal breaker is destructive separation anxiety in the house or car. We love to travel with dogs and often, weather permitting, combine walks in parks and beaches with shopping or a restaurant outing. And although our dogs are rarely left alone, someone being home all of the time is impossible.
The other deal breaker is if the dog’s behavior compromises Will’s welfare, which for the remainder of her earthly life is our priority. And Will is choosy. She enjoys a dog’s companionship, but becomes distressed when one is generally hyper or anxious, boisterous, pushy or klutzy, or relentlessly wants to play.
Bowie, according to what his foster parents observed, seemed like he could be a match. We arranged for a home visit.

The Intro:
A guest-dog is nothing new for Will: At one time we fostered, social events in our home often include dogs, and last year we cared for our friends’ Aussie and Border collie, respectively, when they were on vacation. 
Will’s typical behavior when a dog enters is to briefly block the entrance combined with a: “My home my rules” snarl. After that she accepts most, including around resources. Bowie she let in right away. No blocking, no snarl, no tension and no signal that would indicate distress.
Monique and Jim left Bowie with us for a couple of hours, and he curiously checked our place out, periodically looking at us for clues what this was all about - offered eye contact is what I want in a dog. He was neither pushy nor fearful, not overly interested in Will but motivated to join in little training games. When we settled on the couch, he settled beside us. But he was also ecstatic when his humans returned, and for that reason we didn’t want to keep him for a trial that day, to be left behind again. We planned to meet the following Saturday for a walk, and then would take Bowie home with us.
Going for a walk is my preferred way to introduce dogs, and the best case scenario is if they are aware of each other but largely ignore the other, casually moving in the same direction doing their own thing, perhaps getting a quick sniff in and then carrying on, with no or little cuing from people – self-directed behavior.
Although it was Bowie and Will’s second meeting, that’s exactly what happened. Walking together was a no-big-deal event, but we were still surprised that Will let him in the car so easily, and that they relaxingly shared the back seat on the one-hour drive home.

The Trial Period:
Will’s default way to deal with life’s troubles is to completely withdraw, pitiful, and with dogs that trouble her that typically presents itself after about two weeks. Hence, we asked if we could have a prolonged trial period during which we would also leave the dogs alone in the house and car, uncrated. Our request was generously granted. 
I know that this is not standard rescue and SPCA protocol, but I am wondering if, within reason, it should be. Naturally, the dog’s wellbeing is paramount and I am not suggesting to bounce a dog around from family to family until one eventually decides to adopt, but asking someone to commit to an adult dog without having the chance to get to know him a bit better in their own setting can be difficult, especially when there are other animals or young children to consider. Behaviors are a combination of nature, nurture and environment, and behaviors that aren’t obvious in a shelter or even a home-style foster place can surface in a new milieu with its individual dynamics.
The staying alone tests went without a hitch, but Bowie remained somewhat aloof around Will, even pushing into her space, once nose-punching when she came close to have her harness put on for a walk. He consistently marked on top of her every pee, rushed her at the door, and tried to block her when she wanted on the bed for morning cuddles.
Despite that, within a week we were certain that we wanted to go ahead with the adoption. Partly, because we didn’t observe anything that indicated a bite risk, partly, because Bowie was very responsive and easily redirected, but mainly, because his actions did not at all bother Will. Yes, it hadn’t been the typical two-week time frame yet, but her whole demeanor was different than with the other dogs before: She continued to solicit play and physical contact with Bowie, pushed back instead of retreating into her bubble, followed through with what she had intended to do – once peeing on his head when he pushed in while she marked with a raised leg, and generally seemed more alive and engaged.  
I was confident that with special efforts Will would continue to feel good about Bowie, and that Bowie could learn to perceive Will as a friend instead of a competitor. I made sure that her appearance announced affection, attention, fun games and treats for him and vice versa, and although Bowie will eventually also get a fancy 6+foot leather leash like Will has, for now he’s staying on the somewhat shorter one because that brings the dogs nicely parallel to each other on prolonged pleasurable walks: A forced team-building activity.
It works. Bowie still ignores Will’s play invitations, but he is much more space polite, shares the bed and waits for his turn without getting stressed and butting in.

What We Love Most About Bowie:  
That bonded with all of us. He greets Mike and me with the same exuberance when we return home, solicits affection, loves to snuggle up. He wants to be with us, and always checks in when off the leash. He is easy to handle, including brushing and nail clipping, and is completely safe, including around resources. Resource defending behavior wouldn’t be an unsolvable problem, but I admit that I do love a dog who trusts me around his loot. 
Will still enjoys Bowie, and seems to feel supported by his presence. She is altogether more relaxed, even at the veterinarian – gee, I hadn’t realized how much she wanted a canine companion. Bowie is also meshing with Will. Both dogs have begun to look for each other when off the leash, synchronize and share sniff and pee spots, and twice, when Will was charged by a neighbor’s dog, Bowie nuzzled her afterwards. It's subtle but it's sweet.
We love Bowie’s level of obedience. Someone must have trained him, because his response to come, stay, wait, sit, down, and distance down is consistent, instant and accurate, including around distractions and when he is aroused. Nevertheless, I don’t take any of it for granted at this point and continue to rehearse and reward.
We like that Bowie likes people. So far, he’s been friendly with every person who visited us, yep, even the mailman. People outside he typically ignores, but when invited is authentically friendly, not looking for treats but social attention. So far he also encountered children on bicycles, bouncing a basketball and running past him, joggers, a couple of cats, and horses and riders. He is aware, looks and processes for a moment, and then carries on. 
Bowie has an automatic on and off switch. He plugs in the moment we give him the impression that we’re ready for action, and whenever we are not he settles without needing an additional cue: Me working on the computer, us watching TV or eating dinner, is enough for him to recline. He also nicely self-regulates regarding toys. Like every dog in our home he has access to a toy basket stocked with a rope, things to chew, some soft flying objects, and a squeaky Guz ball. We love when a dog is enthusiastic about toys, and Bowie surely is, and initially we thought the ball might have to be a limited resource so that the squeaking noise wouldn't drive us nuts, but no: he is excited when we play, but settles with an “all-done” command, which he learned in a flash. 
He also learned: Leave, give (hand), drop-it (ground), over (step to the side), cross (the road), touch (hand), target (object), get-it (toy), keep-going (move forward), and is beginning to learn to put the toy back in the basket when we’re done playing, and to place his butt on a mat.
Bowie is brilliant. He catches on so quickly what we want. Do it once, and he’s got it.

Are there challenges?
Not so far, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any in the future. Humans have the silly expectation that a dog’s behavior, for a lifetime, is unchanging. Sure, there is a core personality, and to establish solid habits and behaviors should be every owner's goal, but dogs are alive and sentient beings, not machines.
Bowie is a Border collie, and there are things I particularly will keep an eye on, like loving something vs. being obsessed with it – the line can be fine. Bowie’s preferred activities all involve chasing after something: Ball, disc and squirrels, but he is not constantly pestering to play or standing at the door asking to be let out. He can be called back or stopped from a chase, and I can get him interested in another activity. Plus, after a session, he is content. In contrast, an obsession doesn’t leave a dog satisfied, but frenzied. Still, I will continue to vary his activities and introduce new stuff, so that we'll have a repertoire of things we like to do together, inside the house and outdoors.
The brilliance we love about Bowie can backfire. Brilliant dogs connect the dots quickly, then expect what should happen next, and anticipatory arouse with the first cue, or become frustrated and antsy when there is a delay. Sure enough, after about a week Mike’s customary arrival from work sometime between 4.15-4.30 caused Bowie to pace between door and window starting at about 3.45. One reason for that was the predictability that Mike would play with him right away. So we mixed up routine and consequence, and although Bowie still periodically looks out the window in the afternoon, he is much more relaxed.
I haven’t noticed a fixation toward light flickers, or noise anxiety, but Bowie is motion and sound sensitive, normal for his breed, and wants to act on impulse. However, he is easily interrupted, in fact, already begins to self-regulate because I reinforced when he didn’t follow through, but I need to stay aware. For instance, he didn’t try to chase cars until a few days ago, when the roads were wet and the sound amplified. The dogs were on the leash, and Bowie again easily interrupted when he lunged at the passing car, and reinforced generously when he shifted his focus. Since then cars haven't fazed him, until this morning when a slow-moving van left its driveway. We’ll continue to work on that.  
As much as I love Bowie’s obedience, I don’t like that he sometimes lays his ears back, tongue flicks and averts his head, seemingly afraid, and that he, at times, is also apprehensive when I try to teach him something new. With any dog, our aim is to accumulate a relationship bank account that is in the black, like Susan Friedman says and here is her must-read article, and thus Bowie gets food, attention and affection with no strings attached, we play a lot, I provide information when he is nervous, and there is no training pressure. I am sure that as he experiences that life is predictably good and safe, and that it’s okay to make a mistake, he’ll become more confident.
Dogs have a different meaning for Bowie than humans. He is not as chilled, but arouses, not with barking sounds, but when he smells or sees one. He pulls to get to where they've been to sniff and mark, and in the first couple of weeks either exaggeratedly avoided or charged up to a dog we encountered on the walk. On home ground, he nose-punched our neighbor's boisterous but sweet wheaten terrier when I greeted her, and he was tense and growly with my friend’s two Border collies. I am not in a knot when a dog refuses to share a resource because it is normal, not bad, behavior - when was the last time you welcomed a person you didn’t invite - but we worked on it.
We haven’t had a canine guest since, but on walks Bowie has begun to look at me when he sees a dog and then follows my cues, mostly leave and keep-going. We had a few appropriate greetings with neighborhood dogs, and he was perfect when we met a friend and her Portuguese water dog Sophie for a long walk in an off-leash multiuse trail park, which is, by the way, quite possibly my favorite activity. Surprisingly, he showed no possessive behaviors when I treated and paid attention to Sophie, and although he didn’t play with her or any of the dogs we met, all his social interactions were normal. 
Oh yes, I almost forgot: Bowie pulls on the leash. That’s okay, though. I never had great leash manners with any of our dogs, and yes, I know how to teach it, but frankly prefer to spend time doing stuff more important to me.

Pawsitively Matched
We’ve had Bowie for a little more than a month and we're still discovering each other, but can’t imagine life without him. Not an Aussie, but nearly perfect and perfect for us.
As a bonus, he is a rescue. Personally, I believe that getting a dog from a caring breeder is as conscientious as supporting rescue, and adopting Bowie doesn’t rule out any future sassy female Aussie pup, but I must admit providing a home to an adult dog that needed one feels good. Then again, that is not quite true because he already had a wonderful place with his foster parents, who were about to become foster failures.

I am glad they didn’t.


  1. Wow! What a powerful and inspiring blog. I really love our quote. You should post this as it is inspirational. Once again an excellent article. Thanks.

  2. So interested to hear about your new pooch Silvia. He sounds wonderful. Who ever originally had him obviously missed out on a good dog. I wonder how he ever ended up in rescue to begin with? One thing is certain, he is a very fortunate dog. Sounds like Will is happy to have a new house mate.