Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Patience Makes Perfect Play Mates

Our patience has paid off in spades!

She ran, he chased.  They played bitey face and wrestled.  They gave each other appropriate play breaks throughout and were quite happy to finally get to play.  

They even hugged! it was a bit more of a wrestle than a hug but still! 

Eight days before this play date, Sadie & Karl met for the first time on leash in this backyard.  Karl immediately flipped onto his back and gave her belly a tongue bath.  Weirded out, Sadie got a little snarky with him and I had to intervene.  After eight days of patiently allowing the dawgs to get comfortable with each other through an ex-pen, these two played like they have been best friends for life.  We're so proud of both!

Karl is our temporary foster and is seeking a longer term foster or foster to adopt family.  You can read more about him here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Karl and the Dawg Pack

I was two years old when my little sister was born.  To a toddler, the idea of a baby was likely exciting but the reality?  When I first met Abi, she was breast-feeding and I threw a tantrum like only 2 year olds can.  Incensed that MY MOM was feeding another baby, I ripped Abi out of her arms.  Luckily, my Dad was there to catch her as I tossed her to the floor, sobbing at Mom's betrayal.  My family loves to tell this story.

They say that dogs' mental abilities are much like that of a 2 year old child.  While the idea of a new playmate may be exciting, the reality of sharing a home can be challenging for many dogs.  With 3 of my own, those challenges are often multiplied.  I could write an entire blog post on the the strengths and weaknesses of each of my individual dogs when sharing their prized resources (home, food, toys & attention) with a new friend.  Even though my crew has always had near perfect harmony amongst themselves, it would be foolish to assume that any new dog could be instantly integrated.

Can I play now?

In order to provide a safe & loving home temporarily for Karl, our regular routine needed to be adjusted in order to ensure every dawg was calm and comfortable sharing the tiny little space that is our home.  Slow intros, rotation and ex-pen separation are an essential part to the success that we've had.  This has been our process, which has been slightly modified from the recommended process by many behavior experts to fit our pack and our needs.

The first few days we had Karl (pre stint at the local shelter for his stray hold), we did not allow any interactions.  We had no idea if Karl might have any contagious disease, his vaccination status, whether he had mange or other parasites, etc.  Luckily, he passed his vet exam with flying colors on all of these concerns and once he was released back to us from the shelter, we gave him another 24 hours to decompress from his shelter experience.  During this time, we rotated the dawgs every 1-3 hours.  Karl had his time hanging out with us in the living room and our crew had their time.  This allowed everyone to get comfortable with the scent and sounds of another dog in the house.  We also experimented with how Karl felt on tie-down and behind an ex-pen.  It was important to know he wouldn't freak out about barriers before introducing our dogs into the mix.  

How 'bout now?  Can we play now??
Most experts recommend shared walks as a great way to introduce new dogs.  Unfortunately in our case and with a history of leash reactivity with Maggie & Hurley, we decided that we needed to skip this first step and try a tactic more suited to our crew.  

First, I introduced Sadie and Karl in the backyard.  Sadie is our most submissive and is usually happy to share anything with anyone, so long as they will engage in a game of chase and not hump her.  When they met, Karl flipped on his back and wouldn't stop licking her belly.  While adorable & submissive, belly licking is not widely considered to be a polite greeting in the canine world so I knew he'd have some learning to do about appropriate greetings.

If we both sit pretty, can we play NOW?

At that point, out came the ex-pen in the living room.  In order not to overwhelm any of the dawgs on either side of the ex-pen, we introduced one at a time.  Sadie & Karl got some hang-out time, then Maggie & Karl, then Hurley....then all 3 at once. It took us three days to get to all 4 dawgs chillin' in the living room with just the ex-pen in between.  And that's basically where we've stayed this week.

Why stop there?  Because when integrating a new dog into an existing pack, you can simply never go too slow.  And you can do a lot of damage by going too quickly.  While the girls' body language has shown that they are ready for more meet n greets in the backyard, Hurley is still unsure about this boy with balls in his house.  For that reason, we are holding off on full integration in the house with no ex-pen. 

M-O-M, I don't know 'bout that pointy eared fella.  Are you sure he's not going to steal my bitches?
Karl for his part has shown increased awareness of canine body language and signals.  When he licked Hurley's nose through the ex-pen, Hurley barked at him to back off.  Karl has been extremely submissive and respectful in his behavior towards Hurley since, showing promising signs that, though his initial greeting style may not be welcomed by all dogs, he can and will listen to when they tell him they are uncomfortable.

Our slow integration process has already paid off in spades.  Last night, I forgot to shut the door to our bedroom, where Maggie was laying down.  Having stowed the other two dawgs in our office, it was time to let Karl out from behind the ex-pen.  As I realized my error, Karl and Maggie were already nose to nose.  He immediately started licking her belly.  Maggie did nothing.  No body language indicating she was uncomfortable, no telling Karl to back off in any way.  She simply stood there, waiting for me to intervene.  Because of our slow intro process, she knew that the humans in charge would make sure she was given the space that otherwise, she might have felt the need to demand. 

Y'know what would make the backyard better, foster mama?  Dogs to play with!

I highly recommend taking it slow when introducing a dog into any household but it is critical when you are dealing with integrating a new dog into an existing multi-dog household.  There are a ton of great resources out there.  Here are a few I used when deciding how we were going to proceed with integrating Karl into our multi-dog household:

Dr. Patricia McConnell's Blog Post on Adopting a Dog into a Multi-Dog Household
Pit Bull Rescue Central's Article on Recommendations for Dog Introductions
Bad Rap's Blog Post on Fostering: Drive in the Slow Lane for Dog-Dog Intros

We are seeking a longer term foster or foster to adopt home for our guy Karl.  More information can be found on his Lovers Not Fighters webpage.