The New Dog Adventures, Part 1

It’s been just over 5 months since we moved here from Austin, and of course much has happened in that time.  The most salient event to this entry is that Copper got lonely.

In Austin, we lived in a duplex with a shared backyard, and Copper became best buds with the neighbor dogs.  They’d come to our house to play; he’d go over to theirs to play.  They were the Three Musketeers.

Fast forward to last month, and we both noticed that Copper was showing signs of loneliness: he was restless, needier than usual, wanting to play but getting bored quickly when we tried to play with him, etc.  He’d also get really interested in the TV whenever we watched anything with dogs in it.  And he was very attached to his toys:

Sleepy Copper

So one day I got a Facebook message from The Boyfriend.  The entire contents of the message were a series of links to petfinder profiles for four dogs from Best Friends.  “So, I take it this is your way of telling me you’d like to adopt a friend for Copper?” I asked.  Chuck shrugged, “We might as well do it now.  Why wait?”

Because we don’t have any of the same days off, we went up to meet the dogs separately.  Chuck went first, met the four of them, then brought Copper up to meet the four candidates to see how he got along with them.  Although he got along with all of them, he bonded hardcore with a Catahoula mix named Brie.  They were instantly inseparable BFFs.

Although we liked Brie and two of the other candidates and thought they were all cute as heck, we both were strongly leaning towards a little Shar Pug named Miss Missouri.  She came from a puppy mill situation and had a lot of fear issues.  Chuck and I both have a soft spot for dogs with fear issues, and since Copper also had several of his own to overcome when we first met him, we thought that he could be a good role model for her.  Because dogs like her frequently get passed over in shelters, we also figured that we could give her a chance that most people wouldn’t give her, whereas the other three candidates were all highly adoptable.

When I went up to meet the dogs, our adoption coordinator and all the caregivers were enthusiastically praising Copper, telling me what a perfect dog he was, and how well he behaved during his visit.  They told me how well he bonded with Brie, but that they were all hoping we’d pick Miss MO, since her issues had historically scared potential adopters away.  When I met her, she was pacing nervously, not letting us touch her, and only approaching the caregiver.  I wanted her. SO. BADLY.  All I could see were all the things I could train her, the lovely little personality inside just begging to come out, all of her potential.

Nevertheless, we decided to start with Brie for our first sleepover, since she and Copper were so clearly connected, and also because that way we could keep MO for longer afterward.  The other two dogs were also adorable as sin and super sweet, but already had lots of adoption interest, so we decided to let other people go for them.

So we brought Brie home for a sleepover.  This was her on her car ride home:

Brie

She had the most perfect car manners: she jumped right in the back seat and stayed back there, quiet and calm, the entire trip home.  When Chuck came to pick me up from work and the two of them were waiting for a few minutes, she just curled up and took a nap.  Great start!

At home, she continued to impress.  She settled right in as if she’d always been here, was interested in the birds but not TOO interested, showed more nervousness than aggression around the cats, followed us from room to room and came when called, and of course, got along famously with Copper.  She still needs some work on her sit, and will only do so when prompted with a treat.  And she doesn’t really understand boundaries: she jumps over the back of the sofa right on top of us, she tries to take food straight out of our hands, etc.  But overall, she really fit in with our family.

So happy together...

So happy together…

Playpals

Playpals

We live on 2.5 acres, 1.5 of which are a fenced in “pasture” (I use that word facetiously, because as you can see we have no grass, only the red dusty soil of the high desert), which we jokingly refer to as “The Back Nine”.  From the moment we brought Brie home, this became their playground.  They chase each other around, play catch, tug o’ war, and even hide and seek.  While Copper always wanted to play with us back there, we weren’t nearly as fun because we couldn’t even remotely keep up with him.  But Brie is perfectly, evenly matched.  They are the same size, same build, have the same energy level and speed.  They can race each other to exhaustion.

By the next morning, Brie was snuggling with my cat Lola.  So not only did she fit in well here, she also learned quickly.  After reinforcing her for calm behavior around Lola just a few times, she went from raised hackles and lowered tail, backing away slowly while growling whenever she would see Lola, to curling up butt to butt with her as if they’d always been buddies.

We dropped Brie back off at Dogtown and picked up Mo.  Due to her fear issues, they let us do a longer sleepover to give her time to settle in.  They also put a GPS tracker on her collar and told us not to let her out of the house without her harness and leash – not even the backyard – because she was a flight risk.  So we brought her home and gave her some time to get used to us.

She was very nervous at first, constantly pacing around like a shark, flinching at every noise and sudden movement.  She wanted attention, but when we’d reach down to pet her, she’d run away.  She would walk up to us and stare intently, but if we looked back at her, she’d turn her head and walk away.  Finally, after a few hours, she came up and let me pet her head and neck.  I got a picture:

Miss MissouriThe cuteness!  Oh, the cuteness.

She was great with the birds and the cats, and got along well with Copper, but it became immediately apparent exactly how much work she needed.  As with most puppy mill dogs, she had no concept of housetraining.  She’d just pop a squat wherever she happened to be, whenever the mood struck.  We should buy stock in paper towels and Nature’s Miracle, with the amount we’ve gone through.  She also had difficulty relaxing.  When she would eventually lie down, she’d spring back up again as soon as either of us would get up or walk around.  And she is a super destructive chew monster, getting her cute little flappy lips around whatever she could reach.  If it was on the floor, it was fair game.  She chewed my phone while I was charging it, my shoes because they (used to) live on the floor by the front door, untold numbers of items that were on the coffee table, in the doggie toy box, or on the book shelves.  After coming home one day after running errands for just a couple of hours, we found her lounging on the Ultimate Sack looking innocent:

"It was like this when I got here!  I swear!"

“It was like this when I got here! I swear!”

Rather than put us off her, though, those behaviors just made us more determined to help her.  She is so wonderful, and her behaviors are so “fix-able”.

The one small hitch in our plan to adopt her, though, was that she and Copper just really weren’t bonding.  They like each other.  But they mostly ignore each other.  They’d play sometimes.  But Mo, being a Shar Pug, would tap out after 5 minutes, and Copper would look at her like, “What?  But we’re just getting started!”  If the whole point of this adventure was to get a friend for Copper, we had to be honest with ourselves and admit that Mo just wasn’t a good match.

But by that point we realized that Mo needed a home environment, and we were invested in her.  She had us wrapped around her little velvety paw.  The life skills that Mo needed to learn, she could never learn in a shelter environment–even in a really, really ridiculously good one like Dogtown.  To learn home skills, Mo needs to be in an actual home.

What to do?  Neither of us really wanted three dogs.  We already have 6 parrots, 2 cats, and a Copper.  Adding one dog to our menagerie would be chaotic enough.  But after sitting on it for a few days and discussing it at length, we came up with a solution:  we would bring Mo and Copper back up to Dogtown and let them meet up with Brie to see how the three of them got along.  If they had a good group dynamic, we’d adopt Brie and apply to long-term foster Mo.  That way, Copper could have his best friend, but we wouldn’t feel like we were abandoning this sweet little girl who needed us.  We can work on Mo’s issues, get her more adoptable, and hopefully find the perfect family to take her straight from our home to theirs.

Dogtown approved our plan, and a couple of weeks ago, Chuck took them both up to meet Brie.  When Copper and Brie were still several yards away from each other, they both started pulling on their leashes, reaching towards each other.  The reunion, I was told later by everyone who witnessed it, was epic.  They were clearly ecstatic to be together again.  And the two of them got along with Mo just fine.  So Chuck signed the papers and brought the three of them home.

We couldn’t be happier with our decision.  Brie and Copper are inseparable, and they both also really get along with Mo and play with her, too, when she’s in the mood.  Brie is also incredibly loving and affectionate towards us, and she and I have bonded much harder and more quickly than I anticipated.  She follows me around everywhere and loves to cuddle between Copper and me on the sofa.  She also loves to sit on my lap like a 40 lb puppy, and sleeps pressed up against my side every night.  I tease Chuck that he really got her for me as an early Valentine’s Day present.  He feigns jealousy when she curls up next to me.  It’s fun.  And Mo?  She is blossoming and coming out of her shell more and more every day.  Every day we see progress.  Every day she becomes more confident and trusting and calm.  And she is happy.

Of course, as we all know, happily ever afters don’t come so easily in real life.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.  As it turns out, Brie isn’t perfectly housetrained, either, and has her own destructive streak.  We dared to go out to dinner one night and came home to this:

And this is just a fraction of it.

And this is just a fraction of it.

And she also has demonstrated some mild resource guarding issues that need some work.  And we need to wean her off prompts so that she’ll follow cues any time we ask, not just when we’re waving treats in front of her face.  But!  It just so happens that I love training animals!  So these aren’t terrible problems; they’re fun projects!

Over the next few… I don’t know… weeks? Months? Years?  I’ll be updating this blog on our progress.  The next entry will be training plans and goals.  It will be fun to look back and see what we’ve accomplished as time goes on.

But for now, I’m off to feed these beasts dinner, run some errands, and find out what new and creative ways they’ve found to destroy things in the home during our absence.  😉

More later!

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About Emily Strong

behavior consultant. veterinary technician. crazy parrot lady. lifelong animal lover. cellist. yogi. hula hooper. horse rider. swimmer. singer. reader. writer. dreamer. music lover. amateur gardener. nutrition enthusiast. eternal student. language lover. aspiring polyglot. tattoo canvas. water drinker. overthinker. bountiful laugher. overenthusiast. attention deficit meditator.
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2 Responses to The New Dog Adventures, Part 1

  1. avianstudent says:

    What sweet pups! All sound very lucky to have you – and what a perfect solution, fostering Mo. We have a rescue German Shepherd with fear issues, and she has finally overcome them two years later. I tend to end up with needy birds, while my parents take in dogs, haha.

    Can’t wait to read more about your lot!

    • Emily Strong says:

      Thank you! We are lucky to have them, too! I tend to focus so much on helping other people to train their animals that I get lazy about training my own (…and cobbler’s kids have no shoes, etc.). Having new dogs in the house with training needs motivates and inspires me to be better about training all my crew. Plus, they are so cute! Sounds like you’ve done a great job with your Shepherd!

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