I have said for quite some time that I feel like it takes a full year for a new animal to settle in to our lives. As I gain more experience in working with behavior, I am making more conscious choices in how I help them to settle in so that when that year is up, we have better results.
I took the photo above this morning when I sat up in bed and looked over at Eloise’s dog bed. Usually I see Eloise curled up there. Today she had company. It was a sight that gave me warm fuzzy feelings for more reasons than one. It was a landmark in Wilder’s life here with us.
Wilder arrived a little less than nine months ago. History unknown, he was a mixed up combination of bold and fearful. The combination resulted in a fair amount of resource guarding and panicky behaviors. If I reached for him, he would shrink back and act hard to catch. Once he was in your arms, he was as snuggly as could be. He loved to stretch out next to someone on the couch, on his back, limp as a dishrag, but with as much of his body in contact with us as possible. But he had an obvious concern about people reaching toward him.
He inhaled food or anything he thought might be food. He dove for things on the ground to grab them before anyone else, human or canine, could get them. In the first few days, I got snarled and snapped at once or twice until I learned to be less casual about interactions.
Resource guarding is not something which can be covered in a blog post. Helping a dog recover from feeling the need to guard things can be a long and slow process requiring careful management and training, as well as the involvement of someone who is educated in the process. What I want to mention briefly here is that I see this photo as evidence resulting from a recent project I’ve been working on with the dogs. If you follow Bookends Farm on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen that I’m doing a #100daysofdogtraining challenge and I’ve chosen to work on foot handling and accompanying behaviors. By the time I started this, we had worked through most of the resource guarding so that I could ask Wilder to give me things he’d found which he shouldn’t have (a pen I’d dropped for instance) and I could hand Eloise a treat without Wilder grabbing for it but instead patiently waiting for his.
In most of the videos of foot handling, I have had both dogs together on a mat or platform. In their enthusiasm for the training, they squeezed in tight together. I’d started with two mats side by side, but they quickly chose to share a mat and I transitioned to just putting one down. I haven’t counted how many days I’m up to, but it’s apparent that all those training times snuggled up together have produced a couple dogs who are happy to share a space.
My inspiration for these thoughts comes from listening to Ken Ramirez over the years, most recently in my time spent learning from him at the Deep Dive Advanced Training course, where he discussed introducing two dogs. He then wrote about it here.
Another introduction was with our big Border Collie Case. He is also a bold individual, and didn’t have the fear component. I was concerned from the outset about how this brash little terrier was going to get along with this brash big Border Collie. I took a more benign neglect approach with them by keeping them away from each other for months. By this I simply mean that they were never able to have contact with each other. Case’s crate is in the mudroom, which I went through four or more times a day with the terriers (we went through the mudroom, not the crate). While I was putting my boots on, I would frequently drop treats into Case’s crate. My intention was: puppy arrival in the room = treats being dropped in your crate. They had months to smell and see each other and get treats at the same time.
Their first meeting was not planned. One day last winter, after about two and a half months of this shared space, they happened to come upon each other. Thankfully they were outside with freedom to move and retreat as desired. Surprisingly, there was a stick involved and they were ok together. I let them play for a couple minutes and then separated them with a huge sigh of relief. First meeting was a success. After that we gradually allowed them more time together and they now spend plenty of semi-supervised time together. By that I mean that we are always around, but can be focused on other things while they play around us. When I saw how Wilder behaved with Case, I felt an evil little happiness because Case had his own mosquito. Case was an insatiably active puppy and remains an insatiably active dog. He pestered us constantly and now he has someone pestering him. It’s hard to video two whirling dervishes so I apologize if you get dizzy.
Training is never done and relationships constantly evolve. The more we observe and learn, the better we are able to improve both.