Puppies and The Pack Effect

In June of 2016 I adopted Huckleberry, an 8 week old Chihuahua mix. The other dogs have always helped any newcomer regardless of age learn the routines, but this time I decided to let the other dogs play a more significant role in raising a puppy.  I knew that they could model behavior for him much better than I could. They are dogs after all, and who better to teach a puppy how to be a dog than a pack of dogs?

                             Baby Huckleberry

We can get a feel for how the pack dynamic works when observing a momma dog raising a litter of pups. Puppies learn invaluable information from their mother and litter-mates, but that usually ends when the pups are old enough to go to their own homes. Then it’s up to us to continue their “education” about the world. Sometimes the new home has one or perhaps even a few adult dogs, who depending on their own experience with other dogs, may or may not engage with the puppy or share in helping to raise the pup.

Witnessing a puppy becoming part of an established pack made up of dogs of multiple ages, sizes and breeds, which is what I was doing, is not a common experience. Probably the closest thing for most people would be watching groups of dogs or puppies interact at the dog park or doggie day care, but I still wouldn’t consider the dogs in these situations an actual pack, as the group members change on a regular basis, and don’t live together 24 hours a day. They get together for the expressed purpose of running, and playing. I have a rather unique situation living with my own established pack, and believe me they do most of the work with any new dog, and puppies in particular.

       Huck with Rudy

When I met Huck, I knew he had the right kind of energy for our pack. He was calm and sweet, not fearful or timid, and pretty laid back in general. Overall I’d say that he was a really good, easy puppy. He learned the daily routine, manners, and doggie etiquette from watching the other dogs and modeling their behavior.  He had plenty of playmates and disciplinarians among the other dogs, and they did a great job of raising him. He has grown into a wonderful little guy, still sweet and calm, friendly, happy and overall just one of the gang.

                                         Napping with his baby toys.

I was recently made keenly aware of just how well mannered and grounded Huck is with the adoption of Cubby and Sox.  I adopted them shortly after Huck’s first birthday and they were approximately a year old as well – so basically the same age as Huck. But, as I explained in the post “Newbies” these two brothers were a VERY different experience… they were fine with the other dogs for the most part, but as far as house manners they were (and sometimes still are) quite naughty! They are also very shy with new people.  Now that they’ve been here with the pack for a few months they’ve learned a lot, but I doubt they will ever have great house manners, or run up to greet strangers – which is fine of course. Several of the adult dogs who live here have “issues” that’s why they ended up here with the rest of us misfits! We accept everyone for who they are here, and I’ll admit it isn’t a completely fair comparison since all dogs are individuals, but I do feel it is evidence of how effective the pack has been in raising Huck.

                 Huck & Rex                                                                                        Huck & Nemo                              

My two best all around dogs by far are Nemo and Rex – I adopted them both as puppies, and took them through multiple classes while I was working as a trainer. Without a doubt the other dogs were also quite instrumental in raising them as well, but at the time I just kind of took their input for granted. With Huck it was more deliberate on my part to allow the pack to do most of the work for me.  Socializing him with people was the only thing I made sure to do.  As you can see from the pictures below, when he met my brother Tim, and a few months later my niece Mia, socializing was a breeze.

                                           

 

 Here he is today all grown up!

You may think that I’m I’m a glutton for punishment, but I adopted another puppy last week. Once again I will take full advantage of the pack’s input in raising this new baby too. The new puppy’s name is Ferris – more about him coming soon.

 

 

Newbies

After losing two senior dogs in June, I decided to consider adopting a younger dog. I started looking on line at rescues, and in July found a photo of a frightened, skinny, pathetic looking little guy. He was all black and was listed as a 1 yr. old Chihuahua mix, but he looked more like an Italian Greyhound mix to me.  I’ve often thought I’d enjoy having an Italian Greyhound (kind of smaller version of Stickie!). They’re not very common, especially in rescue, so I never really figured I’d find one. This little dude had a brother who was also available. I only wanted one new dog, so I called and was told that they could be adopted separately. YES! A few days later, after an hour and half drive to the rescue I was told that they wanted the brothers to be adopted together. Oh, man…seriously?

I know the people at this rescue (I’ve adopted from them before), so I didn’t think that they were trying to pull a fast one, but I did ask why I was told on the phone that the dogs could be adopted separately. They explained that the two had had gotten stressed when they tried to separate them, and considering they’d been together since they were pups they wanted to keep them together if possible. This is exactly why I generally think it’s a really bad idea to adopt litter-mates to the same home – they can become overly attached to each other.

Well, I wasn’t planning on adopting two dogs, but you know the whole “best laid plans” thing sort of came into play, and I ended up bringing them both home.  I named them Cubby and Sox in honor of the two Chicago baseball teams. Cubby is all black, except for a tiny little white stripe on his chest that is almost imperceptible. Sox has a big white splash on his chest and white feet… (white socks).  Yeah I know, bad pun, but it makes it easy for people to remember who is who.

As I had hoped, they fit into the pack seamlessly. It seemed like they had pretty good doggie etiquette when I was visiting with them at the rescue, so I wasn’t predicting any serious issues. That always makes things easier. Even with puppies if the energy isn’t a fit for the pack it can cause disruption. These brothers have brought a lot of young fun energy into the house, and Huck loves finally having some playmates his age.

After having them here for a few months I’m even more convinced that they are Italian Greyhound mixes – maybe with Chihuahua since they are small at 7 and 8 lbs. I am also glad that I adopted them both.

They are sweet, silly and NAUGHTY! I figured that adopting dogs that were a year old would mean we were past a bunch of the puppy stuff. WRONG! These two have chewed up more things than any puppies I’ve had.  They sailed over the gates like little gazelles, and they can climb too! All just more evidence that they’re probably Italian Greyhounds. Their naughtiness has earned them the titles “the black demons” and “the weasel brothers”. They make me laugh every day, are very generous with the doggie kisses and are the best naughty dogs in the world.

Oh, and they both love Nemo, of course.

Endings…

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I usually don’t discuss losing my dogs – grief is a very private thing for me and I prefer to do it alone.

I’m certainly not the first to say it, but it rings true with me…The only really bad thing about dogs is that they don’t live longer. Over the past few months I’ve lost 4 senior dogs – two to brain tumors, one to lung cancer and one to a nasty combination of dementia and glaucoma. Currently about half of my pack is over 10 years of age. I only mention this because it means that unfortunately the next few years I will be looking at more loss. It is something that comes with the territory for all of us who live with dogs and it is never easy. To put it plainly it totally SUCKS.  

When I adopt a senior dog, I know in advance that our time together is most likely short lived. My goal is to give them a nice life for whatever time they have left. Just as each dog is an individual, each relationship is unique with each dog, and in turn, each loss is different. All are difficult, but in different ways. It is different when I lose a dog that has been with me as a youngster. It is much harder which makes sense, we have more history together.

What I find fascinating is how losing a member of our pack can profoundly affect the pack dynamic. It isn’t always the case, but I’ve been surprised more than once when the loss completely changes the energy in the house. Sometimes I expect things to be different when a dog with a big personality (or a big mouth) is no longer with us, but at times I’ve been surprised when one of the quieter or shyer dogs passes and the energy shifts and things become lighter somehow. I can only assume that there was something going on under the surface with that dog that was undetected by me. It could have been an emotional issue, or possibly the illness that ultimately led to their death (that was not yet evident with the usual veterinary exam and tests), but the rest of the dogs obviously knew it or there wouldn’t be such a difference in the absence of that particular dog.

I feel like I can read dogs fairly well, but like I lot of things, I’m finding that as I get older I don’t know anywhere near as much as I thought I did. I have a unique perspective living with a pack and observing their behavior with each other. It has changed my ideas about a lot of things we assume about dogs.