Ferris just turned 9 months old, and up until about a week ago was happily pursuing his title of “Destructodog Par Excellence”. That is, until I decided to take drastic measures.
Did I decide to give Ferris away to another home? Hah! NO. My solution? Why another dog of course! A puppy to be precise. Someone to give Ferris a run for his money, occupy his time, and just generally tire him out physically and mentally.
Yes, Ferris already has playmates. Truth be told, more than most dogs. However, the younger dogs in the house who want to play with him are small, and Ferris is like that kid on the playground everyone was a little worried about. You remember that kid…the one who was kind of too big and strong (maybe was held back a few years). He was a nice enough kid, but when he punched someone in the arm like guys do, he nearly knocked them over, and anyone who tried to punch back or jump on him basically bounced off. That kid was unaware of his strength, and would never have hurt anyone intentionally. Well, that kid is more or less Ferris when it comes to playing with the smaller dogs.
I have concluded that Ferris must have a very high pain threshold, and is innocently unaware of his own strength. Not ideal in a house full of little dogs. The younger little guys…Huck, Cubby, Sox, and Frankie will play with him as long as they have something to hide under if he gets too rough, and they make sure the play sessions are kept short. If they attempt to “correct” his roughness he seems to think it’s a game and can get even more wound up.
The bigger grown up dogs – Rex, Rudy and Nemo, are no longer interested in rough-housing. They’ll play for a few minutes and then they’ve had enough. Rex and Rudy enjoy running in the yard with Ferris, and have engaged in gentle, kind of slow motion wrestling sessions with him on occasion, but those are also fairly short, and certainly not enough to tire him out. Nemo won’t even go out in the yard with Ferris anymore because he’s been hammered too many times. Nemo’s idea of playing in the yard is being chased because he is super fast and can usually outrun anyone else. Ferris, being part Cattle Dog, used herding techniques to cut Nemo off in his run around the perimeter of the yard, followed with a quick nip. Ferris was just having fun, but Nemo is pretty sensitive and started refusing to go out to run if Ferris was involved. Now Nemo only runs with the little guys, or just Rex.
One day, in mid April, I was thinking about Ferris, and wondering how many more sheets and futon mattresses I’d have to replace, when I had one of those unexpected “light-bulb” moments. I remembered back in March, when my brother’s two dogs were here while his family was in Florida for spring break. They’re both bigger dogs (50 lbs.) and stay with us a few times a year. They’re both great dogs. Dempsey is a hound mix, sweet and pretty laid back. Emmy is also a sweetie, but is high energy. She’s one of those dogs that LOVES to play and play and play some more. She will bring you a ball to throw ALL day long. While they were here, Ferris had a blast. Emmy would play tug-o-war with him, wrestle and chase him, and could easily match his body slams.
During the 10 days they were here, Ferris didn’t destroy anything. At first I thought he had started to grow out of his destructodog phase, but a few days after Emmy and Dempsey went home, he was back to full-time, futon mattress, and sheet demolition.
I tried engaging him to play with me. I tried fetch, and a few games involving food – he could not have been less interested. I wasn’t too surprised. Ferris has always seemed to prefer the company of other dogs to humans (even me). He is sweet enough, but compared to most other dogs, rarely seeks out human attention. He politely greets guests, and seems to enjoy being petted for a few seconds, but doesn’t really solicit it. He remains…ever the quandary. That’s fine, I’ve come to learn to accept my dogs for who they are. We’re all different and I can’t turn Ferris into someone he isn’t. He’s an odd little guy, but we love him.
After the recent resurfacing of Destructodog, I proceeded to more seriously ponder a potential puppy procurement (enjoy that little tongue twister with the “p” words?). I spent a lot of time on the computer looking at tons of photos, and considered a myriad of different puppies…ah, the possibilities. Nothing more fun than looking at puppy photos. Finally, after weeks of searching and a few disappointments, I made an appointment to meet what seemed like a good candidate from the same rescue group that I’ve adopted several dogs from since moving here.
Picking out a puppy from a photo on-line is not my idea of the best way to make a decision, but that’s how things work nowadays. In the past, picking a puppy out of a litter usually involved meeting the entire litter of pups, and often the momma dog. I feel this is particularly important when you are dealing with mixed breed puppies, because you never know for sure which breed traits will be inherited and the more breeds involved in the mix, the less you can rely on breed traits at all. Besides, we now know, based on the availability of DNA testing, that often the assumed breeds based on appearance alone are not at all accurate.
Ideally, getting to know what kind of dog the momma is, and then observing the puppies interacting with her as well as each other provides a virtual gold mine of information. But, that’s not how the world works anymore, particularly with shelter and rescue dogs. Having worked in the animal welfare world for years, I know it’s just not possible in many situations, and understand that limitations are often necessary to run an animal welfare organization efficiently. I have to accept that this is just how it’s done now. Keeping this in mind, I have developed my own little system for picking out a puppy based on personal and professional experience, and lots of information I’ve accumulated over the years provided by breeders, animal behaviorists and trainers. If I’m being honest, a bit of intuition, and even what could be called superstition on my part plays into it as well.
Last Friday (May 18th), I went to meet a male, 10 week old, Australian Cattle Dog mix (best guess), estimated to be of medium-large size when full grown. I was pleased to learn that the litter had been fostered in a home, which is great. I was looking for a pup that was outgoing, fairly confident, playful and could handle Ferris and his antics. Both Ferris and Rex are part Cattle Dog among other things, and as a breed they are tough dogs physically which I was hoping would translate into a good match for Ferris.
I arrived at the adoption center, and after being asked to wash my hands, was taken into the room where they do the puppy introductions. The room has several large, wire exercise pens set up. A volunteer asks you to sit on the floor, closes you into the pen, and goes to get your puppy. I noticed there were already people visiting with other puppies from a few different litters I had seen on the rescue’s website.
I was a little concerned when I observed that each of the puppies I could see in the other 3 pens seemed frightened. They were frozen in place, cowering, avoiding eye contact with the people, and one poor little guy was actually shaking. Now, granted the adoption center is quite loud and chaotic, so it would make sense that some of the puppies and dogs would be overwhelmed. However, all of the dogs I have adopted from this organization did not cower or shake when I met them. A few of the adult dogs or older pups were a bit shy when I first met them, but I made the choice to adopt them knowing I was getting a potentially shy dog. This time I needed to be sure I had a confident pup that could handle Ferris. My concern based on what I was seeing, was that each of the puppies in the other pens would not have been a good choice for me. Even so I was hopeful, because I noticed that none of the other pups I was observing were from my potential puppy’s litter.
After a few minutes, a volunteer approached with the puppy in his arms. He gently set him on the floor, and to my relief the pup immediately bounded up to me, jumped into my lap, stared directly into my eyes with a soft sweetness, and started licking my chin. He was all wags, wiggles and kisses, quite the happy little dude. He played with the toys we’d been given and several times, actually fetched the toy and brought it back to me, plopped into my lap, and let me take it from him to throw again. He was curious and interested in what was going on around us and not at all timid. He enjoyed being cuddled and petted, without nipping or mouthing my hands… Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner!!!
On the way home he spent the first 30 minutes of the drive demonstrating his outstanding lung capacity from the crate in the back of the car, while I did my best to feign ignorance about where that horrible racket was coming from when waiting at traffic lights surrounded by other cars. Thank goodness my back windows are tinted! Eventually he fell asleep, and was an angel for the rest of the drive (because he was asleep). During the 90 minute drive home I decided on his name. I had several in mind, but wanted to meet him before I made my final choice. Without further ado, may I present our newest pack member…
I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but I do new dog introductions quite differently than most people. I wouldn’t suggest it for someone who is not dog savvy, but it works for me. It kind of evolved during all those years of having foster dogs coming and going, and eventually became my preferred method.
I don’t do the typical on-leash, one dog at a time introductions. I have used that method on occasion, but only with bigger adult dogs. I’ve found it isn’t necessary with the little dogs, and particularly when introducing a puppy. That’s part of the reason I make sure I pick a puppy or dog with good energy. That may sound a bit weird, but it’s the only way I can describe it. Ultimately I think my method works for me because I know my dogs, I trust my dogs, and they trust me. As long as I’ve got my handy-dandy spray bottle ready to remind anyone who may need to back off a bit with a little spray of water, I’m good to go.
Once everyone is together in the family room, I open the crate with the “newbie”. Often when this happens the new dog shrinks into the back of the crate completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of noses poking at them, and I have to remind the rest of the pack to give them some room.
Little Henry did fairly well with the mass sniffing experience, and then in typical puppy fashion spent quite a bit of time exploring the kitchen, family room and deck, all the while exchanging sniffs with the other dogs. When I let them out on the deck, he even peed outside “GOOD BOY!”
I will admit I was a bit disappointed when he seemed particularly cautious with Ferris. He was enamored with Nemo and Rex (who isn’t), and seemed curious about several of the smaller dogs, but he was obviously avoiding Ferris. If Ferris approached him, he froze, or moved away, and even bristled a few times. I know better than to intervene – Ferris wasn’t in any way threatening him, he was just curious and a bit excited, which translated into pushiness. I figured I just needed to give it time, and see if after a few days they would start to play (fingers and toes crossed!)
After the introductions I realized that little Henry must be a bit tired, and popped him back into the crate…that’s when the screaming started. VERY dramatic, LOUD protesting. I knew it was probably that he was a bit cranky from being over-tired, and stressed out with all of the changes he’d been through in a short time.
He’d gone from his foster home to the adoption center, stayed there in all the chaos and noise for a few days, and then was separated from his litter-mates, and brought into a new home with a giant pack of dogs he didn’t know. That’s a lot for a little 10 week old puppy to deal with, so when he continued to wail for half an hour, I broke the rules of crate training and let him out. After much face licking and whimpering his little puppy “thank-you-thank-you-thank-you” into my ear, he wandered around for a few minutes, plopped down on the floor at my feet and fell asleep.
Okay, it appeared that this boy was going to bond quickly, and for all intents and purposes, was already well on his way. Still, crate training is important, and for my dogs imperative, but it can take time, patience, and yes, in some cases a bit of indulgence to make the crate something comfy and safe, instead of something to hate. It can be a delicate balancing act for sure with a puppy like Henry. The last one I had like this was Huck a few years ago.
I very soon found out that Henry not only screamed in the crate, he also screamed whenever I was out of sight. I have my kitchen and family room both gated, and he would sit at the gate and scream if he couldn’t see me. This was a potential perfect storm for a separation anxiety case in the making. He didn’t just cry, he panicked when I was not within sight, and being in the presence of the other dogs (at this point anyway), was not providing any comfort. For comparison this was the complete opposite of Ferris at this age. As long as Ferris had the other dogs he was happy and felt safe. He never worried about where I was.
For two days, I used the same techniques I had successfully used with Huck. I took Henry in the bathroom with me when I showered, and he slept in a crate next to me on the bed so he could see and smell me all night. I made a point of spending most of my time in the kitchen and family room where he could see me, and once he started interacting more with them, having the other dogs around started to comfort him too. I used the advantage of putting him the crate when I knew he was tired, staying in the room with him and giving him a chewy or a treat to occupy him (until he hopefully fell asleep). If he started carrying on right away after I put him into his crate in the kitchen, I simply moved him to his crate in the bedroom, and shut the door so he could have his little tantrum. When either a half hour had passed or once he quieted down, (whichever happened first) I took him out to potty, and then let him have some freedom for a few hours. He stuck to me like glue, but was taking more and more interest in the other dogs, and toys. It took him about 2 days to figure out the routine (smart little bugger!) Within a day he was ok in the kitchen or family room if he couldn’t see me, and few days after that I was able to put him in his crate in the kitchen and be out of his sight for a few minutes.
Gradually with lots of treats, chewy treats, and small sessions, a week later he is for the most part comfortable in the crate. Now he can be crated in the bedroom or in the kitchen for a few hours without much fussing, and usually falls asleep. I can leave the room with him either in a crate or behind a gate and he either plays with the other dogs, finds a chew toy, or takes a nap. He learns quickly, and is a confident enough pup by nature that his crate issue was mostly a matter of adjustment. I was careful not to coddle him too much, and let him get his way by fussing, but also not such a hard ass that I just left him in there when he was in an absolute panic for an extended time. It’s a balancing act for sure, and each dog is different. He’s still sleeping in a crate on my bed during the night, but that’s fine for now.
The BIG NEWS is that after 2 days of acclimating Henry started playing with Ferris!! Henry pretty much controls the interaction and Ferris is happy to oblige as long as he gets to play and wrestle. Henry latches on to Ferris by the ear or neck skin and Ferris rolls around happily on the floor (he does have a high pain threshold!) They chase each other and play tug-o-war, and other silly puppy games, like lying on the floor side by side on their backs, chewing on each other’s faces.
Has Ferris destroyed anything since Henry’s arrival – NO! In fact he is calmer than ever, and is even taking on the “big brother” role, which was a delightful surprise!