This is Emily.
Emily is basically the most awesome dog on the planet. She loves riding in the car, watching "Law and Order" marathons, eating chicken, and hanging out with us. Not the biggest fan of other dogs, especially ones that are bigger than her. She's not mean to them; actually, she withdraws and gets close to humans. She enjoys her own space.
Recently someone we know told us he's having a really hard time and can't take care of his dog and cat. He didn't know what to do, and didn't want to put them in a shelter. We decided we would help by fostering GuestDog and GuestCat for awhile. I used to have a cat, GuestDog isn't that big, and certainly we'd want someone to help us with Emily if we were in the same situation (and my BFF has helped me with Em during a crisis).
We completely went about this all wrong and did everything you AREN'T supposed to do when introducing a second dog into the household.
Here's what we did wrong:
1. We didn't get enough information. For some reason I thought the dog was a cocker spaniel; turns out she's a schipperke (fun fact! They are described as pocket watch dogs!). We were completely unprepared by the specific demands of this dog. Nor did we know beforehand that she'd suffered serious abuse at one point. Also, we didn't know the cat was a very new addition to the household.
2. We treated GuestDog like...a guest. Like a human guest. Since Emily gets to sleep with us, so did GuestDog. They ate together. I tried to give them equal attention and affection.
3. Continuing from 2...we disciplined Emily for growling at GuestDog when GuestDog got close to her, particularly on the bed.
What were the consequences of our not well thought out actions?
"The garbage can is knocked over. AGAIN."
"Didn't you make me any dinner?" (This statement was inevitably followed by the discovery of an empty plate. An empty, licked clean plate.)
Sounds of hissing cat and running paws in the air. "GuestDog, leave the cat alone!"
Laying in bed, trying to go to sleep. A low growl from the smallest under the blanket lump as GuestDog tries to decide exactly where she wants to lay on the bed. "Emily, don't growl! GuestDog, lay down!"
And finally...the horrible night.
We are watching "The Daily Show." It's very quiet. Suddenly complete pet chaos breaks out. Emily is laying on the corner of the bed. GuestDog jumps on the bed, knocks Emily off, growling at her at the whole time. J jumps up, grabs Emily, and tells GuestDog to STOP. GuestDog snarls at J. GuestCat is over at the water bowl. GuestDog goes over and knocks her away from it.
GuestDog is banished to another room while we try to figure out what to do.
Obviously we had failed at taking care of a dog with special needs. Because we do have some common sense, we reached out to friends and acquaintances who work with dog rescues for tips on how we should've properly introduced a new dog into our household.
We got lots of great advice. Here's what we did that worked for us:
1. We put GuestDog in the bathroom when we leave. There's a nice blanket and dog bed in there, and I keep a toy just for these occasions. This eliminates GuestDog getting into everything.
2. We let Emily handle her business. She gets to growl if GD gets in her space. We also feed Emily first, and she's the first one out the door and the first one back in. Emily also gets first attention and play when we come home or just start playing with the pets. It helps establish her at the head of the pack.
3. J feeds GuestDog. We think a man abused her, and by feeding her it helps her reinforce the fact that men aren't all bad. They are also sources of food!
4. We've moved to a treat based economy. Treats are only distributed for good behavior.
5. GuestDog now has toys (recycled from Emily's pile) and more outside time. It helps her burn off energy.
Making these simple changes improved the dog's behavior immensely. Is she perfect? No, but life here is much calmer. Emily and GuestCat are happier, and GuestDog seems happy as well.
The biggest takeaway was not to focus on the dogs behavior, but ours. That's right, we needed to retrain the humans. By making changes to how we acted it changed how GuestDog (and Emily) reacted and led to a more peaceful shared existence for all of us.
For example, Emily now shares space with GuestDog.They aren't exactly cuddling, but she does let her get closer now. I think Emily feels like she has more control of the situation, now that her silly owners aren't trying to make two dogs act like well behaved kids at a sleep over. (Right now they are both laying at my feet on the bed, ALMOST touching. Very cute.)
Here is GuestCat. She enjoys laying directly on J. She's very affectionate, but very demanding. Although blind in one eye, she does a good job getting around the house. She's pretty good about not jumping on the table or counters. She and Emily get along really well.
Does anyone else have stories/tips for adding a new dog to your household, especially a temporary resident like GuestDog? I'd love to hear more ideas!