Sunday, March 20, 2011
The Fifth Dog
That is Andy. He's one of the over two hundred Rottweilers seized from a property in Texas. Andy is our new foster dog, because apparently I decided life was getting boring. Andy is named after Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption - the man "who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side." Andy isn't clean yet, but he'll be shining by the time he leaves our house.
Andy is the most recent in a fairly long line of dogs to come into my house with a history of neglect and not a lot else - including socialization. I've had enough of them to have a system for dealing with them. Part of that system is the two week shut down. The two week shut down is a way to systematically introduce a new dog to it's environment in manageable pieces. For the first two weeks, the dog stays at home except for necessary vets visits. This gives the dog a chance to learn where everything is and how to navigate this strange new world - a big deal for a dog like Andy, who's previous world was pretty much just dirt, flies, and other Rottweilers. It also gives Andy a chance to get to know and bond with us.
I don't do a lot of training during this first two weeks. For Andy, I've taught him a couple of the basics like sit and down, but he doesn't have to perform them to get life rewards like the chance to go outside or eat a meal. That will come later. Andy has enough on his plate trying to figure out how mirrors work and why jumping on the hot stove is a bad idea. This time is for learning how to be a house dog.
The biggest, hardest part of the shut down for me is crating and rotating. My dogs can be overwhelming one at a time, let alone all at once. So while Andy is out upstairs, the other four are crated downstairs. While my four are out in the yard, Andy is tethered in the basement chilling with Zach. The dogs have no contact at all for at least the first week. It's hard to divide time between the beasts like that, and I always feel like someone is being neglected. Because my focus is on spending time with the dogs, things like laundry, spending time with Zach, and writing in the blog tend to fall by the wayside. So why do it? Well, it gives the dogs a chance to get used to each other, too. Even though the dogs can't see each other, they know there's a strange animal in the house. They learn each others' scent and the sounds they make. Introducing them too quickly can set everyone up for failure - like I said, my four dogs can be intimidating, particularly when you're still trying to figure out if the flushing toilet is going to eat you. And going from four dogs to five requires some readjustment of boundaries and hierarchies. It's a big change for everyone, so it's better to go about it slowly.
Is it worth it? Dog people often have dog friends, and I've had extra dogs in my house several times. Last time was about four months ago, and it was a noisy affair thanks to a certain blonde beast. Rubi does not take quietly to strange dogs in her house. But this time has been strangely . . . silent. No abnormal wails, no whining, no banshee screams. Truthfully, I don't think Rubi has made any noise that she doesn't make on a normal, day-to-day basis. Thanks in part, I'm sure, to the good folks at Kong.
I can't help but hope that this new-found silence is at least a little related to all the training we've put in together. Thanks to counter-conditioning, desensitization, and some old-fashioned alternate behaviors, strange dogs just aren't that exciting anymore. Yesterday, Rubi and Andy saw each other for the first time through the sliding glass door. She looked at him, wagged her tail, and walked away.
Personally, I think her brain has been switched by alien body-snatchers.
Either that, or she's saving all the crazy up for later. No matter the cause, despite all the extra work, I'm enjoying the peace. Perhaps this is the start of a new stage for Rubi. We seemed to have plateaued over the last couple of winter months; Rubi isn't making the leaps in progress that she was when we started. Maybe she's doing better than I thought. The changes are still there, but they're subtler. Sometimes, surprises are good. It's a nice way to start out spring.