Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pack Management

I already have five dogs of my own. I needed a puppy around like a hole in the head.

You probably already gathered that, as a dog trainer, my dogs know who their leader is. True, but dogs will be dogs, and I don't have an easy pack: Two ACDs (one deaf, six-year-old spayed female, one eight-year-old intact male), two pit bull terriers (deaf 5-year-old spayed female, one rowdy neutered 1.5-year-old boy - a recent addition), and a 7-year-old neutered basset hound.

My old-school country vet once told me that adult dogs won't attack puppies -- most won't -- but there are a few, and when it comes to the battle breeds, all bets are off. I wasn't worried about Piglet (f. APBT), but young Max is a different story. Piglet has been exposed to many puppies, as I use her in the socialization part of my puppy classes. Max came to me last winter, quite unsocialized and a little bit reactive. He and Nugget, my ACD boy, have had a couple of tiffs, so I keep a tight lid on their energy level. Max sometimes reacts without thinking first and acts as a magnifying glass for whatever energy is flowing through the pack at any given time. I didn't know if he had ever seen a puppy since he was one himself. Sugar Baby, my deaf ACD, is the fun police, and is quite fixated on a ball that she just can't live without. When she gets cranked, she's all noise and bluster, although I can't say she's ever been in a real fight, she sometimes sets the other ones off.

Pete met Rodney the basset first. Rodney mustn't be feeling well. He usually loves puppies, but his attitude toward Pete is nonchalant at best. Next Pete met Piglet, who was at first thrilled to have a puppy around and invited him to play immediately. A day later, she became a bit insecure about her own place in the pack -- she did the same thing when I introduced Max, but without the playful bit in the beginning. Day two is always a lot of high-place occupancy and evil glares, a curled lip here and there. Today she's pretty much over it, and had a real butt-tucked scramble of a play session.

Nugget was great from the beginning. He loves puppies, too, and immediately became one when he met Pete. Max worried me, and not without good reason.

After several sessions of them sniffing each other through crate bars, I decided they should meet yesterday, in the yard where there was plenty of room for me to maneuver. I have a lovely, 5-foot wooden walking stick which I chose to use as a "mediator"should there be any trouble.

Pete, so far, is pretty much a velcro dog - not unusual for the breed. So, when I took them out into the yard, the little guy was right next to me AND MY BIG BLACK STICK. Max sniffed him front and back then underneath. He really didn't know what to make of these new puppy smells - and his teeth started chattering, his mouth foaming and hackles went up from stem to stern and he took one poke at the puppy (not a playful one!) with a GRRRROWFFF. I was ready for him - I can growl a HEY!!! with the best of 'em, and he got a very quick jab in the shoulder with the stock stick. He got a couple more pokes as I growled in my loudest, lowest growly voice, "YOU ... KNOCK ... IT .... OFF ... AND ... BE .... NICE!!!"

Oh, geez! Why, oh why, have I never used that magic wand before? BWING!!!! He scampered off like a chastised puppy, all groveling and "sorry moms." I herded him around the yard a bit and let him settle before he was allowed to approach the puppy again. YOUUUUU BEEEEE

He was all decorum and genteelness, sniffed the puppy with tail down and ears back and I praised him in a buttery soft voice, "Good boy. That's enough." You'd have thought the puppy had a pound of dynamite up his butt and Max was afraid his nose was on fire and would light the fuse.

Pete was unfazed by any of this, and had a look that said, "Wazzup?" He was all too happy to walk around the yard with me, herding Max, as I carried my big black stick, which is his friend. Poor Max still hasn't collected all the pieces of his brain from the explosion. I've decided they will be exposed to each other in very small doses and under very close supervision.

Today we tried again. Max gave Pete wide berth. Piglet and Nugget engaged Pete in a wonderful, zooming play session. I allowed Max to join in some of the running, but hovered just enough to keep him from getting too much into the moment. At one point, he sniffed the private areas of the puppy and began drooling and chattering and I shooed him off to contemplate exactly what these new smells mean. Sugar Baby let Pete know on no uncertain terms that SHE IS THE FUN POLICE, and any hilarity will be met with great screaming and a blustery mock attack. Those mock attacks bother me much more than they do the other dogs, who largely ignore her and entirely fail to tell her to knock it off. They read her better than I do.

After some "field socialization," I felt confident enough to bring them all into the house together, where Max curled up on my S.O.'s lap and watched longingly as Pete and Nugget played a wrestling game. He slowly and carefully slid off the chair and cautiously approached. He sniffed a little, then he started the "ball-posturing" game. This is a new one for me, but I've seen several dogs do it just today. Max found a ball and picked it up, brought it over to the puppy, and holding it in his mouth, baited him with it, gruffing and trotting off when the puppy tried to take it. I think this is the equivalent of the "high-place" game, where the elder or more dominant dog claims all the high places and lets the newcomer know that they'd better stay on the floor. Nugget played the ball-posturing game next. Sugar Baby, surprisingly, let him take her favorite ball away from him several times, which no other dog in the house is allowed to do.

Max was praised lavishly for being such a good boy, and he seems to be getting used to the idea of having a puppy around. Then I put him away - I am keeping their exposure to small, manageable doses.

Dogs are such fascinating creatures!

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