Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Moving, with dogs.

It's time for me to start getting my ass in gear and moving into the real world. I'm done university (finally) and in a position to find a new place for Adrian and I to live. And, of course, the dogs are coming with us. Dogs, plural.

Cohen looking deceptively peaceful.

I'm enormously relieved that I've gotten the okay to take Cohen with me when I move out. It really does make the best sense, as far as the dog's best interests are concerned. But she was bought as a family dog, and the whole "what will happen when the kids move out" issue was always sort of glossed over. (Okay, not glossed over, but there was always the assumption the dog would stay with my father unless circumstances changed.) Unfortunately, my sister has never really bonded with the dog, and sees her more as a chore than a hobby (or anything remotely positive). And my father, while he loves the dog, is not quite capable of handling her. Unfortunately Cohen is A Difficult Dog.

She's reactive, easily excited past the point of being easy to handle, periodically resource-guards against other dogs, is very demanding of attention, and sees very little reason to acquiesce to "because I said so"s -- she always needs to see something in it for her. I'm actually looking forward to taking on the full responsibility for her care since I feel it will give her more stability in how she's handled. The different handling styles of my family are not doing any favours for her general obedience. I have a particularly high set of expectations for her, and won't ever settle for okay, I want excellent. I could live with pretty damned good.

So, yes, I'm looking forward to caring for her morning, noon and night. However I might feel like killing her after a few weeks. We'll see.

So, I said dogs, plural. Enter Meggy, the Chihuahua. 

Meggy aka Megatron. Larger than life.

This is Adrian's dog. She's as attached to his hip as Cohen is to mine, so the thought of leaving her behind is, well, unthinkable. 

She's a sharp little dog who I think has great potential. Unfortunately I don't think she's been given the opportunity to meet that potential yet. She's the middle "child" in a three-bitch household, and is louder and more boisterous than the others. Since she's so attached to Adrian (and the others the other family members) she tends to get ignored on "family" outings where Adrian isn't present. So she's never received any sort of formal training (though Adrian delights in teaching her bizarre tricks like sneezing on command), and she isn't given enough outlets for her energy. 

Her vices are barking at mysterious noises, and when people enter the house. She's not comfortable with children and could use some better leash manners. She tends to guard Adrian from other dogs. Her strengths are how relatively easily her needs are met, and she already has experience in multi-dog households. Plus, she can be very sweet.

Quite honestly, I'm really looking forward to trying out my training tactics on another dog. She'll present a slew of challenges which which I've not yet had to work. Namely, since she's so tiny food rewards need to be controlled carefully (she already needs to lose a bit of weight). She's also headstrong and not nearly as focused as Cohen while training. I have a mental image of bringing her by my training facility and getting her started in formal classes. Next step: agility-Chihuahua!

The Biggest Challenge:

Cohen. As I mentioned, Cohen has a history of resource guarding from other dogs. She'll snark and snap at others when she feels they're doing something she doesn't like. Due to the size difference I have serious concerns that a snark could easily escalate into a fight where Meggy ends up seriously hurt. It's both Adrian's and my worst nightmare, and neither of us can stand the thought of sending either dog back home due to a conflict. It also doesn't help that both dogs are female, and Meggy is intact. 

On top of that, the last time I had Cohen by Adrian's place, Cohen snapped at Meggy when Meggy jumped up on me in standard tiny dog fashion. For the rest of the night, each time Meggy was around Cohen had her fixed with an unhealthy stare. Cohen lashed out at Meggy once more when my attention dipped for a second and the dogs were too close to each other. Clearly, without some careful planning and management this is a recipe for disaster and heartbreak. 

Emotions are running high between Adrian and I, and we've not even moved yet. 

So, I have a plan of attack. 
  1. Extreme management. Neither dog will be given the opportunity to interact with the other in an uncontrolled manner for the first month. They'll always be crated, leashed, or behind gates. 
  2. Careful management of all potentially valuable resources, including Adrian and myself. If one dog is having lap time, the other will be crated with a chew. All toys, bowls and other valuable objects will be put away and only brought out under controlled circumstances.
  3. Counter conditioning. Lots and lots of it. When Meggy is around and at a controlled distance treats rain from the sky on Cohen, and vice versa. At no point will we push distance and cause either dog to feel threatened by the other. Progress will be kept intentionally slow. 
  4. No dogs on the furniture. Each dog will have its own separate area to call its own.
  5. The dogs will be fed in separate crates. 
  6. Encourage the dogs to coexist, but perhaps not directly interact.
  7. Exercise. The dogs will be kept perpetually tired. They'll be walked together, with Cohen fitted with a gentle leader just in case.
  8. Learning. I plan to pick up the McConnell booklet about managing a multiple dog household. I'm also attending a seminar offered by behaviorist Joan Weston, BSc about multi-dog management. I'll be taking loads of notes. 
  9. Never trust Cohen. Unfortunately, with the behaviour Cohen has displayed in the past I can't trust her to never react. It may be stressful, but this a serious issue, and I think extreme caution is better than not.
  10. Stop thinking of Meggy as Adrian's dog, and Cohen as mine. Both dogs need to be treated fairly and equally by both of us. I suspect this will be a challenge, but is important.

My goal is for there never to be an outburst. I think that if we take it slowly and carefully we stand a chance of setting ourselves up for success. 

Over the next few months I'm sure I'll be musing on this subject quite a bit. Truly I'm terrified of this not working out. I don't want a dog hurt, and I don't want Adrian or I to have to give up either of them. It's ridiculous how much we both love our animals. It's the size difference that I think is the biggest issue, as I think even if a snap was not intended to hurt, it could result in serious injury.

 If any readers have any additional insight I'm all ears. 


  1. I wish you all the luck. Although it's not quite the same, when we first got Lola (as a tiny, eight week old puppy), we were quite worried that Jess would hurt her, either accidentally or not.

    Jess has a history of aggression toward strange dogs outside of the house, particularly during greetings, but is *usually* fine once she's met them indoors, and is usually pretty good with puppies. For the first month or two, we watched them very carefully, and removed Lola if she was being too boisterous and pushing Jessie's buttons. Now that Lola is nearly half Jess' size, they can interact however they want, and I rarely bother breaking up their play unless someone is getting too amped up.

    I still wouldn't leave them alone for more than an hour or two, as Jess *does* have a history of aggression toward dogs and she *is* half Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but I trust them now.

    I think management will definitely be your best friend with Cohen and Meggy.

  2. Good luck! We just finished a move. Delta has moved once before and this was Doc's first move. Doc did great! Delta gets super stressed when moving and this time she actually got a UTI because of it. A minor one at least.

    Delta has, on occasion, gotten snarky with other dogs, so we watched like a hawk when bringing Doc in. I do think it's easier to bring a puppy in unless the dog has puppy issues. But I think you could treat this situation like a puppy, and it already sounds like you plan on it.... such as no unsupervised times. Just let the dogs tell you when they are ready. Cudos for you to realize your dog does have a quirk. Lol Good luck on the move! How exciting!