I have not been good about keeping up with the blogging about our new puppy, mostly because I have been busy trying to keep up with the puppy. Puppies keep you busy!! So, I am long overdue for an update on Royal.
Royal is continuing to be wonderful. He is now almost four months old, so we have continued to focus our efforts primarily on raising a confident, well-adjusted puppy. Obedience and sports dog training come second right now, as those skills are all much easier to teach if we have a dog that feels comfortable and safe in the world. So, we have continued giving him positive outings, with the focus always being on quality, and ensuring that all interactions are good ones.
Perhaps the most important social relationships for him to develop have been the ones with the rest of our extended multi-species household, especially our other six dogs. We want their relationships to get off to a good start so that we aren't having to undo any damage; therefore, we took our time gradually introducing him. Because Royal was only a little over four pounds when we got him, we also took care to make sure he wasn't injured in any way by a bigger dog.
First introductions with five of the six dogs were done with Royal in an exercise pen. Dogs were brought in over the course of the first day, one by one, and allowed to investigate each other through the pen. Both puppy and adults had a handler with them (Lowell and myself) and we were feeding them great treats as they checked each other out. We then let Royal interact first in the living room with each dog, and then in the yard.
We took care to introduce Royal to dogs in the order that would best build his confidence, starting from the easiest to get along with, to the hardest. First he met 16-year old border collie Django, who really had zero interest in a puppy and ignored him altogether. Next he met our female border collie, Fate. Fate tends to be completely disinterested in most other dogs as well, but she had a litter earlier in life, so interestingly she was a bit taken with Royal and protective of him in early days (puppy license has since worn off a bit!). Maebe, our 11-year old female BC/terrier mix was next. Maebe tends to initially want nothing to do with young puppies, so in the first days we made interactions extremely brief and rewarded her for tolerating his attentions. After that initial phase, Maebe becomes the best "auntie" dog you'd ever want, and she since has been his patient and willing playmate and Royal adores her. Cadence, our male border collie, is likewise quite patient and tolerant, if not quite as playful.
Sparkle, our two-year old Aussie, was second-to-last to meet him. Spark can be unsure during initial meetings, but is generally dog-social once she knows they are OK, and she seemed quite intrigued by this young little thing. Royal has had less off-leash interaction with Spark than the border collies so far, primarily because Spark plays like a brute and doesn't know her own power, so we are careful that she doesn't accidentally hurt him. She has been self-handicapping for the most part, and varies between being willing to play and ignoring him.
The major challenge in full integration was introducing Royal to our other Jack Russell Terrier, Tempo. Tempo came to us being extremely reactive to other dogs, but has made a lot of progress and has been able to make several dog friends. Still, he does need slow, careful introductions. I also didn't want to have Tempo go over threshold and react at Royal, as I didn't want Royal to have any negative dog experiences in his early socialization. So, patience was the key, and this was a several-week process.
We began with me holding Royal in the yard and Tempo on leash, but this was too close still for Tempo. So, in early days, we would take a daily outing to the park on the corner and sit on opposite sides of a field - me playing with Royal, and Lowell heavily reinforcing Tempo for keeping his cool. Each day we gradually got closer.
Eventually we were able to come back into the yard, with Royal in an exercise pen, and Tempo able to approach and sniff. Tempo could tolerate this for very short intervals, but needed frequent breaks. After a few more weeks, we let Tempo approach Royal in his living room ex-pen, and were pleased to see Tempo could now acknowledge him, but go about his business and ignore him too.
Finally, we very carefully let them off leash together for short intervals. This video shows one of their first encounters, and the body language I find very interesting to watch. They aren't 100% sure about each other, so the play is a continual dialogue that I translate as each one asking "Is this OK?" Note the frequent pauses - play usually only takes place for a couple seconds at a time before they stop, look away, back up, play bow, etc. before resuming again. They are doing a nice job of managing their own arousal (not Tempo's strong suit previously!). Since this is such progress on Tempo's part, we keep the sessions short, so we don't risk him getting overwhelmed and getting tempted to tell the puppy off. For his part, Royal is doing a nice job skillfully engaging with his older brother who, admittedly, isn't the best at this.
No doubt, a happy integration, especially into a complicated household with lots of members with differing personalities, is a LOT of work. Until Tempo got to this point, it meant a lot of careful management and rotating access to different parts of the house for a while. Putting work in up front though is a lot easier than repairing damage from hasty intros gone poorly. I also would not have brought a puppy into this house if Tempo's behavioral issues had not gotten so much better this year - I had twice already refused a puppy because the timing would have been bad during Tempo's struggles last year.
When bringing a puppy into a multi-dog household, take your time and set both dogs up for success. Have a plan for how introductions will happen, and have a management strategy to keep all animals comfortable until they are fully safe and at ease in each other's presence. Don't rush or force things. If either animal is getting stressed, take a break and use crates, ex pens, and baby gates to give each animal their own zone when needed. And make interactions positive ones! Good things should happen in each other's presence.
Of course, dogs are only one of the species living in our house. In future posts, we can discuss bringing a puppy into a home with cats, chickens, parrots, and a rat! For now, nap time is probably about over, so I'm off to entertain a puppy!
Angela and Lowell, your friendly Harmony Dog Trainers!