When your dog gets a new roommate
I wasn’t quite sure how my Labrador Retriever/German Shepherd mix would react to this new puppy. My godmother was going out of town and needed someone to watch her dog, so my mother volunteered to let a Labrador Retriever puppy come to our home for two weeks. My dog, Shep, wasn’t unfriendly to human strangers or other dogs, just uninterested. And when an entire basement plus a backyard is all his, bringing in a new “basement roommate” is either going to be great company to play with or completely annoying.
Unfortunately my dog reacted about like I would if someone dropped their suitcases in front of my door right now. If dogs could roll their eyes, Shep would’ve done that. He ignored the puppy completely, but all that did was make the puppy jump around and try to get Shep’s attention more. But antisocial beats aggressive, so we were OK with that. The puppy mainly stayed upstairs because we weren’t sure how those two would work out alone, specifically when the puppy had the bright idea to eat and drink out of Shep’s bowls. The low growl that came out of Shep’s mouth immediately made me step in. My mother and I created a barrier around Shep’s food and drink supplies that the puppy couldn’t get to. And we hoped they both could get along for those 14 days.
Did that stop the puppy from bugging Shep? Not even a little bit. Is this post going to end with me saying Shep and the puppy became best friends and Shep whimpered when the puppy left? Nope, that’s not happening either. But I did learn quite a bit about how to help puppies and adult dogs coexist as both a dog owner and a dog/housesitter.
All food breaks are not created equal, but you can sneak around it.
One of the toughest parts of a dog/housesitting job I had this past Thanksgiving week was being given instructions to feed the male puppy four times a day while the female adult dog only got fed twice. According to the American Kennel Club, four feedings a day is perfectly normal for puppy nutritional needs. But the adult dog has no idea why this new dog is getting way more food than she is, and she wants in on the deal. Even worse, the veterinarian felt like the adult dog needed to lose a few pounds anyway.
On day one and day two, I cringed and followed the feeding regimen. I tried to ignore the adult dog gawking at the puppy, who had the audacity to be a slow eater as well, through the baby gates. But by day three, I just couldn’t handle the sad look on her face. So I made sure that backyard “bathroom” breaks for her were always the same time when the puppy needed to be fed. As soon as she was let out to mess around and play outside, I went barreling up the steps with the puppy on my heels to feed him those extra meals. When I re-opened the door around three to five minutes later, that slow-eating dog had a full stomach and extra energy. And although the adult dog sniffed the air and the other dog suspiciously, she couldn’t prove what she suspected happened while she was on the other side of the door.
Equality is cool, but being spoiled is not.
I thought it was so unnecessary that my sister-in-law would buy presents for both of my nephews on their birthdays — even though these two were not twins. She just didn’t want one to feel left out on the other’s birthday. As they grew up, she stopped doing it but it took some time for them to adjust. Similar rules apply to duo dogs I’ve house sat for or walked.
I remember a woman who was sizing me up to see if I could housesit her two Whippets. I would pet one, and she would announce that I didn’t pet the other dog for as long. I would stand by one, and she’d nitpick about me not standing by the other dog. Then she claimed I didn’t talk to her pet bird enough. Good. Gawd. It got to be so annoying that I was relieved when I left her home and did not end up watching those two non-neutered Whippets. I’ve been around many dogs who compete to be petted. I’ve had dogs scoot their way in the middle of my lap to block me from petting a dog leaning on my hip. I’ve even watched the sad eyes of senior dogs who looked out the window as their younger mates were able to trot down the street without limping. But at some point, you’ve got to face the reality that if you don’t coddle your dog’s every single whim, eventually he’ll get used to it.
Innocent until proven guilty, no matter what size the dog is.
I couldn’t see what lead to the fight. All I know is somehow Shep ended up tussling around with the puppy. I jumped right in and yelled for Shep to get off of this small dog, and Shep stormed away. Less than an hour later, I realized it was the puppy who antagonized Shep because he did it a second time. Because I’d yelled at Shep to leave the dog alone the first time, my dog was in a weird place — potentially get reprimanded again or defend himself from this hyper dog. Meanwhile the puppy was getting off easy either way.
That was an important lesson to learn. In addition to dogs not being able to associate what they did wrong if you “punish” them for it after the fact, positive reinforcement has always gone so much further than doing stuff like spray bottle dog training or a newspaper swat on the bottom. I can’t count the number of times that I have grumbled, yelled and sent my dogs downstairs for being “bad” in some kind of way — only for them to do the same thing all over again. What I have learned is treats, petting and just plain old TLC go a much longer way to keep your dog out of trouble. If one of your dogs is misbehaving, try evaluating what you are doing or what lead up to the incident that could make your dog misbehave more than usual.
Use the crate even when your dog isn’t “in the dog house.”
Shep was a mischievous dog who was forever knocking something down, breaking it or getting into the garbage cans. Every single time he’d do it, my parents or me and my brother would send him downstairs to the basement. But when my parents got another dog years later — a German Shepherd — that dog did not act up nearly as much. I asked my mother recently was it a matter of the breed, and she ran off a list of times that the German Shepherd was just as wild in her puppy years. I was in college during most of her puppy adventures, so I only knew her as well-behaved.
But one major difference between the two dogs was that my parents didn’t just send her downstairs whenever she misbehaved. They tried to correct the behavior right there. Because the dog got so used to being upstairs, most of the usual annoyances just stopped. The upstairs world was no longer “new” to her.
For Shep, who was always getting sent downstairs, being upstairs was like getting a new toy. He wanted to run, jump and play everywhere for as long as possible before someone sent him downstairs again. Even when it was time to feed Shep, he would whine and look confused about whether he wanted to go downstairs because he wondered if we would close the door so he couldn’t get back up. Food would be taken downstairs, and Shep would look from the stairs to us and back again. Food always won, but boy did he brainstorm on his decision each time.
Although neither of my dogs had crates during my 22 years of dog ownership, I’ve met enough other dogs who were crate trained. And I see them go inside of their crates to eat, sleep, relax and sometimes hide. But by leaving the door open on the crate, they knew that they could come in and out as they pleased. While Shep was just too wild to leave the door open all the time, with the help of dog training certification courses, we never had this problem with our second dog. She came and went as she pleased.
So how can you dodge the mischief with puppies? Baby gates are but one way to control where they can and can’t go. Not leaving any kind of garbage or loose items you know they’ll chew is an obvious way to avoid moaning about having to buy a replacement. Training courses clearly help both you and the dog get accustomed to the rules, in addition to the puppy seeing why the adult dog rarely if ever gets in as much trouble (hopefully). And then there’s the one factor that humans and adults have in common when it comes to learning how to do things right — time and age. Adult dogs get used to the puppy. The puppy grows into an adult dog. And with time and patience, your puppy will start taking on the mannerisms of your adult dog. Oddly, you’ll probably miss those younger years when your dog was a handful. Enjoy them while they last, and hopefully your dogs will enjoy each other, too.