Way back in November I wrote about finding a great prospect for my sister-in-law Leslie and my seven-year-old niece, Ava. Leslie had put me in charge of looking for just the right dog for her and Ava: not too big nor too small, sweet, and trainable. On their behalf, I wanted to find a dog that would love and be fascinated with kids, because Ava absolutely loves dogs and most loves dogs who love her back.
In my local shelter, after looking for months, I found a darling young Shepherd-mix who impressed me as having superior self-control for being such a young dog, as well as infinite sweetness and affection for people. On the other hand, she was a younger dog than I had originally considered for them, and who seemed to have the potential for being larger than I had originally hoped. But she was just SO SWEET and fun and smart; she loved engaging with people, loved kids, loved to cuddle, and learned things fast. I discussed her with Leslie, and then brought her home for to evaluate her further. (Because I foster so much for my shelter, I get special privileges when it comes to taking dogs for a trial. Plus, I have a nearly perfect success rate at finding homes for my foster dogs.)
Every day I had the dog, I liked her more. She loved playing with my young dog Woody, was able to finesse the grumpy response she got from my older dog, Otto, and met all my other friends and their dogs in a happy, friendly way. Leslie and Ava came to meet her, and really hit it off. Ava named her Rosie, and I committed to keeping and training her for a few more weeks while Leslie would work to find a dog-walker who could help them for a few months, so they could get through Rosie’s puppyhood and go on to a happy life together. It all seemed like it was going to work out perfectly.
But there was a perfect storm of things that caused this match to fail, not the least of which was a literal chain of storms! First, though, was this: Leslie and Ava were going to take Rosie for a week, a little before I would have wanted them to, ideally. I wanted her to have more training and reliable house-manners, but I had to go to a conference out of state. So we planned for them to take Rosie for a week, after which she’d come back to my house for more training.
Two days before I left on my trip, Rosie suddenly started favoring one hind leg. I took her to my veterinarian, who diagnosed a sprained/strained hock. The veterinarian suggested that Rosie should have some crate rest and leashed-walks for a week or so, in addition to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. That was going to be a challenge even for me, as the pup was accustomed to at least one long walk or shorter, intense, off-leash romp a day! On days when I was super busy and she didn’t get a lot of exercise, she could be mischievous and destructive. I suggested they feed her only in food-dispensing toys, give her plenty of chews and toys, and walk her as much as they could on leash.
Then, as luck would have it, the weather was awful; it dumped rain almost the whole time I was gone. And Ava had a bad cold, and wasn’t feeling well. And the dog-walker Leslie had found couldn’t start until the following week. And the trainers I had hoped might be able to help them were both out of commission. So that week was rough on all of them. Rosie had to spend her days in a large crate (though Leslie came home at lunch time every day to let her go potty), and even the food-stuffed Kongs and other “enrichment” toys and chews didn’t make this much more fun. When Leslie got home from work (and Ava from school), they would take Rosie out for short, miserable walks in the pouring rain; it took only a few of these to have Ava begging her mom to walk the dog without her. That certainly wasn’t what any of us wanted! And when they got back inside, Rosie (understandably) wanted to play and roughhouse, not cuddle with the marginally sick Ava. Their relationship went from wonderful to completely unenjoyable for both of them in a matter of days!
I heard these reports from the other side of the country with dismay, but I know from a lifetime with animals that bad weeks can happen – and that the damage to the relationship can recover just like that, too, if it’s not too bad. I hurried to pick up Rosie from their home the day I got back, so she could recover from her sprain and get enough play and stimulation from my young dog, Woody, at my house.
In the following weeks, however, when we discussed when the time would be right for Rosie to go back to Leslie and Ava’s house, I heard Leslie hesitating. She assured me that they loved the dog and trusted that she’d be a great, well-behaved dog – at some point. And I assured her that, if they preferred, I could find Rosie another great home and find them another dog. Leslie and Ava had several heart-to-heart talks on the subject, and as Leslie reported the contents of these talks to me on the phone, I heard some new information: Ava really wished for a much smaller dog that she could hold on her lap. And Leslie admitted she had never felt any fondness for small dogs; she wanted a big dog, but she also wanted a dog that would bond with Ava and that Ava would love to walk and play with. Leslie did not want to have to force Ava to walk the dog, but Ava was getting intimidated by Rosie’s pent-up, energetic behavior. All three of them were bound to fail!
I felt terrible for failing to ferret out the conflict about their wishes for the dog’s size and behavior earlier, but I recommended that we find another home for Rosie, and revisit the dog project a bit down the road. Leslie and Ava agreed.
I felt a little burdened; I had already been hosting and training Rosie for about two months, and having any new pup in the house takes a lot of work and management. But fortunately for all of us, a solution popped up sooner than I thought it would. I took an off-leash dog walk with my friend Sarah Richardson, a trainer in the nearby town of Chico, California. Sarah owns The Canine Connection, a dog boarding, training, and daycare facility. She thought Rosie was just adorable, and loved how good she was on our walk. She said, “I have some clients who might be perfect for Rosie. Why don’t I take her for a few days and get to know her, so I could discuss her prospects and promote her to them?” I happily agreed and she took Rosie home.
I immediately started getting report from Sarah about how much she enjoyed Rosie.
“She went through puppy kindergarten class tonight and she was beyond awesome. Did you teach her all this stuff or did she jus naturally know how to be super sweet and attentive?”
“She’s a ridiculously easy and sweet puppy.”
And then it happened: “Hey Nance, I am thinking I might keep this puppy!”
The intended clients be darned, Sarah had lost three senior dogs in a year, and while she hadn’t planned on getting another dog herself, she was enjoying fostering Rosie so much, she just couldn’t help but fall in love. It helped, a lot, that Rosie has a gift for meeting other dogs with nearly perfect dog manners. If she meets a fearful or hostile dog, she is deferent and calm, helping defuse any potential situation. If she meets an overtly friendly dog, she dives into playtime fun.
In short order, Sarah renamed her Piper, and started using her, as many professional trainers do, as a “neutral” dog to help evaluate new client dogs for her daycare business and even in behavior consultations. She’s not yet a year old, but Piper can be counted on to behave in a calm, predictable manner with other dogs, and handles herself beautifully. Only five months later, Sarah relies on Piper for this valuable job. Sarah says, “She’s become one of my trusted training assistants, helping me with other dogs, She has superb dog skills!” AND, Piper gets to play with other dogs daily, and enjoys canoodling with Sarah’s other dogs on Sarah’s couch and bed!
So things have turned out perfectly for Piper. . . and Leslie and Ava are waiting a bit longer before trying any other dogs. They have some negotiating to do!