While My Dogs Were Away
Absence absolutely does make the heart grow fonder, but it can also teach you a few things about your dogs.
Recently, I went on a vacation – a dog-free vacation. It was strange to not pet dogs for a week – and I kept having that startling sensation that I had forgotten to feed them – but it was interesting to receive reports from the people who were taking care of mine.
Nine-year-old Otto, shown here with me, stayed at my sister’s house. Otto is tired of other dogs, having been present for the comings and goings of countless foster dogs and puppies over the past few years, and even though my sister has four small dogs, I thought her house would be the best spot for him. She and her husband love dogs and pamper them. Their dogs sleep on the bed with them, there are dog toys literally everywhere, and my sister, a chef, is pretty liberal with the treats. I didn’t think he’d mind hanging out with her dogs, since one is quite old and has dementia (so he doesn’t really interact with the other dogs in a meaningful way), and two of the others are middle-aged females who socialize on their terms only. I thought they’d all just mind their own business.
The funny thing is, Otto formed a solid “bromance” with my sister’s fourth dog, a scruffy, 10-pound terrier-mix who looks a little like a blond Otto “Mini-Me.” Lucky is a playful, social dog, maybe two or three years old. My sister says that Lucky and Otto played “chase me” and wrestling games on and off all day! Otto hasn’t played with any dogs in my home for ages. He’s not the least bit interested in manner-less puppies, and despises rude, floppy adolescents – and these are the two types I tend to foster! Clearly, I haven’t given him enough opportunities to socialize with other adult dogs who have good canine manners, something I’ll try to remedy with Lucky play dates in the future.
I sent my big, floppy adolescent Lab/bully-breed-mix, Woody, to stay with my young adult son, who has an office job where he is allowed to bring his dog to work. Ordinarily, this is his own well-behaved, calm Black and Tan Coonhound, Cole, but for his week of dog-sitting, he brought Woody to work – with mixed results.
Woody continues to exhibit signs of anxiety with new people and dogs – when he’s at a distance from them. His hair goes up, and he emits low growls – until he has an opportunity to get close to someone (human or canine). The instant he gets close enough to greet someone, he immediately transforms into a wiggly, goofy, friendly dog. But it’s understandably hard to convince anyone that the growly, scary-looking dog is actually a big, friendly doofus. My son managed it with his co-workers, largely on the strength of their faith in him as a dog-handler (as evidenced by Cole’s impeccable behavior), but, as my son described it in his dry way, “It wasn’t ideal.” I’ve been working on this, but Woody and I are about to start work on it in a big way.
Get ready for super-social school, Woody! And for anyone out there figuring out how, when, and where to socialize their new pup, have we got the story for you! Check out Mardi Richmond's "The Complete Puppy Socialization Guide," for everything you need to know about exposing puppies to the world appropriately.