I did it. Not one, but TWO things I promised I would never do:
- Have three dogs when I’m the only one living in my house (too high a dog-to-human ratio).
- Adopt a client’s dog.
But Norman stole my heart, so on Monday, he is joining the Casa de Rossman household.
Norman is adorable.
I mean, look at him. A cute muppet. The odd thing is that he is not my dog type at all. The last time I had a little dog, I was eight. This will be different.
Norman is fearful.
The world is a scary place to Norman. Fortunately, he has been on fluoxetine (generic Prozac) for two months, and the meds have made a significant improvement with his fear. He is still worried about me when his favorite person (the human client) is not around but can learn and work and take reinforcement from me. My top priority is to make myself Norman’s safe human.
Norman does not like being touched
If you reach out to touch Norman’s side, he will lean away from your hand. Of course, his adorableness attracts human attention to snuggle and touch, so I will teach him to stand between my legs for safety away from rude people who seem to believe that “no means yes.”
Norman has stranger danger
The problem with strangers is territorial (he barks, lunges and growls when people come into the home), but I have a feeling that it’s not just in the house. It is likely he’s scared of people everywhere, but is shut down in public. The misinterpretation of a dog being okay because he’s not barking or growling is common. Sometimes lack of behavior does not mean “I’m okay,” sometimes it means “I’m so freaked out that I’m just not gonna do anything.”
Norman is pretty young (around 1.5 years), and my home will be at least his fourth home, with at least one stay in a shelter
With that history, it’s not surprising that Norman is so fearful. The history also means he likely has not been taught human manners. Although he is housebroken, he was a bit destructive with items like books and pillows in his current home. So I am busily working to puppy proof my house (meaning, trying to hide or remove anything tantalizing.)
Norman’s response to other dogs is unknown
I don’t know how Norman will respond to my dogs. My two are huge dogs that would terrify me if I was a little guy. So I have purchased lots of gates and have developed plans A, B, C, D and am prepared to adjust to what happens.
Norman is a bit afraid of me
I’ve been working with Norman and his people since August, and when he is relaxed, he learns very fast and is very playful. However, Norman is still young and has not yet reached social maturity, so there is a question mark of what his response is to other dogs as he matures. We get many dogs in our practice who lived perfectly fine with other dogs for several years—until the younger dog hit social maturity. Then issues developed between dogs in the same household.
About My Current Dogs
The most significant concern is what will happen between the new dog and my existing dogs. And will Norman coming into the household change the relationship between my current two dogs?
Ringo is my geriatric boy. He is around 13, has arthritis, and has a history of dog-dog aggression in specific contexts. He is my primary concern with adding Norman to the household:
- Will the new dog make Ringo miserable?
- Will Ringo be aggressive to the new dog? (I will be writing more about Ringo’s history in another post).
- Will a relaxed Norman be too annoying to an old dog?
Stella, on the other hand, has long worked as my neutral dog with clients. She has helped many a shy or fearful dog be comfortable. However, she’s big, she’s exuberant, and can be a bit scary at first. I guess Stella will enjoy having a younger dog to play with, as she is still quite playful for a 7-year-old dog.
And of course, there is the size difference—Norman is around 15-20 pounds, Stella is 80 pounds, and Ringo is 95 pounds.
In 2010, I adopted Ringo in June (at around six years) and brought Stella home at 7 weeks in October. I was not yet a professional, and when Ringo first went after Stella aggressively, it certainly freaked me out. This situation between Stella and Ringo was the start of my journey to become a dog behavior professional. However, I still remember how stressful it was and that the management required was . . .well, a pain and unfun.
The fun part, of course, was seeing the progress and the early realization that yes, behavior is lawful.
Those times of intense training, management and behavior change are long gone. We’ve been living in this household together as a family for seven years, and I’d say that the last five has been pretty smooth. Not that either of my dogs is perfect at all, but we all get along, and quite honestly, I’ve not done much training with either of them lately. We have our routines; it is predictable and enjoyable.
Farewell morning snuggle routine
This a.m., the three of us went through our morning routine. My alarm goes off at 7 am, I take my thyroid medication which needs to be done first thing in the am with no food for at least an hour. I get up, feed the dogs, open the back slider so they can potty themselves and get back into bed until around 8 am. They both climb into bed with me for snuggles after they eat and potty, and we stay that way until approximately 8 or 8:30 when I get up for the day.
It’s an excellent morning routine, and we all enjoy it. But now I’m going to have to include Norman in the mix. He will sleep in a crate, but I’m unsure yet whether it will be in my room or the “safety room” I am creating for him—a lot will depend on his response to my dogs. First thing in the am, while I am all sleepy, I know I don’t want the dogs intermingling. So I will have to have my dogs engaged, while I try to convince a scared dog to go downstairs, on a long line, and potty. Then go upstairs, do something with him (back in his crate? in his room with a stuffed toy?) while my dogs are then allowed to come up and get into bed to snuggle.
I’m not complaining . . . I know this is part of bringing a new dog into a household. But well, my sweet comfortable life with my two dogs is gonna change.
Plans for Bringing in a New Dog
One of the challenges is the unknown of how Norman reacts to my two dogs and my concerns about RIngo’s reaction to Norman. I’m pretty confident that Stella will be okay with Norman, but it’s been a few years since a dog has come into the house . . . so will she? So much unknown. And this is what I tell people when they ask about adding a dog into a household: you are dealing with living beings . . . which means that the response is unpredictable. It will be work, whether they get along well or not.
For Norman, the priority, like with any fearful dog, is to keep him feeling safe. I have a spare room that will be his, and I will set it up with blankets, crate, toys, food, everything he will need to bunker down. I will keep his world small. If he is too anxious to come with me outside, I will set up pee pads in the room’s attached bathroom so he can stay and adjust to the new house in his own time. I hope that since he is familiar with me, the adjustment won’t take too long.
For my two dogs, we will need to refresh on some training, particularly stays, leave it and recalls with distractions. I think they will enjoy this as I’ve gotten lazy with training and they always enjoyed the attention and the reinforcement. Ringo will need extra private time with me, so making the time to take him for a short walk or spend alone time snuggling or playing, will be important.
If Norman does not seem to be too fearful of my dogs, then we will start conditioning them to enjoy being around each other, at first through a gate, and then with active supervision.
Carefully Assessing the Situation
My first goal is that the dogs can safely be in the same room together. I have no idea of when I will be able to start working with the dog-dog interactions. As with all behavior change like this, we have to get a baseline and assess the situation first. Even though I know my own two dogs well, and know Norman fairly well, this is a new environment. I have not seen Norman interact with other dogs within a household.
I do know that Ringo conditions well to new things (we’ve had a lot of practice!) . . . “oh, this is one of those things that produce treats . . . cool.” But he has a history of resource guarding me and valued objects around other dogs. Also, Ringo is old and arthritic and can be a bit grumpy at times because of that.
Stella gets along with most dogs, but as she’s aged, there is the occasional dog she just doesn’t like. She also is an attention whore and will push aside other dogs fairly rudely for pets. Ringo accepts that from her, and if he feels slighted, will stand behind her and whine a bit. But what would Norman do when she does that? That will be a significant factor in the Stella-Norman relationship.
And these are just the educated guesses I have. What could end up happening is something entirely different; this isn’t good or bad. The actual response of all three dogs to the environment will drive what the training plan will be for integrating the household.
The Norman Files
This blog is the first of the Norman files. As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts. The intent of this series is not to scare off anyone from bringing another dog into their household, but to showcase what may or may not happen, and the potential work that may be required.
I’m going to shoot for writing or posting a video or picture daily. Keep in touch as Norman adjusts to my home and learns that the world is indeed, a safe place.