Gardening with Dogs

Annie learns to cross our stream on the little bridge we made for her. She kept knocking down the cobble on the edges of the stream bed and crushing the plants. Now she uses her path and bridge.

THE DOG’S POINT OF VIEW:  Some dogs love to dig. It’s in their genes (some more than others) and in their hearts. Imagine, for a moment, the feel of the earth between your pads as it yields to the strength of your shoulders and the scrape of your nails…the feel of the dirt flying and thumping behind you, the all-consuming smell of the fresh soil, the clay, the roots as you dig deeper. Perhaps you even feel a sense of gratification as the hole widens or disappears into the depths. In the summer, the hole is cool and possibly damp. It wraps your body in comfort, protects you from the heat. In cooler days, it may just be a place to play and pass the time.

Most dogs don’t have a sense of where the garden begins and ends. They don’t know that the lawn is all theirs, and the flower or vegetable beds are out of bounds, or that the decorative water feature you.’ve spent hours rejuvenating after winter is absolutely verboten. They just play or wander happily within the boundaries of their space.

THE HUMAN’S POINT OF VIEW: We love to gaze upon the green sweep of lawn yielding to masses of flowers and shrubs. We have spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on our gardens, countless hours, weeks, years accomplishing this remarkable feat. We are sometimes passionate about the outcome, but sometimes, like our dogs, we just love the feel of the soil on our skin and beneath our fingernails. Whatever our motivation in creating our personal landscaping and gardening fantasy, most of us don’t like dogs digging in our sacred place, or even wandering through our flowerbeds. 

Tips:

  • Realize that your dog has no intention of ruining your garden. He is simply out there following his genetic impulses (terriers, for example, dig to reach their prey) or because he finds great pleasure in the work of it. If you can look at this objectively, it will help you to solve the problem.
  • Be sure your garden is fully fenced before you let your dog run free.  Being outside with your dog does not prevent him from chasing a deer, cat, raccoon, or squirrel across the road in front of a car. I’ve had several clients over the years who have had dogs injured or killed due to the misconception that they could control their off-leash dog in an unfenced yard while they were distracted by gardening. 
  • Dogs mimic our behaviors. As much as you love to have your dog’s company while you dig and plant, having him with you will encourage him to dig too. Leave him inside the house or on the deck while you work.
A low fence can help to guide your dog to use the pathways you create.

  • Provide pathways and unobtrusive fences to keep your dog out of areas you want to protect. Introduce him to the fence when he is leashed, and reward him with praise and small treats for staying on the correct side of the fence. Don’t allow him in the yard unattended until he is fully trained. Otherwise, he will practice the behavior you want him to avoid..
  • Provide chew toys and play toys to entertain your dog when you are outside with him. Show him what he’s ALLOWED to do.
  • Provide shade and water.
Annie in her digger-dog hole
  • Give your dog a place to dig. He may have indicated where he wants to excavate, and if you can integrate this into your garden, do it!  We were lucky in that three generations of our dogs have been digging under a rhododendron in our back garden. Each generation has taught the next where to dig.  We have a 27 year old digger-dog hole there now. Vera especially loved her digger-dog hole.
  • Encourage your dog to dig in the spot you have chosen: bury treats, bones, toys–things your dog loves–in the spot. Make a game of it. Cheer him on, praise him, get excited for him as he spreads his claws, sets his shoulders, and gets into it. 
  • Don’t leave your dog outside unattended–even if you’re home. Dogs have to be taught what is sanctioned by their people and what isn’t. They need to be praised for behaviors we want and directed away from behaviors we don’t like.

Safe and Humane ways to teach your puppy how to stop biting by Kristen Seymour

Please read and enjoy this very educational article on how to work with your puppy to teach bite inhibition–written by Kristen Seymour, linked from Pupbox.com.

Bite inhibition is an extremely important skill for puppies to learn, and they must learn it before their jaws reach adult strength. They learn this skill through biting–other puppies and dogs, and us. Puppies and dogs will teach the puppy through yelps, avoidance, and maternal correction until the puppy learns to temper his bite pressure. We can teach them by following the steps outlined below:

Puppy Biting

How to keep your only dog happy…

So you’ve decided to live with a single dog. As I said in my blog, “Should I get a second dog?” there are lots of reasons to have just one dog. But having made that decision, how do you keep him socially stimulated and content?

Vera was very content as an only dog. Adding a puppy, Annie, to our family when Vera was 13 years old was successful, but it did require a significant amount of planning.

First of all, it’s important to accept that not all dogs crave social interaction or even want it. There are dogs who would prefer to be the only dog in a household, and helping them feel comfortable around other dogs can take some work. These dogs may benefit from parallel leash walks (at a distance they can handle) with other calm dogs who don’t want to crowd or interact with them. There can be a quiet camaraderie in these relationships, where they eventually choose to sniff the ground together, mirror each other’s movements, and generally feel companionable. For these dogs, taking them to a dog park would be way too much, day care would be overwhelming, and getting a second dog might be challenging, though if handled correctly could work well for both dogs.

Tips for single dogs, including non-social dogs.

  • Daily walks are essential (to areas where there are few dogs if your dog is not well socialized, and where those who are present are leashed so that a comfortable distance can be maintained).
  • Ideally, play, games, and training should be part of each day, along with interactive toys such as stuffed, frozen Kongs and puzzles. Any training or mental stimulation will help to tire your dog and help him to feel more content.
Vera dancing
  • Treiball (your dog learns to herd large, colorful balls back to you) is a fabulous sport for herding dogs, but can be fun and challenging for any dog. You can purchase books and videos on how to get involved in this sport, and work on it at home if there are no classes nearby.
  • Kibble-dispensing toys can offer mental stimulation to your dog.
  • Snuffle Mats can be mentally stimulating, calming, and entertaining all at the same time!
  • To gauge how well your dog is tolerating your absence, you can observe your dog on your phone or computer by using reasonably priced remote cameras.
Annie and her snuffle mat
  • Chew toys can occupy your dog’s time and help to decrease stress. However, talk to your vet first. Finding a safe chew toy for your pet can be very challenging depending on the bite strength of your dog.
  • Calm music can help your dog to relax, and some dogs love to watch animals on television .
  • If your dog is not doing well with your absence, you could hire a neighbor or dog walker to walk your dog at midday.
  • Many dogs do well once they understand your routine– as long as they are exercised before you leave home and when you return, and have things to occupy them. Most dogs will sleep during the day while you’re at work.
  • I used to hide treats in hollow toys throughout the house before I’d go to work. My dog couldn’t wait for me to leave! Searching for the treats helped with her transition from companionship to being alone.

tips for Single dogs who are social butterflies

  • Be friendly with other dog-people on trails, and share contact information when your dog meets a friend he really enjoys.
  • Take your dog to class–agility, obedience, free-style, tricks etc.–to get your dog working around other well-socialized dogs. Again, share contact information and make playdates with compatible dogs.
Annie (left) walks with her good friend, Uki (right), and a new acquaintance, Bella. All are being trained while off leash.
  • Offer to petsit for friends who have dogs your dog likes.
  • Make regular playdates for your dog at your home, at off-leash parks, or on trails. There are lots of single, well-socialized dogs around who need playmates.
  • Take your dog to daycare, but be sure it’s a place with a structured schedule, clear expectations, and constant supervision by staff who are savvy with canine body language. Dogs should be screened carefully before attending and should not be resource guarders.
  • Walk on off-leash friendly trails so your dog can meet and play with new dogs. For safety, leash your dog if approaching dogs who are leashed, even in off-leash areas.
  • Before considering dog parks, read my blog “Dog Parks–Why not?”

Dog attacks part 2: Ways to protect your dog.

In my last blog, “Dog Attacks”, I promised to share some ideas that might help you protect your dog from potential dog attacks. First, however, I want to give you some information about why any dog might want to attack a perfectly happy, well-socialized dog.

Fear drives aggression in dogs 95% of the time. Genetics, lack of socialization before the age of 12-16 weeks, or an attack or scare from another dog (particularly if the injured dog was between 7 and 9, or 18 and 24 months when the attack occurred) could be at the core of the problem. However, it is important to realize that any dog will bite if put in the right situation.

If a dog is already fearful, the approach of a happy, well-socialized dog can be terrifying. These fearful dogs have the choice of freezing, attacking, or running away, and dogs who are on leash don’t have the option of escape–they can only freeze, attack, or hide behind their owners. Even if they are off leash, fearful dogs might feel that offense is more effective than defense, offense being a strategy that dogs learn quickly. It makes the scary thing back off, and they are rewarded by this.

Here, you can see that even though Vera knows Annie well, she is worried about Annie’s nose being just centimeters from her shoulder. The minimum safe distance Vera could be from a strange dog was 30 feet.

Another thing that owners of happy, healthy, well socialized dogs should realize is that no one (with the exception of the rare trainer out looking for a challenge), purposefully adopts a dog who is aggressive. They fall in love, then the behaviors unfold or develop, often between the ages of two and three years as the dog matures socially. This certainly happened with our girl, Vera.

The owners of the dog with dog-aggressive behaviors are then saddled with a choice: to work with the dog continuously for years, re-home the dog (and who would willingly adopt a dog with a bite history) or take the dog to a shelter where he would risk euthanasia. If the owners lie about the dog’s history when they relinquish the dog (which certainly happens), the dog will end up injuring another dog (or human if the bite is redirected).

Having an aggressive dog is like living with a loaded gun. At first, owners are in full-blown denial and make extensive excuses for the dog. Then it slowly dawns on them that they need help and they start the slow process of discovering the dog’s triggers and how to keep him safe.

We kept Vera safe by choosing her outings carefully–the right place in the right season at the right time of day–and, of course, always on leash. Always a 6 ft leash unless there was no risk of a dog approaching.

The process is long and arduous as the dog’s freedoms are slowly relinquished to a point where the dog feels safe enough to live a relaxed life, and the owners feel safe enough to comfortably live with the dog. These owners are often stressed for years as they struggle through this quagmire–they want to give their dog a quality of life that makes life worth living, but are challenged to keep their dog feeling protected from friendly dogs, (remember, the aggression is fear-driven), and keeping other dogs safe as well.

My novel, “Finding Vera” tells the story of our experience with our wonderful reactive German shepherd, Vera (with a few embellishments to make it a better novel).

Tips and suggestions to protect your dog from potential attacks:

  • Consider dog parks with caution. I would recommend reading my comprehensive blog post on Dog Parks. Other blog posts that enhance the Dog Parks article are: Kids and small dogs at dog parks, and Dog parks vs off-leash trails.
  • When walking your dog on leash, don’t allow your dog to greet other dogs. As I mentioned above, dogs are limited in their responses when on leash and tend to be more likely to aggress or act out. Check out the video on how to pass another dog on leash safely. I have been lax about this with Annie, but since Milo’s attack have decided to adhere to this advice unless Annie has already established a friendship with the other dog.
I block Annie from Bruno with my body in this technique of arcing around dogs.
I feed her constantly as I pass Bruno.
  • Follow leash laws. People walk their dogs in on-leash areas for a reason. There is nothing more upsetting than to have your on-leash, anxious, reactive, rambunctious, or injured dog approached by an energetic, friendly dog (or to be accosted by a loose dog if you don’t like dogs or are unable or unwilling to deal with their exuberance). At the very least, the leashed dog will feel threatened, out of control, or overstimulated because he is handcuffed in his response to the loose dog. If the leashed dog is under-socialized, he may feel the need to attack because he is confined. Also, even a well-behaved off-leash dog will often take advantage of his freedom to harass the tethered dog.
Annie practices recall on an off-leash trail.
  • If you walk your dog off leash in on-leash areas when no one is around, realize that you could could be ticketed. Be sure your dog has a strong recall (will return to you at least 80% when you call him), and leash him up as soon as you see a person or dog in the distance.
  • Keep your dog on leash and under control in your neighborhood. Over the years, I’ve had clients whose dogs were killed by cars because they were loose in an unfenced yard, even while under supervision. Also, many of my reactive dog clients have been accosted by loose dogs in their neighborhoods. A fight between your loose, friendly dog and a leashed aggressive dog can end badly, both for the dogs and the handler. Redirected bites onto the handler are not uncommon when trying to separate dogs in a fight.
  • Teach your dog a “sit behind.
I’m training Annie to sit behind me. This way I can block her from any approaching off-leash dogs I don’t trust.
  • Watch people and dogs carefully in off-leash areas and read their body language. If the dog looks tense and is not giving out calming signals as he approaches (such as looking away, sniffing the ground, licking his lips, yawning, or doing a play bow), or if the human looks tense and worried, take your dog off the trail, stand in front of him, and block him. You can feed your dog treats, talk to him, or hook a finger through his collar or harness to maintain control while the dog passes.
  • Don’t walk your dog on leash in an off-leash area. As I said above, off-leash dogs might take advantage of his vulnerability. Likewise, if you see a leashed dog approaching in an off leash area, leash your dog and steer clear–there is probably a reason the dog is leashed. It isn’t a good time to get into an argument with the owner.
Annie checks backwash me on an off-leash trail.
  • Practice “check backs” with your dog so that he doesn’t run off when on the trail. Mark any eye contact with a word such as “yes” (or click) and treat him when he returns to you. You will find that your dog starts to check back often and will be more responsive when you call him back.
  • Carry a small air horn to keep loose dogs at bay. One small blast will often stop loose dogs in their tracks. A second short blast has always worked for us. The air horn works at a great distance to keep both well-socialized dogs and reactive dogs safe without sensitizing them to shouting (yelling at the dog, or shouting at the owner to call their dog rarely works anyway). Don and I wouldn’t go out of the house without one when we had Vera. The dog the horn was aimed at would stop, eye us with curiosity, then choose to change direction. They never looked scared.
  • To desensitize your dog to the sound of the horn:
This is a 1.5 oz horn that fits into my treat pouch so I can have it handy in case of an emergency.
  1. Have a second person beep the horn at a distance of 50-100 feet, pointing the horn away from your dog, then feed him several high-value treats.
  2. Always be careful to point the horn AWAY from your dog.
  3. Repeat no more than 3 times in a day, decreasing the distance the horn is from your dog by no more than 5 feet at a time.
  4. Only decrease the distance between the horn and your dog if the dog is relaxed and anticipating the treats.
  5. If your dog is scared, stop using the horn that day, and follow the session with treats and a favorite game.
  6. The next day, double the distance between the horn and your dog and try again.

Dog attacks

A couple of days ago, Milo, the sweet collie pup in my last blog, and Annie’s great friend, was attacked by a bulldog at the end of his own driveway. Milo was on leash with his dad, having just played with some neighborhood kids in the snow–it was his first experience with snow, ever. Milo’s parents are attentive, careful, and have spent months training and socializing Milo: Milo was on a leash, under control.

Milo enjoying his first day of snow ever on a local trail.

The dog who attacked Milo was a large bulldog, also on leash. The problem was that the owner took out both of his big, powerful dogs on leash at the same time in the snow. The bulldogs pulled the man right up to Milo, and with no apparent warning or vocalization, one of them bit Milo hard on the shoulder and didn’t let go. Chaos ensued, and Milo sustained several deep puncture wounds, one requiring a drain.

Another unfortunate thing about this situation is that it was not the first time this dog had attacked and injured another dog, unprovoked. The owner knew his dog could potentially attack another dog, yet still allowed it to happen. As I said in my previous blog about denial and aggression in dogs, denial is a powerful thing.

Belle and her dad on a hike.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Two weeks ago, Belle, a friend’s 13 year old dog was attacked by two large, off-leash dogs while on a walk with her dad. Belle was on leash and under control. Her back leg was badly punctured and subsequently became infected. Thankfully, she is feeling better after a course of antibiotics. The dog’s owner denied the attack, but was cited for having his dogs off leash and given a $250.00 fine.

Another friend’s chihuahua was attacked at a local dog park a few years ago. After the dog’s owner assured my friend that the dog was safe, he grabbed Zina in his jaws and shook her. The dog was large, and caused Zina extensive abdominal damage. One of her legs was so badly injured it had to be amputated. The owner initially took responsibility but had no money. She was 26 and unemployed. Whatcom Humane Society issued a potentially dangerous dog designation and the owner became hostile. Sue paid the bill. $7,000.

In spite of the damage they can cause, I have a very soft place in my heart for reactive and aggressive dogs. 95% of the time, dogs are aggressive because they are afraid–offense is the best defense. For six years, as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I worked exclusively with dogs who had fear aggression. My goal was to help owners build their dogs’ confidence, thus reducing the dogs’ fear and reactivity, and to teach owners how to handle their dogs in a safe and responsible manner. I even spent four years writing the novel, “Finding Vera”, in an attempt to give people a sense of what life might be like from the perspective of these special-needs dogs.

But no matter how much you love these dogs, being responsible for dogs who have issues with aggression is absolutely essential. If you aren’t responsible, the unthinkable can and will happen…puppies, dogs, cats, children, and adults are all potential victims if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and only you can minimize the chance of the “wrong time” ever occurring.

If your dog injures another dog:

  • Do not take it lightly. Dogs are powerful creatures with a bite force of up to 400 lbs per square inch and they can bite up to 6 times per second. If they are not well socialized before the age of 12-16 weeks, they may never acquire the social skills to be comfortable around other dogs, and may not learn how to control their bite adequately.
  • The injured dog might need to spend hours in the emergency clinic, need anesthesia, sutures, IV’s or drains, take antibiotics, require major surgery, and need to be crated and/or in an elizabethan collar for days or weeks depending on the extent of the injuries. In the worst case scenario, the victim may lose limbs or die.
  • The vet bills could be outrageous, and if you are a responsible owner, you will pay them without question.
  • The injured dog might be fearful of other dogs for the rest of his life. It is not unusual for one episode of intense fear to be permanently imprinted in the dog’s brain. This fear will often turn into aggression in an attempt to keep other dogs away.
Milo plays with his friend, Sasha, before he was injured. With his strong social skills, it is hopeful that Milo will not become reactive to other dogs.
  • The owners of the injured dog will also be traumatized emotionally–if not for life, for a very long time. Their sense of trust in other dogs will wane, and they may keep their dog away from other dogs completely, contributing to behavior issues in a previously well-socialized dog.
  • You or the owner of the victim could be badly bitten breaking up the fight. This does not happen infrequently.
  • Your dog could also be injured if a fight ensues.
  • Depending on where you live, you could run into legal problems–your dog could be declared a “dangerous dog” and, among other things, be required to wear a muzzle when leaving the house.
  • The owners of the injured dog might sue. If a child is injured, the legal repercussions could be devastating.
  • There might be pressure to euthanize your dog— legal pressure, peer pressure from the owner of the injured dog, or from your own sense of guilt.
  • You will not view your dog in the same way again. The damage he caused will affect your relationship, if not forever, for quite some time.

What can you do?

  • Get help from a professional dog trainer with experience in aggression training. Be sure to find someone who has a positive approach to working with your dog, and who does not use punishment-style techniques. Training that uses punishment and harsh corrections will only aggravate your dog’s behavior and irreversibly damage your relationship with him.
  • Keep your dog at distance from other dogs where he feels safe–that means if your dog stiffens, barks or lunges, you are too close. For some dogs, this can be 100 yards or more.
  • Do not take your dog off leash or to places where other dogs may run loose.
  • Do not take your dog to the dog park to “socialize him”.
  • If your dog has bitten another dog before, do not allow him to approach strange dogs, even if he acts like he wants to. Your dog might be interested in approaching, but once too close, fear takes over and he will lunge, bark, or bite (remember, 95% of aggression in dogs is fear based).
  • Only walk one dog at a time. It is impossible to control two or more dogs at once–even if they are small.
  • There is never a safe time to take chances. Once you let down your guard, bad things happen.
  • Always wear sturdy footwear. It is easy to trip, slip, or fall when things go south. Even in summer, wear protective footwear. Dogs’ toenails can be brutal on your sandaled feet.
  • Carry an air horn to keep off-leash dogs away from your dog if they approach. Desensitize your dog to the airhorn.

Update on Milo

Milo has a break from his Elizabethan collar and chews on his favorite chew toy.

Four days after the incident, Milo has his drain out. Although he needs to be kept quiet for another week or so, he is returning to normal. He was excited to see other dogs at the vet when he went in for his recheck.

The owners of the bulldogs were very remorseful and paid the vet bills in full. I am hoping they don’t stop there, and will get the help they need for their dog.

My next blog will discuss steps you can take to protect your well-socialized dog.

Photos courtesy of Laurie Potter, Sue Schmidt, and Debby Ayers.

Should I get a second dog?

For most of the past thirty years we have lived with two or three dogs. There have been periods when we only had one, usually when we were in transition after we’d lost a treasured companion. However, after we lost two of our three dogs only weeks apart, we were forced to keep Vera, our wonderful German shepherd, as an only dog for seven years, because of her issues with aggression with other dogs.

Having one dog came with a blessing.

Having only one dog came with a blessing. For the first time, we were the center of our dog’s world. We could spend as much quality time with her as we liked, and as a dog trainer, I could work with her daily on new skills. We played together and trained twice a day, every day. Both my husband and I bonded with her in a way that we hadn’t been able to when we had multiple dogs.

That said, our dogs have always been the center of our lives. One of our favorite forms of entertainment was to watch our girls play in our living room, and observe their interactions and communication as they made their way through our lives. When we walked them together, they would cavort together, engaging in a way that only familiar dogs can.

But once we got Vera, our special needs rescue GSD, it was much more complicated. We had to monitor the three girls constantly for signs of stress or conflict. The thing was, they really loved each other, and yet fights, bad ones, still broke out due to misunderstandings–only rarely, but enough to keep us stressed and on our toes 24/7. Because of those fights, and because of the daily stress, we opted to keep Vera as an only dog once her sisters died, for the rest of her life–well, almost, until we adopted Annie. For six years she prowled her kingdom as the queen bee. And we all loved it. Finally, Vera didn’t need to be on guard regarding the canine politics of her two beloved sisters, and she was able to relax–not every dog benefits from, nor do they want to live with other dogs.

The queen bee!

Now we are at another crossroads. We have Annie, a 22 month old, playful collie girl, and we recently pet-sat a 7 month old blue-merle collie pup, Milo. They adore each other. They wrestle, they play, they chase. They don’t resource guard or get snarky with each other. Annie has endless patience with Milo’s annoying puppiness. We take photo after photo of our girl having the time of her life. How can we not get another dog?

Things to consider:

  • Make a list of pros and cons taking into account your lifestyle, the cost of a dog, the space you have and your commitment to having another dog in your life.
  • Pros:
  • If dogs are well suited to one another, they can form deep bonds that last their lifetimes.
  • Their love for one another can help with the guilt of going to work or leaving on vacation, because they always have their companion with them. It may alleviate separation anxiety when you leave.
  • They can exercise each other when they are young.
  • They can teach each other good habits (and bad).
  • They can be great entertainment for you.
  • You see the whole of your dog for who they are in a way that you can’t when you have only one dog. And certainly, the dogs experience life in a way they can’t as an only child.
  • Cons:
  • Dogs are expensive. Vet bills are expensive. Insurance is expensive. Everything is doubled with a second dog.
  • A second (or third) dog is a huge time commitment. Yes, they might entertain each other, but they also need to be taught good manners and groomed regularly depending on their coat. And then there’s teeth brushing…
  • Both dogs need regular exercise, which is fine if you can walk them together. But what if you can’t? What if one of them lunges and barks at everything, and the other joins in just for fun? Or learns the bad behavior too? Or they insist on playing together and you get hopelessly tangled in leashes as I did with Annie and Milo? What if you can’t take them to the dog park because they don’t like other dogs, or they guard sticks or balls or other dogs’ toys and you need to remove all toys from your floor.
  • Dogs don’t tend to exercise themselves, especially once they are adults, and if they don’t get the exercise they need, they gain weight, become stressed and possibly unmanageable.

Annie had to be under control at all times with Vera.

  • A second dog might not get along well with your first dog, or may only just tolerate him, so that you need to keep them separated part of the time, and exercise and play with them separately. Annie (our collie pup), had to be under control at all times with 14 year old Vera so she wouldn’t accidentally offend or injure Vera who might have bitten the puppy in defense. It was a lot of work!
  • A second dog may not help with separation anxiety.
  • It seems like dogs learn each other’s bad habits, not always the good things.
  • There might be more barking.
  • Transporting them can be expensive–can two crates fit in your current car?
  • Getting litter-mates will often lead to the puppies bonding to each other rather than to you–unless you put an exceptional amount of work into training, exercising, and playing with them separately. Even getting a second unrelated puppy or dog can lead to this phenomenon. Tessie, our collie, was 8 months old when we got Lola at 8 weeks. It took us a year to realize that Lola had only bonded with Tess–she really didn’t care much about us at all. It took a concerted effort on our part to turn this around.

In conclusion, the choice is a personal preference.

It does help, however, to be aware of what you are getting into before adding another dog to your family–to make a conscious decision based on thoughtful consideration rather than a spur-of-the-moment emotional one.

My next blog will talk about how to choose a second dog if you decide to get one, and ways to maintain a high quality of life for an only dog. For now, Don and I are going to stick with our one and only collie-girl, Annie.


She looks just like my last dog, but she doesn’t retrieve…

When we acquire a new dog, whether it’s a rescued mixed-breed beauty, or a carefully chosen pure-bred pup, we humans have the tendency to compare our dogs to those we’ve had in the past. And the more similar they look, the more likely it is that we uphold our expectations of similar behaviors.

As humans, visual cues are what drive us, so when we lose a dog we adore, we are drawn to dogs that look similar. In case my readers haven’t noticed, Don and I are drawn to collies and goldens…and since Vera, German shepherds. But not just any German shepherd–German shepherds with a straight (not sloped) back and a fine, plush coat. And were we to find and have the stamina to adopt such a dog, we would want her to be just like V–except, of course, without the anxiety and aggression. My collies have to be long coated (in spite of the grooming issue) and sable. And the goldens…broad-headed, pale gold, and heavy-boned as Lola was, OR light weight, airborne, and burnished red as was Sascha.

Once, an older gentleman at the shelter where I volunteer asked me if we had any black dogs with one pale blue eye and a white tip on his tail. He wanted a dog just like his last one–he had been the best dog the man had ever known and he wanted one just like him. It’s hard to remember that although dogs of the same breed share certain traits, just because a dog looks like a dog we’ve known in the past, the new dog will most likely be very different in temperament. Even clones have different personalities and temperaments from each other. The gentleman looking for the black dog would have been much better off looking for a dog with a temperament like his last dog, not one with the same unique physical features.

Every puppy within a litter will be very different. Even clones will have different markings and temperaments.

But visual cues are powerful to us. Don and I ache for a shepherd even though we know the risk of reactivity. Shepherds are strong, cautious, intelligent, high-energy dogs prone to anxiety–more than we want to deal with at this point in our lives.

Don teaches Vera how to play the guitar. You can see why we would do almost anything to live with another Vera–without the aggression and anxiety. It takes firm resolve to stick to our decision.

We adopted Annie based on her delightful temperament, her amazing ability to learn and apply concepts (being a trainer I love to work with my dogs just for fun), and her outgoing, social temperament (oh, and by the way, she’s a rough collie). It is only by sheer willpower and remembering Vera’s difficulties that we are not looking for a German-shepherd mix to rescue.

Tips to help you accept a new dog for who he is:

  • Remind yourself that your new dog will likely be quite different from your last dog, no matter how similar they appear. He is his own person, and even though he may look very much like your last dog, he must be treated as an individual.
  • Do not expect certain behaviors to define your dog. It is easy to resent a new dog because he doesn’t have the right traits. e.g. a lab who doesn’t like to swim, a golden RETRIEVER who doesn’t like to retrieve. e.g. Our first golden, Sascha, wouldn’t be caught dead without a ball in her mouth. Our second golden, Lola, didn’t like to retrieve at all. Go figure! It drove me crazy at first. Poor Lola!
  • If you haven’t chosen your next dog yet, remember to look for traits that you like in your dog. For instance, Tessie, our last collie, was more like a golden retriever, than our golden, Lola, in some ways. Tessie loved to swim and retrieve whereas Lola was completely indifferent to those sports.
  • Don’t automatically expect the same types of behaviors and trust from your second dog. E.g. Sascha, our first golden, could be trusted to carry her own leash in a responsible manner no matter where we were (we didn’t allow her to carry it on busy streets, but I’m sure she would have been fine). We weren’t great trainers. It was just who Sascha was. In spite of being a good trainer now, after thirty years of experience, I have never had another dog who I could trust in this way. I have seen people expect their new dog to walk off leash in busy areas because their last dog could do it. But attempting this without months or maybe even years of training specific skills on a daily basis, most dogs will never have the attention, discipline, or skills to do this safely. The fallout can be lethal for the dog and traumatic for passing drivers.
  • Allow your second dog to be themselves–to play their own games, find their own favorite places, and seek their own level of socialization. Every dog is an individual.