Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dogs digging each other

After 2 weeks... 

Lou, our adopted dog, is still amazing us by how civilised he is, despite more than 2 years in a cage. He loves knowing what will happen next, whether it's a walk in the woods or bedtime. He loves water on the ground but not from the sky. If he sees a puddle, he lies down in it. Yet his reaction to the hose-pipe - recoil - reminded me of  his past; shelter cages get sluiced out with hose-pipes. We are lucky with Lou, who is a plucky character, keen to please us and to fit in, but even so, he has a history that we can only guess at from his behaviour.

Read Part 1 of Lou's life with us

Now he is part of our lives, it hurts to imagine what his previous two years were like. He has been fully house-trained here from the moment he arrived (apart from marking his territory a couple of times on the veranda and cellar doors). Imagine how upsetting it must have been for him to foul his cage. Thanks to volunteer dog-walkers he was given 'a walk' every 3/4 days. In between, he was waiting for that walk - or trying to wait. The walk itself consisted of 5 minutes pulling on the lead, 5 minutes freedom on a strip of enclosed grass where he could run about and relieve himself, then 5 minutes pulling on the lead, back into the cage. Even after a fortnight, two shampoos (on the first day!), and a few rain-showers, I think I can still smell the cage and I want that smell gone, forever. Every day, more dead fur comes out on the brush. I want his coat gleaming like his eyes.

Lou has other ideas about his coat. Not only is mud good for hair and skin, it is excellent for bonding two dogs who like digging. The relationship between my Great Pyrenees, Blanche, aka the Princess, and Big Bad Lou, started off polite. The Princess was magnanimous and the Peasant cautious, not least because at 32kg he weighs in at 20kg lighter than she is. Then they started an engineering project in the outer garden. This involved serious digging. The holes filled with water and the furry hippo sat in one. Who knows what Blanche was really planning for Lou but from the moment they started digging together, they moved closer to friendship.

Digging together
Serious concentration

Lou in a hole

I think the honeymoon is over and we're into Stage 2.  Non-stop rain has both dogs bored and looking for trouble (i.e. each other) so this morning witnessed the first session of full dog-dog physical interaction. Lou's style is kung-fu - in fast, out faster, left-right left-right with the paws, then bounce off the furniture and chew the rug. Blanche has a certain elegance in the approach; the play-bow and a lot of vocalising, but the finish is pure sumo wrestler. She's a heavyweight and believes that jumping on your opponent's stomach usually settles things. Not if he's fast enough. They seemed to be playing to the same rules and tails were wagging throughout so I was more concerned for my living-room than for the dogs but I can appreciate what this stage is like when either dog turns aggressive. Then it's often a return to the shelter for the adopted dog, with bad habits reinforced.

Incidental dog training is all around us and I'm trying to not to overload Lou when everything is new but rather to take advantage of opportunities that arise naturally - such as a wine-buying trip. I suspect that Lou's wine knowledge is limited so we took him and Blanche to the May fête day at a Seguret cave, about an hour's drive from here. Dog-wise it was a good test of a long journey, which will be useful for when we all go on holiday in September (if we're still feeling brave); people-wise, it was a good chance to stock up on Cotes du Rhône Villages. 'Nickel! Impecc!' as we say in France when something has gone well. I'd rather Lou didn't pile over into the front seat every time the car stops but that's fixable. 

In a formal training session, I have taught him, 'Thou shalt not pull on the lead' so that walks are now a pleasure, if a bit of a tangle with all four of us and two lunges. From now on, he is no longer allowed to pull on a lead or lunge. Orderly behaviour getting in and out of the car was progressing nicely and then the hydraulics went on the boot door so the dogs now have to get in and out side doors. So much for establishing a routine and keeping to it! Lou's a bright little button and he's adapting; for a different dog, each change would be a setback.

I wasn't prepared for his silence. Not just the lack of barking (compared with Great Pyrenees who have for years alerted me to every passing fly and cleared the area of wolves in at least a 20 mile radius) but the lack of all sound. Apparently this is common in adopted dogs. Sometimes they bark for the first time months after being in their new home. The noise in an animal shelter is ear-shattering; some dogs join in, some retreat to silence, and many are traumatised. All I know about Lou in kennels is that he was not 'a barker'. In his second week I've heard him growl once, when Blanche thought she'd investigate his food bowl. To me, this is a good sign and Blanche understood exactly what was meant - she's not lacking in confidence herself! He has made a little barking noise, twice, so small that I wondered if I'd dreamed it. The first time, he was shut in the outer garden with my husband and Lou could hear me the other side of the door to the inner garden. He wanted to come in! I didn't let him because I don't want him calling the shots. The second time was when Blanche pushed him to play. She is very vocal, with a whole range of play vocabulary and it touched me to hear him reply - even if that response was probably, 'Get stuffed, I'm sleeping!'

When I hear Lou talking, I'll know he really has his paws under the table.

Watching TV
I do worry about the perception that I'm a  nice person because I've adopted a dog - nicer than someone buying a puppy from a responsible breeder. I've done both. Would I adopt another dog in the future? Yes, if it fitted in with what suited our family. Do I think people should adopt dogs, not buy puppies? No, I do not! I think it's a personal choice. I wish there were no dogs in shelters at all and no adoption! When I translated 'Gentle Dog Training' it was in the hope that dog-owners would seek help for 'difficult dogs', not abandon them. I wish the only dogs were those brought into the world in, and for, loving families and I completely support responsible breeders. I wouldn't hesitate to support such a breeder by choosing to buy a puppy from her - as I did with Blanche. What matters to me is the commitment to your puppy and to your dog, for life.

Lou won't be going back to the shelter, however much he starts chewing the rug; and Blanche will still be our dog, however much she starts chewing Lou.

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