Winter 2011 Magazine

Casa Canine



And Then There Were Two...

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

On August 27, the dog days of summer took on a new meaning for our family as we prepared to adopt Etta, a seven year old retired racing greyhound. Excitement abounded, at least for the human members of our family as we readied the car to bring her home. Gus, our ten-year-old corgi/terrier mix, had met Etta the week before on a visit to the greyhound rescue. During their meeting, Gus and Etta got along well - well enough that we decided to adopt her. Now that her spay and dental procedures were complete, we were finally able to bring her home.

Gus was unaware that Etta was joining our family this particular day, yet he must have suspected that something was afoot. We had put up a crate in our office and there was a new, elevated feeding stand in the kitchen. To minimize the stress of the car ride for Etta, we decided not to take Gus with us to pick her up. As we left, I gave Gus a big hug and reassured him that he was well loved. We had planned for this day as best as is humanly and canine-ly possible (see The One and Only for Part 1 of the story). The real challenge would come once Etta arrived home.

Two concerns lingered. Although the dogs had gotten along well at the rescue, we were unsure how welcoming Gus would be toward Etta once she was actually here. After being the one and only dog in the family for almost two years, Gus is used to being the alpha. When he met Etta at the greyhound rescue, she seemed comfortable with him as the boss. But would that change once she was comfortably ensconced in our home? Would she challenge Gus's alpha status, and fight over priorities like attention, food and beds?

The second concern was about Etta's adjustment to life in a house with a family. For all of her adult life, she lived in a crate at a racing kennel. Could she adjust to life outside the crate? For each dog, the adjustment is different. We had never adopted a dog with such a lengthy crate history. Would she cling to her crate for security or would she enjoy the freedom to move about at will? We were hopeful that she would adapt to her new life without too much stress. Our plan was to be patient and let her take the time she needed to learn that she could move freely about the house and that we humans were there to love and care for her. We also hoped that she and Gus would become great companions. That part would be up to the two of them.

At the greyhound rescue, Etta hopped into the car with just a little help. During the drive home she looked out the windows, poked her head into the front seat for a few pats, settled down and then popped up every time we stopped. She was calm - just curious about everything.

Pulling into our driveway, we could already hear Gus making his "I'm glad you're back" bark. We took Gus into the backyard on a leash and brought Etta into the yard on her leash. The dogs greeted each other with a sniff fest - nose to nose, nose to bum, nose to stomachs, heads and ears. We walked Etta around the yard so she could learn the lay of the land. When both dogs were calm and had lost interest in each other, we released Gus first from his leash, then Etta from hers. We repeated the procedure in the house, showing Etta the different rooms, where the food and water bowls were, and the crate. At this point, I began to keep a journal of Gus's adjustment to Etta, and Etta's adjustment to everything.

Aug. 27 - Etta is home. She is so curious! She was fascinated by her reflection in the full-length mirror and she watches TV. She loves looking out of all of the windows. She didn't eat much, just a couple of bites of kibble. She and Gus are doing okay so far by mostly ignoring each other. She loves her new crate and bed, and has been going in and out. She is a little skittish on the hardwood floors so we've been scurrying around getting runners to fill bare spots.

Aug. 28 - Etta loves the crate. She slept well and was a happy, tail-wagging girl to see me this morning. I fed her a half serving of food to gradually get her used to a breakfast as well as a dinner feeding. She ate it all. She and Gus are doing well. He thinks she's hot. She isn't much interested in him, but tolerates his sniffing. And is she ever affectionate! She loves her scratchies - to the head, the ears, belly - she doesn't care as long as I am petting her.

Aug. 30 - Etta seems to think the crate is the place to be. While I was working on the computer, I closed the door to the crate so she couldn't go in. She stayed right beside me on the office rug but was a bit anxious with the crate closed so I reopened the door. Will keep the door to the crate open for now. Sometimes she's half in, half out. But mostly she is in. The few times she hasn't been in the crate, she likes to stretch out on the rugs - just not for too long. I hope she decides that she likes living in a house.

Aug. 31 Etta is settling in. It's sweet and sad at the same time. Living in a crate in a kennel for all of her life has had an effect on her sense of security. The first two days here, she stayed in her crate, even with the door open - her choice. She's had no way of knowing that a home is a safe and loving place. But today she spent time sleeping on the rug in the living room, and outside with our grandchildren whom she adores. At first she didn't like the grass. But now she loves to sleep on the grass under the trees in the back yard.

She does get spooked by sudden movements and unfamiliar noises. She's smart and curious and we see progress every day. What a love she is, and how fortunate for all that she is now part of our family. As for Gus, he still thinks she's hot, and she is only mildly interested in him at this point.

Sept 3 - It'a been a week and Etta has made a lot of progress. She's a real sweetheart, loves all of us and is quite outgoing. She's fine with Gus. They don't interact too much, but Etta does seem to like to go out when he does. Maybe it gives her confidence. She has already learned to go to the back door to be let out when she has to relieve herself. She's hardly ever in the crate during the day now. Prefers the rugs. She's eating well. And she goes into her crate easily if we have to go out or for night time sleep. She's a gem. It feels so right to have a greyhound again.

Sept 4 - Gus and Etta had their first play interaction today. They were in the back yard. I was watching from the kitchen when a crow flew by close to the ground. Gus took off at a run after it. When Etta saw him, she took off after Gus. I held my breath, as this was the first time she has seen Gus run like that. It would be a test of her prey drive and I feared she might see Gus as prey. But all she did was join Gus in chasing the crow. Then she initiated a few play bows and Gus responded! They did a little running around in circles and that was that. Gus hasn't done anything like that for years. Etta is Gus's Fountain of Youth.

Sept 13 - Things between the two dogs are going well but we still have a few issues. Since the two have been getting along, I brought out a couple toys today. Etta was so thrilled that she couldn't choose, and tried to play with both at the same time. Gus does not like toys, never has, yet he attempted to take one away from her. It was sitting beside her and she reached out after he took it and grabbed it back. Nothing aggressive, but she made her point. He continues to monitor her feeding station. He covets her food. When I am not right there he will attempt to drive her away. The funny part is that he can't actually reach her food dish, which is in an elevated feeder. The dominance issue definitely isn't settled.

Sept 21 - Etta and Gus like to go out together but do not interact much in the house - other than they both clamor for affection at the same time - a bit of jealousy on both parts.

Sept 23 - This is the first day Etta has stayed out of the crate ALL day. Eureka!

Oct 8 - Gus never played with toys. He'd chew on a rawhide strip but he just wasn't interested in balls or squeaky plush toys or tug ropes. Since Etta started playing with toys, Gus has started playing, too. He especially likes the tug ropes and plush toys. Today Gus and Etta were playing with toys near each other in the living room. Gus had a white plush squeaky toy. Etta had a fuzzy blue ball. After a bit, they both dropped their toys and took each other's. Guess you could say they play well with others.

Oct. 13 - While I was doing the dishes I noticed Gus and Etta out in the back yard. Gus was initiating play with a play bow. This is the first for him. Etta bowed back. A few yips, some circling then a race around the perimeter fence. Etta won but Gus gave it a good try. Awesome.

Nov. 3 - Etta took a major step today. She slept with us in our bedroom all night! She is not so interested in being in her crate any more.

Nov. 4 - I needed to go to the supermarket this morning. When I tried to put Etta in her crate, she balked. Since she did so well during the night, I decided to allow her to have the run of the house while I went out. When I returned Gus and Etta greeted me at the door. Everything in the house was in order. This is a big turning point for her.

My journal entries about the dogs have waned since November. Gus and Etta have settled into an easy routine. The dogs are forging a comfortable bond. They are usually found in proximity to one another. They play in the yard and also, now, in the house where it's gentle and short-lived, usually followed by gnawing on chew toys or naps. Gus no longer tries to keep Etta from her food. Etta respects Gus's alpha status, standing back as he goes through the door to the yard first or takes his treats first. Gus has certainly been rejuvenated by Etta's presence in our family. He's playing with toys and engages in games of chase with Etta- amazing! Etta seems to gain confidence from Gus. A bit of good-natured jealousy still exists between Gus and Etta, and probably always will. If Etta comes to me for a pat, Gus is there in a jiffy. And visa versa. We humans have become efficient at patting two dogs at once, a solution agreeable to all.

For a seven-year-old dog who lived most of her life in a crate, Etta's adjustment has been remarkable. She moves freely about the house, and is never locked in her crate. She still uses the crate to sleep on occasion - always with the door open. But most of the time, she is wherever we are. Etta's ability to adapt to a new home and family is encouraging to anyone considering adopting an older dog. The key to the planning and care we took to make this adoption work was simple - listen to the dogs. They let you know in their own ways how they feel. If you respect their needs, you are more likely to have success in adopting a second dog into your family.

Thanksgiving came just three months after Etta's arrival. For most of our relatives and friends it was their first meeting with Etta. My journal entry sums it up:

Nov. 25 - Etta was the perfect hostess, greeting people as they arrived and leaning gently into folks for pats. Everyone adored her. As we gathered for dinner, Gus situated himself beneath the chairs of the children in the family, anticipating scraps of falling food. Etta was the social butterfly, visiting everyone at the table but not being a pest or begging for tidbits. You would have thought she had lived with us forever.



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