Fall 2010 Magazine

Casa Canine

The One and Only

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

Our family has always had a dog. Actually we've always had dogs, plural. After 30 years of dogs, things changed. Seven years ago, we had six dogs, our own pack of rescued greyhounds, strays and re-homed canines. Over the next six years, our pack dwindled. Our senior greyhound Jake died in 2003, followed by Timber in 2006, Dancer in 2007 and Jasper in 2008. Lastly our little fluff-ball Bella died in January 2009. Our corgi/terrier boy, Gus, the junior member of the pack, suddenly found himself the one and only.

As the attrition occurred, we were also discussing the possibility of a major life change for our family. We decided not to bring a new dog into our lives until we figured out and settled into our new situation. As is often the way with change, things did not run smoothly. But a year and a half after Bella's death, we felt settled enough and ready to bring a new dog into our home. We decided to adopt another retired racing greyhound. Gus, on the other hand, was not so sure he needed or wanted another dog in the family. For 18 months he enjoyed being the "only dog." He received all of our attention, got to travel with us, and didn't have to share anything with any other dog. Our grandchildren doted on him. He seemed quite content with his alpha status. We realized that we would have to proceed carefully to make sure that the newest canine member of the family would be compatible not only with us but meet with Gus's approval as well. So began the search.

There were several issues to consider for the new dog, among them - age, dominance, gender, size and temperament compatibility. Gus is ten years old. A dog too young and playful might overwhelm him. Gus is the alpha now, and seems to enjoy his position as top dog and protector of our family. Another dog with strong alpha tendencies might raise dominance issues and possible fighting over access to food, attention, beds and treats. Gus hasn't lived with greyhounds for over two years. Would he still get along with a dog much larger than he is? Gus is an unusual fellow. He is built low and long like a corgi but has a thick wiry coat. Some retired racers with high prey drives are not compatible with cats, small dogs or other small animals - equating them, perhaps, to the furry lures used by many greyhound racetracks. Our four previous greyhounds had no problem with Gus's appearance. We would need a companion with a low prey drive who did not think Gus was lunch on legs.

Gus's first introduction was to a nine year old female named Tara. She lived with an elderly couple who were no longer able to care for her. As an only dog, she had been lavished with affection and royally spoiled. We arranged to introduce the two dogs in a park, a neutral territory, so that Gus, who was quite protective of our home, would not feel the need to protect us from her. Tara was dainty and sedate. We met in the parking lot with both dogs on leads. They could clearly see each other as we got out of the car. We approached slowly until they were able to meet. Gus began to growl yet the mannerly Tara was willing to bend down for a sniff of Gus's head. Gus growled louder. Tara backed up. With more growling and the fur on his back up, Gus was not at all happy with Tara. He seemed intimidated and was unable to relax. The next step was to go for a walk together. A casual walk can be calming to dogs and helps refocus them on new sights and smells. It seemed to work. By the time we returned to the parking lot, both dogs were calm and stood for sniffing inspections of each other. At that time, we found out that Tara had a medical problem that would make it difficult for her to navigate the stairs in our house and yard. We were disappointed but it had been a good start.

We waited several weeks, and then took Gus to a greyhound adoption agency that places retired racing greyhounds into loving homes. He met several potential companions in a neutral area in front of the rescue's kennel. Since Gus did well with Tara, we began by introducing him to several females, one at a time. The first one was an energetic 2-year old. From the time she saw Gus she was ready to have fun. With play bows and yips, she enthusiastically tried to engage Gus in play. Ten-year old Gus would have none of it. He growled and backed up, making his feelings clearly known.

The next three greyhounds, two more females and a male, thought Gus looked like a tasty tidbit, and were immediately out of consideration. The final dog of the day was a 4 year-old laidback male. Compared to the other introductions, the fourth one was better. Gus seemed interested but the dog wasn't too interested in Gus or in us. We decided to wait and try again another time.

A few weeks later, a 7 year- old female came to the greyhound rescue. Etta had raced until she was 5 years old. Upon her retirement, her owners planned for her to have puppies. After two years of trying unsuccessfully to breed her, she was relinquished to the rescue. I visited the kennel to spend time with Etta to get a sense of her personality. She was sweet, curious, calm and affectionate. Next Gus got to visit. He thought Etta was pretty hot. She was quite tolerant of him, and didn't mind his excited sniffing. The final introduction was to our grandchildren. They love dogs and have been around dogs all of their lives. It was important to us that the new dog be compatible with children. Etta leaned gently into the children for pats. She was tolerant of the hugs from our 4-year old granddaughter. Our grandchildren adored her immediately and the feeling was mutual. The decision was unanimous - Etta was the one. She would join our family the following week after her recovery from her spay and dental cleaning.

But how would Gus react once Etta came home? Bringing a second dog into a family can be a lot like having a second child. The older child is initially excited about the new baby until she realizes that the new little bundle of joy is actually going to stay. Gus did seem to like Etta at the rescue, but would he still be so welcoming when he had to share his home and people with her? Based on what we observed, we felt optimistic that time and good planning would lead to Etta's successful transition into our family. So far, so good.

Next time: And then there were two.

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