Monday, February 6, 2017

Staycation in Motion, A+7: The Dog Thing

The place where we get the most push back about the Two Week Staycation is definitely over keeping dogs separate. I get it. I hate it, too. You always feel like you're not giving enough attention to someone. It's not easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

I can promise you that it's worth it, though.

There are many advantages to crating and rotating through at least the first week of having your new dog in your house, but there are two primary reasons to do it. First, it's the easiest way to get all the dogs in the house to get along. Smooth transitions count for a lot in the early days, both for resident animals, and the poor dog who has just had his world turned on it's head. It's hard to fix a bad first impression. If you do a proper Two Week Staycation with crate and rotate and only moving forward when the dogs say they're ready, and the dogs still don't get along, chances are that you have a poor placement - the incoming dog simply isn't going to fit in, and you'll be fighting nature to keep everyone happy.

My dogs, in all their overwhelming glory, have had more than a few guests in the house. They are very used to new dogs, and unless that new dog is a giant dick, the horde can get along with pretty much anyone. Abe was found in the same crate as several other dogs, and I have seen nothing to indicate that he doesn't have perfectly acceptable dog-dog manners. In short, I have no reason at all to think Abe wouldn't get along with the rest of the horde absolutely swimmingly. I'm actually pretty sure that once Abe is integrated with the rest of the dogs, his confidence is going to increase dramatically.

So why bother keeping them separate?

The answer is that crate and rotate is important for the incoming dog's mental health. While it may be true that Abe's confidence increases around other dogs, eventually, he will not be living with my dogs any longer. And if he borrows confidence from my dogs, that confidence will disappear with them. I find that shy dogs who are forced to develop their own confidence independent of other dogs end up more confident in the long run. I have exactly zero scientific evidence to back this up, but I do have a lot of experience. And my experience says that this might not be a huge edge, but it's an edge. And Abe could use all the extra help he can get. Could I require that Abe go to a home with another, confident dog? Sure. But each extra requirement narrows the group of qualified homes and makes Abe harder to place. I don't want to do that unless I absolutely have to. So I will help Abe develop a little extra courage to take with him to his next home.

The other piece of Abe's mental health that I want to address without the interference of other dogs is human bonding. Human bonding is not something I typically encourage from with my foster dogs. They can bond with their new family, I'm just here to keep them alive until they go home. But Abe has never had a healthy relationship with a human being. And this was reflected in his shelter assessment: Abe scored very low on pro-social behavior. He didn't want much to do with us people. I want to know that Abe is capable of bonding with a person. Additionally, while Abe may not have other dogs in his new home, he will certainly have a person. If Abe can borrow courage from a person, he has a good chance of living a pretty happy, normal life.

And that's the part that I really care about.

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