How does getting a second dog change your relationship with your first dog?

Jana and Cali, aged 9 weeks, play tug

A reader recently asked me how my relationship with Jana changed when I brought Cali home. Cali was an 8-week-old puppy; bringing an additional adolescent or adult dog into the family would probably affect the older dog differently.

I expected Jana to want nothing to do with the puppy, but within a day, she was gently playing with Cali and allowing her to share her bed. Jana was a fantastic big sister, and, as I said in response to this question, we “co-parented” Cali.

This mostly worked out well. Jana definitely helped Cali learn where to toilet, for example; Cali was a very clean puppy who had no accidents. I taught Cali many of the house rules, such as which furniture dogs could and could not use (this did not always go so well); Jana taught her other house rules, such as the “egg rule” — anyone who makes eggs has to make enough to share with all family members. Cali has, in turn, taught that sacred family rule to Koala.

Jana and Cali, aged 9 weeks, rest after playingJana was protective of Cali and taught her to play tug and keep away and other essential dog games. She led by example, showing Cali that the play tunnel was fun, not scary, and that nail trims and toothbrushing led to tasty treats. When we went to the dog beach, Jana provided thorough instruction, including demonstrations, of how to get soaked and then wriggle in the sand to ensure maximum coverage and sand retention for the ride home. Cali has surpassed her teacher in this endeavor.

As for my relationship with Jana, well, we were the grown-ups, nurturing and educating the baby. Jana and I shared many eye-rolls watching Cali’s puppy antics. We took walks together to enjoy some adult time, and I tried to reinforce Jana’s status as the second-in-command. Jana was not shy about asking for belly rubs, games of tug, or walks to the places she wanted to go. Cali is pretty easygoing, but she did try to steal Jana’s bed and claim more than her share of attention, and she sulked if Jana or I rebuked her.

Cali, age 10 weeks, shares Jana's bedI think what’s hard about adding a dog of any age is giving each dog individual attention. Jana and Cali were very different personalities, in addition to being at completely different stages of their lives. Jana was slowing down, due to arthritis and age, just as Cali became an active (very, very active) adolescent and young adult. I hated leaving Jana behind to do active exercise with Cali, and I hated denying Cali the hiking and other activities that Jana and I had enjoyed when she was young. So we made a lot of compromises. I took Cali to agility and Jana to nosework classes. I took everyone to the beach. Every day, we walked, at Jana speed, to a park where Cali could race after her ball while Jana socialized with the other adults (humans) and a couple of other older goldens. I’d like to think that each of my girls got what they needed and deserved, but I am sure there were times when one or both felt that her sister was claiming too much time or attention.

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Good Mom, Bad Mom?

got cookies_sae hokoyamaA reader writes: My spouse, the “good” parent, gives our dog lots of treats. Now the dog has become a tyrant, especially when I’m trying to make dinner. Other than saying NO when she has maxed out her quota and then having to deal with nagging, or else yelling at this sensitive dog and becoming even more of the “bad” parent, what might you suggest?

This is a tough one, as is any instance where spouses’ parenting styles clash.

A couple of hints in your question suggest an area where I think you can make changes, though. One is your characterization of yourself as the “bad” mom, simply because you are a tiny bit more strict. And what, exactly, is her “quota”? Together, these tell me that you and your spouse, like many dog parents, equate giving treats with giving (or, perhaps, getting) love. And a nice mom (or dad) gives lots of treats while a mean mom stints on the cookies. That’s simply not true, regardless of what the dog says or how sadly she looks at you.

One place to start might be to not give any treats without a reason. That’s not as mean or as hard as it sounds. And even if you can’t get your spouse on board, you can convince the dog that making sad puppy eyes at you will not get her anywhere (and neither will “nagging,” whatever form it takes).

Come up with your own criteria. I ask that my dogs do something, bring me something, or submit to something they dislike in order to earn treats. This translates to cookies for bringing me the paper or my shoes or for picking up their bowls after eating; treats for coming in, sitting nicely, and stopping their insane barking when the neighbors walk by with their dog; and high-value treats for allowing me to do their nails and other hated grooming chores.

Some people set the bar lower, giving the dog a treat each time she comes in from going out to pee, for example. While I see no reason to do that, it does, at least, set a criterion. You do X, you get a cookie. That sets up a different expectation than: I am (or I am cute); therefore I deserve a cookie.

If all that seems too complicated, any time she bugs you for a treat, ask her to do something she already knows: sit and shake hands; roll over; high five. She will still be exchanging something for the treat, not just walking by and expecting rewards simply for existing.

Of course, she is not going to accept this new regimen without protest. You’ll need to hold firm for a few days or a week or so, ignoring her nagging, and she will ultimately resign herself to having to earn or pay for her rewards, just like the rest of us. She might still get freebies from your spouse — you probably can’t change that. But I seriously doubt that your dog measures her love for each of you by the number of free treats you hand out. A lot more goes into building a relationship than that!