I’ve been a bad blogger this past month, but it’s not due to a lack of news. In fact, Layla’s had a pretty good month!
Probably the biggest event for her this past month was a weekend spent with relatives in Iowa. After a five-hour-long car trip, we arrived at my grandmother’s house. Layla has always been terrified of my grandmother. She’s suspicious of elderly women in general, and my grandmother’s odd gait (due to a knee replacement and bad back) and tendency to stare at her while showing her teeth (nana’s way of trying to “make friends” is to lean over the dog, smile, and stare… no matter what I may instruct her to do) always freak her out even more. Usually there’s at least an hour of growling and barking before Layla begins to feel at all comfortable.
This time, Layla was perfectly comfortable with my nana from the get-go! I was very proud of how friendly and affiliative she was, while still being very gentle. Her face and body language remained soft and sociable all weekend.
To complicate things even more, my aunt just bought a nine-week-old Shih Tzu puppy. The puppy, Maggie May, was actually a pleasant surprise for me. It turns out that both of the pup’s parents are certified therapy dogs who regularly visit the assisted living home where my aunt works. My aunt fell in love with Maggie when the pups were brought to the home for socialization. While she’s a very typical puppy who does all the typical puppy things (nipping, chewing, peeing, etc), she has a lovely temperament and I have no doubt that if my aunt keeps up on her socialization and training she will become a wonderful ambassador for little dogs everywhere.
I always worry about Layla with little puppies, especially toy breeds. While she has been around lots of young pups, I know that one bad experience at that particular stage of life could set a puppy up for fear issues around other dogs its whole life. And Layla’s not 100% with other dogs, although her batting record is 100% with young puppies.
When my aunt first brought Maggie over, I put Layla in her kennel with a chew toy until things had settled down a bit. Then I brought the puppy back into the room where Layla’s crate was staying and let her out of the crate while holding the puppy in my arms. I let her sniff the pup while still holding her, and only after her body language told me she was relaxed and interested did I set the puppy down (outside of the room, to prevent crate guarding). Layla didn’t initiate any play with Maggie, which tells me that she wasn’t totally comfortable with all the stacked triggers, but she again remained soft and appropriate. After about half an hour, Layla asked to go back to her crate in the quiet room, and I respected her wishes.
As the weekend went on, she continued to ask for crate time when she felt overwhelmed, and I think this had a lot to do with her ability to remain calm throughout the weekend. Exercise was impossible with 20 below wind chills, so crate time away from everything with a stuffed chew toy was about the only way for her to destress. She did wonderfully with a busy household where lots of people came in unannounced and there was a lot of noise and confusion.
Ideally, I would not have to put my dog in situations like this where I know she will not be totally comfortable. However, Layla can’t be boarded and leaving her with friends or relatives just wasn’t possible this time. She did much, much better than I expected her to, and I was very proud of her sociability and her ability to ask for “time outs” in her crate when she was getting overwhelmed.
The good news is that in the future, Layla won’t be put in these situations. Some good friends of mine are opening a small boarding kennel in the country, and Layla will be thrilled to have mini vacations with her aunties. Since Layla also gets along with most of their dogs and has frequently walked off-leash with them, she will also get to enjoy off-leash walks in the country, which most boarding dogs won’t be privileged enough to share. My only concern is that with how much she loves spending time out there and how much she loves her aunts, I doubt she’ll want to come home with me when my vacation’s up!
Pictures of Maggie May and Layla to come soon….