I should know never to state things as absolute, since the universe has a habit of making me eat those words.
You may recall me posting, “It’s very clear to me that I am not getting a dog for Layla. She doesn’t want a dog. She wants to be The Only Dog and continue in her role as Queen of the Universe.” a few months back.
Yeah, about that.
Well, Layla has decided she does want a dog. In particular, she wants to keep my current foster dog, Bootstrap Bill Turner (Boots). How do I know this? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her this enamored of a dog. The first day Boots came, she played with him for over three hours off and on, which is longer than she played with my previous foster, Manny, total, the entire time he lived with us. Their play was lovely, too. It never got too ramped up, and they took frequent, appropriate breaks. Their play style is highly compatible, with lots of “tag” type play and gentle mouth wrestling.
Since then, things have only improved. They play on a daily basis, and their play continues to be lovely to watch. They frequently lie together on the couch, stretched full out, with just their heads moving as they gently mouth wrestle. It’s incredibly rare for Layla to be this relaxed with a dog. There are very few instances of resource guarding between the two, and when things get a bit tense (such as when Boots accidentally hurts her infected ear, or when Layla gets guardy over a tug toy) they are able to work it out without intervention from me. Most telling to me is the fact that Layla chooses to spend most of her time hanging out with Boots. This is a big deal, because Layla is a very independent and private dog who usually chooses to be in a different room from the rest of the household. I would venture to say that she likes me quite a bit, but even with me she doesn’t spend a lot of time just hanging out by my side. Right now she and Boots are curled up on opposite ends of the couch like little bookends. This morning when I came home from work, Layla was sleeping in her open crate, right next to Boots (who was closed in a crate).
Below are some videos of Layla & Boots interacting. The first video (outside) was taken the first afternoon he arrived. The second (inside) was taken this morning.
So, what’s the problem? Frankly, I like Boots too. But I don’t think he’s the right dog for me. He’s profoundly neophobic, and I don’t think it will be fair to him to ask him to do dog sports. I don’t think he’d enjoy himself.
So, let’s review what I’m looking for in a dog, as it compares to Boots:
- Male. Yes. Boots was intact when he was pulled from the pound, but has since been neutered.
- 12-45 pounds. Yes. Boots is between 25-30 pounds.
- Short haired. Yes. Boots has a lovely soft, short, silky coat.
- Strong preference for sighthound or terrier type dog. Yes. Boots is a mutt. I’m calling him a Lesser Patagonian Pouncer. He may have some Boston Terrier, Whippet, or even Pit Bull in his background. Behavior-wise, he has many terrier traits.
- Moderate drive. Yes. While he has quite a bit of toy drive, it is very easily channeled and he is quickly learning to “out” on cue. He has less food than toy drive, but can switch back and forth if I use high-value treats. His food drive is increasing as he’s learning that food isn’t available to graze 24/7. He has lots of play drive, and will play with or without a toy around. I find him easy to motivate without being over-the-top.
- No strong preference as to age, except in the case of a rescue dog with an unknown background in which case he should be at least 2 years, preferably 3 or older. No. Boots is young, probably 10-18 months. I also believe that he will mature to be dog selective, as I see glimmers of dog selectivity in him now (and he is still quite young).
- Good with people, especially children. No. While not aggressive, he is very fearful of new people. This is not a dog I would take to busy public events, as he wouldn’t enjoy himself.
- Good physical structure for dog sports. Yes. He’s gorgeous!
- Outgoing and confident. No. He is profoundly neophobic and startles easily.
Six out of nine yes answers sounds promising, but do these categories have equal weight? I don’t believe so. For example, a short coat is less important to me than a dog who is good with people and easily managed around other dogs.
What are the pros and cons of keeping this particular dog?
Pros: Layla hearts him! He is built well, and is unlikely to have chronic pain issues related to his structure, even with more intense physical demands such as dog sports like disc or agility. He is a breed type I enjoy, and is easily focused and engaged in training games. He learns quickly. He is easily motivated. Once given time to acclimate to an environment, he bounces back from stresses quickly. He is able to relax and be quiet at home. He is easy to interrupt and redirect when needed. He can be handled all over his body and shows no resource guarding. When frightened, he chooses to freeze or move away rather than to aggress. He has appropriate dog-dog play skills. He is statistically less likely to have genetic health problems due to his mixed breed hertiage.
Cons: He is very neophobic. It often takes 5-10 minutes in a new environment before he is able to eat, because he is initially too stressed. He is frightened of new people, especially men. He can be hand-shy, especially with new people. He will likely mature to be dog selective. Layla may not always love him as much as she does now, depending on what he grows up to be like with other dogs. Because he is shut down in new environments, it’s impossible to tell at this time what sort of reactivity issues may develop down the road. He is currently reactive to dogs and people behind barriers (my fence, the window) and slightly reactive on leash. He may be a candidate for anxiety medications, but I may not be comfortable having 100% of my dogs on meds long-term. He may look too Pitty for my landlord, who discriminates against certain breeds (this could likely be fought with a DNA panel, but these are expensive).
As things stand right now, I am going to continue fostering Boots and see how his concerning behaviors progress with some training and counterconditioning. He is currently taking a Beginning Obedience class and I am focusing on taking him out on several field trips a week, where we watch people from a distance and he eats treats. Regardless of my final decision about him (which I am putting off until I see his progress), I am confident that he will leave my care more prepared for the world at large and will be made more adoptable by his stay with me. I am still on the waiting list for a puppy from a breeder next summer.
So, what would you do? Would you adopt a dog for your dog? Would you adopt a dog who did not completely fit your lifestyle, knowing that said dog would still have a good life but may encounter added stress?