Friday, May 24, 2013

Playing like cats and dogs: How to safely introduce a Boston terrier to resident kitties

Sinead the Boston terrier and her cat
Eamon and Sinead in a rare moment of peace.
When I took Sinead home for the very first time, I was warned that she'd never had any kind of personal experience with a cat, and since she was 4 months old, I'd have a little catching up to do in order to ensure that she was friendly with the other members of my household. Turns out, I have a LOT of training to do, and Eamon has become one of my key training partners.

Little dogs often like to investigate things by smelling them or licking them. Cats, on the other hand, like to observe things from a distance before they choose to come closer. This makes cats and dogs pretty much natural enemies, as a dog runs closer for inspection and the cats run away. There was a lot of chasing in the first few days of Sinead's introduction to this household.

Eamon, however, just doesn't run. He was raised with dogs, including a very bossy Boston terrier, and he's endured many iterations of rescue kittens. He knows that young things are wild and annoying, and he seems to know that running just makes matters worse. As a result, he's been lying down in the middle of the floor and patiently enduring all sorts of very personal sniffing and chewing.

We've now moved into phase two, where he's teaching her how to play appropriately.
Sinead play bows to Eamon the cat
Sinead performs a play bow.
The puppy seems to think that the cats are just large dogs that use the same body language she has. She play bows to them, barks at them and nips at them when it's time for play. Eamon either doesn't respond at all, or he just gets up and calmly walks away. When she's standing in the middle of the room by herself, she learns that she's using the wrong approach.

Boston terrier and cat with a toy
Introducing a toy.
Adding a toy into the mixture helps, as Eamon seems to understand that toys mean playtime. He will gladly stay in place of a toy is near his body and there is no barking. Once Sinead learned this lesson, they started batting at the same toys together, and now, they'll even wrestle and chase one another around the room for a few spins. Sometimes, Eamon rolls on his back and lets her win. Other times, Sinead does the same. They're both having fun, and for some reason, the toys seem to be an important part of the process.
Eamon the cat hitting Sinead the Boston terrier
Eamon's had enough.
When Eamon no longer wants to play, he hops up on the couch and moves to the back, out of Sinead's reach. If she persists in pestering him (which she often does), he gives her a little play slap. His claws are retracted, so he won't scratch her, but he can hit pretty darn hard, and he has smacked her right on her rear in the past. Each little tap teaches her to respect his personal space, and in time, I expect that she'll just walk away when the cats get to a high place and ask for peace.

I trust Eamon not to hurt Sinead, and I watch their body language carefully to ensure that everyone is having fun. If anyone seems too loud or too uncomfortable or just too excited, playtime is over. I also don't allow Sinead to do anything like this with any of the other cats in this household, as they don't like to play with her and I think that kind of play might end in tears.

However, a trustworthy cat with very good skills can be an invaluable ally in allowing a puppy to learn how to play with and get along with cats that aren't friendly with dogs. I'm grateful we have Eamon, as I think all of our cats will benefit from all of the work he's doing.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tired dogs are good dogs

Sinead the Boston terrier sleeping in the sun
Sinead catching some rays.
When I first heard about Sinead, her owner told me that she was "rambunctious," and that she'd need an active family that was home much of the time in order to keep her busy, stimulated and happy. As this little puppy has settled into our home and our routines, her personality is beginning to show through and her Boston craziness is starting to come out. From the moment she wakes up in the morning until the moment she sets her weary body down to bed at night, this is a puppy that's always on the go, and it's likely she would do a significant amount of damage, if she wasn't provided with a lot of exercise and supervision.

In the morning, Sinead goes on a pack walk with the pug, my husband and I. She's little, so she has to take about twice as many steps as we do, but we ask her to keep up and keep going for the entire 30 to 45 minutes that we walk. Then, she has about 15 to 20 minutes of fetch to play while I brush my teeth and get ready for work. When all of that business is complete, she's ready to settle down for a nap.

When noon rolls around, however, this puppy is ready for business once more. She needs someone to throw the ball, play a tug game, walk with her or just chase her around the yard. She needs something to do. If she's ignored, she tries to engage the cats in tug games (which they don't really understand) or she jumps on poor Liam the pug over and over again until he snaps. She keeps up with this activity all afternoon, basically with no break. Between my husband and I, we manage to keep her occupied. I'm just glad we're both here.

In the evening, another walk around the block is in order and then another set of running, tugging and fetching. After dinner, she has time to gnaw and nibble on her toys until she puts herself to bed. And she does put herself to bed. At 9pm, we find her cuddled in her crate with her toys, with the door wide open. It's her safe place, and after a busy day, it's the best place for her to catch up on her beauty sleep.

When we're not able to keep an eye on Sinead, she's in that crate with toys and treats and a closed door. Puppies with energy like this could easily strike up fights with other lazy animals, or they could just destroy things in order to give them something to do. Keeping her crated is the best way to keep her safe.

Running a puppy ragged isn't something anyone can do. I work from home, so it's a little easier for me. But I do think that all of this running and playing is vital for little ones. Sinead is growing and learning and changing so much right now, and she has so much energy she needs to spend. By giving her constructive outlets for that energy, I hope to keep her from engaging in terrible activities, like beating up on the cats, digging holes in the yard, tearing up books or barking endlessly.

At least I can say I was warned. This is a rambunctious puppy, and at the moment, we seem to be providing her with what she needs.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pugs or Boston terriers: Which type of dog is best?

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier in one dog bed
How can you choose between them?
Living in a multi-dog household has some very real benefits, but it's not the right choice for everyone. In fact, there are some people who really need to stick with just one dog, due to space or financial constraints. People who love a dog with big, open eyes and a small body may be stuck with a pretty difficult dilemma, however, as they'll be forced to choose between a pug and a Boston terrier. As the owner of both, I have a few little tips and thoughts to share on that topic.

For my money, a pug is an ideal apartment dog. Liam doesn't bark at hardly anything at all, and his exercise and stimulation needs can easily be met with a few well-timed walks. He did incredibly well in a very small condo, for example, as long as he had the proper amount of walks and a few toys to shake and kill when he was at home.

Bostons, on the other hand, really seem to need room to roam. Both of the Bostons I've had love to sunbathe, and they've both loved to have a little private nap time in the grass. These dogs also have a large amount of energy, and they love to run and run and run. It's hard to meet those needs in a small space. While it's possible that Bostons could live in apartments, I think they do a little better in homes with backyards. A daily walk can't give them what they need.

In the brains department, Bostons win the day. While Liam is remarkably easy to train, mainly because he's obsessed with food, he just doesn't have a whole lot happening upstairs. Changing the furniture's location seems to confuse him, and more than once he's been unable to find a toy I've thrown because he didn't see it leave my hand.

Sinead, on the other hand, can figure things out very quickly, and she's a little harder to train because she seems to enjoy winning the upper hand more than she enjoys gobbling down treats. Owners who like a dog with a little bit of smarts may do well to get a Boston. These little guys can keep you guessing.

Households with multiple dog owners may enjoy Bostons just a little more than pugs. In my experience, pugs are one-person dogs and they really don't transfer that loyalty to other people in the pack. Liam will always be courteous and even loving with my husband, but if he has a choice of laps to sleep in, he always chooses mine. And, if I leave the room, he will always follow me. Someone is bound to feel left out, when a dog really loves one person best.

Bostons can be a little picky like this, and my first Boston was certainly a fan of choosing favorites, but Bostons also seem to have a little love to share with everyone in the family. Sinead, for example, is pretty evenly split between my husband and I, with no one person really stealing her heart. Both of us are important to her.

Both of these breeds have a significant amount of health problems, and it's worth mentioning that both breeds aren't good options for people with tight budgets. This is mainly a warning for the pug owners out there. Bostons are, in my part of the country, pretty rare, so people expect to pay big bucks for a puppy that comes from a good background. This high price tag can make people think twice before adding a puppy to their homes. Pugs, on the other hand, are really easy to find and a lot of backyard breeders sell them for very low prices. These "bargain" puppies might fit into a household budget, but all of the little health conditions that can crop up can quickly put a family in the poorhouse. It's best to invest in a quality breed line, or rescue an older dog that may already be robustly healthy. Otherwise, another breed might be a better choice.

So there you have it! 

Friday, May 3, 2013

What to do when dogs won't share their toys

Sinead the Boston terrier splayed in the middle of toys
Sinead and her toys (isn't she modest?)
Bringing home a new puppy means, sadly, teaching the old dog how to share. For Liam the pug, this has been an extremely difficult lesson. Up to this point, he's had exclusive and unrestricted access to each and every toy inside this house, and while he's ignored many of them for years, he has some toys that are quite special and quite important. He doesn't like sharing these toys.

When I first introduced Sinead to the toy basket, Liam used some crazy retrieving skills that would have made any golf-course owner proud. Each time I threw out a new toy, he dove for that toy and brought it right back. The faster I threw the toys, the faster he moved. At one point, he was just a beige blur of growling, creating a pile of slobbery toys. Little Sinead had no idea what to do with this, and each time she even ventured toward the toys, he came back to steal said toy before she could have any fun at all.

I figured this was a story that wouldn't end well, so I sorted through the toys and picked out a few that were Liam's special favorites. At any point, I thought, he could have these toys all to himself. However, I also found a few toys Liam had no interest in at all, and I deemed these toys Sinead exclusives.

Once the toys were sorted, I ensured that some Sinead toys and some Liam toys were available at all times, and I supervised all play sessions. In the early days, this involved a lot of commands and correction for poor Liam, ensuring that he wouldn't steal anything or get protective. As time went on, however, I had less of this to do and I could praise him for playing quietly with his toys while she plays quietly with hers.

It's been a week, and at this point, very few squabbles take place. Both dogs seem to focus on their own toys, and there are plenty of toys to go around. I've even seen these dogs sitting side by side, chewing on their toys with no thieving behavior taking place at all. I think that's pretty good.

Unfortunately, I am still not comfortable with the idea of allowing these dogs to play with the same toy. They both seem to want to play tug games with one another, but I can see how a game like this could quickly turn into a fight, and that could undo all of the hard work I've done. For now, solo play must be the norm.

I owe a huge debt to this website for a successful dog/dog introduction. If you need help in getting your two dogs to get along, I suggest that you start here.