Isn’t it great when you meet a couple who seem to have found the magical approach to being together, yet each has their own interests? Honestly bonded, but separate and secure in their individuality? Happy folk, right?
Ellie and married “her better half” Richard, some years ago. Like many youngish couples, they were having the “family” discussion – wanting to fit building a family into the fabric of their lives, while they were young and energetic enough to enjoy it. They also felt a certain amount of motivation to quell the occasional (more frequent, of late) comments from each pair of their parents about grandchildren. They’d already waited longer than their overly enmeshed friends considered it to be in vogue. While they waited on biological clocks to catch up to peer and family reproductive intercessions, they adopted a cat. After a few months success with Parry (his name most rightly earned from his skill at countering flying insects), they asked me to help them locate an appropriate cat-civil dog for their home.
As is often the case, their were no rigid limitations on color, size, or breed. They thought it smart to avoid dogs that had any predilection towards being predatory, which impressed me (dog trainers frequently are positioned to explain how dog bite injuries and fatalities involving smaller pets and children are best avoided) since Parry and any future infants/toddlers in their midst might qualify as fair game. They were also quite clear that they wanted to avoid wherever possible any dogs that had a history of being anything other than “creme puff” – the dog could have teeth, but it shouldn’t realize it. I explained the role that they needed to play in shaping their dog’s behavior and ongoing socialization. We discussed obedience training in the context of it’s use in shaping those behaviors that are most important within their household. I made a point of sharing that behaviors like aggression, biting, chasing down moving objects/animals (people, too) is entirely normal behavior for dogs. Blah, blah, blah.
Having informed my clients, and encouraging them to keep me apprised of changes in their criteria – I set off to find their next four legged family member. Without a great deal of effort, I had located two candidates, and began sending pictures and video to Ellie (she was the point person on this project <and somehow, I didn’t have Richard’s cell number or email, yet>). Some clients want me to take a more active role in the selection process, and others desire more input. Ellie was in the latter camp, and she chose the dog that I would have chosen for them, but for entirely different reasons. The dog I was calling “Brown” in my mind – a 35-40 lbs. sort of nondescript, old man of a mutt-looking creature – was a owner surrender at a local-ish shelter. He had lived with another dog and cat, successfully. As the story went, “Brown” was surrendered due to a divorce and reportedly he ended up in the shelter through “no fault of his own.” I made a call to a receptive colleague at the shelter, who put Brown on ice for me.
Oops. I forgot. There was one other requirement that Ellie, in particular had requested. She spends a good portion of her week writing. It would be very disruptive to need to go outdoors for toileting a dog, so Ellie had requested their prospective pound pup be trained to eliminate outdoors on a “potty station” (located on their postage stamp-sized patio). Richard had stepped up and devised a schedule for exercise and socialization outings. I explained that Richard was wise to do so, as exercise, socialization and addressing the dog’s normal drives in a productive manner is far better than finding your dog herding your toddler. So far, so good.
I was preparing Brown for his debut, and the happy couple wanted a preview. For some reason, they wanted to meet their future son, now being called, “Mr. Brown.” After impressing upon them that Mr. Brown is not quite ready for showtime, it was decided that Mr. Brown and I would pay them a visit, Friday evening. In these situations, I often prepare to leave a candidate dog with the adopters for the weekend, even when it isn’t explicitly requested, as sometimes people get caught up in the cuteness of it all and want the weekend visit. Because of this, I drove to my meeting with Richard and Ellie and left Brown’s overnight bag (and crate) in the car. When I walked in with Brown on a leash attached to my belt, Ellie wanted me to immediately release him. “Hi Dennis! It’s good to see you. Why don’t you let him go and see what he does?” I grinned. “Hey Ellie. What’s up, Richard? I can let him go, but it could be traumatic for all involved.” Ellie frowned. “Why would it be traumatic? This is going to be Brown’s home. He might as well get comfortable, no?” I could see that Ellie was exerting some self control to keep from freeing the wriggling, happy dog from my grasp. I said, “Here’s the deal. Brown is not quite ready for Prime Time. Aside from his incomplete preparation, I would suggest that Parry and Brown be introduced in a more controlled manner. If you take a look at Parry, he’s all puffed out – see how your short haired cat looks like he’s made from a toilet brush? He’s a little freaked out, and it’s likely to be about the 40 lbs dog in the room. Since their getting along well was important enough to be our initial focus, I think it wise to not overwhelm Parry, riguht out of the box.”
Ellie and Richard led me and the dementedly wagging Mr. Brown to the kitchen. Richard closed a wooden, accordion style door behind us, effectively sealing us away from the rest of their apartment. “Good man, Richard!”
After requesting and getting a sit from Brown, I released the little, old man (to me, Border Terriers look like old men, sort of like the overweight, mustached guy from Monopoly (Rich Uncle Moneybags). Brown wasn’t a Border, but he reminded me of Moneybags. The couple descended on him like Sunday dinner at Mamma Mia’s house. When Richard came up for air, he said, “A sweet dog. Tell us about him, Dennis.” “Richard, Ellie,” I began, “Mr. Brown’s mother was a bitch!” Ellie and Richard both laughed! I continued, “Actually, I know very little about Brown’s life before he was brought to the shelter.He’s successfully lived with children, a dog and a cat. We’ve been focusing on elimination and the control work that you described as being important for you. He’s doing well, all around. I was concerned about his elimination on the surfaces that you requested, but he’s done well! Now that I hae seen your living space, I have some ideas for Brown’s patio station. I will put together some mock ups or pictures and email or text them, for your input.” Richard deferred to Ellie, who nodded, appreciatively.
As expected, Ellie and Richard were interested in retaining Mr. Brown for the weekend. I grinned, and told them, “this happens more often than you may realize. I know that waiting is tough.” Ellie enthusiastically co-signed my statement. i am really interested in our spending time with Mr. Brown and getting to know who he is, Dennis.” I said, this is great news, from my perspective because it’s helpful to me to get additional feedback about what works and what needs to be adjusted. Before I leave, I want to provide you with some guidance on how to manage the Brown/Parry introductions and impress upon you that you cannot move to slowly with the intro. You can absolutely move to rapidly, though… after tackling their marching orders, going back to the car to retrieve Brown’s supplies, demonstrating his crate training and having Richard and Ellie practice, and dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, I made sure the Richard and I traded contact information and left them all to get to know one another…
It worked out well. We were in contact, several times over the weekend. They wanted to spend more time, rather than less, so I worked them into the preparation and he spent less time at home with me. They are very much in love with their dog and they report that they feel good about the process by which they received Mr. Brown and they are enjoying their pet parenting experience. I couldn’t ask for more. They make referrals, too.