Those of us who work in veterinary clinics are always tempted to adopt the homeless or needy critters that we treat. However, there is a limit to how many animals we can care for, and most everyone on the staff has adopted one more animal than would be reasonable grounds for divorce. Thanks goodness our spouses are very understanding.
Well, last month was my turn to add another pet to the household. One of the hard-working folks from Animal Control brought in a large dog with a broken leg and a sweet disposition. I should say that she "seemed" sweet, because it is always tough to tell what a dog is really like until she's been "part of your pack" for at least one week. Yes, dogs and their new owners have a "honeymoon," too.
I decided to call the big dog Sparkle Bear. The silly name served two purposes: 1) it kept me from getting too attached, and 2) it made the staff wonder if I had gone crazy. (Which is sort of a hobby of mine.)
We splinted Sparkle Bear's broken leg, but I couldn't do any surgery until she'd passed the holding period (four days) and officially became my dog. I planned to pin the broken leg and spay her at the same time, but the bone surgery took longer than expected, so the leg was mended and the spay postponed to another day.
After several days of hospitalization, it was time to bring Sparkle Bear home and introduce her to Jolie, the established dog in our pack. Jolie has been an "only dog" for most of her seven years and figured to be displeased to find another dog invading her domain. Furthermore, Jolie weighs 8 pounds and Sparkle Bear weighs 80, so there was the potential that our little top dog could feel very threatened.
The first rule of adopting a new dog is to quarantine it from your other dogs, if possible, for up to one week. This is particularly important when a dog has an unknown vaccine history or has been around a lot of other stray dogs. There are many diseases that will "incubate" in a dog for up to one week before he shows clinical signs and becomes sick. In the case of Sparkle Bear, she'd already been quarantined for one week in the veterinary clinic's isolation ward, so we had that covered.
The second rule is to make sure that you don't rock the boat with a new canine in the house -- the top dog remains the top dog. The dog with seniority should get everything first -- fed, let inside, let outside, bathed, treats, etc. If you even greet the new canine before you say "hi" to the top dog, you may be upsetting the normal pack order in your household.
The third rule is to introduce the dogs in a controlled manner. In the case of Jolie and Sparkle Bear, we placed their crates next to each other. This allowed them to share nearby space without Jolie feeling that she might be a snack for the much bigger Sparkle Bear. Of course, we were certain to continue to give each dog a lot of individual attention (always Jolie first) and make sure that they knew they were loved.
Once they were comfortable sharing the same space, we started to take them for walks together -- my wife handling one dog and me the other -- with all of us walking side by side. As always, we made certain that the dogs "heeled," because to let them wander in front would mean that they were the leaders of the pack.
Now, they have graduated to spending time in the backyard together. I don't predict that Jolie and Sparkle Bear are going to be best friends, but that's OK. What is important is that they are comfortable with their places in the pack. And they are. (P.S. Sparkle Bear's name did change as soon as she came home -- Mrs. K has veto power over the silly names I pick.)
Dr. Jon Klingborg is a veterinarian associated with Valley Animal Hospital in Merced. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org