Hello 3 Lost Dogs,
I have a huge dilemma that has left me wracked with guilt and wondering if I have to re-home my new dog.
[My 12-year-old silky terrier] “Sophie” and I have an extraordinarily strong bond. When others are around her she’s always looking for me, and if someone else holds her she’s always reaching for me. She has seen me through two life-threatening illnesses, nursing and consoling me when necessary. I have also helped her through her own battle with cancer three years ago. I can’t imagine my life without her, and want nothing but her happiness. She is, as some people say, my heart dog. And I realize we only have a few years left. I want them to be the happiest years possible for her.
I had been thinking about adopting a puppy for over a year. I no longer work and thought it would be good for both of us.
After adopting my new one-and-a-half-year-old Maltese male [ten weeks ago], things started to go downhill. First, “Jack,” the pup, had worms and needed constant attention. It was a mess and took a month and three types of meds to get rid of. I was going crazy and beginning to resent the little guy. It took everything I had not to give up and return him to the shelter.
Once I had gotten him well I decided to give him a fair chance. I was concerned as the two dogs didn’t seem to get along too well. There was no fighting, but Sophie was becoming withdrawn and seemed to be needing a lot of attention even though I was very aware to make sure I gave her a lot.
She was not happy when he went to give me kisses, inserting herself between us and growling. She also dislikes all his attempts at making friends whether it being initiating play or being affectionate. She snaps if he gets too close or tries to be playful. She shares her food bowl and toys, but just basically doesn’t seem to like him.
Now after ten weeks of seeing no improvement, I’m guessing these dogs can probably live together but not ever be friends. Sophie still seems very jealous, and Jack is just as happy as a clam, and is very well-behaved and turning into a great dog. He still tries to kiss her despite her protests.
I feel like I’ve betrayed Sophie by adopting the little guy and am wondering if I’m shortening her time with me. I also don’t want to give up a very good, lovey, little guy who I’m beginning to fall in love with. All of this has left me with a knot in my stomach that won’t go away. Several times I’ve wanted to take him back just to make it stop.
I know a lot of my concern is with how Sophie is coping, I also admit to a total lack of knowledge when it comes to what dogs are actually thinking and or conveying to me. Should I be re-homing Jack? Am I damaging my relationship with Sophie? Will Jack ever be a good dog if I have to always put him second?
Guilt-Ridden Owner of Two
Sounds like you and Sophie have been through quite a lot! You two have an amazing relationship. It’s completely understandable how protective you feel over her, and that you want your heart dog’s last years as happy as possible.
It’s a tough situation, but nothing you’ve said makes me think this is something all three of you can’t get through together.
Whenever you get a new dog, you go through an adjustment period. This is the amount of time it takes for the new dog and the current members of the household to get to know each other, readjust their lives, and settle into a new normal. It can be very stressful for everyone involved.
The adjustment period usually lasts 3-6 months. You’ve only had Jack for ten weeks. It probably feels like it’s been an eternity, but that really isn’t enough time.
Two separate things are happening right now:
1. Sophie’s life is in a massive upheaval. Naturally, she’s distressed. With some work, she’ll be fine. But it takes months, not weeks. This is a dog training issue, and pretty straightforward to deal with. More on that below.
2. You are in the “What the **** Was I Thinking?!” (WTFWIT) phase, a magical adjustment period phenomenon that makes everything seem irreparably awful. This is… less straightforward. It’s about overcoming self-doubt, which, in my experience, is much harder than dog training.
Your WTFWIT experience was compounded by the fact that Jack had worms when you got him. A dog with an illness can make the adjustment period even harder than usual, because you have to do a ton of unpleasant work for a dog you don’t even know yet. It frequently causes people to resent the dog, and delays bonding.
You have some good things going for you – I mean, you got Jack through his illness, and you’re even starting to bond. It’s a difficult thing to deal with, but you did it! Kudos for weathering the storm.
Jack’s fine. Don’t worry about him. You’re concerned that he won’t be a good dog if he’s “put second,” but you also said he is “just as happy as a clam, and is very well-behaved and turning into a great dog.”
I think you’re good on that front. You’ve clearly done a great job with him. As I said here, it’s important not to overlook your successes.
How to help your resident dog adjust to a new dog
Physically prevent the new dog from bothering her. Even though he’s friendly, an eighteen-month-old pup can be way too much for a senior dog to handle all day. The more he bothers her, the harder it will be to get her to accept him. Use management tools to keep them separate when you’re not training/supervising.
Give the older dog her own space. The fact that she willingly shares her food bowl with him is HUGE. But it’s probably a good idea if, at least for now, she has things that are off-limits to Jack. Maybe use those management tools to block off an area that is just for her, with food bowls, beds and toys that she doesn’t have to worry about sharing.
Spend plenty of one-on-one time with her. Take her on walks by herself, play, etc. Do whatever she likes, with no Jack.
Finally, teach Sophie to associate Jack with good things. A simple way to do this is to get some really good snacks, something she loves. Bring the dogs into the same room, but don’t let Jack get in Sophie’s face (it helps if you have someone who can hold onto Jack for you). For a few minutes, feed both dogs the treats. Then send Jack out of the room, and put the treats away. Wait a few minutes, then bring him back in and repeat. Do this a few times a day. You want her to learn that his presence makes good things happen.
You can also try the training exercises here.
Beyond this, it’s about giving it enough time.
Sophie needs time to adjust, to settle into a new routine, learn that the puppy is a positive, and that you’re still buddies.
Yes, it’s possible that it won’t work out. This change may be too much for you and Sophie to handle. Re-homing Jack might turn out to be the best thing for everyone. But you’ve made it this far – I don’t think you have anything to lose by giving it a few more weeks. Try the training suggestions, and see how it goes.