Journey to a Peaceful Pack - Reality In a Trainer's Home

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  Journey to a Peaceful Pack
Reality in a Trainer’s Home

    After a short flight and even shorter drive, we arrived at our breeder’s home.  We push the intercom button to let her know of our arrival and the gate to her driveway slowly moves up as we inch forward in eager anticipation.  We are greeted by Oliva, one of the young adult wolfhounds, who bounds joyfully up to our car with a soft “woof!’  We turn and look at each other with huge grins on both of our faces.  We were finally picking up our puppy!!                 

After meeting all the puppies, the mom, and a few other adult dogs, we took Kirin out into the yard away from his siblings.  We played with him and enjoyed learning more about his family and breeder for a short while.  He seemed to bond with us pretty quickly and we ventured off into the new world together.   We stopped at the nearest chain pet store and pick up dog bowls, a leash and a few other needed items that we had not brought on the flight.       

We took turns driving and sitting in the back seat with Kirin.  He is a sweetheart,   very loving and we can see the bold courageous Irish Wolfhound in him.  There is no doubt he will get along with our two dogs, but will Luca, our Black Russian Terrier, with a limited capacity to let others into her circle of trust, accept him?  She is a muscular 115lbs of trust issues and her deep barking, fierce growling and soul piercing amber eyes leave no doubt as to how she feels.  We are committed to doing all that we need to do to make this journey to a peaceful pack but, to be honest, I am concerned that there are some tough climbs with possible perilous cliffs ahead.

Day 2: Saturday

After 18 hours of driving, with several nap breaks, we finally made it home.  Kirin had a chance to smell Mystic and Luca along the way because we bought shirts with their scent in them.  He seems to be a pretty bold and laid back pup, so we continue to have good feelings about the potential for getting along with our 2 current dogs.           

The Initial Introduction- Can we all just get along?  Please???

     We pick a new park for everyone to meet. Introduction in neutral territory is the ideal for a new pack member.   It was one that we had only been to a few times and not recently.  I dropped George off at the house and he loaded Luca and Mystic up in the van to meet us.  We debated if Luca or Mystic should be the first to meet Kirin.  Luca is the alpha and Mystic has no problems with that.  Mystic is also a male and although he is neutered, there is still a chance for conflict.  We decided that Mystic, the most laid back, should go first.  At the park George brought Mystic out first and he barely noticed Kirin.  I greeted him and then showed him the puppy.  He sniffed him and walked away with a neutral attitude towards the pup.  He proceeded to roll around in the grass with an occasional glance towards Kirin. Mystic did run up once and offered a play bow.  Great Start!                                  

We handed Mystic off to Anna to hold while we got Luca out of the van.  Anna held Mystic away from the initial meet and greet between Kirin and Luca.  I had hoped Luca would just fall in love with the cute puppy but knew that probably would not be the case because that is just not who Luca is.  She is slow to warm up to everyone and this time was no different.  When Kirin came near her, she immediately lunged and tried to attack him while barking at him viciously.  He yelped and scooted away as quickly as he could.  Luca was scolded firmly and put in a down-stay.  Please note that we did not “Alpha Roll” her, we don't believe in that.  We took control of the situation by taking control of her with a very firm leash pop and a no.  That was it.  All that need to be done is for her to know that her behavior was not acceptable.

 This brings us to 2 items that have to be immediately addressed:

  • Kirin needs to know we will protect him at all times and we can be trusted as the pack leaders.
  • Luca needs to know that we do not allow any fighting and that Kirin is a member of our pack and will be accepted as such. She needs to know that we will not allow her to pick on Kirin in any way.

We gave them a break and reassured Kirin.  He was pretty sure he wanted nothing more to do with her and Luca felt the same and continued to let him know it with hard stares, growls and barking even though they were not as close as the first intro.  Luca was muzzled with a basket muzzle from the beginning and was given a strong correction each time she was aggressive.  Although she is the leader of the group of dogs, she needed to be reminded that we are the pack leaders and we decide who is accepted and who is not.  We decided to have her lay down and we placed Kirin on top of her back in a dominant position.  We made it as clear as possible that we put the puppy there and we provided treats and praise for quietly accepting, even if it was just avoidance at this point.  (*I do NOT recommend anyone try this without the assistance of a professional trainer!)

At this point we headed home.  I was disappointed that it was not all play bows and hugs but not surprised, Luca has never been one to easily accept other people or dogs.  It was going to be work and we were prepared and ready to deal with it accordingly.  Our puppy proofing preparations included setting up a couple of baby gates as well as multiple crates to enable us to have a variety of dog zones so that we could shuffle dogs accordingly during socialization.  We have an open crate and closed crate set up in the living room and a smaller closed crate in the bedroom.  All of these help us to set up an environment that lets us safely socialize the dogs as well as allow for rest away from each other so no one is overwhelmed.  Chances of success are much better if no one gets stressed and then does not have the energy to deal with the socialization efforts patiently and calmly.  In addition to crates and gates, we also made sure ALL toys were put away and food bowls, even though empty, were picked up off the ground. 

When we got home, we put the big dogs in the back yard and introduced Kirin to his new home by showing him the downstairs.  We fed Kirin and took him for a quick potty trip in the backyard. with Luca on a leash.  She continued to ignore him, which was acceptable at this point.  We praised her anytime they got close and she did not react.   After everyone was fed, it was time for bed after a long couple of days. 

Day 3: Sunday

Today we start the day by putting Luca’s electric collar on her and making sure we have plenty of treats on hand.  We are balanced dog trainers and let each dog show us what they need in order to understand what is wanted from them.  We always start with PRAISE and reward as much as possible as well as do all we can to encourage and enable them to make the right choice.  Luca is one of those dogs that, with certain behaviors, requires a much stronger correction and no amount of hugs, kisses and high value treats will change that.  Fortunately, for her and us, it does not usually take repeated strong corrections.  Strong corrections are coupled with a firm no, which is usually all that is needed after that for that behavior.  We then praise and treat all behaviors that are moving in the positive direction we are aiming for.  Sometimes it takes large amounts of patience as we move forward in little baby steps, others there is an amazing “AH HA!!” moment when it just clicks and dogs suddenly “get it.”  Love those lightbulb moments!

Today we do a variety of socialization exercises and all are closely supervised.  Luca is muzzled and on lead with a pinch collar at all times as well as the E-collar if a stronger correction is needed.  George spent time with Kirin in his crate and Luca on the outside while he petted both.  He encouraged a calm relaxed state of mind and praised and treated Luca when she looked at the puppy and laid there calmly.  Growls were treated with a firm no and if they escalated beyond that, a tap with the E-collar and a firmer no.  At this point, she tended to avoid looking at the puppy more often than not.  Avoidance rather than aggression was acceptable at this stage.

We repeated the “puppy pile” dominance exercise with Kirin and Luca a couple times during the day.  Tons of praise for accepting the puppy laying on her and stepping over her.  We gave treats for being calm and accepting the puppy near her and on her.  A few mild growls that she received a firm correction for but she did well overall.   



Day 4: Monday

Morning walk- Kirin was walked by George and I walked the big dogs.  Everyone behaved well.  We are firm believers in trying to spend at least a week getting the new pack member used to everything, at minimum.  This may mean taking some vacation if you work full time.  Fortunately for us, George is a principal at an alternative high school and our goal is for Kirin to be a therapy dog, so he gets to go to school with him most days.  This first Monday, however, he has meetings, so I elected to work from home so I can be on point with our newest edition.  Most of the day goes well with shuffling of dogs around for meals and potty breaks as well as some socialization exercises.  There appears to be some positive progress.


Later in the day, I had put Luca in the open crate to let Kirin run around for a bit.  We like the open crate in the living room area because it allows for safe interaction and correction if needed.  It is a large crate with steel bars that has full visibility all around.  I had given Luca a bone to chew on in the crate to give her something to do while the puppy was playing.  At this point all other toys are put away to avoid resource guarding.  I thought that the bone was not going to be an issue because it was in the crate and in her space.  Kirin wandered close to the crate and Luca lunged and barked viciously at him.  I tapped her with the E-collar and told her NO!  I was upset at this point, I do not like having to take it to that level, and do not like having to use strong corrections, but we had to get the message across that her behavior was very unacceptable.  In hindsight, what happened was partially my fault.  Luca was laying in the open crate with a bone and I saw the bone being safely in her zone because the crate was there.  She felt differently but she still got a strong correction for lunging and being aggressive.  We will allow growls—using your words we call it, but limit it to low growls.

Evening walk- George walked Luca and Kirin together.  We were prepared to give Luca a correction with the E-collar if needed.  They are closer together but with enough lead that they can stay away from each other if they so choose.  Luca, however did well and she received praise and treats for getting along well with the puppy.  Kirin, at this point, is starting to think Luca is pretty cool and wants to play with her, despite their rocky start and no positive feedback at all from Luca.

We once again repeated the puppy pile dominance exercise with Kirin and Luca, reinforcing with praise for accepting the puppy laying on her and stepping all over her.  We gave high value treats tonight for good behavior to up the ante for good behavior, Salmon skin! Treats for all positive interactions as well as lots of praise.  She is making some eye contact and looking at the puppy tonight.  Progress!


Day 5: Tuesday- Off to school and National Neighborhood night out

Morning walk-Mystic and Kirin walked by Shawna

Kirin had his first day at school with GeorgeThis gave him a chance for more socialization and gave Luca a break from having the puppy in the house.   It is important to note that when you are integrating new dogs, they should be able to get away and take a break from each other.  Everyone, animal or human, has a limited capacity for stress and if not given a break, will have less energy to give towards developing a positive relationship.  This is vital for difficult cases such as this, especially since we have been pushing Luca hard with the puppy pile dominance exercise and repeated socialization attempts, however short they may have been.

Evening walk-Luca and Kirin walked together and there is not so much as a growl.  Big sigh of relief after yesterday.  We are moving in a positive direction.   The E-collar never even came out of the box today and not even a strong correction was needed.  Far from out of the woods but definitely seeing the edge of the forest.  We are thinking at this point we MAY be able to trust her without the muzzle in a month or so without the muzzle.  Boy were we wrong…

Puppy pile dominance game with Kirin and Luca at home as well as at the park during our walk.  Tons of praise for accepting the puppy laying on her and stepping over her.  No corrections needed, not even a no.


Day 6: Wednesday

Morning Walk- Big dogs with George and Kirin with Shawna.  Kirin is allowed to walk up between the big dogs as much as he wants.  Even with their rough start, Kirin seems to favor Luca and really like her.  She seems to have gotten to the patient tolerance and acceptance stage at this point. 

Both dogs get a break from each other when Kirin goes to school with George. 

Kirin gets home and is greeted nicely by both dogs.  This evolves into a play bow by Luca and a very nice, gentle play session.  Later they actually lay next to each other on opposite sides of the gate.  We are thrilled!!

Evening walk-Tonight we shuffle dogs around and everyone interacts nicely.  No puppy pile dominance game because she seems to be accepting the puppy.

Thursday and Friday are a repeat of Wednesday with even more positive interaction.  Kirin is greeted by a play bow again and there is another short play sessions of chase and tag each day.  Luca does not play a whole lot but a little more each day. Luca is still muzzled but has not shown any aggression at this point and no growling as well.  Her body language and attitude are almost a complete opposite of what was shown during the initial interaction.  Feeling like there may be hope for a very happy ending. 

Saturday is a busy day.  Kirin has his first vet exam and then we have a funeral to attend, so puppy is in his crate and we leave Luca in a separate room while we are gone, even though she is doing well.  When we get home, everyone happily greets each other and is allowed to play. Mystic still ignores the puppy but Luca initiates a game of tug with the Kirin with one of his toys.  This evolves into a tug and keep away game, thoroughly enjoyed by both of them.  We allow them to do this several times throughout the day and the only correction we give is if she becomes too rough with the puppy For the most part, she seems to take into account that he is a puppy and plays gently with him by allowing him to win and not putting all her strength into the games she can easily win.  Not only are we almost out of the woods at this point, I think we see a lovely meadow!


Sunday starts off with a rousing game of tug and keep away.  After breakfast, we decide to take Luca’s muzzle off for their next play session.  In one week, we have managed to go from vicious aggression to best buddies.  The day is filled with repeated games of tug and keep away.  Mystic has never been one to play these types of games with Luca and now that she has figured out that Kirin loves to play, that lightbulb has gone on and she has realized that he is actually great to have around.

Three weeks in:

The friendship between the Kirin and Luca continues to blossom.  She is the tolerant playful big sister who will ignore his persistent puppy shenanigans and give the occasional correction growl, which is exactly what she should be doing.  She and Mystic are allowed to tell the pesky pup to back off when needed and we rarely step in.  The big dogs are praised for using their words and Kirin is redirected to another activity to support the big dogs in their vocal corrections.     Luca is so good with him now.  She falls over dramatically like he has managed to pull her to the ground and allows him stand over her and pretend to pin her by the neck.  She plays tug with him with just enough strength to give him a good fight but clearly with much less power than she is capable of using.  It makes us grin from ear to ear as we see her bring up a toy to Kirin for a game of tug.  We not only have our peaceful pack, we have a very happy pack!!


Happy Training!!

© Shawna Stone

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