The Story of Effie: Keeping Eagerness in Check

October 30, 2013 | By Mellie Test

I'm old enough to know myself very well. I recognize my effusive optimism in new endeavors. I recognize my "take action now, ask forgiveness later" mentality. I am aware that I focus on the positive and, when the happy juice seems to be flowing, I become less sensitive to warning signs.

Hence, checking myself. Repeatedly. And the mantra: Hold the brakes.

[caption id="attachment_744" align="alignright" width="300"] Ronan and Effie: A Better Start![/caption]

I nearly giggled in delight this afternoon. Bringing Effie outside while Ronan stood in the yard (he's become an enthusiastic sunbather since spring arrived - how did I survive without a back yard?!), they gravitated closer. Tails began wagging and, with a start, Effie bolted to the end of her leash, immediately pivoting and diving under Ronan. She rolled, exposing her belly to him. They rolled together and paused, his belly now exposed. A flurry of activity within a few seconds of frolic: to me, a good sign.

I allowed them to engage in three very short (as in a minute or two) play sessions. During each, Effie and Ronan seemed happy and energetic and eager to play together. I ended each session by cheerily calling Effie away while tugging her leash. Abby's reminded me that each interaction needs to end on a positive note, which means before I start to feel nervous about the progression.

It's difficult to remember to avoid getting caught up in the excitement: I was cheering for them in my mind! I noticed by the third session that they were almost deliriously energetic; the play seemed to be increasing in intensity and I began to feel edgy. On that note, I brought Effie away (they were more reluctant to leave each other that time) and ended their interaction.

I've already written about the importance of patience. If you've read the plan Abby created for us, you may remember that for this weekend, she suggested only beginning to integrate the dogs, and she only mentioned Stucky and Effie. She suggested integration with Ronan only after at least another week.

[caption id="attachment_745" align="alignright" width="298"] Giant grin![/caption]

I couldn't help myself; look at this girl! But the truth is, things could have gone wrong. Why such a drastic conclusion?

  • Fact: Effie and Ronan had two initial spats in the span of two days, before I begin Abby's plan.
  • Fact: Effie's cortisol levels are still soaring from three months in the shelter; her body remains on high alert.
  • Fact: Both dogs tend to excite easily; they have high prey drives and can be jumpy.
  • Fact: Both dogs use their mouths in a wrestling, rolling style of play.
  • Fact: Both dogs are young and may not be aware of the other's warning signals.
  • Fact: Excitement can turn into aggression in an instant.

In fact, Abby suggested I read this article on "proper" dog play, and I'm recognizing much of Ronan's behavior in the dog who plays too rough. After reading the article, I'm honestly not sure how often the play is mutual. I've seen Ronan barrel into a tucked-tail Stucky; I've seen Stucky's play with newcomers become edgier since he's been playing with Ronan.

I'll admit that I've appreciated their roughhousing, because tired dogs are happy dogs, right? Especially now that I've added a third dog to the pack, it's going to be essential to know when to stop their play to keep things manageable (and safe).

I'm going to begin some short back yard play sessions with Effie and Stucky. They seem fine milling about the house at the same time (except in proximity to food or toys, so I'm taking care to keep those out of the mix). I'll continue carefully monitoring their play, and I'll keep Effie on a lead in order to break up any potential skirmishes more quickly.

As encouraged as I am by Effie and Ronan's brief, playful interactions over the last 24 hours, I'm resisting accelerating their integration. Their best chance for long-term success will be after Effie's three weeks of hormonal "shelter detox" conclude. I may extend the integration period even further, since their progress may be interrupted by my business trip to DC for the BlogPaws 2013 Pet Blogging & Social Media Conference. I'm taking precautions so we have a safe (and lasting) foundation!

Stay tuned for more in-depth observations on dog play, as well as additional resources provided by Abby (Effie's ACCT Pen Pal)!

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