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Life with Dogs and Cats

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Two's company, three's a pack

When Jasper and Lilah first came to live with us, they were nearly the same size, though Lilah was a month and a half older than her “brother.” Those additional weeks--and the maturity that came along with them--allowed her to outwit and outmaneuver Jasper, and enabled her to show her alpha side. As they got older and Jasper began to outweigh her, he began using his size as an advantage, playing a little rougher. It was no longer Lilah always chasing Jasper; sometimes it was the reverse. I think Jasper still thought of himself as the “little brother,” though, and would acquiesce to Lilah’s demands, dropping a Frisbee instantly when she came running after him, or giving up the ball that he--and his long long legs--had painstakingly retrieved from all the way across the yard.

Siblings in perfect balance 
There was a balance between the two of them. They obviously loved each other, and got along well. Lilah’s favorite way of showing affection toward her brother was to clean his ears. At first he would floppity his head and get up and walk away, annoyed. But over time, Miss Persistent Lilah would try and try again, and eventually, Lilah could clean Jasper’s ears and he would lay there with a pleased and blissful look on his face, enjoying the attention.
When there were two...Jasper and Lilah snuggling on the couch.

Rarely was there an argument between the two dogs; there were only a few play growls when tugging toys between the two of them. And that was a recent development; in the past, if Lilah wanted a toy that Jasper had, she would either simply take it, or distract Jasper with another toy, enticing him to drop the one she wanted and to go for the one she had. It worked every time.

And then came Tucker.
Himself: Mr. Tucker

The power shifts when puppy makes three
The balance of power was toppled when the stable shared relationship of two had to adapt to number three. 

If you had asked me a month ago who was the alpha in the Lilah / Tucker pack, I would have said Lilah. She out-thought Jasper. She could stare him down. She could make him drop a toy just by looking at him. 

Today, though, it’s Jasper who is in charge. Paws down. The dude. The comfort hound. The dog who finds standing a chore and has to lean his long lanky body against a wall because his lengthy legs just get so tired holding up his body.

It was a fascinating transition to watch. Like something in a NatGeo or Nature program, where you’re watching a wolf pack or a pride of lions. I could hear the voice over in my head: “Watch how the alpha stands over the rest of the pack members to show his dominance.” Only these were my dogs, and it was all unfolding in front of me.

The new dog enters the picture
It began the minute Tucker entered our yard. Jasper and Lilah, while used to other dogs visiting, instantly knew this dog was different. When we brought Tucker home, Brian, Corinne and Aaron had let Lilah and Jasper into the back yard, before I brought him in. The dogs sniffed everyone top to bottom, and could smell The New Dog on them. So when I brought Tucker into the back yard, it was That’s Him!

Jasper’s hackles went up instantly; I hadn’t seen them in months, when he was still quite young and couldn’t quite control himself. And he started playing with Tucker--really, really roughly. Then Lilah joined in, and while it looked like play at first, I could tell that some serious messages were being delivered. This is Our Yard. These are Our Sticks. This is My Brother. This is My Sister. These are Our People. We are In Charge.
The chase: Jasper and Lilah give the little guy some aerobic exercise.

Now Tucker thought it was all fun--even as he was doing somersaults when Jasper body checked him. He would hide behind a shrub when he felt it was a little rough, but would gamely run out to play after a quick breather.
Lilah fast on Tucker's heels.

There was no animosity. No anger. No bullying. Just dogs explaining the playground rules to the new kid.

It looks like Jasper is about to take a chunk out of Tucker, but Jasper is very measured in his play bites.

At first it was difficult to watch. I felt bad for Tucker when he would go tumbling head over tail. But he didn’t seem troubled. And I couldn’t understand why friendly, easygoing Jasper was being so hard on the baby. So I would step in and break it up when I thought the play was a little too rough.

And then it came to me; Jasper was making a play for pack leader, now that there was an actual pack, instead of just him and his sister. And the best thing I could do for Tucker was to support Jasper as leader, giving him the confidence that he was the acknowledged alpha, so that he didn’t feel he had to work so hard to prove it.

Jasper takes the lead 
So that’s what we did. I--and everyone else in the family--began to treat Jasper like he was truly the Leader of the Pack. We greeted Jasper first when we came into the house. Jasper got his treats first, he went out the door first, he got fed first. With our actions, we were saying, “All hail Jasper, his Dudeness, the Alpha Dog.”

And it worked. Within a day or so, Jasper visibly slacked off on his roughness with Tucker. His hackles showed up less and less. The tone of play relaxed dramatically. And then Tucker finally got the message and began to learn appropriate puppy manners. He showed belly when Jasper got rough--and Jasper would ease up instantly. Tucker would approach Jasper low and slightly submissive. He would lick Jasper’s muzzle, and snuggle up to him.
Tucker gives belly to Jasper.

Taking lessons in doggy manners 
Inside the house, there were additional lessons to be learned. Do Not Take Jasper’s bone. It is Jasper’s. Do not put your nose in Lilah’s food bowl. It is Lilah’s. And all the cute bellies in the world won’t really change that. I watched as Tucker would sidle up to Lilah, doing a wormy slinky crawl, roll over and try to put a paw on a toy or bone that was currently in use and spoken for. Lilah would freeze and growl. Tucker would wiggle. The growl would get more intense. So would the wiggling. Until eventually, Tucker would wiggle too much, and Lilah would bark loudly, and Tucker would suddenly change his mind and decide another bone was best. For now.
Tucker is doing the low crawl, aiming for that bone you see underneath Lilah.
Now he's trying the belly roll and the gentle paw on the face.
Tucker's last, desperate ploy: Total Belly. Lilah seems a bit puzzled, but not impressed.

Once, Tucker and Jasper were playing tug. Except it was with Jasper’s favorite toy of the moment--a stuffed emu--and Jasper really didn’t want to tug. He just wanted the emu. So Jasper growled at Tucker, who thought, “Cool, we’re playing growly tug,” and promptly growled back. Jasper growled, “No this isn’t a game. I. Want. My. Emu.” To which Tucker promptly growled back and tugged harder. Finally, Jasper opened his mouth and let loose an enormous bark that not only startled Tucker into letting go, but startled the barker himself, and Jasper laid down, stunned at the loud noise he had produced. He lay there quite puzzled and unnerved, with the emu between his front paws. Lilah the Peacemaker walked up to her brother Jasper and licked him on his face, nuzzling him and cleaning his ears. “It’s alright, Jasper. You’re okay.”

And then Tucker took the emu.
Tucker claims the emu as his prize.

Sweet Lilah steps up and teaches a thing or two
Lilah, for her part, quickly understood that Jasper was in charge, and immediately stopped taking balls and Frisbees from him. She was totally cool with The Dude in charge. She was completely supportive. But then she had to figure out her status with the pup. And Tucker, who was only ten pounds lighter than her, is a persistent little pest. Lilah has had to growl him away from her food, her toys, her bones. She’s learned to use her ten-pound advantage and slam him when needed in a game of chase. And just a few days ago, Tucker started letting Lilah clean his ears. Acceptance. Friendship. Love.
Lilah cleaning Tucker's ear.

Today, everyone seems to have settled into their places. Tucker still tries to weasel a bone or a toy away from Lilah and Jasper. And he loves to nibble and gnaw on his older siblings. I’m amazed at how tolerant they are of his mouthiness. But watch them all together, and you see genuine affection. Lots of muzzle licks all around. All three dogs tend to sleep either on or near each other. And in the morning when Tucker is let out of his pen, Jasper and Lilah gather around to sniff, lick, nuzzle and wag their greetings.
Sleepy boys.
Snuggling his sister.

A pack of our own: Jasper, Lilah and Tucker
I love watching the interactions among the three dogs; I’ve seen Discussions and Negotiations that didn’t take place when I only had two. Jasper has increased his confidence, and is a wonderful, fair and surprisingly effective leader. I never would have expected it. He steps in if Lilah or Tucker are too rough with each other; he will let Tucker take his bones and toys now and again, as an obvious benevolent act. He’s more affectionate with Lilah now, and she’s loving it. As for Lilah, I have a feeling that when Tucker gets older, he’ll take a place above her; his personality is a bit too strong, I think, to stay on the bottom rung. But I don’t think Lilah will care, as long as she has someone to play with, and ears to clean.
A trio of Cute.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Getting to Know Tucker, Part II: Tucker and His Furry Family

It's amazing to watch the relationships among all the animals in our family change and adapt as Tucker finds his place. There is genuine affection from Jasper and Lilah toward him. And Tucker simply adores his older brother and sister. The cats have come to realize that this new dog is part of the pack and have begun to accept him. There have been occasions of mutual sniffs, but also a few hisses and slaps. That said, Dawn and Athena now feel comfortable enough to take a nap in close proximity to The New Dog, and have even been caught rubbing up against him, though, to date, they both insist it was a case of mistaken dog identity.
 Often there are Discussions on whose stick belongs to whom, but sometimes it's okay to share it.

  Lilah and Tucker can seem to be evenly matched, but really Lilah is taking it easy on him. She can body check Jasper and knock him off his feet if she wants.

  Tucker learns quite a bit by watching his big brother and sister. Lilah has shown him the best place for watching birdies.

 Sometimes a sister makes a good pillow.

And sometimes a brother is a good pillow, too. (That's Jasper's back on the right.)

Tucker is happy to reciprocate.

Jasper is a great tug partner as well. Except when he Really Wants His Elephant. And then he lets Tucker know about it. And then Tucker finds a new toy...temporarily.

 It's also fun to chew sticks with Jasper, because he likes Big Sticks. If Jasper does something, it's probably Fun, and Tucker loves to do what his big brother does.

Tucker found a new toy and brought it to Jasper so they could play with it together. Jasper's face tells the story: "That is Not a Toy. We're gonna get in trouble..."

Tucker in his brother's shadow, but temporarily.

The trio do quite a bit as a unit. The rule here is to stop at the top of the steps...

...then sit quietly while I take off the leashes. Nobody moves until they are told, "Okay!"
Tucker, Lilah and Jasper run a merry game of chase when they're outside; most often it's hard to tell who is chasing whom.

But they all come running when called. Those smiles are genuine, not photoshopped.

When it's time to go back in the house, all three gather by the door.

And then it's nap time on the dog
Tucker tries to understand Dawn and Athena. He is completely puzzled over why crinkly brown paper is just so darn exciting. Actually, so are the rest of us.
Tucker is learning to use a gentle touch with the cats. Dawn will tell you he hasn't perfected it yet.
But that doesn't stop her from snuggling on a blanket when it's nap time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Getting to Know Tucker, Part I: Dog Meets World

It's hard to believe Tucker has been with us a mere week and a half. We're all getting to know him; we already love him. The pictures below provide a glimpse into his personality; he is mischevious, curious, funny, loving, playful, friendly and silly.
 There's something about his eyes; he looks right at you and you know there's a story waiting to be told.

Outside, Tucker's nose misses very little. He can sit and sniff the breeze or follow a scent trail, nose to ground.

Like Jasper, Tucker is a comfort hound, seeking out the softest, cushiest spots in the house and claiming them for his own.

He is peripatetic pup, our Tucker, so rainy days can be frustrating as there is just not enough room in our house to run wild. Though that doesn't stop him from trying.

Tucker loves to explore. He followed one of the cats under our bed, and found it to be a fascinating place from which to watch the world go by. Dawn was Not Pleased.

A crate is not a happy place when the door is closed, but when it's open, what a great place to stretch out and relax for a sleepy puppy.

Jasper and Lilah love to jump up and run around on our shade garden wall. Tucker will join them soon, I'm sure, when he gets a little more control over his gangly body. In this picture, I swear I can hear him saying, "I'll have a Guiness."

Normally well behaved, Tucker had me fooled into thinking I could leave him unsupervised while I took a shower. Jasper's bed was a casualty, but it sure was fun to shred.

If Jasper likes it, Tucker does too. The emu is a favorite toy, and Tucker rests his head on his prize, having successfully weaseled it out of Jasper's paws.

One can simply never have too many bones.

Or maybe an antler to chew on. I swear it looks like he's an old man with a pipe...perhaps stuffed with Longbottom Leaf?

Oh, the places he'll go! We are so thrilled Tucker joined our family and are truly enjoying getting to know this awesome little guy, as we watch him grow and learn. Stay tuned for further adventures...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And Then There Were Three

I knew it was only a matter of time. Jasper and Lilah were growing up; Lilah was becoming quite the young lady, very well mannered, and there were only slight vestiges of her skittishness left, really only apparent to those of us who knew her when she was younger. Jasper, the comfort hound, was also settling down, although he still is a work in progress, as the natural exuberance stuffed into his solid 53-pound body still boils over when introduced to new people...well, any people, or dogs. Normally calm and actually quite lazy, Jasper is instantly energized when he says hello to...anyone.

I have been talking about the possibility of a third dog for quite some time. I never had three dogs, yet somehow, it felt like I should stay open to the idea. I was pretty sure we’d adopt Number Three eventually, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I figured when the right dog came around at the right time, I’d adopt him or her. I was guessing that this might all take place when my son heads off to college in 2012, as I predicted the Empty Nest Syndrome to hit me big time.

In the mean time, I would periodically scroll through the pictures on or so much looking, as just maybe window shopping; there was no real intention to “buy.”

However, a month or so ago, I had this really powerful dream that a dog--a puppy--came looking for me, and when he joined our family, it was complete. The adorable little thing had a roundish puppy belly, with these cute little brown patchy spots. The next day, I was curious; maybe the dog in my dream exists; on a whim, I visited the two sites...because, well, you never know. I was looking for that belly.

As I looked at all the faces--and puppy bellies--as usual, I thought I could take nearly any one of them home.  Though, now I realized that with two cats in the house, my choices were more limited. I couldn’t even consider any pup whose description didn’t say he or she was good with cats.

And then, I saw The Face. It wasn’t the same dog in the dream. (I mean, folks, this is reality, not fiction or film.) But still, I saw this dog on and knew he was meant to come live with me. Hmmmm. Wait a minute. Perhaps I should read the description before I fell madly in love with a picture. "Good with children." Check. "Good with other dogs." Check. "Good with cats." Check.

A little over a month later, Brian, Aaron, Corinne and I were sitting in our minivan in a Chili’s parking lot in Flemington, New Jersey waiting to actually meet “Jack.”  I had been in almost-daily contact with his foster, as the dog was in North Carolina, having been pulled from a shelter by a rescue organization, Saving Fur Kids Rescue. Over time, I saw pictures of the puppy, learned he really was as good as his description, and felt pretty comfortable that he was going to fit right in to our menagerie--human, canine and feline.

On the drive to Flemington, I had told all family members that if anyone got a bad feeling about the dog, or felt it was really wrong, he or she could veto the adoption right then and there. But I wasn’t worried; if this dog was for us, it would be pretty obvious; we’re all dog people and can read animals quite well.

A van pulled into the parking lot, and a woman waved to us. In the back of the car, we could see a doggy head. “Jack” jumped out, went immediately to Brian and gave him warm, sloppy puppy kisses. He then greeted each of us the same way, one at a time, as if to say, “Hey Family, where have you been and what took you so long?” 
We were all in love. Instantly.

And on the ride home, as the puppy snuggled onto Aaron’s lap, I caught a glimpse of his belly. In one small area, where he had been shaved for his neutering, there were cute little brown patchy spots.
That was a mere four days ago.
It is amazing how well the little guy, whom we renamed Tucker, fits into our family. (Why Tucker? He just looks like a Tucker, and everyone agreed on the name, which is really hard for us to do as a group--agree, that is.)
Jasper and Lilah were thrilled to have a new dog to play with; they zoomed around the yard, leaping and bouncing and wagging.

Athena was a little unsure at first, but eventually realized this was just another dog, and once she taught him that cats rule, he’d be okay. A few hisses and a growl made it quite clear. It was obvious that Tucker understood Athena, so he must have been told a thing or two by a cat in a previous encounter or two.

Dawn skedaddled up to the safety of the Underbed Cave in our room, where she would emerge every few hours or so to register a Complaint with The Management about unsavory guests and rude behavior. But she did come downstairs for Dinner. Grudgingly, but it was Dinner.
Today, only a few days after Tucker entered our lives, he is entirely part of our family.  The pictures tell the story.

Jasper posing with his new little brother.

Tucker and big sister Lilah.

Jasper, Tucker and Lilah.

Sharing a drink and maybe a little news at the water bowl.

On the lookout for squirrels.

 Athena inspecting the troops, and calculating a landing spot.

Lilah and Tucker playing.

Tucker sleepin' with his big brother.

 Tucker is ready for adventure--and love--in his new family.