DOG QUEST: Introduction – The Amos and Abby Show

At the start of this year, we had one (1) dog.

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Amos enjoying the cool kitchen slate on a very hot day.

This is Amos, our two year old Rottweiler. At two years old, he’s not grown up yet. He’s still very excitable and bouncy. He thinks everyone wants to be his friend (which can be a problem, since he has a “Play with me!” bark and, being a rottie, that bark sounds anything but playful to the uninitiated. And no, this isn’t a naïve dog owner saying “schnoogy woogums just wants to play with you!” There’s a whole lot of body language involved and trust me, I know what his unfriendly bark sounds like…). He understands that he is not supposed to jump, but sometimes his enthusiasm gets the better of him. He sits before he comes inside. He sits before he gets food, which he won’t eat until he’s told that he’s allowed. He does drop, and stand, and will hold these positions until released (as long as it’s not for too long. We’re working on it). He knows he can’t steal food or, in fact, anything from the coffee table, and he respects the psychological barrier.

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The gate between “Dog Territory” and “Cat Territory” (we have elderly cats. Having to deal with bouncy young enormous dogs is a bit too much for them)

For a rottweiler, that is a psychological barrier. He could go over it or straight through it, but he is not allowed. It even worked when all we had was this…

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“OH NOES! My human is on one side of the plank! I am on the other! I am not allowed to cross the plank! WOE AND DESPAIR!”

He knows that if tooth touches skin even in play, even if it’s an accident, then play time is over and he is in big trouble. He will spend some time working out the best way to jump for the tug toy without accidentally getting a hand.

He knows to sit quietly and raise his paws when I want to put his car harness on him. He turns his head and opens his mouth when I want to give him pills. If he has something he shouldn’t have, and I tell him “Out!”, he knows to drop it (and usually he gets a reward if he does so. He sometimes guards resources, so we have to really reinforce that behaviour).

His recall is… not great… (read: fucking terrible, yes, that’s our fault entirely) so he’s not allowed off lead when out and about. If he is distracted, he often sees obedience as optional and has to be reminded that it is a command, not a request. He heels and walks quite well once he settles down.

He’s a big, goofy, licky, drooling, enthusiastic, 40 kg pain in the bum, but he’s basically a good boy and a clever dog and I love him to bits.

It’s March now, of 2014.

We now have two (2) dogs. Here’s the new one:

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Abby, post-surgery and high on morphine. Photo taken by her carer at Homeless Hounds just before we picked her up (Abby, not the carer). Just as an aside, she looks this goofy even when she isn’t stoned.

This is the lovely Abby. She is cruising into eleven months old now, and was between nine and ten months when we got her [edit: recent evidence on the vet desexing certificate suggests she might be a couple of months younger than we thought]. She is very fluffy where Amos is smooth; her head is more rounded (she still has rottie puppy head – it will flatten out a bit, but not as much because she is, firstly, a girl and secondly, more of an American line rottie than an Australian line. Australian line rotties tend to be more like the German rotties, just a bit smaller); she is amazingly gangly just as he is starting to fill out properly; and as near as I can tell her ears are about as big as her head (her tongue is also way bigger than one would expect and she uses it with wild abandon).

Her feet are also very large. We suspect she will exceed Amos in size.

She has a tendency to tilt her head at you and have her tongue lolling sideways out of her mouth, at which point we refer to her as Moon Moon. Suddenly we look at our “goofy” dog Amos, and he takes on an air of dignity and nobility in contrast (as I have said elsewhere, then he will fart loudly or lick his penis and the spell is broken).

Moon Moon

Moon Moon

We forgot what this age [edit: see above, “ten months” might be “eight months” which would explain the level of dufus] was like for a dog. We’d forgotten how much Amos has grown up and settled down over the last year.

We adopted Abby from Homeless Hounds. They took wonderful care of her, but the signs of neglect were still upon her (we adopted her before they even advertised her). She had untreated fly-strike on her ears, a low-grade ear infection (and thanks to Susan at HH for the eardrops), was severely underweight (not as underweight as some rescue dogs, but still way, way too skinny for a growing rottie), was missing part of her tail and, unsurprisingly, had a certain amount of separation anxiety.

Here’s how it happened. Husband and I had been checking PetRescue religiously on a daily basis in search of the rescue dog we wanted. There was a dog we were going to go and see – a Great Dane x Mastiff – that we were excited about, but Husband still kept checking the websites. He came across a rottie cross, contacted them, and was told that, since this was a rottie cross working line (Huntaway – New Zealand herding dog I hadn’t heard of before), it probably wouldn’t be suitable for us (high prey drive, we have low fences, don’t go running or riding with a dog generally), but they had three female purebred rotties that were looking for homes…

We got the callback as we were heading home during the heatwave, on the M1, and made a quick exit from the freeway to go and meet this Abby dog.

I still call her Abby-dog.

We had Amos in the car (due to the over 40°C temperatures, we’d taken Amos in to Husband’s work where there is substantial air conditioning. Rotties are not good in the heat – they can get very sick), and our main concern was will he try to hump her and freak her out? (he had not been desexed by this stage, although he has been now. That’s a topic for another post) As well as will he act up and embarrass us and make the foster carer think we can’t train a dog to save ourselves?

As it turns out, the answer to both questions was no, but it most likely reflected more on the fact that it was very hot and Amos was lethargic as hell than on our amazing dog handling skills. He was interested in Abby, had a sniff and a lick, and the tails wagged companionably, but he was just too tired to get excited about anything.

It quickly became apparent that this dog was extraordinarily sweet-natured and a bit needy. Husband knelt down to give her a pat, and Abby’s immediate response was to curl up against his chest. LOVE ME.

We may have melted into a puddle of dog-loving goo.

We slept on it, but the decision was made, and we ended up emailing the carers for the other dog to cancel, not wanting to waste their time, and taking Abby home the next day. If that seems fast, we’d already done all the hard thinking on “Do we want a second dog?” and “What sort of dog do we want to adopt?” After that, the question “Do we want this particular dog?” is a lot easier, and simply involved a quick trip to a pet supply warehouse for a new harness, lead, crate blanket, and bag of puppy food suitable for a young dog.

The first week of having two dogs was utter chaos. I won’t lie. It was fucking horrible. We thought we were going absolutely stark raving bonkers.

First of all, due to the heatwave, Amos got gastro and started leaving puddles of diarrhoea indoors (apparently, this happens in very hot weather. Dogs always eat things they shouldn’t, like wombat poo  – just for example – and in hot weather the cultures of bacteria and whatnot that like to live in wombat poo – just for example, I said – are rather more robust than in normal temperatures, leading to stomach upsets). Euw. Euw. There was a moment where Husband I stood over one such leaving, glancing over at our dog who was slumped on the couch looking utterly miserable and sick and sorry for himself (we anthropomorphised a nice thought bubble that said “I pooped inside. I am bad. I feel sick. I can’t believe I pooped inside…”), and wondered exactly how we were supposed to clean it up. I mean, liquid, yes, we can mop that… solids, sure, that’s easy… but this was an unholy fusion of the two concepts and oh God this is not how we wanted to start the day…

Meanwhile, at the same time, Abby had just been desexed. We’d brought her home while she was still doped up on morphine (as a consequence, she had a tendency to actually fall off the car seat, even though she was harnessed in. This was both worrying and hilarious). Her bladder control was affected and she’d managed to pee in her crate (she looked miserable and horrified by this, but again, we could be anthropomorphising, since there’s probably a strong human tendency to assume that any dog that smells like its own urine is probably ashamed of itself).

Even a day or two later, she still was a bit confused about the toilet training concept. We think she’s more or less got it now, but judging from a few cues, we are fairly sure that her previous neglectful owner mostly kept her outside and thus she was never effectively toilet trained. I think I went through about 2.5 litres of Urine-Off in the first two weeks before we got a good system going. With puppies, you know you take them outside after playing, after sleeping, when you let them out of the crate, and after food, and if you wait long enough, soon enough the excretory magic will happen. Not so the adolescent dog, who just looks at you in confusion, because, unlike a puppy, they don’t have a bladder the size of a pea.

The separation anxiety also meant that, the minute one opened the crate door, you were generally pounced on by 30 kgs (yes, it should be more. She’s up to 32 kgs now and we’re increasing the amount of food as well) of needy desperate canine love. Abby had a tendency (now thankfully settled) to launch herself into the air, limbs flying out in all directions like a spectacularly uncoordinated audition for a Toyota ad, and land on you where you sat on the couch. Cute, yes. Also painful.

So in that first week, once she recovered from her surgery, Abby was desperate to interact and play. And pee everywhere. Amos was sick as a dog (forgive me), or rather, sick as a dog with gastro, and exhausted, and now his house smelt like another dog’s urine (to be fair, we weren’t happy about that either), who kept crawling all over his people and jumping on him when he felt sick. The first day, they played happily, and we had a hell of a time keeping Abby as quiet as she needed to be after major abdominal surgery. After that, Amos had absolutely no time for her.

We worried that we had made a terrible mistake – that Amos really didn’t like her, and didn’t actually want to live with another dog after all (in spite of all other indications in his behaviour prior to that). The first couple of nights we discovered that, as we were warned, Abby would express her loneliness and confusion in the crate with a despairing little howowowowwwwwl.

On top of that, we had honestly forgotten what having a young dog was like, and we learned what it was like to have a dog – even a sweet-natured dog – who had not been taught good behaviour since puppyhood. Abby steals things from the table. She jumps up to steal things from the bench. She tries to push her way inside. She mouths (note: she does not bite or chew people. She does mouth at them, although less than she did since I shout at her a lot when she does). She jumps. She whacks everything, including people, with her paws (working on that one. Amos never did it, so it’s new).

We started to think that, if we couldn’t handle two dogs, we should probably never, ever have kids.

Then Amos got over his gastro (after a ridiculous vet bill that, as an aside, led to us changing vets).

And Abby started to work out that peeing was an outside activity.

And everything just got better.

The first time we saw Abby stalking Amos around the kennel outside, and Amos play-bowing at her, his tail wagging furiously – words cannot describe the relief. Alright. Thank fucking Christ. They like each other. They get along. I have caught Amos licking Abby’s ear affectionately (he does this to me, and Husband, and other dogs he really likes. Abby’s ears are now very clean and pink). They wrestle. They play tug with sticks. They chase each other around madly. Abby has stopped howling in the crate (she occasionally runs straight into it when she is hungry, as that’s where I feed her). They both enjoy their training. Abby is less needy – we miss the excessive snuggles, but it means she is more confident. We are working on teaching them that exuberant play is for outdoors only, but it’s a work in progress.

There are so many stories to tell, but this is long enough. It’s still a lot of work to have two dogs, and while, for the most part, Abby learns good behaviour from Amos, Amos has also learned a few dodgy habits from Abby, but we’re mostly on top of that. We take them to training every weekend and work with them throughout the week.

And I bought Abby a life jacket so she could learn to swim properly (otherwise she just flails her front paws around madly and panics).

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Abby in her life jacket. As we explained to the rather puzzled man at the creek with the English bulldog, no, we are not concerned about her drowning in two feet of water, we just want her to learn to swim.

Half price because it’s a discontinued colour – she’s much more confident in the water, and I can see her from a distance.

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