Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Adventures of Snickers and Lorna: Part Two

Some of you will remember a post from a few months ago, in which I introduced our two newest family members: Litter-mate, Goldendoodle pups named Snickerdoodle and Lorndoone. You might also remember that the post was mostly focused on the fact that when we got them home and I started poking around on the Internet for pointers on raising litter-mate puppies, the advice I unearthed ranged from cautionary to downright horrifying; in short, one was a fool to have gotten litter-mate puppies and the results could span eventualities from chaos to (I kid you not) death.

My conclusion was that since we had committed to this we had no choice but to hang in and do our best. These were two little lives in our hands, and, right or wrong, we had purchased them together. You can read the details here, but the main issues the online writers presented was fear of something called "hyper-bonding." Hyper-bonding is when two pets (usually litter-mates) bond to each other and don't really care about their humans, making them, therefore, hard or even impossible to train.

As I said in the last post, my wife and I have had dogs all our lives. We are good with them. So, despite having been shaken by the shock of my research, we went right into the loving and the training, times two.

Anyone with dogs knows that pups, like children, are not rolls of the dice. One must guide them into proper behavior. The advice we took (from the reasonable online writers, one of whom we know from having read a book she wrote) was this: (if you have made the mistake of adopting litter-mates) feed, walk and have them sleep separately. The goal is to teach the pups that it is okay for them to be separated and to allow them to develop their separate identities. We have done this for two months. Not with stentorian rigidity, by the way. Mostly, we walk them separately, but my philosophy is that they need to learn that all configurations are okay: alone, together, both mom and dad; just mom or dad; one or both of our sons...etc. Still, we lean toward separate walks. They eat at the same time and in the same room, but we watch them and keep them separate.

The results (in progress):

Individual personalities? Check. Lorna (the light-colored one) is a sweet, playful scamp with springs for legs who responds immediately when we call her. Snickers (the darker one) is a sassy little thing, who is also playful and is very much into lovingly cuddling with her humans, but who has to sometimes be carried in out of the yard because she'd rather chew grass than respond. They are very much their own dogs.

Bonding with humans? Check. They simply adore us. (And most other humans.) Each morning, after they go out and before they have breakfast, we spend some floor-time, during which they climb into our laps and collapse under the joyful warmth of belly-rubs. They frolic with glee when my sons are around and they remember and love all of their "grandparents." Both pups will regularly, when out in the yard, look around and check for our presence, often running over to get few ear-scratches before going back out to play. On walks, they each look up at us regularly for approval/reassurance.

Obedience? A work in progress, but good progress made. They are both (knock-on-wood) housebroken already and they both sit, lie down (mostly) and come when called, for the most part. We're working on "wait" with them, but they do okay with it. They both obey when told to leave something alone (the "leave it" command). They walk well on their leads, most of the time with slack on the lines.

Other dogs? They have puppy class once per week now and they love to play with the other dogs; no fighting. When they are out on walks, they love to meet other dogs, and, outside of driving those dogs occasionally crazy with their puppy energy, they do pretty well.

Being alone? They have spent as long as six hours in their crates when we have had to go out and seem to be just fine with it. Each night, as I said, they sleep in their own crates with no complaint (other than not wanting very much to get in at first).

They get along great together, playing a lot, sleeping a lot, and grooming each other from time to time, but they have no qualms about going their own way, either when required to or voluntarily.

Is this a conclusion? No. We have a way to go, of course. But I feel more confident now.

One might ask how this fits into the Hats and Rabbits milieu. Well, I recently wrote about the panic that we can develop when we look through small "windows" like TV and the Internet. Each thing that the doomsayers pointed out makes some sense, but it is all theoretical or anecdotal. Nothing was empirical, yet one "expert" was comfortable calling someone who asked him about litter-mate pups a "jerko--" for having adopted them.

The best of the writers went only so far as to say that she has a feeling that litter-mate pups would see their humans as kill-joys and while they might well like their humans, they probably would not listen to them. Well, here we are: so far, so good.

(Some, by the way, write about "litter-mate syndrome." That is not a documented condition, so, it you are here only for the dog advice, bear that in mind. Some of the people online use it as if it is a clinically evidenced thing. It is not. It's a theory.)

When we made our first visit to the vet, he never batted an eye about Snickers and Lorna being sisters. (I'd read stories of people being lambasted by their vets for bringing in litter-mate pups.) I even asked him his view on the idea. He simply said to train them to the degree we want them trained. That's it. Their being sisters seemed irrelevant to him. They are dogs, he said; they are food and affection-driven. And he said something very well; something I have said for years, but not so succinctly: "Remember, you have dogs. Dogs don't have you." (For the record, by the way, this vet is also an author and TV/radio personality who had appeared on Oprah. Not that appearing on Oprah is a guarantee of credentials -- I mean, Trump did it -- but the point is, this guy has thought deeply about this stuff.)

For me, this all just comes back to the idea that one must trust one's reasoning and instincts. It's tempting, with Google sitting there, to want to reach out for every answer. We need to look in, more. As a dog dad, I have things that make me suited for the job: love, patience, observation, empathy and the strength of will it takes to properly discipline creatures whom I love.

Around the corner the are challenges to come. I'll be back to tell you how we faced them and what the results were. But I can say this: this is clearly not a lost cause or a no-win. This can be done, if one has the qualities listed above. I would not recommend adoption of litter-mate pups to first time pet owners, but to those with experience, it is clearly not as dire as the Interwebs depict.

Will these two be trained as well as out last solo dog? We shall see. If they are not, will that have been the result of their being litter-mates? We shall (maybe) see. But I'd rather take responsibility for the outcome than blame it on that.

Part three of this series, to come.

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