The very first thing I want to do when I bring a new dog into my house for training, dog-sitting, or fostering is to walk that dog with the others already in the home. When I brought Barron (then Bart) home I left him in the car while I quickly ran in and grabbed Pippi and her leash, walked her to the car, and as quickly as possible I got him out of the car and started off on a brisk walk. Pippi is used to such a ritual and patiently followed along, but Barron was another matter. All he wanted in the world was to sniff Pippi for the remaining hours of the day (literally... he could have sniffer her poor golden butt for hours), but it was important that we not start out that way. I continued to ask him to walk beside me in a proper manner, just as she was doing, and to simply travel with us. There are a few reasons for this: 1. face to face greetings, in the dog world, are actually quite rude. As a puppy who is much larger than Pippi (about twice her size), it was imperative that I instruct him on how to be respectful of her right off the bat. I cannot have this young puppy thinking my 14 year old is a play thing, she needs me as her advocate, and that started from the very first meeting. 2. traveling is very bonding for dogs, and quickly established who is the leader based on who walks in front (that would be me).
After we had walked for a good 2 miles, I then had both dogs in a great mindset. Both were walking at my side, not in front of me. Both were looking to me for cues on where to go. Both had fantastic, happy, and relaxed traveling mindsets. That was the perfect time to do a greeting. At this point I gave them the release from walking in a "heel" (my release word is "free" which tells them that they can use the length of their leash, run around, go potty, sniff, whatever), and let them greet. Barron quickly grew over-excited and that was exactly when I cut the greeting off and moved on. Once they were again in balanced mindsets, I repeated this, and again cut it off once his excitement was more than she was comfortable with. I rewarded gentle and polite sniffs by allowing them to carry on with their interactions, and corrected rough sniffs, high chests, pawing, or any other over-excitement by going back to the discipline of a pack walk.
By the time we got back home, both dogs were simply willing to be together, and since that point, aside from a few correction for his over-excitement from time to time, we have had a flawless transition. I repeated this exercise the next day when a little Poodle mix named Maggie came to work with me for a few days, and again about a week later when he came with me to stay with a couple Newfoundlands (Dexter & Lumen) at their house for a little while. Abating the excitement of greetings, particularly when dealing with a new member who may be very large and not know the rules, can be the key to avoiding any misunderstandings, fights, or stress on your part. Thanks to rituals like these the dogs can bond in their own way while respectfully keeping me in the leader position, which makes for a perfectly balanced pack, no matter who joins us!
For now we are working hard on communicating to him that the world turns best when he is in a calm and responsive mindset. We are tackling his separation anxiety head on as well as his overall impulse control when it comes to things like chasing cats, squirrels, ducks, bunnies, other dogs, my brother, cows, deer... etc (lol). I have had to teach him the power of eye contact by waiting to release him from the kennel or a stay until he looks to me, and this has brought his behavior a long way already. He is a natural follower and happy-go-lucky dude with a healthy side of enforcer, so I am excited to see his potential shine in helping dogs with serious behavior issues. I also see him being a fantastic therapy dog, so in order to make that happen we work on commands and tricks, being able to walk very slowly and respectfully with or without a leash, and being calm and relaxed in all types of scenarios. At this stage, socialization and practice are what is going to make us a perfect team.
I am super excited to see where Barron and I can go over the coming years, and am thankful to those who have previously had him and Desi Tourville at Bella Conbrio Cane Corso for thinking of me when he needed a home. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but he is already a great fit for me and a wonderful dude. I can't wait to see him follow in Pippi's footsteps as my right hand in helping other dogs! Both Pippi and I are enjoying his presence and love watching him grow. I have to send a shoutout to Pip for her incredible patience and all that she is teaching him that I never could. Dogs make the best teachers if we let them :)