Friday, January 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Dogs

This past July, Nathan and I adopted a three month old, 25 pound half lab, half Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy with a super awesome Mohawk, who we proceeded (after a solid week of debate) to name Calvin. 

Our first dog, Seamus, was six years old and very set in his ways. Seamus had gotten into a routine of spending his days sleeping on the couch and his nights sleeping on the bed, with daily walks and trips to the park thrown in for good measure. He had a great life and he liked it just the way it was. When we brought Calvin home, he was visibly annoyed. It didn't help that Calvin was a puppy who'd been abandoned on my favorite running trail and had zero social skills - all he wanted to do was jump, whine and chew - on your legs, your hands, your shoes and, if you're Seamus, on your face. There was a lot of barking and growling in those first weeks, and because Calvin was so focused on Seamus I felt like we had no chance to bond. Plus every time I tried to pet or cuddle with him, he gnawed on my hands with his needle sharp puppy teeth. No pleasant.

As the weeks turned to months, Calvin and Seamus began to make peace with one another. We kept them separated in the day time - Calvin stayed in the kitchen behind a baby gate - and when they were around each other, they started to play more. They have a huge rope toy that is nearly three feet long, and they each grab one end and tug on it, growling and whipping their heads around until one dog wins, only to bring the rope back so they can start the game again. When they're finally worn out, they're okay with sharing the bed, even if they have to lean on one another. (Seamus gets annoyed with the leaning thing. Calvin likes to use Seamus as a pillow. Calvin is lucky Seamus is so patient!)

In addition to calming down, understanding the rhythms of our life, and finally letting me cuddle with him (he's a total cuddle bug now, and will let me coo over and rock him for hours) Calvin also grew. At his last visit to the vet he topped the scales at 85 pounds, and I can no longer tell the dogs apart by size alone. I have to actually look at their faces, which are very distinct and different (at least to me).

Seamus' transition from being a single dog to an older brother hasn't been easy. Learning to share the couch, the bed, our attention, his toys, his treats and his food bowl, all with a puppy hanging from the skin of his face and barking in his ear, begging him to play, was rough. To make it easier on our old man, we gave him special privileges - he was always fed first, he got to sleep on the bed, Calvin was locked away in the day time, etc. Eventually, Seamus got used to Calvin and now they get along fine. There's still some tension, mostly when we have guests over and both the dogs are showing off and vying for their attention, but mostly it's a peaceful co-existence. Also, Seamus is much more active now that we have a puppy in the house. The dogs wrestle, play, and go on multiple walks a day. All these things are good news for an old dog!

And Calvin! Calvin has made leaps and bounds. He's still a puppy, so there are still days where I want to strangle him (such as this morning, when he wanted us to wake up at 5am and when we didn't, proceeded to tear up a piece of plastic into unidentifiable bits. I hope it wasn't an important piece of plastic). 80% of the time, though, he is sweet and funny and silly, climbing in your lap, rolling on to his back so you can rub his belly, and greeting everyone he meets with exuberance and excitement. We no longer lock him up in the kitchen when we go to work - he's housebroken (has been since the second week - the one area where he excelled immediately!) and hasn't destroyed anything (too) important in weeks. Also, when I come home Seamus has been sleeping on the couch and Calvin takes the bed. I know this because as I enter the apartment, Calvin comes stumbling out of our bedroom, looking sleepy and sheepish and jumping into my arms.

The moral of this story is thus: if you are thinking of getting a second dog, choose carefully, don't be impulsive, make sure your other dog gets along with the new pup, try not to wait six years so the dogs' energy levels match, and have patience. Lots and lots of patience. We really only got the patience part right (most of the time) and we're very lucky things worked out so well. I can't imagine a life without Calvin, and I hope that Seamus and Nathan feel the same.

Are you a dog person? Do you have more than one pet? I've always had a dog, but this is the first time I've had two. It's very different and poses unique challenges, but for us it seems to be working.