This morning, I was sitting on the sofa watching the program that seems to be in stereo in our house…. Peppa Pig! I have to clarify, I was not there on my own, Neave was sat with Lois at one end of the sofa, and I was further up. In between us, was Sugar aka Shu Shu. Sugar is our 3yr old rescue dog, she is a Poodle x jack Russell, and we have had her for approximately 2yrs. She arrived, like several of my dogs… on an impulse. She is just the best dog ever. She also arrived at a similar time to when we were moving house, having a new born and another puppy in the house! So you can say, that she was definitely thrown in at the deep end.
We were having a sit down on the sofa with duvets and blankets. A rarity with our schedule and my work! So, Neave was giving her mum a cuddle, and made her way towards me, clambering in the way that 2yrs olds do, along the bak rest of the sofa.
Sugar was curled up between us, and was half asleep. As Neave stepped in her direction, but no where near her, Sugar woke briefly and let out a low growl. She was giving Neave a warning. She was very clearly saying, I am sat here, and please be mindful of me. She didnt really move, or appeared startled or overly concerned. She was just letting Neave know, to be careful of her. She wasn’t being ‘aggressive’ or ‘dominant’, or plotting Neave’s demise… she was just communicating.
Neave’s response, was everything that a parent raising a child amongst dogs, could hope for.
Neave stopped in her tracks, and responded ‘Sorry Shu Shu’. Neave waited for me to lift her, so she avoided ‘Shu Shu’, and we had cuddle and Sugar continued as she was.
I couldn’t be prouder of Neave for reaction and understanding. And I couldn’t be prouder of Sugar for her response, she taught Neave that she needed space and to be aware of her.
Since having Neave, I have been asked regularly about how we prepared my dogs for her arrival and taught them to accept her.
This was only half of the education. The dogs were actually relatively easy! Due to the manner in which they are reared and socialised, my dogs adjusted to her presence with little or any disruption. However teaching Neave how we wanted he to be around them, was the greater lesson to be taught.
The minefield of videos that circulate social media, showing ‘kids and dogs’ interacting, in a way that can incite a thousand comments and execution by emoji, clearly shows that there is a lack of knowledge and awareness. Dogs clearly giving warning signals and signs to the observers that they are feeling uncomfortable, stressed or anxious, yet the signs are ignored and worse still, the child’s interactions are almost encouraged!
Dogs and children are by nature unpredictable, and even the most ‘sound/safe’ dog can innocently injure a child with their over enthusiastic interaction. Or similarly, a child can cause offence to a dog without any ill intent.
Sugar has an amazing temperament, literally impeccable. She reads dogs beautifully and she has endears herself to people at a drop off a hat. However, those that have followed her journey on social media will know, this wasn’t always the case. In my early interactions and attempts to play with her, she clearly showed signs of worry and apprehension when I made attempts to play with her. Over time, her confidence was built to understand that my engagement was to be trusted. Play and interaction are great ways to bond and build a relationship. In the same way, I acknowledge situations which she found stressful and created a safe space for her.
When I introduced Neave, I did so in a controlled manner and ensured each interaction was safe, with distance and clear space for Sugar to move away to. I observed when each of my dogs met her, and what they ‘told’ me.
My dogs general response varied from ‘oh whats that? it smells funny….’ to ‘is it here for the weekend? Its the oddest puppy I’ve ever seen…’ They were largely unimpressed, to say the least…. Sugar was intrigued, and did what Sugar does, read the situation beautifully and adjusted her body language and energy to Neave. I knew Sugar was a pretty unique and special dog, when she first came home. All my other dogs told me so. She just fitted in, everyone instantly took to her and she read them all perfectly. The only lacking she had, was confidence, and specifically around handling. This was more then likely learnt.
Neave helps me when I prepare their Prodog Raw food, and take great delight in ‘mix mix’, and then heaping their Prodog Raw supplements onto each dinner…I have her sat on the work tops, where she in out of the way and up high.
She then waits eagerly whilst they eat, and then once they have finished and they are removed from the area, I lift her off, and she wanders around and collects all the bowls up. She is being taught how to care from them, and look after they needs. She is also being integrated into their lives, and engaged in a huge part of mine, so she takes as pride in them as I do. She has come on walks with me, and delights in doing ‘training’ with them.
The common theme with my dogs that I have owned, and Sugar… was that they have appropriate social skills. They have been raised and taught to engaged in a certain manner, they understand how to approach other dogs that are lacking confidence, or how to be respectful of a dog that is worried, they also know how to deal with an unruly pup that wants to jump on their hand, and behave inappropriately. They have met a variety of dogs, in a variety of breeds and understand that black dogs are friendly, and small dogs are to be mindful of, big dogs aren’t all scary, and hairy dogs are giving your signals to be listened to. They understand that being touched and handled is safe, they understand that being grabbed by the collar is fun, or that when you are concerned about something, take confidence from me.
This process is no different for Neave. Part of her upbringing will be to teach her how to engage with her peers, adults, animals and the world in a respectful manner. She showed that one of the many lessons she has to learn, has had affect. We have many more to teach, but this was a huge ‘win’. It is down to us to educate both dogs and kids, teach them how to be in each others presence and how to have compassion.
She is being taught how to interact with dogs, in a way that will keep her safe, and allow to create relationships with them, based on trust and mutual respect.
This is a lesson we should all take on board, and in times when this is challenging, ensure we pass this message on.