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Dissecting Doggy Body Language

This past weekend I attended the Rescue Me Seminar put on by the Iowa Weim Rescue¬†and hosted by Iowa State. One of the first talks was given by Dr. Suzanne Millman an Associate Professor of Animal Welfare. She talked to us about how to “Maintain Harmony When Adding a Pet to your Home.” Her talk was filled with all sorts of great tips for maintain peace when you introduce a new pet (of any species) to your home, especially if you already have some furry critters living there.

One of the main points she drove home is the planning involved in bringing home a new pet. Even more so than just focusing on the physical things they’ll need like a bowl, food, collar etc, but really look at the reason behind getting another pet in the first place. There are no wrong answers, but think through the following questions and ask yourself.

Before getting a new pet ask yourself:

  1. Why do you want to get a new pet?
  2. Who will be affected by this new pet? (Humans AND Animals)
  3. What risks are involved and to whom?
  4. Create a plan to introduce the new pets and come up with plans for any conflicts.
  5. Ensure YOU have the time to address these conflicts and concerns to allow harmony in your home!

This talk was particularly relevant as last summer I added a new dog to my crew, Luna. Luna is a 2 year old rescue from AHeinz57 in Adel. She was terrified of people, so much so that I would classify her as being a feral (or wild) dog. She would attempt to flee if anyone came within 65 feet of her. When I went for a meet & greet, I spent over an hour with her, as she built up courage to sniff my hand. I knew I would be in for a challenge! (I wasn’t wrong, it took her over 3 days to venture from her crate! Another 2 weeks before she would sit on the couch.)

For those five questions above, I wanted to get Esther a new canine friend. Rufus had passed away about 5 months prior and she was getting lonely (despite going to work every day) without another canine to communicate with. I knew I had a dog, and two cats, already. So I would need to pick out a dog that was calmer and had zero prey drive to chase cats. After meeting Ms. Luna I was fearful of her not ever being able to trust humans again, or worse yet that I had picked out another companion for Esther who wanted to do nothing more than hide. But we persisted. And now Esther has a best buddy. They sleep, play and go to work together. Every day Luna gets a little braver and everyday she sinks deeper into all of our hearts <3

Here is one of their first captured “play” session. This was almost 6 months after I adopted her. I disabled the audio on the video (because who wants to hear me yammer at my dogs) but also because it really illustrates how quietly (and quickly!) dogs communicate with each other. Much like in Dr. Millman’s talk, this is a supervised play session. Without me being there, Luna is too inept at reading dog language and Esther is too intolerant of her crazy play “boxing,” – there would definitely be a dog fight without me supervising. In the video, first we’ll watch the minute long play session, then we’ll break it apart to see the individual signals Esther gives Luna (which Luna ignores) and how I act as an interpreter between them. This helps either from going over their threshold, which you can think of like a tipping point of becoming overwhelmed and reacting to what’s going on around them. Enjoy!