JUGGLING DOGS

How does it work, life with so many dogs?  At the moment, there’s 12.  At the top of the chart is Otter, who will be 15 in March 2009.  Her great-granddaughter Spider will be a year old in April 2009.  

How do I try to stay in balance so that none of the dogs appear to be lacking
something important to them? First, life with many dogs requires that I let go of the notion that I could possibly have the same kind of relationship with all the dogs that I could have with 1 or 2 dogs. Kind of like being married, and then being married with a kid, and then having 4 more kids (or in this case, 8 more after that.)  It is more complex in some ways, less intense on some levels, more intense on others, and yet the shared interactions also lift the burden from my shoulders to be ALL.

When I had just one dog (a long, long time ago, Carruthers...), I was acutely aware that I was that dog's whole world. If I wasn't with him, he was alone. If I wasn't able to play with him, he was alone, playing by himself or waiting for me. This is not true of my current gang of dogs. If I or John are unavailable or busy working, they can and do entertain themselves for hours on end with their own games in the yard & house – games that do not require a human, and are purely canine. I am not their whole world - they have a rich social life.  The mixture of ages helps a lot.  The youngsters keep the old folks spry and on their toes, the elders teach the pups what good manners are, and the middle aged enjoy their status as in-the-know, physically at their peak and enjoying long established relationships with older dogs and learning about the younger dogs.

I never allow other dogs to fill in the gaps in a relationship between me and a dog. This is deliberate on my part.  It's all too easy for dogs to become more attached to other dogs than to people.  Why?  Sometimes, it’s because dogs are better playmates for dogs than boring, clumsy, demanding or unaware people.  It can be easy IF those other dogs are the primary source of fun, interactions, learning, companionship, etc.

I do not separate a puppy from the adults, or isolate any dog in the name of training.  I do spend time alone with a pup (with any dog), but I do not worry about the time they spend with other dogs.  Though limiting (or avoiding) play with other dogs is advocated by some trainers in order to make sure all fun/learning came from the handler alone, this is an approach I find abhorrent & unnatural. This is as ludicrous as saying my best friend is my best friend because she isn't allowed to have any other friends so I'm more valuable.

Instead, I make sure that my relationship with any individual dog is intense, pleasurable, rewarding for that dog.  I commit to investing myself completely in being connected with that dog in that moment.  In other words, what the dog gets from being with me is different from what he can get from another dog or any other person for that matter.  

I remain alert to what each dog tells me about what they need.  Just as a friend might call or show up and need my attention to varying degrees, so do the animals – and I do my best to respond according to what they say they need. More often than not, they don't need anything extravagant or time consuming - just a genuine moment of connection.  Make no mistake about it:  genuine is key.  Dogs don’t appreciate disengaged “yes dear” conversations any more than we do.

Doing this with 10-12 dogs sounds nearly impossible, and yet, each dog has different
needs. Various ages, various personalities, various stages of experience &
training... all make for different demands on me from each dog. Thus, I can juggle it all.
Could I deal with a dozen 9 month old puppies?  No way!  Could I deal with a dozen 14 year old dogs? Maybe, but keeping track of that many elderly canine and worrying if they were sleeping
deeply or maybe just not breathing would probably kill me!