Welcome Home, Oliver
So my famous foster dog, Oliver the Pit, has come to a crossroads. He's got his own twitter following, had a Bark Radio show about him, and has been featured all over the internets from Facebook to Twitter to Blogs. I'm sort of sad to say that although he's gotten a lot of attention, all the PR for him hasn't resulted in any adoption interest at all. Sort of. :) I know an ex-fighter is a tough sell when there aren't any famous sports figures involved, and I know that there are dogs like him all over the country. I also know when it's time to walk the walk. Besides, I'd miss the big dork.
So I'm adopting the lovable goofball. No can haz.
Once I made the decision on that it was time to get serious about a few things. Ollie's always gotten along well with my little Spaniel, Ginger, but my larger mix Jessie... not so much. She's afraid of other, unknown dogs, and she has a tendency to try to drive them off by acting aggressively towards them. Unfortunately for her, if this turns into an actual dust-up she almost always loses.
As you might imagine, this isn't the smartest way for her to interact with a former fighting dog. Oliver's actually very good around other dogs - very mellow, friendly, and curious - but if another dog comes at him with what he believes is a serious challenge he will come after them. I don't blame him - if he's been fought, this is a completely natural reaction. Jessie starts things, Oliver unfortunately finishes them.
So given that, Jessie and Oliver have been leading largely separate lives where they've been rotated - one in a crate, one out with me and Ginger. This has been actually a good way to start, as Ollie doesn't mind his crate and doesn't act aggressively at all to dogs outside of it, so it was a good way to introduce them in a non-threatening manner - but Jessie is very stressed out by her crate time and gets upset when she knows I'm nearby but she can't be around. I distracted her with food toys for a while, but eventually reached the end of that road too; she wanted out. This led to her being out more often and Ollie being crated more often, which wasn't fair to him. Time to move on.
I'm not typically a big fan of muzzles. I have too often found that they can change a dog's reaction so that you're not getting a true read on what's going on, and I don't like using them in public because it reinforces the scary-dog perception, which is not at all what's going on here. In this case, however, it seemed like it could work... so I started getting Ollie used to a muzzle with the help of Easy Cheese.
You'll see two different muzzles in the pictures because I switch back and forth to avoid irritating his face. He quickly became accustomed to the muzzle. He likes to rub it on things sometimes to try to get it off, but he's not obsessive about it and is easily distracted.
At that point I started having all the dogs out together under close supervision with Oliver wearing his muzzle (we call it his Happy Mask). We started with just an hour at a time, working up to the dogs spending all day together with less supervision - me always in the house but not necessarily right next to them. This has gone quite well, with only two very minor squabbles over food and my bed, which is still disputed territory.
The next step was to try something with the dogs' arousal level a little higher - to have them take a walk, everyone on leash together. I'd tried that long ago and it didn't work out very well - Jessie was very stressed out by Oliver's presence nearby and wanted to attack him. Now that she had spent so much time near him, first in his crate nearby and then in the house with him muzzled, she was no longer stressed out by his presence and was not reactive to him. This is a fear issue for both dogs, and she's been desensitized to her fear of him by having him quite close for so long and not having anything bad happen. He is also desensitized to her aggressive behavior and is less likely to see a "get away from me" growl as a serious threat - not that I'll be testing that one anytime soon!
Finally, for the last few days they've been walking all together, no muzzle.
So we still have work to do, but I can see the day when all the dogs will be together and Oliver won't need a muzzle. For now, however, I can give him a much more complete life than I could before!
Welcome home, Oliver.