Meet Poppy. My ten-year-old Yorkshire Terrier and most often the light in my day. When she's not yapping her little bonce off anyway!
In five short weeks, Poppy will be greeted with the arrival of a new puppy entering our lives. Now Poppy isn't a huge fan of puppies, so this is not going to be easy for her. She is ten years old, arthritic, and a much bigger fan of people than other dogs.
You may already be asking why on earth I am thinking of shattering Poppy's happy little world by bringing a bundle of excitable fluff crashing into it?
Well, perhaps I'm selfish, but I'd really like another dog. And I believe that with thoughtful preparation, considerate management, and very slow introductions that I can make this work for all of us.
All of us? Oh yes, I also have a six-year-old and a three-year-old. Who are currently at home almost all the time due to COVID and school closures.
Clearly, I am not faint of heart. Some may call me determined, or perhaps stubborn? Well, you know, they do say that owners are quite like their dogs. Or is it the other way around? Anyway, I'm a terrier mama, so courageous, determined, and spirited kind of go with the territory.
There will be adaptations that I need to make to ensure that both Poppy and puppy can have their own spaces to allow slow introductions at their own pace. This will mean a puppy pen, a baby gate or two, and dedicated one on one time with each of them.
But that's five weeks away. What am I focusing on now to prepare?
You may think that there's not much I need to do other than buy some puppy bits and impatiently count down, but that's definitely not the case!
Most dogs have their own quirks and habits, which are a little less than ideal. Poppy is a Yorkshire Terrier with a bit of a fondness for barking. She barks at anyone coming near the front door, at the sound of knocking, and she barks for attention. I've inadvertently reinforced her quite a bit for the latter…… oops! Easily done, but that's a blog for another day.
She also charges out of the back door straight to the back of the garden, running loops of the parameter to ward off potential birds, cats, and foxes.
I really don't want our new pup learning these behaviours. However, these behaviours have been practised for quite a few years. I've dabbled half-heartedly in tackling them, but I've never fully committed to training and helping Poppy create new habits.
So yesterday was day 1 of breaking the door dashing habit, and Poppy did brilliantly. No more lazy opening of the back door from me to just let her crack on.
Poppy's now wearing her harness and a lead to go into the garden, but it's not as simple as that. I don't want her to just be on a lead in the garden forevermore. I'm far too lazy for that.
I want her to be able to saunter out without feeling the need to chase the borders warding off any potential intruders. Now I may be setting my bar a little high here; she is a terrier after all. But if she could at least potter into the garden before guarding, that'd be great progress.
I should have filmed her usual garden dash for the background, but I'll try and paint a picture. Usually, she will get wind of the fact that she's about to be let out, and she'll start getting all pent up. She'll be back arched at the back door, nose at the crack, ready to zoom out into her kingdom to speedily patrol. There may be a good bark on exit for maximum effect.
In the evenings, when it's dark, this is more exaggerated. And just the sound of flicking the light switch for the garden can send her charging from a deep slumber on the sofa in another room.
So my goal is to desensitise her to the opening of the door, to begin with, and also to the light switch. The door opening doesn't necessarily mean that she'll be going outside, and neither does the light going on.
This kind of training is not instant sadly, years of practised behaviour may take quite some time to undo. We'll see how we get on, and of course, if I can't make significant progress, I can just let puppy out in the garden without Poppy and vice versa.
This is where the baby gate and puppy pen will come in super useful. I can prevent puppy from witnessing Poppy's door dashing, so she doesn't get any bright ideas about the kingdom! And I can continue working with Poppy at her pace to saunter into her kingdom at ease.
The front door? Well, that's a similar work in progress. Something tells me Poppy isn't going to need to bark for attention over the coming weeks; we have plenty to do together!