This month, Wag 'n Woof Pets, Cascadian Nomads, and My GBGV Life are hosting Multiple Pet Mania Month and each week there's a new topic about sharing our lives with multiple pets. This week, the theme is Training.
|They are definitely not always this sweet.|
When I saw Barley in the kennel at the APL, I asked one of the workers how she was with cats. They took her into the cat room and said that if she was aggressive towards them, she'd probably show signs as soon as we walked in the room. Although several cats hissed at her, the only thing Barley was interested in was figuring out how to get their food through their crates. On her application, they asked what circumstances would lead me to return her to the shelter--the only reason I would have considered returning her was if she showed aggression towards Soth. Even though Barley's far more interested in eating cat food than eating her cat brother, there are still plenty of behaviors we have to work on to make sure they both stay happy and healthy.
The first day Barley lived with me and Soth, Soth started scratching on one of the dining room chairs. I yelled, "No, no, Soth!" and ran to pick him up. Barley's herding instincts--which I hadn't had a chance to learn anything about yet--kicked in and she chased him, too. Ever since that day, any time I scold Soth, Barley herds him. This isn't always a bad thing--sometimes she helps him find his litter box or gets to him faster than I can when he tries to climb the curtains. But "No, no, Soth!" wasn't the only thing she heard that first day--she also heard him scratching on the chair. So now, she also herds him any time she hears him scratching anything--even if it's on something appropriate like his scratching posts. That's where the challenge comes in. Because Barley reacts so quickly to the sounds, it's hard to refocus her before she starts to herd Soth and I want him to continue using his scratchers, so I'm constantly working on calling her off of him when he scratches on the posts--she's getting better at coming back to me before she gets all the way to Soth.
|"I don't think you're supposed to be in the grass, Soth.|
|"Mom got this bed for me, you silly cat. Give it back."|
There's a 40-pound difference between Barley and Soth. Barley is enthusiastic when it comes to play time, so playtime has to be carefully monitored. I know she wouldn't mean to hurt Soth, but she's not always aware of her own strength. For example, she stayed with a dog sitter for two nights once, and in an attempt to snuggle, she gave the sitter's teenage son a black eye with her head. I regularly have bruises on my arms and legs and I've had a fat lip because sometimes she just gets so excited about being pet she flails and all of her paws go in different directions, so it's hard to dodge them. It would only take one accidental smack with a paw to seriously hurt Soth, so I have to train Barley to be calm when she interacts with her brother. I also have to train her not react when he gets fed up with her and swats at her. Luckily, her tail seems to be a completely separate creature from the rest of her, so she never notices with Soth decides her tail makes a good toy.
|"Mom, I think Barley's been in my catnip--she's crazy!"|
|Soth's idea of play time is watching birds and squirrels.|
Soth is an excellent coach. Any time Barley and I are training, whether it's reviewing old behaviors or training new ones, Soth is always close by observing her. When we started doing mat work, he would insist that she leave room on the mat for him--now even in class if she's using a mat, she leaves half of it empty. Soth's also an excellent reaction to distraction coach. When Barley and I work on sit-stays, I'll toss jingle balls for him and she gets rewarded for not trying to herd him. Eventually, her herding instincts will get the better of her and she'll have to decide to herd him or let her brain explode--so I have to monitor her body language closely and make sure we can end the training on a positive note. Soth also lounges near by when we practice the weaves, jumping, or the wobble board and makes it clear when he thinks Barley's not living up to her potential.
|"You will always leave space on this mat for me, peasant dog."|
|This is how you weave, Barley.|
|Go real slow and rub your head and tail on each pole.|
|"Mom, I think the scent I was supposed to find is in this box, but all I see is a cat."|
For all of the reasons above, Barley doesn't get unsupervised time with Soth. If I'm not home, she's in her crate (of course, there are plenty of other reasons for her crate, too, but that's a different post for a different day). She loves her brother, but she needs reminders that she's bigger than him and has different definitions of fun than he has. Some times, the crate serves as a timeout spot, too. It's not a punishment, but some times she gets riled up and won't give Soth a break, so the crate's a place she can go to calm down. I just say, "Ok, time for a time out" and she trots into her crate and lies down--I don't even shut the door. When Soth's had a bit of a breather, I'll say, "Ok, you can come out" and usually she ignores Soth again.
|"Actually, the crate is my domain, too."|
Even though my little pet family is multi-species, training is still an important part of our daily lives. It took 11 months before Soth would voluntarily sit next to Barley on the loveseat (our first family picture was on Halloween and Barley joined our family January 3). A multi-pet family takes time and patience, but once they finally embrace each other, all of that seems worth it.
|Partners in crime.|
Be sure to stop by all of the other blogs participating in Multiple Pet Mania Month to see how other people manage the chaos of multi-pet life. Also, be sure to check out all of the blogs in the Positive Reinforcement Training Week blog hop hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Rubicon Days, and Tenacious Little Terrier for even more training tips.