Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Recent Pyrenees Adoption: "I'll Trust What I Know About The Breed"

Adopting a new dog can be hard.  For those who have never owned a dog before, it can be exceptionally challenging.. that is, if you're doing it right.

The arrogant person can easily meet a dog at a shelter or rescue and assume they are a match because they seem friendly, non-aggressive, and tend to enjoy the company of their family and/or children. They'll take an inventory of their personal needs, and then consider if the pet may fill them. Perhaps in that first meeting the other family dog seemed to like them, and they assumed it was a sealed deal.

Many people are drawn towards a breed because they like "the look" of them, or they simply prefer small to large or vice verse. Truth being told, and I doubt few would argue with me, there are vast temperament difference between most breeds, even within the same "size" category.

Recently I gain knowledge of a 4 year old Great Pyrenees female at my local shelter. My area, now in south Jersey, is very unfamiliar with this breed.  I can count three times in four years where I've even seen another Pyrenees. I do see other large breeds, such as Newfoundlands and Saint Bernards.  I see the occasional Malamute, and I even met a Leonburger the other day. On the whole, this area doesn't see extra large breeds very commonly. I see a lot of Dobermans, Shepherds, and Mastiffs. Of course, there are plenty of American Pit Bulls here, because unlike Denver, they are not illegal.

Needless to say, I bolted to my shelter to meet the Pyr girl. Maybe I am a "Pyr snob"; maybe I think that no one should own a Pyrenees who doesn't understand the breed. This doesn't mean they needed to have owned one (we all needed to start somewhere), but I definitely was concerned about my local adopting population. I was horribly concerned someone would just think she was "pretty" and adopt her, asking her to be like their Golden or other larger dog.  They'd be horribly shocked when the beautiful white angel didn't want to go for runs, chase balls, swim, retrieve, or entertain their children with unbridled enthusiasm, focus, and "tricks".

When I showed up, another family was already "looking at her". It was an elderly couple, and I listened to them discuss her in the lobby.  They had never heard of a Pyrenees before, but per my worry, they thought she was "pretty". Happily for me, their Eskimo didn't like her, and they left.

I sat there, clenching my keys in my hands, hoping someone who staffed the shelter would have a *real* conversation with me. I was worried they'd adopt out based first come, first served, and overall would just consider who had the best back yard and who had the most financial means to care for a new dog.

Finally I was able to go outside and meet the Pyrenees girl.  It was hot and horrible outside. She was being trotted up to me after having met the previous family, and after having their Eskimo lunge at her. Upon meet, I did what I do with most Pyrs: I threw my arms open and invited her into my embrace.  She responded as Pyrs do, with love and cuddles, likely much to the disapproval of the volunteer who had strict guidelines they followed for "meetings".

She was panting, unhappy.

"What next?" I wanted to fill out an application. I hadn't "bonded" with her, I hadn't *anything*. She had been in the shelter system from North Carolina for a month, in the least. She was confused, unsettled.  The next step was for me to go home and get my Ana girl, my 7 year-old Great Pyrenees, to meet her and see how they got along. Before they even met, I put little faith in this meeting. Ana loves all things, so she wouldn't be a question. If this new Pyr girl was weird about her, I wouldn't blame her.  She's been through a lot.

They met, and they were fine at first. Then, the new Pyr girl took to a growl and nip at Ana's face.  We circled around on leash, and the new girl did it again. Ana didn't respond, and the new girl didn't seem that dedicated to her somewhat-aggressive introduction. She was nervous, guarded.

I didn't feel compelled to discuss the breed with the volunteer, nor did I feel it necessary to discuss with her any experience I had with the breed or imperfect meetings, which I had, I like to think, a significant enough amount of experience with.  To the volunteer, and to the shelter, this was just another large or giant breed dog. They accessed their behavior in a very stream-lined manner, giving little consider, if any, to breed specifics.  I get it.  It's not a breed rescue, it's a shelter.

"We'll be fine".  I can do this.  Lilly, later re-named Murron, was never cat-tested, and I owned cats. She was not food aggression tested, and she clearly took growl towards my Ana girl. Why would we be fine?  Because I like to think I understand this breed.  I like to think I understand that Murron had every reason to growl, and that that was okay, in that environment. I had not idea how she'd be with cats, but I knew she was a Great Pyrenees, and judging by her obesity and other aspects I deemed her to not having been fresh off a farm where I would be less experienced. I have only owned Pyrenees in home settings.

My goals with Murron upon entering my home were simple: make her understand that all the animals present, Ana included, were "my farm". Make her understand I was alpha, and that what I said went. I decided to show Murron Ana wasn't a threat, and rather a farm family, by *not* following the rescue volunteers advice. "Keep her separate from Ana for two weeks", "keep her separated from your cats for two weeks", "feed them separately for two weeks".

No, we didn't do that. Not in the least. I was off from work, and I wanted to be there. I wanted to expose her to her challenges so I could guide her appropriately.  In my mind, nothing is gained by preventing her from exposure just to avoid conflict.  If it's going to happen, it's going to happen.

I did the standard-issue "don't let her go first" things.. out of the door, pull on the leash, etc. I offered them food together, giving Ana her bowl first, and asking Murron to sit before I gave her her food. I picked up her food several times during her first few meals, to ensure she allowed me to without issue. Once again, Murron growled at Ana over competition for hugs at one point. I immediately asked her to sit and step back, and then I hugged Ana a ton. Murron watched, and then I opened my arm and invited her into the group hug. "This is our farm, our flock. Ana is mine, not yours."

I think any other adopter would have turned away when Murron growled at their dog. But, I considered what I felt I understood about the breed: Murron needs to understand the dynamic and needs stability, consistency, affection, and correction/guidance. I suppose this is true about all dogs in some way, but I feel it is that much more important with livestock guardian breeds. She needed to understand Ana was not a threat, rather, a farm member. I did this reinforcement night over night with shared expressions of affection and reinforced notions that I made the choices:
not her, not Ana.

One of the thing I cannot speak to enough is the importance of praising our dogs when they seem to be doing nothing at all.  People are too quick to scold for unwanted behavior, but may rarely find themselves praising the fact that their dog is just sitting there, chill, being awesome. I lavished praise on Murron in the first week.   If she was just sitting, resting, doing little at all, I told her what a good girl she was.

It's been just over a week, and I have a perfect dog. I do not have  a perfect dog because I am an awesome dog owner, I have a perfect dog because I adopted my breed match and took the time to understand her. The small intricacies of her short time with me are too numerous to mention, but I can say that she wasn't "perfect" upon coming home, she just is, now.

When she took to the famous barking that Pyrs are known for, I praised her. "Show Mommy," I told her.  Murron, with excitement, leaned towards the threatening noises and looked at me.  "No, honey, that is not a coyote."  Are you sure?  Yes, yes I'm sure. She took to barking a few times, and each time I thanked her for alerting me and I explained to her they were normal sounds. Yelling at your dog for barking is the worst thing any person could do, and while I feel some understand that, I see far too many dog owners still doing it.

When the shelter application asked me what I was looking for in a dog, I wrote "Great Pyrenees".  I didn't write "nice" nor "playful" or "good with kids". I know my Pyrs: They are good with kids, cats, etc. and I know they can bark and dig too much and I know they can't be off leash. I knew all of this, so all I needed was another Pyr baby. I knew what the challenges may be, but I knew I understood my dog, even before I adopted her.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Great Pyrenees Aren't Apartment Dogs.. Or, are They?

Whether you're watching "Dogs 101" or listening to other outlets regarding the Great Pyrenees breed, one thing you will come across often is the opinion that Great Pyrenees aren't suitable for apartment life. "They need lots of space to roam and wander, and a large back yard is ideal for this dog breed".

I think most dogs would love a huge, back yard. What dog wouldn't?  This debated topic of Great Pyrenees and needing large open space has been a debate I sit on a very particular side of the "fence" on: I disagree. Period.

Naturally there are considerations for the history of your Pyrenees.  If they were used to large, open spaces and a lot of freedom to wander, it makes sense to not home them in an apartment. If previously they were livestock guardians, moving them into an apartment with limited roaming room may be too much of an adjustment for them.

I've lived a life with my two Great Pyrenees, and observed the lives of others with this breed, which suggest they are absolutely wonderful and happy apartment dogs. "I can't adopt a Great Pyrenees because I just don't have the room", people often say. My reply: "You could have a 30 bedroom mansion, and your beloved dog will still be on your feet, pawing your knee".

Going outside, exercise: all these things are important.  But, what really differentiates an "apartment dog" from one that is not? The first obvious consideration is energy level. Herding dogs or sporting dogs would be at quite an unrest trying to take their energy and breed predispositions out on a coffee table, likely struggling significantly to find joy living with someone who could only walk them two times a day.

One of the first things we appreciate about our Great Pyrenees is the fact that they are nocturnal dogs. They sleep a lot during the day, at hours when most owners are not at home. When we talk about needing to run and get exercise, most Pyrenees owners will accept this: Great Pyrenees are like plug-in flash lights. They sleep.. A lot. Their breed job was to rest, stay with their flock, and reserve energy should any predator approach.

Having lived my life with two Great Pyrenees, I can attest they just sleep.. and sleep. They charge and wait for the potential of that predator, and when that predator doesn't reveal itself, well.. they sleep more.

In an apartment setting, I am their livestock. I have other pets: two cats, a rat, and a rabbit.. and they, are the livestock. Nothing makes my dogs more content than sleeping by their cages and by their rest, doing their job as their breed saw fit.

So is an apartment setting cruel, or inappropriate? Absolutely not. These are amazing apartment dogs. When I leave for work in the morning after their morning walk, they sleep. When I get home, they are excited and happy to see me and we go on our leashed walk. When we return inside, they eat and slumber yet again. If I had 30 rooms in my mansion they would still be there.. right on my ankle.. sleeping.

So who is it, exactly, who needs this huge yard and all this space? Perhaps an owner who isn't willing to go on nice walks.. or, perhaps an owner who feels their dog should be less "up their business".

Yes, I would love a huge yard for my dogs. But the reality is, when I bring them to a family member's house where they have a huge yard, they run maybe once around and then demand return where they can be glued to my side.

I have been the proud owner of two Great Pyrenees, and I live in a one bedroom apartment. I know my dogs are happy, well-exercised on leash, and balanced. They are happy in my small space because they have routine, consistency, and the proper guidance regarding barking tendencies.

I am saddened when sources report theses dogs are not meant for apartment life. Again, taking a dog from a farm environment is one thing, but adopting a Great Pyrenees as young adult or puppy and inviting them into apartment life is an amazing and rewarding experience.

My  Pyrenees have never seemed restless or unhappy, they have rested and slept while I was at work, and rejoiced in affections and walks when I got home. On days off, I observe them as they just slept and slept, eager for walks in the morning and at dusk.

The Great Pyrenees can be amazing apartment dogs. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.