In May of 2008 Isaac and I adopted an adorable five month old border collie/mini Australian shepherd mix with a crazy poof of hair on top of his head from Denver Dumb Friends League. He was adorable. We took to calling him Dio, after Ronnie James Dio from Black Sabbath, due to his “rock star” mop of hair on his head. He quickly picked up the nicknames Dio Rio and The D.
Dio had a lot of reactivity issues when we first adopted him. In fact, for the first six months he was with us he was pretty detached. Not to say he wasn’t kinda friendly or feeling somewhat comfortable in his new home, it was just obvious the first five months of life weren’t too great.
Putting the dishes away made him run upstairs and hide.
Any person that visited the house was reason to sit at the top of the stairs and bark incessantly until they left.
Most of the time he was hiding under our bed.
Going out the door was terrifying for him.
Oh, the door… Dio would stand in the doorway – peering outside or in, whichever way we were going – and with a great weariness he would carefully walk through. When I say “carefully” I mean TIP TOE. If there was any unexpected noise or movement Dio would fly backward and hide. Shortly after we adopted him we noticed his tail was shorter than it appeared, had a “hook” shape to it. We concluded it was slammed in a door. It took incredible patience to let him figure out the door for himself. We’d stand stock still and wait. Once Dio made it through it would rain delicious treats, and he’d somewhat enthusiastically eat them up, all the while keeping a very close on the door – JUST IN CASE.
It broke my heart to see him so worried constantly.
He had been with us for roughly six months and I noticed he curled up next to me on the couch. (Dio has a way of sidling up next to you without you ever noticing. He is a sneaky dog.) I stroked his head and he groaned in a relaxed, blissful way. It was a sudden and welcome change from the dog who was okay to share the room with you, but from a safe distance. Flash forward to the present and Dio is a snuggly and affectionate dog! There wasn’t a magic cure, we just let Dio be himself. It took almost a year for him to relax!
It was then we noticed how outgoing he became on our hikes. Dio bounded happily off to sniff and sniff, or waded into a stream or lake, or used every drop of pee he had to mark everything possible. In contrast, the old Dio would have walked behind us, uninterested in his surroundings, all the while keeping his ears cocked for something scary.
Isaac and I already had Coal when we adopted Dio. The two of them became fast friends, and I do think Coal’s easy-going attitude helped Dio adjust. They snuggled, played chase (well, Coal wanted to play chase, but Dio would either bite his hind legs or keep him in a circle. Can’t blame him, he’s a herding dog and all.) Worried that Coal was aging quickly we decided to adopt another dog. Isaac had witnessed how distraught Dio became when Coal wasn’t home. We figured the sooner the better, so all the dogs could become well-adjusted and bond. In April of 2012 we adopted Beatrix from the same shelter, but things didn’t start on the right foot. Did the meet ‘n great with all three dogs without issue (However, see Mandatory Introductions at Shelters by Patricia McConnell as to why they don’t always work.), but once we got home the dynamic changed drastically.
Dio and Beatrix started vying for the position of head dog. There were gnashing teeth, and a couple of trips to the vet (where I luckily worked at the time) for wound care. It didn’t help that Dio was half the size of Beatrix, either. Dio was showing signs of being stressed, and he spent a lot of time under our bed. This is the point where I started reading every and all things regarding +R, aggression, reactivity, and fear in dogs. Thankfully Isaac and I were able to get the situation under control and start working with both Dio and Beatrix to solve their differences. Today things are much smoother and predictable, which might be because I know so much more about dog behavior than I did two years ago.
But I felt guilty for a long time.
Really guilty.I disrupted Dio’s life, and stressed Bea out in an already stressful adjustment period at her new home. In hind sight I couldn’t imagine NOT having Beatrix. She is an absolute delight most of the time. She and Dio have started to re-kindle their friendship, and I often see them playing, snuggling, and sharing the water bowl together.