Embrace Your Pack: How Blending Dogs is a Lot like Blending Families
Adding to your family can be tumultuous, but here are a few things that can help.
My husband recently shared a sad post on his Facebook page of a dog on death row at the animal shelter named Cornflake. We already have two dogs, but Cornflake looked like he could use a loving home.
"Honey, you can’t post a photo of a mange and scab-covered dog on death row named Cornflake and expect me NOT to go save him! You brought this on yourself."
And with that, I went and got Cornflake... because marriage is all about compromise, right? Heh.
I knew when I got him home, besides all his medical conditions, I had a lot of work ahead of me. Blending my new pack was not without it’s challenges. We had Piggy, a stray pit bull who basically adopted me and Otto Von Schmidt, AKA The Little General, a miniature dachshund not known for his love of other dogs.
For a week, I gave copious amounts of medication, gave medicated baths, fended off dog fights, took long snarled-filled walks and narrowly avoided a blood bath when Cornflake had the audacity to kiss me in front of The Little General one morning. It was hard.
But, now? My dogs are a cohesive pack—admittedly begrudgingly by The Little General—but still.
As I think back it reminds me of when my husband moved in with my children and me. I can’t help but notice the similarities between blending a pack of dogs and blending a family. Here are my helpful hints for a blend that might be happening in your life:
Acknowledge That Change is Hard. No one likes change. Not dogs, not adults, not children. Don’t get some Photoshopped picture in your head about what your family is supposed to look like. Your family is your family—with your grumpy mini doxie or your grumpy, angsty teen. Change, and accommodating to it, takes time. Be patient with the grumpy ones.
Give Everyone Their Space. Piggy and Otto share a crate to sleep. Obviously putting Cornflake in with them would have been rude to them and likely have resulted in stitches at the vet. We put a crate downstairs away from Piggy and Otto’s crate not only to give Cornflake his place, but for all the dogs to feel they had their own safe place. When the grumbling and growling from Otto was too much, Cornflake ran to his cage and let me close the door. When children want to retreat to their room, remember, that’s their safe place when things are hard.
Force Some Bonding Time in Neutral Territory. If I had let the dogs decide, Otto would have ferociously and viciously run Cornflake out of town. Luckily, I am the alpha leader of my pack, so a 15-pound dog doesn’t get to run the show. Neither should any child. Three times a day, I took the dogs on at least 20 minute walks. My husband had to help at first because my arms were not long enough from keeping Otto from trying to eat Cornflake, but within just three days I could walk all three dogs alone. BOOM! Dog Whisper status, yo! This works with children too. Take the family out to do something neutral. Take a walk, go to dinner, go to a movie. You don’t need tons of interaction for everyone to start understanding that this is the new normal.
Don’t Make Anyone Be Who They’re Not. Look, Otto Von Schmidt is not a social dog. He was born that way. He needed to come to terms with the fact that his life was changing on his time frame, not anyone else’s. He did... grumbly and begrudgingly, but he did. He still growls at Cornflake from time to time, but that’s to be expected. Otto was here first and Cornflake is the newbie. Dogs, like all new family members, need time to see where they all fit in. You can’t force it, but trust it will happen with patience and consistency.
Love is the Answer. Through it all, love your pack—as a group and individually. I cuddle each of my dogs when the others are not around, as well as when they are together so they understand they don’t need to be jealous. Love on your family and let them understand that even though change is hard, and life might look different now, your love for them is stronger than ever.
Life happens and families change and look different. Love your family exactly the way they are and the love you will get in return will be worth all the effort. Promise.
Michelle Nelson-Schmidt is an author, illustrator, public speaker, mother, sister, daughter, and wife. She loves dogs, the beach, and a really great Boston cream doughnut from time to time. But most of all she loves living life enthusiastically and exuberantly while making a whole lot of mistakes along the way. For more information visit www.whatifmonsters.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For a free gift, the "What if Monster Activity Book," sign up here.