Hera makes some friends

A new couple recently moved into the house behind ours. They have a five month old Golden Retriever, a beautiful, friendly boy, named Maddox.  Maddox is fascinated by our ever changing collection of dogs and frequently plants himself next to the fence to watch at whoever’s in the backyard. If I talk to him, tell him what a pretty boy he is, he jumps up on the fence, wagging all over. When Marley and Phoebe were here, they’d race along on one side of the  while Maddox raced along the other and all three tried their darnedest to dig under the fence to get to each other.

Since Hera had growled at me in the beginning, I really wasn’t in a hurry to introduce her to Wendy and Little Dog. Yet her needing time to warm up to people in no way indicated she’d have any issues with dogs. The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand. There are many dogs who are thoroughly socialized with other dogs who have issues with people and vice versa. But Hera is a very large, powerful dog and it seemed wiser to wait until she trusted me better and I had established better control.

Saturday morning when I was outside with Hera in the fenced off area on the side – which is separated from the fence that we share with the new neighbors –  Hera spotted Maddox across the yards. She watched him for a moment but didn’t bark or growl. Later in the day, when she needed more space to run some energy off, I let her into the main part of our back yard.  Maddox saw Hera and began jumping up on the fence. Hera approached, sniffed him through the fence then went back to jogging around the yard.

I wasn’t the only person in the house who Hera had growled at. She’d growled at both Amanda and Steve when they’d gone into the laundry room for various reasons. So this morning, Steve went out to the back patio with a dish of hot dog bites and by the time Hera had had her second bite she was jumping all over him, licking his face, acting as though he was the best person she’d ever met.

And since Hera had greeted Maddox nicely through the fence we decided to have similar introductions with Wendy and Little Dog. While I took Hera back behind the side yard fence, Steve carried Little Dog over. As I fed her treats, Hera looked benignly across at Little Dog – poor Little Dog was too nervous to eat her treats.  Feeling confident that Hera wasn’t going to make a meal of Little Dog, I let them in the back yard together. We repeated these steps with Wendy and both dogs enjoyed the treats. Hera wagged her tail and sniffed Wendy, and Wendy tolerated Hera’s presence  – that’s about all I can hope for from our “foster dog weary” old girl.

Later in the day, Amanda also fed Hera hot dogs bites.  And I hope that puts to rest the growling.

Wendy and Hera in the back yard together:






This momma dog came to us without a name, giving us the rare pleasure of naming her.  Our Adoption Coordinator Miranda wanted me to choose something quickly so she could begin spreading the word about her – it’s never too early to begin working on homes for moms and their pups.  Large, strong and beautiful, this momma deserved a dignified name.  So I pulled out my favorite book of Greek Mythology written by Edith Hamilton, flipped to the index, and started reading names. I settled on the goddess Hera.

I also wondered what type of dog she might be. The only two that crossed my mind were Great Dane:

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or Mastiff:

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Looking for more suggestions, I sent the following pictures to Jenn and Miranda and asked if they had any ideas:



Jenn emailed back with the suggestion Rhodesian Ridgeback!

Here a picture of one off the web:

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So much like Hera!  But here’s the quandary.  Rhodesian Ridgebacks aren’t that common in the US.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are still a relatively rare breed (about 2,000 AKC registrations per year, compared to >50,000 for breeds such as Rottweiler, Doberman, Labrador Retriever)

source: The Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States http://rrcus.org/club/breedinfo/puppy.htm

She also doesn’t have a ridge on her back: a distinctive ridge on the back is formed by the hair growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat. But according to the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States, some Rhodesian Ridgebacks are born without a ridge.  So it’s not impossible that Hera is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Without an expensive DNA test, we can’t know for sure.

Even if we aren’t sure what she is, we need to choose at least one breed for her and her puppies’ webpages. Hera isn’t the only mixed breed dog I’ve struggled to identify. Frequently, a lot of guess work goes into figuring out what breeds a dog may be.  And what’s chosen can make a huge difference in whether a dog is adopted or not. Potential adopters often enter specific breeds into Petfinder and certain breeds are searched for far more often than others (I think it’s safe to say more people search for Labrador Retrievers than Rhodesian Ridgebacks).

When I talk with people who are visiting our mom dogs and puppies, I usually hear they are far more concerned with the personality of the dog than the breed. The reason so many people search for labs is labs are known to be friendly and easy going. Potential adopters aren’t that concerned that the dog look like a lab, they just want the dog to have a lab-like personality.  So in a case like Hera’s, finding a breed that matches her temperament is what really matters.  So over the next few days as I get to know her better, I’ll read more about Rhodesian Ridgebacks and other potential breeds.  And I may well choose a secondary breed to increase the chance she and her puppies come up on people’s  Petfinder searches.

Despite being very underweight, Hera has so much energy.  And she’d gone from growling at me one night to wanting to climb in my lap the next.  So Saturday I spent several hours with her outside.  I took some pictures and video.   She wouldn’t stop pacing, the only time she was close to being still was when I was petting her which made taking still photos very difficult.  So after filming, I made some still shots from the video feed:





notice me pushing her head up so I can use some of the video for screen shots 🙂

Hera trying to be a lap dog

And earlier in the day, I let Hera outside by herself so I could film her puppies:

Aren’t they funny little things?


Dog Growls

In my previous post, I said  the new mom dog’s growl had unnerved me.  To be honest, I wasn’t just unnerved, I was frightened. While caged together, a large, powerful dog had growled at me (so let’s not talk about Ramsey Bolton right now).

Fear is a powerful thing. It overwhelms reason, instantly signaling us to freeze or flee or fight. Essential to survival, fear bypasses our normal brain pathways so we can react quickly. Frightening experiences can trigger fear and other emotions unconsciously. How many scary movies have conditioned me to fear growls instantly, unthinkingly?

Once I was safely upstairs, the fear didn’t go away. On the contrary, my mind was now free to imagine that growl leading to a bite or worse. Then I thought about how the next morning I’d need to walk back into the cage to take care of that dog and her puppies. What had I gotten myself into? For a minute or two I let my fears run away with me.

Then I remembered all the troubled dogs that have been rescued over the years and the incredibly patient and knowledgeable people who work with them. Someone out there must know how to deal with this. So I searched “dog growls at me” and found lots of good advice. Much of which I already knew but my fear flooded brain hadn’t recalled.

Why do dogs growl? To communicate something. A growl may mean, “stop jumping on me, annoying lab puppy!”  or “that’s my bone, leave it alone!” or, “I don’t know you, get away from me!” Should you punish a dog for growling?  Would you punish a young child for saying, “stop jumping on me, Olivia!” or “that’s my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, leave it alone!” or, “I don’t know you, get away from me!”? So just as I praise a young child for “using her words” rather than hitting, I should feel relieved that this mom dog safely communicated to me that she was feeling very upset. Here’s another good article on the subject of growling.

So now that I was happy I’d been growled at, I needed to think about why it had happened. She’d been fine until I put my hand near her for her to sniff. It’s always best to let dogs you don’t know well initiate contact. I’d simply rushed things. And since it was night and the lighting isn’t great in the laundry room, I may have missed some other signals she was feeling stressed and at risk of becoming aggressive.

So the next morning, Friday, I opened the laundry room door slowly and spoke sweetly and calmly to the mom dog. She came toward the gate expectantly. I dropped in a high value treat. Her food bowl was empty so I slid another one in. I continued to speak calmly to her while she ate. The area was a mess, she’d pulled the newspaper out of the whelping box; torn paper was all over the floor. She’d also skinned her nose, blood had bubbled up on the raw spot. Despite these signs she’d been anxious overnight, she looked relaxed now, happy even. So I opened up the gate and stepped in.  Standing quietly with my hands at my side, I let her approach me. She sniffed me and I avoided making eye contact. Then I carefully walked over to the backdoor and opened it so she could go outside; she went out eagerly.  The puppies were all snuggled up together on one of the towels, the space heater keeping them nice and warm. I changed their towels, let the mom dog back in and then left her in peace for several hours.

I repeated this routine, three or four more times until late afternoon when she began pushing her head into my hand, trying to get me to pet her. Still feeling cautious, I gave her a few tentative pets. She pressed for more.  What a difference a day makes.



A new challenge

After I let Jenn know I could take a mom dog, she told me that the one in the picture below was most in need of help:


Stuck in a cold room – four of her eleven pups had died already -. the shelter representative wanted to get her out quickly. So she arranged a transport to HTAR’s center in Fairfax for Thursday. Then Jenn found a volunteer, Yvonne, willing to drive them from Fairfax up to me in Gaithersburg Thursday night.

Normally, I ask about a dog’s temperament and size before saying yes, but this time I didn’t. Looking at this picture, I got the impression the dog wasn’t too big, maybe forty pounds at most. So imagine my surprise when I spoke with Yvonne and she guessed the mom dog was around 70 lbs. She also mentioned she growled as they moved her into the car. I asked Yvonne to call when she was five minutes away so we could put our pets away and avoid causing the mom dog any undo stress. When Yvonne arrived, we left the mom in the car while I took the puppies downstairs and put them in the whelping box in the dog area in the back of our laundry room. Then Steve, Yvonne and I carried the mom in her crate downstairs, while she emitted a low growl. The crate was too large to fit through the dog area gate so we put it down on the laundry room floor and opened the crate door. She was unwilling to come out, so we shut her in the laundry room. Once alone she followed the sounds of her whining puppies into the dog area.

Her growling had unnerved me.  I would have liked to leave her in peace for the rest of the night but I wanted to make sure everything was alright and give her a chance to go outside before going to bed. Talking sweetly and gently, I entered the laundry room and looked through the gate. She’d eaten all the food I’d put out for her, drank most of the water and was lying down with her puppies. I carefully opened the door and slid a fresh food bowl in. She immediately jumped up to eat as I continued to talk encouragingly to her. She hadn’t growled again so I carefully walked passed her to the outside door, opened it and walked out hoping she’d follow. She seemed conflicted, interested in going out but anxious of the dark. After taking a few tentative steps into the yard, she went back inside and lay down with her puppies. One of the puppies was way off by himself so I carefully moved him closer to his mother. She was calm while I lifted the puppy and while I was near her so I put my closed hand near her to sniff. She immediately let out a growl.  Slowly I pulled my hand away and backed out of the dog area, closing the gate behind me, feeling unnerved once again.


Another mother and puppies?

The puppies we fostered after Holly and her five were precious and entertaining. But caring for a puppy without her mother is a lot of work, similar to tending a baby. Yes, puppies and babies are darling, but they need to be fed, cleaned up after and entertained. When they’re awake, and sometimes even when they’re not, they don’t want to be left alone. And complain loudly when they are. On the other hand, caring for a mother dog and her litter of newborn puppies is much like helping a human mother settle in with her new baby. Feed the new mom nourishing food, change her linens, do her laundry, pat her heads and tell her they’re doing a great job. Perhaps because I already had my own babies – girls both grown – and raised our dog Wendy, fostering mom dogs with their pups suits me better. I get to be the nurturing grandmother instead of the overwhelmed mother.

Yet as a litter of puppies get older, there is more and more to do. Soon their mother’s milk isn’t enough and they move on to solid food, producing bigger and messier messes. By around six or seven weeks, I’m beginning to feel like an overwhelmed mother again. But HTAR does a great job finding everyone homes. The puppies almost always have homes on or near eight weeks. And if there’s a straggler, mom is still around to keep him company.

So I said yes to Jenn’s question.


Marley and Phoebe and more…

Then came Marley and Phoebe, a brother and sister, who were, I was told, four month old yellow lab mixes.





When they first arrived – late one evening – they were skittish and shy.  But by the next morning they were friendly and playful. Very pretty pups, but I suspected they weren’t really lab mixes. They had red “tick” markings showing through their coats. Small, delicate paws. And slender deer like muzzles. Marley also had a red spot on his flank.  So my best guess was they were some kind of hound mix,

coonhound (web picture)

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What ever they were, they were such pretty pupsp1060122


We received applications for each of them in a matter of days.

Phoebe’s wonderful adopters met her and took her home the same day.  She’s now making a little girl very happy (and vice versa).

Here she is in her new home, playing with the cat’s toy:


so cozy and content:


The couple who selected Marley had a trip coming up so he stayed with us an extra week.  Much like when we had Lucy, we took him on long walks and played with him so he’d nap and sleep through the night. And he too enjoyed playing with Wendy and cozying up to Little Dog on her dog bed. But unlike Lucy, he did not adjust to sleeping in the dog area alone. He’d wake us up in the early morning howling, refusing to settle back down. Since I’m one of those people who needs her sleep (admit it, aren’t we all those people?) I started letting him into the bedroom at night.  Amazingly, the very first night, he settled right down on a dog bed and stayed there until morning.  He was happy to lounge around until I was ready to get out of bed at my leisurely 8:30am.  What a good boy.

Marley’s lovely new family took him home last Sunday.

The next morning, I got an email from Jenn asking the following question:

Any chance you are open for a nursing mom?

with these two pictures attached:




Puppies in, puppies out

Around a week after Maggie and Lucy arrived, their sister Robin joined us. They were a beautiful set of girls but oh were they a handful! Whenever I came to feed them and let them out, they were far more interested in me than in their food. They’d surround and jump all over me, trying so hard to get my attention. They’d nip at my clothes, my legs, my arms, anything they could reach. Puppies don’t realize that human skin isn’t as tough as puppy skin so they often bite us as hard as they do one another. With training we can teach them not to, but it’s not possible for one person to train three puppies at once. As I’d try to let one puppy know it wasn’t okay to bite me, the other two would grab on somewhere else. Then when I shifted my attention to those two, the first one would start right up again. Once as I was walking with the puppies following behind,  one grabbed onto the back of my calf, chomped down, puncturing the skin. By the next day, the puncture wound was surrounded by a bruise the size of a half dollar and there was a matching bruise on the other side of my calf (that was almost two months ago and the scab just came off).  To distract them, I’d make sure to have some of their favorite toys in my hands whenever I greeted them (yet I still have several ripped shirts and pants).

The difficulty of training or controlling more than one puppy at a time is one reason we are very cautious about adopting puppies in pairs. Without a disciplined effort by owners to separate puppies for walks, sleep and training, they can quickly become unmanageable. Google the phrase “raising two puppies” and you’ll see results with  “don’t”  or “problems” in the title. So when my adoption coordinator Jenn mentioned that a couple had applied for two of the puppies I was a little skeptical. But when they came to the house to visit, they quickly won me over. The man immediately got down on the ground, handled each puppy expertly, evaluating their temperaments and watching how they interacted with one another. The woman was kind, good humored and patient, ready to devote a lot of time and energy to the puppies’ care. After spending time with all the puppies they decided to adopt Maggie and Robin. Lucy was very vocal while interacting with her sisters and they were afraid that might get tiresome (remember the video of Lucy “talking” to me in the previous post?).

That left us with just one puppy which made things easier and harder. One puppy is easier to manage/train yet one puppy can become lonely or bored requiring more attention. Of the sisters, Lucy was my favorite, mainly because she liked being with me so much. On warm, sunny afternoons, I’d lie on the chase on the back patio, with all three puppies on top of me, Lucy wanting to be closest to my face. Long after Maggie and Robin had wandered off to play, Lucy would stick around to be with me. But once her sisters were adopted, Lucy’s attachment became an issue: she howled whenever I left the room. It didn’t matter if she was happily playing with Wendy or lying down with Little Dog, she didn’t want me out of her sight. So I spent a lot of time in the kitchen; I couldn’t bear to hear her howl. We also did our best to tire her out with walks and play sessions so she’d nap or lie quietly with a bone and sleep well at night. In the evenings, we’d take her along on Wendy and Little’s 1.6 mile walk. At first we had to carry her for short stretches but eventually she could walk the entire time.

Inevitably, once one of our foster puppies starts spending time upstairs, s/he gets on the wrong side of our alpha cat Iggy and receives a swat on the nose. But unlike every other puppy, Lucy failed to be cowed by that first swat. Instead, from then on she barked and charged at Iggy whenever he walked near. Repeated swats, even a claw caught in her nose -which I had to detach – caused her neither pain nor fear. I suppose a hunting dog bred to chase wild animals isn’t about to be afraid of a house cat, or troubled by a little claw. After that she began chasing our other two cats Precious and Pad Thai.

With all these escalating encounters, it seemed time for Lucy to be adopted.  And luckily, just about then a wonderful couple appeared. They already had a hound mix and loved the idea of adopted another. When they walked into the kitchen and the guy knelt down and started nuzzling Lucy I could see it was love at first sight.

Here are pics of everyone settled into their new homes:

Maggie and Robin:



Lucy and her big brother:



That last picture makes me miss her.