Meeting Nugget

During the initial lock down of the pandemic, I got the itch to foster again. I let the rescue know and soon was asked to take in a young, pent up, energetic husky straight from the shelter. They know that huskies are my breed and that I can handle a young one. The husky personality is not for everyone!

The rule for me when bringing foster dogs into my home is that they need to get along with my dogs and become part of my family. The happiness of my dogs is always my priority. I have 4 dogs with distinct personalities– 2 males and 2 females – so finding a good match can be difficult.

On a Friday afternoon, my step-daughter and I headed to the shelter to pick up the new guy. On the way we threw some names around and talked about the best way to introduce him to our dogs. I knew that he was supposed to be good with dogs, and that he had some separation anxiety and would need some good exercise after being in the shelter for a few days. Once we got to the shelter and met him, I saw that he was intact. That changed my game plan for introducing him to my dogs as I knew that I was going to have to go very slow with introducing him to Thorne. If the introductions didn’t go well, that could be something the dogs would not get over.

On the way home, Izzy and I decided to name him Nugget. He was pretty wired in the car and clearly needed to get out some energy. My plan was to let him run around the yard for a bit, introduce him to our dogs and then take him for a walk right away. Going for a walk with new dogs is always a great way to get them comfortable around each other without the pressure of having to interact.

When we got home, we took him into my back yard to let him run for a bit. Dogs coming from the shelter are already stressed and bringing them into a new environment is stressful. I wanted him to get some of his energy out to reduce his stress and calm him down a bit.

Then we were ready to introduce him. First, I always let our fosters meet my girls one at a time since they are the easier dogs. Sura, my 12 yr old, is amazing with dogs and I never worry about her. She is an alpha female who has great body language and social skills. Keisha, my 8 yr old, is a bit more anxious but loves male dogs. I strongly suspected that these two would love Nugget. And sure enough, they immediately began flirting with him. They were bouncing around, showing him their back ends, and trying to get him to play. This was a great start!

Next I let Jackson outside, my 12 year old male. Jackson is fine with dogs when he has his space but in his younger years he did have some aggressive behaviours towards some dogs who showed too much interest in him. I always have to keep a careful eye on him even though he has mellowed in his old age. When he came outside, both he and Nugget carefully checked each other out. There was some stiff body language, and then Nugget began lip curling and low growls while Jackson stood still with his tail up high over his back. I distracted Nugget, and he calmed down and after a few more butt sniffs, they seemed more comfortable with each other. They were both being cautious with each other but it was a good start. They began ignoring each other so now it was time to introduce Thorne.

Thorne is my 7 year old husky mix. He can be a bully with some dogs, but he is not a fighter. He avoids fights and is typically the one who gets picked on in our house. But, he can be a real jerk and annoy dogs and I didn’t know how Nugget would react to that. I knew that I’d have to keep a very close eye on this introduction to make sure I would stop any displays of aggression or bullying that I was expecting from both of them. Thorne came outside and immediately there was posturing between them. They circled and sniffed each other, and then the slight growling and lip curling began. I distracted and separated the two of them to temper their attitudes. Then I let them slowly go back to meeting again. The lip curling and growling continued so it was time to separate them and go for a walk together to get used to each other’s presence.

Thorne was not happy about Nugget joining the family. And Nugget was not happy with Thorne or Jackson. Add in the fact that Nugget was intact, his energy was thru the roof and he was excited and over stimulated, I needed to really take things slowly. After meeting in the backyard, we took Nugget, Thorne, Sura and Keisha for a long on leash walk. I took Nugget and my husband, Dave, took the other three. We initially kept Thorne and Nugget apart and slowly over the long walk allowed them to sniff together and walk beside each other. This went well but I knew once we got back home we’d have to keep them separated with short meetings for 2-3 days.

Our weekend involved a lot of playtime for Nugget, Keisha and Sura, walks with Thorne, separation in the house of Nugget and Thorne, re-introductions in the yard, more separation in the house, another walk together, a further re-introduction in the yard, and a careful re-introduction in the house. By Sunday afternoon, Nugget and Thorne could be in the same area of the house together under close supervision. At times it was stressful with the shuffling of dogs in the house, but I knew that I wanted to take it slow to set them all up for success. If there was any chance of keeping Nugget in the house, I wanted to make sure that all of the dogs were happy and safe.

This was a classic example of why it takes time to introduce a new dog into the home. They need time to decompress, settle down, relax and get comfortable with the new humans and dogs in their life. Coming from a shelter where he was surrendered by his family was very stressful him. He had no idea what was going on. It was also stressful for my dogs. They have a routine and comfort level with each other. Bringing a new dog into their space is stressful and changes the dynamics of our family. I thought that having them fully together in the house would take longer than it did. You can’t give up on any of the dogs in the first few days. They all need time to adjust and it’s unfair to expect it to happen quickly. It will happen in their timeframe, not yours.

Nugget was with us for about 2 months before being adopted. He ended up fitting into our family very well. After the initial stress, the dogs all got along and found their place with each other. Nugget and Thorne often hung out together in the back yard. Nugget and Jackson pretty much just happily ignored each other. I’m so happy that we took the time we did to allow everyone to decompress and get comfortable with each other. It was worth it to give Nugget a great start to his new life!

Cheryl Caswell

Founder and Professional Dog Lover,
Happy Hearts Dog Adoption Services

Since 2001, I’ve dedicated much of my life to dogs by caring for thousands of them through Dogs at Camp Ottawa, my kennel-free boarding/daycamp business, and It’s a Dog’s Life, my dog daycare in Toronto. I am the mom to 6 beautiful rescues, volunteer with local Ottawa dog rescues, and have fostered over 70 dogs since 2009.

I’m asked fairly regularly to help people who are experiencing problems with their dog, or who want advice on what type of dog to adopt – and so Happy Hearts Dog Adoption Services came to life!

I believe that if people are more prepared and knowledgeable, more dogs will stay in their forever home

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