I often think that sharing experiences and situations we’ve been through with our dogs is a great way for people to learn. It’s a great way to connect with our fellow dog-lovers and sometimes, a really reassuring thing for all of us to read other people’s stories. We often see a lot of our own situations mirrored in their words and it’s nice to know “ah, it’s not just me then”. So, today I thought I’d put pen to paper and have a little chat about what we’ve been going through with our Dice – The Fooligan as you may know him.
Setting the Scene
Dice is now 2.5 years old. He is completely handsome and is maturing beautifully. Fit as a fiddle. Powerful. Strong. Healthy and has the most enormous lust for life in general. He is as beautiful on the inside as he is on the outside. Quite simply, he is my absolute world. He is male dog number 7 for me over the course of 40 years. Although I have had females in the past, for some reason I just seem to resonate with the energy that male dogs bring and made my peace some 15 years ago that from here on in, it was boys for me. I’ve had dominant boys, goofy boys, affectionate boys, grippy boys, confident boys and submissive boys. I like to think that, pretty much, I’ve seen it all … but nothing prepared me for the last six months I have endured with Dice (and yes, I do use the word “endured” advisedly!)
As you know, as boys mature their hormones kick in. The testosterone begins to rage and course through their bodies. This testosterone plays several roles; it helps to give them the confidence to deal with potential scary situations and can prevent them from becoming a needy, fearful and reactive dog. It helps their body mature, increasing their masculinity, power, joint and mobility function and all round “maleness”. It also means their interest in the fairer sex can become their reason for being and in some cases can prove quite a challenge. At this stage, many people opt to castrate, citing that it will help calm the behaviours, prevent roaming, unplanned pregnancies, aggression and even medical problems. Now, that is a topic for another day but for me, personally, I am not one for castration unless there is a direct medical or behavioural need for the procedure. Agree with me or don’t, that’s your choice.
Getting a New Puppy
As a rule, I firmly believe that a puppy should be the youngest dog in the home until it is kind of “done”. What I mean by that is until it has learned sufficient rules, boundaries, guidance, obedience and general training such that you feel having a second puppy would not take away your time and attention from puppy number one. Each dog needs a certain level of time and 121 dedication spent with and on them. They learn from you and your day to day training, but they also learn from your other pack members too. So, if you bring in another puppy before the first has learned the majority of the lessons you want to teach, they will also learn from each other and what you will likely end up with is two unruly, naughty puppies, rather than two well behaved hounds! For me, I like to have around 2.5-3 years between my dogs so that each puppy gets to be the number one focus of my attention as they learn, before we do it all over again.
This time around, this was not an option. I very unexpectedly had to say a heart-breaking farewell to my darling Chi at just 7 years old, in October last year. That left us with RainBob, 11 years old with epilepsy and arthritis, and Dice at just 19 months old. How long you are fortunate enough to have your dogs in your life is not an exact science but generally speaking, I think it’s fair to expect a Ridgeback to live around 11-12 years if you are lucky. With that in mind, with RainBob already turned 11, I was worried that we may lose him leaving Dice without a mentor. He had never been an “only dog” and so I decided to bring in another puppy so that he would have company and a pal for when the inevitable happened. Coda, his nephew, arrived to share our lives in February 2021 when Dice was 22 months old. I was a little reticent about the closeness of their ages, but confident with my level of experience, we could get through it.
Everything started very well. Coda was, and is, the perfect puppy (in fact the easiest I’ve ever had). He loved Dice from the off and Dice thought he was a fun kid to have around too. He adored his Uncle RainBob who, as always, took on the role of Nanny straight away instilling manners, discipline and teaching of the young upstart immediately. This is a role he has always performed and one he did admirably with Chi and Dice and, until Coda came along, it was a role he was still fulfilling happily with Dice. Dice loves RainBob and to a point, it was like he was Rain’s son. He was allowed to get away with virtually anything and was lavished with affection.
As soon as Coda arrived, his time as “puppy of the pack” was over. There was a new pretender to that throne and the focus of RainBob’s nannying attention switched to Coda. This meant that if Dice played with Coda and got too much, RainBob would step in and tell him off. If he tried to take something back that had Coda had stolen, RainBob would step in, shout, and take it back to give to the baby. In fact, if Dice did anything at all with Coda, RainBob would pull rank and stop it like the Fun Police. Poor Dice. All he wanted was to play but he could only do it if RainBob wasn’t watching, or if he was willing to endure biting with needle sharp teeth without complaining. You could see he was conflicted. He desperately wanted to play with his new nephew who he clearly adored, but didn’t want to incur the wrath of his thus far protector and confident.
As Coda turned about 4 months of age, Dice had a hormone surge. How do we know this? Well, not to be too blunt about it, his nuts grew twice their previous size within a week. He suddenly became “all boy”. Every waking moment was driven by his nether regions; sniffing girlie pee, wanting to hump anything with a pulse, not able to listen or to concentrate. His recall went out the window and we had to return to long-lines to keep him safe. He could no longer walk on a lead without pulling like a train to get to every single sniff and scent. He couldn’t concentrate on his beloved agility – as soon as you left the start line, he’d just clear off and start sniffing the nearest “scent of a woman”. He went on hunger strike and instead of eating three times a day, from his bowl, at his feeding station, with the other boys, he would just lie miserably refusing even to look in the direction of the kitchen. He wouldn’t eat at all (even if I begged) and he dropped 4 kilos in weight. We tried everything to get him to eat from hot roast chicken, every type of kibble (soaked and dry), different flavours of raw and even human food, but in the end he would only eat, begrudgingly, if he was fed his normal food but heated for 2.5 minutes in the microwave, from a glass bowl, outside, on a particular step of the patio, alone with nobody watching – now this may sound extreme but when you have watched your dog fade away to something that looks like a neglect case, you are willing to try anything to get him to eat. He wouldn’t even take treats so any chance of training and trying to work around the behaviours was also pretty much off the table, so his obedience and agility classes all had to be put on hold while we tried to get a handle on what was going on with him.
Laying his mood and behaviours squarely at the door of his hormones, after nearly 5 months of this I had reached the point where I was starting to see no other option than castration. I looked at chemical castration as a temporary fix but as I am hoping perhaps one day to have a litter from him, the risk associated with this was too high. I didn’t want to go down the line of neutering but honestly, his wellbeing, mental state and general happiness was more important to me than any prospective litter so I rang the vet. We discussed his behaviours at length and it certainly did look from his point of view as if things would only get worse. I couldn’t begin to imagine how things could ever be worse than what he was going through. He looked sad, depressed and with little or no interest in food or life in general. My gorgeous, crazy Fooligan was disappearing before my eyes and really was not the boy he once was. I decided, as with all important decisions, to sleep on it. To give it just a little longer, to read up and chat to other people to see if any anecdotal evidence would help, but there was little to persuade me things would get better – I myself was on dog number 7 and had never gone through anything this extreme, so it was looking like we were out of options.
And then one day, a couple of weeks later, Coda took a toy from Dice and he took it back … and RainBob did nothing! They started playing more and more vigorously with squeals and growls and barks and snaps …. and RainBob did nothing! Dice started to stand up to Coda (now just approaching 9 months of age) and RainBob allowed it to happen. In fact, RainBob allowed absolutely everything that Dice dished out to Coda to go unchallenged. Coda’s “puppy license” had run out! In RainBob’s mind, his job was done, Coda was grown up and must now go it alone. He and Dice were on even terms in Rain’s mind and no longer the puppy that needed looking after.
Literally overnight, the dynamic changed and with it, the behaviours Dice was exhibiting. Suddenly, he was queuing for his breakfast. Not only that, but he would have it immediately, cold, in his own dish at his own feeding station with Rain and Coda at the same time!!! He would walk beautifully on the lead. He would recall to the whistle with power and drive. He would come for a cuddle in a morning with me on the bed and shove Coda out of the way if he felt it was his turn. His agility training just went BANG and he was BACK!!! Running, jumping, listening, enthusiastically doing all that I asked of him and taking any treats I’d give as payment like I’d never seen before. He was putting on weight like a thing possessed and was quite clearly just HAPPY. He was my Fooligan again.
So now, six months after it all began, life has returned to normal and harmony reigns in our pack. RainBob is still top dog, though he rarely has to pull rank. Dice and Coda are best mates, sparing, playing and enjoying having somebody big enough and daft enough to take all the high octane play that they can muster and me? Well, I’m just glad to have things back to normal. Six months is a long LONG time to watch your dogs going through something so massive that you can’t explain and can’t resolve. I still feel I am right that there should be a 2.5-3 year age gap between Ridgebacks. It takes that long for the baby to become the adult … and that’s time I feel they deserve. Bringing a puppy in before then robs the first dog of his puppyhood and they have to grow up REAL FAST. It’s not something I wanted to do, and not something I would look to do in the future, but at least having gone through all of this, if I ever see it again, I’ll have a better idea of what is going on.
This is just our experience and every dog and every scenario is different but maybe reading this will give you hope if you are going through something similar. Hang in there. You’re doing great and your dogs will thank you for your calm, consistent direction.
Yours …. The Pack @ Metalrock Ridgebacks