We decided to give Cato the Corso a chance to join our family. I made absolutely sure to purposely scare my wife and children about this powerful dog with the skittish tendencies before taking him into our home. I am under no delusions when it comes to what nervous, powerful dogs can do to children, other dogs, neighbors, or their own owners after the honeymoon phase (the first couple of weeks when a dog finds him/herself in a new home) is over. I wanted this strong dog to understand he would have to adapt and fit in with our tribe – not the other way round. Cato would have to understand he was last place in our family. By the way, that is such a good place for a new rescue to be in. When you’re in last place in a family group/pack all you have to do is fit in and follow. In this way I knew the cares of the world would soon melt away from Cato’s muscle-bound shoulders and he would have a real chance at a quality life with my family and because he’d be in last place that leaves zero room for classic dog manipulation and one-upmanship to gain a foothold in the relationship.
You see, as I mentioned in Part 2, every single day in our custom behavioral work to save dogs on their last leg behaviorally speaking (we often bat clean up when shoddy mainstream dog training and behavior mod. methods fail) I see the other side of the shelter and rescue industry…the ugly side of rescue that has no delicate commercials with weepy singing. Every day I see and experience the side where kids have been bitten in the face, the side where dogs escape their yard and then attack the hapless neighbor or the friendly dog passing by! That’s why I gave you my Touch and Go technique and also why I gave you a strong admonishment in Part 2 of our story. Please heed my warnings or the next child that’s bit in the face or the next dog that is attacked might be your own!
My family, pre-Cato, was made up of six humans and one faithful, old boxer. We had recently lost Bosley, our first boxer, to old age a couple months prior. We decided to take Cato for a few weeks and see if he’d be a good fit with our family. We piled all four kids into the minivan and drove over to pick him up from the lady’s house.
Initially Cato would not jump into the back of our minivan. This well-muscled pantheresque beast was afraid. His fearful posture kept him so low to the ground he was almost scraping his belly! So instead of just picking him up and placing him in the van (instead of doing what most people would do) I decided to walk him around for a little while and let him bond more with me and then with my wife while he was on leash. I purposely chose to take extra moments with the dog instead of just doing what was convenient. I also kept talking to a minimum. I believe those two things are important to note for any dog owner living in 2019. While walking him I would frequently walk us back to the open rear part of our minivan and gently but firmly tug him right up close to the entrance. He’d attempt to face away from the van and I’d make sure his head was facing the right direction. This was a step I’d make sure to accomplish because in a couple reps I wanted him to be able to hop into the back of the van without me lifting him in. So I’d walk him up to the rear of the van and then I’d sit with my butt on the edge of the van and adjust his posture to a somewhat normal/relaxed posture. I accomplished this by petting his neck and jaw area and as I did so I’d gently push/lift his head upward. Occasionally I’d slip a hand underneath his chest and belly area and lift his body upward too making him stand comfortably. Then, before Cato had a chance to go back into fearful postures and a flighty state, I’d take the initiative and we’d walk away leaving the back of the van for a short time only to return a few minutes later and repeat the entire sequence. Each time I did this Cato made progress. This was done almost entirely without human talking. (I highly suggest less human talking when working with a dog. It is fantastic.) Cato soon hoped into our van with a slight tug from the leash.
Let’s fast forward to his introduction to our family home.
Before ever stepping foot inside our house we had gone to grab breakfast at a fast food place and as my wife ordered for everyone I worked on Cato’s leash manners and taught him to heel in the parking lot. After breakfast it was back into the van and on to our house.
I kept him on leash and had him heel around our property. Heeling drains energy and also puts a dog in a follower role. (There is a video I’ve made available for purchase all about Heeling and Leash Manners) Draining energy and putting a dog in a follower role are both great ideas for most dogs – especially any new rescue dog. Then I let him sniff around the front of our property and then around our large fenced back yard. At this time we lived in a place I had named Stepping Stone. It was a great house on an acre and had everything a growing family needed. It came with some very nice amenities too.
To intro our older dog, Rambo, to Cato I had my wife walk Rambo out on leash and we took a long walk around the neighborhood. Each dog was made to heel and walk parallel with the other. Even though I knew Cato would probably do well with Rambo I still took the time to cover all the bases behaviorally speaking.
WHEN TWO DOGS ARE INTRODUCED TO EACH OTHER FOR THE FIRST TIME…they should be walked in the heel position with the owners. (Ideally they’d be exercised already to take the edge off the energy) The goal is to go down the street side by side and NOT face to face. They should NOT typically be given free access to meet and go eye-to-eye and head-to-head initially unless you trust both dogs! After a few minutes of heeling the calmest dog should be given access to smell the other dog’s rear end and then go immediately back to heeling. Then, after more walking, the other/new dog (if ready and looking to sniff and NOT stare) should smell the calm dog’s rear end and then be made to heel again the next moment. After a block or three and a few “rear end repetitions” they should be given access to smell all over (face-to-face too) while the owners are acting in a smooth, calm manner and making sure the leashes are relaxed and NOT taut. Is that how most folks intro a new dog to their other dog? NO but it should be! If every dog owner followed this instruction when introducing a new dog to their home there would be way less dog-dog problems!
I’ll pause here and ask you to stay tuned for the 4th and Final part of Cato’s story…