When Company Is Competition: The One-Dog House

Our dog Dory turned seven over the weekend and I’m trying to figure out how best to celebrate. Dory is a miniature poodle we adopted from the breeder after she won her championship title. She carries a gene that produces parti-colored pups making her unsuitable as a show dog brood bitch*. Bad news for the dog show world, but great news for us. We adopted Dory when she was four and despite her shyness when we first met her, she quickly attached herself to both of us.

Dory in her show days (16 months)
A glamour shot of Dory in her show days (16 months)
Dory at 18 months, ready to knock 'em dead.
Dory at 18 months, ready to knock ’em dead.

Sometimes, I worry she’s too attached. Whenever Dory’s been alone for a while, the greeting she gives us on our return is anywhere from ecstatic to frantic. She jumps, she whines, she races around, then jumps some more. I talk to her and pet her, trying to calm her down, but it doesn’t seem to matter what I do. Sitting and calmly petting her gets no different response than playing with her or ignoring her entirely. I do my best to be calm and patient, knowing that yelling or being annoyed isn’t likely to help. But no amount of calm on my part transfers over. She goes through her wild greeting, one that seems to have gotten crazier in the three years that we’ve owned her.

Maybe leaving her alone is too stressful for her. It’s hard not to feel like her wild response translates as “I can’t believe you came back! I thought you were gone for good! I was so lonely!” Maybe if there were another dog around to keep her company whenever her people left, she might be less anxious. After all, she grew up in a house full of dogs, so that’s what she’s used to. But I don’t know if that’s a good option for her.

Show dog in retirement (i.e., a lot less hair!)
Show dog in retirement (i.e., a lot less hair!)

Dory’s breeder Suzi came to visit us eight or nine months after Dory moved in. She brought some other poodles with her, including Dory’s own son, and we let them race around in the backyard. At first, Dory was excited to have other dogs around. But it wasn’t long before Dory was hanging out with the people more than the poodles and by the time we came back inside, she just wanted to be in my lap.

Dory riding in Kurt's vest during a hike too cold and snowy for her. She's ready for spring!
Dory riding in Kurt’s vest during a hike too cold and snowy for her. She’s ready for spring!

As we sat talking, I told Suzi, “I wish you could see us at bedtime.” We play fetch with Dory in the evenings. She has an army of little stuffed toys the size of your palm and we take turns throwing a toy down the hall for her. She races back down the hall, grabs her toy, and races back, launching herself so that she lands on the bed, squeezing the toy in her mouth the entire time to make it squeak. She sounds like the percussion section of a kazoo band. Downstairs, you can hear the thunder when she runs, which is why we call her Thunderpaws.

When I told Suzi about this game and how much Dory enjoys it, she smiled me at me. “That’s great,” she said. “Dory was the slowest one at our house. When we played fetch, she never got the toy.”

This news hit me harder than you might think. I felt sorry for Dory. Knowing how much she loves to play fetch, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for her to be excluded. Dory is on the small size, even for a miniature poodle, but it never occurred to me that she might be slow. I saw her racing around with the other dogs in the yard but I hadn’t paid attention. She was slower than they were, possibly because of her shorter legs.

All of this calls the idea of getting another dog into question. Maybe Dory is actually happier as the only dog, even if it does mean she spends time completely alone when we go to work. Would having company at all times be more important to her than being able to play fetch? I wish she could tell me so I knew what to do.

In the meantime, I’ve figured out exactly how to celebrate her birthday. I’m going to go find her toys. It’s time for a game of fetch.

Have you ever had a pet that needed to be the only pet in the house? How did you deal with it?
*The AKC defines a poodle has having one of ten solid colors. Parti-colored dogs do not meet the breed standard, so breeding a dog that carries this gene is not a good strategy for a breeder trying to raise show dogs.

Author: Kit Dunsmore

Kit is a writer and an artist who adores living in Colorado. Whether she's hiking in the mountains or walking the prairies, she's always watching the wildlife in order to learn more about the natural world.

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