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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sharing Your Dog with Former Owners

Hi Jan,
I wrote to you once before about our little adopted Shih Tzu, who is just 2 years old. Briefly, he was owned by a woman named Kay who's in a wheelchair, she bought him as a pup, and rehomed him with my husband and me in July of this year.

Our problem is that he is still very bonded with Kay and her husband. Kay loves him, but doesn't want to own him. Whenever we're around them, which is often, she smooches him up and he adores her. We just spent the weekend with them and their little Shih Tzu, and it was apparent that our dog is still very tied to her because he follows her everywhere and doesn't take his eyes off of her.

When we're at home, he's very connected to me, follows me around, but if we go to Kay's house, he's attached to her. Will this ever change??? We're thinking we should keep the dog away from them for a period of time, but is that a mistake? I don't know how to handle this. Any suggestions? We adore this little dog but we're feeling left out. Help.

Thank you,

These are really good questions to ask, as many people go through this experience.

We acquired our second Swissy, Atlas, from a pear farmer in Peshastin. Atlas was a year old when we took him. George had loved him dearly, and Atlas was very bonded to George. But when George drove away that day and left him with us in Yakima, Atlas became our dog and lived in our pack, by our rules. Atlas became loyal to us. Over the years that followed, however, Atlas got to see and visit with George many times. Atlas was OVERJOYED each and every time he saw him. He would run to him, get all excited, and fall right into the fun little routines and tricks that he and George used to do together. If we had driven away and left him with George, Atlas would have been perfectly content to stay with him permanently again.

But...if we were all standing around in a group, and Atlas was next to George, Atlas would come to me if I called him. He would leave George and come to me, seriously and dutifully, because he understood that my commands superseded George's. That's because I had worked with him more, and he'd lived with me longer than he'd lived with George.

We never begrudged his love for George. We always considered that Atlas was lucky to have "two families." We also knew how much it warmed George's heart to know that Atlas still remembered him and cared about him. So we "shared" Atlas, and it was a win-win for all parties concerned.

My advice is to continue spending as much time with Kay as you want. Let her enjoy your dog, and let him enjoy her. Cut him some slack in the manners department when he's visiting, and let her set the rules in her house. In other words, let her be the pack leader when he's there. He's still coming home with you, and he's not there often enough to get confused about who the boss really is. It is you.

While she may not ever want him back full-time, it's nice to have an "auntie" around who might dog-sit in a crunch. So keep the emotional doors open for that reason too!

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