Welcome Home Rose

Though allowed free roam of the house, Mouse and Duchess do have a fancy two-story condo that Ed built for them that they use as their home base. To prepare for Rose’s arrival, I’ve moved the bunny house from the living room to the second bedroom. It’s not ideal, but the bunnies will have to be isolated in the second bedroom for the time being. We’ll be starting off this process using a “belt and suspenders” approach to guarding the doorway: the door itself combined with a sturdy wooden baby gate.

Ed attaches NIC cube panels across the baby gate to ensure that there will be no bunny escapees and no dog jaws pushed through the bars of the gate.

We’ll start off with the door closed so there is no visual contact. Eventually we’ll open the door and just use the gate to prevent physical access. Even at that point we will always be closing the door between the animals when there is no one around to supervise them.

Ed brings home several double thickness boxes and we together we build a large cardboard castle for Mouse and Duchess. We’re putting it in the second bedroom for their entertainment – we’re really sorry you’re limited to the second bedroom right now!

May 4th, 2006. Rose comes home! She thinks this place smells really funky. I’ve deliberately not vacuumed so she is smelling rabbit everywhere. I’m acting like it’s completely normal to have bunnies living in your ‘den’ – “Good girl, Rose!”

It’s easy to understand that everything is new and overwhelming for Rose right now. She’s a senior dog who has been in a shelter, a foster home, and a kennel over the last few months. Right now we’re focusing on helping her to settle in and to feel safe, secure and comfortable. We’ll be providing her with a regular walking, eating, and sleeping schedule. This is what we want to focus on during the next few weeks. Well, plus loving and welcoming her, of course.

My friend the dog trainer, Anna (anna_mann72@yahoo.com for those on the Westside of LA) has recommended that we not dive into training just yet, but rather let Rose settle into her new home and start to relax first. I’ve been told that it can take quite awhile for rescue dogs to truly unwind and ‘be themselves’.

Over the next few days I’m letting Rose smell bunny things as they come out of the bedroom: litter pans, bedding, brushed out fur, the works. “Gentle girl, Rose!” She is learning that my expectation for her behavior when she smells bunnies is to be gentle, calm, relaxed. This is a time for lots of praise and positive reinforcement.

We’ve gotten really lucky because it’s obvious that Rose has been obedience trained. She’s not like a soldier marching in formation, but it’s clear that the basics are there. At this point on our walks I’m mostly reinforcing good behavior and only introducing one or two new things to her.

On one of our walks through the neighborhood, we make an amazing and fortuitous discovery. There is an empty corner lot with a 6’ chain link fence surrounding it that has a domestic bunny living inside! According to the neighbors, the bunny belongs to one of the families living next door and he’s been hanging out in the lot off and on for the last six months. This rabbit has become quite the local mascot. Neighbors bring offerings of vegetables and walk their kids and dogs past the lot, while the bunny -- apparently completely fearless -- hops around, grooms himself, flops over in full recline, eats, or greets his adoring public as the mood strikes.

I’ve got my treat bag with me the first time we see the bunny, and Rose and I spend about five minutes watching the bunny eat about two feet away from us. Rose is pretty excited, but responds when I tell her to sit down. I concentrate on stroking her, giving her treats, and repeating “Nice, Gentle Rose. Good Dog! Good Dog!” The second time we visit the rabbit, he hops directly over to us, bold as can be and he and Rose sniff each other -- nose-to-nose -- for about 15 seconds. Rose behaves like a dream! I think the rabbit’s complete lack of fear has something to do with this reaction. I’ve seen other people bringing their dogs over as well and getting similar reactions. Over the next several days, during which we visit the rabbit at least once a day, Rose becomes totally bored with the rabbit. “Can we go now, Mom?” This is just the result I was hoping for.

We’ve had so much success with Rose’s behavior toward the neighborhood mascot bunny that Ed and I decide to open the second bedroom door. It’s almost anti-climatic. I’m on the bunny side of the door and Ed is with Rose on the other side. He pets and praises her for her calm reaction. Not a bunny thump emerges, even from the Queen of thumping, Duchess. Mouse comes over to investigate and I pet him and feed him a little dried prune. He’s not acting scared, just interested in what’s going on and hungry for prune.

Now that they can see each other here’s the general scene: Mouse hops over and gives Rose a sideways glance and then hops leisurely away. Rose looks through the gate but loses interest quickly (these are lazy rabbits…there’s not much to watch when they are lounging around all day). Over the next couple of days she only goes to the gate if I am in the bunny room and talking to the rabbits. She’ll generally lie down in front of the door to wait for me to come out. Otherwise she pays no attention to them. Mouse will occasionally come within two feet of the gate when Rose is outside it, and Duchess – does she even realize that there is a dog in the house? I thought she’d lose her marbles, but she’s acting completely blasé.

Next Up: Down-stay & sit-stay – Training for Rose

1 comment:

  1. Any suggestions for someone in the EXACT SAME spot you were in at this blog (I have a belgian malinois which is like the german shepherds cousin, and 2 house rabbits with an enormo-condo) but who doesn't have a neighborhood bunny mascot?