Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Kitten detox

I wanted to post more pictures of Phoenix and his kittens but their relationship has reached the stage where he is allowed to interact with them without any barrier between them and that means I am full-time Polite Dog Behavior Enforcer instead of Adorable Kitten and Dog Photographer. I’ve never had to work through anything like this before. None of my previous dogs exhibited the degree of cat obsession that Phoenix has.

The kittens have lived with us for 5 days. They are getting progressively sillier (think wild kitten acrobatics and well intentioned but badly executed ninja moves.) Phoenix is getting progressively calmer around them. That’s not to say he’s calm. He’s just calm-er.

The message I’m trying to instill is simple: be gentle, don’t chase, pounce, snap or muzzle punch and you can continue to have access to the kittens. Be an asshole and they go away. (Technically, he goes away. Be nice or we leave.)

It’s working. Slowly. For him, kittens are forbidden fruit. He wants them desperately. Wants to sniff them, to see what they ARE, what they DO. To play with them? Maybe. But not in a happy Walt Disney inter-species frolic sort of way. Malinois play often is only enjoyable for the malinois. I’ll be happy just to establish an acceptable level of tolerance (i.e., don’t eat the cat).

Each morning after the dogs have their breakfast, we go out to the barn. Phoenix runs ahead and bounces at the door until I open it. Then he runs in and greets the kittens in their big crate. (They’re crated at night until they get bigger.) The kittens are delighted to see him. They stand on their hind legs and poke their little paws through the crate to pat his nose while he sniffs. This is all very sweet but I didn’t start allowing Phoenix to run ahead of me until they’d been here about 3 days because until that point, Phoenix was pretty sure any kitty parts extending beyond the crate should be chomped.

Both dogs go into an x-pen and the kittens are turned loose to run amuck. (They wrote the book on running amuck. Seriously. It’s on Amazon.) The first place they run to is the x-pen to see the dogs. I realize these kittens were raised with two dogs but I still find it kind of incredible that they have deliberate greeting rituals with another species who could be predators. Jamie is laid back and gentle. Phoenix is . . . more gentle than he was the first night they arrived. They all touch noses through the wires and then the kittens race off to be berserk.

Initially I started this process with the kittens IN the x-pen and the dogs OUT of the x-pen. I really thought the x-pen wires were small enough the kittens could not escape but they quickly disproved that theory. (Animals continually make liars out of me. Welcome to my life.)

The dogs stay in the x-pen while I clean the kittens’ crate. Phoenix can’t have access to the kittens unless I can watch him 100 percent of the time. Once the litter box is cleaned and I’ve refilled water and food bowls, Phoenix gets to come out of the x-pen, on a leash, and I sit on an upturned bucket and we practice acceptable behavior around kittens.

The kittens have no clue what’s going on. They continue their madcap racing around, their paths often taking them right across Phoenix’s feet or under this belly. One might argue for exposure from a distance at first but this proved to be impossible, since the kittens gravitate toward us, no matter where we go in the barn. During the initial 48 hours, I sat on the bucket and held one kitten at a time, with Phoenix in the x-pen nearby, until he could behave himself in their presence without going over threshold.

Lunging, snapping, biting and flat out chasing are not permitted. Phoenix tried them all the first couple of days. The kittens have grown bolder and now their crazed leaps often land them between Phoenix’s feet or right under his nose. He’s allowed to sniff and nudge them around with his nose. I learned how fast this can escalate to muzzle punches (Run damnit, so I can chase you!) and it took about 4 days before he could just sniff and then be called away before it escalated to anything more or even backed off voluntarily. (He was always on leash and my reflexes have become amazing sharp when I’m watching his body language like a hawk - no kittens were harmed! Probably scared once or twice but they still remain infatuated with the dogs in general. Go figure.)

The amount of treats Phoenix has eaten in the last 5 days during the kitten conditioning is staggering. My refrigerator has never been so clean. Seriously. Leftover chicken breast, pork patties, steak, salmon and a veritable smorgasbord of commercial treats.

The long term goal is to have him understand that these kittens are NOT prey animals and eventually, for him to be relaxed enough around them that he can be trusted not to chase. Although the kittens are allegedly “barn cats” I’m sure they’ll end up around the house and in the dogs’ yard from time to time.

As always with this wonderful crazy dog, there is a vast learning curve.

In the meantime, the Farmer has informed me we should sell the house because I am never home and when I am home, I’m out in the barn with the dogs and the cats. Apparently that is a problem?


  1. How does selling the house fix that problem?

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