The other fascinating (frustrating, curious and stressful) part of my weekend at Albury was taking Czar and introducing him to H and JB's dogs. Czar is pretty well socialised, especially since twice weekly trips to Knox for the last six months, but how was he going to cope living in a small cabin with 5 other dogs?
The other dogs present were Milo and Flash, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Sophie, an English Springer Spaniel, who all call H mum. JB's Enya is also a pointer and Nancy is an adorable Miniature Schnauzer. I was pretty sure the three Pointers would be ok, but I'd seen Czar bark his head off at Sophie before, and I was worried about Nancy being too small.
To start off, we kept Czar in the car while we were setting up, more worried about the door being open while we carried loads of equipment to the car, than the other dogs. Once we were ready, I walked him from the caravan park across the road, to the Albury & Border Kennel Club's grounds. We did some laps, sniffing lots of sniffs, meeting lots of dogs. After our Rally trial, Czar slept in his crate in our gazebo with the other dogs and was quiet and well behaved.
When we got all the dogs ready to head back to the caravan park, we'd slightly forgotten that Czar hadn't actually met the other dogs properly, at least I had. We were chatting, gathering up equipment and holding various leashes of milling dogs when someone looked down. There'd been no noise, no leash vibrating with a growl, but one of the dogs had decided to grab Czar's face! We quickly separated them, no harm done, apart from human hearts skipping beats. Czar was standing there, without reacting, good boy!
It was really confusing. Czar was quite relaxed, even though another dog had just had a mouthful of his lips. Ok, score one for being used to living with a dominant bitch, I thought. (Ishka, not me!)
When we got back to the cabin, the dog that had had a go at Czar was crated, and the other five were left to wander. There was a premium on couch space, and a massive distraction happening in the galley kitchen. The dogs roamed around, checking out all the smells, checking out each other. I encouraged Czar to sit near me next to the couch and relax, but he was keen to keep moving.
After a few minutes, H and I both noticed that Czar had his hackles up, eyes wide. His tail was still up and wagging, but he was a bit stressed. I was inclined to watch for a minute or two more, but we erred on the better side of caution and put him in a crate.
For most of the rest of the afternoon/evening, that was the pattern. Either Czar was in a crate and everyone else was loose, or Czar was in the cabin while everyone else was busy elsewhere.
Because our cabin had minimal shutable doors, containing or separating dogs was a real challenge. We still had options, such as using the back of the husky mobile, stakeout lines, and crates, but giving dogs space to eat without worrying about guarding their food, or space to sit and relax was difficult.
The closer we got to bed, the more worried I got. Should I leave Czar to sleep in the car? Could I trust him on a dog bed? If he was crated would he complain about everyone else being lose? Czar is used to sharing a dog bed with Bolo at the foot of J's and my bed, and I thought there'd probably be caravan-park shaking howling if I left him alone in the car. I often wake up to Czar sleeping under my bed, so I didn't think I could trust him to stay put without being contained. And I knew he wasn't snugly enough to want to sleep curled up with me. I rang J and we talked about it. He recommended a covered crate. Initially Czar wasn't very happy, but he settled down ok.
Next morning we all got up and toileted various dogs and started packing. JB and H had early starts for obedience, so I stayed out of the way, waiting for them to leave so I could shower, dress, clean up and check us all out. Czar and I were waiting in the small bedroom, and he decided he needed to stay close to mummy, even when the door was open.
One of the things I felt Czar and I had lost recently was the snuggle factor. Since our trip to Albury, Czar has been much much more affectionate. He's still not going to spend hours on the couch with me, but he is very happy when I come home. I regularly look down to see that he's plonked himself in heel and shoved his head under my hand - and I'm absentmindedly scratching his ears!
I'm not sure that this will translate into better obedience, or listening to me when J is around, but I'm hopeful that I've earned his trust and affection, and I hope this time I can keep it!