We get a lot of questions about how Millie and Gracie get along, since they’re such an odd couple. It could have been a complete disaster. The truth is, they get along great, from the first time they met.
I was worried Gracie would get hurt; I was worried Millie would be aggressive; I was worried about a lot. Let me say this right now. Millie has completely erased any fear I ever had. Pit bulls come with a certain stigma and while I never subscribed to that fear of the breed itself, I will admit that I had more of a hesitant respect for them than other dogs. I was wrong and realize now that even that was playing a part in perpetuating the myth. I’m still respectful of all dogs and would never approach a dog I don’t know without first assessing their mood and situation, and I’m well aware that anything can set off a dog, but I will fight anyone to the death that says pit bulls are more aggressive than other breeds. Gracie is more aggressive than our pit bull. I’m more aggressive than our pit bull! She has never shown even an ounce of vicious aggression. She might knock you over when she sees you, but only because she’s so excited to lick you. She’s a gentle giant and we even notice when she play fights with Gracie, she keeps her mouth open. She never bites down all the way (meanwhile Gracie clamps down on her lips and ankles like they’re chew toys).
So if anything, Gracie is the aggressor. I would chalk it up to a Napoleon complex, but dachshunds also just have a tendency to be a feisty, even a little vicious at times, so it’s really just that she’s a natural born jerk. Not in a bad way, because she’s my favorite jerk in the world, but dachshunds were originally bred in Germany to flush badgers out of holes. And badgers are straight up mean, nasty animals. So dachshunds, by nature, had to be able to hold their own against them. These days the cute little weenie dog you see walking down the street probably isn’t on its way back from a fight with a badger, but a lot of them still have their predatory instincts.
Gracie is no exception. She’s dominant, confident, and completely unafraid of anything except the vacuum. She gets jealous; Millie doesn’t. She’s manipulative; Millie isn’t. You’re probably like “how could a dog be manipulative? Pretty sure dogs aren’t capable of that malice. Time to stop reading the crazy lady’s blog.” Hear me out. When they play, Gracie specifically waits for Millie to be distracted to go after her, and when Millie responds, Gracie retreats to under the couch. She’ll stay under there barking until Millie goes searching for her, and when she does, Gracie zips out the other end, because she knows Millie is stuck long enough that now Gracie can go steal her toy. Smart little scheme she’s got figured out. Then she takes the toy and hides under the other couch in the far corner against the wall, and chews it there so Millie can’t find her.
I think I’ve outlined pretty well how irritating Gracie can be to Millie. And yet I’ve never even heard a real growl out of Millie. Sometimes she gives Gracie a little rumble when she gets too close in the middle of a nap, but it’s more like she’s talking to her – a complaint more than a growl. Like what I do to Joe when he wakes me up in the morning. She does bark, though. She’s got a scary bark. When she hears the doorbell or someone comes in that she isn’t expecting, she’ll let you know she doesn’t appreciate it. But as soon as she sees who it is (our friends, my mom, my brother, whoever) she immediately turns off the bark and turns on the love. I do wonder what she would do if she ever thought we were in real danger. I obviously hope we never find out, but I will say that she makes me feel safe. If nothing else, she hears things I don’t. A car door slamming outside, the UPS truck driving down the street, someone knocking on a door the next street over. She’s very aware and protective of the house.
Gracie just barks at everything. A stick. A squirrel. The refrigerator. Everything’s looking at her wrong and she’s having none of it. “Nice try wind, blowing that leaf by me thinking I wouldn’t notice, but I’m onto you.”
The girls got along pretty much from day one. We’ve only had to intervene a few times when they play a little too rough, but generally they’ve figured out their own dynamic.
They more or less share their toys, sleep near each other (or on top of each other), and play nicely together (by that I mean there’s no yelping or vicious attacks). I think a lot of the bonding has to do with the fact that we got them both young. Millie was 15 weeks old when we brought Gracie home. They have pretty much the same energy levels, and for the most part they tire each other out. They play together and then nap together.
Keep in mind though that just because this situation worked for us doesn’t mean it’s the only option. I’ve seen plenty of adult dogs adjust just fine to puppies, and for most people it’s probably easier that way. I think the most important thing either way is socialization with other dogs from a young age. As long as your dog has been around other dogs and knows how to interact appropriately, you shouldn’t have a problem introducing a second pup. Our obedience trainer told us that it’s super important to socialize dogs starting as young as possible, as it’s almost impossible to correct aggressive or anxious behavior that comes as a result of never having been taught to be friendly with other dogs.
The fact that Millie and Gracie get along well doesn’t mean that we aren’t careful. We still separate them when they eat, even though neither is food aggressive, and we separate them when we aren’t home. Millie is free to roam the kitchen and Gracie gets gated into the hallway, though it’s rare that they’re home alone together anyway. Usually Gracie is at my mom’s when we’re out of the house. We hope once they’ve outgrown the puppy phase that we’ll be able to let them have the house unattended, but for now neither can be trusted not to eat everything in sight, furniture included. Apparently to them the couch looks like a big plate of bacon. Sigh.
I know we should crate them. We used to with Millie. But Joe’s a softie and doesn’t like “caging” her. We did everything we could to make the crate a comfortable “home” for her, but she never liked it. She was always very attached to us and always viewed the crate as separation from us. Experts say to leave the crate open in the family room and they’ll choose to lie down in there, because dog’s are den-dwelling animals. Well, I don’t know what that makes our dogs because they hated that thing. “Wolf instinct be damned, I want my mommy.” If they’re not touching you while they’re sleeping, they’re not sleeping. They sleep on the couch on our laps while we watch tv. And at night, they both sleep in bed with us. Millie on my legs or between us, and Gracie, forget it. She sleeps on my freakin neck, cheek to cheek. Complete spoiled brat. We may revisit the crate in the future, but for now we’re working without it. If that means the corner of a kitchen cabinet gets chewed while we’re out, so be it. It can be fixed. We didn’t want to force them to be somewhere they hated, so we chose to do what worked for us, rather than what the “experts” said.
A lot of specialists would also caution against getting two puppies at once, since they bond too closely and the owner becomes less important than the sibling. We considered this but created a work-around which was only made possible because of our schedules. I luckily work in an environment where I was able to bring Gracie to work with me when she was a baby, and now she spends mornings that I’m in the office at my parents’ house. We are able to come home or have someone else stop by at lunchtime during workdays for Millie, and neither of us works long into the night. This way, they’re always together when we’re home, so they have a close relationship, but it’s not so close that we become secondary to them.
We try to make sure to give each dog individual attention, too. Gracie goes to my mom’s house and plays with her dogs (they’re the same breed and size as she is) and Millie gets to go to the park and on long walks around the neighborhood on the weekends. I think it helps to make them both feel special, as crazy as that sounds, and it keeps our individual bonds strong with both of them.
I know I tend to ramble. This post is sort of a hybrid between Millie and Gracie’s specific dynamic and characteristics, and general tips on how we created a good bond between them.
The most important things we’ve learned are as follows:
- If you’re getting two puppies, consider getting them from different litters, and consider introducing one to the family shortly after the other, rather than at the exact same time. In our case, Millie was here for a month and a half before we brought Gracie home. It was long enough to create a bond with us and for us to get a handle on her personality and needs, but not so long that she felt territorial when Gracie did come into the picture. We knew this and did it intentionally.
- Do your research, but don’t go overboard. It’s important to consider the opinions and guidelines that dog experts have to offer, but it’s just as important to listen to your dog. Is it worth fighting them to get in their crate if they hate it? Their anxiety and misery wasn’t worth it to us.
- Don’t view them as one entity. They are each an individual member of your family, so give them each the individual attention they deserve. Do things separately so they don’t develop a dependence on each other.
- Socialize them starting at a young age anywhere and everywhere you can, with both other dogs and people. It’s not enough that they socialize with each other. They need to be comfortable with those that they don’t interact with in everyday life.
Are our dogs perfect? They’re definitely not. But they make us laugh and smile every day and fill our hearts with so much love. There’s nothing like that look they give you when you walk in the door after a long day. Plus, look at them.
One more post tomorrow about training them and what worked for us, then I promise I have some different posts coming!
In the meantime, follow Millie and Gracie’s adventures on Instagram with the hashtag #millandgrace!
PS – this interview with Kristen Kulinski, a veterinarian featured regularly on Pitbulls and Parolees, is a fantastic summary of pit bulls and why the stigma surrounding them is wrong.