I had two birds – and then I got a dog

By Melanie Jansen

I’ve had birds my entire life. My first pet was a blue budgie named Bird (I know, I know – not very creative). I can’t imagine not having a companion parrot – the house seems empty without at least one of the little dinosaurs supervising my work product.

Bean and Wilson

But here’s the thing: I also love dogs, but for the longest time I was afraid to bring a dog into the house because predators and prey don’t play well together. Even if there’s no intention to do harm, an exploratory paw or experimental mouthing can mean big trouble for a tiny little bird.

So for many years I got my dog fix by volunteering at a local shelter. I’d spend the afternoon walking, socializing, and training dogs. And then, after a lot of research and preparation, I started fostering dogs, with the idea that I would “rent to own” (as I called it). While I was giving a dog a quiet place to stay to recover from kennel cough or gain weight, I could do a behavioral assessment and also see if I could handle the space management and vigilance necessary for a safe multi-species, predator/prey household.

The first few dogs were easy (mostly because I got lucky). After going through Behavior Fundamentals at FetchFind Academy, I started to approach the foster dog selection in a more systematic and informed way. I’d watch the body language, research breed characteristics, and constantly evaluate for prey drive. Lab mix puppies were overall the best (for so many reasons!), but my eventual foster failure surprised me.

Hattie with monkeyHattie is a senior chihuahua-pug-beagle (?) mix – she rarely barks, she avoids conflict, and (bless her heart) she is so far down on the totem pole that I don’t think it has ever occurred to her to react aggressively when one of the birds encroaches on her space. This happens more than either of us would prefer, because birds are naturally Very Nosey Indeed.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not always super-vigilant about who is where (and here is a Public Service Announcement: never leave your dogs and birds unsupervised or put them into a situation that can result in harm, no matter how cute you think that video is going to be). But taking several years to evaluate every foster dog on his or her own merits and making a final selection based on sound information has resulted in a very happy and balanced multi-species home.

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