Rehabilitation cases over the years...
Since working as a Behaviourist I have fostered several dogs needing rehabilitation, some from rescue and some from owners sadly not able to continue with issues that prove too difficult to overcome. Below are a few of the ones that have come to stay for some special help.
This magnificent German Shepherd came from the RSPCA in 2000. He looked rather forlorn and insecure in the first picture I saw of him, but he blossomed into one of the most amazing dogs I’ve ever known.
I got the call as a desperate plea to give him a chance after an initial attempt in a new home didn’t turn out very well. I was his last hope! I must admit I was a little bit scared of him when he first came, although underweight and not yet an adult, he had a rather chilling presence at times and obviously lacked trust in humans. He was highly reactive towards other dogs too, so I had some work to do!
Over the years, Zeus learnt a lot, but taught me much more. I can’t really put into words the kind of relationship we had. He was my silent protector, my one constant, my quiet watcher and we lived life as a partnership.
Even though clearly a dominant character the likes of which I rarely see, he had a calm confidence about him. Every action was measured. He became one of the best communicators to other dogs that I’ve ever known which, from a reactive start, was amazing to witness at times. He was calm and playful with children, cats not so and he’d keep an eye on anyone he didn’t know that came to the house, but that was all it took, just a look: “you’ve been checked in, now leave in an orderly fashion”!
Health wise he wasn't the best, Zeus had hypothyroidism and he had an operation in 2006 to correct a spinal condition called ‘wobblers syndrome’. He recovered well, had hydrotherapy for a time to improve his strength.
Eventually his back legs lost their strength and coordination. We said farewell in 2011, I’m sure he knew a decision was being made, he wouldn’t have chosen it; in his mind his role was to protect and serve forever, but I couldn't see him lose his dignity. I never really quite came to terms with that.
Patch was a sweet looking collie but his looks could be deceptive as he would swiftly change from an open positive demeanour to lip curling aggression, difficult to predict. If you look at his photo, you can see his pupils are enlarged, not due to light levels in the room, he was likely always in a status of fear. His reactive behaviour had become a swift resource to control potential threatening situations.
He came in 2006 as a youngster from a family home where he was showing regular aggression towards the children. It was decided Patch was no longer safe around them so he was handed over for assessment. I kept him for several months, we learnt a lot in that time and improved his reactive response to a more manageable level. A friend decided to give him a chance and took him on, he lived happily with her and 2 other dogs. His aggression was still unpredictable at times, this can be difficult to live with for any owner. It can erode confidence and effect a positive bond. With Patch, accepting him for who he was, was essential!
Janty came in 2005, she came to me as a youngster about 5 or 6 months old with the highest level of fear reaction I’ve ever seen in a dog towards unknown people. She was terrified of the people who bought her as a puppy and though they tried to bond she just wouldn’t let them anywhere near her. A fear response as severe as it was, is very likely caused by negative experience as a very young pup, inadequate socialisation and/or transmitted by her mother before the litter was born.
She bonded well with me after a week or so but more so with the other dogs I had at the time, Zeus in particular. She was very sneaky and a bit of a flirt and would wait until Zeus was distracted, then pinch his toys whilst he was looking the other way. She was the only one he would tolerate this from!
She loved to get high up, also loved camping with us in the quiet of the forest.
Janty wasn’t a fighter, she always was on the edge of things, she was dog relying on flight. She had an acute sense of territory protection. I often wondered why she chose to rest in another room away from us; when I got down to her eye level in this particular room, I realised it was strategic placement so she could see directly down the path to the gate at the bottom of the garden. She had a warning bark that was known to us all and all of our neighbours!
Eventually, she got to know my friend Kim, a very quiet, gentle person. She trusted his presence and used to quietly lick the top of his head. She never accepted anyone she didn't know, but she lived a fulfilled life on a small-holding with Kim and his other dog called Ben. I would see her often and had the privilege of being there when the time came to say goodbye, in 2017.
Never a more difficult Collie to rehabilitate, this young girl was owned by a lady who found her traffic and bird chasing tendencies too dangerous to control, she had turned rather ‘hard headed’ when it came to communication and the relationship wasn’t working on any level. Swift would catch birds in the garden mid-flight, hence her name. Her chase instinct had become her obsession. When she came to me she had no reliable response to commands, she was hyperactive and had no social interaction with anyone including my other dogs. None of the dogs had anything to do with her for a few weeks until she had started to calm down a little, Zeus was her main guidance, his interaction with her started one day when he deemed she was ready.
He was incredibly slow, moving meticulously and methodically, guiding her into a more tolerable conversation. Regardless, she was very difficult to work with from a dog to human perspective and her repetitive, adrenaline junkie ways were very difficult to improve.
Amazingly, a lady came forward interested in taking her on, she taught me a most important lesson with a dog like Swift, one I remember all these years later. The lady worked with Autistic children, she related Swift to her experiences and told me: “Helen, you will never remove her impulse to chase, but you can influence it. If you can control the object, you can control the dog.” And so we worked on tennis ball focus and gradually, one obsession was exchanged for another. Swift went on to enjoy amazing walks with her new owner, always with a ball in her pocket, to control her headstrong ways.
Tinker came in 2007, he had already developed chronic fear aggression, as bad a case as I'd known at that time. I adored him and we had a close bond, I believe I created a feeling of safety when we were together. Sadly, this became a problem as he was an opportunist aggressor towards other people that were close to me and would suddenly fly at anything he felt was a threat, in any environment. We shared a lot of positive experience during our time together, sadly his aggressive uncontrollable outbursts were so damaging he was regrettably put to sleep after an unprovoked damaging attack to the face of my partner.
If it had only been myself and Tinker in his world, he would have been a happy boy but unfortunately the risk to others was too great.
I hesitated in adding my experiences with Tinker as I've looked back many times and wished I could have given him more time, more chances. I will always regret the decision to have him put to sleep but try to convince myself it was the right choice at the time. Sadly the other dogs in the house had become rather terrified of him and we all lived in fear of his outbursts.
A soulful boy, a worrier, Charlie had a tough start in life, handed over as his owner could no longer cope with him due to health issues.
As a result of Charlie’s insecurities, he longed for constant company at home and wouldn’t be happy unless he was curled up next to me. Though I constantly worked on reducing his high dependency, he was never content without human company.
Out of the home however, he was a totally different personality.
Bold, a hunter and despite constant training, he started to roam further and further away. He would hurtle himself over any barbed wire fencing or bramble hedge after rabbits, unfortunately with disastrous consequences, being a lurcher with paper-thin skin! After 2 general anaesthetics to repair open wounds, I thankfully found him a new home in less rural surroundings and an enclosed garden with 6ft fencing. Charlie lived a full life with his forever owners in 2009, very dear friends of mine. He loved to seek the sunshine and would bake for hours out in their garden.
However, life was not without tribulations along the way. He continued to display conflicting behaviour, not wanting to be left alone at home, he became noise sensitive making him more unsettled and in conflict with his environment. His owner worked religiously on his issues, making improvements, but gradually as the years passed, Charlie became increasingly neurotic, a mere change in weather conditions would bring on a state of panic. His one saviour (apart from his owners) was Ellie, their dominant female dog. She would put up with very little, his worried displays would be shown no tolerance. This consistent boundary on his behaviour was the only thing to quieten him down so he rested in his bed. Sadly, once Ellie passed away from old age, Charlie coped less and less and eventually at the age of 11 he was given eternal rest.
Nina was a beautiful husky type that came to me as a foster in 2007 after apparently being left in a warehouse. She was a quiet girl, friendly but more resigned to her own company. I had the feeling she had learnt to fend for herself. She stayed with me for a short time for assessment before re-homing to a family. Before she left, unfortunately she showed her high prey drive and hunting instinct in a rather dramatic way. One day, someone had left 2 guinea fowl on my driveway. Before I had chance to get out to them, she had forced open a gateway and killed them instantly. Very sad.
Nina did became a good family dog, she had a slight behaviour wobble during a phantom pregnancy, after which she was spayed and continued to be a very patient character with her family of young children.