Since I wasn’t having any luck finding a rescue dog to adopt I decided to help out at a small local shelter run by one woman at a Vets. Volunteers from here have been bringing dogs to class to socialise for many years, for free. Our own Dog Whisperer helps the dogs learn some manners so they are more likely to be adopted.
I contacted one of the volunteers, S, and arranged to meet her at puppy class one Saturday morning. I didn’t usually go to the Saturday class with Little Monkey, as it was often more hectic than the Wednesday classes and the dogs were bigger and less controlled, but this was the puppy class, so I thought it should be fine.
I met S on the dog field and she’d brought along a one year old white Border Collie cross, Peaches, for me to take care of, as well as four young puppies. Other volunteers came to class and took charge of a puppy each. S went again to the afternoon class, with four more puppies. The shelter had recently rescued a pregnant dog just before she gave birth – to eleven puppies!!
I made friends with Peaches, who was anxious and unsocialised. The other dogs picked up on her anxiety and tried to sort her out. She was scared of the dogs, but would run up behind them and bite them on the bum! I spent a lot of time running round after her, correcting her behaviour and sorting out little altercations. She eventually started to listen to me and calm down a bit.
In the meantime the four young puppies were running rampant and the volunteers didn’t seem to know what to do. At one point the ring-leader puppy ran across the road of the quiet cul-de-sac, with the other puppies following it!
So I ran after them, but round to one side, to get ahead of them and herd them back to the field. Fortunately, our Dog Trainer saw them too and came to help. We got them back in the group, but the bossy puppy was still full of it, so I sorted him out with a power down; ie I made him lie down and be still, only for a few seconds, but it calms the pup down.
At the end of class I had run all over the field and had a face like a very ripe tomato, but S still looked cool as a cucumber! But it had been fun and the dogs had learnt to socialise a little better.
The next week I got Buster, a two year old male. Though he was smaller in size and quite sociable with the other dogs, he was full of energy and untrained. It is hard trying to get a dog to listen to you when it doesn’t know you at all; they run back to the volunteer that they do know. So again I did a lot of running around the field.
The week after that I got Rascals, also a two year old, but much larger, very energetic and very strong. Again, this dog was OK with the other dogs, but had no manners. We were doing ‘downs’ which is hard enough to do with your own dog, but nearly impossible with this kind of dog. I got Rascals down, but then had to help a young kid next to me who was dealing with one of the boisterous puppies. So I got Rascals down, then the puppy, by which time Rascals was wanting to get back up . . .
The next day my arms were sore and I couldn’t understand why, till I remembered this!
After morning dog class the volunteers took the dogs to an Adoption Day at a local garden nursery every fortnight. I went along a few times to support them. I took treats for the dogs and gave them some attention and of course made donations.
I wanted to see Cream, Peaches’ sister. She was supposedly smaller and calmer. I made friends with Cream and stroked her while I chatted to the volunteer who held the lead. The girl said, “Cream doesn’t like strangers.” Well, we were getting along just fine!
An incident happened while I was there. S had been walking Cherie, an anxious, unbalanced dog, out on the Green Belt, in an effort to calm her down. When S came back with Cherie and tried to join the other dogs, they all instantly started barking and lunging. There was pandemonium! Buster got loose and went straight for Cherie.
I always try to keep out of things, but clearly help was needed here! I dropped my bag on the table, told a few dogs to “Stop that!” (and they listened) as I went to sort Buster out, stopped him going for Cherie, grabbed his lead and handed it back to the young girl, then turned back to sort out the other dogs.
It is always surprising just how quickly a group of dogs can become a wild pack, but they can just as quickly subside again, if you sort them out with a calm positive energy.
Now the volunteers at the adoption drive were mostly teenage girls, I think doing some sort of community service for school. They didn’t know too much about dealing with difficult dogs, but they were there and they did their best.
I took one of the calmer puppies, Speckles, home for the day once, just to see if he would be a match for us. It is better to have an older established dog already in your home if you adopt a puppy, to show it the ropes and keep it in check. However, I thought this was a confident pup that I might cope with.
When I picked him up I weighed him, then realised he was going to grow too big for me, as he was already 17 kg at only 6 months. Also, on our first walk we came across two large, calm huskies and he was all for challenging them. If he hadn’t been on the lead I am sure he would have run across the road and tried to sort them out! This was a pup with attitude; far more than I was looking for. But he did have a couple of nice long walks and a fun day out of the kennels. And great news, he has since been adopted by a family with an older larger dog, where he is very happy. All the other puppies have since been adopted too, as well as Peaches and Cream.
Thereafter I took a dog to the Wednesday morning class, where I knew the other dogs better. I was given Zorro many times. He was about six years old and larger than Little Monkey, but quite a nice dog and willing to please. He had issues with other male dogs and a few tiffs broke out, which I handled. I even took Zorro to my house a few times, which he loved. All dogs in a shelter just want to belong to a family.
When I brought him home the first time, instead of running round the garden sniffing all the exciting new smells like any other dog, he stuck by me and wouldn’t let me out of his sight.
So why didn’t I keep this dog? He obviously loved being with us.
At nearly 27 kg he was just too big and strong for me. (You might be able to see this from the photo below where he is sitting on Little Monkey’s mat in the kitchen.) Also, he had quite a mixed-up personality; while he would fight with the male dogs, he was also anxious.
He attached to me so quickly that this alone could lead to problems down the line. He would have separation anxiety and want me all to himself, so might be iffy with guests or males.
All I can do for an anxious dog like that is be calm and patient. I ignored him when he was staring at me, but stroked him when he finally relaxed and had a little snooze. The next day I was exhausted.
If you think I am being too picky here, even our Dog Trainer said Zorro was not the dog for me. It is vital to get the right dog for yourself and your circumstances. I am looking for something a lot easier this time around.
Anyway, Zorro had a great time at our house and some nice long walks; all better than sitting in kennels all day.
I asked the shelter for different dogs to take to class; smaller, with less behavioural problems, but they kept giving me Zorro. They even suggested larger, younger dogs, because they knew I could handle them! But just because I can handle difficult dogs, does not mean I want to, as I kept telling them.
I always had a long wait at the shelter when I went to pick up a dog, and again on the return. The final time I went, I waited half an hour. However, the woman in charge was out at the animal hospital with sick kittens. By now I would miss dog class anyway, so I went home.
I reassessed the situation and realised I was spending a long time driving around fetching and returning a dog; a total 25 to 30 km. I was also exhausted afterwards and spent the next day recovering. So I decided to give it a break for now.
At Dog Class
One really great thing about being back at dog class was the amazing greeting I received from the dogs themselves. After Little Monkey died, I hadn’t been for several months. One after another the dogs would come up to me to say hello, in their own unique fashion.
I would look down and suddenly notice that a dog had left its owner and come to stand quietly in front of me sideways on. I stroked them and chatted to them, then they trotted away to be about their business. At some point each dog noticed me and came to welcome me back into the pack. No-one told them to do this.
Even the dogs that did not normally interact much with people came to stand quietly in front of me and let me pet them.
This was an awesome welcome back into the pack.
I can’t tell you how much this helped to heal my broken heart.