As we are approaching week 4 of dog ownership I though a little update on how Smartie was adjusting to life with us.
For a rescue, I would imagine that depending on what history you are aware of you should introduce everything slowly and as if it was a new experience. In truth, he may have done everything before but not with you so I guess in that respect it is a new experience.
Smartie has long elegant nails and I thought a visit to the groomer might be a good way of letting him enjoy being pampered and also getting used to someone other than us touching his paws. I made the appointment and arrived on time. I bundled my little ball of energy out the car, grappling with his lead. As I swung a leg behind me to close the car door Smartie headed off with me floating behind directionless like a paper kite. The groomer met us at the door looking rather bemused as Smartie had a sniff at her, bounced at her legs once or twice and then cocked his head from side to side working out what direction he should head in. To the horse noise, the dog noise or the children squeal noise?
Just as I had gathered a modicum of decorum a puppy spaniel with the floppiest ears came racing from around the corner to meet the ‘wild dog’. I allowed the dogs to have immediate eye contact. (WRONG!) I allowed him to rear up on his hind legs. (WRONG) and then I reverted back to paper kite mode whilst a little chase ensued. (Yes I know! WRONG!)
Grooming lady was looking as though she was about to explode. I don’t think she knew quite where to begin. Thankfully she started at the dogs’ feet and explained to me how his nails were fine. If, when the dogs paw is firmly on the ground the nails don’t touch the floor then the nails are ok. She did compliment him on his long elegant toes and nails but that was where the good comments ended.
I was about to turn tail and begin the drag back to the car when a firm hand gripped mine and removed the dog leader from my hand.
I learned lots of things very quickly as the ‘matter of fact’ manner with which grooming lady had decided to use, began her speech. It seemed to me that she had so many ‘corrections’ to tell me that the best way was to say them quickly.
She informed me that as a relatively new dog owner having not had a dog for some 11 years, that I was an idiot for choosing to adopt a ‘problem’ dog. She told me that Staffies and Staffie crossbreeds where probably the highest maintenance dog on the planet. I was told that aggression could come to fore at anytime. She told me I was allowing him to be the pack leader and with that came heavy responsibility of protecting us all. This is when aggression could be shown. I understood this. The harness I was using was enabling him to pull; the leader I was using was giving him too much freedom and also allowing him to lead me where he wanted to go, again, giving way to him being pack leader. I was told that until he could walk by my side at my pace he wasn’t ready to be off the lead. She also told me that‘re-call’ was a pipe dream with a dog so easily distracted and so obviously in charge.
I sucked in my breath, had a talk to myself in my head and decided that punching the grooming lady squarely on the nose was not an option. She was deeply bereft of people skills…. The image of the nose punch went away and I replaced my facial expression with a one of acceptance. She was a dog person…. She wasn’t going to pander to my needs and treat me with kid gloves. I needed the short, sharp shock tactics.
At this point she walked up the street… with my dog. I could hear echoes of “No, no, no, no” and “Sit, Sit, Sit” and then “Stay, Stay, Stay” ….
This went on for some time. The stop/start movement, the noises, the pokes in the ribs…
I sighed as I watched the amazing transformation in what seemed like 18 hours but what was actually 50 minutes. She had him sitting and walking, staying and stopping on command.
She brought back a rather bewildered and shell-shocked looking Smartie and handed me his leash. As she told me a few other tips Smartie sat at my feet and didn’t make a move. I was no longer a directionless paper kite!
Dogs need boundaries; they look to us for direction and instruction. It is our job to make the dog feel protected and not to burden them with responsibility they could never cope with.
I offered to pay this lady for her time, it was the least I could do. She refused but she did offer her services to me later this week. She asked me to bring him over one evening and she would work with me again, this time allowing me to be the pack leader. I accepted.
When I arrived home I began to tell the extraordinary tale to my husband who responded quickly by grabbing the dog and lead and a pot full of tasty treats and went off into the garden to try out all of the new commands. Smartie excelled. The short session was brought to a close with a game of fetch.
On Sunday I had arranged to go to the RSPCA spring fair where we would be seeing all of Smarties former carers including his foster mum. I was a little anxious wondering how he would behave but showing a united front, we all got ready to go. Smartie was ready with his new half choke-chain collar and short leather leader. Packs of tasty snacks where handed out to all of the adults and we were on our way….
If I had dreamed the outcome of this outing it would have been acceptable to me, however it was not a dream. Smartie sat nicely; he was calm and happy as we chatted to the kennel carers. He wagged his tail and accepted treats. No jumping, no running off, no barking. Was this really the same Smartie that was a bundle of excited, uncontrollable energy only the day before? He had a little jump when he saw his former forster carer but we had to allow him that. She cried and cuddled him and thanked us for loving him.
This is just the beginning.