6 days ago, this bundle of pure joy and teeth came crashing into my life rather sooner than I had anticipated. I was scouting around for a third dog, torn between a puppy and a rescue but in no rush to actually get one for a month or so.
I went to see 6 month old German Shepherd Pablo under the illusion his owner was reluctant to give him up but that he wasn't right for her home and she would need to rehome him eventually. Me, a fellow dog behaviourist Helen and his dog walker Charlie (who had been walking Pablo for a week and first notified me of his situation) took him out to check his temperament. He turned out to be a lovely little boy, friendly with all and keen to learn. Unfortunately upon our return his owner wanted him gone that day or he would be going... where I do not know. The environment he was in was less than great. Therefore, I ended up taking home this teenage straggler on the day, unprepared and slightly overwhelmed. We both got thrown in at the deep end.
As a qualified dog behaviourist, you would expect this kind of thing to be a breeze for me, but it still hits you like a ton of bricks, no matter how much you love dogs. "What have I done?!" "Oh gosh, he's going to eat my furniture." "My dogs don't like him!" "He follows me around everywhere." "How am I going to go to work and leave him?" "I miss my old routine!"
All of these things were going through my head. Mild regret. Complete overwhelm. Anxiety. Suppressed excitement. Self-doubt. I quickly started totting up my animal count to see if I had indeed surpassed into crazy animal lady territory. 3 dogs, 2 cats and 8 chickens (7 today, R.I.P Gertrude... nothing to do with Pablo, I might add!) Do chickens count? Maybe. Maybe I should get a goat for good measure.
Anyway, the reason I'm writing this post is so hopefully it will help other people realise rescuing a dog is just as stressful for a dog behaviourist as it is for a regular everyday pet owner. I am only human after all. It may even make you feel better to know that I have struggled!
The first few days were a blur of frustration, joy and stress. Bowser didn't take well to him. Rosie tolerated him. He guarded food and toys from them. He whined or cried every time I went even a millimetre out of sight. He jumped the short fence to get to me if I was putting the washing out. He really loves to mouth my hands and arms. He loves to steal my shoes. It was so easy to see all the negatives, I drank wine and appointed Helen my personal therapist (thanks Helen).
However, he slept through the night from day one. He is absolutely fantastic both on and off lead. He is confident and friendly out and about. He loves to train. He's everything I want in a dog for when he gets older. Oh, and he's cute. REALLY cute. See? I can be positive!
I've been giving him the exercise he needs. I've been doing small amounts of clicker training with him. I've been increasing his confidence when I walk in and out of sight. He's enjoyed a trip to Pets at Home and back for socialisation. He is getting enrichment toys and chews. I showered him to get the smokey smell off of him (that was fun).
Over the course of the week, my dogs have accepted him more and started to play. He is sharing toys and less tense with 'possession'. He still cries and barks when left alone but today was the first day he went to sleep whilst I was out. He now waits behind the short fence whilst I put the washing out, is taking himself off to sleep independently and is a lot less anxious with me going in and out of sight.
It's a long road ahead but I look forward to seeing him blossom into a beautiful adult dog, teaching him all the things Bowser and Rosie know and giving him a life that he actually deserves. I think I caught him at the right time. If he'd gone into kennels or to the vets, who knows what life, if any, he would have had.
If this week has taught me anything, it's that I am a human, not a professional robot. I also swear, shout, cry and rant. All of the dog training qualifications in the world won't relax your frustration when your new rescue puppy is halfway through the garden fence trying to chase your chickens. BUT... the ups and downs of this week will help make me a better trainer and mentor for my clients, especially those with rescue dogs or puppies.