Saturday, 27 October 2012

So short a time, so Great a bond

That first night's walk with Bruce proved to be a little better than expected. I put his lead on and headed towards the door, he put up a fight trying to wrestle the lead from me and jumping up. I removed the lead and walked away and sat down. This scenario played out about 5 times, then a light bulb seemed to go on in Bruce. He came and nuzzled my hand with the lead in and sat still whilst I put it on. He jumped again, I gave him an "uh uh", he stayed on all fours and we headed out of the door. From that moment I felt my confidence returning. Thing's weren't a walk in the park. It took a lot of time and patience, on our parts as well as Bruce's. There were major improvements, then major set backs.

We had him seen to by the vet, his diet was changed to improve his stomach upset, his claws were clipped, he had his vaccinations. In time his owners health recovered enough for her to come out of hospital, and after 2 months of bonding with Bruce my heart was breaking at the thought of him going back to them. I was now considering the options. I had no desire whatsoever to see him go back and was preparing myself to refuse and even re-home him out of the area if needs be. I was in turmoil. However, the illness had left her extremely poorly, and she phoned to ask if we would be willing to keep Bruce full time as she was under doctors orders to have no pets in the house. It was a win win situation!

So I was officially his. The wound on his tail refused to respond to treatment and eventually it was decided that he would have to have an amputation. My heart ached for him, a Dog loosing his tail is akin to a human losing their tongue. It also didn't help matters when it came to Bruce being around other Dogs, he was Dog aggressive. It was extreme, and I knew losing his tail was not going to help matters any. The amputation wasn't exactly straightforward, he suffered a lot and we ended up moving him under a new Vet after the mistreatment I felt he was receiving where he was. I don't want to go into naming and shaming, I've held so much anger over the years regards it, but lets just say my Boy was in a lot of pain and could have died. The new Vet worked wonders in his eventual recovery and there's no doubt in my mind he saved him. From that day to this I have kept my animals under this Vet, and trust him fully. That's an important trust to have to me. It was an awful time and makes me feel all the more Angry when people dock their Dogs tails for purely human reasons. Those people disgust me!

Over time, Bruce's Dog aggression became less of a struggle to deal with. It took a lot of work to just be able to walk down the street and not have him try and drag me after a Dog on the opposite side of the road. There were times I thought it may never resolve even a bit. But in time, I could walk him alongside another dog, then I could trust him off lead to play with a dog he knew and had been introduced with slowly. He went from trying to go straight for the throat of ANY Dog, to play bowing and wanting another Dog to chase him. It took years for him to live with another Dog, but he did. And for the short time they had together, they bonded wonderfully. I could never have taken Bruce to a park and let him off lead to socialise with Dogs that he had not first been introduced to. It was a risk not worth taking. Any off lead activities had to be carefully planned. Usually, it was a drive out into the middle of nowhere in the car for him to be totally free to run lose. And those moments with him are memories etched in my soul.

From that first night onwards, he stopped chewing doors, alleviating himself in the house, learnt to refrain from chasing cats and birds. He slept downstairs peacefully after only a few hours of trying to persuade us otherwise on his first night. He was eventually comfortable enough being left in the house alone without any separation anxiety issues. He was amazingly gentle around children, morphing from exuberant bouncing Boxer into a conscientiously calm and gentle Greyhound. He was certainly not Racist either! Time and patience dealt with his trying to play fight, nibbling of sleeves and nipping. It was a blessing to see an end to his howling and whimpering in his sleep. The cause of which I would never know. It was a journey of ups and downs, not all plain sailing, but we got there.

Most importantly, we had through it all developed a bond that wouldn't be broken. I offered him a new home and a chance of a better life, and for it, he offered me so much more. In the time me and Bruce had together, he was by my side through the two worst experiences of my life, a nervous breakdown and the Death of my Mother. He played a massive important part in my recovering from both of these. I had given him experiences he would never have had in his previous home, and worked with him to reduce his anxiety around other Dogs. We played together, we travelled together. It was a case of Love me, Love my Dog! Where Bruce wasn't welcome wasn't worth going.

One day, while I was on the phone to my Mum, Bruce gave me a strange look, I had never seen before. Something was wrong. His eyes rolled over and the inner eyelid came up, he was unconscious in my arms before I knew it and I'd laid him on the sofa. I was frantic. I was on the phone to the Vets, my Mum had put the phone down and was also doing the same. He slowly came to, but he was quiet, not moving and what I'd only describe as delirious. It was decided at the Vets it was his heart. He'd been diagnosed a few years previous with heart murmur, time was slowly taking it's toll on my boy. So from now on, his exercise was to be reduced a little. He may be with me another week or year or 2. There was no knowing for sure. Everyday was all the more precious now. People would still try and play with him like they used to, his cough would start and I'd have to step in and stop the fun. It was hard to find the balance between enough and too much. But, we carried on and after that night, there wasn't a recurrence. Nothing much changed, but it was always in the back of my mind gnawing away. Bruce however, was seemingly oblivious and carried on as he always had.

A few months later, I lost my Mum suddenly. She'd had a massive Brain haemorrhage, Me and Bruce were with her. I got the ambulance and we rushed to hospital. My friend rushed round to collect Bruce. When she got in the house, he had pooped everywhere. He had likely smelt what I was at that time still oblivious to. Within a few hours I had to return home to life without my Mum. Bruce immediately sat by my side and shadowed my every move. Over the following days and months walks with Bruce were an integral part of my healing process. Again, the one thing keeping me going was my boy. Just has he'd helped me through my nervous breakdown a few years previously. There's a lot to be said for being responsible for exercising and caring for our Canine companions, and how beneficial it is to our own physical and mental health. Give me the choice between tablets or a Dog and I'll get the poop bags ready every time!

Just over a year since Mum passing, Bruce suddenly showed signs of being unwell, he went off his food, which in itself wasn't too worrying as warm days were not his most hungry times. Yet he seemed a little quieter than usual. On his walk I went to scoop his poop and noticed blood. I'd seen this in the past and it turned out to be an abscess, so it was off to the vets. A quick check up and the vet felt a lump inside him where there shouldn't be one. I was floored, the vet talked me through what she thought it may be and the overall prognosis wasn't good if she was right. I asked them to go ahead and do the xrays and if possible remove it if it was indeed as suspected. As Bruce wasn't able to be insured, it was a mad rush to get the money together to pay there and then. I had to get on the phone to a few people who could lend me money until I next got paid. I had to wait over the weekend for him to go in. We went home and had what would be our last days together. We went out in the car so he could roam free minus the lead and the stress of any strange Dogs. We visited all his favourite places to run free. We got Ice cream, we cuddled, we even played. I tried to keep myself strong for him as the more upbeat I could keep him, the more chance he had in my mind. Deep down though, I knew these were our last hours together and I wanted them to be everything he could want. I hand fed him to get him to eat, I wanted him to be strong for the operation. His appetite was non existent. So it was off out for all the ingredients for a Sunday Roast dinner. There was no need to hand feed him that! Every last morsel was down his throat before I could blink. I'd given him the best weekend I could under the circumstances, it was all I could do for him.

Monday came and I took him back to the Vet. He explained the sequence of tests and possible surgery. I held back anxiety and tears and kept myself upbeat. I stroked Bruce and told him to be a good lad and I'd be back for him later. He decided to get a burst of energy on and pin me to lick me to death. I was drenched, laughing on the outside and crying even more now on the inside. It was the last kiss and hug we'd have. They phoned me a while later to confirm. He had Cancer and it was inoperable. His heart had been struggling under anaesthetic, I could wake him up and take him home, but it would take some time for him to recover from the ordeal and he'd be poorly. It would then be a case of watching him slip away day by day. The only other option was to let him go whilst he was still under anaesthetic. I decided to let him go there and then. I ached to be with him while it happened, I felt and still feel it was something I should have been there for. But at that time, it wasn't possible. I went to see him afterwards and said my goodbyes.

I've lived with and loved many Dogs, but Bruce had the greatest impact on my life. We had 6 short years together, but they were 6 years I would give anything to live over again. Not many people at the beginning thought it was going to work, they saw him as a problem Dog, they saw me as out of my depth in dealing with him. They were wrong on both counts. The people who tended to make these presumptions were the same type of people who think a Boxer is a "Man's Dog". The same people were never successfully able to put a lead on Bruce and walk him more than 10 metres without giving up. Their input was usually that he needed a good beating to put him in his place. Others thought he should have been PTS for his Dog issues.
But all that Bruce truly needed was time, the patience to guide him with kindness and respect and a big dollop of love.

There is a difference between training a Dog with kindness and training a Dog with Fear. There are many differing tactics out there, differing opinions and even differing results. Why? Because we're as individual as the Dogs are. What works for one may not work for another. Does that excuse some people using cruel methods? In my mind no. If a child in school isn't understanding the lesson, we nearly all agree the teacher should adjust their presentation so as to better help the child learn. We wouldn't condone the teacher kicking our child or giving them an electric shock to "help them learn". Why is it any more acceptable with our Canine companions?

Bruce turned my love for Dogs into a more urgent desire to try and help them and their owners to get along better, to try and help reduce the number of dogs who are thrown into shelters. I'm not a trainer or Behaviourist, as yet. It is however the direction I plan to go. It's something that in my heart is of great importance. So I'm reading as much as I can until I'm able to do some courses. I'm hoping to in the not too distant future to be in a position to travel to a local shelter to volunteer in the day to day care of the Dogs also. It's going to take time and plenty of varied experience, but one day I hope to help make that little difference wherever I can.

Shortly after losing Bruce I decided to give a home to another Dog. Charlie. a 3 year old collie/staffie cross. He was found tied to a fence. He has one or two things we're working on, but all in all he's a great lad. He's great with other Dogs, good around kids and an extremely loving boy. We are working on his confidence, and his separation anxiety. There are already improvements, and he's teaching me new things too. I hope my time with him isn't as soon over as my time was with Bruce, but however long we will have together one thing is certain, we'll make the most of it!

A break away

The visit was different this time, Bruce's main owner was in hospital and she was seriously ill. So ill in fact, no one was sure if she'd pull through. The boys were doing their best to keep it together and it was heartbreaking to see the pain etched in their faces. They had not long moved into a new house, and their living conditions seemed far better, they were managing to keep on top of the house in between visits to the hospital, they were looking after themselves and ensuring they ate regularly, but it was obvious they were under a lot of stress and the concern for their Mum was hard to hide. There was little we could do to help except offer moral support, but there was one thing they asked us to do, while their Mum was in hospital, could we look after Bruce?

A lead was eventually found, his bowls were gathered and we asked what they could tell us regards his daily routine/habits. The ensuing information had me wondering if I was taking home the hound from hell: He would only settle if in the same room, if you closed the door on him he'd likely chew through it. He wouldn't have anyone walk him, putting a lead on him was the nearest anyone could get to a walk, from there it was downhill and the walks never happened. He urinated and defecated in the house. He chewed things up, including the sofa. He would attack Cats and Birds. "He didn't like paki's".  ( No prizes for guessing who these boys would have voted, had they ever bothered to get out and vote). He Didn't like being left on his own and would Bark and destroy things. The list went on. The most positive things I could get from them was that he liked play fighting and cuddling up in bed to sleep.

I was feeling like I was making a huge mistake, be in well over my head and about to witness my home destroyed around me. I looked at my friend, who looked a suddenly funny shade of pale and I knew she was equally as bemused by the situation. I also knew we were both singing from the same hymn sheet. We had always felt for this Dog, and we knew he had one or two things going on that we'd loved to get him to see a vet for. Ok, it wasn't a permanent arrangement, but it took a little stress off the family and gave us the chance to get him checked over and fed up. We'd face the issue of his return when and if the time came. Besides, in the forefront of my mind, obviously left unspoken, as much as the family were going through, Bruce needed this break away more than anyone.

It took me about 30 minutes to get Bruce to accept being on the lead, and stop trying to wrestle with me enough to get him out of the door. He got in the car, tail wagging like an helicopter, and while my friend drove, I was covered in slobbery kisses and generally drenched in doggie drool.

 We got him in the house, straight to the back door, which was opened and left open. Within less than 2 minutes, out he went and piddled on the rose bush. I'd followed him out, and heaped praise on him. He looked at me like he was in Doggie Heaven. Most importantly on Bruce's List of priorities, he was fed. We all know what it's like to see a Dog who normally gets scraps and food fed to them, as and when, with no real routine. Needless to say, given the chance, he'd have eaten and eaten and eaten. Once he was absolutely sure that the bowl was indeed polished clean, he dived straight out of the back door again and proceeded to scent mark every corner and bush of the garden. I guess he decided this place would be acceptable for tonight at least.

We sorted him out a bed, and I gave him a quick look over. There was a wound on his tail, his claws needed a clipping, he was a little thin, but not actually too thin. His teeth seemed fine. My biggest concern was his stomach, as he'd had the runs when we'd seen him at he house, and the wound on his tail needed looking at. All in all though, he seemed fine. He took to his bed no problem, and after a little bit of fuss and reassurance, he was asleep. So I decided to let him rest some before taking him out for a walk before bedtime, and the probable restless night ahead.........

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Behaviour,Training and how my life Began

As an Avid Animal lover and Human Companion to many Dogs over the years, I have finally decided to dip my toe into a world that has for some time beckoned me... The world of Dog behaviour and Training. I never actually realised just how many people have problems in living in harmony with their Pets until the past 10 years. It just didn't enter my mind. My relationship with my Dogs over the years was always one that felt comfortable without the need of any outside help. I took it for granted that everyone had equally stress free relations with their Canine companions.

I began to question this blinkered assumption when I got involved in cross-posting for Dogs in Shelters. Dogs that for one reason or another had been given up, dumped, abused....Why was this such a prolific problem? It slowly dawned on me that there were so many canine/human relationships out there that were at the least a little strained. 

The more interest I took, the more I saw it all around me. People walking their Dogs in the street, friends and their dogs, and a boom in tv shows on almost every channel, depicting Dogs and their human companions undergoing therapy in varied forms, led by people with varied views and techniques as to how to solve the even more varied issues!

Then as to answer my questions, along came Bruce. Bruce was a Boxer who I had come across via a friend of a friend. My first experience of Bruce was walking down the path of the home he was at that time living in.  The Garden was overgrown, the bins were defined only by the border of hedges, where the black bin bags seemed to climb one atop the other to escape. The delights of the Garden were quickly paled when  thuds at the window and loud aggressive barking caught my attention. There was Bruce, fierce looking, slobbering, teeth gnashing with hard eyes, trying to remove the glass that separated us with every lunge. I'd always felt confident around Dogs, Bruce had me questioning it all in seconds.

I got up the courage to enter the house, entering the living room and avoiding eye contact with Bruce, I immediately understood this Dog had no actual desire to eat me, he was a Dog full of pent up energy. His display at the window was just an outlet for his energy and frustrations. Once inside, though a little over excitable, it was obvious that this Boy was of no immediate threat. By the end of the visit I'd made up my mind that If there was a God, he'd see to it that somehow, one day Bruce would come and live with me.

Over many visits I learned more of his situation. He lived with a family who though well meaning, didn't have the means to provide for his needs. The needs that were within their capability to see to, were still not always met, and his access to the outside world was virtually none existent. They had taken him from a Dogs home, been unable to control him on walks, and as a house full of teenage testosterone fuelled boys, play fighting was his main exercise. And guess what? Bruce wasn't neutered. He toileted on the floor wherever he stood, because he'd come to learn getting someone to open the door to the garden, was often a plea that went unheard. He slept wherever he pleased, he chewed whatever he desired, including doors. He knocked drinks from the table "accidentally" so he could suck the contents from the carpet, and with each visit, my heart ached to take this boy away and give him a better life.

Call it Divine intervention, call it what you will. The Day was soon to come were a twist of fate meant me being asked to care for Bruce. And thus began my baptism into a life where the Human/Dog relationship would be something I examined more than ever, Where my confidence would be tested and where the Bond and trust between myself and my Canine companion,would come to be the Greatest I'd ever experienced in my life.