I have just met Staffie Chester, featured on TV’s The Dog Rescuers with Alan Davis, rescued with two starving companions from squalor.
How do some of these dogs coming out of such a bad situation, come out of these situations and remain so sweet?
Four-year-old Chester is wonderful! He is very friendly and affectionate.
He has three particular foibles which we are working on.
Chester is great with dogs that are, themselves, friendly. If, however, he meets a dog that is either over-excited and won’t leave him alone or shows any aggression towards him, he pins it down.
He has pinned two dogs recently. He doesn’t hurt them but it’s his way of handling a situation he can’t deal with. (Any dog manners he has will have been learned through his interactions with the other two dogs in the appalling situation before he was rescued).
The second and rather weird thing is that he seems to be scared of his own poo – but only in the garden. He obviously has built up bad associations with pooing in a garden.
Scared of defecating
However, he is fine toileting on walks.
He regularly toilets in the house, both pee and poo.
Fear of going in the garden could be as a result of the bad stomach issues when they first got him. Toileting may have caused him bad pain on an occasion when he was in the garden and he’s perhaps built an association. Possibly, starving, the other two dogs would be fighting for it.
After years of only being able to toilet indoors followed by time in kennels, it’s not surprising that he toilets in the house – and anywhere.
There is another strange element to this though. He will only do it when there is someone in the house. He doesn’t toilet when they go out – nor at night time.
Whatever the cause, a few weeks of intensive effort should get Dexter toileting reliably outside. They should accompany him each time and take him very regularly. As he finishes, they will scatter food in front of him – unsurprisingly, he’s very food motivated. This will do two things – reinforce where he’s to go and distract him from any emotions he feels whilst counter-conditioning him (getting him to associate having performed outside with something good).
The lady needs a break
Where the pinning of other dogs is concerned, the poor lady needs a break. It will be affecting her a lot more than it might another person. This is why.
Before adopting Chester, she rescued another dog. He was about the worst combination imaginable for an amateur – a street dog from Romania, probably a mix of Malinois and wolf. The dog’s aggression levels were scary and it ended tragically with the dog being put down. The lady is still traumatised and understandably very nervous at any sign of aggression from Chester.
He will sense her anxiety and tension.
Nine weeks out of action
A very unfortunate thing happened. Soon after getting him, Chester broke his foot. Following complications, he had to be on crate rest for nine weeks.
The ‘other dog’ issues have occurred in the past couple of weeks, since she has been able to walk him again. One was an excitable spaniel who, when pinned, screamed with fear. This didn’t stop him the next time they met and the same thing happened again. Nor did the Springer’s owner keep her dog under better control the second time.
The other was when a dog-to-dog meeting went wrong. The other dog was a reactive dog. Chester was only a few days out of nine weeks incarceration.
What is a normal response from some dogs when another either shows aggression or is too excitable, that of pinning it down, has probably got a bit out of proportion for the lady. In her circumstance, it must be very hard for her to relax.
If he had wanted to hurt either of the two dogs he could have done so – and badly. He did what he felt was necessary and no more.
Obviously a placid, confident and easy-going dog wouldn’t react like this. Bearing in mind Chester’s past, he is doing very well indeed. From an early age he won’t have been taught appropriate dog manners.
The third thing, and another understandable reaction from a dog rescued from a terrible situation, is that any shouting terrifies him. When shouted at by a man after pinning the dog when out, he cried all the way to the car and, when home, went and hid.
All in all he’s doing amazingly well – as is the lady. She is very well-informed and dedicated. My job now is to fill in some of the gaps, most particularly things that, living in the middle of her situation, she may not be able to see clearly.
I believe it’s her own confidence that needs building now as much as anything else. She may be too quick to accept that Chester is in the wrong when to my mind on both the occasions when he pinned down the dog, he was provoked through nor fault of either his nor hers.
He was just a dog being a dog.
Rescued, now the perfect home
Chester has had years in a terrible situation. Rescued by the RSPCA, he was then in kennels where they worked with him. Then he was just fitting into his new home when he stoically endured operations on his broken foot followed by cage rest for nine weeks. Throughout he remained friendly and happy.
I do wonder whether life started off well for him. It’s like he’s been socialised. He accepts things that send dogs into a panic if not exposed to at an early age like the car and traffic. He is very friendly with new people. If another dog ‘behaves’, he’s fine.
Since she rescued him, the lady has allowed him to rush up to dogs. Now she will teach him to come back to her and touch base instead when they see another dog. She will walk him on a long line. She can then decide whether to let them meet or play or whether it would be a good idea to turn and go the other way.
Off-lead dogs rushing up is a universal hazard of dog walking. Strategies for dealing with off-leash dogs.
Now that Chester is back in ‘real life’ the lady doesn’t have to give it to him all at once! Instead of trying to make up for lost time, she will take it more slowly. If she is feeling anxious for any reason – she will avoid dogs that day. He will sense her emotions, particularly when he’s on lead so she needs to be relaxed. She can take her time and stay within her own comfort threshold.