The two sighthounds barely lifted their heads from the sofa when I entered the room.
I could hardly believe it when I rang the doorbell and from a house with three dogs there was no barking at all – not even from their elderly Springer but she may be a bit deaf.
When I entered the room both sighthounds were on the sofa. I don’t know if Rosie even opened her eyes.
Eamonn, curious, got down from the chair, stretched his long body in the way that sighthounds do and calmly came over to investigate me. His long, intrusive greyhound-like nose explored my work bag.
Rosie, a stunning Saluki mix, seemed unusually quiet and motionless. They say she is aloof and it’s hard to decide if this is all or whether she is also keeping her head down so to speak. She lives with the very polite and calm Eamonn, a Sloughi mix from Ireland (no, I hadn’t heard of a Sloughi either – a North African breed of Sighthounds found mainly in Morocco).
Both dogs are failed fosters – and I well understand why. They are sensational.
The people are experienced dog owners and fosterers of sighthounds in particular. They have watched many of Victoria Stilwell’s videos and because I am one of her UK VSPDT trainers I have the privilege of working with them. Sometimes it is necessary to get objective and experienced outside input.
The family has had the two sighthounds for around a year. Rosie, now five, had been used as a puppy-making machine in Wales and then dumped by the roadside when she was no more use to them and Eamonn, now about two, had been in another sad situation. Seeing both dogs now it’s hard to believe either had known anything but love.
Some months later they fostered another dog.
All was well with both sighthounds until another foster, a female, came to live with them for about five months.
With this particular foster dog in her home, Rosie became increasingly tense and unhappy. The dog was needy and attention-seeking and this instability upset Rosie.
Unfortunately her aggressive attitude then spread to antipathy to other dogs that they met when out and Eamonn was sucked in also. They feed off one another.
Before the other dog came, both sighthounds were mostly fine with other dogs. Now they are walked with muzzles.
Rosie is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When she is let off lead with Eamonn this quiet and poised dog can totally change. She goes crazy – charging around in circles, stirring herself up into such a high that she then redirects aggressively onto Eamonn who becomes quite scared and hides.
Why is she suddenly so aroused? Where has all that stress come from? It’s like she erupts. To me it suggest that though otherwise so quiet and undemanding, there must be more going on inside her. The regular encounters with other dogs when out, although already being worked on to some extent, may be contributing to well-hidden stress levels.
The foster dog has now moved on and Rosie is altogether much happier again in her own, introverted sort of way. They say they would like her to play but I suspect she’s not psychologically able to abandon herself to proper play.
The two main issues we are dealing with are Rosie and her reactivity to other dogs (Eamonn is fine without Rosie there) and Eamonn’s running off, maybe for a couple of hours, if he spots something to chase.
They will only walk the two dogs separately for now in order to concentrate on Rosie’s over-arousal of which there is no sign at home and her reactivity to other dogs, and on Eamonn’s recall.
In a way both Rosie’s attitude towards dogs (with a barking neighbouring dog to bark back at) and Eamonn’s prey drive (pigeons in the garden to wind him up) are behaviours being rehearsed at home.
They can take advantage of both these ‘problem’ situations by using them to create new strategies to use when out.
Sighthounds can spot potential prey from a great distance. The only way to prevent them running after something apart from having them restrained on a long line is first to train an immediate alternative reaction that redirects their instinct to chase onto something else. Once the focusing on the prey has broken into the chase stage it may be too late.
They will take it slowly with Rosie, doing their very best to make sure she doesn’t get closer to another dog than she feels comfortable whilst working hard to gradually decrease that distance by giving her choice and creating positive associations. It’s important meanwhile that there are no unexpected and uncontrolled encounters. Here is why.
Last year they took their two beautiful sighthounds on holiday where there were lots of other on lead dogs and they want to go again later this year. With hard work they will hopefully get Rosie back to her old self in time so they can all walk down the streets together as before.