Thursday, 17 March 2011

Making a Saint out of George

Whilst dropping off a dog to our colleagues at Brent Knoll, I was rather too easily persuaded to return to Little Valley with ‘Crazy’ George! George had been at Brent Knoll since November and was proving quite a challenge. In order to help his rehoming chances, his behaviour needed further assessment and rehabilitation.
After a couple of days settling in, he proved what an active and intelligent lad he was. With no constructive outlay for his energies he had developed quite detrimental, obsessive and reactive behaviours as a way of coping with life. This, contained in a kennel environment, resulted in George spending his day in a state of high arousal, which is not a healthy state of emotion to exist in for prolonged periods of time. Compare this to a human, on the go constantly, to-ing and fro-ing, not knowing what to deal with first, in a state of anxiety, excessively out of breath, never able to stop still, their feet are bleeding, they have no control of their environment, plus there’s other people all around them shouting. And imagine this lasting for 12 hours every day with very little periods of escape!
To take George from his kennel each day and expect some consistent and concentrated work in this state of mind would only add to the pressures in his life. George needed a quiet environment away from the stresses of kennels where he could come down from this heightened state of arousal in his own time, and the perfect place is our behavioural chalet. To succeed and progress George needed to develop a relationship with me and allow me to remove some of his stress by teaching alternative ways to cope with certain situations.
Starting with tiny steps of rewarding George when he was actually able to acknowledge me, we built on these foundations. George began to alter his view of his handler as someone to look towards for guidance, they provided fun games which gave George more constructive uses for his very quick collie mind, which gradually gave George better coping mechanisms as he was able to remain in slightly lower levels of arousal for longer periods.
Once we’d got to this level, more emphasis could then be placed on specific training needs. George knew what 'sit' meant, but George didn’t know it could be a good and clever thing to do. Tell George to 'sit' and he thought he’d done something wrong, so he couldn't. He was worried, he would just look at you. It could have been mistaken for stubbornness, but you could see he just didn’t want to be told off, which is how he’d associated the command ‘sit’. Tell George in an encouraging voice what a good boy he was and continue this voice to ask for a 'sit' and George's bottom couldn’t get to the ground quick enough!!
He quickly started to understand he was 'good' and he loved being 'good' which helped the training no end! George needed this background work to really understand the difference between what his handler is encouraging and rewarding, and what is being ignored. George didn’t know that he could be good and that a relationship with a handler could be positive and worthwhile. A dog like George can only make so much progress in a kennel environment, as it’s impossible to remove all the triggers that cause a dog stress. However we were able to alter his behaviour and gain enough control to begin looking for a home, and fortunately he wasn’t kept waiting too long.
George has been living with his new owners nearly a month now and has settled in well. He’s found the 1:1 relationship he so deserved and is proving to be a very loyal companion, as he and his owner run Devon’s green lanes together!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


An example of a dog recently requiring long term 'work' prior to being able to be rehomed was Guinny; a 4 year old, ex-cruelty case GSD (German Shepherd Dog). She was transferred from a holding kennels in Surrey where she'd been for 6 months having had no staff 1:1 interaction, and never been out of her kennel. Previously to this, Guinny had spent her life living amongst a large pack of GSDs with no 1:1 human contact, and never been outside the premises. On arrival at Little Valley (and for the first couple of weeks) Guinny was traumatised and completely withdrawn within herself, the only way she had learnt to cope with life. She found all humans scary but her level of trauma was such that she felt unable to stand or move away from them. Once she finally and tentatively began to understand that I meant no threat, she slowly began to accept my presence, and her progress was built up step by step. Developing some trust and acceptance of just a couple of members of staff allowed Guinny the opportunity to slowly understand what was expected of her, and that she could cope and nothing bad happened. The dog chalet yet again proved invaluable to Guinny's progress. She found enclosed spaces and doorways especially overwhelming so having the chalet, where we wouldn't be disturbed and she had as much time as she needed, was crucial. A place away from the noisy, busy kennels where I could build up our relationship and therefore introduce her to further stimuli, with an improved chance that she would put her trust in me and be able to cope. When she showed this level of ability her welfare was less of an issue and a new home could be sought. It is still early days but Guinny is settling well into her new home and her new owner is very pleased.


The majority of dogs that enter Little Valley are not straightforward, easily rehomable, social dogs. This factor is one which has increased noticeably over the time I've been working here, making it an increasing necessity to have the time to devote to the dogs’ training and behaviour modification, in order for them to find new owners. The majority of potential dog adopters visiting the Shelter are hoping to find themselves a calm, obedient, well mannered, social family dog. Such dogs will always have a very short stay in kennels and could be rehomed time and time again. Unfortunately the length of stay for a large amount of dogs at Little Valley is often months rather than weeks, due to the need to improve their behaviour so potential owners will consider them, plus to be able to cope with them once rehomed. The matching process has improved significantly recently which has helped to find suitable homes for more 'challenging' dogs where  the new owners have a better understanding of  the dog they have taken on. I also remain on hand to help with behaviour issues in the new home, therefore increasing the chances of that dog remaining in the home long term.