Over the past few weeks, I have once again been privileged to help many wonderful families with their new Rescue dogs. So many of them have been brought over from overseas and have very chequered pasts. Some born in the kill shelters, some found on the streets and some from who knows where? Whether this should happen, is not a question for this article. Many have opinions, what I am looking at is what happens to these dogs when they arrive.
These dogs arrive in the country with baggage – lots of it. There is the expectation from the new family, the hopes of the charity that the dog will settle, and then there is the dog. Very few overseas rescues, especially those whose dogs are kept in large shelters, can honestly tell you much about the dog that arrives. And that is the adult dog – the survivor who may or may not have had puppies, an owner or much of a life. Then if this dog is a puppy, they are still developing and not getting all the food and behaviour support they need to develop in a balanced way. You need to be understanding and patient to help the dog settle down and recuperate before teaching them how to live in a totally different environment. Keep a diary and you will see over the first 6 months how things change. Preparation is important for any new dog that arrives, but these dogs are special – they have different needs and you must be ready for this.
Street Dogs or Feral Dogs
Most of the dogs we see in this country, have been born in a shelter or lived with their mum on the streets. They were caught – probably using a catch pole – which is why they don’t like their necks touched, placed in a compound, and then separated from their friends/family members and transported across Europe. This journey would be frightening and scary. No wonder so many of the dogs I have seen recently are travel sick – who wouldn’t be? These dogs are usually known as street dogs and are used to the presence of people and traffic. Their sixth sense seems to know how to get what they need. They can be friendly and keen to be with people who in turn will feed or drop scraps for the dog’s benefit. These dogs are still different to our UK rescue dogs but they are slightly easier to work with as they tend to recognise that to survive, they should get on with other dogs and people.
However, there is a growing trend of groups of “feral dogs” appearing alongside these dogs. These dogs struggle with people, have no need for them. They are extremely fearful during those first few months and things are harder for them to adjust. Either way, both types have major things to learn and adjust to so they can live with their new family in a home. To be fair, the charity that brings these dogs over, probably has no idea of the dog’s origins and of course the dog cannot tell them. But I am seeing more of these dogs and it is worrying. These are ending up being re homed in families with youngish children, so probably noisy and hectic and not all can cope. Then they are placed in a quieter home – another change for the dog to face – another 6 months of struggle and then what?
These dogs may have never lived indoors. Their upbringing was never ideal, but then the dog didn’t know that. It is a big adjustment for these dogs – so there is a need to take things slowly and given them space and peace to learn. The idea of allowing a newly rescued street dog, the full run of your lovely house, to make them feel welcome and safe, may be wonderful to you, but what does it mean to your new dog? It’s a big scary place and I can guarantee that lovely fluffy carpet is a perfect place to mark their territory. I know that stain will never, ever come out! Been there and seen that.
In fact, when I rescued Barney, he had been living in a wooden box in North London for the first few months of his life and had no idea what “speaking nicely” meant. He had a crate up and when we went into the garden, he had a line on him. He could wander, but my garden was totally secure with concrete fence boards and a 6- foot fence all around it. He was still attached to me though, until I was sure he would come to me every time I called him. This went on for several weeks, and although it took time and patience, we bonded. It took longer for Stuart to bond with him as Barney had a total distrust of men, but that meant that Stuart trained him, and the bond was made differently.
He was and still is, happier if I tell him what he should do. He finds it difficult if someone is “sweet talking” him and you must never leave him to decide – it will be wrong. Even seven years later, he hasn’t changed. Yes, he is well trained but can’t be let off lead and doesn’t trust people – so we don’t expose him to any risk that will cost him his life. Although he was born in this country, I know enough to recognise this in many of the feral dogs who are coming here. I am worried that I am seeing these dogs spread during this Lock down period and no amount of training will make a difference to how the dog is. The damage just like with Barney is already done in those first few months before they arrived.
You need to teach these dogs to adjust and do it in a manner they understand- they are special and need extra help from you, designed just for them. You bring this lovely dog into your home and then what? Everyone tells you that you must socialise them. Train them to behave when they all they want to do is sleep, eat and run. It is going to be an uphill battle, and then place that dog in a home with little or no experience and we could have a disaster.
There is a very good article on the Give a Dog a Home website, Give a dog a home/arrival-of-your-dog which helps you through the first days with your new dog. I recommend that you need to be ready for an escape artist. You need a double airlock system in your house. The garden should be ready for a dog that will dig or climb out of its space and run. It doesn’t know you are here to give it a lovely new life, all it knows is that it is scared, in shock, lost and afraid. It had a dreadful journey, highly likely was extremely sick and surrounded by fear from the other dogs. Then you come along, put a harness and collar on and a double lead and put it into another vehicle with lots of well-meaning love, take it to another place – your home, give it lots of attention and food and it will almost definitely be sick! Not a lot you can do, but have a crate ready with some fresh water, sprinkle some tiny bits of food on a snuggly old rug, towel, or maybe old duvet. Pop your new dog in there, in a quiet place – cover the crate with a blanket, with a radio on, turned down low and leave them be.
Now is not the time for visitors and the kids should be kept quiet and calm around the dog. In fact, this applies to all new dogs. They need time to watch and learn, time to recover and rebuild their spirit and when you do take them out into the garden, pop them on a lead and stay with them, calmly and quiet. Reward when they toilet with a yummy treat – a dry biscuit will not be enough( so think cheese, chicken or ham) and bring them back in again. If they move towards you and ask for touching, then do so gently but do not put any pressure on them.
This should continue for at least two weeks and maybe more. Naturally, you let them out of the crate during this time, but they do not need to see all over the house. They do not need to meet the world and its wife. You always make sure there is a shut door between you and the open front door and it is best to keep your new dog in a harness to begin with so they get used to being “held” and start to relax. You can try to get them to walk with you in the garden. Maybe attach a lead and get some tasty treats and encourage them to trot along by you. No pressure.
There is more help here in my blogs
and remember to contact me to for any specific help, while you settle your dog in!
It will take at least six months before you start to see your dog look better. Over the many years I have been working with rescue, it is always the same – first six months are hard work, then you start to have fun. Suddenly your dog’s coat looks less dull, they look happier, they start to play and do normal dog things – now the fun begins but also the rewards. When you rescue, I am still not sure who does the rescuing? I have helped many hundreds, had over 20 of my own and each one has given me something special.
So, what do you have? The street dog or the feral dog? Does it really matter? the patience required and the commitment needed, must be the same Both will be challenging but I do suggest that maybe one will be slightly easier to live with than the other. Neither will be the same as dog direct from a breeder that has had the perfect upbringing, or even some Uk rescues but we do know that. I just hope that you get lots of help and advice from those who have done it too. These dogs are special and rewarding but care must be taken when bringing them into our homes. Precautions need to be made and preparations done. All the family should be ready to change their lifestyle – for one thing you will all have to be tidier, and then get ready for the journey – it will be fun and challenging but I bet you will learn lots too. Have fun and contact me for any specialised help and support – email@example.com