20th Jan, 2020
Rover: Rover came from local rescue centre, Hilbrae in November 2011 when he was somewhere between 8 and 10 months old. He had come in as a stray having been picked up from very near our house. Hilbrae is the kennel that has the contract to take local strays and Rover was still serving his first 7 days waiting to be claimed when we spotted him. Luckily for us, his old owner never came. The rescue were calling him Rio, but we thought him more of a Rover.
We believe Rover to be a Greyhound, Irish Terrier and Border Collie mix and he has facets of all these breeds. As there is Greyhound in the cross, he is also a Lurcher, so he thinks he has 4 sets of facets! Like many Lurchers, Rover can be easily frustrated.
Prior to going into rescue, Rover had been in an accident, most likely with a car. He had a problem with one of his front legs. One of the bones in his right foreleg needed to be shortened because the other one had stopped growing having sustained trauma. Hilbrae put him through an operation at the Nantwich Veterinary Hospital which should have cost the Charity £1500, but the hospital kindly did it for £500.
It was winter, cold and Rover was rather pitiful. He wasn’t to be allowed off the lead for the first couple of months, so we walked him on a long lead. We also arranged some physiotherapy for him which was helpful. I’m pleased to say that apart from a slight limp he is now none the worse. I did wonder at the good sense in calling him Rover when it came time to let him off the lead, I needn’t have worried, Rover had a great recall from the first.
Settling in: To begin with, Rover sometimes found it hard to settle down with us in the evenings, and he became very frustrated if shut out, systematically sweeping the surfaces and bringing everything down. We kept the surfaces clear and ignored his fuss and Rover soon learned that in order to come in and join us in the living room he needed to lie quietly by the glass door. In this way, he learned to calm himself down to get what he wanted. After going through this little routine, he would settle for the rest of the evening and soon he settled altogether.
It was obvious that Rover hadn’t been walked and he was overwhelmed by the great outdoors. This over stimulation manifested by alternating between biting the lead and jumping on the ever tolerant and patient Daisy. One day I even had to carry him home as we weren’t making any forward progress. His gradual acclimatisation to the great outdoors was facilitated by a comfortable harness, appropriate play, some individual walking in quieter areas and judiciously timed treats. Soon Rover learned to walk beautifully on the lead. It may be that his natural Lurcher gait fits in well with my walking pace. Many dogs pull on the lead, in part at least, because their natural walking pace is faster than ours.
Gradually with the imposition of house rules, exercise, encouraging calm behaviour throughout his day, training and appropriate play, Rover settled in.
- Fear of strangers approaching and reaching towards him
- Mild aggressive reactivity to some other dogs motivated by fear, over excitement, competition and bullying - depending on circumstances
Rover’s problems with other dogs and strangers are largely due to lack of socialisation as a tiny puppy. However, like most dogs, he has also had some bad experiences. When a well socialised dog has bad experiences, these are couched in many good experiences, but a poorly socialised pup just doesn’t have this resilience and bad experiences can linger. In addition, poor Rover had experienced a lot of pain in his short life. The very first time I let him off the lead when his leg was still painful, a Labrador without a recall seemed almost to delight in barging into him.
Although he has always been great with small dogs and calm dogs, Rover can still be fearful if bigger dogs run up and bounce at him and he still doesn’t like puppies. Although he can react aggressively when frightened by another dog, he only snaps in their face and has never bitten – which of course is good! Rover is much, much, better now, but if bigger dogs charge up to him, to this day, I must be careful. This is particularly true of the gundog breeds and particularly of Labradors. In common with many other dogs, black Labradors are Rover’s least favourite breed. Young Labradors can be very bouncy and unaware of their own strength and it’s not unusual for some dogs to find them too much. The facial expression of the black ones can be more difficult to read making them appear more threatening. We joke that Rover’s favourite tv show would be called ‘the Labrador gets it!’ where something bad happening to a Labrador in each episode!
In addition to this, in common with other dogs that I see, Rover has realised that when he reacts aggressively to a dog because he is frightened, if they are frightened in turn, he feels like the ‘big dog’ and if not stopped, I’m ashamed to say, he can go into bullying mode. So, when we see this kind of dog approaching, I get him on the lead and give him a treat. If I need him to get along with a dog of the larger, bouncy type (like my Brother’s Labrador, Bobby) Rover needs introducing gradually. If Rover and I walk with them on lead until he realises they are not a threat, he will be cool long term.
As a sight hound, Rover finds faster moving dogs, irresistible. He loves to run with other ‘running’ dogs like himself, but if they are poorly controlled and over enthusiastic, this can tip over into something that’s not so positive. Rover needs to be managed. He also has a ‘thing’ about Cocker Spaniels which can be annoying because when walking with friends’ and their Cockers, he just can’t leave them alone and I have to put him on the lead from time to time. The saving grace in all these situations is Rover’s great recall, this has got us out of lots of trouble.
On top of all of this, Rover isn’t that great with other dogs who come to the house. He can be rather jealous of our attention, and the kitchen is most certainly his. Again, he needs managing carefully.
It’s worth mentioning that Rover’s problems manifested when he reached ‘social maturity’ at about 18 months to two years. Prior to this he used ‘appeasement’ to deal with threats. Still feeling vulnerable when he grew up, he learned to use stronger tactics to make himself feel safe. As you can see, there can be several motivations for aggression towards other dogs, and Rover has several of them! The reality is that Rover learned to use aggression towards other dogs when he was frightened, and because this was successful, he is more likely to use aggression in other situations. However, if managed he’s fine, I just can’t let my guard down.
Rover loves people, but because he was under socialised as a tiny puppy, he can be fearful and jumpy. If strangers ignore him upon first meeting, he will ‘lurcher lean’ into them delight in a fuss, probably more than any dog that I know or have known. Rover is striking looking and gets lots of attention and if, despite my protestations, admirers don’t ignore him and insist on focusing on him, leaning forwards and reaching towards him, he baulks, often barks and has been known to snap. This is a common problem for my clients with aggressive dogs. It’s hard to get the public to listen and even if they do, they often respond with “I’m really good at dog psychology” and continue on in. They need to be aware of the consequences of aggression towards people, if they provoke a bite, it won’t be them who ends up with a criminal record and a dead dog under the Dangerous Dogs Act! I find a very firm “please don’t” couple with an outstretched palm works best to keep people at bay. Of course, Rover’s much better now but he will still occasionally react. It must be remembered that whilst one can improve a dog’s behaviour, the behaviour will still be in the dog’s repertoire and if presented with the same situation it may still rear it’s ugly head on occasion.
Rover is a Lurcher and as such he has a desire to run and chase things. When we first had him, on a couple of occasions I remember getting hold of him when a cyclist or runner went by but forgetting that he was a sight hound letting him go when they were still in view. At the mercy of the movement and instinct, in the blink of an eye, Rover was on the horizon! Of all the dogs I have had over the years he is the most predatory. However, Rover has plenty of opportunity to run and chase toys, he has had lots of training and he loves food. As a result, he has become more and more manageable around things that that he would love chase as time has gone by. These days I can walk him through sheep and have even called him off deer. Probably the main challenge for Rover is cats - although he loves his own. Fortunately, we don’t see many cats in situations where he is off lead, so this isn’t really a problem.
When we found Rover at the rescue we lucked out. His difficult behaviours didn’t appear obviously until he was about 2. I could have managed him better perhaps, I was very busy when we first got him, not expecting to have a young dog with issues because we weren’t expecting Daisy and Fowler to die so young. Rover will probably always need some degree of management in certain situations but these days we can take him anywhere. His confidence continues to improve daily and his loving, innocent lust for life is irresistible. Rover has a very optimistic outlook on life, and in contrast to Spot’s ‘negative expectancy bias’, his expectancy bias is positive. He expects the best to happen and most of the time it does even if that best is occasionally beating up another dog or chasing a cat!
Rover in a tent at night!