Dog rescue, dog training and behaviour are not words that most people would normally expect to see in the same sentence. However, for the staff at Chilterns Dog Rescue Centre rescue, behaviour and training go hand in hand, in order to achieve a happy outcome for the dogs in their care.
The Chilterns Dog Rescue Society (CDRS) is a registered charity which was founded in 1963. It is based at Ashley Green near Chesham in Buckinghamshire. CDRS takes in and rehomes approximately 500 dogs and puppies each year. The majority of owners who approach the Society to take their dogs do so because of a change in personal circumstances. The breakdown of a relationship, redundancy, the death of a family member or arrival of a baby can push the most caring owner into crisis and the dogs are the casualties of this. This accounts for the wide range of ages, sizes and types of dogs admitted in to the Rescue Centre. CDRS homes 8 week old puppies that were born at the Centre right through to dogs as old as 17 who can still enjoy a quality retirement in a new home. Over 30% of the dogs are pedigree, with most breeds being represented during the year, including some of the more unusual ones. Recently CDRS has re-homed an Italian Spinone, a Chinese Crested dog, a standard Schnauzer, and a German Wire haired Pointer as well as Golden Retrievers, Border Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Labradors and many more. There are of course a wide range of crossbreeds of every description.
Staff at CDRS are used to hearing stories of Border Collie puppies bought from internet sites and kept cooped up in high rise flats without training or exercise. Dogs like these quickly create problems when their needs are not met. Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds and Jack Russell Terriers, amongst others, also prove demanding breeds for inexperienced owners who expect them to automatically understand and conform to the rules of a home to which they are unsuited.
While it is undoubtedly true that a proportion of dogs are given up for re-homing because of their increasingly unacceptable or anti-social behaviour, there are almost always very understandable reasons for the way a particular dog is behaving. Observation of the relationship between the dog and its current owner together with any prior history that can be gleaned about the dog is helpful in interpreting what is going on. A broad knowledge of the genetic predispositions of particular breeds is also very useful when carrying out assessments.
Whatever the underlying causes may be, CDRS is justly proud that the depth and range of experience possessed by Rescue Centre staff enables then to take on more challenging dogs and implement re-training and socialisation programmes for them to be successfully and appropriately re-homed.
Sadly, CDRS sees cases of cruelty too. While some of the mistreatment is down to ignorance and neglect, there are instances of deliberate abuse. At the Rescue Centre, members of staff work to rebuild the two elements of trust and respect in these unfortunate dogs. Training and socialisation may take place over months to restore and develop a dog’s character, confidence and faith in people. Support from the Society will often continue in the home once the dog has been matched with new owners.
Chilterns Dog Rescue Society, formerly the Amersham, Chesham and District Dog Rescue, was established principally to take in, care for and rehome unwanted and abandoned dogs from the local district. The area now covered by the Society has grown year on year with dogs coming in from, and being re-homed to, Bucks, Herts, Oxon and Beds and many other places across the South East of England. Staff from the Centre regularly travel to South Wales to offer assistance to dogs in the council controlled Animal Pounds. Over the past years more than 2500 dogs from Wales have been given a fresh start by CDRS.
Vet checks, inoculations, micro-chipping and assessments are all routine procedures. Depending on the results of these, a suitable care and training plan will be put in place to meet the individual requirements of each dog. Once a dog has been approved for re-homing, it is then introduced to prospective new owners – people who have not only registered with the Centre for a dog of that age and type but who are also in a position to cater for its long term needs.
Manager, Sara Muncke feels that dog training is fundamental to the successful work undertaken at the Rescue Centre. Sara says, “Our job is to understand each dog that comes into our care as fully as possible and then provide whatever is needed for it to be happily and safely re-homed. We do not blame the dogs for poor behaviour but neither do we excuse it. All dogs have daily contact with the staff that work here. Effective training through both play and more structured activities enables us to lay sound foundations for young dogs. We want to ensure they are well prepared to meet the opportunities and challenges of the outside world they will be going into. Training is also important to establish boundaries for older dogs that may have received little in the way of consistent handling or leadership. Dogs learn what we expect of them very quickly if good behaviour is reinforced at every opportunity. Training adds to a dog’s sense of security and encourages it to develop a positive attitude to a variety of people, other dogs and situations.
When prospective owners see our dogs behaving well, they are encouraged to get to know them better and hopefully offer them a home.
We are then able to take time to discuss what additional care, training and management will be required by that particular dog once it leaves us. The extra effort we make pays dividends as very few dogs are brought back to the Centre because they have been mismatched.”
Early in the New Year, the Society was contacted about two dogs in urgent need – Zulu, a 3 year old English Springer dog, and George, a 3 year old German Shepherd dog, had been purchased from breeders as puppies. The dogs had been kept together in a cage in the back garden with few opportunities to learn about the outside world. Socialisation and training did not happen. As the dogs grew older, contact with even their owners diminished until it appeared they only received attention when they were fed and cleaned on an irregular basis. Both dogs were had suffered ear and eye infections because of the squalid conditions and an attack by rats had left Zulu requiring emergency castration!
The dogs were accepted into the Rescue Centre. Their physical needs were dealt with first; treatment for chronic infections, dog bites to Zulu’s neck, inoculations, worming and appropriate feeding to improve their overall poor condition. The dogs were separated to bring an end to the bullying Zulu had endured from his more powerful and dominant friend. Once this had happened, an assessment and training routine was established to discover to what degree the dogs had been compromised, psychologically and behaviourally, by their ordeal and to determine whether they could recover sufficiently to be rehomed.
Zulu proved the more amenable of the two dogs. He was anxious and insecure; initially clingy to his handler but fearful and snappy if approached by anyone else. However, calm, quiet but insistent handling, coupled with play activities that developed Zulu’s interest in, and attention to, a range of people brought about a dramatic change. Zulu enjoyed the company and attention. It was wonderful to see a personality begin to emerge from what had been a mere shell of a dog.
George, as a GSD, was still more of a challenge. He was a large, strong dog with, understandably, little desire to please or conform to what was asked of him. Although George showed no overt aggression, the safety of staff was paramount. He was exercised and trained with an additional helper in attendance in the enclosed training area before being introduced to walks of site. Training was reward based, with lots of treats to reinforce positive actions immediately, however subtle or small. An added complication was the ‘twirling’ behaviour George had developed during his years of confinement. Whenever he felt stressed, excited or frustrated, George would chase his tail to such a degree he almost fell over. Diversion techniques proved the most effective in bringing these distressing bouts of compulsive behaviour to an end and reducing their frequency.
Three weeks later, training is continuing with George to develop higher order obedience skills in a concerted effort to overlay deeply embedded problems with more acceptable responses. It is hoped that these new patterns will become the norm and that in the future George could leave the Centre to start a new and happier life. But, as with all rescue work, there are no guarantees. Time, commitment and experience may still not bring about sufficient rehabilitation for George and Zulu to be safely re-homed and they would then be put to sleep. However, if CDRS are able to give these dogs a second chance, then dog training will have provided the framework for their success. At the time of writing, Zulu has just been homed to an experienced Springer Spaniel Owner and is doing well.
If you want to contact Chilterns Dog Rescue Society, please call 01442 876009 or visit their website www.chilternsdogrescue.org.uk