I had been getting itchy for another dog for some time, but knew I didn't want month after month of work involved in getting a puppy - and knew many wonderful dogs were desperate for the right home.
I have a passion for pointers, and so checked the Pointer Rescue page on Facebook day after day looking for the right one...
Erik had been wandering for some time when he went to Campbelltown Pound in NSW. His previous owners didn't answer the letters and phone calls. Maybe he was just too much for them.
I drove up one Thursday evening to Sydney to check him out. What a softie, what a nice demeanour! So I took him!
Although very underweight, I dropped him at the Council's vet for desexing. And the next morning, with some trepidation, we were walking the streets of Sydney to see how he'd go.
It's been hard work, but he has flourished.
Dog's seek a competent leader and consistent boundaries, and that's what Erik gets from me. That's what turned him from a pound dog, into an Industrious Hound!
Archer's owners were very close to their wits' end when they called, I'm sure! A friend of theirs had suggested they give me a call.
Archer is a lovely chap and as soon as I met him I could see why his owners were so very committed to getting things right. I love Archer!
Archer was about two. It's very typical for people to call me when their dogs are between 9 months and two years. It's the time that the dog has turned into a teenager and after some hard work and some exasperation, people accept they need some help.
Archer had turned a beautiful lawn quite literally into a sand pit! He also was a devil on the lead, his owners didn't feel they could trust him off the lead both with other dogs or to come back. A couple of 'near misses' had meant that Archer had not been off a lead in quite some timely the time we met. Life had become difficult for all, I suspect.
This is a holistic approach. Nothing is unrelated to the whole. So, we started from scratch.
We started by sorting out the relationship so that the owners and Archer understood who was the leader and how to communicate that. Archer's owners learnt how to use choice and influence choice. We learnt some 'tricks'. And then we began the long and patient journey of learning how to channel Archer's natural talents to mutual benefit.
Archer's owners have shown intelligence and dedication to getting Archer on track. There's still some way to go, but they have the skills and understanding to apply the foundation skills every day.
I am a member of the Facebook group, GSP Rescue Victoria. The work done there by tireless and dedicated volunteers is incredible, and I follow posts avidly.
One day, I read a post about a dog in a particularly distressing state.
She had been confined, with two other dogs, in a compound. Her owner, thankfully, was persuaded to surrender her and another dog.
After three years in this compound, this little pointer was, probably not surprisingly, franticly anxious when she was bundled away.
Her assessment was very bleak. At the very least it seemed she'd have to be on some form of anxiety medication - and perhaps could not even be rehabilitated.
I am nothing if not tenacious, and firmly believe that all but the most unfortunate dogs can be rehabilitated sufficiently to find them a good home - albeit with a lot of hard work.
I contacted GSP rescue and said I'd like to spend some time with her, and so the next day I drove to Hampton and picked up the timid wretch.
I called her Magda for the day!
I applied gentle reward-based, positive reinforcement and established the right social order to allow her to relax and reduce stress, and build trust. I took her out with my own dog, and on her own.
I would describe her as being nervous in new situations - hardly surprising given her lack of exposure to 'stuff'. I have worked with many people's dogs which are far more affected by anxiety. She did not display any associated anti-social behaviour with me.
Throughout the day, I exposed her to a wide variety of new things - van, cage, new dogs, children, lead exercises, stairs, gates, lifts, ... she took most of it cautiously but was increasingly comfortable over the day. Over the day, she was less and less nervous about her collar being touched and a lead put on, and in my home, she relaxed relatively quickly, settled and slept.
I periodically did exercises to test 'separation anxiety'; during these exercises she appeared unconcerned, which is consistent with ensuring proper social order.
She was a pleasure on the lead, was happy to run with me on and off lead, and travelled very well in my travel cages. She lay down in the cages, and slept after walks as we drove.
She was excellent with dogs, and a mother with a baby asked to introduce her baby. The dog was interested but not intrusive, did not lick, nor was she phased by baby smells and noises.
She did need training from scratch - she showed no experience of play, nor of conventional rewards like food or balls, for example. She did begin over the day to develop the beginnings of recall, and play, and to eat from my hand - all very positive signs.
She was a lovely girl, very sweet, and frankly much easier and less mucked up than most dogs I deal with! I bumped into a client of mine in the park - he said his wife would probably gladly swap their dog for this! (true story!)
This story has a happy ending.
I posted my day's activities on Facebook and Instagram, and a good number of people followed our progress with interest.
In spite of the prognosis that she would maybe have to be destroyed or at best need medication for life, it has never been my experience that medication solves the problem and instead simply masks it. So I was delighted when one follower in particular was very interested, and after some discussion, picked up a new addition for her family that weekend.
When we met Jack, he was at a charity dog pound in South West France sharing a tiny enclosure about 2m x 2m with 4 other dogs. Jack had bite wounds from another dog in the enclosure, but of the 200 pitiful dogs in the pound, we adopted Jack because he was not barking.
We took him home; fussed him, loved him, and walked him for hours a day to make up for his time in captivity.
Although he was generally very well behaved, he would growl and snarl at us sometimes, and his recall was patchy!
Jack also developed separation anxiety for me. I just thought he loved me more than he loved my wife! He wouldn’t look at us and seemed very indifferent and even uncomfortable with hugs and cuddles.
We’d moved to France because I'd given up hope of landing my dream job in New Zealand, but just a month after adopting Jack, I was offered the job. We started to pack, and of course, Jack was coming too!
Jack arrived, none the worse for his 30-hour flight, at the quarantine kennels nearest our new home near Wellington. It was here that we met Richard, and began a wonderfully fulfilling relationship with Jack and with Richard too!
Richard taught us so much about how a dog’s mind works, and helped us to successfully address the less desirable aspects of Jack’s behaviour. In doing so, Jack became more settled and trusting.
His anxieties disappeared as we took control of the pack, and he relaxed. Jack learned to enjoy cuddles and pats, to relax when we were feeding him, and to trust us.
We had a wonderful 13 years with Jack, during which we occasionally sought guidance from Richard when changing circumstances affected Jack, like moving house, and house-sitting for other people and their dogs. He came to epitomise what Richard would call The Industrious Hound.
Jack's journey began in the mountains of France and ended in the mountains of Snowdonia.
Jack died a few months ago, aged 15 years. He was a great companion, reliable and true, and a joy to have in our lives.
On New Year’s Eve 2015, the mayor of a small Pyrenean village and his wife were out walking in the snowy mountains. As they walked, they heard a pitiful yelping coming from somewhere up a muddy slope. As they got closer, the yelps got clearer. They scrabbled up the slope to hear the pitiful wails coming from an old badger set.
They furiously began clawing at the soil with their hands to get to the noise. As they freed more soil, a small, muddy, bedraggled pup with piercing blue eyes emerged from the hole.
The Mayor and his wife took the pup to their friends, who lived not far from where they had found the muddy bundle. As they chatted, they began to put together the pieces of how the pup probably came to be there.
Known to the Mayor was a local farmer whose dog also had piercing blue eyes. He often let his dog get pregnant but killed all the pups each time.
When the pup’s mother got pregnant this time, she probably ran away and gave birth in the old badger set away from the farm, but this pup was the only survivor.
As luck would have it, the Mayor's friends had visitors from the UK. They fell in love with the foundling and agreed to take him.
The little pup was named Arreau, after the village near where he was found.
The Mayor's friends agreed to foster Arreau until he was old enough and fit enough to travel, and were delighted to have a puppy to teach the first steps.
The pup stayed the night in the Mayor’s sheep barn, and the next day went back up the mountain to his new foster parents.
After a few weeks, Arreau was fit enough to travel to the UK to join his forever family. He may just be the luckiest dog – they own a pet store!
Foster Mum had worked with Richard before and fully embraced The Industrious Hound's methods. She called him in Australia for help and advice, and was delighted when Richard said he'd be in France in a couple of weeks and would love to meet Arreau in person. She now lives in Wales where she helps other people with their dogs. She volunteers for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and is hoping to train a pup next year.
When I lived in South Africa, I volunteered with an animal shelter called WetNose. WetNose helps mop up the mess created by humans. But as a charity, it was strapped for cash to do even the basics of providing food and shelter for a seemingly endless stream of unwanted and abused animals.
In my very small way, I tried to help by providing advice. If a dog didn’t end up there because a desperate but well-intentioned owner got some help, then I was pleased. If I could provide some information to break through ignorance so much the better. But I’ll always remember a particular favourite of mine, Zorba.
Zorba was a Great Dane and was found wandering the property of one of the volunteers. He was an incredibly nervous chap but somehow the volunteer managed to get him to the shelter. I honestly don't know how they did it! Zorba displayed typical fear-based aggression. He had a thunderous bark and his size was intimidating. Of course this behaviour made the frightening things - humans - stay well clear. But he was so petrified of almost everything that he wouldn’t leave his kennel, and this huge dog wasn't budging!
I applied all my techniques, and researched some more and adapted them to the unique circumstances of the kennels. I went to Wetnose every day and every day I spent several hours gently working with this huge, imposing boy. Day after day we took the tiniest steps together, establishing my calm, competent leadership and building trust so that ever so slowly he began to relax, just a little.
After about a month of daily visits and hard work and patience, he allowed me to gently touch him. Then days later, he allowed me to slip a lead around his neck, and cautiously followed me out of the kennel for the first time. We proudly trotted past the other WetNose staff! It was a truly wonderful day for me—and for Zorba too, I think!
I was very protective of Zorba, fearful that someone would undo my hard work. But one day I came to the shelter to trot around with him and discovered Zorba had found a new home! I have to say I was a little heart-broken. I don't know what happened to Zorba but the team at WetNose had given him a new start.
Sadly, I don't have picture of Zorba - I think that time predates my use of digital cameras - but the Great Dane in the picture is truly a double and makes me think of him.