13 May 2012

Ask Before Approaching

We are often interrupted on our strolls by people wishing to stroke Noodles. Noodles generally reacts the same way; he'll cautiously sniff any outstretched hand and then bark as it looms in closer to his head. Usually this causes the person to snatch back their hand quickly and then full on barking begins.

I explain that he may quieten down and creep closer for attention if they just leave him alone but some people persist in talking to him and ignoring everything I say. I think I've heard just about every variation of "He must be able to smell my cat/dog/guinea pig etc".

I've been looking for a while for a suitable product which would alert passers-by that not every dog is people friendly so I was delighted to discover these Dog Flags. They slip over any lead with a variety of useful messages, appropriate for dogs in need of space from either people or other dogs. I recently purchased "Ask Before Approaching" and "I'm in Training" which Noodles has been sporting when out and about. They have certainly generated a lot of interest and comments, and I've found people do pay more attention.

If only they made them for humans :)

8 Aug 2011

Happy Gotcha Day, Noodles!

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year today since we adopted Noodles. He’s come a long way since then but he still has some difficulties adjusting to his new life and I believe he always will. Whilst we were prepared for some of the immediate problems that an ex-stud/kennelled dog may face, there have been many surprises along the way. We anticipated a steep learning curve with things like housetraining, traffic and everyday noises, lack of basic obedience training etc but pacing when stressed, problems with reflective surfaces, fear of water were unexpected.
We were delighted to discover that he enjoys the company of other dogs and he has many good pals. What we were totally unprepared for was his distrust of people. When we met him he was very friendly, jumping all over us, seemingly pleased with the attention. He was also eager to please, a trait that has continued and flourished.  It was when we had our first visitor to the house that his problems became apparent (see previous post). Noodles is still very nervous of people and I can only attribute this to a lack of socialisation as a puppy. I’m afraid that my opinion of many breeders and the way they treat their dogs has diminished seeing the long term effects this can have. I know there are responsible breeders who treat their dogs well, but they seem to be in the minority. I have spoken to many other people who have adopted ex-breeding dogs and our experiences have been remarkably similar. These dogs find their new lives bewildering and stressful at first. Owners are sometimes unprepared and struggle to help the dogs acclimatise. There is often a lack of information from the rescue agencies. Not their fault, as they aren’t aware of the full extent of the problems themselves.

Although some ex-breeding dogs end up at their appropriate breed rescue, many are sold on directly from breeders. It seems to me that they are often not classed as true “rescue” dogs but their needs  and problems can match or far exceed those of the "traditional" rescue cases we are more familiar with. Whilst I would always advocate adopting a rescue over buying a puppy I realise that this is not appropriate for everyone. These dogs can be hard work but with patience, kindness and lots of hard work it is truly wonderful to see them flourish. The next time you think about sharing your life with another dog, please spare a thought for those ex-breeding dogs who, like Noodles, so deserve a second chance.

1 Aug 2011

Noodles vs Visitors

Although Noodles loves dogs, sadly he doesn't feel quite the same way about humans. We discovered this early on when my mother first came to visit. On her arrival Noodles barked incessantly and kept running towards her, then laying at her feet, almost touching her. No amount of distraction with treats or toys made the slightest difference. If shut in his crate or confined to another room he became even more hysterical, pacing and barking and I felt that this wasn't really the best solution as it wasn't actually addressing the problem itself. We took him out for a walk and then returned home. He was absolutely fine with her while we were out but the minute we got back inside the house he started again. I noticed that if we sat in silence, he did quieten down but the barking seemed to be triggered by her voice and any movement or gesture she made. He kept up this behaviour for hours, and eventually we had to sit in separate rooms, me with Noodles and her with the TV for company. Not a very successful first meeting.

Over the next few weeks other visitors tried and were all greeted with the same response. The one exception was T, owner of Molly the Irish Terrier. T came with us when we adopted Noodles and he has always been very fond of her. This gave me a small glimmer of hope as it proved he could like some people, not just J2 and myself.

We consulted two different behaviourists who were both helpful, giving us various strategies to try. These included:
  • Thoroughly wear him out before the visitor is due to arrive. Not always practical for the unexpected visitor.
  • Stuff a kong with his dinner (avoiding high protein food), freeze it and give it to him when the visitor arrives. This was partially successful but he still found time to bark between licks.
  • Remove him from the room using a houseline every time he barks. Wait a few minutes until he stops barking, reward, and then re-enter the room. Repeat as necessary. Not as easy as it sounds. In reality this means walking in and out of the room constantly and it almost becomes a kind of dance routine.
  • All visitors are asked to ignore him, no looking, touching, or talking to him. Easier said than done when he is right in your face barking at top volume.
  • Ask visitors to throw treats on the floor, still ignoring him. He still continued to bark between mouthfuls!
The second behaviourist actually visited with my mother since she seemed to be the person Noodles disliked the most. Within about 10 minutes she had him under control using a combination of treats, a firm voice and a houseline. She made it look so easy! Since then Noodles has reached an uneasy truce with my mother. Personally, I think he now tolerates her because she brings him sausages on every visit.

We discovered that when the doorbell rang, if we took him to the front door on a houseline to see the visitor, he seemed less agitated, although he did still bark. We only invited dog-experienced people to visit during this first phase of training and he was rewarded the minute he stopped barking, but timing was crucial here. Visitors were encouraged to throw treats on the floor for him, still not looking at him. The danger with this is that he stops barking at them as a visitor, but begins barking, demanding treats instead.

Some visitors tried disobeying the rules about ignoring him and giving him commands such as "sit", "down" in exchange for treats. This can work well, if the person is confident and has good timing with giving the reward.

We also found that we reached various plateaus where he was slowly getting better but couldn't seem to progress any further. Then we had to rethink and perhaps try something different. Our most recent change of strategy  involved borrowing his pal Molly the Irish Terrier for pre-arranged visitors. Molly loves most people (except postmen) so we were hoping she would have a positive influence on Noodles. On arrival, visitors are again asked to ignore Noodles (who still barks, but less manically) and make a big fuss of Molly. Noodles can't resist investigating and cautiously approaches the visitor, who continues to ignore him. At the moment we are only inviting people that we know Molly particularly likes to avoid any negative reactions. This has had the most immediate response as Noodles calms down much quicker and on our last attempt was able to lay down with Molly in our front room without barking. Obviously we cannot rely on Molly every time we have a visitor, but I think if we try this a few times he may eventually learn that visitors are not to be feared especially if they bring sausages. 

I have to say that this has been by far our greatest challenge with Noodles and we went through periods where it was just easier to discourage anyone from visiting at all, as it is such hard work, and the visitor has to be well prepared. It certainly doesn't make for a relaxing evening and it can be difficult to remain calm and focussed. It has been very rewarding to see his behaviour improve since our first few visitors but we still hope to progress further. My guess is that it will only happen with lots of patience and at his own pace.

12 Jul 2011

Other dogs

After owning 2 unfriendly terriers it is such a joy that Noodles loves the company of other dogs. He is not particularly picky, everyone is a potential pal and is greeted with real enthusiasm. He always seems so crestfallen when he meets a dog that is not quite so keen on him.

One of the first dogs we met on our evening walks was a Golden Retriever called Paddy. Paddy is rather old and ambles along quite slowly, enjoying life at a leisurely pace. I always know if Paddy is out on a stroll at the same time as us because Noodles starts tracking him along the pavements, speeding up until we're running full pelt to catch them up. He also starts squealing and yipping until we're within sight. Paddy and his owner seemed quite bemused as to why Noodles was so keen to greet them. At first Paddy just used to sit down and let Noodles jump all over him for a few minutes. Both dogs seemed happy with this arrangement and we would then continue on our separate journeys. Occasionally now, we walk together round the block and Paddy  increases his pace to keep up with Noodles. He has also started leaning his head on him a bit and Noodles' back is often covered in drool. I wish I had filmed Noodles' first encounters with Paddy as he seemed so desperate to spend time with another dog. I wonder if he misses aspects of his old life, such as being surrounded by other dogs in kennels?

6 Jun 2011

Dog's Dinner

When Noodles first arrived he didn't have much interest in food, but that's pretty usual for a rehomed dog. For a few days he didn't really eat at all and after that it was always with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. We were feeding him a relatively well-known healthy brand that we had happily used before with my previous dogs, but Noodles just didn't seem to thrive. He was also incredibly itchy, always biting and gnawing at his paws and anywhere else he could reach.

We thought about feeding him a raw diet but since J2 and I are both strict vegetarians we didn't relish the thought of buying, and more importantly storing, fresh meat. I spent a lot of time trawling the internet, looking for something that would appeal. Eventually, we bought a sample box from Lily's Kitchen and suddenly Noodles regained his appetite. He has a little routine before mealtimes which involves running in ever decreasing circles until the food is put in his bowl, becoming more and more excited. He then absolutely wolfs it down, nothing could distract him until every last morsel is gone. The food is expensive though and to be honest if Noodles were a bigger dog we would not be able to justify feeding it everyday. However, it seems you certainly get what you pay for as after about 2 months Noodles stopped itching. I didn't notice straight away, but once I made the connection I saw a huge improvement in his overall condition; his coat is very shiny and his skin free from dryness and flakes. The constant gnawing has also stopped which is a great relief.

I know that feeding our pets is a very personal choice and Lily's Kitchen won't suit everyone's purse. If Noodles hadn't been so itchy and lacklustre I probably wouldn't have changed brands.

As well as healthy meals, we also feed him healthy treats and snacks such as dried venison heart, ears and lungs, sweet potato chews and he has deer antlers instead of rawhide. I'm hoping that this will maintain his tip top condition and mean less time and money spent at the vets!

18 Mar 2011

The Stairmaster

Learning how to climb stairs was one of Noodles's first challenges. There are lots of stairs in our house and even steps up to our front door. [On re-reading, it sounds as though we live in a very big house, which I can promise you we don't!]

I guess that Noodles had never seen stairs before or if he had, he'd forgotten how to tackle them. In the early days he simply refused to go either up or down. He just sat and wouldn't budge. Even the lure of treats didn't work. He did seem to enjoy being carried up and down them though, but at least he's only 6.5kg unlike our previous terrier, Jackson.

In the end the solution was easy; we were out on a walk with his pal, Molly the Irish Terrier, and saw a bridge over a railway station with a long flight of stairs either side. Molly went on ahead and Noodles just followed without a second thought. We've found Molly very helpful in a number of situations like this and he certainly looks to her when he's unsure what to do or how to behave.

Noodles's current approach to climbing stairs is quite comical. He pauses for a moment and then flings himself up them at top speed, in a mad scramble. He uses the same method to go down as well. If anyone happens to be on the staircase at the same time they are mere obstacles in his path; he has been known to run directly into the back of my knees. How I haven't broken my neck is anyone's guess. J2 did break a toe and dislocate 2 others on Christmas Day, but that's another story!

24 Feb 2011


One of the most distressing things Noodles did in his first week with us was continual pacing. He paced in circles, making a large circuit which included our basement and garden, always going the same way. If we blocked him or put up obstacles he just changed his route slightly. It was very difficult to snap him out of it using toys or food as he wasn't interested in either initially. This has since changed, of course.

It was as though he was being overwhelmed and wanted to block everything out. We knew he'd be stressed in his new environment but no idea how much. We used a DAP diffuser, which did seem to help and borrowed a K9 Kalmer from a friend. I'm not convinced that it was actually anything other than an expensive set of flashing lights but thought anything was worth a try.

After a few days the pacing gradually subsided and he began to seem more relaxed. However, I've noticed that he reverts to this anytime he's particularly stressed but it's much easier to break the cycle now.

I did think of posting a video to demonstrate this behaviour but it's not particularly pleasant viewing so opted for a cute photo instead.