Playing pet detective: tracing Tilley’s history

First picture of Tilley aka Scrappy at 6 months oldHere’s “Scrappy” when she was first rescued by Leitrim Animal Welfare in Ireland. Read all about how we traced her history…

We’ve now had our wonderful Tilley for seven weeks and we’re all having a ball. Everyone who meets her falls in love with this little cheeky, amusing, affectionate collie cross. “Such a pretty dog!” they exclaim. “Aren’t you a bonny one?” as she wriggles with excitement and tries to lick their ears off.

We couldn’t imagine life without her madly wagging tail greeting us every morning, her demands for belly rubs at every opportunity, her joyful running in figures of eight about the park, her cute squeaky yawns, or the way she plonks herself down for cuddles at night.

But we couldn’t help being curious about her past life and the experiences which brought her to live with us in a little market town at the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales.

We knew from Dog’s Trust Darlington that she’d been rescued in Ireland and brought over for rehoming, but nothing more. So I began the search by contacting the Dog’s Trust again to ask for any other information they might have on file for Scrappy, as she was known.

A very helpful response from Katie in Darlington came quickly: according to their records, Scrappy had been picked up as a stray and handed to the Dog’s Trust via Leitrim Animal Welfare, then transported from Belfast to Cairnryan in a purpose-built animal ambulance.

I discovered Leitrim Animal Welfare had a Facebook group so dropped them a quick message to ask if they by any chance remembered Scrappy (and her brother, Squishy). This morning we were rather choked up to receive the following lovely message about Tilley (Scrappy) from Andrea at Leitrim:

Oh wow – Vicky, thanks so much for getting in touch, I’m thrilled to see Tilly looking so happy and so well. I’ve printed the photos off to show the staff, they will be delighted! Tilley and Squishy came in to our centre on 13.07.2013. They were found on the N4 in Carrick-on-Shannon and it is a very busy main road. Linda, the person who found them held onto them for 3 weeks in the hope that their owner would come forwards, but no-one did, so presuming they had been dumped she bought them to our centre. I’m just so happy that you got in touch, thank you and we are all sending a huge hug for Tilley.

Andrea also sent the photograph – see the top picture – she has of ‘Scrappy’ when she first arrived at the Leitrim centre. As Andrea put it, “She just sat down and smiled as if to say, ‘OK, I’m here now, what’s the craic?'”! That seems to perfectly sum up the happy-go-lucky nature that we now know and love!

Tilley’s tired after her day of running around, but she’s managed a special message for everyone who helped her…

whats the craic
It seems incredible that Tilley, once wandering a busy road in serious danger, is now lying contented at my feet as I type this, thanks to the efforts of many caring people. We are very grateful to Linda, the lady who found and rescued Tilley, to Leitrim Animal Welfare and to the Dog’s Trust. You all gave Tilley the second chance she so deserved! We’re also happy to learn that her sibling, Squishy, appears also to have been rehomed from Darlington Dog’s Trust. All best wishes and wagging tails from Tilley to her brother.

We’ll be updating this blog about our life with Tilley, so watch this space!

Day 28 in the doggy house …

… and Tilley has had her ups and downs. (And we love her to bits.)

We truly enjoy having her around, she is keeping Peli on her toes since she is spending all day at home with Tilley. She is cheekier, testing her boundaries like a true teenager should. We leave the room and up checking the table tops she goes and as we come back she is down on her mat looking like nothing happened (Peli even got this on video!).

One trip to the vet and her spay scar is much better. She loved it at the vet, though the journey to and from, less so. Her phobia of the car is growing, so we’re only doing essential trips now and we’re slowly working on habituating her. Softly does it. Though she does enjoy laying in the bicycle trailer, which we are hoping to use to explore the Dales with her.

We went to doggy school with her and, as this post explains, it was an utter disaster, she was not herself for a day or two after. We are still very careful not to make sharp noises or fast movements around her, following the unfortunate use of the rattle can by the trainer, and are carefully working on associating that type of action with good stuff, rather than bad.

Happily, we had a one-to-one training session with a different local trainer, who uses positive methods only, which went brilliantly. How we wish we’d heard about her in the first place! She and Tilley bonded right away and we’ve got loads of advice and tips to work on.

We took TIlley on a longish walk yesterday and today. As soon as we were on new ground and there were shops, people, cats (especially cats), Tilley became very keen to explore. Once in the dog exercise area of the park she had a good 20 minute run around off lead, well she had a 6-8 metres long loose lead after her so we had something to step on if she tried to escape the enclosed area. It was fantastic to see the joy on her face as she was able to just run, and run! Today’s walk went past the allotments to get to the same enclosure and there are chickens, ducks, sheep and a rather large horse. She did extremely well with no barking or growling, just loads of wags and curious looks.

She is now about eight months old and is somewhat dyspraxic, because she is forever falling over her legs! OK, she does have four and we all know how hard it is with only two but she does bang into doors, tables and is lacking spatial awareness. Hopefully she will soon learn where she starts and stops!

Tilley training: a very accidental experience of harsh training methods.

First day at dog trainingA couple of updates to this post:

We’ve since heard from local people about several other incidents of harsh methods being used by this club, including a puppy being ‘pinned down’ during a class. Also, Peli reminded me that another attendee sitting next to her while Tilley was being subjected to the ‘corrections’ told her not to worry, that she regularly used the rattle bottle on her dog when he barked, and that now he’s really wary of the bottle – which the attendee said with a laugh.

Also, very sadly, we noticed this evening that Tilley freaked out when Peli swatted a mosquito with a tea towel. The sharp downwards ‘swat’ movement clearly reminded her of the rattle bottle and she shied away and needed much reassurance. Later, a rattle from her kibble in the plastic measuring cup also made her jolt. Needless to say, we now feel even more sad and angry and determined to follow this up.

End Update:

We tried to clue ourselves up as much as possible about how to train our dog, including reading blogs, forums and books, watching YouTube, DVDs and TV, there is only so much you can do by yourself. We needed to go to dog training classes at least to confirm that we were on the right track and also to socialise Tilley. She is a bit of a handful out on the lead when she meets other dogs, people or when the wind blows a leaf across our path.

At home without any distractions we have managed to get her nice and calmly out the door and out walking on a loose lead. But as soon as she sees anything new she is all over the place, so we haven’t managed to walk far from our front door. We have tried at least four anti-pull harnesses, which she has learnt to pull against. She goes into her “meerkat” impression when she very keen to get further than her lead. Along with the stopping trick or the turning around tricks when she pulls, we still haven’t gotten far, because when we get away from the back street it is a whole new and exciting world. Her best time to walk is her last walk of the day until we come across a person or a dog.

We have been using what is called “positive reinforcement” training, used by the likes of Victoria Stilwell, and yes we may have been a bit soft on the commands. But when she is concentrating she does her sit, stay and ah-ah – stop doing naughty things – even when said with a soft voice. Having guests over she is good as gold with a little bit of jumping up, but if our guest turns around and ignores Tilley she soon figures out that jumping is a no go, and sits neatly.

We were hoping that by getting her to doggy school, she could meet other people and dogs and hopefully would calm down and get used to new things without going bonkers.

I took her to the first class at Embsay Dog Training Club and she was a right old nightmare, didn’t know what to do with herself. She couldn’t contain herself and with 15 people and nine other dogs it was quite a lot to process in one go. Even with her favourite treat, liver cake, I couldn’t turn her head, and if I did there was just something new to explore.

I went away know that we had to be a bit more sterner with Tilley, but that is hard to be when she is as good as gold at home. The good news was that the day after her first day at school she slept more that usual. We just thought, “Oh, it’s her first time at a training class, and the trainers say they’re happy for a very reactive dog to attend, so I suppose it will get better.”

During that first class the trainers didn’t do anything to cause us concern about their methods, so we decided to return the following week.

On Tilley’s “second day at school” we had Peli as back-up, I clearly needed an extra hand to try to control her. Tilley was as crazy as the first time: all over the place and this time was called in before the previous class had left the hall. There were about nine other dogs in our class and about 15-17 people in the hall: quite a prospect for a keen, reactive pup.

While feeding her treats and telling her off with a sterner “shhhh” than before she calmed down enough to sit/lie down and watch the other dogs, as long as they stayed still too. As soon as they moved Tilley became anxious, whining, wiggling and panting.

We got called up to try the “walk out of the door” exercise, which we have almost perfected at home. While walking down the middle of the classroom Tilley completely lost it, throwing herself about and running like a crazy thing with her paws scratching and sliding across the floorboards. Coming back into the classroom she reacted to all the dogs and people again and went bonkers.

While I’d been up with Tilley, another trainer asked Peli, “Do you use any corrections on her?”. Peli replied that we’d tried different harnesses, but wasn’t sure what she meant by corrections? That trainer then spoke to another, who went into a back room and returned with a bottle with something in it. I had no idea what was going to happen next.

As I was trying to return Tilley to our seat, one of the three trainers came towards us and Tilley was keen to meet this new and exciting person. But the trainer, with no warning to me, then shook a plastic bottle full of dried chickpeas right next Tilley’s head with a loud “Bang”. It was such a loud noise that it shocked me, and I’m a big 6’4″ bloke. Even Peli across the classroom was shocked. I’d thought the trainer was going to take the lead from me, or show me how to hold it. I was totally unprepared.

So, you can imagine how Tilley reacted. She was to be found way behind me at the end of the lead with her tail between her legs, ears right back, hugging the ground while shaking in clear panic. The trainer told me to call her to me and praise her when she came to me. She gained some confidence and came to me, but tentatively, and not really sure what was going on. Heck, neither did I! Just as we had calmed down, a different dog trainer came up and Tilley – clearly still scared, but getting over it – walked very keenly towards the trainer to say hi, and got yet another loud bottle shake next to her head.

Tilley was now shaking badly, very freaked out and looking, panicked, around the classroom trying to figure out what was going on and where the next bang might come from. I’m talking about a very scared dog here, tail between legs, ears right back, curled up on the floor shaking and she wouldn’t even come to me. The more I called the more she backed away, even treats didn’t get her to move. She was so frightened she ended up wetting herself right there on the floor and onto herself.

The other dogs in the class didn’t look too happy at these huge noises either, or seeing a stressed-out dog wetting itself on the floor.

This is where I should have walked right out of the door, but both Peli and I were so shocked, we didn’t know how to react.

In the end, as Tilley refused to move towards any of us, the first trainer said, “This will unlock her” and put a trail of treats across the floor to bring her back to us. She very, very tentatively followed the food, but she was clearly traumatised. For the rest of the session she was hiding under my legs, clearly unhappy and wary of everyone.

But the corrective advice didn’t stop there: we were then told we should jab her with a finger on her hindquarters to get her into line when she got too giddy, and the trainers gave detailed directions about how to do this, and where exactly to jab her.

I’m not really sure about this method of training – corrective, or dominance-based, or alpha? I’m not sure how to label it but we’ve seen Cesar Millan using something similar on his programmes. It might work on an aggressive and really troublesome dog, but not on this sweet-natured, reactive, unsocialised pup who is keen on meeting new friends, overwhelmed by a room full of new people and dogs and – significantly, as a rescue dog, with an unknown background.

We finally got her home and digested the doggy class. We were confused and not able to process what we’d experienced. As very new dog owners (the last time I owned a pup was many years ago) the thought did cross our mind: is this the way dogs really should be trained?

But the next morning made it clear to us that it certainly isn’t. Tilley was not herself at all – very anxious, not sure what was going on, not our usual bright and sparky Tilley. Peli reported that she had been walking around with her tail between her legs, lacking her normal spring, head down and had been looking for me more than normal. She has always reminded Peli when it was her dinner time at four, but on that day at that time she just laid on Peli’s lap, looking sad. When fed with her Kong and toys she definitely wasn’t her playful self and it was a very subdued mealtime. And she even peed inside, even after she had just been taken outside to go potty.

I arrived home from work and she was happy to see me but lacked the same spring as normal. When coming up to her she always turns over to show her belly with an wagging tail. But tonight it was done in a much slower speed with a much less wagging tail and not with the same look. Looking at us with her head turned and out the corners of her eyes, not direct eye contact as before.

The way she looked at us was with much less joy, trust and a face that said “I’m not really sure if you are just going to pat me or make a big nasty noise”.

I’m all for a firm hand on some dog breeds and if the dog has behaviour problems but not scaring the bejeesus out of them so that their personality changes. And certainly not without clearly explaining and confirming with the dog owner before the change of training method.

It is clear to us that:
1. That training group should not accept highly-reactive dogs into a busy class. It’s not fair on anyone: the dog itself or the other class attendees. It should have been clear that our dog was not suited to classes, and this should have been pointed out to us.
2. If they plan to use such corrections, then the owners (and other class members) are warned and – importantly – have agreed in advance.
3. That they make clear when advertising their courses that they promote the use of such techniques.

Let’s just say that we are not going back to these dog training classes again, and we’ll be contacting our vet (who recommended them) to let them know about our experience.

We got a cat

We have tried with no avail to get Tilley interested in balls so that we can play fetch. But nothing helped even cutting a little hole and filling it with food didn’t get her excited at all.

Today Peli tried to give her a ball of tread and we now know that both the Dogs Trust and our biology teachers have been telling us lies.

Cause Tilley loved the tread and went utterly mad around the house with it.

Mischief

Over the last few days Tilley has changed a fair bit, grown a bit and become right young mischief.

She have now discovered shoes, which she ignored before, they will now be grabbed when we are not in the same room as her.

Food on the table tops aren’t safe any more as she has found out that she is actually tall enough to reach. This resulted in her getting covered in Saturday curry take way, which gave her the nickname Korma for rest of the day. She also managed to grab some bread we where using to make sandwiches with, along with leftovers that would have been my lunch but went into her belly instead. Last night she was out cold sleeping next to me on the floor, didn’t move when I got up to go upstairs. Never paid any interest in my plate of food, full or empty, just laid there and slept. I had barley gone upstairs before Peli heard and saw, from the kitchen, her licking the plate with a very wagging tail. She was just waiting for that moment when our backs are turned.

Her play has also become more active and longer, nothing hard and she still knows the different between a toy and my fingers.

She has stared to whine and growl when left in the crate and we are about in the house.

That said, she is not scared of the hoover, the microwave or the washing machine even with it being right next to her crate. She is getting very good on lead, at start it was only the evening walk that we had some success. Now most walks are done without pulling though we have to stick to the same roads or else the world becomes a wee bit too exciting.

She is also becomes scared and don’t know what to do with herself and comes to us for reassurance when another dog has barked or growled at her.

Yesterday while out walking she learnt the hard way that some flying buzzing things do bite back. She had tried to catch and eat some wasps but not matter how much Peli pulled her away she got too close. Which resulted in her rolling around in pain, licking her left leg and not keen on walking home. She was clearly in discomfort and looked very sorry for herself, but there was still some interest in cheese so we knew that we didn’t have to take her to the vet. She spend most of the afternoon sleeping and when I got home she is normally keen on meeting me, but I got a rather subdued greeting. Well I’m pretty sure that she will keep her distance in the future 🙂

Well since I wrote the above – she went strait back to where the incident happened without a blink and she also managed to
get hold of the butter and had a good 200g of it.