Guinness is Good For You
So, we had decided it was time to get a new dog. Well, not actually new, more rescue. Our beloved Staffie and her ‘sister’, an elderly English bull terrier, both left us in 2019. We started with the internet of course, always the first port of call for anything these days, and there were thousands of dogs needing a home; shouldn’t take too long. We emailed and left voice messages, all to no avail. What’s the point of advertising dogs for rehoming if you don’t answer queries, and the dogs are still there three weeks later? Grrr…
In the end I decided to pull strings, not something I would normally countenance, and we met Guinness. A three-year-old boy dog, not something we’d had before, but hey-ho. He is a Staffie-Corgi cross, we used to call those mongrels, but if he was trendy he would presumably be a Storgi. Or a Caffie? And obviously, given his name, he is brown and white. He is one of the prettiest dogs I’ve seen, I wish my eyeliner looked as good as his does!
The first drive home was fun, I had no idea dogs could moult to that extent and still be covered in fur! The car took some hoovering out, but that was a husband problem. When we got home Guinness proved to be an absolute sweetie, desperate to please, and amazing with humans, especially small ones. One granddaughter actually complained that he was ‘wagging her too much’!
Time to get to know him. We had been warned that he and the other dog rehoused with him had been severely underweight when they came in, so we were expecting feeding problems. Give him his due though, it didn’t take him long to realise that he would get fed twice a day, all he had to do was wait for the command.
The other ‘minor’ problem mentioned was that he was a little bit reactive to other dogs. Massive understatement! He pulled on the lead so hard he almost dislocated my elbow and he was so embarrassing when we met other dogs; I was constantly apologising. I was not used to this; my Staffie had been so laid back, the professional photographer I took her to couldn’t even get her to raise her ears for a picture. Still, I tried to apply the techniques I had learned from Cesar Millan, chastising the dog when he displayed unwanted behaviour. And then, since it’s difficult to have a conversation with another dog owner when yours is trying to attack theirs, I stopped trying and just yanked him past them. We bought a muzzle for him, thinking that if there was an occasion when I wasn’t quick enough to pull him back, at least he couldn’t do any harm to anything else. Yeah, right. He ate it, as soon as he could.
Then something made me re-assess. We were walking past quite a small, really inoffensive little dog and Guinness twisted around until he was right behind me. It then dawned on me that rather than nasty and aggressive where other dogs were concerned, he was actually terrified, the sort of fear that made him want to attack the other dog before it had decided whether or not to go for him at all! Fight or Flight in action, didn’t see that one coming.
Trouble is, I’d never dealt with that before. I reasoned, given the state he and the other dog were in when they were given up to the shelter, that they must have had to fight for everything they got, not a good way to bring up a dog. Me? Angry? I was absolutely fuming! Doesn’t really help though does it, that reaction. And I had no clue as to what I should have been doing to sort the situation out.
Back to the internet. There was lots of helpful information there for reactive dogs but none of it quite fitted. We’d tried the muzzle but I’ve always preferred to fix the problem rather than the possible consequences, and how many muzzles does he have to eat before you get the point? Having said that, we did buy a Halti harness for him. This goes around his face and you attach the lead to it, rather than to the dog’s collar. I have no idea why, but it calmed him down massively, which led to the walks being a pleasure, rather than an arm-dislocating chore. First problem solved, albeit I didn’t want the use of the Halti to be a permanent thing.
Now for the big one: Other Dogs. And still no real clue. I invested in another new piece of kit, this time a treats bag, and three bags of training treats. I looked professional even if I didn’t feel it! Our Staffie had never been bothered with treats on a walk, she was far too interested in sticks, balls or being laid back.
I also decided I needed help. It came in the form of Keith. Thanks to the internet, I had found his website and he looked like someone I could work with. I bunked off work one Thursday morning – I have a great boss – and Keith turned up in his car, The Dog Man emblazoned across the side. He made me laugh almost immediately, commenting that he could clearly see both breeds in Guinness! We had his undivided attention for an hour, for the princely sum of £25, an absolute bargain. And a bargain it was. He asked me where we might go to find other dogs, so I suggested walking through the cemetery behind our house. On the way Keith was giving me hints and tips, small tweaks to what we were already doing. So I learned to give Guinness space between himself and other dogs, and how to entice him past with treats. I should really have charged commission; as we were walking through we met a terrier with even worse problems than ours, and Keith got another client!
I could now get past another dog by using the treats (did I mention that he’s food-oriented?) but it was still a bit messy. I’m not the best co-ordinated person ordinarily, let alone trying to keep an eye on the other dog, stop Guinness reacting, feed him a treat and walk, all at the same time. Apologies were now definitely out of the window.
Things are improving, slowly. And this, dear reader, is where we’re at. I think I need to go back to Keith, with his amazingly calm pack of dogs, to get Guinness used to the idea that it is possible to be in the general proximity of other dogs without World War Three breaking out. We will get there. It will take time and effort, but it will be worth every minute.
Karen Davies and Guinness