We’ve been obsessed with getting a dog since we arrived in New Zealand, the endless beaches, lapping waves and abundant regional parks make it a utopia for dogs.
So when the contract ended on our first apartment, we decided to make the leap and move to the ‘burbs so we could get a house and extend our family.
We visited several animal shelters around Auckland to find out what we needed to do to meet the criteria for adoption and set about puppy proofing our home.
After many hours spent leafing through online ads for dogs looking for their “forever homes”, we found a profile for a beautiful, smiley, tan, eight month old whippet cross. The process is much like online dating, you skim through the profiles until you find someone that you think will match your lifestyle, then the next step is to send them a message and arrange a date. She sounded perfect.
A few days later, we went to visit her at at K9 Heaven (one of those places you leave your dog when you go on vacay) where she was being fostered until she could be adopted. She was super cute but initially seemed anxious and distant so we took her for a walk. We were worried about her nervousness but we were told she was tired from her morning run and was usually bouncing around the place.
We took a chance on her and decided to take her home for a trial to see if she would relax into our environment. So for almost four weeks, we’ve been living with Olive.
During her first few days, she was submissive and anxious and wasn’t interested in food treats or toys. The first day we picked her up we took her to the beach, as we were told its good to tire a dog out before introducing them to your home. We strolled along Long Bay beach, taking her in the water and playing ball with her.
She was beautiful and we were already smitten. We met another dog owner on the beach and stopped so the dogs could meet each other whilst we exchanged doggy small talk. She seemed perfect, and I remember texting the animal rescue lady telling her exactly that and sending her photos of Olive on the beach.
I was brimming with happiness and couldn’t believe how well it was all going. I brushed off a few small incidents, like Olive barking at a passerby carrying a body board and a group of boys heading towards us on the path.
It didn’t take long for Olive to settle into our home. She chewed up some furniture, as well as her bed, but apart from that she was pretty easy. Once she warmed up to us she was playful and easy to train with treats. The problems started when we took her out for her daily walks around the neighbourhood.
As soon as she walked out the front door she was deaf to our commands and was highly anxious of everything around her. At first, her reactions weren’t so extreme but by the second week if there was a dog in her eyesight, all hell would break loose. She is what the trainers call a ‘reactive’ dog, which means when she feels threatened she will bark, growl and lunge at anything that spooks her and its impossible to train a dog when they are in that frame of mind.
So many days we returned home from walks deflated and frustrated at the lack of progress with our attempts at training. Every evening was spent watching dog training videos or reading dog training books, to no avail. It took over our lives. We were stressed, tired and worried parents. We got to the point where we dreaded going for walks and had to keep a close eye out in all directions so we could steer her in the opposite direction if a person/dog/bike/jogger was approaching.
We tried all the collars, all the training techniques, and all the treats. Her on-leash walks weren’t getting any better, if anything it started to get progressively worse as she remembered what houses had dogs in the front yard and would go into reactive mode as soon as we got close.
There were some other incidents but the last straw came when we had visitors round the house for a BBQ and she was barking and jumping up at them – aggressively, not playfully. I couldn’t even say goodbye to them at the door as I was struggling to keep her from chasing them out. I knew that it wasn’t working but I didn’t want to admit it. Weeks of exhaustion and stress had built up and I had a bit of an emotional break down that evening.
We decided to get in the professionals.
The charity who gave us Olive recommended a vet/behaviour specialist/trainer called Jess. Jess had a waiting list but we put in an SOS phonecall and she managed to fit us in for a few hours in the afternoon. She took us near her home and told us she would have Olive walking besides her dog by the end of the session.
The training started and it was more of the same techniques that we had been using for the past few weeks. Olive’s reactions were extreme and Jess couldn’t get her anywhere near her dog. She recommended sedation drugs to keep Olive calm in order to train her. Even then, she couldn’t guarantee that Olive would ever be a regular dog, labelling her as “special needs”.
It was a hard truth to accept but at least we had tried. Olive needed more intense daily training from someone who has experience with a reactive dog, in the right environment. Things we weren’t equipped to give her.
We got home and made the phone call we had been dreading but knew that we couldn’t put off. The trial with Olive was over and it turns out we couldn’t be her forever home. I spent that evening beside myself with sadness and the rest of the week has been much of the same. I can’t think about handing her back over to the charity without feeling truly heartbroken.
We’re devastated that it hasn’t worked out. She is the most lovely natured dog at home when its just us three. We wanted more than anything for the trainer to give us a solution to her problem but some issues are too deeply ingrained in a dog.
For now, we’re fostering Olive until she can be re-homed. And on the positive side, we can give the rescue home a full analysis of her behaviour and temperament so she can be matched with the right owner. We’re hopeful that Olive can be rehabilitated by the right person. And we’re still set on getting another rescue dog when we find the right one.
Luckily, the animal charity have been kind and understanding of the situation. We’ve since spoken to Jess the trainer who agreed that it was probably the right thing for us to do.
It’s with a heavy heart that I write this post. It’s been the most challenging month since we landed in New Zealand and we’ve learnt a hell of a lot. Looking back, there were lots of warning signs in Olive’s behaviour but having no experience with a dog of this nature we were none the wiser to what was in store.
It hasn’t put me off the adoption process. There are so many innocent dogs out there who have been tainted by bad owners.
Our story of Olive ends here. We’re doing all we can to find her a perfect home, whilst our search for a canine friend continues…