I have had some amazing clients over the many years of working with animals. People turning up in bandages after being bitten, changing jobs, selling houses, even getting rid of partners to be able to help their dog or cat. many have stayed in touch over the years, this particular story illustrates the commitment of owners to a difficult dog who I have been lucky enough to see most of his life.
Leo’s story also illustrates an important point, how frustration can lead to tail damage. His tail was horrible, stinking and ulcerated and bald. The vet had wanted to amputate it as he would not stop and it was badly infected. I asked them not to until I saw him and I am pleased to say he kept his tail. See the before and after pics!
His owners story:
On 31st August 1999 Pal’s friend for many years, Ben, died. Pal was heartbroken and cried non-stop for 10 days. I rang Meadowgreen Rescue Centre who told me they had a 21 month old Rottweiler/GSD who desperately needed a new home. They said Leo had been locked away and starved for several months, resulting in serious behavioural problems. They suggested we took Pal to meet him and see how they got on, which we did on the 11th September 1999.
They met in the play area, both on leads. Pal liked Leo straight way but Leo was not interested either way. All he wanted to do was chase and bite his, what should have been beautiful, GSD tail. All that was left was a little tuft of hair at the tip. The rest was hairless and in places, raw. He was painfully thin in spite of having had 4 months TLC at Meadowgreen, and was becoming more and more stressed with kennel life although he had formed a strong bond with Di, his carer. We let both dogs off their leads and Pal immediately began to play with the toys, virtually asking Leo to join in – but he didn’t. He just watched and chased his tail alternately. Di had tried and tried to get him to play but he had no idea how to do it. Eventually he came over to me and I fell in love with him. Underneath all that misery I could see a lovely dog, and so we took him home.
Home for the dogs is a large grassy yard containing a couple of stables, one of which is for the dogs’ use, a tack shed, a hay shed and a kennel big enough for the two dogs and the yard cat to share, which they do. Leo settled in immediately, so much so that when my husband went to check on them later, Leo ran up to the gate and told him, in no uncertain terms, “This is my yard and you are not coming in.” As it was nearly dark we decided to leave it until the morning to sort out.
The next morning as I approached the gate Leo came storming up. “This is my yard and you are not coming in.” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “This is MY yard and I AM coming in RIGHT NOW,” and in I went. From that moment I became pack leader. I soon discovered that he needed firm handling as a few days later my vet called to see what kind of dog Pal had chosen. Bearing in mind the way Leo had greeted Terry, my husband, on that first night, I put him in one of the stables with the lower half of the door closed – not a sound. As soon as the vet got near the door a snarling Leo leapt up – a good job the door was between him and the vet. I realised then that not only did we have a very mixed-up dog we also had an aggressive one. As Pal had been aggressive when we first had him, I knew Leo would need the same firm handling and constant control. Leo was extremely hyperactive yet on his daily walk around the fields, (and being disabled, I can only walk slowly) he walked beautifully on the lead at my side. He was still tail chasing on a regular basis, but not holding on to it quite so much so some of the hair was beginning to grow back.
His herding and droving instincts were, and still are, extremely strong, so, rather than risk him chasing the pony in and out of her stable, I shut him in the tack shed for the few minutes it took. After only 5 days he sat himself in the tack shed so I could shut the door while the pony went in and out, and this he still does.
After several weeks he was still very thin, still hyperactive, and still chasing his tail. He was too ‘busy’ to eat his food sensibly. He would gulp it down in a couple of seconds, dash outside and promptly bring it up again, which wasn’t doing him any good. I rang Meadowgreen and they gave me Debbie’s number. First of all she suggested I should try feeding him on chicken and rice to calm down his hyperactivity, also that I should buy 3 or 4 solid rubber balls from our local pet store and put them in his feed bowl, the idea being that he would have to move the balls around with his nose to get to his food. It worked like a dream. After several weeks I was able to reduce the number of balls in his feed until he was eating sensibly without them. He began to put weight on but was still chasing his tail and acting aggressively towards anyone who passed by HIS gate. Another phone call to Debbie, who advised me to put some pebbles in several plastic bottles and if he chased his tail or acted over-aggressively I should throw a bottle at him, but turn away as I did it so he would not know where it came from. It worked well for a while but he was becoming harder to discipline. Terry said we should send him back to Meadowgreen but I didn’t want to do that. I desperately wanted him to become a happy dog.
Just after Christmas ’99 I phoned Debbie again and she asked us to take Leo up to her, which we did. We had a long discussion about his problems while Leo sniffed around her office, refusing to sit quietly while we talked. Then Debbie told him to “ sit” in no uncertain terms, and, looking very astonished, he did. Debbie agreed with me that she could see a nice dog underneath all the troubles. She said he was loving but unpredictable, liked to have his own way and did not like to be challenged. She thought he might bite if he was pushed too far. She said she was sure she could help him but that it would take about 6 weeks, and we would not be allowed to see him during that time, but we could phone any time we liked to see how he was getting on.
The first time I phoned, Debbie told me that he had grabbed her hand and drawn blood. She had been trying to get him to move out of her way and that had been his reaction. He held on to her hand for several minutes before letting go at her request. I was devastated. I fully expected her to say he would have to be put down, but she didn’t. She said she had expected him to retaliate like that and he would probably do it again before he finally learnt that he must move out of the way when asked. Next time he grabbed her by the ankle but let go much quicker, and still Debbie took it all in her stride. He was put in a run between two others, and each time he behaved aggressively towards his dog neighbours a pebble bottle was thrown in. After 6 weeks and a lot of hard work on Debbie’s part, she phoned to say that although she really needed to do quite a bit more work with him, he was beginning to become stressed with kennel life, and needed to come home.
When we got to Debbie’s we went into her office while she told us about the training she had done with Leo and stressed that we must keep it up. She said Leo was an extremely clever dog but that he must not be allowed to make his own decisions. He was also very dominant and territorial. He must not have attention when he asked for it – that calls for totally ignoring him, even if it means getting up and walking away. We were warned NEVER to play any sort of wrestling, tug-of-war or play-fighting games with him. With regard to his over-territorial behaviour, it would be necessary for me to periodically trample on his sleeping area and also to confiscate his toys and carry them around with me every so often.
Then we went to see Leo. He was standing quietly in his run, not taking any notice of us, or the dogs on either side. Debbie went in to him first and demonstrated the best way to handle him, and then it was my turn. I slowly walked along, turning away from him so he followed, then turning in to him so he had to move out of my way etc., and the improvement was wonderful, even on the 30ft lead. Next it was out to the local park where Debbie concentrated on Leo and Terry, as Terry had not had too much previous experience with problem dogs. She started off with him walking Leo on a short lead, getting the dog to go with him or move away from him. Then it was on to the 30ft lead, repeating the exercises and working near other dogs. When Leo’s attention wandered the pebble bottle was rattled. During the previous couple of weeks Debbie had given Leo a punctured basketball ball, which he loved. I was very pleased at that, as we had failed to get him interested in toys, not even with Pal playing nearby,
Then it was time to say goodbye and many thanks to Debbie, and wend
our way back to Norwich. Pal, Scattycat and the pony were delighted to see Leo again. We immediately began working with him as Debbie had taught us and it was paying dividends, with just the odd hiccup. The first thing I did was to pluck up courage and go and trample on his bed. Debbie had warned me that he may go for me, but he didn’t. He just looked quizzically at me, head on one side, as if saying, ”What ‘re you doing that for?” I bought him a large ball, which we punctured so he could carry it around. He didn’t want to play with it, just carry it. Then we had the problem of getting it off him when it was time for us to go.
After all the dogs were supposed to be protecting the pony and our belongings and he could not do that with a big ball in his mouth, so I hit on the idea of a Bonio. Pal was called in first (curious Leo following) and when Pal gave me his toy he was rewarded with a Bonio. Leo’s face said, “That looks good. I wonder if I can do it.” After a bit of persuasion and a few sniffs at the Bonio he put his ball down and had his reward, and was quite happy for me to put the ball away until the next day. Eventually the ball became rather tattered and I bought him a large squeaky newspaper. He loved it, and although it nearly drove us mad at times, it kept his mind off his tail, which was great.
Then I taught him to “Sit and wait” until I had put both dogs’ feed bowls on the floor and had said “okay.” I groomed his long coat while he was eating, and still do, as this is the only time when he is really still, and he is quite happy about it. Then he learnt to “sit and stay” while I disappeared round the back of the horsebox. So far so good! He was learning an awful lot from Pal, who was rescued from a dreadful home 12 years ago, and who turned out to be an excellent working dog. Then bit by bit, before he had his Bonio, I taught Leo to give the paw, saying “How do you do?” then “Quite well thank you” was the signal for him to give me the other paw. Next it was “Lie down” and then it was “Say please.” This he found more difficult as his balance is hopeless. I usually end up with a paw resting on my stomach otherwise he falls over. Now he quite happily goes through all three manoeuvres as soon as he sees his Bonio, and yes Pal does the same for his Bonio as well although sometimes I allow him to do his old man’s handshake – shakes hands while still lying down. I reckon at the age of 13 he some times deserves to be able to do it the lazy way.
Leo’s favourite toy is a giant squeaky hedgehog called Henry. Henry is given to him when he has done his job well. Oh yes, he has a job, and very proud of it he is too. Every day he is hitched on to the muck barrow. He pulls and Terry guides it while muck clearing about the field. A few days ago we had a real Red Letter Day. Leo gave his precious Henry to me so I could throw it for him. He gave it to me 8 times in all. It has taken 3 years and 3 months for him to realise that toys can be fun.
I always knew Leo would be very hard work but with Debbie’s caring help and advice we are getting there, but still have a long way to go. Because of his previous life, Leo will never be 100% trustworthy, but he has turned into a very loving dog and tries so hard to please. Okay every so often he slips back into bad ways and has to be put very firmly in his place. Apart from, myself, Terry, Debbie and my sister he will not allow anyone to touch him. It is practically engrained in him not to trust anyone. However he has learnt that certain people are allowed to come into the yard with us, but it is imperative that they ignore him completely. After several visits he may walk up behind a new person and place his nose in one of their hands. This is his way of saying that he accepts that person as a friend. At the time of writing this he still cannot be allowed to run free in our field, only in the yard, because he gets so intent on what he wants to do that he goes deaf in one ear and can’t hear with the other. Also we cannot risk him chasing neighbouring cattle and horses, but he accepts this, and, on the whole, he is now a very happy and contented dog. We are so glad we have been able to give him a second chance.
To Debbie, who understands what these dogs have been through and who works so hard to help them and us, Terry and I extend our warmest thanks.
I was lucky enough to be invited to see Leo a few years after his training. He even gave up his beloved Henry toy to me. In 2011 I was again invited to see this now old boy at the end of a loved life, making all the work worthwhile. Sadly recently pts as his old legs gave up, he is much missed. RIP Leo.