‘A Dog Will Change Your Life’

One thing I have to write about is how a dog can change your life. No, I am not talking about ‘you will become a morning person’ and ‘love will enrich your life’. While these are true (well the former, rather begrudgingly so) they are the things you expect. What about the things you DIDN’T expect? In no particular order, here are a few of the major differences I have noticed in my life since adopting Trevor:

1. I am worried that everything, including me, will accidentally kill or harm my dog. Broken glass on the floor makes me irrationally cross, all rubbish and food on the floor makes me cross. If I see him eating something I rush over and claw it out of his mouth, usually to find its some grass or a biscuit he found and I now have a mildly surprised and disgruntled dog on my hands. Supposedly new mothers often dream about accidentally harming their babies, and I keep having these dreams too. While I realise that Trevor is not my child and I resent it when my boyfriend tells the dog to ‘Go back to Mum’ or something of a similar ilk, I can certainly see some similarities in the situation.

It has got to the point eventually when if I couldn’t hear or see him, I thought immediately that he was dead. Solved this problem by attaching the bell from a Lindt Bunny to his collar. Now it sounds like Christmas every day but I can hear him mooching about and know he isn’t (probably) dead.

2. I get carsick now. I spend more time looking at him than out of the window and inevitably end up feeling rather ill.

3. My life is not reduced or limited in any way because of my dog. It is positively enriched. I had an endless torrent of people asking if I was sure that I knew what a commitment I was making, how I would never be able to go out again, how I would be housebound, tied down and limited in everything I did? Well I accepted that was the case, then I realised that none of these things are a bad thing, and are only half truths.

The main issue I have is the concept of the world not being very dog friendly. Look a little harder and you will find lovely places like The Cricketers in Pontcanna that is very dog friendly and serves relatively cheap wine. Cardiff buses allow dogs, as do the trains. The only way my life has been ‘limited’ is that occasionally he does get left at home, but usually he is a great excuse for me to leave an awful event early. ‘Sorry I have to feed the dog’ is so much better than ‘Sorry I have to wash my hair’, don’t you think?

Instead of being limited, I am in fact going out more! I rarely leave him at home alone if I can help it. If I am visiting a friend, I simply take him with me! I love walking and exploring, however finding reason to go out for a walk is sometimes hard when the couch is calling. My little dog forces me to go out in the rain, sun and (probably) snow, and while sometimes I really don’t want to, I inevitably end up loving it which is very odd seeing as he actually hates the rain and gets steadily more grumpy the more we are out in it.

4. How ANNOYING he can be. Sometimes I just want to sit down and he wants to chase his tail, bark and leap about. Sometimes he doesn’t understand what I am asking. Sometimes he jumps up when he shouldn’t and tries to eat his lead. The frustrations are short lived however and few and far between. I am sure he gets frustrated with me when I want to sit where he is sitting and I want to go home when he doesn’t yet.

5. Everything got a little more comical. The way he lies down is hilarious, he just leans to one side and collapses in a heap! The snorts he makes constantly, the snorts he makes when looking for tasty things. The barks he does at next doors dog (a staffie twice the size that literally couldn’t care less about my idiot dog). How excited he gets when I get up in the morning or come home in the evening, he just wiggles and wiggles and wiggles. How often he falls over. How truly rubbish he is at catching and playing fetch. The list goes on and on but every day he makes me giggle!

6. How utterly rewarding he is. He couldn’t sit, stay, lie down, give paw or leave when I got him. Now he can and impeccably so. His off lead recall is rubbish but other than that he is turning into a model citizen! And you know what? I did that! A little dog that got abandoned, who no one wanted, who was bouncy, unruly and idiotic is learning to calm down and behave, and he is looking happier and more and content every day. I did that. He is mine, I am his. It’s all rather lovely really!

Please Squeeze My Dog

So what is Trevor like?

First and foremost, he is simply the happiest dog ever. Google ‘Staffie Smile’ and you will see what I mean. Some people perceive those huge jaw muscles as intimidating and scary, however those that are more used to the way of the Staff will see it as squashy cheeks and a big grin. He needs to be as close to me as possible at all times, even if that means sitting on my feet or leaning against me while I cook dinner. Drop to your knees and put your face at his height and expect his tongue to be in your nostrils and mouth before you can say ‘uunnnffftttt gross!’.

A wonderful testament to the temperament of the Staffie is an experience had on the bus this week (the same day as the rushing to the orchestra debacle). I was stood up near the front of the bus with dog sat next to me when a woman and her small child walked down the centre aisle to get off the bus. The child in question let go of his Mum’s hand, dropped to his knees and grabbed my dog around his neck in a huge bear hug. The atmosphere on the bus immediately tensed along with a few sharp intakes of breath. A tiny child had grabbed a ‘bully breed’ dog around the neck in a confined space, surely this was his time to die? This child would surely be shredded in front of these commuters very eyes???

My dog couldn’t have given less of a crap. His response at being grabbed by a stranger was to lick said strange child’s face all over and nuzzle him under the armpits. Way to go, Trev! The entire bus proceeded to go ‘Awwwww!’ in unison and children then appeared from under seats and laps of parents to join in with the dog squeezing frenzy, which Trevor lapped up and just enjoyed with a big Staffie smile on his face through the whole thing.

The children in the house next door to me always squeal ‘Clever Trevor!’ and run over to him to give him hugs and squeezes and he simply adores them. I have never seen a dog be so placid with children in my life! He can play a bit to boisterously with me, however if a small person comes anywhere near him, he immediately tones down the bounciness and noticeably turns into a caring, soft dog. It’s actually a bit weird!

The only negative side to his persistent happiness it seems is with some other dogs. He can be very bouncy!! He is a teenage boy after all… If he spots a dog anywhere near us when we are out walking, I have a hard job holding onto him as he drags me across roads and fields! He simply wants to play but is a bit obsessed with meeting every dog he sees. I took him to Fonmon Charity Dog Show in the hope of socialising him with loads of dogs and making him chill out a bit to no avail. Any advice on this is welcome! He simply wants to meet them and play and is in no way dog aggressive, just a bit overexcited and boisterous!

Anyway, I digress… The internet it seems is divided into two main camps. Those that think Staffs are dangerous and should be banned, and those who get cross at those who think that. Admittedly, any dog can be dangerous and I would never leave my dog unattended with children, however as cliche as it is, it’s how you bring them up. Though in my case, I didn’t bring my dog up! Maybe we are bucking the trend? At least in my city I can take my chavvy Staffie for a walk and know that everyone who crosses the road to avoid is simply wrong about him and meanwhile, anyone that wants to can squeeze my dog as much as they like because he will be all the happier for each hug and squeeze. It helps that I refuse to put him in a black leather collar with studs and a choke chain. He wears a harness with little stars on it and sometimes a fetching bandana. Sure, he looks camp as hell sometimes, but if it means my little camp dog can change one persons opinion of the breed, it’s worth it!

You Can’t Rush A Dog

It seems that owning a dog is actually just a big long string of life lessons punctuated with farts, dog barf and running through wet fields.

This week I learnt another important lesson, you cannot rush a dog! Whether you need to convince him to go for a wee or need to get his harness on and get out of the door in under 3 minutes so we don’t miss the bus, you CANNOT rush a dog!

It is truly amazing how a dog can sense your mood. I had been in work and knew that I had approximately 2 hours to get home, put dog in harness, get out of the door and onto a bus, go to the vets, go back home, feed the dog, feed myself, get changed and get out of the door for a night at the Orchestra courtesy of the boyfriend. I had spent all afternoon meticulously planning how I was going to do it all and arrive at the Symphony Hall not covered in grass, poo and saliva.

Trevor must have sensed my slightly agitated mood as soon as I entered the house as he immediately started leaping about and snorting in a typical Staffie fashion, which was fine, but when it came to putting his harness on, everyone was so wound up that it had become a huge and slightly stressful game. Getting both feet into harness and doing up a clip should NOT have taken me half an hour. Dog was wiggling and saw this harness as a brilliant chew toy and I was getting more and more frustrated and forgetting my rules about staying calm, this in turn led to me feeling like I was losing my temper and Trevor losing all ability to concentrate and sit still.

If I had simply taken a deep breath and stepped back from the situation, taken a minute to calm the dog down and myself down then no doubt it would have been nowhere near as traumatic.

Needless to say, I wasn’t late to the Orchestra but the boyfriend was. Something about ‘no parking spaces’. Hmph.

The Dog You Need

In case you hadn’t already worked it out, I adopted Trevor. I phoned the Dogs Home every day for a week, pestering them for information and how the adoption process was going. Eventually I got a phone call to say that he was mine and I could go and pick him up.

Now at this point I expected to pick up my new dog, go home, have a lovely play and then a bonding nap. I also expected to immediately fall in love with my new best friend and live happily ever after. This didn’t happen, at least not immediately!

We bundled into the car and drove home, as soon as I opened the door to the house, my newly acquired dog was in EVERYTHING. Some dogs are shy, mine is not. He was haring up and down the stairs, knocking things over and chasing his tail. Panic set in a little bit at this point but my housemate kept reminding me ‘he will settle down soon’, so I took a deep breath and continued with letting him explore my home, and indeed, his new home!

The first ‘problem’ to raise its head was his tail chasing. As a Staff, he is prone to obsessive behaviours and spinning in particular. The tail chasing itself isn’t so bad, it’s the barking that comes with it. Initially it was funny, but then he kept going… and going… and going… and I proceeded to get worried and more worried… and more worried. What had I done?? I now had a little lunatic in my house that didn’t know his own name, didn’t know any commands and was utterly out of control. The only way to stop him from spinning was to physically grab and restrain him. We put the dog in the garden and I went to have a sit down and a think.

In hindsight I think expecting the perfect dog to land in my house on the first night and for us to become instant partners in crime was incredibly naiive of me. If I am honest, within a few hours I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I kept imagining the shame of having to take this little dog back to the Dogs Home and admit that I couldn’t cope. This was so overwhelming that every time he started spinning, I burst into tears! A ridiculous reaction but I was so frightened for both myself and this little dog. My housemate on more than one occasion found me clutching at his collar and holding onto a wall unable to breathe or compose myself. I was SO embarrassed! I couldn’t cope!

My mum has a theory. You don’t get the dog that you want, you get the dog that you need! My mum isn’t a  fan of people, and she ended up with a Labrador that is obsessed with people! Her dog is making her more sociable whether she likes it or not. Now this does have a point… I am an anxious person. I have had panic attacks, I have had a bit of a rubbish time in regards to anxiety, and along has come this little dog that has an anxiety issue himself. He evidently spins when he is excited, scared, anxious or just unsure/overstimulated, the only way to stop his spinning I learnt, was to calm him down and create a calm, anxiety free environment for him. My dog is teaching me to not be anxious.

I am learning from him every day. He teaches me to be patient when he doesn’t understand, he is patient with me when I don’t understand and we are working together. Sometimes he poos inside and he still occasionally chases his tail, but we are both learning not to freak out as much.

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What dog?

This is SUCH a personal question that I don’t think I will ever be able to answer on behalf of anyone else, however I can tell you about why I chose to adopt the breed I chose and how I went about choosing the individual dog itself.

Firstly I considered what I knew about dogs. This seems like a remarkably daft question, but if you don’t know much and have always lived with cats, then you’re probably not going to get on with a Mastiff or a high energy Collie. Likewise if you have always lived with dogs, don’t assume that a ‘difficult’ breed is going to be easy to care for because you know it all. I had five rules I wanted to follow while choosing;

1. Kind eyes – a LOT can be said about a dog by the eyes. Does it look you in the eyes and is it attentive?
2. Short hair – I am rubbish at hoovering
3. No ‘slipper’ dogs – you know those small fluffy yappy things? Not a proper dog to me! (No offence intended to those who own small or ‘toy’ dogs)
4. Likewise, no enormous dogs! – I am inherently unstable in both my job and my rented home. Moving a smallish dog would be easier than convincing a new landlord to let me keep my bear of a Newfoundland in a betsit in a city centre…
5. Smart, but not so smart he/she would get bored – Helped here by the fact my Mum trains dogs impeccably and I’d have loads of on hand advice whenever needed.

The final unmentioned rule I had. Adopt not buy. This isn’t a rant about puppy farming or bad breeders. I just knew that I wasn’t fussed on ‘pedigree’ or anything like that, and I didn’t want a puppy (read; didn’t want to housetrain!).

So I wanted a nice dog, not too big or too small that is smart but not easily bored, housetrained and preferably 1 or 2 years old so still ‘mouldable’. Not too much to ask???
Actually no. There is one type of dog that fills all of these criterea (usually) in every rescue centre in the country. Hundreds and thousands of them in fact. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier. With it’s adorable face and bad reputation, it’s well worth forgetting everything you know about this dog and visiting one.

In my (albeit short) experience, Staffs are;
Happy, gentle, full of beans, smart, caring, clumsy, clownish, chatty and loving dogs.

I started in the most obvious place. Online of course! Just google any combination of ‘rescue’, ‘staffie’ and ‘adoption’ and you will find thousands of Staffs needing homes. The problem is that they were at one point a popular ‘status’ dog that looks strong and imposing, led around by young men in particular to help them increase their street-cred (do I sound like a ranting old woman yet?). This popularity of the breed in certain areas combined with lax breeding laws in the UK has prompted a massive surge in the overbreeding of this type of dog, resulting in poorly cared for dogs, strays, untrained dogs and abandoned dogs. They are a headstrong dog that is smart, and will therefore always be a challenge. My guess is that people often expect their dogs to come ‘trained’ and therefore are shocked when they have an unruly lump of a dog on their hands that they cannot control.

The one thing I was not so prepared for was the overwhelming response I had from people regarding the BREED I chose. This was firmly divided into two categories;
1. Thank you for overlooking the tabloid headlines and choosing a Staffie
2. DANGEROUS DOG. IT WILL EAT YOU.

I am going to make a strong statement now. Hold on to your seats, kids…
Not once has my ‘dangerous’ Staffie ever ripped my face off or killed me or any of my neighbours children. He once ripped a hole in my tights and he did a poo downstairs though…

So with a moderate amount of research done and my mind made up on what breed I wanted, I started looking around and discovered Friends of the Dogs, Wales, a charity that operates out of the Cardiff Dogs Home (council run pound). The general system they operate is choose a dog > walk the dog > apply for dog > maybe get chosen for dog. You have to fill out a host of forms and a maximum of three people can apply for any dog, then the best match for the dog is chosen and they get to live happily ever after. It’s a system that is evidently working and ensures that no unsavory characters adopt a dog for the wrong reasons.

After checking their website most weeks for over a year, I made the plunge and took my best friend and boyfriend down to Cardiff Dogs Home promising them we could look at loads of lovely cute dogs. This much was true but we also wanted to take ALL of them home. As we drove in through the gates I saw one little brown and ginger Staff that I had had an eye on walking out of the gates with a family, I assumed he was rehomed, felt a little sad but nevertheless ploughed onwards.

We were guided into a noisy warehouse full of cages, barking and whining. This is NOT a nice environment for a dog, however Cardiff Dogs Home appears to be clean and the dogs that are there are cared for by their staff and volunteers. We walked up and down the alleys of dogs and I picked out a few cage numbers, went to the main desk to ask if I could walk them. One of them had been adopted, one of them had a bad limp and couldn’t go on a walk and the other one was Ben.

Ben is a brindle Staffie with ears that made me think of Dobby from Harry Potter. He barrelled out of the doors and I was warned he pulls on the lead. Not a problem, I thought. I took Ben confidently by the lead and was promptly walked by him up the road and back. Now Ben is a lovely dog, full of energy and a bit of an idiot, however I just didn’t ‘feel it’. I know how ridiculous this sounds but I didn’t feel connected to this dog. He wasn’t mine.

Disheartened I returned to the dogs home and handed him back. I thought while I was there I would ask about their other dogs and ask for a ‘recommendation’ so to speak. Understandably they can’t tell you what a dog is like as they have limited experience, but they mentioned a dog and brought him out. It was the little brown and ginger Staff I thought I saw leaving with a family! His name is Trevor and he was found (twice) as a stray in Cardiff. We didn’t walk very far, but I immediately knew he was mine. Sure, he pulled on the lead and did an enormous poo and even fell over once, but he kept looking at me to check I was there and was ever so gentle when I gave him a treat.

When we got back to the home, I sat on the floor with him and when the time came for him to go inside, he simply would not budge. He had chosen me. Eventually we persuaded him back inside and I filled out an application form. Only one other person had applied for him… So now I had to wait!

Introductions

Hi, and welcome to my blog.

The purpose of this blog is to tell you my story of adopting my first dog, it’s ups, it’s downs and everything in between. I am in my 20’s and while most people choose to adopt a dog when they are a bit older and more settled, I took the decision to have a companion through my uncertain years.

So far it has been stressful, hysterical, embarrassing, fun and full of adventure. Occasionally I have doubted myself and the dog, mostly I have been utterly in love with the idiot furball that now occupies the main part of my life. I asked a lot of people their opinion on me having a dog (those that knew me well and those that didn’t) and had a vast array of responses, the most common of which were;

No way will you be able to get up to take him for a walk every morning
But won’t you miss going out on the weekends? (more on this later on…)
What if it’s a mean dog?
Do you understand how big a COMMITMENT a dog is?

The first thing I have to say is that my decision to adopt a dog that was not one I took lightly!  I am 24, not married and renting. Some may say that what I did was stupid, irresponsible and ridiculous. On the first night at home with my new dog, I would have agreed with you! It was hard work. REALLY hard work.

Hopefully this blog will explain what it is like to adopt a rescue dog by sharing my story of adopting a Staffie X called Trevor.

 

First dog. First Rescue. Big adventure.

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