Saturday, 5 February 2011

Notes from the Kennels (Week 3)

I have had another two days as a volunteer kennel-hand at Croftview Greyhound Rehoming kennels. Although the tasks I perform may seem simple and monotonous, actually there is a lot to take in and learn. Just handling the dogs is a learning curve, practically, intellectually and emotionally.

The most important lesson I have learned so far is that when you have to take forty dogs out, clean their kennels, feed them, take them back in, take them out for exercise and bring them back in a few of more times, before cleaning kennels and coating the dogs up for the night, there is simply no time for any kind of “dog whispering”.

A dog behaviourist will tell you that the way to discourage an over-enthusiastic dog from jumping up at you is to ignore the behaviour and reward the dog, with your attention, only when it is calm. Great in theory, but there simply is no time to implement this on nigh on forty greyhounds, over-excited at the prospect of a much longed-for bowl of food or run in the paddock. Neither is there time to gently, with patience and treats, gain the trust of the few shy and fearful ones. You simply have to put the slip-lead on and take them where they need to go.

Some dogs respond to a firm “back off” delivered together with a posture that leaves the dog with no doubt about what I am saying. You have to physically stop the dogs from exiting the kennels before you have them leashed (I have sometimes failed, and had to deal with, to my great horror, a greyhound escaping). This means either simply standing in their way, pushing them away physically, or somehow trying to impress on them that you mean business and they need to stand back. Under the circumstances the latter is not an easy feat.

Inevitably, over-excitement will be reinforced, as it is always rewarded by some kind of interesting break from the dog’s confinement in its kennel. There is little time to spend with the dogs if you are not taking them to food or exercise, to change this cycle. For a kennel dog, usually, any kind of interaction is exciting and rewarding in itself.

The case with the shy ones is perhaps a little better, as they should grow more confident when they get to know their handlers and realize no harm will come to them when taken out of their “lair”. There are, however, some cases of dog so nervous, that they really need special attention to deal with their anxiety. Unfortunately, there is practically little time for such special attention in a large rehoming kennel, the more the pity for the dog, as it is less likely to be adopted if it displays excess fear. Although I am hoping to find time to perhaps try to work a little with one such dog, a beautiful brindle bitch called Alex, I am not sure that any work in kennels will be enough. Really she needs a home environment and twenty-four hour attention for a long time.


Considering Alex, is the first time I have actually thought that psychopharmaca may be a fairly good option. I am still on the fence when it comes to treating behavioural problems in dogs with anti-depressants. It makes me somewhat uneasy, but I can see that in extreme cases there may be an argument for it. In Alex’s case, I wonder if anti-anxiety drugs (administered under the supervision of a veterinarian, of course) may not simply improve her chances of being adopted, and getting into an environment where underlying causes of her fear may be properly treated. I am unlikely to find out, as I doubt the kennels have the financial resources to even consider this route.

In the meantime, I am left trying to learn how to best deal a variety of dog behaviours in a situation where time, space and money is scarce. It isn’t easy, but it sure is a good experience. 

Feel free to comment, if you have any experience or ideas for how to work with dog behaviour in a kennel environment.

We are blog hopping this Saturday too. Thank you to the blog hop hosts Life With DogsTwo Little Cavaliers and Confessions of the Plume.

If you'd like to make new pet blog friends through the hop, please follow the rules, follow your three hosts, add your blog to the Linky and copy and paste the html code.


Winnie said...

What an interesting and thought-provoking blog. I'm afraid I have no expertise to offer.

When my family met me at my rescue kennels I was very unhappy and had to be kept on my own because I'd been re-homed twice and brought back to the kennels when things didn't work out - NOT my fault in any way either time. So I was very sad and a little bit annoyed.

So I was a very different dog once I was here, home and safe and comfortable and getting lots of attention and one-to-one walks.

It must be hard trying to work with so many dogs at one time and I just wanted to say that it's great that you want to help and can help. I'm sure they appreciate it even if they are a bit grumpy like I was.

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

I imagine that the 'chase' that ensues, when an escape artist gets away from you, serves to motivate him further. After all, that game of tag is fun and free. Good luck in your journey.

George the Lad said...

Hi nice to meet you, there are not the many of us that blog in the UK, I only just met Winnie the other week! I will be back to see how you are getting on.
Have a good week
See Yea George xxx

browndogcbr said...

Hi Y'all,

I live in the southeastern USA. Here rescues or rehoming kennels try to get dogs like Alex into "foster homes". Check out A Dog's Life the Real Story

If such volunteers are available in the UK they would be a wonderful solution to cases like Alex.

Y'all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog

E.A. said...

Hello BrownDog - Yes some kennels here in the UK foster too. Unfortunately the kennel I volunteer at does not do that. I may have to try to find a foster home for her somewhere though.
Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting!

browndogcbr said...

Hi again!

Just stopped by to say thanks for followin'. I'll keep paws crossed for Alex and others in her predicament.

Y'all come back now,
Hawk aka BrownDog