Tues 3rd July: Do you have the patience to adopt?
Today had to be my Monday because of the holiday yesterday, and it’s really confused everything. I completely forgot that there was a donation of various things that needed to be collected, so now that has to be done on Thursday (Hing being off on Wednesdays), and we also have a pick up of new dogs from Sheung Shui on that day. There’s a white schnauzer, a poodle and a Jack Russell to add to the beagle, another white schnauzer and who knows what coming to us in other ways. It’s just as well that the small dogs go as quickly as they do or we’d be hanging them in baskets from the ceiling. It’s also just as well that the dogs get along so well, with a few exceptions, because they all mingle freely at the Homing Centre.
There was another little – tiny really – dog at AFCD in Pokfulam today to add to the collection. He’s a very sweet and cheerful chihuahua boy and he’s got a new name (Minty) to go with his new life. I had a foster home I knew would take him in so at least he won’t be adding to the numbers at Ap Lei Chau.
I know there’s absolutely no space for more dogs at Tai Po, but there was one dog that I simply couldn’t leave behind, a white-faced “labrador” (Hong Kong style) who had been surrendered by her owners when they moved apartments. I just don’t understand how anyone can do this, I seriously don’t. I gave her the name Maisy, and she’s exactly what you would expect of an older lady labrador, sweet and kind and just happy to be alive. She’s on Lamma now, but if you can give her a retirement home it would be wonderful. Her legs are a bit creaky but she was skipping with joy when she realised I was taking her out of her kennel to freedom, not death. This isn’t an exaggeration, as the dogs know full well what awaits them. Even sweet Maisy was afraid to leave her kennel when I opened the door and called for her to come, and with the collar round her neck she had to be pulled out. The moment they walk out of the kennel block and understand they’re leaving, is a moment of pure joy, for me and the dogs.
I had taken the pom with the twisted feet (Peewee) to have his license updated (with a rabies vaccination), and I also had Murphy with me, on his way to see a vet about a cyst between his toes that wouldn’t heal. Murphy is a real character, and will be remembered well by those who knew him at our Pokfulam Kennels. In the end I had to take him home because of his behaviour, mainly slamming doors on visitors but eventually a bite, though he was always totally devoted to me. I had to leave Murphy waiting in the van while I got Maisy and Minty out of the kennel block, and he wasn’t happy about it. Hing was the first one to make the mistake of approaching the cute face at the van window, and luckily realised in time why Murphy is my best guard dog at home. Forget big Sooty, it’s the little ones you have to watch!
It’s no secret that small dogs tend to have more behaviour issues than big ones, and the fact is that while “naughtiness” is tolerated in the little ones, no big dog could get away with it. If any of our Tai Po dogs behaved in the way some of our Ap Lei Chau dogs do, they simply wouldn’t be there. Much of this undesirable behaviour is due to poor treatment and training when the dogs were puppies, and some of it is just the “nature of the beast”. Rehabilitation is a big part of the work of the Ap Lei Chau staff and volunteers, and we’ve seen some incredible transformations. It’s the best feeling to see these dogs go to their new homes, but problems can re-surface if the adopters don’t follow the advice given about training and treatment, and then the dog comes back.
There’s a question on our Adoption Questionnaire which asks if the potential adopter agrees to give a dog thirty days to settle (before giving up and bringing it back). Of course all adopters have said yes to this or they wouldn’t get a dog, but sometimes it takes less than a day, more often a few days, before we get that email “I’m sorry but I have to return…”. In some cases it’s understandable, but in most it’s disappointing.
There’s a ‘honeymoon’ period when a dog is first adopted during which it can display changing behaviour. Sometimes it can start off as “not good” and improve, sometimes it’s the other way round. The lucky ones are those who slip straight into their new life with no trouble at all, but these are the exceptions. A dog is emotionally sensitive and any move is stressful. To expect any dog to feel instantly at home and comfortable is unrealistic and unfair. Be patient and aware of the pressures that the dog is under to “perform”, and give it time. It may not always work out as nothing in life is guaranteed, but chances are it will.
International trainer and behaviourist, Victoria Stilwell, visited HKDR a few years ago and I asked her later about some dogs we had back then (including Murphy) and their shared antisocial behaviour, and this is what she replied:
I wanted to ask your thoughts on this as you saw quite a few of the Wanchai terriers at your sessions in Hong Kong . This is the “breed” that I invented, and it seems that they do indeed have very similar dispositions and characters, and many of them are problem dogs. They are a mix of terrier/schnauzer/whatever.
I have one of the original WT’s, Sandy, a terrier who doesn’t have the schnauzer + whatever in her, and it took a couple of years for her to become what I’d call a normal dog. She and her family were terrified when I first got them (4 years ago now), and spent the first two weeks at my house hiding under a large cupboard, coming out one by one until only Sandy was left. She couldn’t even be looked at by a vet because she bit, but she attached herself to me and now finally is OK with other people.
Now I have a new Wanchai terrier at the kennels. Murphy, and he is the same. He was baring his teeth and very aggressive at the government kennels where he had been surrendered (with muzzle), but after I did my stuff and got his trust, he is now my shadow and is so affectionate and loving (and smart) with me, but can be hideous with others, especially Chinese.
You saw Scruffy, Archie, Lucy and Bertie, all WTs, and I can’t think of any WT that doesn’t have a fear problem, and many are fear biters. If this is a genetic thing, is there anything that can be done? Many of these dogs were adopted as puppies (Teddy, Archie, Scruffy), so it’s not previous abuse. They are all brilliant with their owners or people they know.
These owners are all “sensible” people, so I can’t blame them. Any thoughts that I can pass on? Or is it really just down to avoiding possible problem situations?
“Regarding the Wanchai Terriers. If you are noticing that these dogs tend to have an aggressive/nervous streak and environmental factors have not influenced this behaviour, then it is very likely that this is a genetic streak and will only be stopped if the dogs don’t breed or breeding can be done carefully with two calmer dogs so as to gradually fade out this genetic potential. A big clue to a genetic problem is if the pups display similar types of behaviour from an early age but some genetic components won’t be evident until the dog becomes sexually mature at around 6 months or socially mature at around 12 to 18 months. Dogs that display nervous/aggressive behaviour don’t always have to have been raised in a bad environment or had bad experiences. Another indicator of a genetic problem is if the dog has been raised properly with all the nuture and instruction it needs but still displays negative behavior such as you say is the case with some of these dogs. Dogs can inherit shyness that extends all the way back to the wolf who are notoriously shy and unsociable animals. This genetic component has never been breed out of some lines and these dogs are just too shy and can have problems fitting into our domestic world. There is too much pressure on them and they find it difficult to cope. So in order to survive they protect themselves by becoming very controlling and sometimes that manifests itself in aggressive display. A dog that runs forward and launches at a person or another dog and goes immediately to bite is cause for concern because it shows that that dog has little impulse control. These dogs suffer a lot of stress while at the same time becoming confident that their aggression works because the person or dog goes away. In general these dogs can be difficult to work with and the prognosis is poor. They can form hyper attachments to some people who they trust but will never be able to cope with strangers or newer people that it perceives as a threat. The only way that these dogs can live successfully in society is if there is 100% management to keep people and other dogs safe at all times and consistent training to make the dog more confident in social situations. Sometimes these dogs do much better in a very quiet environment.
I hope that helps. Understanding and positive training can really help but management is vitally important and as you say avoiding problem situations because the more a dog has the chance to rehearse aggressive response the more ingrained it will become and the more resistant to change.”