Category Archives: Guidance

Resource Guarding: Prevention and Management


This week, I had a little dog on a foster placement. “She’s dominant,” her owner said. I asked a little about this to get behind this rather too-often-used statement, and it seems that Little Miss likes to growl and snap when the other household dog was getting attention and she was not. It didn’t take long for this so-called “dominant” behaviour to emerge at my house; I was eating a pizza at the table and Little Miss sat under my chair like a troll beneath a bridge and snapped at anyone who tried to get near.

She’s not the only dog who has behaviour issues. Last Saturday a lady in a photography group I’m part of shared a terrifying story. Her dogs were eating in separate rooms as usual, when one rescue dog turned on another as she walked behind him towards his food bowl. The size difference meant that the ‘intruder’ had her jaw broken and the owner was devastated.

Then on Tuesday, I got a call from a guy who’d adopted a dog from us a few weeks ago. In fact, it wasn’t a query about the dog he’d adopted from us, but the dog he’d adopted a few months earlier from another refuge. He would happily steal items of clothing, run off into the sunset with them and growl or snap at anyone who tried to remove them from him. What could he do?

It might seem that these three things are not particularly related, but they have one thing in common. Resources. Whether it is food, toys, bedding, other animals or even human beings, some dogs haven’t yet learned to “Leave it!” with good grace, whatever “it” might be.



Let me make this clear: resource guarding is NOT dominant behaviour. I don’t like the word ‘dominance’ anyway in the dog world because so often we mean other things; I just can’t get my head around the ‘dogs want to rule over humans’ idea. Dogs don’t reason particularly well, so I’m pretty sure there’s no master plan at work. Resource guarding is usually the very natural behaviour of an animal which we have been breeding selectively for many thousands of years for – guess what – their excellent guarding behaviours. Long before doorbells, CCTV and on-site security, a guard dog was the best way to have a little security for your sheep, your babies, your treasure or your lap. Now that we’ve removed ‘guarding’ from the job description of most of our canine companions, they’re to be forgiven if they still struggle a little with letting go of things they treasure. After all, we spent thousands of years capturing that behavior, cultivating it and reinforcing it.

Neither is resource-guarding a result of either deprivation or over-indulgence. We simply do not know what makes some items of higher value than others in a dog’s mind, or why they think someone might steal it. But it is still a problem for many dogs and can lead to situations in which the dog feels it must growl, bark or bite to keep hold of its “possessions”.

So how can you treat this worrisome behaviour?

The first thing is to accept that guarding, although a genetically-coded behaviour, is still something we can change. It is something that all dogs have the capacity to do and something that all dogs can be trained not to do. It often happens in changes of circumstance or where dogs become stressed.

The best point to start ‘treating’ resource guarding is before it appears, when the dog is a puppy. This isn’t always possible with adopted adult dogs, but unless the resource-guarding is very aggressive, you should still be able to apply many of the techniques here.

Puppies should be taught to “leave it!” and learn that humans (and other dogs) can take things from them. “Leave it!” is not just a good technique to use with all dogs to allow you to retrieve items safely, such as food or toys, but it’s also a great command to teach them so that they don’t pick things up off the ground or steal items. Teaching them “off” and that the approach of other dogs, cats or humans is nothing to be scared of is also vital. Grisha Stewart’s explanation of Give or Trade is excellent. Be careful, though. You don’t want your dog to make an association between stealing or guarding and getting a treat. Make sure there is sufficient interruption between “Leave it!” and the moment you reward, otherwise you could easily reinforce this behaviour. You must reward the leaving, not the growling. Good puppy training classes should tackle “Leave it!” as part of the basics. Otherwise, you should seek the advice of a dog trainer to help you.

Older dogs can be taught the techniques in the same way.

My top ten tips:

  1. Recognise what your dog guards and what it doesn’t. Get to the bottom of the guarding behaviour. Make a list of things this happens with, note times, situations, circumstances. We simply don’t know what is worth guarding to a dog, and what is not. I’ve seen Tilly guarding a mouldy bread roll she’d buried and then unearthed. The mouldy bread roll is unpredictable. A chew that lasts more than a minute is a thing that is a predictable source of growls and grumbles. If she can’t finish something in one sitting, there’s a lot of dog-dog guarding going on, and she’ll even snap at me if I try to remove it. By knowing exactly what your dog guards, you can nip the problem in the bud. Note the behaviour and its intensity: head turn, stare, growl, teeth demonstration, air-snap. Note the distance at which it happens: does the dog still do it if you are 2m away? 10m away? Where’s their ‘threat line’? This helps you not only identify the problem but gives you the ability to discuss this with a behaviouralist.
  2. Pick out a reward that is worth more in value (to your dog!!) than what they’re guarding. That might be a mouldier bread roll for Tilly. The dog that turns its nose up at a cheap dog treat may well sit pretty for a piece of stinky cheese. You’ve got to know which treats will work to get the “drop”. When dogs fail to give up the object they are guarding, owners tend to think that the swap has failed. This isn’t true. The treat has failed, not the swap. A better treat is needed!
  3. Start by rewarding small “gives” or “drops” with high value treats for items of little worth. What dog wouldn’t happily swap their bowl of dog biscuits for a bit of chicken or ham? At this point, you want the treat in your hand to be absolutely valuable – and use play outside eating hours if your dog is not motivated by food. For puppies, I start by making sure I can safely remove their food if need be whilst they are eating, or that they are not so obsessed by their food bowl that I cannot interrupt them. I do the same with their toys. The first time I do this, I start with a completely empty bowl. I get their attention, I may ask them to sit or have an interruption activity like look at me, then I reward with a really high value treat in the bowl. Then wait, and do the same. Repeated around the food bowl, this means they soon learn to be very glad when I approach as my being around their bowl means MORE food! I wouldn’t do this with an adult dog with food issues, however, although it is a great way to get puppies used to the fact that someone might stop them eating, and that is perfectly okay. I will also interrupt the puppy whilst they are eating, reward them with a high value morsel of something and then let them continue with their bowl. I never want my approach to signal the removal of food. It also means that both I and other dogs can move around my dogs without starting a war.
  4. This technique also works for toys. Start with a low-value toy and reward for letting go. Even Tobby, my toy-guarding monster, will drop his toys for a piece of meat. I’ll then give him take the toy again. I don’t ever want him to think, “I drop this item and I just get that…” otherwise he won’t drop it. In all honesty, Tobby is 14 and a Malinois without a history who has a toy guarding thing and a bitey thing. He is too old and it is too infrequent for me to need to remove his toys completely, so I save this for moments when I really need that toy back, like when a foster puppy arrives unexpectedly. He cannot tolerate other dogs trying to take his toys and so I don’t want him to feel that he has to guard his stuff from puppies. I also do this by offering him a better toy. I quickly noticed that there was a hierarchy of toys and that he would swap for some but not for others. With my younger dogs, it is vital that they give things up when I ask, including toys.
  5. With older dogs, remove all triggers until you know you have overcome any guarding behaviour. Food and toys are not things that should be lying around the house with a guarder. This is the main reason that we don’t leave out food or toys at the refuge – they can quickly become objects of value to dogs who are kept in small spaces without the same level of stimulus that they get in a home. Sadly, to make the refuge more stimulating with food, chews and toys would also make it worth guarding. With Little Miss, who was guarding me when I ate my pizza (or any bits that might drop on the floor, maybe, since she had already developed a begging habit before she got here) I removed myself. I went in the kitchen, closed the babygate and fussed and petted her when I finished. For Tilly, who guards bones or mouldy bread rolls, I do the “trade” routine when bone-time is over, and then I put them out of the way. Bone-time is over when I can’t supervise them any more; it’s the same with toy time. Living in a multi-dog household which often changes in numbers and levels of training, I don’t want a situation to arise in unsupervised time.
  6. Teach your dogs these things in isolation if you have a multi-dog household and then gradually change the environment and the presence of other animals. For instance, practise the Give and Trade behaviours in isolation, then have other dogs at a distance, before moving in closer and closer. Dogs don’t generalise well so just because you have taken their food bowl away from them doesn’t mean you will be able to get a stolen shoe back from them without a snap. Neither may they understand that because you have done Give and Trade in your living room that the same principles apply in the garden or on a walk.
  7. If your dog guards you, a valued resting spot, a toy or food, it is not a good time to try training them when they are guarding. Don’t punish them for their behaviour, just ignore them. An emotionally-charged moment is not the time to try and remove something from a dog, whether they have taken it in play or they have taken it to guard. It is not a teaching moment. Turn away and walk off. Keep them away from children or other animals at this point. Whilst Tobby’s toy-guarding is a bit of a problem, my other dogs and I will just walk off and leave him to it. When a crazy terrier foster took my boot before I was due to go out, he wanted to play. Chasing him would have been a great game. He needed a stooge to run from, so I walked away and went to the fridge. Sure enough, he dropped the boot and came running within two minutes. I was a bit late leaving, but better that than ten minutes of an angry ‘chase’ game in the garden. That of course was stealing for play and a little different, but the same principle applies: if you are not there, you are not going to take whatever they have. Plus, that fridge is an interesting place that is full of things that are way more interesting than a shoe nobody is playing with or a scarf that nobody else wants.
  8. Accept that your dogs in a multi-dog household will need to tell other dogs they are too near, and that this is not always an issue. Tilly is an invariable bowl dipper. She will happily go to everyone else’s bowl and stick her head in it if unsupervised. They’re so good-natured and the food is not so important to them that they’re bothered, so they let her. It’s not nice behaviour though. However, if she does it to Heston, or if Amigo – who finishes first – does it to Heston, he’ll give them a grumble. They’re too close. It serves its purpose and they back off. I know it horrified one prospective adoptant who came to see a puppy in my care that I let my dogs take care of telling puppies not to come near them when they are lying down. Yes, my dogs growl at each other from time to time, and yes I allow it. Stares and mild grumbles are the ways that dogs communicate. A puppy who doesn’t know this will never be well-socialised around dogs and this is a major problem for some of the older puppies who arrive with me: no dog has ever told them ‘back off!!’ and so they have never had to. For their own preservation, dogs need to understand dog language and if they rely on humans to intervene and keep them separate, then you have dogs who can never be unsupervised. These are dogs that inadvertently provoke others into biting them because they don’t understand when a dog growls, it is not playing and no human will come along to stop the escalation.
  9. Teach great bite inhibition at the same time. Then if you know you really, really need to, you can take something from them by force. I’m not ever going to be a fan of prising something out of a dog’s jaws, but I know with my dogs they’ll let me if I need to, like when one found a sheep carcass and “Leave it!” wasn’t enough.
  10. Dogs who resource guard should not be treated as “dominant” dogs. In fact, many are deeply insecure and afraid. Thus they are more likely to feel cornered and that they need to protect themselves from threat. Treating dogs such as this with negativity, punishment or hostility will only worsen conditions, not improve them. If you are worried about the level of hostility that your dog is showing around particular situations, seek help from a qualified behaviouralist who can help you get to the bottom of the problem and overcome it. E-collars, pinning and punishment may stop the behaviour as the dog “submits” but it does so at a huge emotional cost.

Here’s a couple of videos to help you with “Leave it!” and “Drop it!” and ignore the advertising! A guy’s got to make a living after all…

And the fabulous Emily from Kikopup. You can do the same with food bowls too.



What you need to know about dog bites that can save your dog’s life: Part Three


Following on from previous articles about dogs attacking other dogs and dogs biting adults this post focuses on advice to help you avoid the most catastrophic situation of all: when a dog bites a child.

In such cases, when a shelter dog, or a dog you have owned from a puppy, bites a child, there are few alternatives we consider other than euthanasia. Once a dog bites a human, a line has been crossed. As adults, we can reasonably ensure we can avoid such situations again in many circumstances. But when a dog has bitten a child, we may feel we have no other option than to destroy the dog. This is not to say that dogs who end up at the refuge having bitten a child are dogs that we euthanise: we take reasonable precautions in alerting new owners and insisting on homes where the dog will have the most limited of contact with children. We have had many successes in rehoming dogs who have been bitten because their new families understand exactly what has happened and have worked to retrain the dog.

Hopus is one such example.


A young spaniel, he had been taken to the vet to be euthanised. The vet thought the dog would not bite in other circumstances and performed a series of bite tests. Once the vet was happy that Hopus had some bite inhibition, we were able to offer him for adoption. He had a few moments of aggressive behaviour with other dogs in his new home, but his new owner, in a home without any children, was happy to re-train him. Over a year later and he is very settled. It took considerable faith and commitment from his new family to overcome a very serious problem and he is lucky to be alive.

But how does a dog like Hopus go for two years without biting and then suddenly snap?

Once we heard the story, it was easy to say with hindsight why this happened. A breed bought as a family dog that is still very much a field dog in need of exercise, young children, lack of respect for dogs, a dog who was two years old and had not had enough exercise or training, had never really been taught to inhibit his bites, mums who are busy being mums and not having enough time to focus on being dog owners… It’s a ticklist of circumstances that describes almost exactly every dog brought to the refuge because it’s bitten a child.

Fritzou was another dog adopted from the refuge who was brought back for biting a child. A nine year old terrier, he had been brought back to the refuge after a short time because he had bitten a child who had disturbed him in his bed. Now he is very happy with a lovely couple who understand that when Fritzou is asleep, he doesn’t like to be disturbed.

You can see the pattern… a dog bred for working with its mouth, young children, busy mums… add grumbly old age to the mix and you can understand why we say you should let sleeping dogs lie. All very well in retrospect!

So what can you do to make your home as safe as possible? How can dogs and children live harmoniously?

First is in your choice of dog. Some dogs are recorded as high-frequency biters because there are a lot of them. Forget about what you believe about labradors being great family dogs- they’re on the bite list. They are also many countries’ most popular breed, though, which accounts for the numbers. Little dogs are not exempt: spitz, minpins and chihuahuas can have a real temper. Collies and heelers are prone to herding and nipping: I saw an Australian Shepherd nipping at a child’s feet last summer – the child was laughing and I was horrified. Cockers are known for their tempers – a fault of in-breeding. Malinois and GSDs are also on the list. Molosser breeds, rottweilers and dobies are on the list too. And although a little dog may seem like a great idea, many have not been sufficiently bite-proofed simply because they are small and their owners find it less important than you would if you owned a rottie.

The second thing to consider is the dog’s nature and age. Young dogs can be hugely tolerant of grabby hands, but as they age, they may snap when they never have before. A fearful dog is more likely to bite as well. Believe it or not, many dogs are scared of children if they have never been socialised with children. Only last week a griffon froze under a tree and couldn’t be moved. The problem? He was being walked by a lady with children and he’d got spooked. He came out as soon as the children had gone. And they were great children – gentle and sensible. Being small can be freaky to a dog.

Once you have picked a dog that is right for your children, it’s time to ensure your children have great manners around dogs. 77% of bites come from a dog that is known to the person it bites: it’s not strange dogs that you have to be worried about around your children.

Before getting a new dog, even if your children are familiar with dogs, please go through the ground-rules with them.

  1. We don’t disturb sleeping dogs. We don’t go in dogs’ beds and we don’t invade their space.
  2. We don’t corner dogs and we always make sure they have plenty of space.
  3. We don’t disturb dogs when they are eating. We never interrupt them if they have a treat.
  4. We don’t hug dogs, even if they let us.
  5. We don’t encourage them to jump up by waving our hands about.
  6. We don’t kiss dogs.
  7. We don’t pick dogs up.
  8. We don’t take the dog’s things off them.
  9. We don’t discipline dogs, smack them, shout at them or tell them off.
  10. We don’t yell at dogs or frighten them with loud voices.

This video is a great starting point for young children

If children follow these basic rules, you will find that the situations which drive dogs to bite are minimised.

There are lots of great resources to be found at

The Family Dog

Jimmy’s Dog House videos

Preventing dog bites is the one thing all parents should put at the top of their agenda, and making sure dogs and kids feel happy around one another is the best way to ensure that. If only everybody spent a little time at the beginning of their doggie relationship giving space rather than cuddles, giving boundaries and foundations rather than kisses and giving dogs time to adjust, far fewer dogs would be returned to the refuge under the black cloud of being a biter.

The sad fact is that most people choose to euthanise a healthy dog that may never bite ever again simply because they did not take adequate advice from the shelter about which dogs would make good family pets and because they did not dog-proof their children.

There are seven million dogs in France, and every single one of them is capable of biting under the ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances. As the American Veterinary Medical Association say: “the majority of bites, if not all, are preventable.” Most dog bites involve children. Most dog bites involve a familiar dog. Most dog bites involve everyday interaction between children and dogs. It is up to us as owners to make sure that children understand the boundaries that dogs have. There is nothing more frustrating than listening to someone recounting events when returning a dog knowing that the bite was entirely preventable. There is also nothing more frustrating than seeing parents take risks with their children’s lives and health.

By being proactive, parents can ensure their children are safe around dogs and that their dogs are safe around children. It is better never to cross that line than constantly test it – as it is a line that, once crossed, can never be uncrossed.

What you need to know about dog bites that can save a dog’s life: Part Two


Following on from the last article about dog aggression and dog bites involving another dog, this article explores some vital information about dog bites that involve humans. Although dog bites are very rare, for the most part when a newly adopted dog bites a human it is either returned to the refuge or begins the veterinary protocol in France for dogs who have bitten a human. Many times, this leads to the dog being euthanised.

Dogs bite humans for many reasons. Sometimes owners decide to keep the dog, but on other occasions the dog is returned as owners feel they can no longer trust the animal. Just this afternoon, a dog was brought back to the refuge because she had bitten the owner. As I walked up the lane with one of the members of staff, we were puzzled. She had been at the refuge for fourteen months and had never shown any propensity to bite. As we said then, there are few circumstances as stressful as the refuge, though we do our best to make it as stress-free as possible. If dogs don’t bite here, it’s a shock that they do in their lives beyond the refuge. For many dogs, if they bite a human, they do it here. We are in no doubt at all that dogs that have been darlings at the refuge may bite their owners – owners come with wounds and dressings, but it is a shock all the same to see a dog returned who had never, ever shown the slightest inclination to bite a human at the refuge. Still, those are the owners who return dogs. We can do nothing if they decide to have the dog euthanised. It is their right.

There are many reasons why dogs bite humans, and because we understand about those reasons, we can do a little to avoid those circumstances.

Some of the circumstances in which a dog may bite:

  1. Fear. This is the main reason a dog will bite. It is afraid. It may be cornered and feel that a bite is the only way out; it may be afraid that you are going to take its treat away. It may not have been well socialised from an early age.
  2. Pain. When dogs bite very severely, they are often in a high degree of pain. Dogs who have never bitten their entire lives may lose their tolerance as they grow older. Manipulation can be painful and where there are stiff joints, there are dogs who can’t tell you that they are hurting.
  3. Play. They have never learned that teeth hurt. They have never learned to have a soft mouth when dealing with other animals or with people. They think that it is fun. I watched three puppies play this afternoon. When the male bit the female too hard, she really shrieked and told him off. Puppies who have not been well-socialised may never have learned to moderate their bites around other animals or around humans.
  4. Surprise. Something out of the ordinary has given the dog a scare and it has put up its dental dukes.
  5. Communication. Forget Lassie. A quick way to get a human’s attention is to bite them. They have something to tell you, and usually not a positive. They are telling you that a line has been crossed and they don’t feel comfortable any more, or that they want to play, or that they really, really want to eat the treat in your hand and they’re not very patient.
  6. Background and breed. Some breeds have been bred for ‘nipping’. Heelers and herders use these techniques. Unscrupulous cocker spaniel breeders have blighted the breed with the proliferation of resource guarding. Dogs such as Malinois are well-known to be “mouthy”. Dogs may also have been raised to bite: attack dogs and guard dogs are only valuable if they will bite when required. At the refuge, we have no way of knowing if a dog has been raised to bite on purpose. On the flip side, sometimes it is just that they have not been taught NOT to bite.

At the refuge, we meet many dogs who are afraid. Many have been caught and brought in terrified. The first dog I knew who went to attack a human was a terrified hunt dog. She had never, ever been socialised with people and the arrival of a human being bearing a big shiny plate of biscuits didn’t make any sense to her. She was utterly terrified. Some dogs are afraid of all the noises and smells. Some are terrified of the other dogs. For whatever the reason, the dog thinks that it is in a corner and it has no way out. A bite is its last escape route.

We also meet dogs who are in pain. Very occasionally, a decision will be made to have a dog euthanised at the refuge. Usually medical issues have made the dog so uncomfortable that they have become terrified of touch. When dogs bite staff members, pain is usually one of the contributing factors.

Misdirected energy is often seen in a resulting bite. Whether the dogs are excited to be fed, excited to go out for a walk, wanting to give the other dogs in the runs a good show-and-tell of their teeth situations, if they can’t disperse that energy and your leg is near, then it’s a viable target. These kind of bites very quickly cease in “the real world” as they are no longer facing the high levels of hormones they are flooded with at the refuge.

The final type of bite that we see in the refuge are finger-nipping bites. The dog may not have good food manners; it may be starving. Either way, a dog like this has probably never learned to take food gently from a human hand. The other kind of nipped fingers we see are with people who have put their fingers through the bars.

Once adopted, other factors come into play. Although the refuge is stressful for many dogs, it is relatively safe in terms of Things As What Can Make A Dog Scared… I once watched my dog bark for ten minutes at a sieve so there’s often no rhyme or reason behind it. I think he had caught his reflection in the metal and it had given him a shock. Either way, dogs don’t see sieves at the refuge.

So what are the circumstances behind dog bites in the real world?

I was bitten by my malinois Tobby.  He had been with me eight months. He has severe arthritis and is not castrated. He is nippy around other dogs and will air-snap. I’d brought a young uncastrated male home and Tobby became obsessed with him. He wouldn’t eat or sleep. For 48 hours, he followed the dog everywhere. When you’re thirteen and following a young pointer pup about, be sure that your bones might get achey. There was, I think, an element of guarding at play too. I came between Tobby and the other dog and Tobby bit me. I don’t think I surprised him – I think he was telling me that I couldn’t get between him and the other dog. It was a warning. Needless to say, once the foster pup left my home, Tobby has had another two months of bite-free behaviour. Resource guarding is often the source of a snap. Luckily, there are lots of ways to overcome resource guarding. There are not lots of ways to overcome the passions of a thirteen year old arthritic pensioner for an eight month old pointer.

Dogs bite around food as well. Few people at the refuge walk around with food dangling in front of dogs’ noses (although a little girl and her waffle were almost parted this afternoon) but where food is involved, the stakes go up. A dropped crumb can cause warfare. Again, another situation in which resources were an important factor. A few months ago, a man was having a problem with another dog he’d adopted. The dog had issues about being inside – whether it felt confused or confined, who can say? But he’d taken to stealing items and running off and hiding with them. When the owner went to retrieve the items, the dog growled and bit him. With a bit of conditioning, the dog soon learnt that giving things up brought rewards, and the biting stopped. Consult a dog behaviourist if your dog is exhibiting resource-guarding behaviours, and you’ll soon find that what was an emotionally-charged situation becomes a great learning curve that enhances the bond you have with your dog.

A final, very sad, reason that dogs bite once adopted is because of the popularity of methods such as those used by trainers who talk about dominance in dog/human relationships and how you must “be the boss”. I was horrified to receive a call a year ago from a new owner who had sought out “professional” assistance from a dog trainer who had flooded a young dog, overwhelming it with contact, and the dog bit and bit and bit the trainer. The trainer recommended the dog be euthanised. Not only are methods such as flooding and pinning barbaric, they are also ineffective. They encourage the dog to live in a high state of arousal and fear which leads to more bites, not fewer. A dog trainer is not a dog behaviouralist. Obedience training is very different from diagnosing what is triggering changes in emotional states for your dog, and this is where qualifications matter. In France, there are few recognised qualifications for dog trainers: anyone can set themselves up in business and train animals. That is not so for animal behaviouralists. I’m hugely saddened by the fact that many of our local dog trainers offer “behavioural” services which involve pinning dogs, rolling dogs, or flooding dogs with overwhelming sensations. Anybody who tells you that your dog is trying to dominate you or control the home environment for humans is not a dog behavioralist. Their methods are more likely to lead to bites and fear aggression. Even Mr Pin himself Cesar Millan has a webpage about dog bites that now offers advice that is largely rational and reasonable, something that many of his followers don’t appreciate.

There are many great resources about dog bites that can help you if you have taken on a known biter, or if you have a dog that has developed biting habits but you are determined to work with.

  1. Dr Sophia Yin has a very detailed article about working with dogs who have bitten to desensitise them to fearful stimuli.
  2. Following from the article from Dr Ian Dunbar about assessing dog bites, there is also an article from Sophia Yin about assessment.
  3. Another great article about how to greet dogs safely from Sophia Yin and how to prevent dog bites.
  4. An article from the ASPCA about mouthing and nipping in adult dogs, and how to decrease it.
  5. A superb website from The Family Dog called ‘Stop the 77’ with some superb resources for children.

The final article in this series on dog bites will focus on dog bites and children. Sadly, the statistics show that dogs are more likely to bite children and that this is one factor most dog owners would consider to be a line that cannot be crossed. For that reason, training your children how to act around dogs is absolutely vital to the confidence of your dog in the home and to prevent the one act that is almost certainly a doggie death sentence: biting a child.

Finally, I am never likely to finish with a quote from Cesar Millan’s website, but I fully endorse this statement:

“Dog bite prevention begins at home with your own dog by being a responsible dog owner.”

If only everybody understood that!

What you need to know about dog bites that can save a dog’s life


Yesterday, I had a very typical phone call with another dog rehoming association.

“We’ve got to pick up a dog in the next twenty-four hours. What the hell are we going to do? We don’t have any foster homes free and there’s no space at the shelter.”

The story goes like this: new owner unintentionally sets up a situation where the dog is likely to fail, then wants the dog removed when it attacks one of her other dogs. Sadly, the refuge get many calls like this. The dog has bitten another dog… or worse… the dog has bitten a human.

In this post, I’m going to focus on when dogs attack other dogs and look at dog attacks on humans in a follow-up post. In the vast majority of cases, where a dog bites another animal, the animal is either destroyed or returned to the shelter. This is why it is absolutely vital that you read this article very carefully before taking on another dog. Very few new owners know what to do in the case of a dog bite or even feel safe any more around a dog that has bitten their other animals and so they often start procedures to have the dog euthanised, or return the dog to an uncertain future at the refuge. I want to start by taking all blame out of this discussion. It is an emotional enough discussion without laying the blame on the new owners or on the dog.

In fact, it is one thing that all dog owners should consider, not just new adoptants. You have an animal in your house that has the capacity to severely injure or even kill another animal. It is definitely something that need to be discussed frankly and rationally. Bite inhibition is the one thing that we need to teach our dogs from puppyhood so that we don’t end up with a dog who is an unknown quantity. We shouldn’t just focus on dog-human contact, but also dog-dog contact and socialisation. This is especially important because we can never guarantee a dog will be with us for life, that they won’t end up with new owners or that our circumstances won’t change in ways that will bring out the potential to bite in our dogs. Bite inhibition is the number one thing I wish all owners would teach their puppies.

For adult dogs, there are four steps an owner can take to deal with aggressive or fearful behaviour that has ended in a bite or attack on another dog.

The first step is accurate assessment. Sadly, we may never know that our new adopted dog has not got adequate bite inhibition until it is too late. We only know that our dogs, whether we have owned them from puppyhood or whether we have adopted them as adults, are bomb-proof emotionally when we have taken them to the edge of their tolerances. That is something that no dog owner ever wants to do, not least for the emotional well-being of their pet.

So how do you know just how serious a dog bite is especially when it is such an emotionally charged event?

On Dog Talk, there is a very useful document about assessing a dog bite. You will also find a great poster on Dr Sophia Yin’s site. This is used for assessing bites on humans, but can be used to assess bites on other animals as well.

Level 1 is “obnoxious or aggressive behaviour but no skin contact by teeth”

This can look pretty scary nonetheless. There may be a lot of growling, barking, air-snapping and pinning, but no skin-teeth contact. It still isn’t nice and it can an emotional residue for days after. No blood is drawn, no marks are left and teeth have never touched the other dog, even if they have been shown.

Level 2 bites involve “skin contact by teeth but no puncture.”

As the document says, these incidents comprise 99% of dog attacks and are more likely evidence of a “fearful, rambuctious or out of control” dog. That is not to say they are incidents you should tolerate and you should seek further behavioural support from a dog behaviouralist in order to ensure that the dogs don’t move up the scale, but this level of aggression is relatively easy to train out of a dog. Good training of a dog is often evidence of a caring and considerate owner, who is attentive to the needs of their dog. A good owner, irrespective of experience will take the time to research how to care best for the dog. A friend of mine recently became a dog owner for the first, she was so attentive to detail that she even checked if pineapple for dogs is acceptable!

When Amigo arrived at my home, he had never attacked another dog at the refuge, nor grumbled at another dog. Heston, my own dog, was definitely “rambunctious” but I didn’t follow my own golden rules on introductions and what happened next was a level 1 situation. No teeth were involved and no blood was drawn. That’s not to play down the situation. It was highly emotionally charged and definitely out of control. But level 1 and level 2 aggression and bite behaviours have great prognosis if dealt with effectively through positive reinforcement, conditioning, desensitisation and a basic “sit-reward” environment where I gradually got the boys used to the fact that being around the other without looking at them, without reacting, with posturing, meant lots and lots of treats. Level 1 and level 2 aggression and bites may seem like the end of the world but are fairly easy to rectify with a dog behaviouralist and a bit of patience.


Isn’t that right boys?

More than 99% of dog-dog bites fall into level 1 and level 2, and despite the heightened emotions, the dogs have enough restraint not to have to resort to hurting the other dog. Usually, pinning, teeth displays and growling/barking are enough. Horrifying as it is, the dogs have been thrown into a situation where they have had to test each other, and they have been able to stop themselves killing the other dog. You may not think so right now, but this is a very good thing. These situations have a very good prognosis with the right interventions.

Level three bites are single bites (possibly with a number of puncture sites however) with puncture wounds less than half the depth of the dog’s canine teeth.

The aggressor may hold on or bear down. Wounds may be worsened by the other dog retreating or retracting and pulling away, so there may be some laceration. This bite will need antiseptic treatment and possibly a couple of sutures.Vet treatment will usually be sought. If this happens to one of your dogs, seek immediate vet treatment. Antibiotics and antiseptics will be needed to ensure that the nasty bacteria on dogs’ teeth don’t cause infections.

Level three bites are the kind that happen very rarely: they happen a small number of times in a year at the refuge given the fact that a thousand animals move through our gates in the most stressful circumstances of all and have to be paired up with other dogs. In fact it is a huge credit to the species (and the staff and volunteers!) that there are not more bites. No situation can be as stressful as the ones by which dogs end up at the refuge, often handled for the first time in their lives, or in years or months, by the pound staff, and then kept in an environment which must be a hormonal hell: hundreds of hormones, hundreds of dogs, small spaces, limited resources and enforced confinement for much of the day. If dogs don’t bite here, where they are more afraid by the numbers, smells and sounds of other dogs, then they may never face such similar circumstances ever again in their lives.

That said, level three bites do happen. It’s again a massively emotional situation, the wound is relatively severe and the dog involved will be in need of serious rehabilitation. For dogs like this who have no restrictions on biting, the ideal is that they are rehomed without other dogs. Level three dogs who have attacked another dog should not be left unsupervised with the other dog without prolonged intervention and training, if ever.

Level four bites are single bites with puncture wounds less than half the depth of the dog’s canine teeth.

The dog will hold on or bear down. This bite will need antiseptic treatment and possibly sutures. These bites are also extremely rare, despite horror stories. Flesh may be torn. The dog may have held on and there may be evidence of shaking. Veterinary attention will have to have been sought and there will be most likely a need for at least a couple of sutures. This will be a single bite with force and a resistance to letting go. The fight may have had to have been broken up by humans.

Level five bites are multiple level four bites.

The wounds are repeated and deeper than half the length of the aggressor’s canine teeth. The multiples may happen in the same fight (i.e. two or more deep bites in one fight) or over a period of time (i.e. one level four bite in one fight and then another in a later fight, be it days or weeks later) These are very infrequent and cause much damage. Dogs who have been repeatedly bitten will need sutures and vet care. The prognosis for dogs who have bitten other dogs repeatedly is not good. They have limited, if any, bite inhibition. This dog is not safe around other dogs and should not be left with them under any circumstance.

Level six dog bites involve the death of the other animal.

These incidents are extremely rare but they do happen. In such cases, the dog should not be housed at any point with another animal and rehabilitation is very unlikely.

Once you have assessed the dog bite, you can then think about predictability: how likely is this bite to happen again? How predictable was it? How easy is it to identify the cause of the bite and avoid the situation in future? This is where objectivity is crucial. What led up to the event? What was involved in the event? Can these things be reasonably avoided?

You can also assess other factors that led to the bite. Which emotions were in play? Was the dog afraid? Playing? Was the dog threatened?

For Heston and Amigo, it was easy to say with hindsight that it was a very predictable situation. A highly charged emotional greeting on established territory was bound to end badly with unfamiliar intact males. When they had a second scuffle in the garden, it became entirely predictable. The garden had become a battlefield.

Following this, you can then think about prevention. How can you avoid this situation? What can you do to prevent the situation arising again? For my own warring pair, the garden was a definite flashpoint, and doorways and corridors were also charged with high energy. We went out through different doors, we didn’t go in the garden together until behaviour improved and I didn’t load them up together into my car for walks for five months. We had no toys and no flashpoints, no triggers. Food, resources (including affection/contact) and space can all be trigger points. What you can assess and predict, you can prevent. By eliminating various flashpoints, you can avoid the possibility of problems occurring.

The fourth step involves training. To be specific, it involves classical conditioning, operant conditioning and desensitisation. That means that you want them to associate seeing another dog with getting rewards and treats. Instead of being a negative and overwhelming experience in those trigger zones or times, they associate seeing another dog at those moments with treats. Think of it this way… When Tilly sees a cat, she is excited. Cats = leftover cat food. It’s an involuntary response to wag her tail and be pleased to see a cat because cats are omens of extra food. The aim of a dog behaviouralist can be to encourage positive involuntary responses to trigger points by using positive rewards. A good dog behaviouralist will also encourage positive responses with an “if… then” situation. “If you look at this other dog without aggressing, then you get a treat”. Desensitisation means gradually getting your dog used to trigger points until they are no longer trigger points. At all points, a professional will make quick work of assessing the risk your dog poses to other dogs, helping you predict what situations are causing this behaviour, helping you prevent unnecessary triggers and conditioning positive responses from your dog. They will also be able to show you safe ways to encourage bite inhibition towards humans.

Some of these principles will also be true of dog attacks on humans. In follow-up posts, I’ll explore common reasons dogs bite, ways to predict when a dog is going to bite and how Dr Dunbar’s dog bite framework relates to bites on humans.

As for the new arrival who is aggressive with another dog, it’s vital that you follow the steps to ensure dogs are properly introduced and that you avoid as many triggers as you can. Please read these two posts BEFORE you introduce new dogs and you will find that doggie squabbles are much reduced. Careful introductions and constant supervision avoiding doggie flashpoints (feeding time, beds, toys, walks, confined or small spaces) will enormously reduce the stresses you are putting your new dog through and will help ensure that you don’t face doggie fall-outs.

Should the worst happen and your dogs attack each other, please bear in mind that anything at a level three bite and below is standard fare for a dog behaviouralist to sort out between warring house-mates and that your dogs can learn to love and trust each other even after a fall-out.

The future is uncertain for dogs who have bitten: who wants to take a risk on a dog that has been returned multiple times to the refuge because of bites? If the paperwork has been completed, the new owners are perfectly within their rights to have the dog euthanised. If the dog is returned, the refuge have a responsibility to assess and report bites, as well as signalling this to future owners, who may well be put off by having a dog who has bitten another. Many shelters in France do not have the space to keep dogs who cannot be rehomed, and 80000 dogs a year are euthanised here.

Understanding severity, contacting a dog behaviourist, working with your dogs to ensure bites don’t escalate and being proactive in removing trigger points and ensuring smooth introductions can largely avoid the situations where dogs feel the need to bite. If everyone were to follow simple instructions about introductions and the removal of trigger points, fewer dogs would feel the need to rely on their teeth to protect themselves. By following these simple steps, we can decrease the number of returns and the number of dogs put to sleep because they have bitten another.

5 common dog behaviour problems


When you take on a new dog, be they young or old, there are many problems you might encounter. It may seem that you spend your first weeks lying awake as they howl through the night, or that you come home to a scene of carnage. For many dogs and owners, it’s simply a case of biding your time until you know each other well enough to find ways to avoid problems, but in some cases, the dog’s behaviour is so inconsistent with your lifestyle and you may feel so unable to deal with the difficulties that may present, that you feel you have no other option than to surrender them to a shelter.

Right now, I’ve got a little visitor Jack Russell staying with me who is more like Milo in The Mask than a dog I’d want to live with, and there are things that are tolerable and easily rectified (like him having a pee during the night) things that I need to adjust both of our behaviours over (like him running off with my shoe five minutes before I need to go out when I’m already running late) and things that are borderline ‘surrender’ behaviours, (like the way he barks through my lessons on Skype and can’t be left outside on his own) Very quickly, the borderline behaviours can be the ones that become very difficult to manage and can become very costly.

There are many behaviours that are fairly common and easy to resolve. Many are most easily resolved through appropriate exercise. Visitor Jack Russell is recovering from a broken pelvis and broken leg, so he’s on enforced short-exercise bursts. More toys and more exercise would make all his behaviours into tolerable and easily rectified ones, I know. Exercise and entertainment make all the difference to him.

Many modern breeds of dog were not bred to be in a home on their own for eight hours a day. Working dogs, for example, are expected to be active for the kind of time periods that we ourselves work. Many destructive or unwanted behaviours will disappear with a half-hour of obedience routines and a couple of hours of walks every day. Yes, really, that much!

If you’ve got a high energy dog, don’t assume either that getting another one is the solution to your situation, that they will be able to run off their energy. No. All you might be doing is giving your dog another dog to show cool stuff to, like how much fun it is to dig, or play tug with your best towels, or to tear a duvet apart. Many dogs who have a doggie friend with the same energy levels as they have will simply bond with their new friend and become more distant from you, and unless you have the hands to keep up the training, it can be a bit of a nightmare. Of course, it can work fantastically and your dogs may keep each other occupied in those moments when you cannot.

What follows is a list of five common behavioural problems that new dogs often experience, and ways to deal with these. Many of the links come from Dr Ian Dunbar and his website Dog Star Daily, as he talks insightfully and helpfully about aggression, anxiety and youthful doggie behaviours. Tony Cruse’s book 101 Doggy Dilemmas is wonderful if you want to download a copy.


Separation anxiety or hyper-attachment disorder can turn you into a virtual recluse if you aren’t careful. If your dog shows signs of distress when you are out, that’s fairly normal: up to 70% of single dogs show signs of distress on their own, and around 40% of dogs who have other doggie companions. Barking, destruction, urination, defecation or even self-mutilation are fairly typical ways that this anxiety manifests itself. You may find other stress responses such as a loss of appetite, panting, pacing or howling. It can happen even before you plan on leaving and stops when you are home. That said, you may notice that they follow you everywhere or feel unhappy when they can’t see you. This is fairly typical among shelter dogs as their anxiety may have been the reason for their abandonment, or it may be a consequence of how they were left.

For those ‘in the house’ moments, just ignore your little shadow. Give them something to occupy themselves, like a Kong or a good-quality chew. Teach them self-calming by rewarding them when they choose to settle. This clip from Kikopup shows ways you can teach calmness. The sound isn’t brilliant but the message is very clear.

There are other things you can do to avoid anxiety in dogs such as minimising all cues that you are going out, crate-training your dog (if they will tolerate it and it does not add to their fear), keeping them in a secure and safe environment and building up their exposure to being alone, from thirty seconds with you in another room with the door open, to three or four hours alone at home over a period of years. Separation anxiety should never be treated by forced separation as there are studies that show that separation anxiety isn’t necessarily related to a hyper-attachment disorder i.e. it may not be you that they are missing, but company in general. Instead, work on getting the dog feeling comfortable on their own when people are out of sight rather than ignoring the dog. A happy, reassured dog is less likely to feel anxious. There are many other techniques you can try, such as thunder-vests and even medication. In all circumstances, seek advice from a dog behaviouralist who understands and has had success with separation anxiety. This article is very helpful in giving a range of straightforward tips to help you with mild anxiety. For my dog with separation anxiety (he’s capable of moving furniture with his teeth and destroying sofa cushions as well as opening doors and gates) the difference was another animal. He is never on his own and the anxiety subsided to a level that was manageable for both of us. I do need to walk my dogs in shifts, but that small adjustment made all the difference. You will also find further information about separation anxiety in this series of articles from Dog Star Daily.

Urinating in the house

Many dogs – and yes, females too – will urinate in the house. For dogs from our refuge, mainly a rural refuge with many hunt dogs and dogs who have lived permanently outside, there can be issues in the first days and weeks. There can be issues for any dog – male or female – if they decide to use their scent as a way to say hello to your curtains. Sterilised, castrated or not, this is something many animals are capable of doing in the first days in your home. This article on house-training should eradicate most issues. It’s important to rule out health issues just as it is important to rule out psychological issues. Some dogs may urinate when over-excited or when feeling stressed. Some dogs may not like to go outside in the dark or in the wet. Toilet training, unless for medical reasons, is usually one of the easiest issues to rectify with a watchful eye and by following guidance. This series of articles from Dr Ian Dunbar may also help you reduce and eliminate this issue.


Sadly, some dogs have never been taught not to bite. For young puppies, this is a behaviour that is easily eradicated. You may find that some breeds are more “mouthy” than others if they have been bred selectively for their behaviours. That said, those breeds that are more “mouthy” will have not been included in the gene pool if they attacked their human handlers. A terrier that can’t be removed safely from its quarry is not a dog worth breeding from, and cockers that exhibit “cocker rage” will face the same scenario. This being the case, there are still unscrupulous breeders who have thought nothing of breeding from such animals anyway just to make a quick buck. With shelter dogs, the main problem can be that nobody has ever taught them not to bite. In some cases, former owners may have taught them not to growl, which means they go from relatively normal behaviour to a bite without warning. Play-biting is another thing altogether. Sadly, many of the posts on the Internet, when you search for “stop adult dogs biting” encourage you to involve yourself in situations that are more likely to end up in a bite than to end up with calm behaviour!

The hardest thing to do is assess the severity of the bite and the reason for it. The sad fact is that you will only realise your dog has had little bite training until they bite, or that you only realise their bite inhibition is not foolproof under all circumstances. You may realise this quickly or it may take months. Tilly is a biter. She’s a resource-guarder and will bite if something is taken away from her. Tobby is also a biter. He often “air-snaps” at one of my other dogs and he has bitten me. He has no growl and little warning. He will show his teeth for a second or two and unless whatever provoked the teeth display goes away or backs off, Tobby will then bite. I suspect he was taught not to growl or grumble. I am also under no doubt at all that he would bite the vet if he had the chance.

The first question to ask yourself is what caused the bite. Was it a play-bite or not? In neither of my dogs’ cases has the bite been for play. The second question to ask yourself is ‘Can I reasonably avoid the thing that caused the bite and keep others safe (as well as the dog)?’ For instance, I can reasonably avoid Tilly following toddlers round and snatching the food out of their hands. If I have toddlers here, I can put her in another room or keep the children from eating food around her. I can also reasonably avoid Tobby biting the vet by muzzling him and having assistance when restraining him. When he bit me, he’d become obsessed by a young uncastrated male I had here on foster. It was a form of resource guarding and a form of elevated ritualised harassment, as I came between Tobby and the object of his affections. I’ve had other young uncastrated males here on foster, but it was a ‘perfect storm’ of conditions that was easily resolved by keeping the dogs separate.

For those situations which will occur regularly, such as Tilly and her resource guarding, it’s important to teach good habits at these times. I need to be able to take things from her without risking a bite. Grooming, nail-clipping and medical treatment can also be flashpoints for your dog. For this, you are best to seek the help of an animal behaviourist and explore desensitisation treatments. Please do not think that someone who trains animals understands why bites happen or how to prevent them. Sadly, where many dogs have been put to sleep as the result of a bite, it was as the result of a misguided ‘expert’. A dog trainer is not necessarily a dog behaviourist. Neither should you underestimate the role of pain or fear in a reactive bite. This is another reason it is a good idea to seek the advice of a trained animal behaviourist and a vet.

For play-biting, you have an easier job. This article from the ASPCA gives great advice on reducing and eliminating play-biting. You may also find this article about dog aggression to be very useful.

Aggression towards other dogs or over-exuberant behaviour

Dogs who have not been well-socialised with other dogs may find it hard to adjust to living with others, and this is a common problem experienced. Dogs who have different energy levels can quickly fall out, as can those who are very differently sized or aged. One of the main issues I have with Milo the Mask, Shouty Jack Russell dog, is that he has no idea that other dogs are saying “no, I’ve had enough of playing” or “no, I am an old grump with arthritis and I don’t want to play thanks”. He can’t do “sit” because of the broken pelvis, so we’ve been working on “stay” and “settle” alongside lots of outdoor play, Kongs and chewing. He’s a puppy; it’s normal that he’s got more energy than my old giffers and that’s to me to manage that over-exuberance. Socialising antisocial dogs can be hard but it is not impossible. This guide from Dog Star Daily will help you unpick some aspects of dog fights and spats and be objective about what is happening.

Destructive behaviours and chewing

These behaviours in post-adolescent dogs are often either a result of anxiety, pain or distress, or three other factors: boredom, lack of supervision and not knowing the rules about what’s okay to chew or destroy, and what is not. Most people take that statement personally, as if they are not looking after their dog properly. This isn’t a statement about neglect, though. How many toddlers end up in the emergency room because they’ve put something up their nose, or they’ve fallen over something? We can’t watch them all the time.

This is where toddler stuff comes in really handy. Baby gates, toddler pens and doggie safety reins (an indoor dog lead) are vital when you’re with your dog who is exhibiting these behaviours whilst you’re in the house. Shouty Jack Russell Dog tried to stick his head in the fire yesterday and burning his nose doesn’t seem to be teaching him to stay away from the stove. Our predecessors did a good job in inventing stuff to stop children touching things, getting in to things or ingesting substances they shouldn’t, so dig out your fireguards, your baby playpens and lock up your kitchen cupboards.

The key behaviour that you want to teach when you are supervising is what to do instead of the naughty thing. Replace wires with a Kong and soon they’ll learn that a Kong has nice stuff in it and wires, well, not so much. Teach them that the kitchen is out-of-bounds by rewarding them for settling in their baskets when unsupervised. If you have a puppy, it is easy to crate-train them or keep them in a destruction-proof zone when you can’t supervise them. Exercise, play, obedience training and engaging with you will also mean that when you need to go out and leave them for a little while, they won’t get up to mischief because they are bored and frustrated. Many people go out and leave their dogs at liberty in the home, and then wonder why Fifi has rooted through the dustbin or broken into the biscuit cupboard. A safe place with plenty to occupy them and nothing to destroy when you are out is absolutely perfect. Don’t assume that destruction and chewing are only signs that your dog is unoccupied when alone: it could also be a sign of separation anxiety. The chances are if your dog is new, young or full of energy, that it’s more likely to be just their way of passing time whilst you’re not there. Safe zones, occupation and good teaching about what to chew will eradicate most problems.

Although these five problems may seem relatively minor, they can be deal-breakers for many dogs, ending up with them being passed on to a new family (who may be completely unaware of the dog’s behavioural issues) or with the dog ending up at a shelter. In some scenarios, they can end with the dog being put to sleep, which is why it is vital that if there are persistent problems, you seek the advice of a qualified dog behaviourist. Don’t feel that you have to tolerate these behaviours and if you have adopted a dog from the Refuge de l’Angoumois, please feel free to contact the staff to ask for support.

5 common canine illnesses and diseases in France


At the refuge, with so many dogs living in one space and over a thousand animals through our gates every year, we see more than our fair share of illnesses and diseases. Many of these can be fatal if undetected. Worse are those which can be fatal even if detected. Saddest are those which are completely preventable with a common vaccine.

Some of the diseases and ailments we see at the refuge are not common in the UK and knowing their symptoms can save your dog’s life.

Dogs in France are routinely vaccinated against canine distemper (maladie de Carré) infectious canine hepatitis (hépatite) parvovirus  and leptospirosis. Many dogs are also vaccinated against rabies, and this is a compulsory condition for all Category 1 and 2 dogs.  If your dog is often in kennels or social doggie surroundings you can also vaccinate them against kennel cough. Vaccines are also being seen for piroplasmosis (babesia canis) and Lyme disease which are often contracted through tick bites. Although at the refuge we do not see many cases of distempter or hepatitis, we see parvovirus frequently, as well as kennel cough.


Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral illness seen in two main forms. The first form is the one we see most commonly at the refuge. It is characterised by vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, fever or low temperature, a rapid heartbeat, engorged lips and eyes, a painful abdomen and a loss of appetite. Symptoms can appear rapidly and are often extreme. Dogs may not present with all symptoms. Lack of fluid and nutrients is a major issue for dogs with parvo, and your vet may recommend keeping them in at the surgery and putting them on a drip to keep them hydrated and give them the nutrients they need. Parvovirus can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog, or by fecal-oral transmission (Rover sniffing another dog’s business). It is resistant to many cleaning products, can live for up to a year in infected soil and is very difficult to get rid of, which is why there are outbreaks in shelters that can be hard to get rid of. Sadly, this means that weaker, older or young dogs who have not been vaccinated arrive at the pound and do not have the antibodies to fight off the virus. The survival rate for dogs is good if they are given intravenous nutrients and antibiotics, but there is no medication that can treat a virus: your vet can only support your pet in fighting off the infection themselves. This is why it is particularly important that vulnerable dogs are vaccinated.

The second strain of parvovirus is seen more in puppies and young dogs. This attacks the heart and is often fatal for young puppies.

At the refuge, we see both types. With so many dogs in weak conditions, it can be fatal. All dogs are routinely vaccinated, but if they have caught the virus before they are vaccinated, the vaccine is ineffective.

What to look for: vomiting, diarrhea, blood in vomit or feces, fever, lethargy, reddened eyes and gums

Kennel Cough

Quacking-like coughs are often the first sign of kennel cough. Many dogs will get kennel cough at least once in their lives. Vulnerable dogs are more at risk. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and if your vet tests for bacteria, they may prescribe an antibiotic, although for many dogs, rest and hydration are sufficient to help them overcome the disease. Many vets will diagnose based on symptoms, such as coughing, retching, nasal discharge, pneumonia, lethargy or loss of appetite rather than prescribing antibiotics however. It is very rarely life-threatening and mostly clears up without medical treatment or intervention. As the name implies, it is often contracted by dogs in kennels, because like the common cold or the flu virus, it passes quickly in crowded surroundings. Kennel cough is not the only disease to have coughing as a symptom, so if you are worried or the coughing lasts more than a couple of days, see your vet immediately. As with vomiting and diarrhea, severity, frequency and duration are the key things to monitor.

What to look for: a quack-like cough or repeated, nagging cough, shortness of breath

Demodetic and Sarcoptic Mange

Mange is a common condition of a small number of animals brought to the refuge, evidenced by scaly patches, hair loss and sometimes skin lesions. It is caused by overpopulation of the mites which live in the hair follicles of a dog. It can be localised or found all over a dog’s body. Another form of mange is sarcoptic mange which kind of the doggie equivalent of scabies. Both kinds can be passed from mothers to their offspring, so it is often seen in puppies. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and it is advisable for you to keep your dog in quarantine if your dog has it. If you notice excessive scratching, hair loss and scabbiness, mange could very well be the reason. It is usually treated with regular medicinal shampooing or creams. Other infections can manifest themselves as ringworm (a fungus) which is most commonly identified through reddened skin, circular lesions, hair loss, itchiness and dandruff, or earmites, identified through ear scratching, stinky ears, a dark waxy substance and head shaking. Many forms of mange are highly contagious and although it is distressing for the dog, leading to complications with breathing, it is not usually fatal unless there are complications resulting from lesions. Most are treated with creams or medications.

What to look for: hair loss, itching, lesions, dandruff

Bloat and stomach torsions

A number of dogs die at the refuge every year as the result of bloat, leading to a stomach torsion. Bloating is always an emergency and one that is sadly very difficult to treat. Once bloat has started, it is very difficult to rectify without surgery. Prevention is more efficient than treatment. Bloat can affect dogs at any age and in any physical condition. It more commonly affects deep-chested dogs like Great Danes, Leonbergers and even large setters or pointers.

Preventing bloat relies very much on care with feeding and exercise. Dogs at risk should not be fed and exercised at the same time: exercising a dog with a full stomach can be one way that the gases build up in the stomach and cannot dissipate. You can notice bloat as the stomach is usually distended and hard. Excessive drooling, frothy spittle, light-coloured gums, a strong desire to regurgitate without the ability to do so and a weak heartbeat are also symptoms. Getting your dog to vomit can be effective – and the easiest way to do this can be through motion. A ride in the car to the vet’s can be effective – not only to see the vet but to induce vomiting. Excessive drinking can also cause bloat. This is why it is not a good idea to exercise dogs too hard during warm weather as they may drink too much and suffer from bloat as a consequence. Small meals fed several times a day rather than one meal can also help. Avoiding foods likely to swell in the stomach such as certain dog kibble or bread may prevent bloat, as will methods that force your dog to slow down when eating, such as specialist dog bowls. Bloat is known to affect not only certain breeds, but males over the age of seven, dogs that are only fed once a day rather than twice a day, dogs that eat rapidly, dogs who exercise immediately after eating and dogs who are anxious or fearful. If you think that your dog has stomach bloat, do not wait. Take them to the vet immediately. Even twenty minutes can be too long. In French, mention “torsion d’estomac” or “dilation de l’estomac” to your vet on the phone and they will no doubt meet you straight away at the surgery.

What to look for: frothing at the mouth, unsuccessful attempts to vomit, a swollen/hard abdomen (just below ribcage) light-coloured gums, lethargy

Parasites and worms

At the refuge, there are are many staff and volunteers who have become experts at poo inspections. Consistency, frequency and colour are often tell-tale signs of other infections. Although giardia may not be a word many are familiar with, it can also spread quickly among animal populations. This gastrointestinal parasite is responsible for explosive diarrhea, often very light in colour and with a very strong smell. The feces may also be greasy-looking or frothy. They contract the parasites through contact with other dogs and through oral-fecal contamination. As you can imagine, trying to keep dogs who live in kennels away from any contaminated spots can be very difficult. Treatment is usually effective but since many dogs lose weight rapidly with giardia, it may also cause further complications through weight loss. Dehydration and lack of nutrients need to be watched for, as they do with any prolonged period of diarrhea. If your dog has explosive diarrhea that has a very strong odor, but does not seem to be in ill health otherwise (perhaps weight loss, of course) then giardia may be the cause. Isolation and clearing up of fecal matter is vital, as is keeping coats clean. Many dogs will involuntarily reinfect themselves through cleaning their fur or licking themselves.

Worms are also another parasite that you may not take too seriously, treating easily and quickly with a wormer. For vulnerable animals, worms can be fatal. Many puppies (and kittens) who arrive at the refuge have already picked up worms through their mother’s milk and if their mother has not been wormed or has worms herself, these worms can quickly be fatal. They are uncomfortable for the animals, causing intestinal cramps and pain, as well as bloating, diarrhea and respiratory problems. They can also cause blockages, which are often fatal. Many times they are easy to identify in young animals as they have a distinct ‘pot-bellied’ appearance. Roundworms are particularly persistent little beggars and their eggs can live for years meaning that you don’t just need to administer a wormer but keep the environment clean too. Eggs are dropped in poo which even if cleaned up properly can easily be trodden in by another dog. All it takes is a lick of the paws and the worms have found their new host. For this reason, it is vital that young pups are kept in a sterile environment and wormed regularly. Worms don’t just live in the intestines: they can pass into the liver and lungs. One wormer might not do the trick for those that have been living outside the intestines: a repeated dose after a short interval should pick up those that drop into the intestine the second time. Tapeworms are the recognisable worms we see in feces, looking like a small grain of rice. Heartworms are a rarer parasite but can be fatal to animals. It is passed by mosquito bites, like leishmaniasis is spread by sandflies.

What to look for: diarrhea, respiratory problems, bloating, “pot-belly”, pain on pressing the abdomen


A good worming and vaccination programme, regular treatment with a flea, fly and mosquito repellent and an eye on what your dog has their nose in will usually keep most of these illnesses and diseases at bay. With a little care and attention, none of these common ailments need be an issue for most dog owners.

It is not easy to keep your dog’s nose out of whatever may take their interest, or to ensure they are not walking through environments rife with all kinds of health threats, so there will undoutedly be times when your dog has diarrhea or vomiting. There are many times when dog owners worry about diarrhea and vomiting, which can be frequent occurrences in a dog’s life. You know best when either is a sign of something more serious. If blood is present in either, seek immediate medical attention. It may only be that your dog has burst a blood vessel in their stomach through repeated vomiting, or that they have a lower intestinal bleed as a result of more frequent or painful bowel movements, but blood in vomit or feces is the first reason to visit the vet. If in doubt, pay the vet a visit. The internet is neither veterinarian nor pharmacist, and hearing of someone “curing” a newly-adopted dog’s diarrhea with a dose of gaviscon because they’d read about it on the internet not only could have caused many complications but also led to the dog being removed from the home. As most pet owners understand, you cannot take risks with medication and treatment and your vet should always be your first port of call.

10 tips to help you dog-proof your home

Whether you pick up a puppy or a full-grown dog from the shelter, many tragedies can occur if you aren’t careful in the home. Chewed wires can result in accidental electrocutions, stolen chocolates can result in a quick trip to the vets. And yes, we’ve had dogs returned because they’ve chewed a pair of slippers. While we can joke about some of the things pets have chewed, for some dogs this can result in an emergency operation or even their death. Dog-proofing your home is essential until you know your pet well enough and your pet knows your home.

The change in environment can lead to some distress and dogs may take a little while to learn what to chew and what not to chew. Boredom, lack of supervision and not knowing the rules are the main reasons that an adult dog will chew, and the majority of accidents occur when dogs aren’t supervised. Like it or not, it can be very hard to supervise a dog twenty-four hours a day. Crate training can – and should – take time to introduce, so what can you do to minimise the risks around your home?

  1. Baby-proof your home. Cupboards, wires, cables and things in reach all need attention. Put safety locks on any cupboards containing food or chemicals to make sure your dog doesn’t decide to help himself. Ralf once broke into the dog food cupboard and I found him asleep with his head in a bag of dog food. While no harm was done, he could have suffocated easily. With teeth like his, he could easily open tinned food, so all tinned food had to be locked away too. A bit of metal catching in his mouth could have caused problems – and heaven only knows what would have happened if he had swallowed it! Fitting locks, bolts or catches to doors in order to dog-proof them may seem a little extreme, but it’s a good way to stop midnight feasts. Smaller dogs and puppies may be easily trained using baby gates or baby pens. Make sure all medications are put away and locked away.
  2. Put an end to bin-dipping. Tilly loves nothing more than a rummage in the garbage. She once ate a bag of 3-week-old putrid lambs’ kidneys. How she didn’t give herself e-coli or something worse, I don’t know. I don’t keep bins in the house and the bins outside are behind a 2m-high metal fence. No more bin-dipping picnics for Tilly! A bin in a locked room or in a secure cupboard is one way to do this. Be vigilant in the bathroom too. Used tampons, toilet paper and even nappies are delightful treats to some dogs.
  3. Make sure your new dog is kept away from other animals’ excrement. If you have a cat litter tray, make sure it is in a place your cat can go but your dog cannot. Not only do some dogs think of cat turds as a help-yourself buffet, but it can also put your cat off toiletting in its usual spots if there is an impatient dog waiting to get to its poo before its even left the body. Disgusting, I know. There are also dogs that will do this to other dogs, so pick up any dog poo around your garden and make sure your new dog is supervised until you are sure they aren’t as tempted by doggie doing as I am by Belgian chocolates.
  4. Close doors and keep dogs out of unsupervised rooms. You might wonder what Fido is up to with five minutes to spare, but he may have taken a little trip to your bedroom to leave a puddle on your floor. When house-training dogs, they learn very quickly not to go where there is food or where they sleep. Familiar spaces become the first spaces they don’t toilet in out of choice. But an unfamiliar dining room might just as well be a space outside if the dog is not used to going in that space. Whenever Tilly has an ‘accident’ (she hates going outside in the rain) it’s always in the room I use least.
  5. Pick up and put away. Heston as a young pup loved to eat books. He sampled the back cover of every single one of a set of 12 classics lent to me by a friend. Text books, borrowed books and books with hard covers were his favourites. It took me a surprisingly long time to put them all out of his reach. Just like toddlers, it’ll be the two minutes that you take your eyes off them that they will use as an opportunity to help themselves to your designer sunglasses or your shoes. Dogs love chewing leather, so shoes and boots are often a target.
  6. Keep the toilet lid closed. Dogs like drinking. They’ll drink dirty water, puddles and from stagnant ponds. A toilet will no doubt have chemical treatments in it which could harm your dog, and if not, it will have germs that your dog can easily ingest.
  7. Check out your garden and green things. Many plants can be toxic to dogs or cats, but that doesn’t stop them eating them. Come grape time, Tilly will happily take grapes off the vines just as happily as she’ll scoff all my strawberries. You can find a great list here of plants that are toxic to dogs (and cats)
  8. Make sure that your dog is not suffering from separation anxiety. This can be very common for shelter dogs, who may fear that they are being abandoned all over again. It is not unknown for dogs who seem otherwise fine to get very distressed when left alone. Even if you have a crate, this can become an item of great distress for a dog who has separation anxiety. A friend’s dog chewed its way through washing machine pipework on Bonfire Night, leaving them with not only a very distressed dog but also an expensive clean-up and repair bill. Even if the room has nothing else in it at all, it does not mean that your dog won’t damage himself or herself on the walls or doors. If this is the case, please contact a professional to help you. There are many, many successful treatments for separation anxiety. Tobby, my Malinois, was so distressed when left alone that he moved the couch with his teeth and pulled all the cushions from the chairs. Leaving him with another dog is the only solution. Tobby always has a friend and now he’s calm when left alone.
  9. Make sure that your dog can travel safely in your car either with a harness attachment or a crate. Animals moving about in the back of a car can cause drivers to have accidents. Not only this, if you have a crash, your dog may escape if not attached or may suffer fatal injuries during the collision, simply because they were not secure.
  10. Open doors and windows. You may think that a dog left downstairs with a window open in your bedroom on the next floor will not be tempted to jump out of it. Do not be too sure! Though some dogs will be put off by a five metre drop, this is not true for all. When on a photoshoot recently with five little lovelies, the owner put three of her dogs inside so that we had fewer distractions. One of the three would happily have jumped out of a window five metres up to get to us. Only luck stopped her from doing so. Her other two sat and stared at her doing it as if she were completely nuts!

The good news is that most of these situations don’t last very long. Even puppies grow out of chewing inappropriate things eventually (and with good training). It’s been a long time since Heston ate a book. Tilly still pees on the floor when it’s raining, but I am better at forcing her outside. She will happily eat the contents of a child’s nappy though if I don’t supervise her, and she thinks a cat litter tray is a hot buffet lunch. Tobby still gets distressed if he’s home alone – and he hasn’t been home alone since the second day he arrived. Ralf never gave up scoffing any food that he could reach and once ate a year’s supply of doggie vitamins, as well as a kilo of sugar. Though it may be cute to take ‘dog-shaming’ photos and your great dane sitting on an ‘exploded’ sofa may go viral, there simply is no good reason not to take precautions as the consequences can be upsetting (if they eat a treasured memento) inconvenient (if they eat your passport and credit cards) costly (if they need surgery) or even fatal. You definitely live and learn where your dog is concerned, but these ten tips should help you eliminate the most common issues over dog safety in the home.

If you are interested in crate training your dog, this video will help.

Animal Abuse and What To Do

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Investigating animal abuse and neglect is another reason many people contact the refuge. You may be reading this because you would like to report animal abuse or neglect, or you are unsure of the legislation in France.

The first point to make about animal abuse or neglect is that it is often difficult for many people to understand that something they have seen is not tantamount to neglect or abuse. Indeed, a good part of my ‘refuge’ time is spent listening to people describe something they describe as abuse or neglect only to then find there is no case to answer. What people believe to be abuse or neglect is largely subjective and depends often on the situation. Indeed, many people may be alarmed to see a dog who looks injured or in a poor condition, only to realise later that the dog is old and is very well cared for. Many dogs find life indoors very distressing.

Animal welfare is largely agreed to be composed of five “freedoms” which then go on to govern much animal welfare legislation in Northern Europe. This is as true for domesticated animals as it is for dogs and cats.

The Five Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort (the weather, temperatures etc)
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour (access to space, facilities and other creatures of their own kind)
  • Freedom from fear and distress

These Five Freedoms are the basis of legislation in France concerning animal abuse or neglect. When investigating animal abuse or neglect cases, these are the rules we try to bear in mind. They are not always possible and neither are they enforceable.

In France, the law stipulates that:

  • The owner must allow the animal access to appropriate food of a sufficiency to ensure the animal is kept in good health.
  • The owner must allow the animal access to clean water in an appropriate, clean receptacle that is kept free from ice in winter.
  • The animal must not be enclosed in a space that has no fresh air, is dark, insufficiently heated or inappropriate for their physiological needs
  • No animal should be shut in the boot of a vehicle that is not sufficiently aerated.
  • Any animal shut in a parked vehicle must have sufficient air and must be parked in the shade.
  • In case of injury or sickness, the owner is responsible for ensuring appropriate care.

Please understand that what constitutes a space big enough for their physiological needs can be much smaller than you might imagine. Neither is any kind of heating generally needed unless temperatures are very low. However, it is not acceptable for animals to live permanently enclosed in unlit barns. A shelter of some kind providing protection from the sun, wind, rain or snow is usually sufficient. A dog who lives outside permanently with access to a three-sided kennel is not mistreated or neglected. Even a roof of some kind against a wall may be considered shelter enough.

There are also laws about animals kept tethered:

  • Any animal kept tethered (usually a guard dog) must have a collar and tether that are appropriate to its size and force. A chain in itself cannot be used as a collar.
  • The tether mustn’t be too heavy.
  • The tether mustn’t interfere with the general movement of the dog (other than to prevent it from moving further than the distance of the tether, of course)
  • The chain or tether must be strong enough to protect any visitors.
  • The chain or tether must be fixed either to a horizontal cable or be fixed appropriately to prevent the animal escaping.
  • The tether must be at least 2.5m if attached to a horizontal cable, or be at least 3m if fixed to a permanent position.
  • Choke chains, prong collars and slip collars are not permitted in these circumstances.

Once you have read these rules, if you feel that the law is being broken, your first port of call is always the mairie and/or the gendarmerie. If you feel that the animal has been injured by its owner or is being harmed, you should also contact the mairie/gendarmes. You can also contact the Department Vet (ask your local vet for details, or search for DDSCPP Charente for further details). You may also contact one of the helplines below:


Usually, these organisations will contact the Refuge de l’Angoumois for further assistance on the ground because they do not always have representatives in the area. Under some circumstances, they will come from larger cities to investigate themselves. Please bear in mind that no animal welfare association in France has the right to investigate or to intervene. They do have experience at dealing with local police and mairies, however. They will have to contact the mairie at the beginning of the investigation. Animal welfare associations may ONLY seize animals when instructed to do so by the police, the state vet, procureur, or the mairie. Only these bodies can press charges against individuals. If you find that the police or mairie are unhelpful or unwilling to act, you may contact the procureur directly.

What you need to help with your statement:

  • Full details of the animals you have seen, including number, size and location.
  • Photos if possible (clear ones will definitely help) or video footage.
  • A description based on the points above of what conditions are not being met or how the animal is being harmed.

You can read full details of the law concerning keeping animals here (in French) and you can read further at 30 Millions d’Amis



Introducing your dog to a cat

There will be times in your life where you want to bring a new cat home, or bring a new dog home. Interspecies introductions can be very tough. Cats can feel very threatened by this new animal who could potentially kill them, and dogs can be very excited to see, smell or even chase their new housemates. At worst, you may be bringing home a dog who has never been taught not to harm cats, and every year there are a number of returns of dogs to the refuge following incidents with cats. A small number of these have involved the sad death of a resident cat.

This guide will help you introduce your animals to each other and avoid such sad situations.

Sadly, many owners just bring a new dog home and hope for the best. They make no provision for either animal. Sometimes this works out. The cat doesn’t run and the dog isn’t interested. Some dogs at the refuge are already experienced around cats and have learned at an early age that their claws are sharp or they have been taught good manners around cats. This is not always the case. With such a large number of ex-hunt dogs on site, we are also very conscious that a dog’s instinct to chase something that runs is hard-wired. That said, it has never been our hunt dogs that have killed cats, Huskies, malamutes, cane corso, terriers, bulldogs and mastiffs seem to be the breeds or crossbreeds at our shelter that cause the most damage.

If you have cats already at home, the best thing to do is to test the dog that you would like to adopt around cats. At the refuge, we regularly walk dogs past the cattery, or test them with the cats at liberty. We have become experts at knowing when dogs are obsessed and when dogs don’t care less.

cat photobomb

When a cat can pass a few metres in front of a dog without a reaction, you can be pretty sure that the dog will be a good choice for a life with cats.

For dogs who are interested but we can distract them, and they have a few trained behaviours up their sleeve, that bodes well.

On the other hand, you can see when a dog is obsessed and can’t take his eyes off a cat.


You can see here how easy it is to get Hugo’s attention on me and the camera.


And you can see here how hard it is. The difference was the cats. I simply could not get Hugo’s attention no matter how I tried. That means it may be a difficult introduction and one that may not work out well. If you have your heart set on a dog like Hugo who is obsessed by cats, you will find the following advice useful, but you should also take the dog on a trial adoption instead of adopting outright. It is better to see how it goes than make a decision that is much harder to reverse. With so many dogs in rescue, it’s easier to find one who is okay with cats than it is to retrain a cat-obsessed dog with predatory behaviours.

A dog who attempts to pin, pick up, manhandle or swipe at a cat is not a good dog to have around cats, likewise if they growl or grumble. It is the same with cats who are terrified of dogs. In this situation, you would be better to choose animals who are more adapted to your situation. It is why I lived for 16 years as a cat-only home, and why I live now as a dog-only home. If you are desperate to have both in your lives, why not foster old dogs who are less likely to upset your cat, or young kittens who can be kept isolated from your dogs? It is not unfeasible for animals to live completely separate lives, and that is much easier if it’s temporary.

If, all this taken into consideration, you are in the position to become a multi-species home, the following advice may help you.

The first thing to think of is “who is the resident?”

If you have a resident dog and you are bringing a cat home, what you do will be different from if you have a resident cat and you are bringing a dog home. It also depends on the age of both animals.

Introducing your resident dog to a kitten

The first thing you need to know is if your dog is likely to accept a kitten or not. I have two dogs who are fine with kittens and one who licks his lips and feels a bit stressed around them. Then I have a serial licker who wants to wash them. But he’s prone to try to pick them up if they run, and I don’t like that. I’ve seen him shaking toys in the garden and I can’t get his attention back on me if there’s a kitten in my hands. This information is the information you tend to know as a dog owner. Forewarned is forearmed.

If you have a dog that will accept a kitten, there are several things you can do to make the introduction go smoothly.

  • Make sure you have good control of your dog around distractions. You should be able to get him to sit and take a treat, and he should also know the commands for ‘leave it’ and ‘stay’. If you have these under control, the introduction will be much easier.
  • Think about your dog’s breed and learning history: if they have a strong prey drive, they may find it much more difficult to control their instincts and make good choices if a kitten starts to move or run. If they’ve known cats and lived with cats, it’s so much easier.
  • Put your dog on a lead at a good distance. This can be hard in a small home. 10m is the minimum. Make sure the dog cannot get to the kitten and that the kitten can escape without running past you. It is the running that sets off many dogs.
  • Make sure your dog is well-exercised mentally and physically, and then put them in separate rooms. Take your time. A stressed dog is more likely to show predatory behaviours that they never do any other time. Put the kitten in situ, ensure it is safe and then bring in your dog on a lead. Keep a lot of distance between you and the kitten, but allow the dog to see and smell it from this distance. Ask your dog to sit, to look at you and reward them every time they look at the kitten without lunging. You want them to understand that kittens = a positive experience. After a period of time, let the dog get closer to the kitten and sniff it if the kitten is willing. Watch for stress signals from the kitten and keep the session short. Keep rewarding the dog for quiet behaviour and repeat your commands to sit, to look at you, give a paw and so on. This way you know the dog is not too focused on the cat. You can also reinforce the kitten with petting, play or food for calm behaviour around your dog. You can easily clicker train cats!
  • Keep the kitten behind a barrier or X pen (with litter, water and food of course!) for an evening or so, once you let your dog off-lead around it. Calm, quiet and peace are your allies here. You just want to get everything to a state of normality.
  • When there is a prolonged state of calm, make sure your dog can’t get to the kitten using a lead, but take the kitten out of the pen. Treat your dog and run through commands, gradually bringing the dog and kitten closer together. If at any point the animals seem panicked, over-excited or stressed, put a bit of distance between you again. Allow the kitten to move, and have them out of reach of your dog.  The kitten should be allowed to approach your dog, not the other way around. This is the first time there can be real contact so be very careful that your dog is under control. Your friend or family member is a great aid here to keep your dog on a lead. Again, keep your dog on a lead and reward all non-chase behaviours.
  • Make sure there are lots of cat-friendly escape points: under couches, on shelves, up high, and put beds in these places. Make sure there are lots of litter trays (covered ones as well, since dogs are notorious ‘cat poop eaters’ and cats can feel nervous around dogs)
  • Keep both animals separate when you are out or unattended, and make sure their spaces are secure.
  • Gradually give the animals longer and longer periods together when you leave them in a room together. Go from a few seconds to build up their time alone. If you are in any doubt of your dog’s behaviour, never leave your dog and kitten alone unattended.

Introducing a resident dog to a cat

The same advice goes for an adult cat, although you need to be mindful that a cat will most certainly have met dogs before. You may find at the Refuge de l’Angoumois that the staff can advise you on a number of cats who live at liberty in the refuge and who are not afraid of dogs. These cats would be more suited to a life with adult dogs they haven’t met yet. Then your only concern will be how your dog reacts to the cat, rather than the cat being afraid of your dog and running. Indeed, there are many cats at the refuge who have no fear of dogs at all, not even a healthy fear.

Scent and sight-swapping is a great thing to do before you introduce your animals to each other. Allow your new cat to roam a room, even to sleep in it, and then remove the cat from the room. Once the cat is installed safely elsewhere, bring your dog in to smell where the cat has been. Do likewise with your cat in the places your dog has been. If you have a glass door that divides a room or child gates, this is a great barrier as well, since both dog and cat can see each other in perfect safety and you can teach your dog good manners when it sees your cat by rewarding it for calm behaviour. Reinforce sit-stay behaviour and make sure before you have the animals in the same room that you can keep your dog under control. It is your dog that will always be the one who has to exercise restraint around the cat, I’m afraid, so your focus should always be on your dog’s behaviour. You simply can’t take too long to introduce two animals: go at a slow pace and never force your animals to interact. All of the advice above can be followed.  Keep your dog on a loose lead and reward with treats not play. Play is too stimulating and involves too similar behaviours to chasing and grabbing. Allow the cat plenty of space to get away if need be. You can’t take too much time at this point. Continue with a series of small, gradual meetings and always supervise your animals until you are absolutely sure you can leave them for a few minutes, then build up the time you leave them alone together.

Introducing a puppy to a resident cat

This is your cat’s house. The puppy is a new intruder. Most cats will be able to handle a puppy easily enough, especially if the puppy is young enough. A couple of swats from confident kitty claws are enough to teach even the most hardened terrier pup that a cat is not for messing with. Still, supervise your puppy and allow your cat plenty of space to get away from the puppy. Do as you would do with an adult dog and reward calm behaviour and non-engagement. Prioritise rewarding non engagement. You want your puppy NOT to be interested in cats. You don’t want cats to become a cue for excitement and interaction, as that will cause problems with cats on walks or in other people’s houses. Make sure you remove all cat food and cat litter as puppies can quickly learn that a cat litter tray is a lovely all-you-can-eat help-yourself buffet. That is a habit you never want them to pick up.

Your puppy needs you more than ever to teach them to sit, to stay, to look at you. Don’t allow unsupervised meetings between puppies and cats – the moment a cat runs can bring out the predatory instincts of a young puppy and that too is something that you want to avoid at all costs. The moment that ‘Hey, this is SUPER fun!’ lightbulb goes on in your puppy’s head is the moment you have unleashed a monster. Better to teach cat manners first and then allow introductions than to try and reign in the cat-chasing tendencies. If you haven’t mastered ‘sit, stay, look at me’ with your puppy, it’s not a good thing to let them off loose with your cat. You may also want to use a hormone spray like Feliway to ensure your cat feels calm around the puppy. Puppies who are well-socialised around cats will usually accept the cat very quickly and come to understand the cat’s behaviour. Think carefully about the breed or predominant characteristics of the dog you bring home. You may have more difficulty overcoming the prey drive of a hound or a terrier and you may also find that terrier pups can be tenacious in pursuit of small, furry things unless they are trained from a very early age. All dogs, whatever their breed, are dogs. That chase instinct can be present in all of them. That said, it’s going to be easier for a size-matched bichon and a cat rather than a 40kg dog who could kill the cat by accident.

Introducing your new adopted adult dog to a resident cat

You have no idea what you are getting with an adult dog in terms of cat behaviour, but some of the same guidance applies. Check out your dog’s behaviour with cats before you leave the refuge. Try to spend a bit of time with them before the adoption on basic commands such as “sit” and “leave it”. Keep your dog on a lead for the first introductions and follow the guidance above for treat-and-reward. Take your time with the introduction and allow your cat plenty of space away from the dog, but don’t allow it to escape completely if it is a nervous cat: you may never see it again! Your cat needs to understand that your new dog is nothing to be afraid of.

If you are in any doubt, invite a professional animal behaviourist to come and help you. A good introduction is vital for a positive relationship between dogs and cats.


Introducing new dogs: a step-by-step guide

If you have new dogs to introduce to each other, don’t leave things to chance. Follow this simple step-by-step guide to harmonious introductions.

  1. Take into account your dog’s nature. Are they fearful? Are they outwardly aggressive? Do they react when they meet other dogs? You know your dog’s history better than anybody so think of times when you have met other dogs. What you know about your own dogs impacts on everything else you will do here. For instance, my dog Tilly barks at all dogs. Depending on their size, how respectful they are and how scared she is of them, she may bark once or twice or bark for ten minutes. Amigo hates meeting other dogs unless they are on a lead. He rarely goes up to smell them and prefers to be off the lead when meeting others. He hates it if they are bouncy or they have no manners. When you know what your dog likes and doesn’t like, you can tailor your introduction accordingly. I take more time to do it properly with my dogs when there is a potential problem, like my male Heston who is very aggressive towards other dogs in the first seconds of their greeting, especially if they are uncastrated, big or male. With small females, I can ignore all the advice that follows.
  2. Take into account the other dog’s nature. Dogs who are problems with each other will take far greater time to introduce than if one of them is okay with other dogs. That’s fine. You really can’t take TOO long to introduce dogs. If it goes well, it sets the tone for the rest of their relationship.
  3. Make sure both dogs are well-exercised before they meet. Don’t be tempted to introduce dogs who have pent-up energy or are in an emotionally-intense moment or place. As a rule, these might be times like feeding time, opening the door, small spaces, cars, getting out of cars. You know yourself when your dog is excited. Make sure introductions happen when you are confident there is no emotional intensity attached to greeting, other than two new dogs checking each other out.
  4. Make sure you choose a space that is neutral for both dogs. Take them to a completely different environment but allow each dog to have ten or fifteen minutes without seeing the other dog. This will ensure they don’t greet a new dog when they are carrying all the emotional intensity of the fear and excitement attached to a new venue.
  5. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time for the introduction: you know it will go badly when you are short of time!
  6. Keep leads on at all times and check that leads and harnesses are secure.
  7. Take only high-value treats with you. It’s a one-off, so sausages, ham, chicken and cheese are all permitted.
  8. Bring a dog-savvy friend, partner or family member with you who knows your dog. Ask them to take the dog you know least well. You know your own dog and at least you can manage one set of behaviours. If you have an extremely aggressive, fearful or reactive dog, you may want to hire a dog behaviouralist for this first meeting to ensure it goes well.
  9. Start at a distance where you can see each other but both dogs are under control. To know whether your dog is under control or not, you should be able to distract them with a squeaky toy or a treat. This might be a good five hundred yards or more, and this is fine. Start walking, both in the same direction, allowing the gap to get smaller and smaller. Don’t be afraid to stop if your dog is getting over-excited. Back up or walk away if needs be. Wait until you can get their attention and give them a treat. It does not matter if this process takes all afternoon or even three or four weeks, or even months! It is so important to only introduce the dogs when you know you have the ability to keep them a little under control at least.
  10. Get nearer and nearer. Stop within about 5m of each other and if you have been doing training with your dog, such as ‘sit’ or ‘paw’, now is a good time to get back into that and give them lots of rewards. If they look at the other dog without lunging, barking or growling, reward them with a treat. Don’t worry if this step takes five minutes or an hour. Don’t allow the dogs to greet each other or sniff bums or faces. I’ve even seen people shoving their dogs under the noses of other dogs as if to say “say hello!” when it is clear the dog feels vulnerable or afraid. These situations are most likely to escalate quickly.
  11. Allow a little light sniffing – dogs sniff bums and faces, and both are acceptable. If you notice one dog trying to put its head or paws above the other’s back, call them away. Don’t allow over-excited humping as that can go badly wrong. You’ll notice the dogs start to urinate too so allow the other dog to smell and sniff. Walk side by side with the dogs, keeping them on a lead that will allow you to pull them back if necessary, out of harm’s way.
  12. Take a walk with the two dogs together, keeping side by side and allowing plenty of time for them to see each other and assess each other’s energy levels. Enjoy it though, and chat to them, chat with your friends, stop them with treats. Your aim is to make this as positive an experience as possible. Looking at the other dog should be rewarded, as should good manners and gentle behaviours. Bear in mind that your dog is probably not going to listen to you at this point unless you have done loads of socialisation classes with them, and that’s okay. If it starts to get emotional or intense, back up, walk away. You can try again later or try another day. There is no rush.
  13. Take the dogs back home in separate cars if you can or in separate spaces if not. Make sure they are able to be split up. Cars are small spaces and are emotionally charged places, so fight potential is high.
  14. Introduce dogs into your garden and home on the lead and don’t let them off until you are happy that they are confident with each other. If they don’t play, don’t worry. Not all dogs like to play with each other and that’s fine. Don’t worry if they are not interested in each other, either. They’re just sussing each other out. Times for concern are when one dog is not exhibiting good doggie manners, being over-energetic, smelling the other dog excessively. This is when you need the dogs under your control. Watch for them doing the doggie shake – it’s a great stress reliever and it means they’re feeling less tense.
  15. Watch out for small, enclosed spaces. These can be most terrifying for dogs in new relationships, where they can’t put distance between themselves.

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