Digger, a 5 year old Irish Setter-Labrador cross bred rescue dog.

Digger was an abandoned, unwanted dog when Eimear spotted him in a dog rescue centre in Cork. He was nine months old, and hadn’t had an easy start in life. As a result of bad experiences, he spent most of his time being frightened of everything around him. He was particularly terrified of men, rolling on his back when strangers approached him. He was also scared of other dogs, and sometimes this fear made him aggressive; he’d learned that this made other dogs leave him alone.

Most people would never have considered giving a dog like Digger a home, but Eimear realised that it wasn’t his fault that he behaved in this way. She wanted to help him, and the best way to do this was to adopt him as a pet.

It just so happened that at the time she met Digger, Eimear was changing the direction of her career. After a decade in an office environment, she’d decided that she wanted to work with animals. She moved to the UK, found work with an animal charity, and studied part-time at the University of Hull for a foundation degree in Canine Behaviour and Training.

Eimear learned all about the latest theory and practice on dog training, and she was able to use her new skills to work with Digger, helping him to get over the fears that he’d developed. She used a technique called “desensitisation and counter conditioning” to help him feel more confident around things that he was worried about.  The principle of this technique was that the “scary’” thing was kept at a distance that Digger felt comfortable with, while Eimear gave him treats and rewards for staying calm.  Gradually, the frightening object, person or animal was brought closer, and Digger began to associate it with the treats and rewards. Eventually, he learned that he didn’t need to be afraid any more. Nowadays you’d never guess from his confident, normal behaviour that Digger had been such a timid, anxious creature.

Although Eimear now works full time, she takes care to ensure that Digger has a satisfied life.  He has a long walk in the morning before she leaves for work. Eimear’s partner works different shifts to her, so there’s usually somebody at home with him. If he is ever on his own, he’s given food-stuffed toys to keep him entertained. In the evening, Eimear plays “fetch” in the garden with him, or in warm weather, he enjoys splashing in his paddling pool.

Eimear still trains him regularly, keeping him mentally stimulated by making him think about tasks that she’s teaching him to do. He’s usually tired by the end of the day, and he ends up comfortably snoozing with his family, squashed up on the sofa between Eimear and her partner.

Digger’s life now is certainly a far cry from those days of tense anxiety that he suffered when Eimear found him as that young nervous rescued animal.

Tips

  • With skill, patience and time, behavioural problems in dogs can often be solved
  • The latest training methods are best, rewarding good behaviour rather than using punishment
  • The Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre offers behavioural advice back up with all dogs that it rehomes

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