Team story: Getting a rescue dog by Raquel & Rhia
5 minute read
Raquel, tell us a little about how you met Rhia.
So, I saw a gumtree ad about a dog in a multi-dog household, and although her history wasn’t clear, I could tell she’d been through a lot. When I finally got her, it became obvious she had an overactive nervous system – she got triggered easily, and it would leave her cowering in the corner. So, I started slowly, made a conscious effort to keep my home environment quiet and as relaxing as possible at first.
How did you progress from there? Is it just training or is there more to it?
We’re not so different to dogs and at the same time that I got Rhia, I was struggling with my own nervous system! I started doing research about how I could calm her down – but I wanted to keep the focus on natural supplements, so I started out trialling herbal remedies for her. It was a test and learn kind of process. The first thing I tried was lemon balm and I found that immediately chilled her out, she became so much less reactive. When I saw how well it worked, I decided to try it out for myself! It really helped me relax, and I started to realise that we were going through the same things together.
After that, we kept trying things out – so the next thing we tried was valerian, which made us both hallucinate! That really made me realise the importance of going slow, testing and learning. I also wanted to focus on getting her high-quality real nutrition, to see if fresh food, and quality ingredients made an impact on her digestive health. I started giving Rhia a diet of mostly raw food – rice, fresh veg and meat from our local butchers.
Was training not as big a part of it, or is it just further along the line?
It’s kind of all together, I think I really wanted to focus on nutrition first as it’s so fundamental to how we, and I think dogs, feel. I thought about the food and supplements first, but I changed them around the same time I started working on behaviour.
I started by building a ‘safe space’ on each floor, and they would be like ‘caves’ – which could be something like a blanket over a side table or a comfy spot under the bed. That way she had her own place to retreat to – and I could give her space when she needed it.
It took quite a while to get to touching, I think about a month in the end. I waited until she initiated, and yeah, it took about a month for her to let me hug or hold her. After that, it kind of just accelerated from there.
But letting Rhia lead didn’t stop there?
No, it was across the board. I let her set her own boundaries and express herself. So, if we were going to go for a walk, then I’d let her direct us, she’d take us in the direction she wanted to go in. If we were at home, for instance, I’d just try and sit in her presence and sense what she needs, but eventually, I started using voice buttons so she had a way to communicate more effectively and actually ask for what she needed.
You actually have your own business now, which led from you trying to learn with Rhia – tell us a little more?
So, it’s called Green Puppy! And it was because of the difficulty I had sourcing different herbal remedies, as well as trying to get sustainable dog products from ethical sources. When I was looking around for stuff for Rhia, I found that it’s really hard to know that where you’re buying from is truly ethical and that the products are traceable – which is surprising for products designed to be for animals!
Green Puppy is all about sustainable, natural and holistic care for animals, it’s all in one place with traceable ethical chains – so the products you get for your animal don’t hurt any others!
Do you have any tips for new dog owners? Especially for ones with rescued/stressed dogs?
Definitely! I learned so much from the process. There’s the stuff I mentioned before, doing herbal remedies to really bring that baseline stress down, as well as creating safe spaces at home to make sure they have somewhere to retreat to, if they’re feeling overwhelmed. But there’s also some more general training stuff which I found really helped.
Whether you’re getting like, a puppy, or even if it’s teaching an old dog new tricks – set your rules and parameters from the start with things like sharing food from the plate. You can’t get mad if your dog begs, but you feed them from the table! And if you’re doing that, make sure other people know. It’s so nice when other people want to play with your dog, but if they’re doing stuff you don’t allow, you’re just losing the work you put in.
Also, you should pay attention to how your dog interacts with other dogs – especially if they’re a rescue, you don’t know what their experience of other dogs has been – you know? Take it slow. And if you are working with a dog that’s a little nervous, set those expectations for friends and family, let them know the limitations you’re working with.
Oh, and when you start off, use a lead to begin with so you can try and learn their attachment style, then you can try recall training. Drop the lead in a safe space, recall, and then let them go further etc. It’s about building trust. I guess, just go slow and be patient!
What was your first holiday with Rhia like? Do you have any tips for taking rescues on holiday?
We went to The Riverside! We picked somewhere Rhia could sleep in the bedroom, which really helped as that’s her attachment style – she likes to be close. There’s also other things, like, there was an enclosed garden – which really helps if Rhia’s in a new place. I was also able to check beforehand with the owner, you know, if they had any pets – what they were like, whether they’d be an issue for Rhia – also for their dog! Then it was just looking at what was in the neighbourhood, what kind of walks could we go on, what dog-friendly things to do were nearby etc, you want to know you can actually take them places.
But there are also just some general travel tips I go by. If I’m on the go – which I am a lot, we’re often out inspecting places, I have a ‘travel version’ of Rhia’s things so she has something that reminds her that we will always go home again. They create and maintain that association with home. And if we’re away, we try and stick to her normal routine as much as possible, things like feeding times. If you’re out and about, treats are like vital. You need them to really help with positive reinforcement, especially if the situation is challenging.
There’s also just the practical stuff of being on the move, I’ll have to carry her if there are crowds, because she can get overwhelmed or people won’t see her and trip over her. Or if we’re on the train she can get ‘car-sick’, so you have to be cautious – but, she still loves trains! Just overall though, she’s the priority, especially on holiday. I don’t force anything, and if we have to go home, or cancel, we do. It’s just about being really mindful of what she needs.