We first met a bedraggled Tess on a wet and windy day in March at the Many Tears dog rescue centre. Being the front-line puppy farming rescue charity in Wales, they rehome around 3,000 dogs every year. STECS and Many Tears have a very close working relationship. Indeed, our welfare officer Cath Marchbank is also a volunteer with them. As a result, most Scotties coming in through Many Tears are rehomed to our members. We had recently just lost our beloved Scottie twins, Merlyn and Mischa, to cancer so Cath kindly put in a good word for us on seeing Tess (then Dandelion) on their website.
Our existing Scot Louis came with us to meet Tess, so she could decide whether or not we were up to scratch. Tess was a very shy, timid little thing, but thankfully the two dogs liked each other from the outset, which meant we could bring her home with us to sunny Bournemouth. We wanted her to have sunshine and love for the rest of her life, so we called her Tess (short for Tesni which means warmth of the sun in Welsh).
We knew that taking on an ex-breeding bitch would be a challenge. They often have no training or experience of living in a home. At five years old Tess had never been walked. But she had big beautiful, soulful eyes which earned her the nick name Moley from day one.
On arrival she was very unsure of us but loved the garden immediately. We had set in place a regular routine of food, sleeps and ultimately walks. Dogs love consistency and suffer less from stress if their stomachs are full.
The rescue charity insists on ex-breeding bitches coming to homes with other dogs – because they have only ever really had relationships with other dogs in the past. Three-year old Louis (who we had rehomed from France) stepped up to the mark to help Tess settle in. We had put a crate in the kitchen corner with the door open and a blanket over the top. The next morning, we found the two of them snuggled up together in the crate. It was the first time that we had seen any of our Scotties sleep together (and they still do). Louis just knew that Tess needed him – and he was there for her every step of the way.
For the first week it was important to take things slowly in the home, so Tess had time to bond with and start to trust us before putting her paws into the big wide world. We put a picnic blanket on the lawn, sat on it and let Louis and Tess come to us for treats.
We used the treats to get her used to her name, to make eye contact and start her recall training. Many breeding bitches have a hatred of collars, so we had to take things one step at a time to see how she would cope with the collar, lead and harness. We didn’t try to put them on her but to let her sniff and play with them. She then started to associate them with good things (treats). We gradually moved things along to place her paws in the harness. When she was OK with this, we pulled it up and fastened it at the back and gave her a chew so she got used to wearing it. Treats are also a great ‘lure’ when training your dog to behave on or off the lead when passing other dogs or cattle (see the luring training article on page x).
The big day of her first walk ever arrived. We chose a place with wide open spaces and devoid of danger. We kept her on the extendable lead / long line while she got her bearings.
Immediately her sensitive nose was bombarded by new and exciting smells, causing her to zig zag in all directions. We just let her go with the flow. It’s vital not to tug on the lead, or let go of the extendable handle, as dogs can quickly get distressed and develop negative feelings about the lead. Knowing Tess was a foody, we used small cubes of cheddar to lure her along. Scotties love cheese! We threw the ball for Louis and, once he started chasing it, she ran after him. So, we bit the bullet and let her off.
Initially, Tess kept wandering off with other people – especially families with small children (she must have played with kids in the past). We introduced the whistle to get her attention before doing the recall (“Tess come”) and gradually she began to look for us and got into the flow of the walk. It was only a couple of weeks before she was greeting other dogs and families and then following us naturally on our walk. Again, she learned the right behaviour by copying Louis.
As her confidence grew, Tess started showing more of her true character. And she is certainly a character. Maybe as a result of having so many puppies she behaves like a puppy. She is funny, impish, inquisitive and naughty and we love her beyond belief.
It is amazing how quickly you can fall in love with a dog. And rescue dogs give you so much love back.
So, take courage and rehome a dog who needs you. It is especially important now when so many people who got dogs over lockdown are realising they can’t cope.