Can an old dog learn new tricks?

When 7yo Duke came into rescue as a result of his owner’s ill health, he had always lived outside and although he was in good health, he wasn’t very fit and had poor muscle tone over his bottom and hind legs which gave him a most peculiar gait- his owner had not been able to walk him regularly, because he was too strong on the lead.

His foster Mum takes up his story……

Duke came into foster care to build up his fitness and muscle tone and do some basic training so he could walk on the lead without pulling, although the real challenge was to see whether Duke could learn to live indoors. But first things first.

Duke found all this change very stressful and initially was very clingy, unwilling to leave my side or engage with other dogs that we met whilst out walking. But over a period of time, with lots of encouragement and short walks he started to build up his fitness and his confidence.

As his muscletone improved, so did his movement and confidence. He learned to walk nicely on the lead, his recall improved and he even learned recall to the whistle over a long distance.

We also started some basic gundog training and he really enjoyed retrieving dummies. The weather was great and we spent most of our time during the day outside but he really didn’t want to come indoors, preferring to settle down just outside the open door.

He was sleeping overnight outside in a kennel with his own run, but as he was always clean overnight, I decided to start the process of introducing him to life indoors, inviting him into the Conservatory on the lead for short periods of time. He found this very stressful – lots of panting and fidgeting despite lots of reassurance.

So I went back a step and just focussed on helping him settle down and adjust to the rhythm of life with us. After a trip to the Vet to make sure that his agitation wasn’t pain related, a change in diet in case the food was upsetting him and the addition of a joint supplement, I had a rethink and tried again.

This time, rather than making him stay with me in the Conservatory, I just left the door open so that he could come and go. And he did. A lot. Each time greeting me like he hadn’t seen me for ages!

But he never stayed indoors very long.  I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor trying to encourage him to lie down and relax – but he still seemed very agitated and unsettled.


So, back to the drawing board. I began to wonder whether I was the cause of his agitation – he seemed so desperate to please. So, I decided to try him in a crate, and left him in a room with all my dogs for company for an hour – and it worked. He actually went to sleep in the house! So I built on that, increasing his nap-time in the crate every day and he became more relaxed and calmer and less anxious.

The next big step was to spend the night indoors – after a very active day with some training to tire him mentally, he went to bed in his crate at 10:30pm and didn’t stir until 6:30am – no stress or panting….what a step forward!

Another week later and I was looking at a different dog – much more confident out walking, not so clingy, meeting and playing happily with other dogs out walking, not pulling on the lead…..and sleeping indoors.

The only thing left was to get him to relax in the house at other times. Thinking about the progress he had made, again I wondered whether I was creating the anxiety and decided to ignore him and just let him settle. So I put a bed down for him in the kitchen, got out the ironing….and before I knew it he was stretched out asleep at my feet. What a result!

After that we were on the home run – he’d coped with the steam iron, he now needed to meet the hoover, the TV, the hairdryer, the washing machine….and to just relax in the house…..all of which he took in his stride!

The final obstacle for him was to see how he coped with children – we had been told that he was OK with them but we needed to see for ourselves.

Well, Duke was absolutely delightful – he charmed everyone and was especially gentle with the children….who of course wanted to take him home!

The delightful Duke – what a sweet natured, willing boy who is proof that even at nearly 8 years old, it is never to late to learn new skills…..and we needed to find him a very special home!

Read here to find out what happened next in Duke’s story!

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