The Lovely Lulu
I’ve fostered a number of dogs and it can be an emotional journey……but Lulu is the first one to make me cry. She came into Rescue in May 2020 at 4 years old weighing just under 20 kg – I have never seen such a thin dog and it reduced me to tears.
Despite being desperately thin, she pulled like a train on the lead and her notes said: “when off the lead, runs off and doesn’t come back…. is always on the go….has zero ability to concentrate…..chases cats…..is often aggressive with other dogs, shreds her bed….and eats poo!”.
So a lot to tackle, but first things first……
Her veterinary history showed consistent concern about her low weight but as she had been wormed regularly & there were no underlying conditions, her owner had concluded that because they were feeding according to the guidelines on the packet, Lulu was just a thin dog.
Her record showed that she had lost even more weight in the 6 months since her last visit to the Vet and Lockdown meant a virtual visit this time. Based on my pictures, the Vet gave her a body condition score of 2/9: Ribs, Vertebrae, pelvic bones evident, no palpable fat, loss of muscle mass. It was the lack of muscle over her hips, back & shoulders that was the most distressing because it really affected the way she moved and her coordination– she was literally skin and bone.
Her recovery diet plan was based on a nutrient-rich quality puppy food fed in 4 meals a day based on her desired adult body weight – in short feeding her as though she was a puppy. But it wasn’t just about weight gain, she needed a controlled exercise plan that would enable her to build muscle rather than just put on fat…..and a training & education plan to deal with her nervous aggression!
Initially she ate her food like her life depended on it and I wondered whether some of her behaviours might be because she was hungry. But with 4 meals a day (based on the adult weight she should be) she started to put on weight and after a few days began to eat more normally and after a week or so, her weight gain began to show. Interestingly there was no bed shredding or poo eating, so the diet, slow controlled exercise and training seemed to be working!
The training was quite easy because she was so food orientated and I just integrated it into her exercise routine. She soon learned to come back when called, then to recall to the whistle and she learned to walk to heel on the lead.
Retrieving started with a tennis ball and was fast and furious! She was definitely keen and all I now had to do was channel her energy and teach her how to contain her enthusiasm and so we started basic gundog training.
She was an absolute natural, attentive, obedient and very keen to learn – and the impact of this training on her physical development and coordination as well as her behaviour was very rewarding! She went from a dog that was flying around after a tennis ball to one that could wait to be sent for a retrieve, could follow directional hand signals…..and could sometimes sit and stay for more than 10 seconds! So far so good, but clearly a lot of work to do on steadiness.
Understanding what good condition looks like and feels like gave me a clear goal and the confidence to use the guidelines about feed amounts as just guidelines.
Because Lulu is such an active dog with great enthusiasm for life, she requires more food to maintain muscle mass and good health and I just adjusted the quantities as we went along.
I was thrilled after her next trip to the Vet because she weighed 25.3kg, had a body condition score of 4.5/9 and some very pleasing comments about her muscle development. Great progress, but still work to do.
Despite living all her life with another dog and now living quite happily with my dogs, it seemed that Lulu was poorly socialised. The training framework helped Lulu learn to focus her attention on me and as I now thought I had control of her, the next challenge was do the training with the distraction of other dogs. So, off we went to a group training class.
She was not at all happy to interact with the other dogs before or after the class, but as soon as the training started, her focus shifted back to me and she ignored the other dogs. Her obedience and focus throughout the session was great and not even the trainer could believe that she’d picked up her first dummy less than a month ago!
But – and sadly there was a big BUT which would make her a difficult dog to rehome, the outstanding issue was the nervous aggression – when introduced to new dogs in a calm way there was no problem. But if either she or the other dog was excited or the energy level was wrong it was a very different picture. At group training sessions, the only time I could be completely sure of her was when she was actually doing something.
To help her, I began a series of controlled “play dates” with other dogs – a BIG thank you to all of my lovely friends (with and without tails) for their willingness and patience. My hope was that by continually having positive experiences with new dogs, Lulu would be less nervous and aggressive.
And the impact of all of this? Physically she was in great shape with good muscle mass and tone, she was now agile as well as fast and her focus when training was outstanding – all of which meant that Lulu was a pleasure to live with around the house and had learned to relax.
But …….and it was still a big BUT…..she didn’t respond as well or as quickly as I had hoped in overcoming her nervous aggression – it was clear that it was going to take a lot of time and patience and a very special home to cope with her if she was to maintain her progress – one with a patient older dog and a family who could commit to her ongoing training and could understand her needs.