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Poppy our new dog

We lost our old dog about three years ago. She was a black Labrador cross and was so placid and well behaved – most of the time. When we had to have her put to sleep at the grand old age of 16, we vowed we wouldn’t have another dog. We were all broken and couldn’t go through the heartache again plus, they tie you down don’t they? You can’t just go away for the weekend or stay out all day.

Three years down the line, we of course now have another dog! The lovely Poppy came to join us after over 18-months of waiting and applying for a rescue dog to join our family.

Things have changed a lot since we rescued a dog before, over 15 years ago. There are so many rules now. You need a secure fence for a start – ours was falling to bits in places, but it would be ok, no dog would fit through those small holes, would they?

You can’t live near a main road either and you must have doggie experience, the list goes on. It’s like a mine field. Don’t these charities want to rehome their dogs? They’re always crying out for people to rescue these animals, surely the less strict the criteria, the easier it will be to re-home all those poor animals they have in their care – meaning they can rescue more animals.

Why not buy a puppy?

I wanted a rescue dog mainly because I didn’t want a puppy – I know they’re cute and everything, but training a puppy is hard work – I’ve done it before and with three children now I just didn’t need anything else to add to my list of stresses. I just don’t have time – or the funds for that matter!! Plus, I don’t like the way breeders operate, but that’s another story.

I was assuming a young dog of around the age of 3-5 years would be perfect, as they would sleep through the night, be toilet trained and wouldn’t chew the furniture up! And we’d be doing something good – giving a much-needed home to a poor animal.

We didn’t qualify

Unfortunately, our biggest issue was our son, he was only five at the time and all rescue centres were saying that under no circumstances would they re-home an animal to anyone with children under 10 years. That’s us stuffed then!

It had taken a long time for us to come round to the fact that we needed a dog in our lives again. They bring so much joy and lots of cuddles. I realised that we never spontaneously went away for the weekend – we have three children, you can’t do things like that, you need to plan! I also wanted a four-legged friend for our youngest son. He was too young to help look after our old dog at the time and I do believe it’s an important part of growing up - learning responsibilities and taking care of something.

So, after applying for several rescue dogs from various rescue centres up and down the country and being rejected over and over again because we had children, I was starting to give up. The kids kept asking when we could have a dog, but no one would give us the chance to give one a loving home – it was really upsetting.

When our son turned six, we tried to apply again and finally got accepted by Wings & Paws Rescue. We met Poppy and she was so excited to meet us, her entire body was wagging not just her tail. Our children behaved impeccably – as I knew they would. We’d explained that they mustn’t overcrowd her, give her space etc and they did just that. We all fell in love with her and couldn’t wait for her to come and live with us.

Love at first sight

Setting down some ground rules

When we did finally bring our new fur-baby home we set out some ground rules – or rather, my husband did.

No climbing on the furniture, no begging for food, no going upstairs and definitely no sleeping upstairs.

That lasted about a week! Four months later I think she still sticks to one of these rules now, at least she doesn’t sleep upstairs at the moment, but she does creep up there sometimes and manages to find one of the kid’s cuddly toys, which she likes to bring down and attempt to destroy.

She’s been fantastic really and has settled in so well. She’s only had one accident – which is a miracle considering she’s lived outside all her life in kennels – that’s thanks to her foster mom I think. But there has been a couple of issues and it’s not been as easy as we thought it would be.

It’s like having another child

Firstly, she will try and eat ANYTHING! She’s like a toddler! You can’t leave anything on the floor. I’m surprised we haven’t had a visit to the emergency vets yet!

Our youngest has nicknamed her the Sock-Snatcher, because she will find socks anywhere and slyly walk off with them. She will also start chewing on any tiny thing she finds. Crayons, toys, bottle tops you name it. Several times I’ve had to put my hand in her mouth to fish something out, but at least the kids have learned not to leave anything on the floor that they wish to keep and it saves me having to pick everything up all the time too! Silver linings and all that.

On the first night, she wasn’t happy about being left alone – which is completely understandable, it was a new home. Her foster mom said that she preferred to sleep in a crate (I suppose that was what she was used to), but we didn’t want to do that to her if we could help it. We did borrow a crate though just in case but put her in the utility room, which is quite small, similar we thought, to being in a kennel. However, she did bark a little at first. We were told to expect this and to give her an hour at least before we changed tactics. Ten minutes passed of intermittent barking. My husband and I looked at each other and wondered what the hell we had done getting a dog. We hoped she wouldn’t wake the children up – they had school the next day – and we REALLY hoped she didn’t upset the neighbours.

Forty minutes passed and finally, to our relief, she settled down. She slept all through the night, so much so that I think we actually woke her up when we went down to her at 6.30am the following morning!

The second night, she barked again. God, we hoped this wasn’t going to go on every night. Ten minutes passed and it went quiet! Brilliant. Then the third night, she barked once, and she’s been absolutely fine ever since.

Training the children

It’s amazing how, as adults we understand what an animal wants or needs – call it intuition, I’m not sure. We understand when an animal is not well or simply wants to rest and we automatically know what to do and what not to do when it comes to our own behaviour and actions. It appears that children do not have this same skill!

Who knew that you had to train children as well as dogs? Instinctively, us adults realise that if you hold anything above your head, a dog will jump up to try and reach it – and that means you’re going to get a scratched face, or you’ll get knocked over. Kids apparently don’t know this! The number of times we’ve told our three children not to hold anything up high to stop Poppy getting something is crazy, but then if they hold it down low, she will take it out your hands too – maybe they just need to be taller!

Giving commands is fun too. She had clearly never been trained, so we had to start from scratch with her. We all know that you have to be firm and use clear instructions when training a dog. I tried to train Poppy, but the children were so excited, they also wanted to get in on the act. Poor Poppy had no idea who was in charge or what she should be doing. She must have been so confused. Amazingly, she does know most commands now but if our youngest is trying to get her to stay before putting her food down, she often looks at me for confirmation. She does listen to him though and does as he wishes - when she wants to.

It’s not the dog, it’s our son that has been the problem!

We were SO adamant that the rescue centres had got it wrong, we could never really understand why they were so strict about families with younger children rescuing a dog. Obviously, we realise that dogs can be dangerous, but surely there were plenty of nice dogs out there that just needed a home?

Our son is very sensible (most the time) he loves animals and would definitely not hurt them intentionally – but there lies the problem.

When Poppy first came to stay, our son did get snapped at by Poppy on one occasion and we can’t quite pin-point what the issue was. We know that our son is only trying to cuddle his new best friend (he absolutely adores her) but we’re wondering if he’s leaning on her (as kids do with their bony elbows) therefore, naturally, she’s telling him to get off! She has growled a couple of times too, only a little bit. Should we be worried? I’ve told her ‘No!’, but at the same time, she is giving us a warning – she is not happy with something our son is doing and he needs to stop. We can only assume he is cuddling her at times when she just wants to sleep or be left alone – and frustratingly he doesn’t listen to us when we tell him! And this was one thing we assumed wouldn’t be an issue, he normally does as he’s told.

Poppy had been in kennels all her life and been used for breeding (we’d been told she’d had at least three litters in her short life – she’s only about four years old) and she doesn’t appear to like male dogs either – who can blame her! We didn’t know her background and we didn’t know if she had been mistreated, so we had to be VERY careful.

Luckily for Poppy, we realise it’s a learning curve for both her and our little boy, we wouldn’t dream of sending her back just because of this – a dog is for life and all that. But we still need to be aware that Poppy has sharp teeth at the end of the day and we are obviously making sure they are not left alone together- just in case.

We started to realise that the rescue centres were right, rescue dogs have a history, and they can’t talk to us to tell us what has happened in the past. These charities have to think of the safety of the children as much as the best fit for the dog.

I have also read that it can take three weeks for a dog to relax a little in a new home and up to three months to settle completely, so trying to understand and seeing things from the dog’s point of view is really important. Maybe they’re scared, maybe they’re just bad tempered and need some space.

Eventually, she’s stopped growling, we think she just wasn’t sure what was going to happen – maybe something bad had happened before whenever someone had got too close, maybe she was just tired and wanted to be left alone? We think she now realises our son is not a threat – he’s just a little boy who loves his new best friend very much.

We’re glad we didn’t crumble at the first few hurdles we just needed to understand her better and she needed to realise we wouldn’t hurt her. But we now also understand why the criteria is so strict when trying to rescue an animal. As much as you think you know it all, you sometimes don’t.

Pics of Poppy enjoying life - just like she should be.

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