Little did I know that when I walked into the home of Liz and her mother Helen nearly ten years ago that I would get to know them both very well indeed and that they would become almost like family!
Remembering back all that time ago, when I parked my car, I knew that I was in the right place as I could hear the hideous barking ‘shrieks’ of my challenge for the day – a Pomeranian named Lily. Lily was displaying aggression towards her owners and that was the reason that I had been called in. However, as always, there was more than one problem to address……
Walking into the house being serenaded by the shrill and excited barking of Lily was enough to cause anyone within a mile radius to be overcome with a migraine. I waved at Liz and Helen – my voice would have got lost in the background noise so a wave and nod saw me presented with a great big mug of coffee. Lily quickly settled down – well, when I say settled down, she stopped barking because her mouth was full of a toy that she was throwing onto my lap constantly, demanding my attention.
Liz explained that when she brought Lily into their home as a tiny puppy, she had little idea of what to expect. They now know they did everything ‘wrong’ in choosing Lily – she was not from a registered breeder (they saw her in an advert), they didn’t see the parents and she was chosen simply due to the fact that Liz fell in love with her as she was a little pup with a big personality! They were expecting a cuddly little Pom ‘bear’ that would enjoy sleeping on their laps and have lots of cuddles and be fairly low-maintenance, but boy, did they get that WRONG!! Lily exhibited excessive mouthing and play-biting initially as lots of high-energy puppies do – trouble was that this behaviour had continued to the present moment and Lily was now eight months old!
Lily also became aggressive to Liz and Helen, but initially it seemed mainly directed towards Liz. There were various triggers that appeared to provoke Lily – mainly when Lily was on someone’s lap and they were stroking her, she would mouth hands and when the family attempted to stop this she would growl and bare her teeth or simply bite harder!
She was also very possessive of many items/articles, such as toilet rolls and washing when it is being taken out of the machine as well as her toys and especially aggressive regarding food – everything was fair game and nothing could be left lying around as it would soon disappear…..
Lily would frequently nip Liz’s bum when Liz walked past and she also took a fancy to nipping and chasing Liz when she walked up the stairs and in a whole load of other situations. Lily would also bark incessantly when Liz (and others) would be leaving the house and make a lunge for their ankles to prevent them going!
Helen was also subjected to a similar degree of attacks – her daily cleaning regime took far longer than necessary due to Lily biting her legs and her hands as she attempted to get on with her day! Both Helen and Liz were often sporting big bruises and bite marks – for a little dog Lily had a big, hard bite that very often drew blood.
In addition to the aggression problems that we had to work through, Lily had still not been house trained and that was factor that I also had to plan into the reformation training schedule! Lily defecated and urinated in the family home at the bottom of the stairs and would not toilet in the garden or the park.
Lilly would also bark excessively for attention, when left alone and when she is let in to the garden thus, she was not allowed a great deal of access to the outside areas for fear of upsetting all of the neighbouring boroughs as her bark was so piercingly loud!
I concluded that Lily was displaying dominance aggression towards the family group, she had been trained unwittingly to toilet exclusively indoors, she exhibited play-biting excessively, was over bonded and over familiar with Liz and Helen and this had lead to a confused dog with few boundaries of acceptable behaviour. She was an exceptionally intelligent and gregarious little dog who needed to learn some house rules and systems of interaction with Liz and Helen. At that time she was a young dog who had been on a learning curve regarding what was rewarding and what was not and had learnt that barking and biting bring attention and got her what she wanted – her own way and masses of attention – the spotlight was always on Lily! This was not with any malice, simply by working out what was effective to give her some fun!
I discussed with Liz and Helen at that time in consultation that they must be aware that dog aggression rarely stands still and progresses at a rather rapid rate when it is effective – this they were already aware of to an extent anyway based on their time with Lily. It really was critical for the future that all of the information that I imparted in consultation was implemented with absolute consistency to obtain the dog that Lily should be and that Liz and Helen wanted her to be. Lily had enormous potential and this was their opportunity to release that and set down rules to make her life clearer and with less confusion.
I left the house after a few hours and a few more coffee’s feeling encouraged that they would do well with this little dog. I don’t know what it is but some dogs elicit a response in us that really endears them – some more than others and I thought little Lily was great – I like fiery dogs with some spark so was eager to follow her progression.
All went well…for a while…and then the e-mails came! Lily had reverted to her former behaviour – and it had got worse! A second consultation appointment was made and I duly arrived at the house to meet with Helen alone as Liz was running late.
I sat and had coffee with Helen and she told me how wonderful everything was – it all sounded great. Then Liz arrived with a different story, telling me that it was absolutely dreadful…worse than ever! I wanted to go with Helen’s version of events, but knew from my observations that Liz was more near the mark with regard to her description.
I imparted my advice, which to be honest was the same as the first time around; they just weren’t following it. I think they wanted to, I think they thought they were, but there were great big gaps in consistency from the owners – mainly because Lily was at home all day with Helen whilst Liz was at work, so during the day Lily was being told one thing, and when Liz came home the boundaries changed again, so the conflicting commands she was getting throughout a day was thoroughly confusing her, and combined with a overdose of love and affection all this just fuelled Lily’s rages!
So after the second consultation/reiteration, things initially were moving in the right direction once more…attacks were reducing and the toilet training was progressing slightly – nowhere near fast enough for me, but they were ticking along.
A silent couple of months passed and so I e-mailed Liz to see how things were going; her reply was “well, since you asked….” And on she went to describe the good bits and then the overwhelming body of the e-mail was all of the bad bits.
At this point, I knew we would fail – never would we get this little dog to be what the owners wanted and needed her to be and moreover, that I could not get the owners to be what Lily wanted and desperately needed, which is a horrible situation to be in. So it meant that I had to bring up the subject of re-homing the dog. (Trying to re-home an aggressive dog is never easy…or often even possible!)
Nonetheless, I saw them again, I took Lily to stay with me for a week to give them some space and assess her away from the home (she was a little darling all week!)
A few months later (and against my advice!), Liz & Helen went and brought another little Pomeranian – an older dog called Mary – with the vain hope that it would be beneficial to Lily to have a companion and playmate, and also hoping that Mary would help relieve some of the boredom Lily was experiencing. That however, signified the beginning of the end. Initially, the dogs got on, but as time passed Lily became increasingly aggressive towards Mary as well as Liz and Helen. The result was that Mary become a nervous wreck from the frequent attacks, and the dogs had to be crated intermittently throughout the day to prevent a potentially disastrous situation occurring. This naturally caused a lot of friction for all concerned and the situation was very tense for everyone – something just had to give…
The owners just did not have the experience, the time, the energy or right environment that a dog such as Lily demanded, needed and deserved, and both realised this. Mary was everything that Helen and Liz could handle in a dog – she was sweet, loved her cuddles, was calm and barely needed walking and Lily by comparison was a demanding little ‘monster ‘
The end of the line had come. I laid the cards on the table and told Liz and Helen that Lily really had to be re-homed – the reason being that life was not good for Lily and not good for Liz and Helen and it would never get better under the circumstances. This was not news they ever wanted to hear, and not news I ever enjoy delivering, but it had to be faced and dealt with. Neither could bear the thought of Lily being placed in a dog’s home (and indeed wouldn’t even consider it – no matter how good or reputable) but I did sweeten the medicine (and make the decision 100% easier for them) by offering to re-home Lily as my dog.
I’ve never really spent time thinking that I would like a Pomeranian, but as I stated earlier there are some dogs that you just feel drawn to, the potential I could see in Lily was immense, but I really could not imagine anyone taking her on with the problems and keeping her never mind allow her to reach the full potential she obviously had and so the offer was on the table and I waited for the response…..
Despite everything, Liz and Helen (of course) desperately wanted to keep Lily despite her aberrant behaviour – they loved her dearly and when she was ‘good’ she was an absolute joy and they had experienced many happy, fun times with her. But over four years, they had spent so much money on trying to ‘reform’ Lily (they could have been on a world tour for six months for half the price!!), and had invested so much time and so much hope but to no avail. They both cried more than their fair share of tears over their little dog and her behaviour and so after many further discussions, e-mails and meetings Liz – and then somewhat later Helen – agreed that the best (and the only acceptable) option would be for me to take Lily to live with me and my dogs as per my offer.
It’s now been just over a year ago that I collected Lily and brought her home…that noisy, aggressive shrieking Pomeranian was now all mine! A fleeting thought of “what they hell did you do that for, Ross?!” as I was pulling away with my new dog disappeared as soon as it came. I changed her name on the way home to Bh-li (pronounced Billy!)…sounds like Lily, but a fresh start nonetheless!
When I arrived home, I brought her into the house and she promptly peed on the floor, I once again thought, “oh, god, what are you doing with this blooming dog!” Cleared up the pee and carried on with work. She has never peed in the house since that point.
Later on that evening Bh-li was in her crate sleeping and I approached and said ‘wanna go out’ which is what I say to all of my dogs when I am taking them for their last walk of the day. Bh-li did not ‘wanna go out’ – she was tucked up for the night…I got ‘the look’ (the ‘don’t think about bossing me around’ look) and then I moved closer…Then I got the teeth…the display of her weapons intent on keeping me at a distance…as I continued to approach the growling and salivating started and then with one quick move I had grabbed her and got her out of the crate with just a little graze for my efforts – I little telling off and we were out the door for a walk…once outside she was a merry little thing and had a good run around the park.
Since that night, each time I say ‘wanna go out’ she is at the door with the others keen to have a run – regardless of the weather.
She was aggressive in a couple of other situations namely when I groomed her and when removing items from her – she was only aggressive on two occasions and quickly learnt that I got my own way – not her! Now, she adores being brushed and is quite content to have toys and items taken away without issue.
She has turned into a wonderful companion – she is firmly in charge of my German Shepherd and Rottweilers – they dare not mess her about! She loves her walks, her cuddles and her food, she loves playing with the other dogs and is a very social and obedient little dog.
Liz and Helen come to visit Bh-li occasionally (and they try desperately hard to get the name right too!) She has been a fascinating ‘case study’ for me. Bh-li is not allowed upstairs and never does she attempt to go up there, but when Liz visits, Bh-li will follow her up the stairs and when they leave the house she barks at them which she has never done with anyone else! Old habits die hard it would seem, and her new boundaries are summarily ignored when her previous owner is around! It was interesting to see that she would revert back to old ‘disobedient dog’ ways……
Liz and Helen now have another Pomeranian named Millie who happily coexists with Mary and give Helen and Liz a great deal of pleasure and very little stress. Bh-li is a now a contented, calm little dog, currently sitting by my desk, curled up with my three Rottweiler’s, and we are just off out with some clients and so she will get a few hours in the park to play about this afternoon!
One could not blame Liz and Helen – they did everything with the best of intentions, and with the benefit of hindsight, would do things very differently from the beginning. If love and affection was enough, Bh-li would have been ‘perfect’ because they did – and still do love her to bits! Bh-li is just not a dog suited to their lifestyle -she is a big ‘rough ‘n’ tough’ dog with boundless energy in a tiny, furry frame!
I really think Liz and Helen deserve the acknowledgement that it really was the most difficult of decisions for them to make in re-homing their dog. They so wanted to keep her – despite the emotional trauma that they went through – but eventually – and selflessly – realised that she would be far better off in a more suitable environment.
I should also like to comment on how grateful I am to Liz and Helen for allowing me the pleasure of adopting Bh-li; she is a wonderful, fun, feisty and intelligent dog and all who meet her adore her! She also acts as a stooge dog for me and many regular readers will have seen her on these pages before helping other dogs with problematic behaviour improve…and what a great example she is and what a turn-up for the books! Who would have thought….
No owners could or would do more for Bh-li than Liz and Helen and, as they say, all is well that ends well!