A year ago today we did a 300 mile round trip to pick up our new dog from a rescue centre – a four year old Basset Hound named Dexter.
Dexter was going to be a new friend for our current Basset Hound, a partner in crime to our 11-year-old-son and a fabulous addition to our family.
We had owned Darcey, also a Basset Hound, from a puppy and felt we knew the breed well. They are notoriously difficult, very stubborn, don’t listen, are often aggressive around food and, contrary to their lazy reputation, can be very energetic.
Having just moved into a new house with a large fenced garden next to the moors the scene was set for what was supposed to be a wonderful journey.
We had no idea what was to come. Two months after his arrival Dexter jumped onto my son’s knee and bit him in the face. Although Harry wasn’t badly hurt it was awful and we were all shaken and extremely upset.
This incident came after a number of others involving Dexter being aggressive. He even pulled over my partner who is 6ft 5in, while out walking and injured him. These events were all adding up to make us think we had made a terrible mistake in getting him.
So why on earth would we keep this dog?
After Dexter bit my son I immediately called the Basset Rescue Network of Great Britain, a fabulous charity that helps people who need to re-home Basset Hounds. He was going that day.
After much debate, and many conversations with our son Harry to make sure he felt okay, we decided we wanted to give Dexter one last chance and sought the help of a dog behaviourist. Cue Julie Pett, who literally saved Dexter’s life.
We spend six months seeing Julie on a regular basis. She unpicked Dexter’s issues one by one and helped us to understand him.
It came to light that we were treating Dexter in exactly the same way we treated Darcey – they might be the same breed but you could not get two more different dogs.
Having Darcey from a puppy meant she was totally secure in her environment. If you rolled her over and tickled her tummy she knew that signalled play. Try to do that with Dexter and he thought you were attacking him and would respond accordingly.
Dexter is an extremely nervous dog – he is terrified of everything from the hoover to the bath bubbles (yes really) and while Darcey happily attended a local bonfire last year Dexter jumps at any unusual noise.
Also, as a couple sometimes we were on different pages with rules; in the same way children need consistent messages about behaviour so do dogs and we had to get that sorted.
Halfway through the process I realised Julie wasn’t training Dexter she was training us to understand his behaviour and provide him with an environment where he would feel secure.
We also discovered after a visit to the vets he was actually two and not four – so in two years he had lived in four different homes.
His nervous disposition also led us to think at some point there may have been some violence directed towards him.
With Julie’s help and support we began to understand his behaviour and how we could make a difference. For example, approach him while he is sleeping and he will feel vulnerable and prone to aggression. Let him come to you and you’ll get the biggest slobbery kiss of your life.
To watch him develop and come out of his shell over the past year has been nothing but wonderful, he is such a loving, affectionate boy.
I’ve never seen a dog be so utterly thrilled to go for a walk and watching him enjoy the freedom of galloping on the moors was brilliant. On his third birthday we took him to a beach where he sprinted back and forth like a puppy.
He is ecstatic when we arrive home desperate to give you a slobbery kiss and he makes us laugh every day.
His relationship with Harry is transformed from what it was. Harry now takes much more of an active role in his care. One task which proved a game-changer was feeding. In a morning Dexter can be found under Harry’s legs at the breakfast bar patiently waiting to be fed while Harry munches on his bran flakes.
We still have a lot of work to do with Dexter. He rarely plays with toys and has only in the past week rolled onto his back in a vulnerable position with his belly in the air. His nervousness is still very apparent in pretty much everything he does.
Also I am cautious about Dexter being with Harry and don’t leave them alone. However we now all understand the signals Dexter uses to say I’m not comfortable, I feel threatened.
Clearly there are occasions when dogs do not fit into families and some people have to make very difficult decisions for the good of their own families and the dog.
If Harry had been a couple of years younger we would have had no qualms about re-homing Dexter. However Harry is now 12 and approaching 5ft 7in – his maturity in dealing with the biting incident made all the difference.
So would I recommend a rescue dog? Yes wholeheartedly. However do your research thoroughly. We went to a rescue centre run single-handedly by a very well-meaning person from her own home. However we were told Dexter was fine with children and with other dogs – that wasn’t the case. If we were to do it again we would definitely go through the Basset Rescue Network of Great Britain.
You need bucket-loads of patience and consistency with rules. If you are struggling do get expert help; preferably someone who has come recommended.
For more information about the Basset Rescue Network of Great Britain visit visit https://brngb.org.uk/
More information about Julie Pett can be found at http://pett-behaviour.co.uk/Home.html