Walking with… Alfie

Today I wanted a walk, so, as a volunteer at North Clwyd Animal Rescue, I went there and asked for a dog to come with me , and got Alfie. Here is his profile on the NCAR website 

Alfie is a staffie cross, looks to me like a whippety type of dog with a big staffie face.

When he came out he  was a bit bouncy and jumped up to me, but instead of bouncing off me like I expected, he hugged me and clung on, really pressing his face onto my waist for a close hug, wanting affection. So I made a fuss and we set off. All I knew about him was that he had found himself in prison after his owner had died

First of all he wanted a big wee and a poo, I usually take this as a good sign, that he is house trained and doesnt like to do it in his kennel.

What a lovely dog, I thought. With him being on his lead, he looks a bit confusing. From behind he is a leggy thin dog, but from the front his big staffie face makes him look like a bigger build than he really is. He’s got that deep chest and small waist that whippets have, and long legs.

We didnt get far though. his ears were back and he was quite nervous of everything, really lacking in confidence and wanted to go back to the kennel. I spent a lot of time coaxing him and talking to him, telling him he was a good boy, and all the while he was pressed into my legs trying to melt into me, then it was a few steps and a groan and he was pulling to go back – if he had been loose I am certain he would have just bolted several times.

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On our short walk, just up to the crossroads, he didn’t relax, always alert to sounds and smells, and scared. We had many stops for a hug and re-assurance, and many stops to sniff the grass, more I think to stop the walk and try to get me to go back than anything else.

I found that he knows ‘sit’ and does it instantly without having to prompt him again. When offered treats, he obviously really likes them but is very gentle taking them, taking them on his tongue rather than putting his mouth in my hand. It didnt seem fair to get him to go further than the crossroads, he wasnt enjoying being away from his security, so we headed back, he did pull to go back, but always came back when told to, and pressed in close to me for reassurance, we passed a house with a dog in the garden who came up to the gate, he was eager to sniff noses and then head straight off again.

I wasn’t happy to just hand him over after such a short while, so I took him up to the paddock at the kennels, but it was closed due to the condition of the ground after all the bad weather we’ve had, so I sat on a bench with him, he stayed near me all the time, gently took his treats, and took no notice at all of any dogs that were walked past us. His ears were always on the go at any sounds, particularly gunshots in the distance. Paying too much attention to the sounds, giving away that he was still nervous.

Then I found the dog house and we went in, its a mobile home with an enclosed yard, so I could let him off and go and sit down and let him do what he wanted.
Of course the first thing he wanted to do with his freedom was to go back to his kennel and be safe, I found that distracting him with one of the rope toys helped, he would run after it and chew it, but still didnt relax enough to go into full on play. There was lots of interacting with a ‘play bow’ and invitation to play but he wasn’t relaxed enough to do much more.

Inside the ‘dog house’ he had to sniff and suss out everything, every so often coming to the sofa and sitting on me so I could reassure him that everything was ok.
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We went into the outside yard a couple of times to check that it was ok, and to run after the rope toys a couple of times before asking to go back inside again.  He sniffed everything a lot, and soon found out where the treats were kept.

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There were rawhide chews in there, I gave him one and he chewed and chewed and chewed at it, his jaw muscles working ten to the dozen, which I recognised from experience as diverting nervous energy into something physical.

When the ponies in the field outside came over to their shelter and made *sounds* he was straight up at the window to investigate, and had to go outside to have a brief bark at *whatever* was going on outside, then came in and sat next to me, on me, and had a thorough massage with the occasional pause to turn his head and lick my face all over in appreciation.

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At 4.40pm it was suddenly all over, apparently this is dinner time and his internal clock was ticking and eager to go. With him suddenly full of energy and purpose I got the rope toys and played, he was eager to co-operate and was more enthusiastic this time, but still keeping an eye on the gate to get back to his kennel. He almost went into full play, we had a tug of war and he got a bit boisterous. Mindful of his stress levels, I told him to ‘sit’ and even then in that state, he immediately sat without having to have it repeated. We then put on his lead without fuss and headed back to the kennels for his tea.

I found today both immensely rewarding to have given this dog some attention that he greatly needed, and also very difficult. Overall he reminded me so much of our old dog who lost her companion to old age and suddenly lost her sense of security in the world. I can imagine Alfie placing a lot of trust in his owner or companion to deal with the ouside world while he just got on with being himself, and then having that snatched away from him. Alfie howwever, is only 3 years old and can learn to be part of the world again, rather than be stuck in a loop at old age.

I would have loved to have taken him home, just popped into the office and said he was taken and driven home with him. For now though, thats imposible, and thats why I walk these dogs. Alfie has a place in my heart after just a couple of hours of listening to his needs. How much more space could he occupy after days, or weeks of being together?

I have written a folow up post about Alfie which you can read here

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