This was not the first ex-stud dog to come here into foster. No worries – time and patience should do the trick and get him ready for his new life as a family pet.
Rupert was a stunningly handsome seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel (which explains why he was kept as a stud dog for so long). He calmly went in the transport crate. Car seat belt was clicked. We set off for home.
My own dogs, used to foster dogs coming and going, went to greet him. He gave them a quiet growl. They understood and kept their distance. So far so good. Rupert was fed separately. He went exploring in the garden, seeming more at ease outside. He did come back in, sniffed everything – and established with more growls that he was to be left alone.
In the following days Rupert quickly set about asserting himself as ‘top dog’ – claiming toys, shoes, the sofas … escalating to the point where he tried to claim me, growling if my dogs came near. Clearly just ignoring his behaviour wasn’t going to work. Distraction techniques began in earnest – using treats to entice him away from objects he was guarding, and also moving him to other places for time out, creating a distance between us.
Once Rupert had been neutered, had an extensive dental and had completed his vaccinations he started going out for walks. That’s when I discovered a different Rupert Cocker – he slowly became a happier, more tolerant one: He learnt not to pull on his harness and lead and graduated to a long line; he loved this extra freedom to explore in the woods and on the moors. What’s more he kept turning to check that we were all still with him.
He mastered whistle training; the time had come to let him off-lead altogether. On a quiet afternoon, in the woods, off he raced. At the whistle Rupert ran back to us. Success! Day two – he returned in his own time. He’d found the stream to paddle in – and mud! Third day – Rupert cocker went directly to the stream, heard the whistle, ignored it completely! Back he went on the long line. After a few more weeks practising his whistle recall, Rupert was given another chance to run off-lead. You’d have had to have come this far on Rupert’s journey to understand how wonderful it was to see him whizz along- and, most amazingly, even without the whistle, he wanted to run back to me and my dogs-often!
The resident dogs were good teachers when out for walks: Rupert learnt to acknowledge compliments from people he met, confidently wagging his tail for them. He copied our pack, carrying his very own ball around in his mouth. If another dog came too close he’d growl at it – which is fair enough (if the other dog was bigger than him Rupert simply walked away). Sometimes, after inspecting ‘messages’ left on a tree trunk, he would forget where he’d left his beloved ball. When told to ‘find it’ he proved to be a brilliant sniffer dog!
Relationships were changing: Rupert understood my dogs were not a threat. He adopted their routine. All had their own space to eat. He learnt to wait patiently to have a shower after his muddy walks. Rupert began to understand that the sofa had room for everybody – he couldn’t guard me if another dog wanted a cuddle too. He learnt that he didn’t need to constantly ‘mark’ inside the house because it belonged to all of us. Rupert trusted me. More of the loving cocker spaniel started to emerge: When I cuddled him, putting my head on his, he’d ‘talk’ to me with a sound that was like a teenage boy whose voice was breaking. What tales he told!
Rupert did have adoption applications from lovely people but we hadn’t found his perfect match. I was making yet another list of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ to assess how far Rupert had progressed – and how far he still had to go. Rupert and I had reached an understanding. We knew our tolerance limits. Would he regress if he was moved?
I began writing yet another update on Rupert’s Adoption page, looking back on previous ones to see what else I could say about him. I looked at him. He looked at me. That was the defining moment for both of us.
I have a photo of Rupert. He’s waiting for me to join him at the piano. The sheet music is ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables.
Although it wasn’t intended, and certainly not anticipated, Bliss Cavalier Rescue had brought Rupert Cocker from his kennel directly to his forever home.
Rupert and I will continue turning the pages together.
NB- Fosterers are not allowed to adopt their foster dogs until they have fostered for the rescue for a minimum of 6 months. Why is this? We put a lot of time into training our foster parents, there really is so much to learn including recognising an emergency, specific training on common health conditions such as Chiari Malformation/Syringomyelia as the symptoms are sometimes difficult to interpret, dog behaviour training etc.
If we allowed fosterers to adopt immediately we would lose them and all of the time and resources we have put into their training. Fostering really isn’t for everyone, it involves a lot of responsibility, many vet appointments, training and reporting back to us at HQ. Fostering is often compared to being on a rollercoaster! Many people also become very attached to the dogs which makes it extremely difficult and too upsetting.