Zac - Border Collie Cross
A story of a dog's rehabilitation from aggression to fun family pet

Zac in small space
Zac and owner
Zac's portrait
Zac in the garden
Zac watching

Zac's history

Zac's early history

The first we know about Zac is that he was left in kennels when he was a year old, when his owners "went on holiday. " They never came back for him. It's all a bit mysterious, as they had left his vaccination certificate and date of birth, but for some reason his owners were not traced.

He was already difficult to handle, and maybe that is why he had been abandoned. Little is known about his early life, but his behaviour when we adopted him indicated that he may have been "unsocialised" - ie had had insufficient contact with people, other dogs, and life in general. Consequently Zac was afraid - afraid of people, of dogs, of noises, of almost everything.

After being abandoned in kennels, he was re-homed and he stayed with his second owners for about two years. According to their report, he was not easy to look after - he was fearful of strangers, lunged at other dogs, had diarrhea when nervous, and was very fearful of noises. Eventually he pulled his owner over by lunging at a dog. The owner broke her hip. For that family, that was too much, and they decided he must be re-homed again.

We don't know exactly what went on in his previous homes. But he had some odd quirks which makes us wonder whether Zac's history included worse than just being under-socialised, in one or both of his previous homes. He was really frightened of newspapers, feet, fists, and covers. He frequently yelped really loudly as if in pain when we moved a newspaper. Feet moving were a nightmare to him. For example, he would often yelp if I crossed my legs, even if I was on the other side of the room. He didn't mind me sitting next to him on the settee, but jumped off immediately with a growl and bark if I put my feel up onto the settee. Even now if someone approaches him with their hand held out in a fist for him to smell, Zac shies away. He used to really attack if anyone did that. He has no problem with people approaching him with their palm uppermost. He hated covers moving - it was very scary for him if I walked past in a long dressing gown.

When Zac yelped, growled or barked at newspapers, feet and covers he looked absolutely terrified - eyes literally bulging, ears right back, tail down, body cowering. Once I had my hands under a cover I was holding and passed him on the settee - Zac yelped like mad, rushed off the settee and hid in a tiny space, refusing to emerge for several minutes! We know that his previous owners said it was hard to get him off the furniture. Was he removed forcibly, with arms protected by a cover? Was he hit with newspapers? Was he kicked? Was he hit with a fist? We don't know for sure, but these fears decreased markedly in his first year with us, suggesting that they were not just due to his highly strung personality. If Zac was subject to rough treatment, no wonder he was scared of people.

His second family took him to the Blue Cross dog kennels. He stayed there for nearly a year, until we decided to take him. Why did no-one take him before? Well, Zac did not like the visitors who passed his cage. He avoided looking at them, moved away from the front of the cage, and generally looked most unwelcoming. When we considered taking him, the Blue Cross staff ushered us into his cage, telling us to ignore him. We sat down in the cage. Zac kept well away from us, studiously looking away. When we were about to take him home, the Blue staff staff member took him by the lead near us. Zac snarled and snapped at my husband's hand - we were too close for him!

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Re-homing Zac

Why did we take him? Good question! Well, we had had three previous dogs, one of whom was also quite difficult. We had told the Blue Cross we were prepared to take a dog who was hard to re-home - I expect they were delighted! They showed us three dogs. There was just something about Zac, but I can't really say what it was. I too can be a bit nervous, and I think I recognised something of a kindred spirit in Zac, for in many ways he and I are quite alike. But we had no idea how hard it was going to be to re-home him - if we had known, we would not have taken him. And we would have missed having a simply fantastic dog. The Blue Cross told us he was nervous of strangers (in fact only two staff looked after him, so he wouldn't keep meeting new people). They also told us he pulled towards other dogs, but it didn't sound too bad as they described it. We didn't see his behaviour towards other dogs because he was always taken out of his cage away from the other dogs - presumably because of his behaviour if he passed the kennels. We thought we could handle a shy, nervous dog. We knew nothing about his aggression, and we were already committed by the time he snapped at us.

Zac spent his first day as far away from us as possible. Basically he went into another room - all day. We went into the room for just a few moments several times, never approaching him, sometimes talking softly.

At the end of the day, Zac came into the room where we were. He cautiously came across to where I was sitting, licked my hand, and then withdrew quickly. Our first sign of contact - his re-homing had begun! For the next few days, we did not approach him, just let come up to us. He settled with us, happy that we were not attacking him (unless, of course, we moved our legs in a "threatening way," moved a newspaper, etc). But we were soon to find out that he wasn't just shy and nervous. At first he wouldn't walk past people in the street, he just pulled backwards. But after the honeymoon first few days, he was well into snarling, snapping and barking at people and dogs. The hard work of rehabilitation was to start ...

Incidentally, we have no difficulty removing him from furniture. We simply taught him "Off." We did this by saying the word, and holding out a titbit for him. It took a lot of patience because he was scared at first, but lots of gentle encouragement and pleasure at his successes won us a well behaved dog. He is not allowed on the armchairs. He is allowed on the settee, but must get off if asked.

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