by Ali Weedon
We first fostered Herbie in early March 2019 - we weren’t looking for a dog as we already had a beautiful border collie Mair. We knew from volunteering at Holbrook that Herbie seemed such a lovely, chilled dog ( his nickname was The Gentle Soul ).
Our collie wasn’t overly fussed or particularly friendly with other dogs, and our cat could definitely hold his own so, with patient and gentle introductions, they both coped with Herbie’s first overnight stay. Herbie coped particularly well, gluing himself to the nearest available person on a sofa, so convinced was he that size really didn’t matter when it came to being a lap dog
We didn’t hear him bark for weeks, mostly he was a calm and solid presence in the house...adoring us and happy being equally adored. But Herbie was also a very sensitive and troubled boy who’d obviously been mistreated in his earlier life. A slight noise would send him trembling to the floor, head flat, waiting to be struck. He had ( still has) an issue with doorways - had he been shut in one? Locked away? Who knows - he was hesitant around them and just had to get through them fast before anything bad happened!
Herbie wanted to be Mair’s best friend but she was above all that and was having none of it - having ruled the roost for nearly 9 years she wasn’t going to let some goofy dog ( and he really was becoming quite a goofball ) step on her toes. A few barred teeth let him know when he was overstepping the mark and they settled in to a mutual companionship : Mair was happy that Herbie took the attention away from her when we met other dogs and she delighted in setting him up with the foxes or postman- whooping him into a baritone frenzy and walking away!
Within a month I knew I couldn’t let this wonderful dog go - I’d almost started to snarl at prospective adopters and ditched the ‘Adopt me’ bandana. We celebrated his adoption with champagne and a pig’s ear.
I wasn’t prepared for the change in Herbie. It was like he clocked the adoption certificate and chewed up the rule book......
He started to bark all through the night , every night. Not content at barking at the postman, he also barrelled towards the door in uncontrolled aggression. He started guarding the hallway and took nips at unsuspecting guests, young and old! We became worried about having visitors. An unprovoked bite of a visitor’s leg in June drew blood and we asked Holbrook’s behaviourist for help. We put in a stair gate and used a great guide to muzzle training by the Red Cross on YouTube. We also obtained a referral for anti anxiety medication.
At this point I wondered if we could really live our life like this and if we had made a mistake in taking on such an unpredictable dog.
Months of love, positive rewarding, reading of training manuals and trial and error paid off and Herbie’s self esteem seemed to improve and he no longer needed medication. He became a happier, more comfortable and settled dog. Maybe we just needed to educate ourselves in a different way to become a family that he could trust and grow in. Herbie never knew how to play and it was the most beautiful moment when our youngest son finally taught him the wonders of chasing a tennis ball - the joy of this big dog launching into the air like a giant frog in a delightful (usually missed) attempt to catch the ball was just magical to watch
Today two years on, although we sadly lost our beloved Mair, we still have the incredible joy of a gorgeous dog who we love to bits and who brings our family together. He adores cooked vegetables and dances like Shakira (ok, I do sing it to him while he hip wiggles ). He is the ultimate spoon if you are in need of a cuddle and he chooses which of us to squash in bed at night. The happiness and laughter he brings makes those darker weeks long forgotten and we feel incredibly proud and privileged when a fellow dog walker repeatedly says how different and happy Herbie is nowadays. He is very popular in our village and has lots of two and four legged friends. He has been a joy to bring into any cafe or restaurant, especially enjoying the free pots of sausage in Devon! Thank goodness we didn’t give up on our special boy
We continue with daily doorbell training, using the phrase “good calm” and a nice pot of treats in the hallway and the stair gate remains - though now it’s used to give him a break from my sister’s puppy Mabel who we regularly look after.
Before lockdown we were never a busy household but we were finally able to relax with friends indoors without ever forgetting to ask guests to move calmly around Herbie who we always supervise, just in case.