Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a series about Zac—a Tunisian shelter dog who Sam adopted through Rescue Animals of North Africa (RANA). Read Part 1 of Sam and Zac’s adventures about his first days with Sam in the fall of 2017.
I’d like to share a little more of my story…firstly, I’d decided that Bob needed a new start, a fresh page, so I thought a new name for a new beginning. I chose Zac and he very quickly started to respond to it, that part was easy!
Zac the Tunisian Shelter Dog Begins to Learn How to Live as a Family Dog, Baby Step by Baby Step
I’d read about an ‘extreme case’ dog called Charlie that had lived wild and ended up being rescued due to an eye injury. Zac was going to be easy in comparison, after all, he was tame and he was used to being around people. Well, so I thought. As it turned out, he was quite similar to Charlie in many ways. He was terrified of absolutely everything , lights, shadows, the outside, rain, all noises…TV, kitchen appliances, even tearing off a piece of kitchen roll made him cower in fear! He especially hated the wind and any fast—actually, just about any—movement. He shook and his nose dripped from stress, his fur moulted out in extreme amounts which I later realised was also due to stress. I had to wonder what he had made of his noisy plane journey…all that noise, no idea of it’s cause, no one familiar, and no clue what was happening to him. My heart went out to him!
Still, looking for the positives, I knew he was safe here, and he was at least happy to sleep on the sofa and our bed. I had to demonstrate what a dog bed was for, after which, he would lay on those too if he felt it was safer at the time!
Finding that Special Treat that Zac Loves Enabled Me to Start Training Him How to Use the Stairs
It seemed that Zac had never encountered stairs; he didn’t know how to deal with them. Again, I tried to demonstrate, crawling up and down them on my hands and knees. He looked at me with disdain, “what is this lunatic doing?” plainly written across his face. The usual methods for training a dog were out, toys?!? What on earth are those things?!? And dog treats, well, they don’t look like food, so were clearly not to be trusted! Cheese on the other hand, this was the first flash of joy that I saw from him. I persuaded him to take a small piece; his expression told me he was trying it against his better judgement, but his suspicious look gradually changed to “maybe it’s tolerable” and then on to “wow, this stuff is amazing!!!” This is where my power laid! I soon discovered Zac would do almost anything for a small piece of cheese. A number of times I laced the stairs with pieces of cheese, re-laying some if he got scared and retreated. Within a couple of days we had mastered the stairs! Huge hurdle, I felt proud. We could overcome anything now. Right, well, maybe not, but a small step felt like a mile right then!
Zac Was Too Fearful to Go for a Walk the First Several Days After He Arrived
So, how else do you get a dog to like you? Normally fussing them, but this dog was afraid, so I had to let him come to me, I had been told, and I knew I had to try to stick with this.
Walks? Yes, dogs love walks, he’ll like me for shared adventures. I hooked on his lead and opened the front door fully expecting an enthusiastic response. He shrank back towards the living room! Oh, he’s scared…of course, this made sense, he’d been stuck in a shelter for virtually the whole of his life and knew nothing of an outside world. I felt naive, but resolved to get him to the point of loving walks…and life, somehow!!
Zac was curious and I felt he wanted to know what was beyond that door but today, he was simply not brave enough.
Nosey Dog: Where a Dog’s Nose Leads, All Else Will Follow (Eventually)
My fellow RANA adopters had told me to let him tell me when he was ready and that my best tool on this journey was patience. I could do this! I unhooked his lead and let him back to the sofa where he felt safe. In the meantime I could create a nosey dog; ‘nosey dog’ would solve everything! I introduced him to the upstairs windows—these were greeted with wonder, and he spent time watching and staring, as a nosey dog does, much to the amusement of all who lived in our cul-de-sac.
The next day I hooked him on the leash again and opened the door. He stood beside me and peered out, sniffing all the new smells. I asked him if he wanted to see, we took a step forward, we stood, he sniffed, I asked again, another step, another sniff! We made it about 2 metres out the door. His nose dripped, he shook, but he stood his ground and took it all in. I left his lead hanging loose (but still secure) and the door open, and when he’d had enough, I let him lead me back in. Those 2 metres felt like a full mile! I was elated by our 2 metres of progress. Nosey monster had been created!
Afterwards, I was advised that walks were probably not a good idea for the first two weeks, just while Zac got settled. So, I backed off with it, but I did still offer him a ‘looky’ and a ‘sniffy’ out the door. Some days he took up the invitation and some days he outright refused but that was fine. On the brave days we were getting a little further out the door each time.
Zac was wearing a collar and lead and an escape-proof harness with a separate lead as a “belt and braces” safety precaution. Ex-street and shelter dogs often get spooked and slip their collars/harnesses in the blink of an eye, so I wanted to be sure he was safe. I didn’t think we would catch him if he did get free purely due to his fearful nature.
Zac Gradually Began to Trust Me after a Few Days of Decompression
Gradually, we were building some trust. A few times he had come to me and rested his head on me, I’d even been granted a couple of hugs and some Tunisian kisses! I felt honoured to have such rewards bestowed upon me! We were moving forwards…one small, but ever so rewarding, step at a time.
Editor’s note: In Part 3, Sam tells the story of Zac’s “bladder wars” – holding his bladder for marathon sessions because he was too fearful to go outside to pee and maybe because the UK in March was a tad frigid for this African dog!
Sam has always been passionate about animals and spent the first decade of her professional life working as a veterinary nurse for the PDSA. Her heart has always been firmly owned by the canines of the world. She has had dogs throughout her life and has taken a huge amount of emotional reward from taking on rescue dogs, particularly favouring the overlooked and ‘forgotten dogs.’
Sam is a volunteer for the Cinnamon Trust and, since Zac’s arrival in December 2017, has also become involved with RANA, helping to raise awareness via their blog about the work they do by sharing her experiences with Zac and the plight of other RANA dogs still waiting for their happy ever afters.