A year and a half on with our nervous dog

May 22, 2020

When looking for a puppy, Norbert and his wife knew they should choose one that was inquisitive and confident. Florence was anything but. However, just as they were about to walk away, they spotted something in Florence that changed their minds. Eighteen months on, life with nervous dog Florence has had its ups and downs but with the help of Roger the sprocker, this gorgeous golden spaniel is finally finding her way. Norbert shares their story.

We tried to adopt a lovely golden spaniel, but we weren’t successful. Shortly after the failed adoption, my wife spotted a gorgeous golden cocker puppy on the internet.  

The advert read very well. I guess, most people imagine the first time meeting a puppy would be an amazing experience. Little fur-balls running around their mum with their tails wagging, coming up to you, being curious etc. Well, it wasn’t the case with Florence. 

“She was wary of us and not the confident bouncing puppy we were expecting.”  

She was 15 weeks old, living in an empty caravan. Completely different to what we expected from the advert.  She was the last of the litter. Her brother was sold a couple of days before our visit. 

She had no toys, no company and clearly wasn’t well socialised. The mum was very friendly and looked to be in great shape. We sat there for a while, waiting for a reaction from Florence, but she wasn’t too engaging. She was wary of us and not the confident bouncing puppy we were expecting.  

Alarm bells

We went out to discuss what we thought and we decided to walk away from the purchase. This was a situation we had read so much about on the internet.  Although we asked about the parents being clear of inherited cocker diseases and were told they were clear, there was no document proof. Alarm bells were ringing.  

My wife asked me to tell the breeder that we don’t want the puppy but when we walked back into the caravan Flo started to play with her mum. We watched them for a few minutes and this golden delight ended up winning the heart. We said ‘yes’.

The first day

We drove from the breeder straight to the vet. Flo was chipped already, and had received her first set of vaccinations but due to her age and lapse in time we had to start it again. She was in good health, her coat was beautiful and shiny, the vet saw no indications of any medical conditions. 

Restarting the vaccinations meant no walks for another 5 weeks at least. When we got home, we took her to our garden and let her explore a bit, she looked confused rather than excited. This was her first experience of being outside in the fresh air, and her first steps on grass! It was actually quite sad. We gave her a toy and she had no idea what to do with it, she just sat in the corner trying to work out what was going on. I was trying to play with her, but she kept running away. 

I thought she was just playing chase but then we realised, she was actually scared of me. She bonded with my wife straight away, but it took Florence a few days to gain her confidence with me. Until today she is cautious of men. Once she gets to know someone, she is absolutely fine but it needs to be on her terms.

Socialisation

This was one of our biggest issues. Imagine a 4 months old puppy with zero life and social experience at all! We couldn’t possibly wait for another 5 weeks to take her outside. We didn’t even know where to start with her to be honest. So we decided to carry her around the street twice a day just to get her used to cars, traffic noises, smells, and people. We did this for weeks. Luckily, everyone likes puppies and lots of people came to say hi to her and pet her.  

At the beginning she would just shiver and shake in our arms.  She wasn’t keen on any attention and certainly not from men, It was all so scary.  This continued when we started to walk her properly, any reaching hands freaked her out. Firstly, we had to walk her in quiet places, then slowly take her to busier streets for short periods of time to give her confidence. Once she had a little confidence, we built on it, but it took time. We always carried treats and if someone wanted to pet her, we had to tell the person not to reach towards her, but let her take a treat from them on her terms. 

She was a dream off the lead because she was too nervous to leave our side.  She however loved to play with dogs.  She had to say ‘hi’  to every single one of them all the time! 

Meeting Roger

Roger is a sprocker, three months older than Flo and lives two doors away from us. The complete opposite of Flo! He craves attention, his tail never stops wagging, loves car journeys, loves water,  a relaxed, confident dog. Flo and Roger became best friends as soon as they met and until today they absolutely love spending time together.

“…Roger used to give her kisses and nudge her with his nose until she stopped.”

We started to take them for walks together, and Roger’s confidence helped Flo to come out of her shell. He also comforts Florence when she is distressed. He picks up on her feelings. For instance, she used to be sick in the car every time we went somewhere, even if the journey was just 5 minutes. It wasn’t motion sickness, it was anxiety. She used to whine and cry a lot. When we started to take both in the car together, Roger used to give her kisses and nudge her with his nose until she stopped. We would borrow Roger to go out for car journeys to help Florence overcome her car fear.  She is fine in the car now, no sickness but it took a long time to reach this point.

Best buddies: Florence and Roger

Bath time

Noticing a pattern here? Florence is a spaniel that doesn’t like water and was extremely scared of bath time. It took two of us to stop her bolting out of the bath. She would shake, howl and pant. We stopped using the shower head and would wash her using jugs of water. We talked calmly, praised her and used teats. Nothing really worked. The anxiety took over.  We have progressed now, numerous baths later to using the shower head but she still shivers sometimes and doesn’t enjoy the process. She tolerates bath time but she’s never going swimming. We’ve had to introduce the professional groomers slowly. She’s had three so far.

Dog walkers

We made the best decision signing Florence up with two fantastic dog walkers. She doesn’t always go with them because of our work. Like sending a child to an activity club, Florence goes to improve her confidence, mix with other dogs in the pack and gain her independence. It really has helped. 

A year and a half on, Florence has really come out of her shell. She lives a happy life and her confidence grows every day. She loves her walks in the forest where she spends most of her time sniffing out rabbits or chasing squirrels.  We still don’t really know what happened to her in the first four months of her life and why she’s so cautious around men? It’s been a two way learning process and if you have a nervous dog like us things will take time but you will make progress. 

Baby steps

Recently, we found one of her brothers. We are waiting for the lockdown to be lifted so we can visit him. I wonder if they will remember each other. We can’t wait to find out.

What next?