Dog trainer and rescue pioneer Suzanne Gould – aka The Rescue Dog Ranger – shares everything rescue dog owners need to know to support their pet.
Being the owner of a rescue dog can be overwhelming.
You don’t know their background so it can be hard to understand why they may behave in a certain way.
Naturally, you want to do everything you can to support them, but it can be hard to know where to start.
As the ‘mum’ of several rescue dogs who’s been on that journey, Suzanne Gould from Edinburgh Holistic Dogs decided to create a guide to support new owners.
Her book, The Rescue Dog Ranger’s Road Map, is a step by step guide new pet parents can follow to transform their rescue dog into a calm, confident canine.
Here, Suzanne, 37, who lives in Edinburgh with her rescue Old English Sheepdogs Erick, six, and Ally, three, shares her story.
Can you tell me about your background and your first rescue dog?
My first dog was Mabel, an Old English sheepdog a retired show dog, she was the perfect first dog and was a dream. Sadly she passed away to cancer after 10 months.
I got my second dog Flash in 2013 and he was an Old English Sheepdog. My family always had that breed and I absolutely loved them.
At the time, I was working in fashion as a designer for Ness clothing so I’d spend as much time with Flash as I could and had a dog walker during the day.
He had a few training issues so I would take him to classes, but he was a real show off and often these would end with me being in tears.
I tried several different classes and because Flash would act up, I would leave feeling like a bad dog owner.
No dog is perfect, they all have strengths and weaknesses, but I didn’t feel supported, and I think this experience sewed the seed for the book.
And shortly after this you decided to become a dog walker?
Yes, I was made redundant from my job in February 2017 and because of Flash, I’d spent a lot of time researching dog training and behaviour.
I had a bit of a buffer, and I remember speaking to my family and saying, ‘I’m going to become a dog walker.’
I figured the worst that could happen would be that it didn’t work out and I could move back home to Yorkshire, but thankfully it did.
It meant I could be with Flash and my other dog Nora, and soon I decided I wanted to offer training as well.
What kind of dogs would you walk and train?
All kinds at first, but then with the training side, I found I was drawn towards rescue dogs.
I felt like I understood them and their owners and the emotions they were going through, particularly feeling isolated and alone, because of my own experience.
Is that where the idea for the Rescue Dog Ranger book came from?
Yes, so I had always wanted to write a book but it’s a big job and it’s hard to find the time, and it can feel overwhelming.
Then lockdown happened. Before lockdown, I’d been putting on rescue dog classes, and when we were told to stay at home, I set up as support group.
It’s Edinburgh Dogs In Lockdown on Facebook and almost every day I would go in there and chat to owners about how they were coping and offer support.
It was ideal time to start writing, and by the end of lockdown, I’d written 46,000 words!
Wow, that’s incredible Suzanne, so tell me about the book?
The book has lots of stories in there and examples. I share my own experiences and other people’s and I wanted it to be relatable.
I want people to read it and think, ‘Oh, it’s not just me,’ and not to feel alone.
And I wanted to focus on rescue dogs because there’s a lot of training books out there but not many that focus just on rescue dogs.
You’re right as it’s a different experience not knowing the background. What would you say are the most common issues you come across with rescue dogs?
Often it’s as much about the owner as the dog, and it’s around confidence.
With the dog, whether they have come from a pound, a UK rescue or an overseas rescue, they’re often anxious and stressed.
The owner feels the same, they want to help their dog overcome these feelings, and ultimately, they want to feel understood.
So the important thing is to build their confidence together, so they can relax and enjoy life.
How does the anxiety show itself in rescue dogs?
In different ways. For some it’s separation anxiety where they may bark, cry, make a mess or be destructive in the house when left.
It might be by reacting to other dogs, men, people, even people on bikes. My dog Ally used to go crazy when she saw someone on a bike.
Living in a busy town or city can be overwhelming for them too, with cars and traffic, so it’s about reassuring them that they’re safe.
For a dog owner who might have had a dog from being a puppy, it’s totally different. They might have problems with recall, getting their dog to listen to them or walk by their side.
Rescue dogs often have things like this as well, but you have their background and any stress that has come from that to overcome too.
What would you say is the biggest misunderstanding people have when it comes to rescue dogs?
I think it’s that they will fit into their lives and settle in straight away. There is always a period of adjustment, even for an older dog.
They need to time adapt. Erick, for example, would only sleep in the bathroom when he first came to me but now he’s by my side, he’s my Velcro dog.
Also, with older dogs, it can be easy to assume they will already be toilet or crate trained, but they might find being in a crate scary.
So you have to introduce it gently as you would with a puppy, and give them regular toilet breaks, and also, don’t assume they’ve had a regular life.
Can you share any examples of rescue dogs you’ve worked with?
Yes, one dog DJ came from Romania and he’d spent his life chained up in a gypsy camp. He hadn’t been treated very nicely.
He was really scared of men, so would often bite, so his owner needed to build his confidence and start all over again.
So the message is to think about your rescue dog as you would a new puppy, be prepared for everything and be patient.
Would you recommend spending time at home with a new rescue dog to settle them in?
Yes, ideally have two weeks at home with them so they can get used to you and feel secure in their new surroundings.
I know this isn’t possible for everyone but aim to have at least five days.
So can you run through what’s in the book?
Yes, so in there is everything you need to know if you’re considering a rescue, starting with the questions you need to ask the rescue centre or charity.
It walks you through the first 24 hours, and those first few weeks to settle the dog in and set them up for success.
There are training routines, so walking nicely on the lead, recall, and tips on how to encourage good behaviour around other dogs and people.
It covers the things owners might experience like barking and separation anxiety and how to help your dog (and you) feel more relaxed.
In there are lots of enrichment activities plus ways to turn everyday objects like cardboard boxes and loo rolls into toys and games.
I tried to think of everything an owner might encounter and offer solutions for them that are easy to follow.
Ultimately, my aim is to keep rescue dogs and their owners together. That’s why I wrote the book so they would have the answers in one place.
What’s your message to anyone considering a rescue dog?
Do your research and ask friends and family who have rescue dogs for recommendations and also about their own experiences.
Ask yourself some tough questions.
Are you going to mind missing out on parties? Will you mind spending time with your dog at weekends? Is everyone in your life going to be happy about your new dog?
Do you have the money to cover vet bills? Can you hire a dog walker you trust when you’re at work?
This means you’re not going in with tinted glasses but with your eyes open.
My ultimate message would be that rescue dogs have a lot of love to give and bring so much to our lives.
I hope more people consider a rescue as welcoming one into your home and heart will give them a second chance at happiness.
For more training tips, check out her blog at www.edinburghholisticdogs.co.uk