Whole Dog Journal's Blog July 28, 2016

Looking for a New Home for Ruby, the Dog

Posted at 09:17AM - Comments: (16)

One of these days, I’m going to have to count the dogs I’ve fostered and placed in homes over the past 9 or 10 years, since I moved to this small northern California town and found myself living close to a nice, clean shelter run by a smart, dedicated director. The number would look super impressive if you counted the litters of puppies I’ve fostered, but that’s cheating; puppies get adopted from the shelter quickly, and I have little to do with their placement.

Often, people want a puppy, and I get the appeal, but sheesh, there are so many advantages to adopting a dog who is already a known quantity: You know how big she’s going to be, what her coat is like, and you have a pretty good sense of what her behavior is like, or could be like. And yet, it takes a long time for so many adolescent and adult dogs in the shelter to find homes.



On occasion, I’ve seen a dog in my local shelter that I just knew I could find a great home for – or, more frequently, one that has been at the shelter a long time, one who I thought I might be able to find a great home for IF the dog had more training and was better socialized to other dogs and humans. Those are the dogs that are the most satisfying for me to foster – dogs like Mickey, one of the funniest-looking dogs I’ve ever fostered, who was in the shelter for two months before getting adopted, was returned after a month (because the adopter’s other dog kept beating him up), and then spent another four months in the shelter without any interest from anyone. I decided I HAD to find Mickey a home, and spent a few weeks training him and teaching him how to get along with other dogs, before taking him down to the Bay Area for a weekend full of appointments with friends and acquaintances who were looking for a dog. I stayed at the home of one of my best friends that weekend, and ventured out with Mickey to meet four different families, each of whom turned him down, whether due to his goofy looks or his relentless energy or for engendering their other dog’s immediate hostility. By the end of the weekend, my host/friend was both so sorry for Mickey, and so taken by his sweet, affectionate (though quirky) personality, that SHE adopted him. Yay! (Although, her family still complains a bit about being saddled with such a goofy-looking dog.)



Riley was another satisfying adoption. Unlike mixed-breed, funny-looking Mickey, he was a handsome, purebred Lab, but he had been picked up as a stray (and his owners never came looking for him), adopted to a family who quickly returned him, complaining that he was loud and rude and jumped fences. Believe it or not, the latter complaint can be the most serious, as far as my shelter is concerned. A dog who can’t be contained by average fences has a much harder time finding an appropriate home. Over the years, they have observed that hard-to-contain dogs are so much harder to place (or, rather, to be placed in a home with a family that can properly contain and supervise an escape artist), that they sometimes condemn the dog as “unadoptable” from the first complaint of “jumps fences.” Riley had some separation anxiety, which drove both the noise he made when penned up and his desire to conquer any sort of containment. Given his stature and athletic ability, he was a challenge.

It took a while to train better manners into the big, boisterous Lab, and to reduce his anxiety about being left home alone enough so that he didn’t feel compelled to try to escape wherever you put him when you went to the store. And finally, a great home appeared in the form of a nice couple with a large piece of property, a pool (Riley LOVES to swim), someone home most of the time, dog experience, and a lot of patience. I bump into Riley’s “mom” in town frequently and she always has a funny story to tell about his latest antics – but she tells it with such affection that I know he’s never going to end up in a shelter again.



Alas, I’ve had my first (to my knowledge) adoption failure. Ruby is a now-five-year-old Cardigan Welsh Corgi. She’s spent the past three years in an adoptive home with a couple who had a few problems with her. Like a lot of Corgis, Ruby is an opinionated little dog, very self-confident, who thinks that most other dogs should stay out of her way and do what she tells them to do, or else. I wouldn’t call her dog-aggressive, but she’s not going to take any guff from any other dog, no matter its size, and if she thinks the other dog is rude, she won’t hesitate to straighten him out. And if the dog objects to her correction, she’ll escalate into a fight – and leave some dandy bites on her foe. The latter is really the biggest problem here; Ruby seems to have very little bite inhibition. When she bites, she punctures.

I hadn’t seen this behavior when I fostered her three years ago, but she’s apparently been practicing. She’s cost the couple a couple of sizeable vet bills – for injuries to other people’s dogs – and I’ve counseled them several times over the years about how to best train AND manage her to avoid these traumatic events. But now the couple is divorcing. The mom got custody of Ruby, but a variety of factors stacked a few of Ruby’s triggers to the point where she recently had another bad interaction with an off-leash dog who ran up and got in her face. Now, with another bad dog fight on Ruby’s record, her owner felt overwhelmed and unable to manage her anymore. She let me know that she was going to be returning Ruby to the shelter.

I met the owner at the shelter, half expecting to see a markedly more dog-reactive dog than the one I helped place in a home three years ago. After all, she’s had a number of opportunities to get into a scrap with other dogs – and win! I was fully prepared to see a dog who now met the fatal “unadoptable” designation.

I was surprised to see the same cute, sunny, tough little dog I fell for three years ago – absolutely no more overtly “aggressive” than when I saw her last. When she sees other dogs, she acknowledges them calmly, but with a very momentary stiff glance that says to dogs who speak fluent canine body language, “Don’t mess with me.” Of course, not all dogs are fluent in their own language! And few owners are alert to these signals, and take proactive management steps to avoid confrontations between dogs.

I talked it over with the shelter staff, and agreed to foster her again for a time, so I could evaluate her behavior with other dogs using my own dogs – carefully! And so here I am fostering again – less than two weeks after saying “Not again, at least for the rest of the summer.” But I hope I will find some explanations for Ruby’s behavior, and perhaps, be able to help make a better placement for her, one with fewer opportunities to hurt other dogs or scare her owners. So far, she’s minding her manners with my dogs, even adolescent Woody, who doesn’t yet always see or take heed of the “Keep back!” signals that other dogs send him. I think she’d be happiest in a home with no other dogs, or only other dogs who are content to let her run the show, but these homes can be hard to come by. Wish us luck!

Comments (16)

Very possibly Ruby has been picking something up from her previous human owners, who are divorcing, along the lines of "don't tread on me," and "respect my boundaries." Pets will pick up anger from owners in a crisis...doesn't surprise me that she's not acting that way with you--it may well be situational.

Posted by: Kathleen_E | July 31, 2016 4:44 PM    Report this comment

I have had two experiences with this situation. The first is with my lovely golden retriever Sonnet. I adopted Sonnet from her breeder at 2 years old as she was other dog aggressive. I worked with a personal dog trainer where we addressed her alpha issues. This was very successful as we bonded closely. Unfortunately, she was still alpha with new dog encounters. We addressed new dogs by meeting at a neutral location. If she showed aggression she received a sharp snap on her martingale collar and was immediately put in a down stay position. Sonnet developed friends, played, but always maintained her alpha role. I later found there were some situations where I couldn't trust her such as hiking and being surprised by a new dog. Generic Prozac was a miracle! A 90 day supply at Fry's?Kroger is $10.00. I had tried all the other things like Rescue Remedy etc but they just had no affect on her behavior.
My second experience was when our male golden got out of our house and ran into a notorious other dog aggressive golden walking down the street.This dog had attacked other dogs in the neighborhood at least 17 times. The leashed dog attacked ours, owner put her hand in to break up the fight, and a lawsuit ensued where we were naturally at fault. The owner had never been reported as she paid for the medical bills. Her vet had told her the dog needed to be muzzled or medicated for his aggression. Our dog had 3 pages of single spaced dog shows without incident.
The story of Ruby makes me want to adopt her. Our Sonnet passed away a week ago while on a morning hike. Cardiac arrest. Some of us just have more attitude and need that special person. Ruby sounds like a gem. Keep her.

Posted by: Bonnie Barnett | July 31, 2016 4:36 PM    Report this comment

I do encourage you to see if you CAN get Ruby working in herding. This may be an excellent OUTLET for her natural instincts, as well a great form of mental AND physical exercise; depending on YOUR temperatures. Lord KNOWS, she has probably NOT been mentally "challenged" in 3 years (and this IS a breed that truly LIKES to WORK). Corgis (also) make wonderful agility dogs (as a rule) in case that helps find her the "right" home.

Posted by: Betsy | July 31, 2016 3:20 PM    Report this comment

Have you considered trying Ruby at herding. Working breeds act out when they don't engage enough of their mind and energy. From your description, she's treating unruly dogs just as she should unruly stock... which is hardwired into the breed. The local American Herding Breed Association might have some opportunities for the instinct test and a place for her to work and even a potential forever home.

Posted by: lisas | July 31, 2016 1:56 PM    Report this comment

I am beginning to make my own dog food for our three dogs. In researching what meats and other items to include (such as supplements), I discovered that animals in the wild who eat prey or otherwise dead animals often begin with the intestines to get the partially or totally digested greens, etc. Apparently dogs' intestinal tracts are much shorter than ours so that they can't digest many of the vegetables that we can, especially if given raw. Apparently coprophagia can have biological as well as behavioral causes. You might want to research supplements that address the condition while considering behavioral modification. Bother are addressed at this website, but there are many others, too. My dogs tend to eat household plants (and certain plants and grasses outside) from apparently similar needs. If you google "Coprophagia in dogs" you will find good sites that deal with both potential causes of coprophagia.

Posted by: JennyN | July 31, 2016 11:20 AM    Report this comment

I have a 8mo. old mini Ausie who's name is Brody, He is an absolute love and very smart, however he is very food oriented and has picked up the habit of coprophagia. I also have two other dogs one an 8yr old spayed female cow dog rescued from Baja, who has pretty much adopted Brody and another rescued mixed breed neutered male who is about 6 to 8 years old who has a sever bowel problem that is being helped with prescription food. His name is Sammie and an absolute gentleman and a love, however Brody torments him as often as he can get away with it and is the one who's feces is being eaten. I have tried cayenne pepper, You'd have thought Brody was Mexican, he loved it, even when it was completely covered with the pepper, I'm now trying raw hamburger mixed with a little kibble. doesn't seem to be working and I worry about raw hamburger. I spend half my time walking the yard picking up poop but he still finds some that I have missed in the grass. I patrol at least 3 times a day, however I'm away from home quite a bit . Can anyone help or have another suggestion as to how to train him not to do it.

Posted by: Don Bray | July 31, 2016 10:25 AM    Report this comment

Did you try Corgi rescues?

Posted by: clangfor | July 28, 2016 5:14 PM    Report this comment

I learn so much from your blog .. the little nuances of dog-speak are invaluable. Thank you so much for all your sharings, and for all you for pups in need.

Posted by: 3grrrs | July 28, 2016 3:06 PM    Report this comment

To SOPHIE, whose dog gets agitated when he approaches the back door: Have you tried using nice treats, like small chunks of chicken or beef, to encourage him to go out the back door? Ie., make the 'back door experience' a positive one?

Posted by: magicbird | July 28, 2016 1:09 PM    Report this comment

I know you will be successful with finding a forever home for Ruby. I believe that behavorial problems with dogs stem from an incident or incidents that happened to them either in their birth home (yes, that young) or adoptive home when the new owner means well or is inexperienced or, sometimes, just mean. We got a little Yorkie puppy in October 2015 from a private breeder. We named him Sammie. He is now eight months old. We also have a five year old female Yorkie named Sophie. Sammie is a wonderful little dog, not so little really for a Yorkie since he is long legged, long bodied and weighs about ten pounds right now although he is very slim. There is one problem which we cannot figure out which is that whenever my husband or I want to let him into the fenced backyard to do his business and we start walking to the door, he starts getting very agitated, and starts barking loudly as he jumps and walks backwards to the door. If anyone can help me with this problem, HELP! It happens every single time. We think that maybe when he was a few weeks old, he might have gotten hit with the door in some manner when going out. I really don't know, but something must have happened which causes this behavior. If you know or have a suggestion please post, Thank you.

Posted by: sophie1 | July 28, 2016 12:56 PM    Report this comment

It is great to see your passion and knowledge of the canine world. We need more like you. It would be great getting potential dog owners to simply (do the homework) and know what they are getting into. There would be a lot less shelter dogs AND abused dogs out there.
Thank you for all of your compassion and hard work.

Posted by: Peanut33 | July 28, 2016 12:28 PM    Report this comment

I am a foster failure. My very first foster was a 3 month old puppy. After doing numerous (less than desirable) home visits with the puppy and the owner of the Rescue, I decided that Lucy was already home. Good luck with Ruby. I have complete faith that there is a home out there for this special girl.

Posted by: harbormaster | July 28, 2016 12:14 PM    Report this comment

What a great testament to the joys of fostering.

Posted by: Aimee Jurenka | July 28, 2016 11:27 AM    Report this comment

Great article. I love Mickey's unique look. I think it would be very interesting to do a DNA test on him and find out what all he's got in him. So happy he found a furever home.

Posted by: Antje | July 28, 2016 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Congratulations on being a great Foster Parent. I truly admire what you do, as I would be the biggest "foster failure" ever as I know I would become so attached to the dog, that I would end up with a houseful!!
Bless You !!!

Posted by: ViszlaVixen | July 28, 2016 9:59 AM    Report this comment

You're a very good writer. And your insight into dog behavior is SO refreshing. Thanks for your love, care, and sharing about your pups. I do wish you the best.

Dr. VB

Posted by: vboisen | July 28, 2016 9:49 AM    Report this comment

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