Today, Guilie Castillo is joining us to tell us about her new book, It's About the Dog: The A-to-Z Guide for Wannabe Dog Rescuers as well as offer some insights about how to handle dogs who hate the water.
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Ellen, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your Saturday Spotlight series! I’m thrilled to talk a bit with your crowd about my new book, It’s About the Dog: The A-to-Z Guide for Wannabe Dog Rescuers. I know several of your followers are into sailing and water-based lifestyles, as are you, so—although the book is about actual rescue (the process of identifying, befriending, helping, and catching a dog straight off the street)—I thought I could share some insights about the challenges that come after rescue, when it turns out that this once-stray dog, now adopted by a loving family, hates water.
When Panchita, my first rescue here in Curaçao, came to live with us, I naturally assumed she would love water. This is an island—a rather small one, as far as islands go; no matter where you are in Curaçao you’re never more than five or six kilometers from the coast. And Panchita was a mutt of mutts, a dog who clearly came from a long line of mixed breeds, what locals here call ‘Westpointers’, or ‘Selikor terriers’. A dog of this lineage had to have the love of water woven tight into her chromosomes, right?
Well, she didn’t. In fact, water terrified her. I, who had grown up in Mexico with dogs that jumped into the pool at the first opportunity, now lived surrounded by gorgeous beaches with a dog that refused to set foot in water, be it ocean or lagoon. She even skirted puddles (ever so daintily).
So what does one do, when one’s love of water and love of (rescue) dogs seem so incompatible?
It’s no secret that rescue dogs come with… how shall we put it? Issues. Some more than others, certainly, especially if they’re adult when you adopt them. The main thing to remember when dealing with rescues is that they’re individuals: there is no recipe, no ABC of steps to follow, that will work on each and every dog. (This is true of all dogs, all living creatures even, but even more so with rescues.) If your life revolves around water, and if you want to share that life with a rescue dog, here are a few tips to make your—and their—life easier.
Adult vs. Puppy
Puppies (under 3 months) are naturally more adaptable than adults, and usually have less phobias, so it’ll be easier for them to learn to love the activities you want to share with them, including water. Note, however, that I said ‘easier’, not easy. Certain fears and aversions seem to be inherited, hard-coded into DNA somehow, so getting a 12-week-old puppy does not necessarily mean you’re getting a blank slate. Yes, breed—when breed can be determined; rescues are quirky that way—may provide some indication, a foundation on which to base the training you’ll provide, but it won’t be determinant. I know Labradors that hate the water. And I know a Chihuahua who cannot get enough of it. Breed may be about aesthetics, but it gets a lot less predictable when it comes to behavior.
Go Easy. At First and Always.
Rescue dogs have very little experience of human kindness. For them, the canine-human bond has been broken; earning their trust is your first task, and dragging them into the lake is not going to help. Take it slowly. Go on a walk close to the water and observe their behavior. Does s/he seem curious or apprehensive about the water? Maybe you get lucky and s/he makes a mad dash into the surf the first time out; you’ve got it made. But if this doesn’t happen, you have your work cut out for you. You’ll need tons of patience, and—maybe more importantly—good humor. The reward, however—that moment when your dog overcomes his/her fear and discovers this weird thing is actually fun—is more than worth it.
Make it Fun.
I’ve seen people bribe their dogs into the water, or try the toddler technique of picking them up and carrying them into the water: “See? It’s not so scary, is it?” (And then they’re surprised when the dog hides under the bed when it’s time to go to the lake or the beach.) If you want your dog to enjoy water, and the time spent with you in or around it, not to fear it or to see it as something you demand of him/her, then you need to make it into something not just positive and fun but also non-threatening. The dog needs to feel safe, and s/he needs to know s/he can trust you, so show him/her you’re willing to go at his/her pace. (And mean it.)
Reward, or Bribe?
This is a tricky one, and I think the difference has a lot to do with attitude. The way I see it is this: if I offer my dog a chunk of, say, beef, and hold it just out of reach as I back into the water, using the beef as a sort of ‘carrot’ to lure him/her into following me in, I’m bribing. If, on the other hand, I actually give him/her the piece of beef (along with very enthusiastic cuddles and praise) every time s/he takes a step closer to the water, then I’m rewarding. Small distinction, but significant, and one that can have powerful long-term impact on how your dog responds to handling new situations.
The Miracle of Professional Training.
Don’t ever underestimate the transformative power of a trainer who knows his/her stuff. Even a puppy course, or a basic obedience series, will work wonders for any dog, but especially for rescues. Ideally, though, if you’re serious about committing to your dog’s mental and emotional well-being, you should talk to a trainer—someone experienced in working with rescues, someone who uses force-free methods—about setting up one-on-one sessions. Training isn’t only about dealing with a certain issue or modifying a certain behavior; the overall, and lasting, result is that it strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Think of it as a sort of language course in Dogspeak—and, when you take out all the fluff and chaff, all behavior issues are about communication, aren’t they? Getting your dog to understand you—and learning to understand him/her.
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Guilie Castillo, Mexican expat, writer, and dog rescuer, is the author of It’s About the Dog: The A-to-Z Guide for Wannabe Dog Rescuers (Everytime Press, April 2018), a hands-on, less-tears-more-action, 100% practical introduction to dog rescue.
This is some of what readers have been saying about the book:
“Not only an incredibly thorough and brilliant How-To, but a pull-at-your-heartstrings look at the selfless world of dog rescuing—and a must-read for anyone who loves dogs. This book will renew your faith in humanity.”
~Robin Cain, author of The Secret Miss Rabbit Kept
“This is a must-have book on every would-be, could-be, and veteran dog rescuer’s shelf. Guilie Castillo Oriard’s It’s About the Dog: The A-to-Z Guide for Wannabe Rescuers is packed with invaluable information gleaned from experts and experience, on how to put good intentions into successful practice so you can provide real help for four-legged friends in need.”
~ Lynne M. Hinkey, author of Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons
“The saying ‘I didn’t know what I didn’t know’ really applies for me. I had no idea what was going on at the ‘front lines’ of rescue work and as I read the book it made me that much more grateful to have my dogs by my side.”
~ L. M., Amazon review
It’s About the Dog is available as paperback and ebook (find all links here). You can also add it to your Goodreads here.
Have you ever had a rescue dog or cat? What obstacles did you have to help him/her overcome? Have you ever had a dog who hated the water?