When a two-year-old Chihuahua called Bobby was brought to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London, his unruly behavior became an overwhelming challenge for the rescue to manage, leaving them at a loss on how to rehabilitate the defiant pup.
Bobby was a menace to everyone he encountered, exhibiting intense aggression that increasingly diminished his prospects of finding a loving home. Everything changed when Battersea reached out to Lizzie’s Barn Sanctuary, where Bobby underwent an extraordinary transformation that ultimately saved his life.
Bobby represents just one among the increasing number of smaller breeds, often dubbed “handbag” dogs, that are being abandoned in shelters across Britain. Breeds like Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas are being relinquished at an escalating pace as owners, who treat them more like fashion accessories than pets, neglect their training.
Fueled by celebrity influence, such as Paris Hilton, the trend for these “handbag” dogs has spiked. Regrettably, the overindulgence in these dogs leads to the emergence of undesirable and unhealthy behavior. The dogs are quite literally being spoiled to the point of decay.
Bobby, for instance, developed a heightened sense of possessiveness over his owner, turning aggressive towards anyone who approached her. His temper escalated to such an extent that his owner, bearing the marks of his bites, surrendered him to Battersea.
The owner conceded that she had overly pampered Bobby, which led to his disobedience, inability to socialize, play, or cease biting.
The rehabilitation efforts by Battersea’s experts were met with aggressive resistance from Bobby. His behavior remained unchanged even after staying with two foster parents and a Chihuahua rescue center. Veterinarians attending to him had to wear protective gloves to guard against his biting.
Ali Taylor, Battersea’s Head of Canine Welfare and Training, was at a loss: “Who was going to adopt a misbehaved Chihuahua?”. Bobby, treated more like a child than a dog, had become “a troubled youngster.” She noted his fear and stress, and his inability to behave as a normal dog, while also acknowledging that he wasn’t to blame for his situation.
Though Bobby’s actions weren’t his fault, his aggression left the staff contemplating the unthinkable – euthanasia. As a last resort, they decided to contact Fionna Ashman from Lizzie’s Barn Sanctuary in Carmarthenshire, Wales. With three decades of experience, her sanctuary had brought many dogs back from the brink. This was Bobby’s final chance.
Fionna accepted the challenge to rehabilitate Bobby. Upon his arrival, she identified his lack of canine skills and his erroneous belief that he was the pack leader. She then started to patiently impose rules, engaging in one-on-one training for the first week to build Bobby’s confidence and form a strong bond with him.
Fionna recounted, “If someone scolded him previously, he’d attack because he didn’t want to be reprimanded. Instead of scolding, I withdrew, and he learned to behave better as he craved company.” She didn’t punish him, but rewarded good behavior and withdrew attention when he misbehaved.
Several months later, Bobby was a changed dog. He now interacts happily with both people and other dogs at the sanctuary, and has made several canine friends.
Fionna notes, “Bobby just needed a radically different environment to flourish. Despite being a threat when he first arrived, he’s now delightful and ready for a new home.” She adds, “He doesn’t bite anymore. Bobby is a terrific little dog now. Last week when I was unwell, he snuggled under the blanket with me on the couch. I’m utterly fond of him.”