Adopting Lenny: A year in the Life of a Rescued Dog

This is the story of how Lenny the Border Collie came into our lives and his first year with our family. I wanted to share his story to raise awareness of rescue dogs and to provide some insight into the steps we took when adopting our own rescue dog.

It all began back in September 2017 when I had an overwhelming urge to add another dog to our growing family. At the time our two little boys were two and one year old. Our old Labrador Joe was unwell and I was sad at the prospect of not having a canine companion to share our home. I knew that a young puppy would be too much work with two toddlers so I contacted a lovely friend who worked at a local animal shelter. I emailed her a list of very specific characteristics, secretly thinking such a dog was unlikely to end up at the shelter...Boy was I wrong! ...Enter "Ken".

Lenny and me
Image: What About Charlie

My friend called several weeks later to tell me about a lovely 5 month old Border Collie puppy who had just come in as a stray. His name was Ken. As she described this puppy to me I had a little chuckle to myself as I tended to warn prospective dog owners away from working breeds if they lived in suburbia. I also did not consider a working dog to be a good match for our family in our current situation with very young children. That said, I decided to go and meet this little guy, not so much to bring him home but more so for a bit of a puppy fix.

Looking back now, I think I was a little nuts! Maybe I was still under the influence of baby hormones. Who knows?! The first time I laid eyes on him I melted. He was goofy, wiggly, cuddly and just way too adorable! Despite his charm I was convinced he probably wasn't right for us. "He'll be scared of the boys", "Joseph won't appreciate his exuberance", "My husband Dave won't think it's a good idea". As all these thoughts were going through my mind, and my friend was telling me how wonderful this little guy was, I just spent time with him getting to know him. That first visit lasted about an hour. It went so well that I decided the next step was to meet my two toddler boys...

First time meeting Lenny ("Ken") at 5 months old

Several days later I visited Ken again, this time with my two little boys in toe and my wonderful father-in-law to assist with the introduction. I was sure Ken would be too energetic or rough or potentially scared of them. He proved me wrong. We spent an hour or so with him that day. He was gentle, wiggly and relatively calm. No sign of fear at all. Again, Ken was a little star. "Damn!" I thought to myself. "Next step: Meeting Dave and our old Lab Joseph". Dave didn't need too much convincing to meet Ken but I was a little concerned by how Joe would receive him, being that he was still a puppy.

My two boys meeting Lenny for the first time

A week later we had our third meeting with Ken. Dave liked him a lot and, surprisingly, so did Joe! I was really surprised by Joe's response to Ken. The meet and greet went so well that we agreed to foster Ken with a view to adopt, all going well. Secretly I was still convinced it wouldn't work out but I was happy to have him at home learning skills that would help him be an even better companion.

The weeks rolled by and Ken just fitted in so well. He was easy. About six weeks after bringing him home we officially adopted him and renamed him Lenny. It was the 2nd of November 2017. His Gotcha Day.

When Lenny met Joe

It's important to acknowledge that the past year with Lenny hasn't all been rainbows and unicorns. Other than the usual puppy issues, like chewing everything, we have had some minor challenges. Toilet training went really well initially and then reverted in Winter. Mostly due to me not having as much time to devote to training (because two toddlers!) but also because Lenny hates going to the toilet on wet grass. He has improved a lot but still has the occasional accident overnight, especially when it's been raining.

Lenny was also initially quite fearful of motorbikes, trains and bicycles when we'd encounter them during walks. I've been working consistently on this and he is much calmer when a train or motorbike goes by. We are still working on teaching him that people on bicycles are nothing to be afraid of. He's much better but still has a little way to go, especially when they're close and moving fast.

A year in the life of Lenny

I see the Border Collie come out in him when he mouths the boys as they move and play. He is very gentle and the boys know to be still and say NO! Lenny is learning to carry a toy or ball in his mouth when the kids are running or riding their bikes. The boys are also enjoying throwing the ball for him - which he loves!

Lenny really likes to stalk and chase Magpies during walks. He would bolt after them almost wrenching my arm out of it's socket. Teaching him to "leave it" and reinforcing focus on me with high value treats while walking past the Magpies has worked really well to reduce this behaviour. He doesn't do it often now as long as I ask him to "leave it". Giving him regular opportunities to chase birds off lead at the local oval also helps reduce the behaviour when on lead.

We have been very cautious with Lenny, Joseph and the boys. They are always separated unless actively supervised. This has kept everyone safe and helps to ensure their interactions are always positive. Although I'm a bit sad I haven't had the time I would have liked to spend with him and training him he learned the basics very quickly. He knows sit, drop, stay, shake hands (see video below), on your mat, wait, touch (a target, such as an open palm) and free. I've also trained him for a veterinary exam. I have so many ideas on behaviour to teach him but just lack the time right now.

Toddlers make training sessions a bit tricky! :/

Lenny has been such a wonderful addition to our family. He is playful, affectionate, eager to please, a joy to walk, so clever and just lots of fun. Overall he has been pretty easy and adapted so well to our home and lifestyle. We look forward to sharing lots more adventures with him.

Adopting a dog can be such a wonderful and rewarding experience. Taking the time to ensure the dog you choose is the right fit for you and your situation (and vice versa) will save a lot of stress and potential heartache down the track.

And remember, if you do experience behavioural difficulties with your dog, help is available. Suitably qualified and experienced behaviourists and trainers can help you understand, manage and work to resolve problem behaviour.

Happy Gotcha Day Lenny! xo