Rescuing Ruby - our first six months with an English springer spaniel

We first met Ruby in May last year when we visited our local Dog’s Trust. She was an unwanted pet, having been with her family since she was a puppy. While we really liked her, we knew it wasn’t the right time and decided that if she was still there in September she was meant for us. Over the summer she remained there – much to our surprise – and so began the adoption process.

Ruby had a difficult summer; she arrived to the Dog’s Trust in season and with a nasty cyst on her leg. She then developed a phantom pregnancy – the prolonged treatment of this delayed her spay and the excision of the cyst on her leg which had been biopsied over the summer. She had been taken out by a family and returned the next day due to her snappy behaviour and this really affected her chances of adoption.

The staff at the Dog’s Trust were very supportive of our adoption of Ruby. They were honest and transparent about her behavioural challenges and we worked out a strategy for visiting and walking her every day for a fortnight so we could all get used to each other and develop some trust and understanding. During this time she had her surgery and, once her stitches were removed, we worked out a strategy to bring her home for a visit each day before the adoption was finally processed in early October.

She seemed to settle very quickly, chasing neighbouring cats and any birds that ventured into the garden. The next day she refused to eat, licking obsessively at the wound where the cyst had been removed. She was prescribed a week’s antibiotics and a Buster collar of shame. Getting a dog who refuses point blank to eat or drink to take antibiotics is an interesting challenge, particularly when you are new to each other and she was adjusting to a new environment. We resorted adding the tablets to hot sausages and this seemed to help her thirst and she began drinking but not eating. We tried hand feeding her – but this worked only once.

Eventually the course of antibiotics finished and the Buster collar came off and things began to settle down into a routine. Her appetite returned and with around 3 miles of walks each day she soon began to lose the extra 3 kilograms she had gained over the summer. Unfortunately she continued to lick at her leg and eventually the biopsy results diagnosed acral lick dermatitis or granuloma. We discovered that this is a common condition in larger dogs and can be linked to stress, separation anxiety and a variety of issues that reflected her experience over the summer. There seems to be a general pessimism about the chances of a cure for the problem with a wide variety of potential treatments to manage the condition. Over a couple of months we tried (on the advice of the vets):
  • Lavender cream
  • Tea tree oil
  • Vicks vapour rub
  • Isoderm cream (hydrocortisone and fucidin)

Each of these relieved the symptoms for a short time but eventually the licking began again. As the affected area seemed to be getting worse we revisited the vet and she was prescribed a three month course of antibiotics. This time we found that crunchy peanut butter works a treat for disguising tablets. The treatment seems to have finally worked – her skin has healed and the fur has re-grown. Better still she seems to have forgotten all about it. Nevertheless we are still vigilant when she shows any licking behaviour - just in case.

Ruby is a delight; we do love her so much and it has been super to see her settling in and developing her personality. Independent of mind, she quickly figures out what situations require of her and with some training she is growing responsive to us and the wrinkles in her behaviour are smoothing out. 

What we have learned (in no particular order):
  • Cats are public enemy number one, followed by blackbirds, magpies, postmen, heating oil delivery men, anyone in a high visibility jacket and the dog groomer.
  • The ability to sit and look out the window provides entertainment for hours.
  • Walks are the best thing ever (after food).
  • Never to let her off the lead – we have a walking lead and a 50 foot long training lead which is great for letting her run off steam.
  • The basics of how to groom a springer – it’s always good to learn new things!
  • Soft toys will be destroyed – Kong toys are the only ones that last long enough to justify the cost.
  • Establishing routines is essential to moulding desired behavioural responses – otherwise a squeaky toy or a treat is a great distraction or motivator (as required).
  • We are not too old to adapt to changes in our routines or respond to new challenges.