Dog Observations: Memphis (Part 2)

Here, in Part 2 of 3 of my observations on a Refuge dog, as part of my coursework for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology, I describe how I first made my acquaintance with Memphis. Part 3 tomorrow concludes my observations.


When Memphis first arrived at the Refuge, I remember he was kept tucked away in a quieter part of the compound, where there was less human traffic. Even so, whenever I walked past his run, he would growl and bark at me. I noticed that he would always give me the whale eye. In the beginning, I knew nothing about Memphis’ history, but I could see that it was fear-aggression that was driving him to behave the way he was.

About a month after he first arrived, Memphis was transferred to the main Kennel compound, otherwise known as “General Population”, or “On The Floor”. This meant that he was in a prominent position for potential adopters to view him, and that his chances of being adopted were vastly improved.

It was about this time that I asked for permission to spend time with Memphis in his enclosure, as a Canine Carer. This permission was given informally, as it was generally felt that Memphis was not quite ready for human contact. He was still growling, barking and eyeballing visitors who stood outside his run.

I spent 2 days observing Memphis from outside his run. He would come up to the fence willingly, even wagging his tail, and he would take one or two treats out of my hands. And then, just as suddenly, his behaviour would change and he would back away, growling and barking at me. I continued with giving Memphis treats through the fence, and progressed until he would allow me to stroke his side and pat his head.

Then, I plucked up my courage and entered Memphis’ enclosure, from the inside. It was a big step for me, as there was a chance he would become aggressive towards me. To prepare for this, I had treats and a squeaky toy ready, as I’d been told he loved squeaky toys and playing fetch. I also had a tug toy ready, in case he liked to play tug too. Memphis greeted me in a friendly manner, took a treat from my hand, and got really excited at the sight of the squeaky toy. I sat down on his bed, and he willingly came up to me for a cuddle and pats. I threw the squeaky toy for him to fetch. He flew down the run after it, shook it in his mouth like a rat, brought it back to me and dropped it at my feet. Then he looked at me with anticipation, eyes bright and tongue lolling. I’d found his weakness.

I tried the tug toy as well, but Memphis clearly was a squeaky toy fiend. He could play fetch for hours if I had the time. His main objective, in all our sessions, was to “kill” the squeak out of the squeaky toy. His record was 30 seconds. I found myself digging through the donated toys buckets at the Refuge, trying to find a squeaky toy that would last more than one session with Memphis. Sadly, many perished along the way, until I discovered a Kong squeaky ball, where the squeak mechanism was buried in a less accessible place than the other cheaper toys. This red see-through ball lasted for many sessions, before it finally got “killed” by Memphis. He was such a fiend with the squeaks that sometimes he went through 2 or even 3 toys in a session. He seemed not to care that his enclosure run was relatively short, and he often had me cracking up with laughter when he ran into the end of his run, couldn’t stop in time, and ended up with his face squashed against the fence.

I tested Memphis out on squeaky plush toys too, to see if it was a combination of squeak and fetch that motivated him. Or whether it was just the squeak that stimulated him so much. One such toy, a large plush bunny with a squeak in its tummy and head, met its untimely demise within 1 minute of meeting Memphis. He disemboweled the poor thing and dug out its squeaks, scattering polyester filling all over his run. Once he’d bitten through the squeak mechanisms and silenced them forever, he declared himself sated, and came over for a cuddle and a scratch.


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