5 common canine illnesses and diseases in France

5 common canine illnesses and diseases in France


At the refuge, with so many dogs living in one space and over a thousand animals through our gates every year, we see more than our fair share of illnesses and diseases. Many of these can be fatal if undetected. Worse are those which can be fatal even if detected. Saddest are those which are completely preventable with a common vaccine.

Some of the diseases and ailments we see at the refuge are not common in the UK and knowing their symptoms can save your dog’s life.

Dogs in France are routinely vaccinated against canine distemper (maladie de Carré) infectious canine hepatitis (hépatite) parvovirus  and leptospirosis. Many dogs are also vaccinated against rabies, and this is a compulsory condition for all Category 1 and 2 dogs.  If your dog is often in kennels or social doggie surroundings you can also vaccinate them against kennel cough. Vaccines are also being seen for piroplasmosis (babesia canis) and Lyme disease which are often contracted through tick bites. Although at the refuge we do not see many cases of distempter or hepatitis, we see parvovirus frequently, as well as kennel cough.


Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral illness seen in two main forms. The first form is the one we see most commonly at the refuge. It is characterised by vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, fever or low temperature, a rapid heartbeat, engorged lips and eyes, a painful abdomen and a loss of appetite. Symptoms can appear rapidly and are often extreme. Dogs may not present with all symptoms. Lack of fluid and nutrients is a major issue for dogs with parvo, and your vet may recommend keeping them in at the surgery and putting them on a drip to keep them hydrated and give them the nutrients they need. Parvovirus can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog, or by fecal-oral transmission (Rover sniffing another dog’s business). It is resistant to many cleaning products, can live for up to a year in infected soil and is very difficult to get rid of, which is why there are outbreaks in shelters that can be hard to get rid of. Sadly, this means that weaker, older or young dogs who have not been vaccinated arrive at the pound and do not have the antibodies to fight off the virus. The survival rate for dogs is good if they are given intravenous nutrients and antibiotics, but there is no medication that can treat a virus: your vet can only support your pet in fighting off the infection themselves. This is why it is particularly important that vulnerable dogs are vaccinated.

The second strain of parvovirus is seen more in puppies and young dogs. This attacks the heart and is often fatal for young puppies.

At the refuge, we see both types. With so many dogs in weak conditions, it can be fatal. All dogs are routinely vaccinated, but if they have caught the virus before they are vaccinated, the vaccine is ineffective.

What to look for: vomiting, diarrhea, blood in vomit or feces, fever, lethargy, reddened eyes and gums

Kennel Cough

Quacking-like coughs are often the first sign of kennel cough. Many dogs will get kennel cough at least once in their lives. Vulnerable dogs are more at risk. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and if your vet tests for bacteria, they may prescribe an antibiotic, although for many dogs, rest and hydration are sufficient to help them overcome the disease. Many vets will diagnose based on symptoms, such as coughing, retching, nasal discharge, pneumonia, lethargy or loss of appetite rather than prescribing antibiotics however. It is very rarely life-threatening and mostly clears up without medical treatment or intervention. As the name implies, it is often contracted by dogs in kennels, because like the common cold or the flu virus, it passes quickly in crowded surroundings. Kennel cough is not the only disease to have coughing as a symptom, so if you are worried or the coughing lasts more than a couple of days, see your vet immediately. As with vomiting and diarrhea, severity, frequency and duration are the key things to monitor.

What to look for: a quack-like cough or repeated, nagging cough, shortness of breath

Demodetic and Sarcoptic Mange

Mange is a common condition of a small number of animals brought to the refuge, evidenced by scaly patches, hair loss and sometimes skin lesions. It is caused by overpopulation of the mites which live in the hair follicles of a dog. It can be localised or found all over a dog’s body. Another form of mange is sarcoptic mange which kind of the doggie equivalent of scabies. Both kinds can be passed from mothers to their offspring, so it is often seen in puppies. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and it is advisable for you to keep your dog in quarantine if your dog has it. If you notice excessive scratching, hair loss and scabbiness, mange could very well be the reason. It is usually treated with regular medicinal shampooing or creams. Other infections can manifest themselves as ringworm (a fungus) which is most commonly identified through reddened skin, circular lesions, hair loss, itchiness and dandruff, or earmites, identified through ear scratching, stinky ears, a dark waxy substance and head shaking. Many forms of mange are highly contagious and although it is distressing for the dog, leading to complications with breathing, it is not usually fatal unless there are complications resulting from lesions. Most are treated with creams or medications.

What to look for: hair loss, itching, lesions, dandruff

Bloat and stomach torsions

A number of dogs die at the refuge every year as the result of bloat, leading to a stomach torsion. Bloating is always an emergency and one that is sadly very difficult to treat. Once bloat has started, it is very difficult to rectify without surgery. Prevention is more efficient than treatment. Bloat can affect dogs at any age and in any physical condition. It more commonly affects deep-chested dogs like Great Danes, Leonbergers and even large setters or pointers.

Preventing bloat relies very much on care with feeding and exercise. Dogs at risk should not be fed and exercised at the same time: exercising a dog with a full stomach can be one way that the gases build up in the stomach and cannot dissipate. You can notice bloat as the stomach is usually distended and hard. Excessive drooling, frothy spittle, light-coloured gums, a strong desire to regurgitate without the ability to do so and a weak heartbeat are also symptoms. Getting your dog to vomit can be effective – and the easiest way to do this can be through motion. A ride in the car to the vet’s can be effective – not only to see the vet but to induce vomiting. Excessive drinking can also cause bloat. This is why it is not a good idea to exercise dogs too hard during warm weather as they may drink too much and suffer from bloat as a consequence. Small meals fed several times a day rather than one meal can also help. Avoiding foods likely to swell in the stomach such as certain dog kibble or bread may prevent bloat, as will methods that force your dog to slow down when eating, such as specialist dog bowls. Bloat is known to affect not only certain breeds, but males over the age of seven, dogs that are only fed once a day rather than twice a day, dogs that eat rapidly, dogs who exercise immediately after eating and dogs who are anxious or fearful. If you think that your dog has stomach bloat, do not wait. Take them to the vet immediately. Even twenty minutes can be too long. In French, mention “torsion d’estomac” or “dilation de l’estomac” to your vet on the phone and they will no doubt meet you straight away at the surgery.

What to look for: frothing at the mouth, unsuccessful attempts to vomit, a swollen/hard abdomen (just below ribcage) light-coloured gums, lethargy

Parasites and worms

At the refuge, there are are many staff and volunteers who have become experts at poo inspections. Consistency, frequency and colour are often tell-tale signs of other infections. Although giardia may not be a word many are familiar with, it can also spread quickly among animal populations. This gastrointestinal parasite is responsible for explosive diarrhea, often very light in colour and with a very strong smell. The feces may also be greasy-looking or frothy. They contract the parasites through contact with other dogs and through oral-fecal contamination. As you can imagine, trying to keep dogs who live in kennels away from any contaminated spots can be very difficult. Treatment is usually effective but since many dogs lose weight rapidly with giardia, it may also cause further complications through weight loss. Dehydration and lack of nutrients need to be watched for, as they do with any prolonged period of diarrhea. If your dog has explosive diarrhea that has a very strong odor, but does not seem to be in ill health otherwise (perhaps weight loss, of course) then giardia may be the cause. Isolation and clearing up of fecal matter is vital, as is keeping coats clean. Many dogs will involuntarily reinfect themselves through cleaning their fur or licking themselves.

Worms are also another parasite that you may not take too seriously, treating easily and quickly with a wormer. For vulnerable animals, worms can be fatal. Many puppies (and kittens) who arrive at the refuge have already picked up worms through their mother’s milk and if their mother has not been wormed or has worms herself, these worms can quickly be fatal. They are uncomfortable for the animals, causing intestinal cramps and pain, as well as bloating, diarrhea and respiratory problems. They can also cause blockages, which are often fatal. Many times they are easy to identify in young animals as they have a distinct ‘pot-bellied’ appearance. Roundworms are particularly persistent little beggars and their eggs can live for years meaning that you don’t just need to administer a wormer but keep the environment clean too. Eggs are dropped in poo which even if cleaned up properly can easily be trodden in by another dog. All it takes is a lick of the paws and the worms have found their new host. For this reason, it is vital that young pups are kept in a sterile environment and wormed regularly. Worms don’t just live in the intestines: they can pass into the liver and lungs. One wormer might not do the trick for those that have been living outside the intestines: a repeated dose after a short interval should pick up those that drop into the intestine the second time. Tapeworms are the recognisable worms we see in feces, looking like a small grain of rice. Heartworms are a rarer parasite but can be fatal to animals. It is passed by mosquito bites, like leishmaniasis is spread by sandflies.

What to look for: diarrhea, respiratory problems, bloating, “pot-belly”, pain on pressing the abdomen


A good worming and vaccination programme, regular treatment with a flea, fly and mosquito repellent and an eye on what your dog has their nose in will usually keep most of these illnesses and diseases at bay. With a little care and attention, none of these common ailments need be an issue for most dog owners.

It is not easy to keep your dog’s nose out of whatever may take their interest, or to ensure they are not walking through environments rife with all kinds of health threats, so there will undoutedly be times when your dog has diarrhea or vomiting. There are many times when dog owners worry about diarrhea and vomiting, which can be frequent occurrences in a dog’s life. You know best when either is a sign of something more serious. If blood is present in either, seek immediate medical attention. It may only be that your dog has burst a blood vessel in their stomach through repeated vomiting, or that they have a lower intestinal bleed as a result of more frequent or painful bowel movements, but blood in vomit or feces is the first reason to visit the vet. If in doubt, pay the vet a visit. The internet is neither veterinarian nor pharmacist, and hearing of someone “curing” a newly-adopted dog’s diarrhea with a dose of gaviscon because they’d read about it on the internet not only could have caused many complications but also led to the dog being removed from the home. As most pet owners understand, you cannot take risks with medication and treatment and your vet should always be your first port of call.

10 tips to help you dog-proof your home

Whether you pick up a puppy or a full-grown dog from the shelter, many tragedies can occur if you aren’t careful in the home. Chewed wires can result in accidental electrocutions, stolen chocolates can result in a quick trip to the vets. And yes, we’ve had dogs returned because they’ve chewed a pair of slippers. While we can joke about some of the things pets have chewed, for some dogs this can result in an emergency operation or even their death. Dog-proofing your home is essential until you know your pet well enough and your pet knows your home.

The change in environment can lead to some distress and dogs may take a little while to learn what to chew and what not to chew. Boredom, lack of supervision and not knowing the rules are the main reasons that an adult dog will chew, and the majority of accidents occur when dogs aren’t supervised. Like it or not, it can be very hard to supervise a dog twenty-four hours a day. Crate training can – and should – take time to introduce, so what can you do to minimise the risks around your home?

  1. Baby-proof your home. Cupboards, wires, cables and things in reach all need attention. Put safety locks on any cupboards containing food or chemicals to make sure your dog doesn’t decide to help himself. Ralf once broke into the dog food cupboard and I found him asleep with his head in a bag of dog food. While no harm was done, he could have suffocated easily. With teeth like his, he could easily open tinned food, so all tinned food had to be locked away too. A bit of metal catching in his mouth could have caused problems – and heaven only knows what would have happened if he had swallowed it! Fitting locks, bolts or catches to doors in order to dog-proof them may seem a little extreme, but it’s a good way to stop midnight feasts. Smaller dogs and puppies may be easily trained using baby gates or baby pens. Make sure all medications are put away and locked away.
  2. Put an end to bin-dipping. Tilly loves nothing more than a rummage in the garbage. She once ate a bag of 3-week-old putrid lambs’ kidneys. How she didn’t give herself e-coli or something worse, I don’t know. I don’t keep bins in the house and the bins outside are behind a 2m-high metal fence. No more bin-dipping picnics for Tilly! A bin in a locked room or in a secure cupboard is one way to do this. Be vigilant in the bathroom too. Used tampons, toilet paper and even nappies are delightful treats to some dogs.
  3. Make sure your new dog is kept away from other animals’ excrement. If you have a cat litter tray, make sure it is in a place your cat can go but your dog cannot. Not only do some dogs think of cat turds as a help-yourself buffet, but it can also put your cat off toiletting in its usual spots if there is an impatient dog waiting to get to its poo before its even left the body. Disgusting, I know. There are also dogs that will do this to other dogs, so pick up any dog poo around your garden and make sure your new dog is supervised until you are sure they aren’t as tempted by doggie doing as I am by Belgian chocolates.
  4. Close doors and keep dogs out of unsupervised rooms. You might wonder what Fido is up to with five minutes to spare, but he may have taken a little trip to your bedroom to leave a puddle on your floor. When house-training dogs, they learn very quickly not to go where there is food or where they sleep. Familiar spaces become the first spaces they don’t toilet in out of choice. But an unfamiliar dining room might just as well be a space outside if the dog is not used to going in that space. Whenever Tilly has an ‘accident’ (she hates going outside in the rain) it’s always in the room I use least.
  5. Pick up and put away. Heston as a young pup loved to eat books. He sampled the back cover of every single one of a set of 12 classics lent to me by a friend. Text books, borrowed books and books with hard covers were his favourites. It took me a surprisingly long time to put them all out of his reach. Just like toddlers, it’ll be the two minutes that you take your eyes off them that they will use as an opportunity to help themselves to your designer sunglasses or your shoes. Dogs love chewing leather, so shoes and boots are often a target.
  6. Keep the toilet lid closed. Dogs like drinking. They’ll drink dirty water, puddles and from stagnant ponds. A toilet will no doubt have chemical treatments in it which could harm your dog, and if not, it will have germs that your dog can easily ingest.
  7. Check out your garden and green things. Many plants can be toxic to dogs or cats, but that doesn’t stop them eating them. Come grape time, Tilly will happily take grapes off the vines just as happily as she’ll scoff all my strawberries. You can find a great list here of plants that are toxic to dogs (and cats)
  8. Make sure that your dog is not suffering from separation anxiety. This can be very common for shelter dogs, who may fear that they are being abandoned all over again. It is not unknown for dogs who seem otherwise fine to get very distressed when left alone. Even if you have a crate, this can become an item of great distress for a dog who has separation anxiety. A friend’s dog chewed its way through washing machine pipework on Bonfire Night, leaving them with not only a very distressed dog but also an expensive clean-up and repair bill. Even if the room has nothing else in it at all, it does not mean that your dog won’t damage himself or herself on the walls or doors. If this is the case, please contact a professional to help you. There are many, many successful treatments for separation anxiety. Tobby, my Malinois, was so distressed when left alone that he moved the couch with his teeth and pulled all the cushions from the chairs. Leaving him with another dog is the only solution. Tobby always has a friend and now he’s calm when left alone.
  9. Make sure that your dog can travel safely in your car either with a harness attachment or a crate. Animals moving about in the back of a car can cause drivers to have accidents. Not only this, if you have a crash, your dog may escape if not attached or may suffer fatal injuries during the collision, simply because they were not secure.
  10. Open doors and windows. You may think that a dog left downstairs with a window open in your bedroom on the next floor will not be tempted to jump out of it. Do not be too sure! Though some dogs will be put off by a five metre drop, this is not true for all. When on a photoshoot recently with five little lovelies, the owner put three of her dogs inside so that we had fewer distractions. One of the three would happily have jumped out of a window five metres up to get to us. Only luck stopped her from doing so. Her other two sat and stared at her doing it as if she were completely nuts!

The good news is that most of these situations don’t last very long. Even puppies grow out of chewing inappropriate things eventually (and with good training). It’s been a long time since Heston ate a book. Tilly still pees on the floor when it’s raining, but I am better at forcing her outside. She will happily eat the contents of a child’s nappy though if I don’t supervise her, and she thinks a cat litter tray is a hot buffet lunch. Tobby still gets distressed if he’s home alone – and he hasn’t been home alone since the second day he arrived. Ralf never gave up scoffing any food that he could reach and once ate a year’s supply of doggie vitamins, as well as a kilo of sugar. Though it may be cute to take ‘dog-shaming’ photos and your great dane sitting on an ‘exploded’ sofa may go viral, there simply is no good reason not to take precautions as the consequences can be upsetting (if they eat a treasured memento) inconvenient (if they eat your passport and credit cards) costly (if they need surgery) or even fatal. You definitely live and learn where your dog is concerned, but these ten tips should help you eliminate the most common issues over dog safety in the home.

If you are interested in crate training your dog, this video will help.


Animal Abuse and What To Do

Animal Abuse and What To Do

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Investigating animal abuse and neglect is another reason many people contact the refuge. You may be reading this because you would like to report animal abuse or neglect, or you are unsure of the legislation in France.

The first point to make about animal abuse or neglect is that it is often difficult for many people to understand that something they have seen is not tantamount to neglect or abuse. Indeed, a good part of my ‘refuge’ time is spent listening to people describe something they describe as abuse or neglect only to then find there is no case to answer. What people believe to be abuse or neglect is largely subjective and depends often on the situation. Indeed, many people may be alarmed to see a dog who looks injured or in a poor condition, only to realise later that the dog is old and is very well cared for. Many dogs find life indoors very distressing.

Animal welfare is largely agreed to be composed of five “freedoms” which then go on to govern much animal welfare legislation in Northern Europe. This is as true for domesticated animals as it is for dogs and cats.

The Five Freedoms are:

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort (the weather, temperatures etc)
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour (access to space, facilities and other creatures of their own kind)
  • Freedom from fear and distress

These Five Freedoms are the basis of legislation in France concerning animal abuse or neglect. When investigating animal abuse or neglect cases, these are the rules we try to bear in mind. They are not always possible and neither are they enforceable.

In France, the law stipulates that:

  • The owner must allow the animal access to appropriate food of a sufficiency to ensure the animal is kept in good health.
  • The owner must allow the animal access to clean water in an appropriate, clean receptacle that is kept free from ice in winter.
  • The animal must not be enclosed in a space that has no fresh air, is dark, insufficiently heated or inappropriate for their physiological needs
  • No animal should be shut in the boot of a vehicle that is not sufficiently aerated.
  • Any animal shut in a parked vehicle must have sufficient air and must be parked in the shade.
  • In case of injury or sickness, the owner is responsible for ensuring appropriate care.

Please understand that what constitutes a space big enough for their physiological needs can be much smaller than you might imagine. Neither is any kind of heating generally needed unless temperatures are very low. However, it is not acceptable for animals to live permanently enclosed in unlit barns. A shelter of some kind providing protection from the sun, wind, rain or snow is usually sufficient. A dog who lives outside permanently with access to a three-sided kennel is not mistreated or neglected. Even a roof of some kind against a wall may be considered shelter enough.

There are also laws about animals kept tethered:

  • Any animal kept tethered (usually a guard dog) must have a collar and tether that are appropriate to its size and force. A chain in itself cannot be used as a collar.
  • The tether mustn’t be too heavy.
  • The tether mustn’t interfere with the general movement of the dog (other than to prevent it from moving further than the distance of the tether, of course)
  • The chain or tether must be strong enough to protect any visitors.
  • The chain or tether must be fixed either to a horizontal cable or be fixed appropriately to prevent the animal escaping.
  • The tether must be at least 2.5m if attached to a horizontal cable, or be at least 3m if fixed to a permanent position.
  • Choke chains, prong collars and slip collars are not permitted in these circumstances.

Once you have read these rules, if you feel that the law is being broken, your first port of call is always the mairie and/or the gendarmerie. If you feel that the animal has been injured by its owner or is being harmed, you should also contact the mairie/gendarmes. You can also contact the Department Vet (ask your local vet for details, or search for DDSCPP Charente for further details). You may also contact one of the helplines below:


Usually, these organisations will contact the Refuge de l’Angoumois for further assistance on the ground because they do not always have representatives in the area. Under some circumstances, they will come from larger cities to investigate themselves. Please bear in mind that no animal welfare association in France has the right to investigate or to intervene. They do have experience at dealing with local police and mairies, however. They will have to contact the mairie at the beginning of the investigation. Animal welfare associations may ONLY seize animals when instructed to do so by the police, the state vet, procureur, or the mairie. Only these bodies can press charges against individuals. If you find that the police or mairie are unhelpful or unwilling to act, you may contact the procureur directly.

What you need to help with your statement:

  • Full details of the animals you have seen, including number, size and location.
  • Photos if possible (clear ones will definitely help) or video footage.
  • A description based on the points above of what conditions are not being met or how the animal is being harmed.

You can read full details of the law concerning keeping animals here (in French) and you can read further at 30 Millions d’Amis



Introducing your dog to a cat

Introducing your dog to a cat

There will be times in your life where you want to bring a new cat home, or bring a new dog home. Interspecies introductions can be very tough. Cats can feel very threatened by this new animal who could potentially kill them, and dogs can be very excited to see, smell or even chase their new housemates. At worst, you may be bringing home a dog who has never been taught not to harm cats, and every year there are a number of returns of dogs to the refuge following incidents with cats. A small number of these have involved the sad death of a resident cat.

This guide will help you introduce your animals to each other and avoid such sad situations.

Sadly, many owners just bring a new dog home and hope for the best. They make no provision for either animal. Sometimes this works out. The cat doesn’t run and the dog isn’t interested. Some dogs at the refuge are already experienced around cats and have learned at an early age that their claws are sharp or they have been taught good manners around cats. This is not always the case. With such a large number of ex-hunt dogs on site, we are also very conscious that a dog’s instinct to chase something that runs is hard-wired.

If you have cats already at home, the best thing to do is to test the dog that you would like to adopt around cats. At the refuge, we regularly walk dogs past the cattery, or test them with the cats at liberty. We have become experts at knowing when dogs are obsessed and when dogs don’t care less.

cat photobomb

When a cat can pass a few metres in front of a dog without a reaction, you can be pretty sure that the dog will be a good choice for a life with cats.

On the other hand, you can see when a dog is obsessed and can’t take his eyes off a cat.


You can see here how easy it is to get Hugo’s attention on me and the camera.


And you can see here how hard it is. The difference was the cats. I simply could not get Hugo’s attention no matter how I tried. That means it may be a difficult introduction and one that may not work out well. If you have your heart set on a dog like Hugo who is obsessed by cats, you will find the following advice useful, but you should also take the dog on a trial adoption instead of adopting outright. It is better to see how it goes than make a decision that is much harder to reverse.

A dog who attempts to pin, pick up, manhandle or swipe at a cat is not a good dog to have around cats, likewise if they growl or grumble. It is the same with cats who are terrified of dogs. In this situation, you would be better to choose animals who are more adapted to your situation. It is why I lived for 16 years as a cat-only home, and why I live now as a dog-only home. If you are desperate to have both in your lives, why not foster old dogs who are less likely to upset your cat, or young kittens who can be kept isolated from your dogs? It is not unfeasible for animals to live completely separate lives.

If, all this taken into consideration, you are in the position to become a multi-species home, the following advice may help you.

The first thing to think of is “who is the resident?”

If you have a resident dog and you are bringing a cat home, what you do will be different from if you have a resident cat and you are bringing a dog home. It also depends on the age of both animals.

Introducing your resident dog to a kitten

The first thing you need to know is if your dog is likely to accept a kitten or not. I have two dogs who are fine with kittens and one who licks his lips and feels a bit stressed around them. Then I have a serial licker who wants to kiss them. But he’s prone to try to pick them up if they run, and I don’t like that. I’ve seen him shaking toys in the garden and I can’t get his attention back on me if there’s a kitten in my hands. This information is the information you tend to know as a dog owner. Forewarned is forearmed.

If you have a dog that will accept a kitten, there are several things you can do to make the introduction go smoothly.

  • Make sure you have good control of your dog around distractions. You should be able to get him to sit and take a biscuit and he should also know the commands for ‘leave it’ and ‘stay’. If you have these under control, the introduction will be much easier.
  • Think about your dog’s breed: if they have a strong prey drive, they may find it much more difficult to control their instincts and make good choices if a kitten starts to move or run.
  • Use a dog crate or large transport crate for the kitten. Make sure the dog cannot get to the kitten and that the kitten cannot escape or try to run. It is the running that sets off many dogs.
  • Make sure your dog is well-exercised and then put them in separate rooms. Put the kitten in situ, ensure it is safe and then bring in your dog. Keep a lot of distance between you and the kitten, but allow the dog to see and smell it from this distance. Put a lead on your dog if need be. Ask your dog to sit, to look at you and reward them every time they look at the kitten without lunging. You want them to understand that kittens = a positive experience. After a period of time, let the dog get closer to the kitten and sniff it. The kitten may hiss and growl, but it is safe and can’t be hurt. Keep rewarding the dog for quiet behaviour and repeat your commands to sit, to look at you, give a paw and so on. This way you know the dog is not too focused on the cat.
  • Keep the kitten in the transport cage or dog crate (with litter, water and food of course!) for an evening or so, once you let your dog off-lead around it. Calm, quiet and peace are your allies here. You just want to get everything to a state of normality.
  • When there is a prolonged state of calm, make sure your dog can’t get to the kitten, but take the kitten out of the crate. You may want to have another person present and ask them to keep your dog on a lead. Ask them to treat your dog and run through commands, gradually bringing the dog and kitten closer together. If at any point the animals seem panicked, over-excited or stressed, put a bit of distance between you again. Keep hold of the kitten and have them out of reach of your dog. Allow your dog to smell your kitten and see your kitten whilst the kitten is in your hands and is firmly held. This is the first time there can be real contact so be very careful that your dog is under control. Your friend or family member is a great aid here to keep your dog on a lead. Only when you are happy that your dog is not over-intereste or obsessed is it a good idea to allow your kitten to move. Again, keep your dog on a lead and reward all non-chase behaviours.
  • Make sure there are lots of cat-friendly escape points: under couches, on shelves, up high, and put beds in these places. Make sure there are lots of litter trays (covered ones as well, since dogs are notorious ‘cat poop eaters’ and cats can feel nervous around dogs)
  • Keep both animals separate when you are out or unattended, and make sure their spaces are secure.
  • Gradually give the animals longer and longer periods together when you leave them in a room together. Go from a few seconds to build up their time alone. If you are in any doubt of your dog’s behaviour, never leave your dog and kitten alone unattended.

Introducing a resident dog to a cat

The same advice goes for an adult cat, although you need to be mindful that a cat will most certainly have met dogs before. You may find at the Refuge de l’Angoumois that the staff can advise you on a number of cats who live at liberty in the refuge and who are not afraid of dogs. These cats would be more suited to a life with adult dogs they haven’t met yet. Then your only concern will be how your dog reacts to the cat, rather than the cat being afraid of your dog and running. Indeed, there are many cats at the refuge who have no fear of dogs at all, not even a healthy fear.

Scent and sight-swapping is a great thing to do before you introduce your animals to each other. Allow your new cat to roam a room, even to sleep in it, and then remove the cat from the room. Once the cat is installed safely elsewhere, bring your dog in to smell where the cat has been. Do likewise with your cat in the places your dog has been. If you have a glass door that divides a room, this is a great barrier as well, since both dog and cat can see each other in perfect safety and you can teach your dog restraint when it sees your cat by rewarding it for calm behaviour. Reinforce sit-stay behaviour and make sure before you have the animals in the same room that you can keep your dog under control. It is your dog that will always be the one who has to exercise restraint around the cat, I’m afraid, so your focus should always be on your dog’s behaviour. You simply can’t take too long to introduce two animals: go at a slow pace and never force your animals to interact. All of the advice above can be followed, except for the fact you cannot easily hold a cat to allow that first contact beyond a crate, so a large room with a safe area for the cat is best. Ask your friend or family member to be at the opposite end of the room with your dog and keep the dog there under control with a lead and treats. Allow the cat plenty of space to get away if need be. You can’t take too much time at this point. Continue with a series of small, gradual meetings and always supervise your animals until you are absolutely sure you can leave them for a few minutes, then build up the time you leave them alone together.

Introducing a puppy to a resident cat

This is your cat’s house. The puppy is a new intruder. Most cats will be able to handle a puppy easily enough, especially if the puppy is young enough. A couple of swats from confident kitty claws are enough to teach even the most hardened terrier pup that a cat is not for messing with. Still, supervise your puppy and allow your cat plenty of space to get away from the puppy. Make sure you remove all cat food and cat litter as puppies can quickly learn that a cat litter tray is a lovely all-you-can-eat help-yourself buffet. That is a habit you never want them to pick up.

Your puppy needs you more than ever to teach them to sit, to stay, to look at you. Don’t allow unsupervised meetings between puppies and cats – the moment a cat runs can bring out the predatory instincts of a young puppy and that too is something that you want to avoid at all costs. The moment that ‘Hey, this is SUPER fun!’ lightbulb goes on in your puppy’s head is the moment you have unleashed a monster. Better to teach cat manners first and then allow introductions than to try and reign in the cat-chasing tendancies. If you haven’t mastered ‘sit, stay, look at me’ with your puppy, it’s not a good thing to let them off loose with your cat. You may also want to use a hormone spray like Feliway to ensure your cat feels calm around the puppy. Puppies who are well-socialised around cats will usually accept the cat very quickly and come to understand the cat’s behaviour. Think carefully about the breed or predominant characteristics of the dog you bring home. You may have more difficulty overcoming the prey drive of a hound or a terrier and you may also find that terrier pups can be tenacious in pursuit of small, furry things unless they are trained from a very early age. Shepherds, retrievers and lap-dogs may have much less prey drive – though all dogs, whatever their breed, are dogs. That chase instinct can be present in all of them.

Introducing your new adopted adult dog to a resident cat

You have no idea what you are getting with an adult dog in terms of cat behaviour, but some of the same guidance applies. Check out your dog’s behaviour with cats before you leave the refuge. Try to spend a bit of time with them before the adoption on basic commands such as “sit” and “leave it”. Keep your dog on a lead for the first introductions and follow the guidance above for treat-and-reward. Take your time with the introduction and allow your cat plenty of space away from the dog, but don’t allow it to escape completely if it is a nervous cat: you may never see it again! Your cat needs to understand that your new dog is nothing to be afraid of.

If you are in any doubt, invite a professional animal behaviouralist to come and help you. A good introduction is vital for a positive relationship between dogs and cats.



Introducing new dogs: a step-by-step guide

Introducing new dogs: a step-by-step guide

If you have new dogs to introduce to each other, don’t leave things to chance. Follow this simple step-by-step guide to harmonious introductions.


  1. Take into account your dog’s nature. Are they fearful? Are they outwardly aggressive? Do they react when they meet other dogs? You know your dog’s history better than anybody so think of times when you have met other dogs. What you know about your own dogs impacts on everything else you will do here. For instance, my dog Tilly barks at all dogs. Depending on their size, how respectful they are and how scared she is of them, she may bark once or twice or bark for ten minutes. Amigo hates meeting other dogs unless they are on a lead. He rarely goes up to smell them and prefers to be off the lead when meeting others. He hates it if they are bouncy or they have no manners. When you know what your dog likes and doesn’t like, you can tailor your introduction accordingly. I take more time to do it properly with my dogs when there is a potential problem, like my male Heston who is very aggressive towards other dogs in the first seconds of their greeting, especially if they are uncastrated, big or male. With small females, I can ignore all the advice that follows.
  2. Take into account the other dog’s nature. Dogs who are problems with each other will take far greater time to introduce than if one of them is okay with other dogs. That’s fine. You really can’t take TOO long to introduce dogs. If it goes well, it sets the tone for the rest of their relationship.
  3. Make sure both dogs are well-exercised before they meet. Don’t be tempted to introduce dogs who have pent-up energy or are in an emotionally-intense moment or place. As a rule, these might be times like feeding time, opening the door, small spaces, cars, getting out of cars. You know yourself when your dog is excited. Make sure introductions happen when you are confident there is no emotional intensity attached to greeting, other than two new dogs checking each other out.
  4. Make sure you choose a space that is neutral for both dogs. Take them to a completely different environment but allow each dog to have ten or fifteen minutes without seeing the other dog. This will ensure they don’t greet a new dog when they are carrying all the emotional intensity of the fear and excitement attached to a new venue.
  5. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time for the introduction: you know it will go badly when you are short of time!
  6. Keep leads on at all times and check that leads and harnesses are secure.
  7. Take only high-value treats with you. It’s a one-off, so sausages, ham, chicken and cheese are all permitted.
  8. Bring a dog-savvy friend, partner or family member with you who knows your dog. Ask them to take the dog you know least well. You know your own dog and at least you can manage one set of behaviours. If you have an extremely aggressive, fearful or reactive dog, you may want to hire a dog behaviouralist for this first meeting to ensure it goes well.
  9. Start at a distance where you can see each other but both dogs are under control. To know whether your dog is under control or not, you should be able to distract them with a squeaky toy or a treat. This might be a good five hundred yards or more, and this is fine. Start walking, both in the same direction, allowing the gap to get smaller and smaller. Don’t be afraid to stop if your dog is getting over-excited. Back up or walk away if needs be. Wait until you can get their attention and give them a treat. It does not matter if this process takes all afternoon or even three or four weeks, or even months! It is so important to only introduce the dogs when you know you have the ability to keep them a little under control at least.
  10. Get nearer and nearer. Stop within about 5m of each other and if you have been doing training with your dog, such as ‘sit’ or ‘paw’, now is a good time to get back into that and give them lots of rewards. If they look at the other dog without lunging, barking or growling, reward them with a treat. Don’t worry if this step takes five minutes or an hour. Don’t allow the dogs to greet each other or sniff bums or faces. I’ve even seen people shoving their dogs under the noses of other dogs as if to say “say hello!” when it is clear the dog feels vulnerable or afraid. These situations are most likely to escalate quickly.
  11. Allow a little light sniffing – dogs sniff bums and faces, and both are acceptable. If you notice one dog trying to put its head or paws above the other’s back, call them away. You will see the little daschund do this twice to Victoria’s chihuahua on the video below, and the little dog is okay with it and can get away. If he were to do this obsessively, it’d be a bit of a problem. The Teacher’s Pet video at the bottom of this article is essential viewing so you can identify doggie body language and know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Don’t allow over-excited humping unless it’s clear both dogs are okay with it. You might not like it much, but it’s not sexual. You’ll notice the dogs start to urinate too so allow the other dog to smell and sniff. Walk side by side with the dogs, keeping them on a lead that will allow you to pull them back if necessary, out of harm’s way.
  12. Take a walk with the two dogs together, keeping side by side and allowing plenty of time for them to see each other and assess each other’s energy levels. Enjoy it though, and chat to them, chat with your friends, stop them with treats. Your aim is to make this as positive an experience as possible. Looking at the other dog should be rewarded, as should good manners and gentle behaviours. Bear in mind that your dog is probably not going to listen to you at this point unless you have done loads of socialisation classes with them, and that’s okay. If it starts to get emotional or intense, back up, walk away. You can try again later or try another day. There is no rush.
  13. Take the dogs back home in separate cars if you can or in separate spaces if not. Make sure they are able to be split up. Cars are small spaces and are emotionally charged places, so fight potential is high.
  14. Introduce dogs into your garden and home on the lead and don’t let them off until you are happy that they are confident with each other. If they don’t play, don’t worry. Not all dogs like to play with each other and that’s fine. Don’t worry if they are not interested in each other, either. They’re just sussing each other out. Times for concern are when one dog is not exhibiting good doggie manners, being over-energetic, smelling the other dog excessively. This is when you need the dogs under your control. Watch for them doing the doggie shake – it’s a great stress reliever and it means they’re feeling less tense. What Victoria says about dog play, when you see her dog Jasmine around the bigger dog James Dean, they are just hanging out and that is fine. It’s a useful reminder too about toys and treats. We’re aiming for a jealousy-free zone.
  15. Watch out for small, enclosed spaces. These can be most terrifying for dogs in new relationships, where they can’t put distance between themselves.

Please let me know if you have any tips or ideas that have worked well with dogs who are problematic or difficult with other dogs.

This is Victoria Stilwell introducing three dogs and is a great guide.

I’ve shared this Zak George video before and it’s incredibly useful to watch again.

You can also read more here

Top Ten Resources to help you with your dog

Before the internet, how did anyone survive? In this modern age, there are many listings for dog trainers in your Yellow Pages and with all the television programmes you can find, you’re sure to find one that addresses exactly what problems your dog has and will help you with a DIY approach to dog training. With the wealth of material, how can you ever hope to navigate what’s out there and make the best use of it? Here are my top ten go-to pages or Youtube channels to help you and your dog.

  1. No potential puppy owner should ever even think of adopting without reading the wealth of free stuff from Dr Ian Dunbar (also listed on Your Puppy pages) Dog Star Daily is the best thing you can spend a couple of hours doing before you get your new puppy. He’s also an expert on dog aggression and on classical and operant conditioning (using rewards to help train your puppy or dog positively. There is no reason at all not to pass a little time on this site, since the free downloads are arguably better than any book you could buy. A puppy training course and Dr Ian Dunbar and you’ll need little else to help you raise a well-rounded and confident dog.
  2. If you’re looking for great online video tutorials, you need look no further than Zak George’s Youtube Channel. Pair this up with Ian Dunbar and you won’t need much else. From house-training to crate-training, play biting to walking on the lead, introducing cats and dogs, teaching your dog to sit, to teach recall and basics such as ‘stay’ and ‘leave it’, Zak George offers helpful and positive advice.
  3. Another great Youtube channel is that of Kikopup, whose gentle and positive style will help you deal with unwanted doggie behaviour as well as showing you a range of more advanced behaviours that will keep your dog thinking. You don’t have to stop with the basics!
  4. If you’ve got a ‘fraidy cat and you’re looking for something to help you work on your dog’s nerves other than tranquilisers, fearfuldogs.com will be a lifesaver. There are lots of great free resources on the site, as well as resources worth splashing out on.
  5. Dr Sophia Yin may not be with us anymore but her work is pivotal in training. A ‘cross-over’ trainer, who used to use punishment to teach dogs, she became a powerful advocate for positive training. She often worked with dogs with severe behavioural problems. Her books and tutorials are an absolute gift for anyone who wants to build a better relationship with their dog. And if you want to know why I won’t be posting a link to Cesar Millan on here, Dr Yin’s explanation will make it clear. You only have to watch the first two minutes of the Tough Love video to know why I feel as she does. Besides, we all know that it’s cats who have bested us, surely.
  6. If you’re British, as I am, you’ll appreciate the fabulous Nando Brown and his Mally, Fizz. His videos are more video diary than polished Zak George step-by-step demos, but they’re funny and give you plenty of understanding of dog behaviours and training tips. His Facebook page is a great way to pick up on tips and thoughts.
  7. Grisha Stewart is my final recommendation for training channels. She’s got some great life hacks and tutorials for the everyday stuff like taking pills (because a bit of cheese doesn’t always work) and clipping nails.
  8. The Family Dog ladies are brilliant if you’ve got children who need a little education around dogs, and they do great work to help prevent dog bites, many of which involve children and dogs. Their Kids’ Club videos are brilliant if you are trying to tame both dogs and children. It’s not just about how to pet dogs and how to behave around them, but sensible tips to help your children build great relationships with your dog.
  9. For all your doggie needs in France, you’ll find Amazon.fr and Zooplus.fr have got you covered. Wanimo.com is also a site with lots of animal goodies. You may need a prescription to buy some of the items if they are things you would usually buy via your vet.
  10. When it comes to illnesses, PetMD is your one-stop shop. It may be based in the USA, but it is as relevant for doggie diseases on the continent for the most part, and for all doggie ailments and illnesses. Especially in France, if French is your second or third language, you may not feel comfortable asking about the details of parvovirus, demodetic mange or piroplasmosis. You’ll find details on PetMD that is written by experts for non-experts. It also has great emergency advice, though nothing as good as giving your vet a call.

If you’ve got further ideas for things you feel should be included, why not drop me a line and let me know what you’ve found useful, or leave a comment on the Woof Like To Meet facebook page?


Every volunteer must fill in an information form, provide proof of civil liability insurance and sign a copy of these regulations to show that you understand them and agree with them. The refuge will also sign the regulations.

All minors must be accompanied by one of their parents who must also sign the regulations.

All new volunteers must be accompanied by an experienced volunteer for at least their first few visits and must agree to the following instructions.

  • As volunteers may be the victim of an accident, or may cause an accident involving another volunteer, insurance documents must be submitted at the beginning of each year as proof that you are personally covered by civil liability insurance for the year.
  • The signed copy of the refuge regulations along with your personal information sheet and a copy of your civil liability insurance will be kept in a file at the refuge. These are available to you and to any of the staff or those responsible for volunteers at the refuge.
  • Whatever tasks you undertake at the refuge, you must follow the direction and guidance that is on display around the refuge.
  • You do not have the right to give orders to members of staff, nor to criticise their requests either in front of them or in front of visitors.
  • Members of staff cannot give orders to volunteers. Only those responsible for the running of the refuge can do this (this may include senior members of staff, members of the steering committee, or the volunteer coordinator)
  • Each volunteer must respect other volunteers.
  • All suggestions about how to improve the running of the refuge or the conditions of the animals here are welcome
  • Any member of the steering committee has the right to ask a volunteer to stop what they are doing and forbid them from accessing the refuge site. The volunteer may ask to meet the steering committee, although in such matters, the opinion of the steering committee carries the most weight.
  • The animals of the refuge can carry illnesses and diseases. It is therefore advised that you change your clothes and disinfect your hands and the soles of your shoes before returning home or touching your own animals. It is also advised that you keep your own animals’ vaccinations up to date. You should also ensure you are up to date with your own tetanus vaccinations.
  • The majority of our dogs have often had a miserable or distressing past. As a consequence, we ask our volunteers to be conscious of this and to consider their actions before getting involved in our association.

You should:

  • always follow specific orders
  • respect the signs forbidding the taking out of certain dogs (for aggression or for health reasons)
  • never take any risk if you are faced with a dog who is growling or who is afraid in order that you avoid getting bitten
  • pick up information about unfamiliar dogs at reception
  • never throw treats or biscuits into the enclosures as this can cause fights
  • never give overweight dogs treats
  • never give treats to dogs who have specific health risks (marked on their enclosures)
  • ensure that you give treats to dogs in a way that is hygienic (do not drop treats on the floor) and avoids injury (be careful with dogs who do not have good food manners)
  • ensure you give treats in a way that is not likely to cause fights between dogs
  • socialise fearful dogs by sitting with them in their enclosures and familiarising them to your touch and to the lead
  • make sure the lead is always secure when you are walking your dog
  • never let dogs off outside the refuge: the parcs in the heart of the refuge are for this activity
  • keep to the edges of paths and corridors when passing other volunteers, dogs, walkers or people on bikes etc so that you do not run the risk of fights or of falling over
  • walk all of the dogs, even if it is inevitable that you will have favourites, you must treat them as equals
  • avoid taking out dogs that you are afraid of or who are too big for you
  • take dogs that you are sure you can control at all times on the walk
  • take dogs out as pairs, stay together and do not be afraid to take powerful dogs out with another couple, having one dog between two of you
  • do not underestimate how powerful a dog can be
  • make sure you close the gates to the enclosures securely
  • tell a member of staff if you notice any health problems such as blood, diarrhea or injury
  • never wear sandals or flip-flops
  • wear shoes that preferably have a rubber sole
  • make sure you put the pegs in the appropriate places
  • remember where you got the dog from and the name of the dog
  • read the guidance on the enclosure
The first few days

The first few days

The first few days that your new dog is at home with you are the ones that set the tone for your whole relationship. Although you may want to grant your dog the freedom of the house following their time in a shelter, it’s definitely not the way forward. A dog won’t understand why first night cuddles on the sofa aren’t a permanent thing if you would prefer him to stay in his bed, and they certainly won’t understand why, when they cry the first night and you let them on your bed, that this isn’t the way it will be for the rest of their life with you.

If you are looking for advice on house-training or on fearful dogs, you will find further information on the site. Please bear in mind that many dogs, even dogs who have lived in a home all their life and spent less than an hour at the refuge, can have a bit of an issue with house-training and knowing where to go. Some dogs may have one or two accidents and others may be stubborn, especially if you have other dogs. Even if you are sure you are getting a dog who has been house-trained, a change of circumstance can mean a change of bladder habits and it is well worth a read as a dog’s cleanliness depends on you even before you come in through the door.

Even if you do not think you are getting a fearful dog, a change in circumstances can be very disorientating. Slipped collars and dogs who dash out of cars can cause owners no end of worry and there are many dogs who are never found again. Reading the article about fearful dogs can be a lifesaver, literally. A sliplead, harness and supervision at all times in the garden for the first few days can make all the difference.

Many dogs are subjected to new experiences and you may find that they have new fears.

Some of the things dogs may not have experience include:

  1. Being indoors. Many dogs in France live outside all year around. A house can represent a small, enclosed, unfamiliar space and although you think that your new dog will love being cosied up with you, a house can be terrifying if you have never been in one, or, indeed, if you have spent your life being kicked out of one. If you have other animals inside, this fear can be very intense indeed.
  2. The dark. Many refuge dogs are left alone when the dark comes, and they may come to associate it with abandonment or loneliness. Do not be surprised if your new dog shows no desire whatsoever to go out at night. This can even lead to puddles, so make sure it’s not a fear of the dark rather than stubborn resistance to house-training.
  3. Windows and patios. Houses in France may have French windows, but most rural houses do not. Seeing their reflection for the first time can be disorientating, and it can be hard for some dogs who have never had a head-first experience with double glazing. Barking at their own reflection, or even wagging, are very common, as are accidental collisions. Make sure you introduce your dog carefully to low glass and mirrors!
  4. Stairs. Many houses in France are single-storey, or owners have never permitted dogs upstairs. It may take your new dog a while to get used to going up and down stairs. Something to bear in mind is that going up is one thing, but coming down is another altogether and if you get your 50kg dog up the stairs, you may be faced with the task of carrying him down.
  5. Fireworks and thunder. These are standard fears for many dogs but seem to be worse for ex-shelter dogs. Don’t leave your dog out in storms or you may find that they’ve done a runner. If you can see from the weather that storms are predicted, try to make sure you are home with your pet and that you can gauge their reactions before you leave them home alone.
  6. Being on their own. Unless you have adopted a breed that is valued for its independence, you may find that your new rescue pet is terrified of being alone. This may be because they were abandoned before, or because they are left at the refuge, but it can also be because many French dogs are bred for sociability and being able to be part of a pack. Being isolated from the pack can be an overwhelming experience.
  7. Fear of the vet. Some dogs arrive in terrible conditions and are quickly seen by the vet for the first time in their life. Others meet the vet for the first time when they have an injection. Needless to say, the first vet experience for many refuge dogs is a painful one, even if the vet is very experienced and gentle. Most arrive and are in a high state of anxiety and fear. Seeing the vet can be the first real interaction they’ve had and it is not always pleasant. Please make sure you are aware of your dog’s behaviour round vets and don’t be afraid to take a muzzle and a friend if necessary. This isn’t a shelter-dog special phobia: many dogs have a fear of the vet. If it takes four of you to hold a muzzled dog down to clip its nails, don’t be too alarmed. Better to have too many hands than too few when your first vet visit is due. You can also ask the shelter staff who will have certainly accompanied your dog on their vet trips.
  8. Fear of men. Many people assume that because a dog is afraid of men that they have been beaten by a man. This is not strictly true. Dogs rely on seeing our faces and the taller you are, the harder it is to see what you’re feeling. They just might never have had much experience of tall people and so it causes them alarm. My own dogs don’t meet many men and they are much more shouty about men than they are about women. A gentle woman of my height can be an absolute stranger and yet she will be greeted much more gently than a man who is much taller. My dog Heston barks at tall men. He has never been abused by a tall man, or even had a mildly negative experience: it’s just lack of socialisation with them.
  9. Fear of children. Again, this is less than they have been abused by children and more that they have never met children. Children are freaky, unpredictable things to some dogs. They have moving parts that do different things than adults do – all those swinging limbs and uncoordinated feet! There are hands that pull, or pet weirdly, faces right at their level… it can be a dog’s worst nightmare.
  10. Fear of weird objects. Brooms, hoovers and washing machines are usual culprits: moving, noisy things that don’t make sense to dogs. This isn’t always the case and you may find your dog barking at a sieve, a snowman or a stone cross. Heston has barked at all of these things. He spent five minutes having an argument with a fertiliser sack once.

Gentle desensitisation is usually the key to overcoming most of these fears, but you will not be chastised for avoiding them completely if needs be. Sometimes, if it’s not necessary that your dog get used to stairs or snowmen, why bother? On the other hand, men and children are probably going to be things your dog comes into contact with and it will be worthwhile desensitising them to these things.


Fearful dogs

Adopting a fearful dog is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of rescue, but also the most challenging. From the very first moment you set eyes on them, you may be drawn to help them. However, much of what we want to do – comfort and protect the dog – can be overwhelming and frightening for the animal. Frightened animals are more likely to attack than any other emotional state if they feel they have no way out. Helping them cope with the first few days and keeping them safe are your only priorities. Sadly, far too many fearful dogs run away in the first moments of life in a new home, and a percentage of those dogs are found dead or are never found.


Debbie Jones is a dog trainer who works with fearful dogs and has written an excellent book that will help you understand the rehabilitation process. Best of all, Debbie will give you lots of hope that you can turn your nervous Nelly into a dog that can enjoy life without medication or without fear.

Whilst you won’t find any answers here, there are a couple of aspects to be mindful of when adopting a fearful dog. The first aspect is that any dog can be fearful given a change in circumstances. You think of your home and your love as a wonderful gift for a dog: you are rescuing it and it seems bizarre to think that for many dogs, this is a terrifying experience. The shelter has often been a constant, where routines stay the same and where they have little interaction. Believe it or not, interaction can be the most fearful thing. Hands are no comfort. The house is a corner that they can’t escape from. For this reason, a gentle hand, a kind heart and a warm home might not be what you think it should be.

The second thing to bear in mind is the new collar. Most people don’t like their dog’s collar to be too tight. Even if you do the ‘two finger test’ to ensure the collar is tight but not too tight, many dogs can get out of it. Many dogs are fine in a collar or with a lead on it if they pull forward, but if they back up, they can easily get out of it. The same is true of a harness. A slip lead may seem like a cruel choice, but a lead that maintains pressure is the best thing for a fearful dog at the beginning. Fearful dogs can take advantage of a slackening off, so two leads – a harness lead and a slip lead – will ensure that you don’t lose your dog. Catching a fearful dog is virtually impossible and many will take to the hills to find a place they consider space.

The third thing to consider is transport. Many fearful dogs are on super-alert in a car. It may be the way they were dumped, the way they were picked up. It’s a tiny, enclosed space where they cannot escape. Not surprisingly, some new owners open a car door and the dog is off before they can grab the lead. A secure harness is absolutely vital.

Bearing these last two aspect in mind can certainly help keep your dog from escaping. When it comes to fight or flight, flight is a huge risk for fearful dogs. Fight is the other. Be very conscious that you are more likely to get bitten by a dog who is cornered, so picking up a fearful dog, closing in on them or otherwise making it impossible for them to run away can end badly. Space and security once in the home are vital.

If the journey goes well and you manage to keep hold of your fearful dog until you get them home, many people assume the worst is over and find their dogs have absconded in the first twenty-four hours. Don’t ever assume your dog won’t climb or dig, or even just plough through a fence. The garden is their exit point and if you leave them unsupervised, you may find they find a way out. This is especially true if something happens whilst they are in the garden: unexpected sounds can set off a flight-or-fight response.

On average, it can take up to eight weeks for cortisol levels to drop back down to normal after a stressful event like moving home or getting in a car, so patience and watchfulness are vital.

Many dogs form quick bonds once they understand their new routines and new owners, but two things can bring old feeling to a head: being alone and being out on a walk. We think walks are great fun and that dogs enjoy them. We tell ourselves that we all need exercise and that we enjoy the change of scenery. This is not especially true of a fearful dog. Every noise is a potential threat and every movement brings fear. And although your fearful dog might not be bonding with you easily, it does not mean that they are happy to be left on their own. This can set off feelings of abject panic for those left confined in a house from which they cannot escape. Many dogs will injure themselves in their attempts to save themselves. Be prepared for a long journey to overcoming separation anxiety, especially if your dog is an only dog.

If your dog is incredibly fearful, please enlist the help of a behaviouralist or your vet. Medication and behaviour modification can make a huge difference. Most dogs will make good progress with calm, patient and gentle guidance. Indeed, one of our most scared hounds managed to get away from her owner recently, following a scare out on a walk. With two frantic days of searching, we feared the worst. Yet one day, Illia came walking back down the road to her home. It is massive progress when a fearful dog will do this, although we are lucky she wasn’t hit by a car or injured in any other way. Many fearful dogs just disappear and are never seen again. That’s the sad reality of not being quite vigilant enough and thinking love is enough to cure their ills. For Shanna, Nutella, Jordan, Indy and many other ex-refuge dogs, sometimes they get lucky and we find them again. Sometimes they don’t and we are left with the sinking feeling that they have been killed in one way or another.


Regulated Dog Breeds

For ex-pats who bring dogs into France, the laws concerning specific breeds can be a nightmare, especially where staffies are concerned. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier (SBT) or staffie is a breed loved by English people, yet can cause you legal issues in France unless you have all the breed paperwork. Even then, you may find yourself in a paperwork minefield. Outlined in this post are all the laws regarding regulated dog breeds in France, including information from Staffie Rescue Association.

In France, two “categories” of dogs exist. The first category is known as the “Attack Dog” category; the second is known as the “Guard Dog or Defence Dog” category. The laws are strict regarding these dogs. You have many obligations and there are certain requirements in order to own a dog of either category.

Category 1

This category is mainly concerned with dogs who are not registered on a genealogical record. In France, this is called the LOF or livre des origines françaises record, and it records the lines of all breeds. Category 1 dogs conform physically to the ‘standards’ of the following dogs:

  • Unregistered Staffordshire Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier, often known as Amstaffs or Pitbulls (NB this does not include SBTs, but this comes with a strong proviso)
  • Boerbulls
  • Unregistered Tosa

Please note that whilst the French call a Boerbull a ‘mastiff’, this does not mean that all mastiffs are banned. Indeed, most mastiff breeds are not category dogs at all. The Boerbull or Boerboel is sometimes called the South African Mastiff. These are not restricted dogs in the UK and it is feasible that any mastiff that a qualified vet deems as being a boerbull may be subject to the consequences of the conditions. If you import a mastiff into France, please note that if you do not have pedigree paperwork for it, you may be facing a long legal battle to keep it. Even if you have UK paperwork for a mastiff, you may find that the French vets are unwilling to accept it and that you have to go through the processes connected to Category 1 dogs.

The same is true of SBTs. In the UK, the breed standard has become so polluted and focused on size and strength that a pedigree SBT may be categorised as a Category 1 dog in France. Your UK kennel club paperwork may not be worth anything if your SBT is particularly large. Indeed, all the Cat 1 dogs at the refuge are dogs that would happily pass breed standards in the UK.

Japanese Tosa are a restricted breed in the UK. Here, they are subject to heavy restrictions.

What are the conditions for keeping a Category One dog?

  1. You cannot buy, sell or give away a category one dog. If your SBT or mastiff has pups in France with a non-LOF dog, these are considered Category One dogs. You cannot import these dogs.
  2. You must have a permit to keep Category dogs. This involves two things. The first is a training course for the owners. From this, you will receive a certificate saying that you are capable of handling a dangerous dog. You must have this certificate before you can apply to keep a category dog. The course is seven hours long and must be delivered by a state-certified dog trainer. There is a theoretical and a practical test. Your dog does not have to be present as part of the training and the certificate is relevant for any category dogs – not just one. The second aspect of this permit is for dogs aged between 8 and 12 months and must be done periodically once they reach this age. They must undergo a behavioural evaluation by a qualified vet who has a licence to assess behaviour. The vet will send a copy to the mairie of the commune where you live. Dogs are judged on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being ‘no particular danger’ and 4 being ‘high risk of being dangerous to certain people or in certain situations’. This evaluation must be redone periodically depending on their position on the scale. You are responsible for the fees of the 7 hour training course and the vet’s behavioural assessment of your dog. Once you have these two elements, you can apply for a permit. Please note that having both of these elements does not mean your mairie will automatically grant you a permit. You must own a permit for each category dog in your possession. You must also supply a copy of their identification details (i.e. a passport or ICAD form), a copy of their rabies jabs (compulsory vaccination every year), a copy of the behavioural assessment, a copy of your own handlers’ certificate, and a copy of your home insurance indicating you are insured for a category dog. For dogs in category 1, you must also have the dog sterilised and provide proof of this. If you move to a new commune, you need a new permit. As long as the behavioural assessments, rabies vaccinations and insurance are all up to date and you do not move to a new commune, your permit will remain valid. If you do not have the permit, your dog can be taken from you and put in a public pound or euthanised. You will also be fined 750€ for each dog without a permit. 
  3. You cannot take your dog into public places, other than on public footpaths. That means you are heavily restricted as to where you can walk them. You cannot take them to cafés or on public transport, or any other public place – other than the footpath. You also cannot live in shared accommodation.
  4. All Category 1 dogs must be sterilised.
  5. All Category 1 dogs must be muzzled and on a lead in public. They may only be walked by an adult.
  6. You must have your dog chipped or identified by tattoo.

Category 2

This category concerns pedigree Tosa, Rottweilers and Amstaffs who have genealogical paperwork from LOF. Please note that the Rottweiler is not a restricted breed in the UK, but it is in France. You cannot import a rottweiler into France without following French regulations. Mixed breed dogs who resemble Rottweilers are also category two dogs.

To keep a category two dog, you must have the relevant paperwork and you must muzzle your dog in public. They must be walked at all times by an adult and cannot be let off lead in public places. The same rules apply as for Category 1 dogs, except sterilisation is not compulsory. Given that any accidental litters from a pedigree dog are automatically considered category 1, though, it is advisable to get your dog sterilised if you cannot absolutely guarantee this condition.

People aged under 18 are not allowed to own a dog of either category. Those with criminal records are not allowed to own category dogs. Even a suspended sentence means you cannot own a category dog.

Things to note:

  • Although Rotties are not category dogs in the UK, they are here.
  • Although your staffie may have UK kennel club paperwork, it may not be acceptable if your dog conforms physically to the size and shape of an Amstaff, which many UK pedigree staffies do.
  • SBTs without any paperwork are considered as category one dogs.
  • You need paperwork to prove your dog is included in the French LOF. This is called a Certificat de Naissance.
  • You also need an identity card for your dog. This comes from SCC (société centrale canine) or ICAD (identification de carnivores domestiques)
  • Do not buy an SBT in France if it does not have a Certificat de Naissance from LOF. It is illegal to do so.
  • The only things that stop your SBT being considered a Category One dog are its inclusion in the LOF database and its Certificat de Naissance.
  • If you want further information about SBTs, or you would like to adopt one, please contact the Staffie Rescue Association who can also provide you with a list of good breeders.
  • If your SBT has pups with a dog not included in LOF as a SBT the pups will automatically be considered category one dogs.
  • The Dogo Argentino is not a restricted breed in France, but it is in the UK, which has implications for those who wish to move back to the UK.

For dedicated and keen enthusiasts, keeping a category two dog is straightforward. Although you may not like the muzzle and lead restrictions, France has much more freedom than the UK, except for rottweilers. The rules regarding SBTs are clear and most staffie lovers would be surprised to see how small French-bred SBTs are in comparison with their UK relatives who have unfortunately suffered from unregulated overbreeding over successive decades in the UK.