National Rescue Dog Day – Nahla’s journey to freedom.
“We’ve pretty much changed absolutely everything about our lives since adopting Nahla!”
I first met Jodie and Peter for a photography session in Epsom inbetween the lockdowns last year. Jodie had been bought a Gift Voucher for a dog photoshoot with me for Nahla, their rescue Malinois. By the time the session arrived they also had Mac, a young German Shepherd.
I was so interested in the experience they had adopting Nahla and they kindly agreed to help me in the compilation of this blog looking at the challenges they faced and the huge progress Nahla has made. They also share what this photoshoot meant to them, their anxieties concerning it working out with Nahla and the huge success it was.
Where did the journey to adopt the very beautiful Nahla begin for you?
We adopted Nahla three years ago from a ‘family’ that had bought two Malinois without knowing anything about the breed. It quickly became very apparent to us that they had made no effort to train he, and she had been treated very badly leading to a severe fear of people, especially men.
When we went to see Nahla for the first time she was slapped around the face for barking, and we have a horrible feeling that that was just the tip of the iceberg of the physical aggression to which she’d been a victim. They informed us that they had tried to rehome her twice, and that she had been turned away from several rescues due to her aggression. As a result if rehoming her to us didn’t work out she was going to be put to sleep at just 5 months old.
We fell in love with her little eyes as soon as we saw her, and it was safe to say that despite the enormous amount of time and work she needed to help her, there was no way we were leaving that house without her.
She’s now been with us for three years.
What’s it like rehoming a dog whose history has meant they have become extremely challenging to have as a pet?
Having a nervous rescue, especially a very very high drive, intelligent and strong nervous one, is no walk in the park. Our entire lives changed when we adopted Nahla. We walk a minimum of 6 miles a day, we train her constantly, and we’re always switched on to our environments to prevent her triggering and getting stressed. We cannot leave her with anybody else for any period of time. We can’t allow Nahla to run off lead so we have learnt to master long line walking when nobody else is around
Our families and friends have been incredible and make so many sacrifices to ensure that Nahla is in a safe and loving environment, despite her not allowing anybody except us, our parents and a few very close friends anywhere near her. We have to ‘brief’ everyone before meeting for walks that Nahla needs space and does not like to be made a fuss of, most people just ignore her which is amazing for us and for her!
We found the most amazing trainer about two months into our journey with Nahla. Ian Griffiths at Rainford Dog Training back home in Merseyside. We drive back to them as often as we can (at least once a month in non-Covid times) for formal training, and they are always on hand to help us when we need them. Without them we wouldn’t have got this far, I’m absolutely sure of that.
What changes have you seen in Nahla?
As a result of constant hard work Nahla has gone from triggering at the slightest thing (like a leaf blowing past!) and redirecting onto myself or Peter (we both have a few battle scars from the early days!) to being able to walk around busy country parks with dogs off lead with very little concern.
She is still stressed when other dogs or people approach her, but together we’ve worked out the best way to manage these situations.
Nahla has gone from being so terrified of being left alone to being very happy in her crate whilst we go to work.
Most importantly, Nahla has gone from being a terrified little puppy to a confident and loving 3 year old dog, and an enormous part of our family.
How do you stimulate such an intelligent dog in the circumstances?
We have (so far!) been unable to take her to training sessions for scent work due to her other issues. Peter has self-taught himself to scent train Nahla in order to give her a ‘job’ which is so necessary to mentally stimulate such an intelligent breed.
Nahla can track most recent human scent and she is trained to indicate on the scent of tennis balls hidden around a room. The next steps are to add more scents in for her, and hopefully to be able to take her to training sessions with other dogs in the future!
How has it been bringing another dog into the life of Nahla?
Mac coming into the family has improved Nahla’s behaviour tenfold. They have such a strong bond and it’s so lovely to see her have such a carefree relationship with another dog all the time. Mac is training with Ian and Lee in personal protection in order to stimulate him, we’re looking forward to getting back into training as soon as we can travel back up north.
How did you feel about receiving a photography voucher for Nahla given the circumstances?
I was apprehensive when I first received my voucher for a photo shoot as I was concerned about how Nahla would react to meeting yourself in close quarters. I sent a long email expressing our concerns and outlining our usual coping mechanisms, and I could not be more thrilled with the way things were managed. You took into consideration everything we asked of you, and as a result captured our relationship with Nahla perfectly.
Nahla is the most difficult dog I have ever encountered, and if you’ve managed to make a photo shoot with her stress free then I honestly believe you could do the same with any dog out there! (You have nerves of steel to have managed to capture the image of Nahla running out of the water AT you!!).
Jodie and Peter left me this wonderful review on Google:
“I cannot speak highly enough of Nic or her work. My partner treated me to a photoshoot with our dogs as a Christmas gift in a place which is special to us. We have one very, very nervous, aggressive rescue dog, who usually will not allow people to be in her vicinity without becoming very reactive. Nic listened to our concerns and stuck to everything we asked of her to make the experience comfortable for everybody involved. We were able to keep our rescue on a lead and stand next to her and Nic was still able to get stunning photos by editing us and leads out of the shot where necessary.
Nic arranged to visit the area we requested to find new places to take photographs, and she spent the whole morning with us to get the perfect photos.
We simply couldn’t choose between the photographs so we bought them all. For anybody with a nervous rescue, Nic is the perfect person to capture relationships and memories which will last a lifetime.
Thank you so much Nic, we cannot wait to work with you again!”
Nic is a multi-award winning, fully qualified portrait photographer with the Master Photography Association and her qualification dog images won the best Licentiate panel in the UK for 2020.(MPA)