Choosing My First Dog – Vanna The Dobermann

I’ve talked a lot about choosing a dog so I thought today I would say something about my first ‘dog mistake’. Vanna was my first dog as an adult.  She was a beautiful pure bred Dobermann from a rescue centre. 


We adopted her from  local rescue centre.  Actually to be more exact, the Birmingham Dogs Home (UK) was more of a dog pound.  They take strays off the streets which the dog wardens have rounded up or which people have found wandering. 

There were two dogs were were interested in – her and a lurcher.  The lurcher was probably mostly greyhound and collie by his looks.  I wanted the lurcher but my partner wanted the Dobermann.  After a lot of consideration (I had heard about the Dobermann’s reputation) I gave in.  So we asked one of the staff to get her out so we could meet her.  She wagged and grinned at us broadly.

However the dogs home couldn’t give us any information about her background.  She had been picked up straying.  We knew she was good with people by now but nothing else!  And she’d not been in there very long – only a few days.  We had no idea about health, what she was like with other dogs, what she was like with cats (we had two) or anything else.

This brings me to some important points, which we didn’t follow:

  • Go in ARMED with a list of important questions.
  • Read up on dog breeds before you go so you know what different breeds are like and what’s likely to suit you – and what you want to avoid
  • Find out as much as you can from the kennel staff.  If there’s no-one about find a person to ask. 
  • Try and find someone who has handled that dog personally
  • Given the choice now between 2 dogs who are potentially equally suitable choose the one you know most about.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Signing the papers – warning bells….

When we got into reception she  flung herself at another dog in the waiting room, barking furiously.  And this was not a ‘hello’ bark.  It was more ‘I’ll eat you alive if you so much as LOOK at me‘ bark.

But often dogs with traumatic backgrounds can be different in the early days. So we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.  The 8 mile journey back was one constant standing up bark-fest.  But when she saw another dog one of the first things she did was tear chunks out of the car trim, because she couldn’t get out of the window to get at it.

More important points: 

  • If you get a very strong ‘warning bell’ like that before you formally sign any papers, consider it carefully.  It’s not too late to put the dog back in its kennel.  Better to do that before you get really attached.
  • Ask if the rescue centre will give you a trial period before you sign papers and pay any money.  They will register your details, so they can follow things up with you.  

Settling In

We got her home and settled her down.  She seemed to be perfectly at home right from the start.  She was housetrained, and loved the guinea pigs.  I think she thought they were puppies because she would mother them!  She wanted to be friends with the cats but they hissed at her and that got us off to a bad start.  However they learned to tolerate each other, in an uneasy way.

Points from this:

  • Always ask the rescue centre if they can test with other dogs and cats, if they haven’t already
  • If you have cats you might want to always choose from a rescue centre that does cat testing


Vanna was beautiful with people.  Intelligent, loving and easily trained.  But with dogs she was horrible.  Highly aggressive and very unpredictable.  Walking her was always on lead and often very stressful.  When we first took her out for a walk she was so excited she didn’t know where to look, but also very fearful.  We think she may never have been out of the house/garden or flat she was in before someone decided she was too much hassle.

Her aggression continued until she came into season.  At that point she wanted to go and make friends so we made sure she had every chance.  When she realised dogs were friends, we could have her off lead more of the time, but were always watchful.  If you have an aggressive dog there’s no cure.  The best you can do is control.

Vanna’s Ill- Health

When we took her to the vet for an initial check up he thought she was probably about 2 years old and had already been bred from.  We think she may just have been used for breeding and then escaped, or been turned loose.

After a month I noticed a problem with her occasionally dragging or seeming to fall over her back feet.  So I took her back to the vet.  After X rays he diagnosed an acute case of Wobbler Syndrome.  It’s a condition known in Dobes where the vertebrae between the neck and the main spine impact together.  This eventually knocks out all the nerve impulses to the legs.  The vet told us we would probably have about 6 months left.

Main points from this:

  • Make sure you ask questions of the rescue centre about any known medical history or signs of ill-health in your possible dog
  • Make sure you understand the main hereditary health issues in the breed, if choosing a pure breed.

Life With Vanna

After she was diagnosed with Wobbler, we made the most of the time we had.  We took her out as much as we could, to as many places as possible.  We cherished every moment.  Every smile she gave us.   Every welcome we got from being out at work.  Her impeccable house manners.  The weird things she used to love eating – like fruit and lettuce!  Yes she was difficult sometimes, yes she was stressful but it taught me a lot about owning dogs. 

Our Last Good Day

My partner and I were on holiday in Devon – there was a big family get together and anniversary celebration.  Vanna had such a good day.  She romped on the beach, and round a horse sanctuary.  I remember saying to my partner how much more active she was that day then we had seen her for a while. 

But the next day it was all over.  Vanna finally lost control – her legs just weren’t working properly. We drove home with a heavy heart.  The day after that Vanna went to the vets for the final time.

Looking back

I made a lot of mistakes, but it was my first dog.

Would I have done anything differently if I had known more?  Possibly.  But then again if I’d not made the mistakes, I’d not have learned what I did.  I’d also probably never have started this site or written my book.

But the dog-lover in me says I would still have kept Vanna.  For all her faults, I’d probably have stuck by her anyway.  She was safe with the cats and safe with people.  The dog aggression we could manage by walking her on the lead.  I did not get what I hoped for, but she gave so much love in her short 10 months that it was worth all the effort.

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