Rex is a new movie based on the true-life story of young Marine Corporal Megan Leavey (played by Kate Mara) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their deployment in Iraq. When she is assigned to clean the K9 unit after a disciplinary hearing, Leavey identifies with a particularly aggressive dog, Rex, and is given the chance to train him. Over the course of their service, Megan and Rex completed more than 100 missions until an IED explosion injures them, putting their fate in jeopardy. A new challenge then awaits Megan after she returns home and must fight to be reunited with her heroic partner and best friend.
To celebrate the film’s release we spoke to British Army Sergeant and service-dog handler Sgt. Donna Smith about her working relationship with black Labrador Lola. We asked for some useful dog care and bonding tips she has picked-up from their successful partnership. Not every dog is a military hero like Rex or Lola, but we can still treat our own pups like heroes if we know how.
Starting from a puppy it is important to set the rules and boundaries for the puppy to respect. And whereas some people are harsh with dogs, I don’t believe in that. Don’t scream and shout at dogs. They may come back to you if you shout but they are only doing so because they are scared. It’s doing what you want but out of fear. So instead you want the dog to do what you want because it wants to please you. That way you get a stronger bond and they will want to come back to you. You’ll have a better relationship generally if they are not scared.
When they’ve done something right, dogs need to be praised with a reward and perhaps a higher register vocalisation. For my working dog Lola, her reward is always a ball. For a housedog you could bribe with a biscuit. Lola is a Labrador so it’s important not to give too many edible treats as they easily put on weight. She does get some treats, but definitely not every day.
Grooming regularly and spending time with your dog is important. It helps you to understand them and notice when they’re not well whether is it an illness or a bump etc. It also helps you to bond.
Lola is taken two or three times a day for walks. Swimming is another good form of exercise for dogs. It’s worth taking them down to the beach in the summer or to a river if it’s safe. I take her to the beach at weekends, in the summer particularly.
Don’t overfeed. A lot of people overfeed their dogs and it’s not really good for them. Lola is fed twice a day, a split feed morning and evening. This is a consistent amount and weighed-out carefully so it can be adjusted if she is doing less exercise or more when working. I also weigh her once a week to be sure if she is over or under weight so I can increase or decrease the food from there. Dogs and especially puppies especially are always on the lookout for food and get into everything, jumping on work surfaces to see what they can get.
Most dogs are naturally happy as long as you treat them properly. So don’t do things like leaving them out in the rain etc. You want them to be a part of the family, so you should treat them that way.
Rex is available now on Digital Download & DVD from Lionsgate UK