Saturday, 19 December 2009

'Scuse me, I wonder if I could have some advice?

Back in the days when I practiced as a dog training instructor and behaviour counsellor, my phone would often ring with enquiries about my services or sometimes just to try to cadge some free, over-the-phone advice. Now I rarely gave the latter as I considered it to be inapporiate to do so. After all, you would not ring up a plumber to ask how to fix a dripping tap now would you rather than pay him for his time and workmanship? I spent rather a lot of money and time on educating myself so that I could help people with their dogs and I was not a charity! But there would always be someone who tried it on and who would launch into a tale of woe about their dogs before I had the time to tell them I did not give advice over the phone.

Here are a few memorable examples;

Me: Hello?
Woman: Ello duck. (they call you duck round here, gawd knows why!) I've got a problem with me dog and I wondered if you could give me some advice?
Me: Well I don't actually do that? I could make you an appointment for me to come and see you though?
Woman: No need for that duck, just some advice I'm after. I've got this dog...........
I was then told that he destroyed furniture and carpets and 'messed' whilst being left alone all day, 5 days a week while she went out to work and that the blighter did the same on Tuesday and Thursday evenings when she went to Bingo! Then came the punchline, the one that actually did have me banging my head on the wall! I don't know why he does this to me as I buy him a cooked chicken from ASDA all to himself every Sunday!

I put the phone down on her. I was laughing so much that I was nearly crying. I had actually started to bang my head on the wall near the phone. I was in danger of disgracing myself and telling the stupid bat to 'F*** off back to ASDA and get him a pudding as well and then he won't be so naughty!'

Another one came earlier in my career as a DTI and BC.
Me: Hello? (noting the time was in fact 11.30 at night.)
Man: I'm ringing up about your dog training duck, what days it's on, what time classes are and how much it is?
Me: Do you have a clock?
Man: Errr yes?
Me: I suggest you look at it and then, after I have put the phone down on you, you will know exactly why.

I then put the phone down and rolled over whilst making a mental note to get an answering machine for idiots who make calls after 9pm.

Oh and then of course I just had to have a woman ring me at 6.50 am one morning to ask the same. She got the same response and I resolved to put on my new posters 'Please call for more details between 8.30am and 9pm only - answerphone in operation at other times!

Then there would be the people who called saying they had got a rescue dog the week (or even day) before and wondered why it wouldn't come back when they let it off on the park.... Or those with 9 week old pups who wondered when they would learn to be clean as they were fouling the kitchen when they went out to work all day 5 days a week.....................

We changed our number the day I decided not to do dog training and behaviour etc anymore. We also plastered up the dent in the wall. :o)

I miss it all in a way, lol!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

It is a sad time for dog training

Sadly after all the hard work done by trainers and behaviourists in the UK to promote more up to date methods which do not cause pain or stress to dogs, we are now facing a new threat. That threat is Cesar Millan, the so called 'Dog Whisperer'. He is now alpha rolling, jabbing and jerking his way into our TVs, radios. magazines and newspapers with his 'Way' and setting dog training methods in modern day UK back to the old days.

In our celebrity obsessed culture we now have CM fans who adore this little man, hanging on his every word and wowing at his magic touch with dogs. His methods include finger jabbing dogs in the neck to 'get their attention'; hanging them up by their leads and collars until semi-asphyxiated then claiming that they have calmed down and 'submitted' when in reality they are in shock and fighting to get their breath back!; 'alpha rolling them and pinning them to the floor (normally after muzzling them first) to show the viewers how to 'dominate' their dogs and so on.

It depresses me even describing his antics and it depresses me even more that there are so many pet owners being taken in hook, line and sinker by this dog wrestler!

Think about it folks! How many actual respected dog trainers and behaviourists in the UK and in the USA do you see applauding his methods? The American Humane Association themselves condemned his methods back in 1996! Many other professional bodies have also expressed their concerns at this mans popularity yet still people faun over him like he is some sort of demi-god!

Educate yourselves people, for dogs sake!

Are the dog whisperers methods harmful?

An aggressive and frightened dog muzzled, repeatedly jabbed then held down forcibly. Is THIS dog training???

Here he not only kicks and jerks the dog to start it off, he then hangs it until it can't breathe too! Is this 'dog training' to you???

The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors has released a press release expressing concerns.

I have trained hundreds of people with their dogs. Some of those dogs I have seen privately because of their extreme aggression. Not once in all the time I have been working with dogs have I ever pinned one down, jabbed at it, kicked it or choked it so that it couldn't breathe. Yet through hard work and commitment by their owners, these dogs were rehabilitated and overcame their problems! Go figure!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Dog Warden Days

I spent four years working as a dog warden until my health began to play up leaving me incapable of doing the job anymore.  My time spent doing that job was eventful to say the least but I do not regret a minute of it.  I did continue to run my own training classes at weekends as well at first but then I realised that the stress of dealing with errant dog owners all week and then trying to help and teach owners at weekends was getting too much so I gave them up as the job had to come first!

During my four year stint I often came into close contact with the less desirable members of our society including drug pushers, addicts, alcoholics, and other strange people.  But I also met some incredibly nice people who really seemed as though they did not belong on the sink estates that I had to frequent all too often. 

A few examples;
I reunited one lady with a dog she had lost a year ago, which had been found straying on the next estate to her, complete with nice new collar on!  The dog was microchipped yet had never been scanned until I picked her up so had been kept by someone else for a whole year until one day she had strayed!  Her original owner was over the moon, the more recent keeper less so, but as far as I was concerned, the original owner was genuine (she had reported the dog missing a year before according to our files) so that was the end of the matter.  Moral of story?  If you find a dog, report it to the dog warden who can then scan it to see if there is an owner.  If not then you may keep hold of it but the dog warden will have to take a photo and details and issue you with a Finders Notice which means that you should keep the dog yourself in case an owner turns up.  If someone reports it missing then the Dog Warden will send them to you and you have to return the dog to them but do remember that you have the right to ask the owner to refund you any vets fees and food costs you may have incurred so keep receipts.  After 28 days have passed, you may keep the dog yourself or rehome it yourself.   On the other hand, if you allow the dog warden to collect the dog from you then it will be kept for just 7 days in kennels before being rehomed.  Sick, aggressive or badly injured dogs may be put down though depending on the local authority.  But do not simply keep the dog yourself in the first place!  You have a legal duty to report all found strays to the local authority.  The police rarely deal with strays now and vets and RSPCA can do nothing about them either.

The next is a longer story;
I was called out one day as a lady had reported a 'bleeding Rottweiller' in her front garden!  No, she wasn't swearing!  There was quite literally, a very large male Rottweiller in her garden, laid down with blood dripping from a 5 inch gash in its' face!  An RSPCA Animal Collection Officer had turned up too (heavens knows why as strays were my domain not hers) and was trying to tempt it with biscuits which the dog kept eating before lunging at her with a menacing snarl!  After standing back and watching (well it was funny!) I then felt that the dog would be better off in my van to be taken to a vets straight away.  I called up the neighbouring dog warden aften restraining the dog calmly with my grasping pole and between us we heaved him in.  He spect a few days in the vets and the owner collected him and paid the bill.  It turned out that the dog had been taken off his yard and slashed across the face with possibly a razor as some sort of warning to the owner who was a dodgy character to say the least!  

Six months later I met said Rottweiller again, this time with a younger Rotty male, patrolling the street where he lived and terrifying the neighbours who dare not come out!  They had somehow got out of their yard and no-one was home so I had to set about catching them.  The one with the scar down his face I recognised straight away and I knew he liked biscuits so I took a chance!   I walked over calmly, avoiding eye contact, dog biscuits in hand and asked him to 'Sit!' which he duly did!   So then I put my arm through a slip lead and popped a biscuit in the same hand and asked the dog to sit again.  As he did so, I dropped the open slip lead straight round his neck and rewarded him with more biscuits to a huge cheer from curious residents who were all watching from the safety of their bedroom windows!  I then lured 'Scarface' over to my open van doors and threw biscuits inside the cage.  In he popped like a sweetheart and I closed the cage door, trapping the lead handle in it to make it easy to get him out later.  Upon my doing this he turned round and threw himself at the cage door with such a roar that I jumped backwards!  But he was secure so I locked the van doors and went after his younger friend. 

After following the other Rottweiller around the close, I managed to corner him (he was very nervous) and got him with the grasper.  Leading him back to the van was great fun as he leapt about like a fish trying to escape from a line and roared his defiance at me all the way!   I was so glad that I had chosen the six foot grasping pole!  But, he was not as obliging as Scarface and no way would he jump up into the other cage in the van!  I cajoled and encouraged, I pushed and I pulled but no!  He would much rather try to take my head off than go in that van!  It was then I espied the two young policemen watching me from a garden gate.  They had been to see a resident on another matter and were now watching me with some amusement!  Huh!  So I called to them sweetly and asked for some assistance!  I nearly died with laughter when they dashed first to their squad car and re-emerged wearing their leather driving gloves!  Some protection they were going to be!  I organised the two coppers into a team and had one holding open the cage door ready to slam it once the dog was in.  The other I told to push as hard as he could on the dogs backside once I had managed to lift the pole enough to get his front paws onto the bumper!   We did it on a count of three and the second Rotty was in the van!  I have never seen two policemen more relieved in my life!  I drove to the holding kennels with a barking, rocking, rolling van which seemed to bemuse other drivers every time I stopped at the lights!  I think they thought I had two lions in the back as the poor little van was literally rocking from side to side amid roars of fury from the two dogs inside!  Once there, I was assisted by another dog warden in getting the dogs out and into the kennels.  Their owner did not collect them this time and sadly both dogs were put to sleep after 7 days as they were so aggressive that even the kennel staff could not clean their kennel out much less exercise them!   Huh!  I caught them both on my own!  What was their problem?

My last two stories are about dogs whose owners should have been shot at dawn in my opinion!

Poor dog 1;
I was called to assist the council and police in breaking into a locked flat where there was a dog present.  The tenant had ignored all contact from the council and the flat below was experiencing water leaking through their ceiling!  Once inside, I made one of the policeman go first in case there was a dead body in there! (Have you noticed how bossy I am with coppers?) The floor was strewn with faeces and rubbish and we really had to watch our step!  Whe he opened the living room door, the policeman suddenly gasped Oh my god!" and took his hat off.  Thinking he had found a body I asked if there was one.  He said  (and I have never forgotten his words) "No duck but come and look at this poor bugger!"  I walked in and there, standing up on the back of the sofa was the most emaciated labrador sized dog I had ever seen.  The petrified animal looked like he had stepped out of Belsen!  There was not an ouce of flesh on him.  Every bones stuck out and even his eyes were sunken.  The policeman, a dog lover had tears in his eyes at the sight.  I moved slowly towards the dog and he screamed and jumped onto the window sill!  I reached out slowly with my grasper (there was no getting near this one with a slip lead!) and caught him gently all the time talking to him him quietly.  As I led him from the flat all the workmen and the other polcemen fell silent, I do not think they could believe how the dog was still alive.  Of course, it became an RSPCA case and the 22 year old, 8 months pregnant woman who owned him received  a five year ban from keeping animal and was ordered to pay £100 fine. 

The dog was adopted by someone who cared for him whilst they got him back up to normal weight.  Names and faces removed to preserve anonymity.

His previous owners' defence was that she was pregnant!  I suppose she was allowed to keep the baby...

Nuff said!

Poor dog 2; (Not for the squeamish!)
This one I do not have pictures of and to be honest, you would not really have wanted to see it!   It was a very hot August day (can you tell this was some years ago?)  I was called to an estate local to where I live where there were reports of a sick little dog collapsed under a hedge.   When I got there he had gone but I drove round the streets nearby until a lady told me he had gone up a path and behind an empty house.  As I walked up the path I thought I could smell a dead body and as I rounded the corner, there, laid flat out on the garden was a little grey dog, about the size of a jack russell.  I thought at first that it had died until I realised that its' ribcage was still moving.  The dog was devoid of hair from nose to tail apart from a few clumps and seemed to be covered in some sort of skin condition. I lifted its' head by the collar and it was then I saw an empty eye socket, seething with maggots and putrified flesh dropping out of it!  (I did say 'Not for the squeamish!)  The dog absolutely reeked of 'death' but I had to get it to the van somehow.  As it could not walk, there was only one thing for it.  Yes, I picked it up!  I carried it (trying not to inhale!) to the van and laid it carefully in a cage.  Its' skin was so sticky, it was literally rotting to death!  I drove the six miles to the vet we used and rushed in to get them outside to it as no way was I taking it in!  They agreed with me and put the poor thing to sleep straight away.  I then left my van with my boss as he wanted to clean it to get rid of the smell and any disease and I returned home.  The next day, I investigated and managed to find out who owned it!  I took another council official round and we interviewed yet ANOTHER heavily pregnant woman!!!  She denied knowing that the dog was so ill and had no idea it was missing an eye!  She actually blamed her ten year old girl as 'She should have been bathing it!'  How I contained myself I do not know but I remained very professional and informed (the cow!) calmly that the RSPCA would be in touch.  I then returned to my van and called the RSPCA and made a formal report, setting the wheels in motion on behalf of that poor little dog.  I then took the van back, went home and broke down.  I suffered Post Traumatic Stress for 7 months afterwards and ended up having hypnotherapy and normal therapy by a counsellor was no help at all.  I was left with (and still have) a phobia about the smell of death and feel physically sick if I even think I can smell it.  The RSPCA Inspector and I worked for a year putting the case together only for Head Office to accept the womans excuse that the little girl should have looked after it and she could not have it put down because the kids would have been too upset!  They just gave her a written caution so that the case did not even go to court!   The RSPCA Inspector was furious and could not even look me in the eye when he told me but he could do no more.

Now do people understand why I am not a 'people person' and why I am more at ease in the company of animals and certain like minded folk only?  Yes I am a cynic and yes I detest and loathe cruelty and neglect.  The animal is NEVER to blame, no matter what it is supposed to have done and so called civilised humans should know better!  Funnily enough, I am still not anti RSPCA but by crikey their Head Office bods need to get back to the floor and see what it is like in the real world!  The Inspector in the above case was not at fault as far as I'm concerned. 

The above are just a few of my experiences as a Dog Warden.  It's not a job I recommend as unless you are rock hard, it will get to you in the end.  It started to depress me after the 'rotting dog' episode and my heart went out of the job.  I also started to suffer with my health so eventually I quit.  I too often felt quite vulnerable, not that I was scared of any of the dogs I dealt with (though some were dangerous!) but some of the the owners were something else!  There were times when I feared for my safety to be honest.   But there were also times when I feared for my sanity.  When I started to go through a huge box of Rennies per week, I knew it was time to quit!

Please note that I will not allow anti-RSPCA comments on as this blog can be read by anyone and I do not want lawsuits for libel!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

My opinions on working full time and owning a dog.

In my capacity as Canine Behaviour Consultant, I met a wide variety of misbehaving (and often misunderstood) dogs and their owners.  Very often as I drove to the appoinmtment, normally at the owners own home, I would often entertain preconceived ideas about what I was going to encounter when I got there.  Most of my cases were because of seperation anxiety, with the associated chewing, lack of housetraining and lonely barking.  Many of these dogs were being left alone all day, from Monday to Friday and often at weekends too whilst their owners did overtime or went out for the day with families etc.  The dog had often been bought as a puppy, knowing that it would be left alone most of the time but the family wanted a dog to be there when they came home!  (This happens even more these days with the 'I want' society owning dogs even though they do not really have the time or space for them.)   So subsequently, poor puppy had been wrenched from the company of his mother and littermates, was taken back to an often chaotic household complete with strange people including excitable children, made a huge fuss of over the weekend and then come Monday, left all on his own in a kitchen (normally) with newspaper down and some food, water and maybe a few toys.  Puppy was not supposed to howl.  He most certainly was not meant to chew and if he needed the toilet, he should go on the paper!  Anyone who has had a puppy knows that they don't have a lot of time for house rules! ;o)

A case example - A young male Boxer who was howling the place down whilst his owners were out at work.  He was confined to the kitchen and had made a good job of eating the door frames.  He also messed and then he trod it round the floor. :o)  He was let out by a neighbour at midday.  That may have seemed a reasonable thing for his owners to have arranged but what it actually did was provide the dog with a welcome distraction during the day which wound him up so that when he was shut in again for the rest of the afternoon, he felt even more anxious and lonely!  I asked what time the owners left for work and what time they normally got in and worked out that the dog was being left for a total of ten hours including their travelling time!  That 1/2 hour at lunchtime that the neighbour gave the Boxer was nowhere near the amount of companionship that poor dog needed!  Added to that, when the owners came home, they were tired, just wanted a shower and to eat so the Boxer got a quick walk round the local park and that was it!   The owners were of course blaming the dog!  I advised them to either revise their working hours so that they did not both work exactly the same hours, or work from home, or one of them go part time or even rehome the dog to people who did not work instead as no way could I give any recommendations if the dog was to continue to be left alone so much.  It would have been pointless.  Not what they wanted to hear but sometimes I am afraid, I had to be blunt, for the dogs sake.

I ask you, is that any life for a dog?   But this is now what many dogs are being asked to cope with and the rescue shelters are now bursting with dogs who are being got rid of for sepration anxiety related problems.  If no-one is going to be at home to housetrain the pup then how do you expect him to become clean?  If no-one is there to supervise pup how do you expect him to know that he is not to chew or howl?   If you are going to be out for more than 4 hours a day, 5 days a week then ask yourselves, is it really fair for you to expect a puppy or young dog to be alone so much?  They cannot housetrain themselves.  They will howl and bark if lonely.  They will chew out of boredom and anxiety.  Chewing around a door frame is common as that leads to freedom!  They will mess on the floor, not just because they need to go but out of anxiety too!  If you are nervous or worried, do you not want to go to the toilet more frequently?

Dogs need better people!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The making of a General

'General' was a magnificent jet black German Shepherd who belonged to a pub landlord named 'Alan'.  Alan rang me one morning and asked me to drop by the pub as he had rather a lot to explain before he would even ask me to take him and General on as clients. This I duly did a few days later.  Upon arrival I listened to Alan recount what problems he had with General.  General was a second hand dog, having been kept by some people before and allowed to stray onto a field that Alan often walked his old boxer bitch on.  The people, having done nothing with General but allow him to do exactly as he liked were keen to 'get rid' and Alan, seeing the advantage of having a German Shepherd as a possible watch dog for his pub agreed to take him on.  He had had General for about 5 months and during that time, General had managed to bite not one, not two, not three but four people!One was not long after Alan got him and was showing him off to some men in the pub.  One of the men had tried to playfully shove him and General had chomped down hard on his hand.  The second and third people were relatives of Alans who had turned up and gone upstairs unannounced (they were bitten on the arm) and the fourth was a youth on the park who had been drunk and swayed rather close to Alan.  He had had his lower leg bitten though Alan believed that he was kicking out at the dog at the time.  Fortunately nobody so far had involved the police.
Before I would agree to take General and Alan on, I really needed to meet General so I was shown through to the private back yard.  Alan came down with him on lead and as soon as he set eyes on me, General went ape!  We walked around the yard with me averting my eyes, talking in a low voice and keeping all arm movements to a minimum.  I had taken a basket muzzle with me so I placed it on a table and asked Alan to put it on his dog.  Once he had done so, I asked for him to casually hand me the handle of his' lead then to slowly walk away.  This he did and once he realised that Alan was leaving him, Generals' attention turned to me and believe me, if he had not been muzzled, I would have been victim number 5!  I retaliated with a loud growly "What the hell do you think you're doing?" and General sat back on his haunches with an aghast look upon his face!  That wasn't meant to happen!  People were normally scared of him!  I then started to walk with General warily keeping up with my pace as I altered from slow to fast, back to slow, then to normal and then to fast etc.  This kept him on his toes and I had to stifle a giggle as his face was such a picture!We stopped and I commanded him to sit, which he did straight away (he knew that much then!) and I uttered a quiet "Good lad." to which he responded by leaning against my leg as only a German Shepherd can and then it happened.  He totally relaxed and from then on we became friends.

Over the following year (yes, they had lessons for a whole year with me because Alan enjoyed learning how to train him that much!) General gradually went from being a bossy, loud mouthed, aggressive lout to being a loudmouthed (Well come on!  He was a Shepherd!) and very well trained dog, totally faithful to Alan but with a soft spot for me.He was the dog I thought he was.  An intelligent, confident animal who enjoyed 'working' and the challenge of learning new things.  Within the year he had learned to do all the basics, sits, downs, stays, recalls, heelwork etc plus out of sight stays, send-aways, re-direction at a distance, retrieves, fun agility and I even introduced my Weimaraner Lacey as a training companion so that he could work with another dog present.  He was not actually that keen on other dogs though he bonded with Lacey quite well.  He did learn to leave other dogs alone though and much preferred his owner to any of them so would always come away.  Sometimes with him, it was a seemingly hard slog, one step forward and two back etc but we did it and eventually we ran out of things to teach him hence the lessons stopped after a year.  But, most importantly of all, General never bit anyone again and now looked to Alan to make the decisions for him.  He also became trustworthy to have down in the bar at closing time and would collect the beermats from the tables to take to the bar staff and then sit and glare at any stragglers until they drank up and left!  I went to see Alan and General six months after our lessons stopped and all was well.  I did tell him to call me if he ever had any more bother with him but I never heard anymore so I must assume that he never did.

General was trained using reward for response methods with verbal chastisement if he required it.  But as General had bonded so closely with Alan through them both learning together, the latter was rarely needed.  Alan was at that time, aged 59 years old and had only ever trained his dogs in the way he knew best which was rather 'old school'.  He had to relearn almost everything and to be honest, to look at him you would not have expected him to have been so open minded!  He was a really old fashioned soul.  But he gave it a go and stuck with it, reaping the reward of having a cracking looking German Shepherd whose behaviour he was proud of at the end of training.  There was no need for alpha rolls, pinning down, hanging him up by his collar and other dubious methods used by celebrity trainers obsessed with quelling so called 'dominance' in dogs.  General was treated with respect and rewarded fairly for what he did right.  He grew to trust Alan even more plus he trusted me too. He was not subjected to cruel gadgets like shock collars even though he was a biter when I first met him.  I don't work that way and never have needed to.  Between us, Alan and I got results without subduing General and he retained his character.  Another dog I will never forget!

Out of respect for the privacy of my previous clients, names have been changed.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Any dog that I had been working with privately with it's owner because of dog aggression problems would be eventually be invited into the ’Fun Dog’ class so that it could be slowly integrated into a group of well trained dogs. As I would have been working privately with the dog and owner anyway, it would have a higher standard of basic training already so this generally worked well. We had quite a few successes doing this, the most notable being a very large and powerful Bullmastiff - I shall not give her real name for the sake of the owners anonymity. I shall call her 'Tess' instead.

Tess was brought to me when she was 2 years old by her very worried owners whose next stop was going to be the vets if I would not help. I shall call them ‘Bill and Carol’ (not their real names). They left her in the car whilst they explained her background to me. She had been kept by a drug dealer in a yard chained up for the first two years of her life and the only things to amuse her had been raging at the two chained dogs on the opposite side of the yard. When she was rescued from her situation, she was taken in by this lovely couple who stood, close to tears, before me.

She hated other dogs they said. Being a large, muscled up dog, it took two of them to hold her back and walks were no fun to say the least. The mere sight of another dog even if that dog was a mere dot in the distance, would have Tess up on her hind legs, frothing at the mouth and threatening them with death! They had been to 3 other trainers and been turned away by them all as they daren’t let a dog like Tess into their classes. I too refused her entry to the class but offered instead private tuition on a one to one basis. This they accepted and so our journey with Tess began.

Our lessons started without any other dogs around. Tess had already been fitted with a proper muzzle so that she would get used to working with one on. This was for everyones’ safety in case a dog did come onto the park we used and also to put Bill and Carols minds at rest that Tess could not bite even if provoked. Underneath the muzzle she wore a head collar and was held by a double ended lead, one end attached to the head collar and the other attached to her collar. She was an incredibly strong dog and we were taking no chances! We worked out what Tess’s favourite titbit was and began to teach her all the basic stuff like sit, down, stay, come, walk nicely on lead etc with her being rewarded really well with praise and favourite titbits.

On about the 3rd lesson I introduced my Weimaraner, Lacey into the lesson. Lace made an excellent ‘stooge’ dog as she would simply go into ‘ignore’ mode whenever a dog got aggressive. Of course, Tess immediately wanted to rip her limb from limb so Lace, who was off lead, simply turned round and slowly walked away sniffing the ground - a major calming signal used by dogs. Tess was then worked as normal with Bill ignoring any raging and working on getting her attention back instead. With Lace ignoring her and Bill timing his rewards and praise to coincide perfectly with moments of good behaviour under my guidance, Tess gradually settled down over the next few lessons until one day we moved on a stage further. Tess was allowed off lead to run free with Lace! Muzzled of course! ;o) The first thing that she did was to barge into Lace, roaring her hate! Lace simply got back up and pottered off, nose to the floor in inimitable Lacey style! Tess tried again and again and then realised that she was getting no reaction from either this dog or from Bill & Carol (who were under strict instruction from me not to react). After a while Tess went over to Bill and he promptly rewarded her and then did a bit of work with her, a few sits and downs etc.

He then followed Lacey (who was still sniffing around) with Tess following him. Tears were shed when Tess finally put her nose down too and started plodding around the park with Lace, sniffing at what she was sniffing and revelling in the scents, something Tess had never been known to do before. Tess had learned how to do a dog thing! Remember that this poor dog had spent her former life chained up in a yard, never being able to do what most dogs take for granted like socialise and have fun. She had missed all that early socialisation! A few weeks later, Lace did a play bow at Tess and this time, instead of looking at her with an astonished look on her face. Tess play bowed back and a great game of chase ensued! Bill, Carol and I just watched with tears of joy flowing. :o) Then Jasper, my first Border Collie was introduced a week or so later. He was not one for playing with other dogs but Tess accepted him straight away and we knew that we had moved on enough for her to be introduced to the Fun Dog Class.

It was eight months later that Bill had enough courage and confidence to remove Tess’s muzzle. I had been on at him for 6 weeks or so to do it but he had to do it when he felt ready and to that I agreed. Yes, it was hankies all round again and even more tears flowed when Bill reached down and unclipped her lead. The worry was over, Tess knew how to talk dog at last and we could relax. Over the next year or so, Tess got through her Bronze, Silver & Gold Kennel Club Good Citizen awards successfully, learned to do send aways, search squares and even the Fun Agility! She also learned to do distance control which meant that Bill could redirect her at a distance and she became a joy to own instead of such a worry. From being one step away from being put down as she had been such a danger to other dogs, Tess became Bill & Carols pride & joy and also became our official ‘meeter and greeter’ in the classes. Carol could also now walk her on her own and feel confident instead of scared when other dogs and owners came along. Even if challenged by another dog, Tess would ignore them and look to Carol and Bill for her reward instead

All of the above is true apart from the fact that I have changed the names of the two owners and their dog. Sadly, after being in the class for 3 years, Tess came down with Lymph Node Cancer and after trying their best to save her by allowing her to go through chemotherapy, Bill and Sue had to make the devastating decision to let Tess go to sleep for a final time. When they came to the class to tell me, well, tears flowed yet again, not from joy as before, but from utter grief for such a marvellous dog who had proved previous ‘experts’ wrong. Tess was not just a dog, she was a friend. She will never be forgotten. She was rehabilitated with patience, perseverance and no punishment. Forget your ‘Cesar jabs’ and alpha rolls, prong collars and shock collars. There’s no replacement for sheer hard work, lots of love and dedication. I could not have helped Tess and her owners unless they had agreed to commit their time and energy to the long road we had ahead. They did just that and between us, we turned Tess around and gave her a life. She was no picnic, but we knew that in there lurked a lovely dog. How right we were! R.I.P Tess. xx

Sorry the pic is a little blurry but 'Tess' is the 4th dog from the right, doing an off lead group downstay.

Next: Puppy walking for Guide Dogs for the Blind!

Friday, 16 October 2009

How it all began!

It all began when I was 11 years old. My parents had bought a gorgeous little Cairn Terrier puppy. His name was Khymzal - Kim for short. One day, whilst up at my grandmothers, Kim got out and ran round the estate. My mother and I chased him and when she finally caught him, she gave him a whacking with his lead!  I stood there watching her and I remember thinking "But that's not going to teach him to come back!" The following week I went up to my local library seeking books on dog training and my lifelong interest began.   You will see from this photo that not only did I have a long line attached to his collar (he had been learning what "Kimmy come!" meant) but that I was also wearing a very fetching little padded anorak and a fluffy brown bonnet!  But I was just eleven years old so please forgive my fashion sense!

25 years later I held my own dog training classes for the general public on that very same park and held them there for about 10 years.  I also held classes on 2 other parks, actually working on behalf of the council who subsidised them so that local people could do them free of charge!  Oh those were the days!  Everyone was taught up to the Kennl Club Good Citizen Dog Bronze award standard with a large number going on to do their Silver and many more also staying on to do their Gold!  I taught 'Practical Basic Obedience', not competitive style obedience.  Many different breeds of dogs attended my classes, from Newfoundlands, Mastiffs and Great Danes down to Yorkshire Terriers and Pomeranians!  No type was barred and if it was a Pit Bull, I put in the book as a Staffy cross.  ;o)  Never had any bother with them in the class as it happens.  (I did once in a private lesson but that will be a story related in a future post)  I had in my class mainly pet dogs but also quite a few show dogs as well whose owners were intelligent enough to realise that their dogs could tell the difference between 'sit' and 'stand' and would not sit when told to stand in a show ring!I also held further classes in two other towns in nearby Derbyshire - only for a couple of years each but during the ten year period when I held the original classes.  Dog training was more or less a full time hobby for me!  I was the only one in the area who actually gave away handouts and newsletters plus I banned the use of choke chains from the start.  I only ever had one person object to that rule and as he only have a 14 week old Doberman pup (such a baby to have the inch thick metal choker on!) I gave him a withering look and explained in words of less than two syllables exactly why he did not need such a contraption on such a delicate neck and that the only way that he would get to use one in my classes was if he wore it instead!  He was also told that it was my class and my rules.  I never did see him again but then again there are none so blind as those who cannot see!
Anyone who wanted to do even more with their dog would be invited into our 'Fun Dog Class' where I would teach distance control, send-aways (being sent away from the owner to a given point, increasing the distance slowly), searching for tiny articles dropped within a square marked out by poles (search square) and further obedience exercise plus fun agility over equipment I had bought or had the Other Half make for me.  We also did retrieves. 

The next post will be about a dog I met through being a dog training instructor who gave me one of my biggest challenges ever.  I was going to include her in this post but she deserves a post of her own.

Welcome to my blog

As an ex Dog Training Instructor/Behaviour Consultant/Dog Warden/Puppy Fosterer/Guide Dogs for the Blind Puppy Walker/Dog Shelter Volunteer & Worker, I have accumulated over 35 years of experiences and memories, some sad, many happy and a few downright maddening!  I intend therefore to use this blog to get them all down in writing, for posterity and for amusement! 

Please note that I do not recommend choke chains, electric shock collars or other negative gadgets as training aids but I am not totally 'fluffy' either.  I do train by mainly reward for response methods, which I have always had good results from though I will verbally correct a dog.  I have never followed any single 'famous' dog trainers mantra - each to their own but Whisperers and Listeners generally do not impress me.  I have over the years studied various peoples 'methods' (which have normally been cribbed from someone else!) and mixed and matched the bits I liked best until I came up with my own 'way'.  But, one size does not fit all and it has to be remembered that each dog is an individual and what works for one may not work for them all.

I'll start adding to this later so watch this space!