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!