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!


  1. YAY, good on ya!
    everybody gets Clicks! and praise, the determined owner-adopters, the model dogs, and Tess herself, as well as *pawsy*.
    these are never easy cases, but oh my word, they are so rewarding... and yes, tears to honor the break-through moments are predictable, and it feels ** Fantastic! ** to see those break-throughs, even mistily with filled eyes.
    these frightened, frustrated dogs are such amazing teachers, difficult as they are. i am grateful for them; they give us skills for other, easier dogs we might not have known existed.
    Clicks all round! :--)
    --- terry

    terry pride, APDT-Aus, apdt#1827, CVA, IPDTA, TDF

  2. Thanks for that Terry. Even getting it down on this blog was quite emotional. It happened years ago and the memory of those feelings was as fresh as a daisy!