Dogs have always had a special place in my heart, and whenever I was in the presence of a dog, I would be irresistibly drawn towards it. Unfortunately, a family dog was not an option; my parents tried very hard to fulfil my desire for a pet with a budgie or two. I loved them and took care of them, they just weren’t as much fun as I knew a dog would be.
Mother was persuaded by a work colleague to take on an older Yorkshire Terrier who was an ex-breeding bitch. Looking back with an experienced eye, that little dog had so many behaviour issues, but we adored each other and were inseparable. When Dolly sadly passed, I took on Ellie who had come from the same breeder.
Ellie was easy to live with and we enjoyed our life together. Ellie made a good friend in the male Yorkshire Terrier who lived next door and when they moved away both dogs pined for each other. As I had young children at this point it was a heart-breaking but sensible decision to let her go and live with her best friend.
A few dog free years followed until the year 2000 when Hamish, a Cavalier King Charles puppy joined our family.
Introduction to Dominance Theory
Because life with the other dogs had been straightforward, I felt very confident about my ability to handle a puppy. Our training journey began well, we were successful at training classes and enjoying our puppy at home. However, his behaviour began to change, he started growling and snapping at us. I phoned the club trainer for advice and was told that I had allowed my puppy to 'get above his station'. I knew nothing better and faithfully followed the advice to eat first, go out of the door first, keep him off the sofa, sit in his bed (yes really!). Things only seemed to get worse and we really weren't enjoying our dog, so I stopped this regime, put better management in place and went looking for more answers.
This was before the internet, so books were my source of knowledge and the more I read the more I enjoyed acquiring knowledge about dogs and their behaviour.
To increase practical experience, I began fostering dogs for the Greyhound Awareness League and volunteering with the SSPCA. One of the dogs being fostered had quite a few behavioural problems and the training club leader was happy for me to take him along to classes. However, once she realised, he could not cope with the class environment and she could not help we were asked to leave in the middle of the class. I say asked to leave, it was more ‘get out now’ with a finger pointing at the door; I felt very humiliated and shamed. Walking back across the park I realised how difficult the situation was. This was a time before private trainers and behaviour therapists were so abundant and I realised how alone I was. It was at this point I made the decision to follow pet behaviour therapy as a career and become a resource for others.
A decision that would ultimately change my life.
Discovering Science Based Training
Research, reading, attending seminars and taking courses followed. Following my role as a volunteer, I secured a full-time position within the SSPCA working in the welfare kennels.
My search for education led me to the work of Kay Laurence and her thoughtful, challenging style of thinking deeply about dogs and how we train them. To be honest it was too difficult to follow the work from a distance and I spent a few years training with other trainers and completing an Advanced Diploma with COAPE. However, in 2009 Kay's courses went online and with regular support of a deeply thoughtful community I soon found my feet. To this day I enjoy the online courses, the community they create and the thoughtful discussion that results.
I have been teaching classes and seeing private clients since 2003 and these days I mostly work with dogs who lack confidence and are very sensitive to changes in their environment. These dogs have often been labelled reactive or aggressive but they are generally anxious and fearful.
My other passion is Border Collies. Anyone who remembers me from my SSPCA days will no that I had no time for the breed until Tad came into my life. Tad was extremely thin (only 8kgs) and not expected to survive. He needed a home environment rather than kennels so he came with me as a foster. As he gained weight and flourished our bond grew and there was no doubt he was going to become part of the family. I appreciated his desire to learn and how this drove me to improve my teaching skills. There have been many second hand collies since Tad and today I live with 6.
A new challenge is day care. Day care meets the needs of a modern society and is very popular. How best to care for dogs who attend day care and train staff who look after them is still evolving and we continue to learn all the time.
Away from classes and consults I continue to learn from and assist Kay Laurence with a variety of educational resources.
I have also discovered a love of helping other trainers develop their skills, improve their learning and develop their businesses.
Most importantly my own dogs teach me something new everything day.