I have shared my life with dogs for nearly 35 years. Desperate to have a dog as a child, but only allowed goldfish, mice, guinea pigs & budgies, I left home at the earliest opportunity and acquired Timmy, a scruffy mutt of about 7 or 8 years old, from the local dog pound – theses were the days before home checks. Two weeks later, after meeting Timmy, my parents decided that perhaps dogs weren’t so bad after all and adopted Max, a German Shepherd retriever cross.
Just over a year later I picked up a ‘free-to-a-good-home’ pup advertised in the local free paper. It transpired that the litter had been born only 200 yards down the road. I vaguely new the mother, having seen her out and about while taking herself for a walk. There were quite a few male ‘latchkey’ dogs around the area who could have been the daddy. Again, times have changed – ‘free-to-a-good-home’ is absolutely not the way to get a dog today!
Fang, as he became to be known, grew into what could pass for a pure-bred border collie.
I made a deliberate decision not to train Fang. Timmy, as an older dog, came pre-programmed with all his behaviours, both desirable – like going to toilet outside and walking nicely on the lead – and less desirable – the habits that resulted in him being well known in the local pound! Fang, of course, was a blank sheet. What made me decide that ‘training’ was not for us was that all I knew about dog training was what I’d seen on TV. It was all about choke-chains, kneeing dogs in the chest and generally bossing dogs about. I wasn’t sure what I did want, but I sure as hell didn’t want to put my new best friend through that sort of treatment so we remained happily untrained.
At the time, I had no knowledge of how dogs (or humans) learn. Dogs learn all the time they are awake, and they never stop learning. So although I didn’t know it was happening, Fang learned a huge amount. He learned to interact with humans and other dogs properly because he used to go everywhere with me when he was a pup; he learned to walk nicely on the lead; he learned to come to me when I called him. He was happy to be with me camping in a small tent in the middle of nowhere, and he was happy to ride the Piccadilly Line on the London Underground during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.
I suffered a really nasty broken leg when Fang was about 4 years old. I spent the best part of 6 months unable to walk or leave the house. Fang stuck with me throughout this, patiently lying next to the couch watching daytime TV. Once the cast was off I my leg was very weak and the ankle joint had stopped functioning. I was convinced that I would never be able to walk properly again.
Fang elected himself to the job of my motivator and rehab coach. Everyday he would push me to the front door, patiently wait for me as I hobbled the few hundred yards to the woodland path that we used to spend so much time on before the accident, and then, as soon as the lead came of, he walked me a few yards to a fallen tree trunk, waited for me to rest, then walked me a few yards further. Over the following months he encouraged and cajoled me to walk farther and farther until I was able to resume my life. I am convinced that without Fang, I would never have properly recovered from the injury.
It was Fang who made me realise that, regardless of what ever else happed, I was destined to share the rest of my life with dogs. Since then, I have had at least one dog in my life.
Over the last two decades I have trained dogs, fostered dogs for local rescues and adopted rescue dogs. I have learned about the psychology of learning; which applies to both humans and dogs, and I have learned first hand what life with a dog with behavioural issues is like, and how to deal with it. I have become involved with dog activities and sports such as agility, scentwork, obedience and the new sport of canine hoopers.
I am one of a team of instructors at Caerphilly and District Agility Club and act as the ‘show manager’ for the annual CADAC agility show at the Show Ground in Usk which attracts up to 400 competitors and their dogs.
I am an accredited Canine Hoopers UK coach and a Scentwork UK instructor.
I have recently gained student membership of the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers having passed a rigorous two day assessment process to show that I am competent to run dog training classes to IMDT standards and to conduct one-to-one client consultations. I also had to pass an oral examination on the theory aspects of dog training.
In my ‘non dog’ life, I hold a PhD in astrophysics. I have lectured in physics at a ‘top 10’ UK university for nearly 20 years. Although perhaps not obvious at first glance, the skills involved in helping undergraduates to master quantum mechanics are virtually the same as those involved in helping a dog owner to help their dog to understanding when and when not to bark at the front door!