I first contacted Fern back in 2015, literally at the end of my tether both physically and emotionally due to my then 18month old Staffie Lottie's reactivity to other dogs, and uneasiness around people she didn't know. After an initial consultation, where Fern had a chat with me to try and gain an understanding of Lottie's needs, we initally went to the classes held at Tritton Road, where it soon became apparent just how deep set Lottie's issues were. Before contacting Fern, I had used another local trainer, who used very old-fashioned police/military style methods, and in my naivety, I thought it would 'sort' Lottie out. It actually did the opposite, and heightened her anxiety around people and other dogs.
The first session at Tritton Road, Lottie was physically sick she was that anxious, she was drooling, terrified and spent the whole session sat on my knee shaking. After a chat with Fern, we stayed out of the hall, in a quiet room where we began the basics of mat and body work. There Lottie began to slowly unwind and start to grasp the Thinking-dog concept. We eventually made it to the hall where Lottie would set herself up in her little Bodywork routine, happily standing on targets etc. that she had been shaped to. She was still reactive but at this point the focus was to get Lottie comfortable with her surroundings before looking at her reactivity.
Eventually we changed venues, and started to do some work on the common. This is where Lottie truly began to get the concept of Thinking Dog, she was learning that looking calmly at other dogs Felt Good, and slowly her reactiveness was becoming less. These sessions also placed Lottie into the hands of Fern, where Lottie could be worked by her, meaning that Lottie was starting to trust people that weren't me, and slowly she was able to be handled by a few of the other owners attending.
Another venue change a couple of months later, at Skellingthorpe, and this is where Lottie truly started to get Thinking-dog. She was aceing her Bodywork, was being handled by other owners, and her reactivity started to become more and more controllable.
As well as Lottie's issues with people and other dogs, she had an incredibly high prey drive, and so her recall was none existent, with everything being far more exciting than me! Some one-to-one sessions with Fern on the common, with Buddy-dog Moth, enabled us to learn the skills to practice and develop Lottie's Feel Good Bubble around me. As a result her recall is spot on and the long line is hung up gathering dust!
I have to say, when I first contacted Fern, I had the mindset that I wanted to fix Lottie, to have a bombproof dog who was sociable with everyone and everything. However I quickly learned through Thinking-dog that in the end that wasn't what was best for Lottie. She'd spent the first 18months of her life scared and anxious of the world, coping by putting on a silly and bolshy front to help her cope, that when her walls were pulled away, she was a puppy in an adult dog's body who needed help discovering the world. Thinking-dog enabled us to do this, she loved being able to 'work', being shaped into tasks, she loved to get rewarded and the praise of doing something right, she never wanted the Brain Breaks during sessions because she just wanted to work. Thinking Dog enabled Lottie to think for herself, to make her own decisions, for her to show me that she was uncomfortable with something through how she had her ears, her tail, her eyes. As a result, I've gained a dog who is happy in her own skin, who now has her select doggy friends, who greets most new people like an old friend, who can run around off lead and not chase the rabbit or pheasant that runs out in front of her.
For me as an owner, Fern has helped no end. There has been countless times where I've text/emailed/called her at whatever time because Lottie has taken what felt like 10 steps back, and she has been there every single time to offer support, advice and guide me and Lottie through whatever challenge we had to face at the time. We have been 'away' from training for almost a year now, because (and I'm sure Fern won't disagree!) we don't 'need' it anymore. We have the skills and the bond between us to go it alone. However, I know that I'm not alone, I still message Fern most weeks, keeping her up-to-date on how The Spotty Dog is doing, if anything is troubling us, to let her know our achievements and to see how everyone in the Paws den is doing! I truly feel I've gained a friend for life in Fern.
Thinking-dog has been so successful for both me and Lottie, that I'm always recommending Fern to my customers at work, emphasizing the use of gentle and force-free methods. Especially those who may have used a harsher trainer previously, and had similar issues to Lottie.
From the start Fern told me that you get the dog you're meant to have. I'll admit I questioned why I was meant to have a stubborn, bolshy and reactive staffie puppy, but almost 3 years on I can see why. She's truly saved me in more ways than one, and I her. Thinking-dog methods created a bond between us like no other.
TIA AND KEEGAN
Tia and Keegan update 2017-01-02
The 20th Jan will be Tia’s second gottcha day and whilst she still can’t be walked on her own (and probably never will) she has made huge progress in the two years we’ve been lucky enough to have her in our lives. We haven’t taught her to sit or lay down, because we want her to comfortable in her home and asking her to do things which she doesn’t want to do isn’t really fair.
When she first came to live with us, meal times were a very noisy affair and could take us up to half an hour to prepare. Every time she barked or jumped up we stopped, turned away and waited until she was quiet and then started again. Now she lies on her mat in front of her cage and waits very quietly (we’ve never asked her to do this) Both dogs are fed in separate rooms with a baby gate separating them. As Keegan eats so slowly, Tia is always finished first. Again, she just lays quietly on her mat and waits for Keegan to finish, then she goes and cleans his bowl.
Both dogs went to the vets for boosters on Friday. Our new vets are very good with both dogs and understand how nervous Tia is of strangers. She’s been a couple times before just to meet the staff and have a smell of the premises. Each time we go she likes to sit on the weighing scales (which I click and treat) This time she went and said hello to the receptionist (twice) and seemed to enjoy a little fuss from her. She was a little worried in the waiting room, but was still calm enough to take treats. Keegan was having none of it, he knew what was coming and, whilst he was happy to say hello to another lady waiting in the room, he didn’t want to go into the surgery room at all.
In the surgery room, Keegan made it very clear he didn’t want to be there, even refusing treats from Tez. He wouldn’t look at the vet and just stood staring at the door. I’m sure he thought if he couldn’t see the vet, then the vet couldn’t see him. That was until the vet gave Tia a treat, then of course Keegan was back in the room and had to have a biscuit as well! Tia said hello to the vet and wasn’t too worried when he stroked her gently and carefully. He just gave her an injection this time, he wasn’t bothered about doing a full check, as he didn’t want to push her.
We try to walk them (round the duck pond) when we know there wont be many people or dogs about, but today we completely misjudged it and everyone man, woman and child were out with their dogs. Tia had a little grumble at 2 separate dogs but we knew why on both occasions. When we see another dog, I will take Tia to walk on the opposite side of the road. She doesn’t really lie down now, (Fern: she used to lie down and be unable to move when she saw anything that bothered her) but will do a half lay down half stand. She just needs time to see what’s coming. Lots of treats at this point, so she is still feeling calm.
Keegan and Tez will be in front of us (about 4-5ft) Lots of treats and soothing talking and we can walk forwards and pass the other dogs without any problems. Then we stand and she sniffs the air from where the dog has been. This is such a massive improvement from the screaming banshee that would spin round on her lead. If she does have a little grumble, we stand still and wait until she has calmed down and is focused back on me. Normally less than 20 seconds for this to happen. I am sooo proud of her. Our walks are so much more relaxed and this morning she had a little swaying bum and tail with a little spring in her step. She seemed to be enjoying it.
The above also happens when she sees a cat, although this can sometimes cause her to go over the top, but again it takes seconds for her to calm down.
Push bikes can be quiet exciting/scary but now she just turns straight back to me for lots of treats, although today she just stood and looked at a couple of the bikes and didn’t need any treats.
I can’t wait to see what else she brings us in the next twelve months, but as with many dogs: each day, sometimes each hour, can be a tiny paw step forward. Especially for any rescue dog.
All the above has been what you have shared with us and I want to say a massive 'thank you'. I’ll hold my hands up and say I haven’t done as much with her as I should have done and that’s purely down to me. But I’m hoping to change that this year .
One evening on a walk with Pippin, a chance meeting with another dog owner led me to Fern. The owner of a black lab was effusive about the success he had achieved through Fern’s support. I was nervous of starting with another trainer given Pippin’s history but Fern happened to be training round the corner and we were introduced.
I knew immediately from Fern’s manner that she was right for both Pippin and his humans and was filled with confidence that she would be able to help us to manage our bouncy, excitable boy.
Pippin is our first family dog. Having a dog was a family decision and we were all committed to training and loving our pup. We all attended puppy classes with Pippin and he did really well, learning fast. Pippin went through teething , and not untypical of his breed (flat coated retriever) he was quite a mouthy puppy and extremely excitable.
As he hit teens at about 5 months it got increasingly difficult to manage his excitement which often resulted in difficult behaviour and mouthing one or other of us. This was particularly difficult to manage out on walks. When he got over excited, he would jump up and grab an arm, particularly when crossing the road!
We visited the vet to check there were no health issues behind his behaviour. It was a very brief appointment. We were told that Pippin was extremely healthy, that he was likely to have canine ADHD and if it was aggression (he was sure it was) we would be looking at putting him down. He advised that he would be referring us to the University of Lincoln behaviour unit to see if there was anything they could do.
We were absolutely devastated – was it our fault? Were we the wrong family for him? Did he need a bigger garden? would he be better with another family? We felt that we had let Pippin down and lost confidence in our ability to look after him. The label of ‘aggression’ felt utterly wrong, but at the same time it made us nervous of him.
Whilst waiting for an appointment with the university, our puppy trainer helped us to make some adjustments in the home, introducing a pen so that when Pippin could not control his excitement he could have some calm time undisturbed. The university helped us to manage Pippin’s behaviour on walks, and we learnt how to anticipate behaviours and avoid triggers. Three months later Pippin’s behaviour had improved and he was judged to be a ‘normal puppy’ but still on the high end of excitable.
Pippin continued to be on the high end of excitable and we had a difficult time managing him in the house. Pippin liked to eat anything and everything and we had several trips to the vet with suspected blockages and gastro- intestinal issues as he had a sensitive tummy. Training needed to be completed in short bursts and adapted in order to avoid over-excitement. On top of this Pippin had other health issues – a lump on his leg and cut paw pad.
These necessitated operations and long periods in bandages with us needing to keep a close eye on him to stop him attacking bandages and wounds. All of this led to Pippin receiving and enjoying a lot of attention and being unhappy when he didn’t get it. He wanted constant entertainment and, given his issues with eating inappropriately, he required supervision unless in the crate or pen. I found my days utterly absorbed in managing Pippin, constantly looking for ideas for mental and physical stimulation which I thought would lead to calmness. I found dog ownership very hard.
Having been introduced to Fern, after an initial assessment, we joined teenage classes. We all loved, and continue to love, the classes, particularly Pippin. Fern’s manner is calm and encouraging and nurturing of both owners and dogs. I began to feel that things were possible and felt more confident in my own abilities to look after Pippin. The classes are small and we work individually on issues both particular to our dogs and issues that are common to all. Fern emphasises the importance of the 'Thinking dog' – this was completely new to us and to Pippin.
The classes are totally different to any we have attended, The emphasis is not on commands but promoting conditions under which a dog will be able to think for itself and this relies on the connection between owner and dog. Our first and continuing task is to build on the connection between owner and dog. As time went on, Pippin became calmer and responded really well, but I knew that I had to develop calmness at home and I desperately needed someone to help me restore balance.
Fern visited us to do a behavioural consultation on a Saturday morning. I remember the session so well as it was a huge turning point for all of us. Fern is extremely intuitive and she really understands people as well as dogs so she immediately read our situation and how things were affecting us all individually. Fern put together a comprehensive behaviour plan which aimed at promoting calm, reducing attention seeking behaviour, promoting a thinking dog able to manage his excitement levels. A priority in the plan was for me to spend less time with Pippin and for him to be able to settle on his own both in and out of the pen.
Within weeks of following the behaviour plan there were dramatic changes. During Fern’s visit Pippin intermittently rattled his pen because he was frustrated that the attention was not focused on him. This was a frequent habit of his, particularly if we left him alone in the room. Fern offered a practical solution to stop the rattling and a training solution to prevent the behaviour that led to the rattling. Pippin stopped the rattling within days. Very quickly I was reporting to Fern that Pippin was able to settle more in the room with us, managing his excitement levels more effectively. The mouthing reduced. Pippin became more calm and so did I.
Fern helped me understand that I had been trying to keep Pippin occupied and happy all the time and that I needed to take that pressure off myself. It was a huge relief. I began to regain confidence in my ability to look after Pippin and I began to enjoy my boy more and more and more…
We continue to follow the advice and training in the behaviour plan. Fern emphasised that consistency is key and Pippin responds to this. The support and advice she gives by phone and email are incredible and have greatly extended my knowledge and understanding. Pippin is a highly excitable, loving and lovely boy. He is over-excited by cats and new objects out on the street and leaves that dance in the wind! He very occasionally mouths one of us but the Thinking-Dog in him means that he is able to stop himself before he intensifies and it is as though he asks himself, ‘Why did I do that?!’.
He is as Fern says ‘Fizzy’. He is a big dog going through adolescence and, realistically, his fizziness will last some months longer. But with Fern’s help our home is so much happier and more relaxed. A calm and thoughtful Pippin is emerging and we love him.