How my rescue dog inspired me to become a trainer …
… and taught me about human mental health in the process

Nicola Cole, guest blog 

Without a doubt, my dog Fred has rescued me rather than the other way round. And what I have learned since starting my studies and journey as a trainer has been eye-opening. Learning more about rescue dogs, nervous dogs, reactive dogs has made me realise (or maybe I already knew) how similar we really are!

I’ve been a lifelong animal lover and a dog groomer for over 10 years, but adopting my rescue dog, Fred, increased my interest in behaviour and prompted my new career venture as a trainer. How can I be sure I’m doing the best for him? We all need to aim to be the superhero our dogs can trust, turn to, and check in with.

As soon I started my venture in dog training, by completing a canine body language course, I was hooked and hungry to learn more.

As Fred continued to settle into his forever home with me, I decided I wanted to help more dogs – as a trainer. And I realised, through learning about dog behaviour, how similar we really are. Here is just a snippet of what I have learnt…

Don’t force dogs to play if they don’t want to – we don’t all have to be sociable!

Socialisation is often misunderstood. Yes, we need to get our puppies/dogs comfortable with everyday life, such as other dogs and people walking by. No, we shouldn’t be marching them up to every dog that passes because they have to “say hello.”

Forcing our dogs to get up close to any and all dogs can have several effects. For excitable dogs that love meeting others, it can cause frustration and lunging behaviours because, for many reasons, they can’t say hello to everyone they pass. But in their head, they think they can.

For sensitive dogs, having other dogs invade their personal space and get right in their face, well, that dog really isn’t going to enjoy the experience.

Ideally, you want meet-ups to be controlled. The dogs should be able to get away if they want to.

With more awareness about human mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, comes some very welcome articles about how we don’t all have to be extroverts. Music to my ears! I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me for wanting to socialise only on my terms. No.

My first dog was never very dog-friendly. He liked his inner circle, his family, and a few others. Would I force him into a room full of other dogs to go and play and tell him that what he should be doing? Absolutely not!

Some of us want to be out socialising all the time. Some of us, like me, would rather slam our hand in the door than go out clubbing. And that’s OK! Let’s respect what everyone is comfortable with, people and dogs!

The world is scary, especially when we feel we are not in control

Common behaviours that dog trainers have to deal with can include food snatching, resource guarding and food aggression.

Every dog and every case is individual, but food aggression is often taken out of context and can be unfairly diagnosed. Maybe some of you have seen a recent dog trainer on our screens and one particular episode about a Labrador. Cue Twitter and a lot of comments along the lines of, “I think if someone tried to take my dinner away from me, I’d snap too!”

The owner had it in his head that he needed to try to take the food away after placing it down to prevent these issues. And previously, the dog had found a bone that needed to be taken. Continuously taking food away had resulted in the dog growling and snarling when approached.

We control everything in our dogs’ lives — when they eat, sleep and go out. Resource guarding can often stem from insecurity — they are holding on to something that is valuable to them for whatever reason. A dog that has come from a neglectful past may understandably become possessive over food. This can also include toys, objects, spaces, furniture and people.

I often think I should be in one of these dog training rehabilitation programmes. Eating disorders often stem from previous life situations out of our control; we turn to food and eating habits to feel in control. I am about as bad as Fred for wanting to be in my own space to eat, away from other people and unhelpful comments. My issues are far worse than his, for one thing, but I know any comments wouldn’t bother him!

To sum up

One of the main takeaway points from everything that I have learnt so far as a dog trainer is the complete rethink on socialisation. Remember that we don’t have to like everyone we meet and indeed it is impossible to be friends with all and get on with every single person. So, let’s be understanding, respect each other and be kind — to people and pets!



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