Sitting on a rock on the beach in Madeira!!
Sitting on a rock on the beach in Madeira watching my daughter investigate the tide line with Stuart, I came up with the idea to help dog owners who work all day.
We would open a dog walking and pet care business. Simple. But my idea was to be professional and get veterinary recommendations. Just like Hills had done.
Having spent a good number of years working in the pet food industry and being a recognised dog trainer for a long time, I knew the benefits of keeping a dog occupied. Go full pelt and get people to pay me to visit their houses and take their dog for a walk or feed them, care and entertain them. Seems so obvious now but back in the 90’s not so much. We added dog boarding and cat feeding and even fed fish and other small furries. I especially remember feeding several tanks of “Discus” fish – at least I think that was what they were called.
We already had the vet contacts so published a newsletter to be left at all these locations and the rest is history. Some of early clients are still friends now, having met us with number one dog and then moved onto numbers 2,3,and more. At one point we had five people working with us whilst I restarted dog training classes.
Training classes grew to four days a week with sometimes two or three sessions per night.
Monday night was our German shepherd club and we swiftly developed of reputation for offering no nonsense practical help. Having had so many ourselves, we attracted owners to join us. This is how we met Harry, a young boisterously out of control GSD who went for Stuart as soon as he saw him. His owner was a Land Rover specialist and that’s where our love of the cars started. Harry’s owners were great, but he did do his best to keep customers from coming to the house and yard, so training was needed and regular walks. Stuart became Harry’s best friend to the end. He trusted Stuart and was able to be walked with other dogs and even come to classes. He never got over his attitude, but his owners loved him and learnt to control and manage this.
Another Gsd we met through class was Jabba. She wasn’t a full pedigree but was very welcome to join us and her owner went onto to work with dogs for the deaf. Michelle also taught babies sign language and became our principal assistant for puppies and their families. It was so good to see the whole family teach the puppy how to become a well-mannered family companion. Puppy day was Thursday and we welcomed all breeds. Many a time I have stood on the door and seen puppy pull new owner in. They seem to say “I have brought them to learn, I know it all!!” After a few weeks with our puppy training manager, Karis and her team of assistants, that attitude changed and both dog and owner was happy to progress to the next stage - the follow-on class or adolescents.
It was at the puppy class, that we first met our friends Neil and Sharon who now run Training Lines near Aberdeen. They had two litter sisters, Amy and Sophie and came to get help with them. Molly and then baby Katie soon followed and that was when the fun started. Katie’s attitude caused some big problems and she soon came to live with me.Hmmm I guess this is why I have had over 32 Gsd’s as many have come to us that way. Katie was replaced by Blitz in their family and he came from Vigil Gsd rescue.
We had already rescued Khan from Vigil, so we became close friends and often walked together in a group on Saturday morning. From there we developed a regular meeting place often celebrating big birthdays with the dogs and a quick glass of something sparkling. Denise and Caroline joined us with Tess and Rufus and then Marion joined with her beautiful bitch GSD. These ladies became good friends and often met up together to enjoy each other’s company. They had a wealth of knowledge too and willingly shared this.
I loved teaching the adolescent class - finding new ways to keep people interested and coming. We had a small display team who joined us at many events and ran fun competitions within our group. One year we visited lots of local shows and fetes and naturally our group grew. Another year we ran the Dog Village at the Aldershot Army show and welcomed the mod dogs to show off their displays to the public. Such a fun group and we did manage to repeat it a second year but the weather was less kind and we saw all our fund raising take off into the skies as tents were ripped from their stakes and blew away and fencing went missing.
Our adult class finished the Thursday evening and it was here that we looked more towards obedience competitions. Sophie joined us here and I helped her owners, Lyn and Paul turn this worried rescue dog into a fun loving happy reliable dog even if she did jump into the canal on a regular basis and soak her mums sofa by lying on it afterwards. We had dried her as best we could and left her in the kitchen, but nothing could stop Sophie when she wanted to go somewhere.
Tuesday night we had another obedience class at another location and often invited members to join our Gsd class or adult class. This grew into a special class for the rescue dogs and we soon became as the go to place for the owner to visit with their newly rescued dog. Susie came with her new owner to this. She had been one of our regular walking clients after her dad had died. She missed her companion, but mum had to work so we walked Susie. Such a lovey easy going dog but she was rehomed because of work commitments. Stuart found the perfect home for her locally and she then came to classes with her new Dad to help with the bonding. By learning new things together, they became a tight unit and we regularly saw them walking together which was so rewarding.
Wednesday was our bad boys and girls club. Here we welcomed dogs that couldn’t cope with our usual classes because of their attitude. All my problem 121’s came here to start their rehabilitation back into doggy society Harry came here along with many others.
From these very humble beginnings came the idea of outdoor classes for dogs who need more space. We saw that the dogs did not fight but learnt how to live together with regular meet ups. It was like their Saturday morning date was their time to shout and scream together and possibly complain about their owners. They were off lead and learnt fast. New dogs learnt from the older ones and was never a problem as they stayed in their pack. Great fun days and I knew we could and should be make it more available to all dogs.
So, we set about finding some places to do this. Firstly an indoor riding school near Church Crookham, an indoor school near Frensham, then one at the back of a kennels near Yateley and a field on an estate in West Byfleet which gave us a regular Saturday morning venue followed by one on the Hogs Back, then the Rushmoor arena near Farnborough,which was a bit big at 54 acres but we fenced off an area for our sessions. Over the years, the dogs grew older and new ones joined us. All breeds, types and ages – helping everyone learn and develop. This is when our teaching program started. So many of our clients, could see the improvement in their own dogs and wanted to share this with others – so we launched our Dog Training Academy and started teaching our methods with prospective dog trainers. Now many of these are now still running clubs or helping with their own projects and rescues.
Another kennels became our final venue and included some agility equipment and training for focus. Sadly, as our older dogs died, the new ones were not as capable of controlling situations as they had their own problems. Ben and Zytta had been so good for this. Their presence helped so many dogs learn. They were the real teachers! I just helped the owners understand what was going on.
Along with Merlin came Bella. Brodie joined us and met Skye and they are lifelong buddies. Stryder joined us then along with Max and Storm. Cody, PJ and Elsa. Woody, Timba and Bram soon joined the group. Bear and Phoebe, Marley and Duke. All big GSD’s with huge personalities. Ice and Ashka joined the white team and there were many more. I remember Mistral who challenged her Mum and then there was Buster who together with Mistral, joined in our Dogathon competitions and excelled at all the tasks set. It wasn’t just the German Shepherds either, I can recall Bertie, the Bedlington, who was a fun dog at our West Byfleet class.
Alice came along with her Mum and had to be reminded about not to eat the postman. Angel and Simba opened another door to Thursday morning outdoor classes, and it was here we met Dram and so many others. Diesel, Bandit and Tor soon joined us there along with many others. I do remember a big Labrador boy called George who challenged his Mum, but over the years, the knowledge learnt then, has helped her with the replacement dogs who are now a delight to their family. What is more important to me though, with all this, is the help given to support the owners, gave them strength to cope with many other problems in life. We know that we have done this hundreds of times over, the Walkabout way, is not just about dog training – it is a support system and many friendships made at our sessions, have out lived the dogs, who were the reason for them going in the first place😉
Tuesday morning classes introduced us to Kai, Max, Jake, Guinness and many more. We not only developed our systems here but shared them with the rescue organisations who brought dogs to us do assessments. Obedience and general practical advice were shared, and the dogs loved to show off their expertise to newcomers.
We had all breeds attend and many of these dogs would spend their holidays with us and learned to live in a pack. Finn in fact used to find ways of getting out of his garden and we would find him on our front doorstep. Honey on the other hand would spend all her time working out how to get out of our front door, so we developed an air lock system. One door always closed before the other opened. It worked, at one time over Christmas we had 8 GSd’s staying and did not lose one. It was a bit of a challenge to walk them, but we had big vehicles so managed. Keeping to a routine helped and the dogs loved being together.
As a dog trainer with over 40 years’ experience and probably worked with over 12,000 dogs of all breeds, ages, and attitudes, I am very aware that things are changing. The recent Lockdown has shown that we are all going to have to rethink things. Dogs may have to get used to people wearing masks, for example and some are going to struggle with that. Maybe we are going to be at home a lot more – home working seems to have been extremely popular and I am sure many people would consider this going forward. But if working from home, then what happens when we leave them to go out? Separation problems are going to be a challenge. Other changes will also have to be made. Dog training clubs may have to be rethought – allowing our dogs to interact with everyone is going to be difficult. I know that dogs do not carry the virus but if they get caught up, someone must jump in and help – all these things can be a problem. If your dog does not come back, then what do you do? You need to be having a reliable recall otherwise you have a lost dog and then who goes to look for them? I am currently offering 121 help with my clients, to help them get through this challenging time – using private land, I can support dog owners and have provided many ideas for people to teach their dogs and build bonds. But there is going to be a revolution in the next few months with all these new puppy owners and the newly rescued dogs who are going to need help.