As we enter another two week's of lock-down thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic and more people are having to self-isolate, we at Canine Behaviour Guernsey want to reassure islanders that there are a number of things you can do to help your dog if you find yourselves unable to take them for a walk.
The States Vet has confirmed that anyone who is required to self-isolate or is the subject to a quarantine order must not leave the house to walk their dog or attend to other animals. They may exercise them in their own private garden but if they have any animals located elsewhere, they are asked to make arrangements for someone else to care for them while they cannot.
Canine Behaviour Guernsey understands that owners may have concerns about not being able to exercise their dogs outside of the house, however it is important for the safety and health of the island’s community that we all listen to the government’s guidelines. As such, we have put together our top five tips to ensure our dog’s needs are still being met even if they cannot go for walks.
‘In normal day-to-day life, it is part of a dog owner's routine to go for at least one walk a day,’ said Canine Behaviour Guernsey’s founder and owner Anna Jane Brehaut.
‘Exercise is indeed important to the welfare and wellbeing of our dogs. However, we are not in a period of normality and it is essential that those who are being told to self-isolate or quarantine listen to the powers that be for the safety of islanders.
‘Our dogs are more resilient than we sometimes believe - they will survive without a daily walk for a week or two if needs be. Dogs are quite often placed on ‘box rest’ if they are injured or are poorly and rest days are also advised on occasions for those suffering from extreme anxiety.
‘However, if our dogs are not going for walks we do need to make sure that their needs are met in other ways. That is why we have devised our top tips - to help people understand those needs and how they can meet them.’
In addition to the top tips, Canine Behaviour Guernsey is also offering two online training programmes, which include enrichment ideas, ways owners can exercise their dogs in the home as well as activities to keep their dogs mentally stimulated. Two webinars are also planned, one for puppy owners and another looking at recall. A total of 20% of the proceeds from the webinars will go towards the GSPCA’s Crisis Fund.
Lorna Chadwick, GSPCA Welfare manager, agreed that it was important to ensure our pets mental and physical needs are met. ‘We now have more time on our hands and therefore no excuse,’ she said.
‘Owners can follow online programmes, watch webinars and spend time helping their dogs become happier pets; and in doing so reduce the likelihood of any behaviour problems arising out of frustration and stress during this difficult time.
‘Invest in your pet and help them as much as they are no doubt helping you.’
For more information regarding how to meet your pets needs or the programmes and webinars available please contact Canine Behaviour Guernsey at [email protected].
TOP FIVE TIPS:
Play is both mentally and physically stimulating for a dog. Get the toy box out, make it fun and enjoy some games of tug of war, fetch & retrieve and hide & seek!
Dogs were born to use their nose and sniffing is a great mental workout for them. If walks are off the table, it is important that we give our dogs an outlet to use this natural behaviour. Scatter-feeding and hiding food/treats in boxes and around the house are all great ways to do this.
Remember all those tricks and cues that you’ve always wanted to train your dog to do? Well, now is your chance! Fancy spins, leg weaves or even shutting the door! Keep sessions short, frequent and fun and use hands-off, positive reinforcement techniques. (If you’re worried about treat consumption, use their food to train or reduce meal portions accordingly).
It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of the pandemic but what we forget is the impact this might have on our dogs. They will sense our stress. So encourage calm wherever possible. Give yourself regular breaks, breathe, snuggle up and spend some quality time with them relaxing.
*Remember regular toilet breaks
Some dogs are not that great at letting us know when they need the toilet so it’s important we give them regular access to the garden or a safe space so they can do their business. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Petsercise Gsy is launching an online campaign this festive season! The 12 days of Petsercise will be available on Facebook from the 25th December up until the end of January 2020.
For many, Christmas is a time where they overindulge, exercise regimes go out of the window and our pets' routines get left behind. Normally, exercise programmes would get released on the 1 January when people make their new year’s resolutions to get fit. But at Petsercise Gsy, we aren’t about fad diets and burn-out exercise programmes, we promote happy and healthy lifestyle choices.
Christmas can also be a tough time for our animals, who like the comfort of routine. For some dogs it can be quite worrying as they do not know what is happening - quiet households are turned into party venues with guests popping by left, right and centre.
We get so busy buying and wrapping presents, cooking delicious treats and partying that we forget that our dogs’ bodies and minds need to stay active.
So the 12 Days of Petsercise is aimed at getting people to commit to their health and pets during the festive season. Each of the 12 days of Christmas, we shall release a short video with one two-minute exercise. Yep, that’s all we will be asking for – two minutes of exercise and dog training each day, reckon we can manage that? Should you wish, you can build your own exercise routine by putting the exercises back-to-back as you go.
To take part it will be just £15 if you sign up before the 24th December. If you want to sign up and join in from then on and over January it will be £25. After registration and payment you will be accepted onto a private Facebook group where the videos will be shared. We will also be providing regular tips and tricks to keep you motivated and show you how you can build and improve your exercises.
For more information and to register please email [email protected].
A NEW campaign to improve animal welfare standards in the island is being launched today.
The Autumn Aversives ‘Amnesty’, launched by Canine Behaviour Guernsey and supported by the GSPCA, aims to raise awareness among pet owners about the damaging effects these certain training products and devices can have on our animals’ physical and mental health.
An aversive is something unpleasant that is used to suppress emotions and diminish an unwanted behaviour. This can be an unpleasant sound, a physical correction, the pain caused by an electric-collar, choking or prong collar correction, or a harsh scolding.
A wide-range of these items continue to be sold and marketed today with owners understanding little about how they are exactly designed to work.
In an attempt to improve that understanding, Canine Behaviour Guernsey is asking all pet owners to hand in any aversive items they might have lying around the house, swap them for ethical training methods and make a firm commitment to raising animal welfare standards in the island.
‘We are using the term “amnesty” lightly because, while you might think they should be, these products are not actually illegal,’ said Canine Behaviour Guernsey founder and owner Anna Jane Brehaut.
‘Whether they should be made illegal is a political argument that has been rumbling on for some time and I expect it will continue to rumble on as long as other priorities continue to take to the fore.
‘However, in the interests of animal welfare we can’t just sit back and wait for the debate to play out for another five, 10 years or so. We want to do something now.’
As a practicing behaviourist for two years now, Miss Brehaut has seen a number of people reach for aversive devices as they look for an ‘overnight cure’. It can lead people down a slippery slope, as if one does not appear to make a difference they try another and another and so on.
‘These devices can be used for all sorts of different things but the most common behaviours I see them being used for are excessive barking, pulling on the lead and other impulse control related behaviours and recall,’ she said.
‘The reality is that if the items are perceived as working, it is only because the dog has been bullied and suppressed into a state of learned helplessness and depression – a sorry state for any living being.
‘The devices can also actually make the behaviour much worse due to association.’
Miss Brehaut is hoping the campaign will also raise awareness of animal mental health.
‘A recent national article reported that 1 in 10 dogs in the UK is suffering from a mental health issue but yet 20% of people believed the dog’s were just acting up for attention.
‘The world has made great strides in understanding and recognising human mental health - we now need to raise awareness that we aren’t the only species who can live with mental health struggles.’
An Amnesty box will be placed at the GSPCA reception desk. People can hand in any aversive item anonymously.
‘We do not aim to criticise or judge anyone who may have used or who are using these products. Many people will not have even realised that the product they are using is aversive and we totally understand that.
‘We have also included anti-pull headcollars and anti-pull harnesses, which aim to stop a dog from pulling through tightening around the snout or body, on our amnesty list because they are also of an aversive nature and there are some great alternative products out there that are more effective and can be used instead in association with training.’
GSPCA Welfare and Behaviour manager Lorna Chadwick, a member of the Association of Pet Dog trainers who has been working with rescue dogs for over 20 years, said dog ownership has changed a great deal over the years.
‘It is no longer necessary, or acceptable, to use harsh methods in training or to use accessories that may cause your dog discomfort when walking,’ said Mrs Chadwick.
‘We have come full circle and now apply behavioural sciences (Pavlov and Skinner) to all of our dog training and behaviour programmes. Pain and fear is not in the best interest of the dog and certainly compromises their welfare as well as compounding any behavioural issues they may have. It is important that any methods or equipment used are kind, fair and effective.’
Anyone who would like more information or would like advice on alternative and ethical training tools and methods can email Miss Brehaut at [email protected] or contact Mrs Chadwick at the GSPCA on 257261.
The GSPCA reception will be open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 4pm Sundays. The amnesty will run until Sunday 1 December.
Items included in the amnesty list (but not limited to):
*Electric shock collars
*Air spray collars, including citronella collars
* Ultrasonic Bark Control Collars
*Pet corrector sprays (or any bottle that has been used as a substitute)
*Martingale collars used as choke devices (i.e not fitting properly so it acts as a choke)
*Slip leads being used as a choke device for pet dogs (we understand there is a use in sports such as gundog training providing the dogs have been trained to walk loose lead first)
*Anti-pull head collars that tighten around the snout
*Anti-pull harnesses that tighten around the body
Ah, the terrible teens. Yep, it’s not just humans that go through them! We experience them too! Crickey, I remember mine - I was a bit of a handful. Suddenly, just when you think you are getting there, it all just seems to change overnight and the dog reverts to all the annoying puppy-like behaviours that you thought you had trained them not to do. Loose-lead walking returns to pulling, recall goes out of the window, they start chewing cables again, tugging on clothes for attention and well that hole they dug up in the garden three months ago? Yep, that’s re-appeared too. But don’t panic, this is all completely normal.
Like human teenagers, adolescent pups will also start to test the boundaries. This is the age where puppies become more independent and they reach sexual maturity. While females come into season, and along with that come the associated behavioural changes, males experience dramatic fluctuations in their hormone levels. It is a challenging and testing age and it is no wonder that this is the most common time that people give up their dog for re-homing.
Holly has undoubtedly hit her adolescent stage and to be honest, she can be a bit of a pain from time to time! Now I know what mum and the family felt when I was this age. My mum must have had the patience of a saint and I will admit that while Holly is testing the boundaries a bit – I don’t think she is quite as much of a handful as I was - but don’t tell her I said that! I used to steal things in adolescence and this became quite troublesome when I experienced that need to guard, as discussed in a previous article. I also demanded to say hello to everyone, having a toddler like tantrum if I didn’t get my way - and my recall? Non-existent. I do appreciate all my mum did for me and I thank her for all her patience! I’m not sure where I would be today if she hadn’t taken the time to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Holly’s testing the boundaries in other ways – her lead walking took a step backwards, mainly because she just wants to run and has a paddy if she can’t. She decided to hunt for things to chew when we were left home alone – she chomped her way through dad’s Mac charger – thankfully it wasn’t plugged in (to be honest we are all in agreement that it was his fault for leaving it out in the first place – sorry dad!) And she ripped apart a phonebook – now I’m also going to be honest here and say that I did join in, because, well, the phonebook was already destroyed and she was having such a good time that it was just too tempting to resist! She also likes to dig – the lawn and mum’s pot plants – I don’t see the attraction with this, yuck, mucky paws? Me? Absolutely not! I’m a pampered pooch and hate getting my paws dirty – I’ve left her well alone with that one!
So how long does this all last for, you might be asking? Well depending on the breed and size of your dog, it can range but usually it starts at around six months and can go right up until 18 months. In fact, I only really started to calm down when I hit two. Yup, it’s a long time but try to remember that it does not last forever. You will feel like something has gone wrong somewhere and you will be overcome by feelings of failure and frustration at times. But please don’t feel upset and angry – just blame it on the terrible teens! Keep your training sessions short and sweet. Know when is a good time to quit – you should always end on a high. And if you feel like you’re getting frustrated, remove yourself from the situation and count to ten. Just stay patient and consistent, and it will all pay off!
Love for now,
2019 is now in full swing! January saw Canine Behaviour Guernsey go full time and with that it means I have been working out and about a lot more! While we have been out we have noticed many people are walking their dogs on retractable flexi-leads. What is wrong with that? Well, the truth about flexi-leads is they may just be encouraging the very things you are trying to train your dog not to do.
People like us to walk nicely on our leads so they can have a pleasurable walk. And that can be the very reason some people buy a retractable lead. If their dog pulls and they have a flexi, there is less strain on their arms when they go for a walk but they still have the comfort in knowing there is a lead there if they need to get their dog back. Flexi-leads make it more convenient for the human – they don’t have to keep stopping and changing direction when teaching them to walk nicely on the lead. They think it’s nicer for their dog as they have more ‘freedom’ to roam. We certainly can see how that convenience is appealing for an owner. However, by their very nature, retractable leads are always tense. They are also heavy so we can feel this as we walk. When they are locked, they are tighter and even tenser. And when they are unlocked, we know that we can pull against the lead to go ahead and investigate all those lovely scents and smells.
Let’s think then what this is all teaching us. With a flexi-lead we learn to pull. We don’t learn any self-control, nor do we learn to check in with our handler because if we are out five metres or so ahead then we’re only thinking about one thing – whatever is in our path. This doesn’t help with our recall and you actually have little control over us. They also don’t help us to be calm and relaxed on a walk. Tension can lead to anxieties and frustration on the lead – we dogs feel restricted because we can’t make our own decisions.
Another truth? Retractable lead locks can fail. Rescue centres know all too well about this – they have seen so many accidents where a dog has bolted into the road, the lock has failed and in a blink of an eye the dog is injured or killed by the oncoming car. And then let’s think at what happens if you have a reactive dog on a flexi-lead who has gone into fight mode and the lock fails? The consequence doesn’t bear thinking about.
So what can you do instead? Ideally, we should be to the side of our humans walking next to them on a nice loose lead with a loop in the middle – this ensures no tension and so a relaxed walk is had by all. It’s so nice to be able to trot alongside mum at our own pace, no pulling, no straining. I can see that she enjoys our walks. We’re trying to teach Holly this concept – it is difficult for a puppy because they get so excited but pawrents have to stay patient and consistent!
We walk on two-metre training leads that mum has the ability to shorten if need be, to tie around her waist or even to use a double clip harness. Mum also does loose lead walking exercises with us. And what about recall training? Long lines, or recall lines as some people call them, offer more flexibility for when you are out in wider spaces and practicing recall.
A loose lead is a happy lead,
Hello paw friends! I have a key message to share in this article. It's something very important and something my mum and I feel very passionate about and we want to raise awareness of. Unfortunately though, it's a debate where those on either side can get very territorial about. But at Canine Behaviour Guernsey we don’t get territorial, we look at the facts and treat every dog as an individual.
As I write this, I'm feeling rather poorly. I've had an upset tummy recently and now an ear infection and, to be honest, I'm quite fed up. My mum knows when I'm ill because I get quite grumpy - understandably of course - and my guarding tendencies tend to get stronger. I'm not sure why, but, when I feel unwell I feel like I need to cling onto things to protect them. Maybe it's because I don't know what's going on and why I'm hurting so I get anxious and that's how it all comes out. Anyway, everyone knows I'm a resource guarder, I've been rehabilitated but I still sometimes feel like I need to do it - mostly when I'm ill. I know now that there is nothing to be ashamed of though- it is a relatively common instinctual tendency and reinforced very quickly. Think of it please as an anxiety – I am nothing like a demanding child, who knows right from wrong but is trying to get my own way.
There are many complex behavioural issues that my dog peers can suffer from. Guarding is just one of them. My pawrents know how to manage and control my incidences of guarding and they have counter-conditioned my responses so now, if I have something that will harm me or I will break, they will ask me to swap it for a tasty piece of sausage. I love sausage and now will give up anything for it!
The problem is when people incorrectly apply an out-dated theory to these types of behaviours - the dominance theory. Now I could write for days on why very little weight, if any, should be put onto such a theory. It's something that so many people quote and for those people, it's considered to be gospel. However, it's a theory based on an old study of wolves in captivity and there are many new studies that give us a much better understanding as to why we act the way we do.
You see, the dominance theory simply doesn't fit many dogs. Mum prefers to use the word confidence as people use the word 'dominant' in the wrong way and also as an excuse to bully their dogs. Yes, there may be certain confidence related behaviours displayed between dogs themselves but there is certainly nothing to suggest that us dogs are trying to dominate our owners. Those who believe in dominance even think we manipulate our owners! But let me tell you this - a dog sees the world way more black and white than a human sees it. We live for the moment, for our next meal, for our next treat and for our next self-rewarding behaviour - not to manipulate or dominate our owners in an attempt to seek some perverse type of 'success'. Not us folks, I care way more about my sausage!
So next time you hear someone refer to the theory, think of me as I lay here at the end of my mum's bed, in pain and completely miserable. Am I being dominant while guarding my mum's pyjama top?! Nope, I just want to cling on to the comforting scent of my mum while not knowing why I feel this way. How would it feel if someone snatched this top away from me or even smacked me because they 'are the boss'? My fear that this would be taken away from me would be realised and I would learn that next time, I should guard that little bit harder. I once heard someone say that a dog should know its place in the home. So I ask, what place is that? Remember, it's our home too and you brought us here.
Till next time,
Hello! A lot has changed in the last couple of months - all for the good of course! I'm no longer an only child! My pawrents went away for a few days back in late June and came back with a nine-week-old cockapoo, called Holly. They did say they were coming back with a surprise! It was a little weird at first of course. I was introduced to Holly in a big garden and I think she was a little scared of me to start with because I was so big! But I have great manners so I let her be as she settled in.
When we went home, she wanted everything that was mine! My toys, my bed, my food! I felt I had to be a good big brother so I let her have everything she wanted - after all she was only a baby. Now though, I’m not quite so keen to let her have everything. But somehow she always ends up with whatever it is she wants!
I've had to be like an old school master with Holly - showing her how to behave in a domesticated human home. It's something that some dogs do struggle with so I made sure I told Holly from day one when she was doing something she shouldn't be. Cor, I didn't get much of a break! Every time I turned my head she seemed to be up to something! Biting chair legs, tugging the curtains, grabbing at my mum's trousers, chewing dad's phone cables. With every 'ah, ah, ah' mum and dad said, I barked to tell Holly to stop! And it worked - she only chewed through one mobile phone charger, which thankfully wasn't plugged in! It could have been worse!
But the amazing thing about having a little sister is I get to play! Some people might think we play a little rough but that's only because they miss-understand our intentions. This can sometimes lead owners to get too involved in their dogs play, which can cause issues. For instance, if mum picked Holly up when we were playing rough because she is smaller, I would get frustrated because I wouldn't know what I have done wrong. Holly too might get frustrated or learn there is something to fear when playing with bigger dogs. It is a tough balance though, you do of course need to step in if you think it's going to end in tears.
When we dogs play, we practice our survival and fighting skills, as well as chasing, wrestling mimics fighting and mouthing mimics biting. If someone saw still images of us playing in isolation, they might think we are trying to kill one another – but we’re not! You know we’re not when the play is being mirrored by both dogs and there are play behaviours thrown in such as play bowing and rolling over to expose our belly. Also, when we play we learn not to bite too hard.
Now, like all siblings, we have had our fair share of squabbles. Nothing major but for instance, I'm not keen when she jumps up at me at 6am in the morning and tries to wake me up by smacking me in the face with her paw then trying to bite my toe nails! But we sort out our differences. Again, my pawrents try not to get too involved. But if Holly bothers me when I'm ill or grumpy, they will try and call her away to distract her with something else and likewise, if I try and steal something from Holly and it gets a little heated, they call us in to distract us. Again, it's a balance. So trust your instincts.
Ah… recall. It’s every dog’s worst nightmare to learn – and that’s because it’s so, so very hard for us! While it’s a tricky thing for us to grasp – and our owners to teach us - it is one of the most important things every dog must learn. Why? Because without it, we could find ourselves in a sticky situation –running up to another dog on the lead that doesn’t like to socialise with his canine peers, leaping out into the road at the thought of what could be on the other-side, worrying livestock when our instincts kick in. I could go on.
Learning a recall is something that protects us from harm and indeed protects others - humans, other animals and wildlife - from the potential mischief that we could cause. Without it, we simply aren’t safe. I’ll be the first to put my hands up here – I struggled to learn it at first. I’m a cockapoo – we’re nosy little poos. We like to go and say hello to everything. I would have never have meant any harm, but I wouldn’t have known the circumstances of the person or other dog I would have bounded up to. My mum, Anna, knew this and so she didn’t take me off the lead until I had learned a solid recall. She knew I would get myself in some sort of pickle if she had – probably something like sniffing the behind of an old dog that wanted nothing to do with me!
You see, it’s not enough for you just to think ‘my dog is friendly, he never means harm so therefore it’s okay to take him off and let him bound up to others’. What if the dog he bounds up to is on a lead because he is scared of other dogs and suffers from fear aggression? What if it’s a dog recovering from an operation, what if it’s a young child that they bound into knocking them over?
It’s not some kind of dog owner’s law or right to take their dog off the lead. And it is a common misconception that a dog can’t enjoy itself when on the lead. A lead isn’t a restriction, it’s a safety device. Get your dog a nice long lead and a long line for the beach and work on your recall in all situations and scenarios. Teach your dog how amazing it is to be with you on the beach and to come back to you. And then, only when you know they will respond, take them off the lead. Tell them it’s okay to go and play when you do and recall them every now and then – and when you see another dog on the lead, a waddling toddler or an elderly person, call them away.
It will take them time to learn so don’t think it will happen overnight – it took me 18 months. This is because running off or chasing something is self-rewarding. You have to make sure that staying with you is more rewarding so take toys as well as tasty treats if you like – sausage is my favourite! When the summer beach restrictions get under-way, we will all be trying to enjoy ourselves in busy, concentrated areas. Please be responsible and considerate of others, that’s all I ask.
In 2018, we were asked to write a new column in the Guernsey lifestyle magazine GYone. But this was not to be any ordinary column - it was to be written from a dog's perspective. Murphy has since launched his column and has been hard at work for the last few months, writing about topical issues in the modern dog training world. We've had a lot of positive feedback from readers, who have found that the articles have helped them to understand their dogs better. And therefore we wanted to share Murphy's words of wisdom with you too. So that you can be sure as to who is writing - whether it is Anna or Murphy - we will call his posts as 'Murphy Writes'.
Many people think a dog’s life is easy. We eat, we sleep, we play, we walk and then each day that cycle starts all over again. But in truth, our lives aren’t as easy as you think they are. Each of us were bred by humans to do different things, my mother for example is a cocker spaniel, bred to be working all day as a gun dog. Some dogs were selected and bred to guard livestock and homes, some were bred to work all day herding sheep and others were bred to be hunters. Now, people mostly want us to be their companions and conform to their human ways of life and I’ll be honest, this can be quite tough! While indeed some breeds were intended to be companions from the outset, all of us dogs have canine instincts, some of which even date back to our ancestor, the grey wolf. Unfortunately though, humans tend to forget that and that’s where we run into difficulties.
Humans expect a lot from us. Although we’re a different species and communicate in different ways, we’re often expected to know what they want us to do without even being shown. We are so desperate to please that we frantically try and work it out, but if we don’t get it right or we get confused and try to tell them, they bark at us, they huff and they puff and some of my unfortunate peers will also get a harsh punishment. How is that fair? Humans simply expect too much from us.
Now, I see myself as one of the lucky ones – I have an owner that was so intent on understanding my species and behaviour that she researched and studied it. Now together, we are trying to educate dog owners in Guernsey how us canines see the world. The world isn’t all about money and success for us, nor is it just about cocking our leg up lamp posts and trees. It’s about exploring and getting used to our surroundings, getting our exercise, using our brains and having the very best relationships with our humans. If we feel fulfilled and if we are understood, we will live happy fuss free lives.
In this new column, I’m going to try and describe to you how we learn, how we perceive certain situations and what you as a dog owner can do to help us out. The first topic – one that I know all owners struggle with – lead walking. Like all pups, when I first learnt to walk on the lead, it felt a little strange! Suddenly, I was attached to my human by a relatively short piece of material and they were dragging me around left, right and centre. But as I started walking the first few times, I learnt that if I wanted to walk in one direction and pulled, they would follow and come with me. Great, I thought – that’s the way to do it! But to be honest, while it meant I could go in the direction I wanted, it wasn’t a particularly nice feeling. I was straining. Then shortly after that, my training started and suddenly if I pulled, they wouldn’t come with me. It didn’t work anymore. They would change direction and then I started to learn that actually it was much easier and nicer to walk next to my owner. I was getting a treat and a click when I was next to them and the lead was slack. Because I was clicker trained and because I was getting a reward with the treat, I knew I was doing something right. Pulling didn’t get the click but being next to my owner did. Walking next to my owner is still reinforced every now and then today and to be honest, most of the time I forget whether I’m on the lead or not!
The problem with lead walking in when most dogs pull, their owners go with them. Like me when I was small, I believed that was the right thing to do because it was reinforced. But then when I was actually shown what I needed to do, I got it. Now I have pleasurable walks and both my humans and I enjoy them. I often see other dogs taking their owners for a walk – their owners struggling to catch up, tripping over themselves and shouting expletives at their furry friend. But it’s not the pups being naughty, they just haven’t been taught what to do. So if you have a problem with your dog pulling on the lead, you know what to do – teach them instead to walk next to you.
DOG OWNERS love their pets and want to do best by their best friend.
We spend thousands of pounds each year on making sure they have the right food, the right veterinary care, that they are professionally groomed, have enough toys and treats and even sometimes we employ dog walkers so that they are not left on their own all day.
Yet, there is one thing that we are all guilty of forgetting from time to time – our dog has a brain and they need to use it.
Time is often a key factor in this. Families are living busier and busier lives. Most owners know that their dog needs a walk and they leave themselves an hour or two spare a day for that. But after running around all day, the last thing they want to think about is sitting down with a clicker and pot of treats to engage the dog’s mind. The reality is, however, if their dog is not using its mind positively, it will look to use it in other ways and that is when frustration-related behaviours can develop.
Well, fret not. There is something new, fresh and fun being brought to the island. Aimed at not only engaging your dog’s mind, but also developing your own fitness, Petsercise Gsy offers an outlet of professional training for both owner and canine. The 45-minute classes are based around circuit training, with owners building strength in their core, legs and arms while the dogs are focused and engaged doing tricks and manoeuvres that will not only benefit them mentally, but also physically.
The six-week course is being brought to the island by myself at Canine Behaviour Guernsey in association with Ryan Dawe Health & Fitness. While there are puppy classes available on island – I volunteer with the puppy and beginner life skill classes with the GSPCA – there are few options available for dogs that are ready to move on to the next stage but whose owners do not want to compete. We wanted to offer something fun and an outlet for those owners who might be struggling to balance their work/social life with meeting their dogs’ needs.
And what better way to do so then coupling it with an exercise programme for the owner?
As a personal trainer, Ryan has worked with people who are at many different levels with their fitness. And as a dog trainer, I have worked with many different breeds of dogs who are at different stages with their training. This means we are able to make the classes as flexible as possible and support people and their pets all the way. ‘We will be starting the courses with some basic exercises,’ said Ryan. ‘The dogs will need to be taught what to do, using cues at the beginning, and that is why we have made it a course rather than one-off sessions.
‘We hope people will take the exercises home and practise and by the middle to end of the course, the workout will become more intense. We can change the criteria for anyone who might be struggling with an exercise or up the criteria for anyone who is cruising through it. We also hope to introduce new exercises throughout the course. In short, you will get out of it what you put in.’
We have been doing taster sessions so those interested can have more of an idea what it is about. So far, we have had dogs whose abilities range from the lower bracket of intermediate to those who are super-advanced and used to a class setting. But we do not expect all dogs to turn up and do the exercises straight away. It helps if they have been taught the basics first and so we have set a minimum criteria – sit, lie down, stay, paw/high five and fetch/retrieve and recall. But owners should not expect too much of their dogs at the beginning. As with all training, we need to give them the time to learn what they are supposed to be doing by being patient and showing understanding. It is not a competitive class and dogs and owners will learn and develop at different paces.
The course will also improve owners’ general fitness. Speaking from experience, I know how hard it is when looking to get back into fitness.
After suffering a serious injury, the thought of joining an exercise class or bootcamp was incredibly daunting. I was worried what would happen if I could not do some of the exercises due to the limitations of my knee injury. People would think I was using it as an excuse or cop-out and I would look a fool. Of course, that is probably not what would have happened and I am sure people would have been understanding, however those thoughts crossed my mind and put me off going along to classes and camps with my friends. Now, if I could have taken my dog with me, that would have been a different story. There is something very therapeutic about having your second in command by your side, no matter what you are doing. I know this because instead of going to a class or camp, I brought home eight-week old Murphy instead and got fit again through walking and spending time doing tricks and exercises with him in the garden. Dogs give people the confidence and motivation to do certain things they might have been putting off because suddenly, you are not on your own. Somehow your dog just understands and acts as a support to you.
‘A great benefit to taking part in Petsercise Gsy is the bond that owners will develop with their dog,’ said Ryan.
‘We have seen people join who have enjoyed being able to have that one-to-one time with their pets. They have loved it and so have their pets. Owners have also said they have felt the benefit from the exercise and have been keen to go home and show their family what they have learnt.’
Working with dogs and their owners, I know just how important a strong bond with your dog is. Having the ability to keep your dog focused on you when there are many other distractions around should be the ultimate aim for every owner. Our sessions will encourage and enable this.
The classes will be held at the GSPCA training hall and the weekly sessions will take place on Monday and Thursday evenings.
‘We’d like to thank the GSPCA for all the help and assistance they have provided us with getting Petsercise Gsy off the ground,’ said Ryan.
‘We hope in the future to offer advanced sessions for those participants who want to carry on and to continue to offer something fresh and new for both the island’s human and canine population.’