Have you ever fancied the idea of going on a
training holiday with your dog?
In training holiday, I mean, a really
intuitive, tough army-type intensive training course where you stay away from
home and it’s only you, the instructor and your dog. I felt it was time to
experience the great outdoors, to be as close to nature as possible and learn
some real harsh disciplines on how to enforce leadership. Perhaps I had been
watching too many hours of Caesar Milan or Canine Boot Camp programs on the
television, but I really wanted adventure and HELP!
I had done some research on the Internet and
contacted a few sites, but soon my enthusiasm was turning sour because the
nearest Doggy Boot Camps seemed to be in Kent or simply miles away.
The reason I
wanted to undergo some intense training is that I needed help, lots of it AND
quickly. It was nearly 2½ years since we had bought Enzo, a tiny black and tan
male pup of only 8 weeks old to our home. He was my first GDS and like all
puppies the moment you see one you want to take it home right there and then.
My last dog, a Golden Labrador had died at least 10 years ago and the house,
despite having children, didn’t seem complete when you have grown up with dogs
all your life.
Enzo had always been a handsome dog even from
being a pup and he certainly knew how to please people. He had a lovely
temperament and although he did want his own way, he was never aggressive at
the start had always been a bit headstrong, if somewhat stubborn bordering
defiance, but being gorgeous meant I had spoilt him - big mistake! I had
invested time in puppy classes and as he became older, I went to the Leeds
BAGSD club, where he soon settled down and did really well. The Leeds club was
great, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to visit, apart from
being miles away, the classes started early on a Sunday morning and each
weekend was full with family commitments. Then finally to top it all petrol
prices hit the roof. I had to stop the Leeds club, but I did manage to keep a
firm grip on Enzo and did socialise him with other dogs in the park. He had
soon grown into a beautiful Prince that was until the next unforeseeable
It was my daughter’s birthday and all she
wanted was a puppy that she could call her own. Evangelina was desperate,
honestly we are talking life and death here … she needed one or else the world
Yeah, yeah, you parents out there know that
the world would not end if your child doesn’t get the latest must have toy, new
i-phone, 50” plasma TV or in this case a brand new puppy, but aiming to please
otherwise be reminded that you are a mean unfit parent does grate after a
while. So guess what…?
On the 18th of January 2009
Princess Kizzi arrived. She was very pretty and settled in immediately. Enzo
took to her and soon they became like a little couple and where all my problems
I would take Enzo out with his new sister early
in the morning. Kizzi would watch Enzo and copied everything he did. When I
asked Enzo to sit, Kizzi would sit. When I asked Enzo for his paw, Kizzi would
also give her paw. I would throw Enzo his ball on a rope and Kizzi would try to
fetch, her little chubby legs running as fast as they could, but Enzo was too
fast. They looked very cute together and people would stop and stare, often
coming over to stroke Enzo and cuddle Kizzi.
Everything was looking fantastic. The
cuteness of having a big dog and a puppy was a dream.
watch Enzo pre-wash the dishes and after a few lessons she could soon do it
herself. They often worked very hard together and would seldom fight over their
Yet I noticed whenever a dog came in sight,
Enzo would start barking and going crazy, he would rear up on his hind legs
like a wild stallion and show his teeth. It was obvious that Enzo had become very
protective and would bark and become a frenzied horror whenever another
dog came near. It came to the point, where life with our dogs was becoming NO
pleasure. Kizzi was totally into Enzo; she never listened to anyone or anything
when he was about
times he nearly pulled me over and poor Kizzi just sat shaking. It was
impossible to take them both out together on my own anymore. Enzo was
uncontrollable and I was becoming increasingly nervous at taking him out even
out on his own. Inside the house he was incredibly submissive, I felt I had a
schizophrenic dog. Enzo treated Kizzi gently and if he didn’t he was soon put
into his place. I just wish I could get inside his head to see what was going
Time was ticking by.
Potentially I could have two dogs that I
couldn’t control. This was serious business as a dog that bites or threatens is
a dangerous dog. No matter how much you love them, our society no longer
tolerates dangerous dogs. I knew Enzo was all noise and still an overgrown
puppy, but this was no excuse as one day he could over step his confidence and
I could be reported and Enzo could lose his life.
After lots of searching, I came across the "Canine
Behaviour Centre" this is placed at Greenhead in
Northumberland. Visit: www.caninebehaviour.co.uk
It was not quite what I wanted, remembering
that I wanted to stay out with instructor and dog for a number of days, perhaps
in a tent. However the lady at the Canine Behaviour Centre listened carefully to
my problems and after a few emails, she suggested we travel up to see her and
have an hour's training one morning, then go off for the day and practice what
we had been taught and then have another hour the following morning to see how
much we had improved and to ask questions
were very excited. Evangelina was going to train Kizzi and I was training Enzo
The big day had arrived, there we were, early Saturday
morning on 20th June 2009, driving with our overnight case and doggy
bowls. It took approximately 3 hours including one toilet stop with stretch. We
had arranged to meet Deborah from the Canine Behaviour Centre at the Walltown
Quarry north bound car-park, which was just off the B6318 Military Road at
Greenhead next to the Carvoran Roman Army Museum. It was a huge car park, lots
of space with café and toilets all run by the English Heritage Trust.
At this point Enzo was 27 months old and Kizzi was 7
We arrived on time at 10:00 am.
We sat in the car for a few moments, when suddenly the heavens opened. It absolutely poured down. We couldn’t find our raincoats and assumed they had been buried deep in the back seat somewhere. I always kept a couple of spare plastic capes in the side pocket so we quickly put those on and noticed a lady approaching us.
“Hello my name is Deborah and you must be Paula and Evangelina?” ” She said.
“Yes … hello Deborah, it’s lovely to finally meet,” I said shaking her hand.
Deborah was a very attractive lady, with blonde hair going slightly grey. Although she was not very tall, she stood proud and elegant in her long waxed Barbour coat. Her voice was very clear and plumy almost like the actress Joanna Lumley.
“Okay lets see them and what you can do,” Deborah said.
I was asked to open the tailgate of the car and let them out for a quick smell and then she wanted to see one dog at a time, starting with Evangelina and Kizzi and later Enzo and me.
There was hardly anyone in the car park (a sigh of relief from me), so I opened the tailgate and out they jumped. As soon as they were on the ground they were jumping in the air like springing lambs, biting, playing and chasing one another. I managed to grab hold of Enzo and put him back in the car and put Kizzi’s lead on – it was all a bit of a scramble! Deborah meanwhile had walked down to the café and was waiting and watching our every move. As we walked up to her, Evangelina was asked to keep walking, whilst Deborah and I walked behind. Deborah definitely had a quiet confidence and an air of authority about her. She kept feeding Evangelina with instructions and asking questions.
Suddenly a sheep, which had strayed, decided to walk up to Evangelina and Kizzi.
Evangelina was told to sit her dog and let it look and smell the air, after all she was a pup and inquisitive and told to use the command “leave” if she made any sudden movements. I was more bothered about the sheep attacking Kizzi to be honest. It looked rather menacing.
Finally both parties after a novelty nose decided they were bored and the sheep walked off in a new direction.
The rain continued to pour and we were all soaked to the skin and getting cold, except Deborah of course, who lived there, knew exactly what the weather was like in Northumberland Park. But we kept going knowing how important this training was to us and expensive, if we didn’t use our time carefully. Today we had only booked one hour.
On the way back to the car to collect Enzo for his turn, Deborah said she was shocked that Kizzi never listened to us it was as if she didn’t know her name or she had no respect for us. We were told to train her alone from now on, without the influence of Enzo. Also, Evangelina was asked to slowly take off Kizzi’s lead but keep walking – Kizzi automatically kept by her side and Evangelina was asked to keep on top of Kizzi with her voice only. If Kizzi was likely to break and make a run for it, she was to be mindful and have the lead ready to just slip over her head … what a difference already.
Back at the car, I
lifted the tailgate and Enzo jumped out.
Deborah immediately asked me to put both dogs back in the
car and tell them to stay until I was ready. Well that was a struggle! She was
appalled at such bad manners. We were told to work on our technique from
now - no excuses allowed.
Deborah was awesome. The moment we met, she had us sussed
completely ... good and bad. So many of our problems were right under our noses
that we couldn't see them. Obviously I was not firm enough and Enzo was very
bad mannered, taking advantage of me, but everything she said was never said in
a way to deflate me. She thought Enzo was a big dog with a big heart but just
needed a little help.
Enzo was now hooked to his lead and it was my turn. I
took a deep breath as we made our journey around the crag. Meanwhile Evangelina
stayed in the car thawing out with a blanket around her.
Despite the continuous down pour, the park was becoming
increasingly busy. Deborah walked on ahead and started talking to a lady with a
large Munsterlander, about the same age as Enzo and explained that she was
training Enzo and although he was a bit headstrong, she felt it would be a good
exercise for the dogs to be introduced if the lady was happy. I was told to
walk up slowly with Enzo, trying to keep him on a slack lead, keeping a short
distance at first so that they could see one another, then let them smell one
another. Deborah told me to watch the body language of the dogs - tails, eyes,
stance … the whole thing. The other dog just stood and waged his tail gently.
Enzo waved his big bushy foxtail once or twice and then tried to put his head
over the other dog’s neck, despite it being taller. Deborah then asked me to
move away and praise my dog. All she wanted was a quick hello. Afterwards said
told me that whilst Enzo was not a vicious dog, he was boisterous and not
always aware of another dog’s or his own body signals.
We practiced manners a lot – using a gate that allowed me
to enter a field first. Even on a lead, Enzo was determined to be first. It
took at least 15 times before he eventually caved in. Deborah said it was
simply about using your brain! You’re smarter than he is and you need to out
think him. It was all about me being more stubborn that he was. It is an
effective, non-violent method of removing your dog from alpha status and
putting him back at the bottom. From this day forward, your going to teach your
dog that he is a dog and not a miniature human being in a furry suit. Enzo,
along the way, perhaps through too much love and a lack of training or
misunderstood intentions has forgotten who is the leader and how to take
With help, he will soon remember what he is and how he fits into the world and before long he is even going to like it and actually become eager to please again.
After an intensive hour or so, we waved good-bye and agreed to catch up again the next morning.
Poor Evangelina was now very cold and with all good intentions we were going to take the dogs out to explore, but I decided it was time to head for our accommodation.
We were staying at a nearby dog friendly bed and breakfast called Willowford Farm.
Willowford Farm is a lovely place in the heart of the countryside. They had chickens running around the yard, acres upon acres of fields - some with sheep and the wonderful river Irthing. Within a 3-mile radius there are far too many attractions to mention. We had soon unpacked, having a hot shower, warm drink with biscuits, meanwhile the dogs were sat in the big arch window watching people come and go. Then we were off again for a long walk through the fields, splashing in the river Irthing and walking Hadrian's Wall.
After a good night’s sleep, we were up at the crack of dawn no thanks to the cockerel exercising its lungs!
We went to breakfast and the staff were really friendly. We started talking to a couple on the next table that had travelled all the way from Poole in Dorset. They were walkers touring the area and spending the whole weekend following St Hadrian Wall.
We told them that we were on a dog-training weekend with our German shepherd dogs.
They quickly replied “yes we saw you at Walltown Crag about 11:30 am yesterday in the pouring rain”.
Wow I thought that was incredible how someone would notice us, but then remembered the spare plastic capes were actually the brightest fluorescent pink and the other lime green, another thing Evangelina is never going to forgive me for!!!
Well it was time to pack and settle the bill and meet Deborah again.
Sunday before we opened the tailgate, we were reminded to command the dogs to stay. Obviously it only worked with Evangelina and me creating a wall of hands and lots of scuffling – but it was a start.
Deborah was always enthusiastic and never gave us self-doubt. If you watch a professional trainer or good instructor, you notice that they stand tall and user their voices and eyes to project the idea that they’re capable of getting what they want. Deborah was definitely gentle but firm, warm but tough, all at the same time. Most dogs are immediately submissive toward this type of personality because they respect alpha when they see it.
We had another great day and learnt quite a lot. There was something very stimulating in having a professional trainer spend time with you, watching and correcting you in an effortless way. There was also something very different about “off your own territory training,” the dogs listened more perhaps because they were out of their normal comfort Zone. On the Sunday we had Enzo on a training rope with Evangelina running in one direction and me calling Enzo back and hoisting him in. We had a brilliant time and Enzo loved the attention.
Today was a total contrast, no rain, the sun was shining and we were looking forward to exploring later.
Deborah charges £65.00 per hour, but she spent nearer two hours per session and within a few days had emailed a full 5 page written report emphasising what she had told us and what she would expect us to do to keep improving the dogs. Being a clinical psychiatrist before studying dog psychology, I found she was very bright and quicker than lightning at identifying all kinds of problems, not just doggy ones.
We were advised to join a club again to keep the dogs socialised, this would also prevent a similar situation with Kizzi when she is older to help her understanding other dog’s body language. Socialising is very important as it also lets them have friends.
Some people may find my approach to a personal instructor a bit drastic, but it was more about a whole new experience of trying to combine a holiday, training and spending quality time with my family.
A good BAGSD Club, such as Huddersfield is more than enough to help with any behavioural dog issues, but I was at a stage where I had lost all my confidence and dreaded taking Enzo out. I felt completely foolish and embarrassed as if I was a failure. For me it was important to feel stronger about myself as without this mind, I found it impossible to take Enzo out anymore. This type of training helped me come to terms with a situation, improve and move on.
In my experience the Huddersfield GSD Club can satisfy both dog and handler problems, but it must be on a regular basis.
The remainder of the afternoon we took the dogs out and had the confidence to walk through a field of sheep, we past other owners with their dogs and played a few ball games before heading home.
Remember our Dog Friendly accommodation was ... www.willowford.co.uk
Our next adventure will be on the Northumberland Coast so look out for my next article.
All the best from,
- Paula, Evangelina, Enzo and Kizzi
I would like to dedicate this article to Deborah, who not only worked so hard with the dogs and us that weekend in 2009 but for her continued effort in supporting us.