My sister, myself and the two sausages are huge supporters of Dogs Trust. Their work in rescuing, rehoming, educating and campaigning on behalf of the UK’s dog population is admirable, from their free microchipping services and subsidised neutering to their extraordinary success rate in caring for dogs- 2016 that amounted to caring for 15300 dogs across 21 regional centres. Last year they celebrated their 125th anniversary – and Lettice and I appeared in their celebratory book. (Check it out here.)
Our most recent project with Dogs Trust has been attending Dog School.
Earlier this year I received a charming email from the Dogs Trust press office asking very tactfully if Lettice might ever be in need of some training and apologising if they were in any way impugning Lettice’s good name by the very suggestion…
I, of course, replied immediately to let her know that Lettice could take all the training that they might be offering. My Tiny Terror came to me when she was seventeen months old and had had no training whatsoever as a puppy. She wasn’t house trained, had never been taken for a walk, and was terrified by any dog larger than her. Which, as she weighs just 3,4kg is pretty much any dog ever.
After three years with me Lettice now loves her walks, wees outside (if I’m lucky), and always comes back to me in the park (except when she finds the scent of a particularly alluring squirrel), but she certainly didn’t know how to sit on command, or have the skills to ignore or move away from dogs that scared her.
We were being asked if we would like to attend a course with Dogs Trust Dog School is a national network of experienced trainers providing fun, educational courses for all dog owners based on up-to-date scientific research. The classes give owners and dogs the foundations they need to develop a strong bond, cope with everyday domestic life and avoid some of the common pitfalls which lead to behaviour problems.
Built on learning trust and positive reinforcement, their training aims to gives both owner and dog the skills they need to understand each other and build a rewarding life-long relationship.
We discovered that there were classes at Camden’s Pirate Castle (a local community centre), just down the road from home, so we signed up with alacrity.
So off we went to our first session. (Technically it was meant to be dog-free, but Lettice made it very clear that she wasn’t going to be left at home alone and, as she just curls up on my lap into a ball like a cat, I figured she wouldn’t be a distraction.)
This session serves as the theory part – lots of really helpful slides and discussion so that we understood Dog School’s philosophy and could go away and start thinking about how we were going to move forward with the training.
The next week training with the dogs began in earnest. Never too busy, the dogs (five in total in my classes) each had their own corner in which to feel safe and out of the eye line of the other dogs – very important in Lettice’s case ,as she is a huge barker when she is trying to protect us.
In case you were wondering, this is Lettice’s special give-me-a-treat face
I soon learnt the secret weapon of Dog School training – reward treats. Lettice is ridiculously fussy and only really likes one kind of treat, so I stocked up on Beautiful Joe’s Ethical Dog Treats and made sure her treat box was packed for each weekly session.
There were also Kongs, filled with delicious meaty treats as rewards.
I’m very proud that Lettice can now sit (even if it is a little tricky to discern if she IS actually sitting, due to her tiny legs, and I have learnt some really important skills in how to manage Lettice’s over the top reaction to other dogs, which in turn make for a less stressed and happier dog in the long run.
You can read all about our time with Dog School in the Dogs Trust WAG magazine. Click here to sign up to receive copies of WAG, and to read the Summer issue online.