Helen & Saffie



Back in Jan 2008 we rescued Saffie the Staffie, she settled in well, and even bonded with the cat, they happily sat in the same room and shared the same sofa! She learnt lots of tricks, and did well at training class getting her bronze in a few weeks, she also enjoyed fun agility in our local field. She was soon a firm part of the family, and a very loving loyal dog.

However towards the end of summer í08 some serious concerns began to form regards her temperament and behaviour when we were out. She became aggressive towards certain things on walks; sticks, surprises, people walking very close, noisy wheels, she was scared of wind and even water including puddles and the sea! On a couple of occasions i got bitten, purely because i got inbetween saffie and the thing that was freaking her out. In short i got very scared of walking her, and afraid she could hurt someone or even myself badly. All the time, she remained fine in the house, saffie was an absolute pleasure to own, cuddly, loving and loyal

We sort advice from the rescue center (a very experienced staffy owner and trainer), our vets and our training class, we tried lots of things, including sound aversion, stern words, physical restraint and calming medication, but only found her behaviour got worse. I felt i just couldnít walk her safely anymore.

It was suggested by more than one person at this stage to have her put to sleep, an idea i wouldnít entertain at all. I knew she could be dangerous, but at the same time, felt her behaviour was more a symptom of an illness, I knew she wasnt a red zone dog out to hurt anything, she was scared and anxious, she needed treatment...i needed to find the RIGHT thing to help her. While i ignored the put to sleep advice, I did heed the advice to use a harness, double lead and muzzle, so at least there was no risk of harm to anyone, however this didnít solve the problem. She was still nervous and aggressive and jumping like crazy, she was still killing my arm and my tolerance on a 10 minute walk. It got to a crunch early 2009, where I just couldnít walk her at all, she was at a peak of terrible behaviours, and i was petrified at the thought of leaving the house with her.

I started to think put to sleep was my only option, a dog that canít go out isnít much of a dogs life after all. It broke my heart, but i was emotionally exhausted and just at my wits end. I talked it over with a friend of mine, Kate (a vet nurse) she listened and suggested a dog listener approach, she said try it, then if it doesnít work, you've tried everything and i will help you take her to vets.

So duly i did a Google search and found a local dog listener, I read the Jan Fennell stuff on line, and to be honest thought 'how will that help saff...........a dog so bad?'. But, i emailed Julie and committed my mind to giving this a go, i felt this was my last chance to save saffie. She called me back the next day, and talked to me calmly for a good while about what had been happening, she then came round, and spent the afternoon with us, she taught us the theory and gave us some homework. She then sent us a full plan, which we still stick to now, the principles remain in place a year on, and a year on things are so much better.

Julie made it clear that actually she wasn't fine in the house as i thought. She gently pointed out, that the following me around everywhere (even to the loo) the laying on top of me on the sofa, the eyes open and jumping up at any sound, the barking at the post coming through the door.........none of this was normal behaviour, it did not mean she loved me, it meant she was trying to protect me and look after me. I felt awful, it was so clear to me once Julie gently explained it, she was the owner looking after a baby (ME), she was frazzled with the anxiety of keeping an eye on ME and keeping ME safe! She was just about managing that indoors but when we went out she couldnít handle the responsibility of looking after me, there were too many things to protect me from...scary sticks, wheels, postman, water and wind and this resulted in big frenzies of terrible behaviour from her, and high anxiety from me (which in turn made her even worse). Things had to change, she had to know i was in control, its my job to look after her, to make sure she can trust me, and her job to know she can trust me, and follow me.

The basic idea is that you permanently change the way you interact with your dog, re-learn how to communicate so that you develop mutual trust and respect. There are 4 basic principles to work to including separations, feeding, perceived danger and walking. I was given a strict programme. I wonít lie this was hard, i was used to big reunion cuddles, given treats and titbits when she wanted, going on walks when she wanted, and indeed walking in the direction she wanted, and hours of being laid on while watching TV. I had to turn that on its head, and put myself in the driving seat, i am the human, and i decide when we say hello, cuddle, when we eat. I wonít lie this was unbelievably hard, and i canít tell you how many hours of attention seeking crying and cuteness i had to ignore! But now a year on, i have a different dog, and she has a different owner!

We co-exist in our house in a harmonious way now, she still occasionally gets worried, but now she looks up at me, and gets the message 'i'm not worried' through my body language and demeanor, and so she goes 'ok, i'll just go back to sleep then!!' She sleeps, and plays and grooms herself 100% more than she used to, she sighs and snores and snoozes the days away no matter what is going on around her! She no longer barks at the post, nor follows me around endlessly, she sleeps through all sorts now, and has handled workmen being in the house, parties and decorating (all things i had avoided for a year!). Its not just the human-dog relationships that have benefited from AB, so to have the dog-cat relationships, those two really play and snooze and cuddle now, i think the cat knew intuitively what Julie taught me, Saffie was nervous and anxious, and so she didnít get too close!

Of course she still gets worried sometimes, and perceives danger, but my message to her, is 'its ok i'm not worried' (by body language and emotional state) and if i am worried too, my message is 'ok we'll move away from this situation' and we do so calmly. She knows i will keep her safe, i know i will keep her safe, and so i know we are both safe, calm and content. Everyone comments on how calm and relaxed she is nowadays, and she truly is a pleasure to own both inside and outside the home.
Your dog is a dog, not a human, so why use human language? Whatever the age or breed of your dog, I can teach you to communicate with them using their own language.
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