Maggie, Derek & Willow

We collected a beautiful golden retriever puppy in October 2009. At 12 weeks old she looked beautiful but by 16 weeks she was turning into the puppy from hell. Although she had learned the basic sit stay, come and was completely housetrained, we realised we had a serious problem with her constant biting. We could not walk past her without her attacking our jeans and often through to our ankles. If we tried to stroke her she bit our hands. If we tried to take some stolen item from her she would snarl and bite. She was not just hard mouthing, she bit.

We had a local dog trainer in the village, and when I explained our problem, he generously came to our house to see if he could help. After 2 hours he told us this was normal puppy behaviour. (We have had three other dogs from puppy in 45 years of marriage, we have never seen one this nasty before). Anyway, his answer was to throw a dice of cheese to distract her every time she came to bite us. Needless to say this solved nothing.

By the time Willow was 6 months old, the bites were getting much harder and drawing blood. We knew we needed help, and as we had read Jan Fennell's book and we thought it made sense we looked for the 'dog listener' on line and emailed someone to visit us at home. The young lady came and told us to follow the book, but to also leave a lead on Willow all the time. When she bit us, we were to drag her into the kitchen and shut her in for 5 min's to isolate her. I think Willow spent most of the next month in the kitchen but still she was biting - as we found out later this lady was not connected to Jan Fennell and we had paid her £200 to gain nothing.

By the time Willow was 10 months old we were at our wits end and ready to try re homing her, so I phoned Marc at the Eastern Counties Golden Retriever Rescue. When I explained our dilemma, he suggested that before we gave Willow up, he could send Julie, a colleague of Jan Fennell's to help us.

When Julie came, she saw Willow’s aggressive streak but more than that she could tell us where we were going wrong. One of the biggest problems she pointed out was my husband and I were both giving her different signals which confused her. Also, without realising it my husband was constantly looking at her, even when talking to someone else.

When Julie told us that dogs in a pack watch the alpha pair to see what they must do next. Derek had in fact had put Willow in the Alpha position. Julie also emphasised the importance of the 4 steps of Amichien bonding, and that we must both be consistent.

When Willow bit us, we were to either put Willow into the kitchen or if she was really bad, for us to leave the room and close the door, (isolation). This was for 1 min to start with, and then ignore her when she came back in. if she bit again as soon as she came in, she went back out for 2 min's.

Another suggestion was that we did not take her out for walks for a few weeks, but played in the garden with her instead to bond with her better. I admit there were times in the first two weeks following Julie’s visit we found it hard to remember everything and we were constantly reminding each other about re- uniting. Also we found Willow tested us, for instance for 2 days she refused to come when called, then the next 2 days she started barking at the gate which she did not do before. She was intelligent enough to know things had changed and was testing us to see if we really were good enough to be in charge.

However at the end of 2 weeks we could see a real difference. We had gone from 16 isolation periods per day to 2 per day and best of all Willow was getting to be a happy dog. It took probably another 2-3 months to stop biting altogether, but since then she has turned into a beautiful dog.

Willow is now almost 2 years old and we are so proud of her. She is no longer an aggressive hound that we thought we could never trust. She is good with kids, horses and other dogs and we can take her anywhere.

When off lead on the fields she chooses to stay with us even if her dog friends go off the other way. In fact she even went to the dog groomer before we took her to the Retriever fun day and a year ago I would never have thought she could be trusted not to bite them, but now she's so laid back we can do anything with her.

At the fun day this year, she was off lead all day and we were so proud of her. We are now the leaders of her pack and she is so much happier to have it that way.

We are so grateful to Julie for showing us how to turn an aggressive dog into a calm loving friend - our pride and joy!

All I can say is that this system really does work, and it soon becomes such a habit that we now do it without thinking. It is reinforcing all the time in a language that Willow understands. We can't thank Julie enough for all the help and advice that she has given and we would like to express our gratitude to Marc at the Eastern Counties Golden Retriever Rescue for putting us in touch.

If you are looking for help with your dog – please make sure you contact a qualified Jan Fennell Dog Listener who chooses to work under the Quality Control system. If in any doubt, please contact our office direct at or through the website

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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