by Wendy Pfeiffer
Harry is our first dog. The only experience we had of living with a dog was when my brother’s ten year old black Labrador would come and stay with us. We loved having him and I enjoyed the walks and the company. So, thinking ahead to when my two children have flown the nest and the company and enjoyment a dog would bring, I decided that a dog of our own would be a good idea. We waited almost a year as I wanted to make sure it was not just a whim and that both the children, then aged twelve and sixteen and myself, all knew what we were taking on. After all, a ‘family’ dog should mean family responsibility and not just mine!
Harry arrived in our lives in July 2006. Having previously read numerous books and spent a considerable amount of time talking to our vet and the breeder, we thought we were well prepared to deal with anything this totally adorable bundle of fluff could throw at us……how wrong could we be!
Time went by quickly and this precious little fur ball soon grew into a gangly boisterous puppy and with him came yet more mess, more mishaps, more sleepless nights etc. So we read yet more books and watched all of Caesar the Dog Whisperer programmes on the television! We learnt all about not treating him as a human – after all he is a dog. We learnt all about his place in the ‘pack’. We learnt all about ignoring him when we came in to the room and not giving him lots of fuss when we left. In fact, in theory we learnt a lot and thought we were doing quite well.
Harry has never been aggressive to either other dogs or people, but on one occasion when we had let him off lead, Harry excitedly charged across the field to a small child about the same height as Harry, who understandably completely freaked out. We watched helplessly as our recalls were totally ignored and although the child was physically unhurt he was very scared and I spent the whole of that day and night waiting in fear for the furious parents to come banging on my door demanding this ‘vicious animal’ be put down.
From then on, when we let Harry off lead, we only took him to desolate areas and usually very early in the morning or late at night, hoping that we would not meet anybody. However, one day when we thought we were alone, a man and two children suddenly appeared and Harry again darted off at speed towards them. I then noticed that the man was carrying a cricket bat and my stomach lurched at the thought that in a panic to protect his children from this large unknown dog racing towards them, he might use it on Harry. Luckily, this family were obviously ‘doggy people’ and they were not fazed by Harry bounding up to them. But for me, the damage had been done and I decided from that moment that I would never risk letting him off lead again.
In addition to this problem, Harry used to pull furiously on the lead and I dreaded meeting anyone out with another dog, as alone I stood no chance of holding back a large excited 34kg fully grown dog pulling to go and meet another of his kind. When Harry was six months old he pulled me over when we were out walking and I ended up in hospital for three days with a concussion and knee injury. So I changed the collar and lead to one which I felt gave me more control. It helped, but did not completely stop him pulling especially if he saw another dog.
Through all these times we never once felt angry or upset with Harry and not once did we feel like giving up on him – we all totally loved him and so, we read yet more books, watched yet more television programmes and tried our very best to put into practice everything we were learning about. When Harry was almost a year we discovered a dog club and joined. It was great. We learnt even more and Harry could at last socialise with other dogs whilst we were all kind of kept an eye on. However the classes were quite large and although we enjoyed them and Harry was certainly under better control during the classes, I was still not achieving what we wanted and what Harry needed.
I used to watch enviously the owners who could let their dogs off lead and recall them and Harry watched even more enviously at the dogs running free. I would still take him out at 5am to avoid meeting any other dogs and I would only go out with him during the day if one of the children were with me to help hold him and we still never let him off lead.
Having read Jan Fennell’s book, the Dog Listener, I looked on the internet to see if there were any of her trainers in this area. I did find a couple but the charges were astronomical and what would happen if I needed more than one or two sessions?
So I plodded on with my walks at dawn with only the waking birds for company. Harry would trot along on his lead, seemingly quite content but I knew he needed proper off lead exercise and I felt really despondent and a complete failure.
One day in May this year I popped into my vet and saw a leaflet from a local dog trainer who offered one to one consultations. I took the leaflet home and was very impressed with what I read. I had nothing to loose so I decided to give this guy a call.
That was my first contact with Kevin!
We had a one to one with Kevin which lasted almost two hours and was very reasonably priced. I had recently had a birthday and had been given some money so I was able to book another three meetings. We all came on leaps and bounds during those first few weeks. We had finally found someone that was willing to take the time, had the most amazing amount of patience and that ability to teach not only Harry but more importantly us, what we had been doing wrong for the last two years and how to put it right. After four weeks we went on to join one of Kevin’s group classes which lasts ninety minutes. As he only has, at the most six dogs in any one class, the owners are all given the time and attention needed to address each of our individual problems. All of the owners are there because we all want the same thing – the best for our dogs and together we are all lucky enough to be learning from the very best! Kevin advised us about what sort of lead to get and now Harry walks beautifully to heel. We have learnt so much but I know we still have lots to learn. It does not always come easy and the whole family have to be totally committed to putting into practice what we learn – all the time. It is hard work.
In one of my many books on dog training, I once read that someone can be a good dog trainer but that does not necessarily make them a good instructor. What was also surprising to me was to learn that someone can be an excellent dog trainer but that does not necessarily mean that they love dogs. Very rarely do you find someone who combines all three qualities as Kevin does. He loves dogs, is an excellent trainer and without doubt a fantastic instructor. You feel completely relaxed and know that you can ask him what sometimes may seem the silliest of questions. He is more than generous with his time and never minds an email or phone call in-between training sessions if we need to ask something or just need a bit of confidence building.
I do lack self belief particularly at times when I am attempting something new and especially when I go somewhere new to let Harry off lead. But again I have only to ask Kevin to do that first walk with us and he is there, saying and doing all the right things that then gives me the confidence to go it alone the next time.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing and the times when Harry would do exactly what Kevin said but then would ignore me were sometimes frustrating to say the least – Kevin always makes it look so easy, but as a family we have remained committed and with lots of hard work, we are getting there.
Can you afford the cost of training? – The question is, can you afford not to! Some people who read this will be in a position not to have to think about where they are going to find the money, but those for whom money is a little tight, especially in today’s climate, I guess you may have to juggle things around to find the money each week and sometimes change your priorities. As a parent I have always managed, somehow to find the money to provide my children with what they need (not necessarily what they say they want!) even if it has sometimes meant taking on extra work and Harry deserves nothing less.
Do I have any regrets? Only one and that is that I did not know about Kevin when Harry was a puppy. It is much easier to teach a puppy and owner the right way to do things before they have learnt the wrong way. So when you are calculating the finances involved with having a dog – don’t forget to include the cost of a good trainer too.
Three months after our first meeting with Kevin
I have just returned home. Harry and I have been out for well over an hour. Harry has been off lead the whole time and today came to me on every recall. Yesterday we went to a park well known to other dog owners and where there can sometimes be up to twenty dogs off lead. Harry ran off to meet the other dogs and did all the doggy things that dogs do when they meet each other and returned to me, if not on every recall, about 90% of them. Yes, I did have a bit of a panic on those missed 10%, but not nearly as much as I would have three months ago.
The pleasure I got today from seeing this big brown eyed, golden haired, handsome boy freely running around, frolicking in among the long grass is…..indescribable.
After two years of keeping Harry confined to walking on a lead, Harry now has the freedom of running free and doing all the wonderful natural doggy type things that we were holding him back from. Not because we did not love him or have the time for him, but simply because we did not know the right way to give him that freedom.
We will be forever grateful to Kevin for quite simply, changing our lives.
From Wendy, Rachael, Alex and Harry in Sittingbourne.
Harry’s Story Part 2 – Feb 09
It is now six months since I wrote Harry’s story and nine months from our first one to one with Kevin. Harry has achieved so much in that time that I hardly know where to begin.
I guess the best place to start is to describe that incredible feeling that I still get even now, when I take Harry out and unclip his lead and watch him running free. That was after all, one of the two main reasons for contacting Kevin in the first place. For me to be able to take Harry out daily to any of the places I would once avoid and just let him run around, really is the most exhilarating feeling and satisfying sense of achievement. Harry is naturally very happy not to be kept on his lead all of the time and I no longer panic when I take him anywhere new. I don’t worry now about whether I can get him back on his recalls. I have been taught how to read the situation. For instance, if Harry is sniffing or if I see he is next to a dog that has gone for a wee then I know that Harry is going to want to ‘mark’ that area, so I then just wait a few seconds before I do the recall, that way I don’t set myself up for failure. If on the rare occasion Harry does not come back the first time on recall, again I have been taught what to do and how to let him know that is ‘not acceptable’.
I still remember only too well the feeling when we first started training that I would never be at the stage that I could take Harry out and just let him run around with other dogs. Below is part of an email to Kevin that I sent after an off lead session at one of the first group classes and his reply to me. I have kept this as a reminder of just how far we have come.
Tuesday, 1 July, 2008 7:19 AM
To see Harry running with Bailey and Blue off lead last week was wonderful for him and to be honest quite emotional for me to see him doing what he should have been doing for the past two years. The prospect of him actually coming back on recall regularly does still seem a long way off though as he gets so excited to be off lead (because it happens so rarely) and because he has such a lot of unleashed energy, that I just can't see it happening for a long time yet.
Wednesday, 2 July, 2008 10:41 PM
I don't think the day when you can let Harry off lead in the park is as far off as you may think. I can always come along with you when you feel ready for this.
As always, Kevin was there to offer support, both in his reply and in his offer to come with us. It was a good job that he had confidence in me, because I had none in myself and I certainly did not believe Harry and I could ever get to the stage we are at now.
The other reason that I initially sought help was the fact that Harry would constantly pull on the lead. The gentle leader which Kevin advises most owners to use, worked wonders and gave me the confidence to take Harry out alone and at any time of the day. Previously, if I had nobody to come with me, I would only take him out at 5am! When using the gentle leader, I felt confident enough to take him out at any time, day or night. Harry now walks naturally to heel, so much so that we can use just a normal neck collar and lead.
Although I love to take Harry to places that I can let him off lead, I have also learnt the importance of a lead walk too. This gives me chance to keep up daily practise with his heel work and to remind Harry who is in charge! I don’t let him stop to pee or sniff just when he wants to as I used to allow him to - he can do that when he is off lead. I will let him stop occasionally, but only when I decide he can. Harry walks right next to me now with his lead slack and no pulling. Again, something I used to think I would never ever be able to master. I certainly never dread taking him out as I used to do. I really look forward to it and nowadays I take Harry out for my enjoyment, as well as his.
I am honest enough to admit that I do still get a little nervous if we are walking past other dogs, but that is mainly because a) I am never too sure what the other dog may do and b) I know that without using the gentle leader, if Harry did decided to pull towards them, because of his strength, I would have a problem holding him back. He actually is very good though and I am optimistic that my slight feeling of nervousness will eventually vanish altogether.
When Kevin started his training classes, I think the idea was that we would have a block of lessons and then we would leave and make way for other owners. I don’t think he anticipated that most of us would still be attending them eight months later! The fact is that all of us, dogs included really enjoy them and there are always new lessons to learn and old things to improve on. I have made some really wonderful friends at class and we all get on so well and feel very relaxed together. All of us started out with very little confidence and we all had in common that feeling of failure and despair when handling our dogs. So it has been wonderful to have other people to talk to who have had similar doggy problems and to know that I am not alone with my worries.
By attending weekly classes, Harry and I have now learnt distance control of sit stays and down stays. He will now go into a down half way on a recall and he can do a long out of sight down too. We have just started off lead heel work and getting our dogs to sit or go down, whilst the owners continue walking. It is challenging and one session in class once a week will not achieve much.
Kevin always instills upon us the importance of regular on going training during the week. It is not always easy to find the time to fit it in. Certainly over the past winter months there have been days when I have not felt much like donning my coat, hat and wellies and taking Harry out and then to freeze for a further ten minutes while we practise the out of sight down..….. not to mention, at the same time feeling a bit of a wally as I hide behind a tree! However, I know that daily training is necessary to make any progress and also to remind Harry every day, just who the pack leader is!
I appreciate that I have been very lucky with Harry. He is a breed that is relatively ‘easy’ to train compared to some other breeds, but even so, I have at times found it difficult, exhausting and exasperating but also very rewarding for both Harry and me.
Kevin is always there at the end of the phone or replying to an endless stream of emails that he gets on a daily basis from anxious owners. His patience is endless and I know that had it not been for that visit to my vet last May when I first saw his leaflet, I would still be a neurotic, panicky owner, terrified to take her dog out alone after 5am and never to let him off lead and I know Harry would not be anywhere as fulfilled and happy as he is today.
One of my worries when we first started training was that with all the new rules we started to apply to Harry, especially at home, he would change so much that we might loose sight of our big soft, lovable, hairy boy, as I thought the training would alter his character. I did not think it was possible to combine the two extremes of being an assertive pack leader whilst still being a cuddly mummy too. I need not have worried! Harry is still as affectionate as ever and if anything we are enjoying him and loving him even more now.
Last year a friend suggested to me about Harry becoming a PAT dog with the charity, Pets As Therapy (see details at end of page.) Although Harry’s nature has always been very gentle, I did have other issues that worried me about this, one of which was him pulling on the lead. I knew that PAT dogs must be kept on a lead at all times whilst working, but I was also aware that PAT dogs are not allowed to wear any type of harness or haltie which of course ruled out the gentle leader. I realised when Kevin first suggested it for Harry, that it was going to put back his start date as a PAT dog, but I did hope that one day we could go back to using his normal collar, which I am happy to say we have achieved. Yet another thing I have learnt about dog training, it sometimes seems as though you have to go a few steps backwards before you can progress forward or see any improvement. Even now there are days when training classes may not go quite as well as previous weeks, but I have learnt to accept that dogs, as well as humans can have an ‘off’ day and not to feel dejected about it.
A few weeks ago, Harry started his first job as a PAT dog in a local nursing home. We visit there once a week. Most of the residents are very poorly and some have had strokes or have dementia or Alzheimer’s. Many of them have had dogs themselves in the past and for them to be able to see and touch Harry and the effect he had on them, was very emotional and rewarding for all concerned. He proved so popular there that I was soon contacted by another home and Harry now visits there too.
So, the last nine months has been hard work, but fun and with commitment we have achieved much more than I would ever have dreamt possible. However, I know without doubt that this has only been achievable due to the guidance and continuous support we have had from Kevin and I know that we are extremely lucky to have found and been taught by the very best.
I think that one of the most important and surprising lessons I have learnt is that there is no quick fix solution for training a dog. I guess that like many owners, when I first contacted Kevin, I thought a few visits and he would have sorted Harry out and at the end of a few one to ones, we would be left with the perfect dog. I have no doubt that would have been the case, had Harry been living at Kevin’s house with his family, but Harry is our family dog, he lives within our pack and so it is us who has to learn how to train Harry and that takes a lot of time and commitment.
I know we have come a long way, but I guess we all have our secret fears and even after all this time, I still have at least one major issue to overcome.
I am ashamed to admit it, but Harry has never been in water (apart from his bath of course!) I know that Retrievers are meant to love water, but I have always been far too nervous to let him go into a pond or lake and as for the sea…....well, forget it. That is one of my recurring nightmares! There are quite possibly owners who have just started training that will have many other worries, but would not think twice about letting their dogs go into water. This just proves that we all have our own individual issues that we have to learn to overcome, even nine months down the line.
Kevin has said he will come with us when we let Harry off lead at the beach for the first time. He has promised he will have a lifeboat on standby and I shall insist Harry has at least one line on, probably two and no doubt a rubber ring as well. As for me, well I shall be dosed up on valium!!
So, watch this space. I shall let you know if I am brave enough to attempt this one and more importantly, the outcome!
Pets As Therapy website www.petsastherapy.org
Telephone Enquiries 01844 345 445
Harry’s Story Part 3 Aug 2010
If anyone has been following Harry’s story, by now you could well be thinking that I had bottled it with regards to Harry going to the sea. I am however, pleased to report that I have not only faced that fear but overcome it.
Kevin did ask me if I really wanted to introduce Harry to water as I might awaken the water dog in him and then I would be forever trying to stop him jumping into ponds and lakes. This worried me so much that I thought I might be better to leave well alone. However, every time we walked anywhere near a pond or lake I had to lead him up, just in case and never dared venture near the sea with him, so I finally decided to do something about it.
I decided to take Harry to a hydrotherapy centre to see what he was like in water, but in a controlled and safe environment. It was good job I did as despite the fact that he had a life jacket and line on, on his first introduction to the water he completely panicked, totally soaking all of us. Alyson who owns the hydrotherapy centre said it was not an unusual reaction for a dog that had not been in water and thought it would take about three visits before he totally relaxed. She was spot on and by the third visit he was without life jacket or line and jumping into the pool to reach his ball and swim back with it. I was so glad I had taken Harry to Alyson. She told us that if a dog does fall into water, they often do panic the first time, as Harry had done and that is when they can get into trouble and sometimes drown. So once I knew that Harry could swim, I was totally relaxed about letting him off lead near water and now I am happy to say that having conquered that fear, there really is nowhere that I will not take Harry now.
As for awakening the water dog in him, in fact Harry is really not that bothered about water and as you can see from the pictures, he is quite happy to have a paddle but more often just stroll by or sit and relax by the water.
It is just over two years now since Harry and I started training with Kevin. We no longer attend classes but a couple of times a week I still carry out a bit of training with Harry on my own as we both enjoy it. To see us now compared to what we were like on our first one to one with Kevin, well we are both unrecognisable. The days of being scared to let him off lead and only take him out at 5am really are just a very distant memory. We are constantly investigating new places together and I love every minute of it.
I have also learnt how to deal with problems on my own now without having to consult Kevin. I recently changed my car to an estate. In my previous car, Harry used to sit on the back sit with a car harness on. Getting him to jump into the back of the estate car was easy the first time but after his first journey he decided that he did not much like it and then he simply refused to jump in. I could imagine what Kevin would have said had I even attempted to lift Harry in, so I had to figure out a way of making Harry want to get in the car. I decided even though he had no use of it, to put his harness back on as I think Harry felt more secure when he was wearing it. I then used a clicker and reward to get him to jump up into the car and just let him sit in the car without going anywhere. After a while I started up the engine and after that went on a very short trip and gradually increased the distance. Each time Harry got in the car I would click and reward with something extra special. We have now got rid of the harness and he gets in with no trouble. Every so often I do still click and reward, just to keep him wondering.
In addition to the pleasure that Harry gives me, I would like to tell you a little about his work as a therapy dog. I have previously mentioned that Harry became a PAT (Pets As Therapy) dog in January 09. We now visit three nursing homes once a week. The residents just love to see Harry. At Christmas he was even asked to help distribute the presents to the residents! Harry also attended his first funeral last year when the family of one of the residents who had passed away asked if he could go as he had been such a big part of Betty’s life. There were about sixty people there and every one of them knew who Harry was, as Betty had talked so much about him. It was very humbling for me as there are days when it is hard finding the time to do the visits, but to see the impact Harry made on just one person’s life was very gratifying. It is such a simple thing to do but makes such a big difference to the people who Harry visits.
In addition to the PAT work, Harry is also involved in the SPARK project. This is a government funded project within Kent Safe Schools. Harry is part of a scheme which uses pets to work in schools with small groups of children aged five to thirteen, who have emotional and mental health issues. Harry and I work with a caseworker and we see each group of children for six sessions lasting about forty minutes each. It is wonderful to see how the children relax with Harry and often will lay on the floor with him, stroking him whilst talking about their problems, which they obviously seem to find less intimidating than just sitting on a chair talking one to one with adult. The other aim of the project is to try and improve the children’s confidence and self esteem. At the end of each session, I work with the children to teach them some very basic obedience commands and by the end of the six weeks they can manage to get Harry to do a sit, down, stay, come and heel. In the last week, I show them how to get Harry to speak and to see their faces light up when they give the command to speak and he barks is just fantastic. Last term, using the school PE equipment, we even managed to set up a very small agility course for the children to take Harry on. We used long benches for him to walk on and jump over and hoops to run through and cones to weave round. Two boys did a display of obedience and agility in front of their class, which their teacher was amazed at. All the children get a certificate of achievement at the end of the six weeks, with a picture of Harry on.
Although Harry is naturally a very gentle dog, we must not forget how he once used to be. Out of control, no recall and would pull so hard on his lead that I would fall over. Now even children as young as five can walk with him holding his lead! Everything I now do with Harry, the PAT visits, the SPARK work, the training and my wonderful daily walks with Harry have all only been made possible because one day just over two years ago, I went to my vet and I happened to see a flyer for KS Dog Training. I am so grateful to Kevin for his hard work, training, help, advice and seemingly endless patience. Harry has found his niche in life. He really is a working dog now. On average he makes a small difference to the lives of about 100 people every week with his visits. I am sure that all of these people would like to say their own thank you to the person who made it all possible. So on their behalf and of course from Harry and me too……….
Thank you Kevin.
Kevin's Comment: I would like to thank Wendy for taking the time to write about her experiences with Harry and for sharing them with everyone. I know that her success has given hope to many other owners that they too can change the behaviour and improve the response and control of their dogs. However, as Wendy has already mentioned, there are usually no quick fixes or short cuts and I know that Wendy has only achieved all that she has with Harry through hard work and total commitment to carrying out daily training sessions whilst providing him with plenty of daily exercise. To see him now performing such a worthwhile and valuable role as a PAT dog and bringing so much joy and pleasure to people really is fantastic. My sincere congratulations to Wendy and Harry for achieving all that they have together.