You know those mornings where you're awake before your alarm? Wll Saturday was one of those days. I had been excited about attending Dog School at the Dogs Trust Harefield for weeks and Gatsby was excited too (although I have to admit that whenever I talk to Gatsby in an excited voice he gets excited but I like to think he understands).
It was a gorgeous sunny day and as I arrived at the Centre I was immediately impressed. The facilities were incredible and it felt calm and safe, a very relaxed place for dogs. Gatsby was due to have his own private Dog School session and we headed nervously up to the class.
When Em from the Dogs Trust got in touch to mention Dog School she politely suggested that Gatsby was probably so well behaved that he didn't need Dog School but did we want to get involved? Given my history with Gatsby and how his behaviour had been when I rescued him I jumped at the chance to give Dog School a go and help promote this initiative.
To fill you in on the back story in case you don't already know, my darling angel Gatsby was not always as well behaved as he is now and even now I have to admit Gatsby is very selective. When I first rescued Gatsby in April 2014 he was a handful. After spending 5 months waiting to find a home, Bonzo (as he was then) was a ticking time bomb. I couldn't let him off the lead at first because I didn't know if he would run off and be lost forever. However, on the lead he was a nightmare. When we saw a dog across the street he would go crazy barking and squealing and sometimes throwing himself around on the floor, it was obviously a horrible experience for him. When I eventually let him off the lead he would race over to other dogs and often run straight into them. Gatsby isn't aggressive but let's just say he had pretty poor social skills. Other dogs didn't like Gatsby racing at them and bowling them over and their owners weren't very impressed either. It got to the point where going out for a walk with Gatsby was such an ordeal and so stressful that we all hated it.
Pictured above: Left -Gatsby getting distracted searching for snacks in Dog School and Right - catching some rays after class
The types of behaviours I've described are exactly what Dog School is designed to help address. They teach you and your dog how to deal with stressful situations which can be anything from your dog being left by themselves, teaching them to wait atiently whilst you talk to a friend in the street, calmly passing another dog and, in Gatsby's case, recall.
So back to Saturday, we met the head trainer of Dog School Tam, along with Em and Rhiannon from the Dogs Trust. The session was really relaxed and Tam taught us techniques to work on Gatsby's recall and, linked to that, how to get his attention back when he's in a potentially dangerous or stressful situation. When I'm out walking Gatsby he'll often run off chasing squirrels which is totally harmless. They're up in the tree and Gatsby can't get to them but sometimes we bump into horses which Gatsby doesn't like or when we're out on hikes I need to be able to call him from the end of a mountain path so that he doesn't slip off the edge.
Tam patiently went through a few games we could try with Gatsby to build up his recall skills and take his focus away from things he finds stressful, like crying children. Tam demonstrated what to do and then let me have a go. Sometimes Gatsby did it and sometimes he didn't but it didn't matter either way. The Dog School is definitely not about being the best straight away it's about setting your dog up for success and giving you and your dog the tools you need to make life easier, less stressed and more fun, and who wouldn't want that!
Dog School classes can be found all across the country. They're fun and engaging for you and your dog and they're science led in that all of the trainers are qualified in behaviour and welfare and know what they're talking about.
In 2016, 33,000 calls were made to the Dogs Trust about handing over unwanted pets. And what's more the most common reason cited by people for giving their dogs up for adoption or returning a dog they've adopted is behavioural problems. As a dog owner who has experienced a dog who won't do what you'd like them to and the negative effect this can have on family life, I can totally understand why. That's why I'm really keen to promote Dog School.
We got the opportunity to look around the Centre following the class and there is so much going on. There is tonnes of information about different types of dogs for perspective new owners (I especially liked the collie information board) and there were of course lots of really cute doggies searching for new homes.
If you don't have a dog but want to get involved then Dog School welcome volunteers, as do the Dogs Trust. Take a look at ways to get involved here. Alternatively, if you want to support the Dogs Trust you can donate online via this page or my favourite thing ever, you can chose dog toys or treats to send to the dogs in the rescue whilst they wait for their new homes via Amazon. One of Gatsby's favourite treats in the world are Winalot Shapes and so as a big thank you for his session on Saturday Gatsby will be sending 5 bags of Shapes to Dogs Trust Harefield. Click here to view the Wish List.
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about the Dogs Trust or if you are looking to adopt a dog and I'll do whatever I can to help and put you in touch with the correct people. For those of you who have asked me on social media about meeting Gatsby thank you so much loving him just as much as I do. I'm so pleased that he brightens up so many of your days as much as he does mine. I'll make sure I keep the videos coming.
Pictured below: Left - A quick snap of Gatsby and I after a fantastic morning. Right - The results of Dog School, so much excitement and learning Gatsby slept flat out all afternoon.