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Blog & Vlog 

Natalie's Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries written by Natalie 

So, the entire family looked forward to getting a dog but no one asked the cat

August, 19th, 2020

Let me start by giving you some background about me that brings us up to the present day. Having completed a Foundation Degree in Animal Studies and then a Bachelors of Science in Animal Biology I was able to create a fantastic foundation for both canine and feline behaviour, brain biology, neuroscience and nutrition. I have 13 years’ experience with canine behaviour, having volunteered at many rescues training dogs, including specialist rescues dealing with dangerous dogs at risk of PTS. 

I have been an animal welfare visitor of the Nottingham Police Commissioner for 7 years, conducting regular checks and reports on the welfare of the police dogs at Nottingham Police Headquarters. I was personally responsible for introducing the kennel cough vaccine to the dogs using these police kennels after arguing my case at one of our regular meetings. I have also worked professionally with both cats and dogs at Mars Petcare as a trainer for two years, being fortunate enough to conduct behaviour studies with both species as well as behaviour modification. This has put me in a great position to help dog owners in multi-species households.


Having set-up Pawsitive Dog Behaviour Consultancy two years ago, I have found it is common for people to get a puppy or a rescue dog and not plan for or foresee issues with an existing cat. People get attached to the new dog very quickly and are desperate for help due to the stressful home life this situation creates. Even when a dog is reactive towards cats, they don’t live with or direct their strong prey drive towards cats on walks that’s bad enough. And what about cats? I am sure many of you can recall situations where a cat has come flying out of nowhere attaching itself to your dog in a brutal attack. So, imagine these behaviours in your home, what a nightmare! In fact, I have first-hand experience with this. At the beginning of my degree studies, my husband and I rescued a cat, at least a year before we decided to get a dog.


I had been brought up with a beautiful cat called Suzy, who I missed terribly but she was too old to cope with moving house when I left home. So, I went out and tried to fill that void with another beautiful cat who we loved, we cherished Sophie deeply, and knew she had not had an easy life. Sophie had been found on the street, very young with kittens. Picked up by the Cats Protection, and was not doing well at the cattery when we went to see her. She was Ferrel, too young and inexperienced to look after her kittens, but also could not cope with being without them when they were split up to keep them alive, continually crying for them and shying away from people who passed. She was being overlooked because of this.


She was hard work, especially at first, but we loved her, and our hard work paid off. She settled in and became an essential part of our lives. I was working at a veterinary practice part-time while studying at university, this was part of the reason I felt it was the right time to get a cat. A year or so later, the time it had taken modify Sophie’s behaviour (incidentally, or not) I had been asked by a veterinary nurse that I worked with if I wanted re-home a small dog. It did not end up adopting that specific dog as the owner had changed their mind, but it was too late the seed had been planted. I was now desperate to have a dog. The dog I had chosen had been ‘cat tested’, and the rescue was happy for me to take him home. To be sure I had them ‘cat test him’ again to make sure. What could go wrong, right? EVERYTHING!


It wasn’t until much later that I had found out that the ‘cat testing’ had consisted of putting an extremely stressed and shut down dog (my boy Scrappy) into an unfamiliar room at the rescue, with a person holding onto a cat. Lack of interest in this cat for the duration of a few minutes, constituted as the test…where’s a facepalming emoji when you need one? Well now I can list you all the things that are wrong with that, all the things I didn’t prepare for, all the things I could have done differently, but I was at the beginning of my training journey and had to learn it all the hard way.


My cat and dog could not be in the same room together without trying to kill each other at every opportunity. Sophie was a street-savvy, confident cat, and Scrappy was a reactive Jack Russell with multiple behaviour issues. Management was the first port of call, ensuring Sophie always had somewhere to escape to go that was out of reach before I could even attempt to work on behaviour. It was so bad we considered giving him up, but after lots of tears decided to throw everything at it. Through training and lots of lots of management, we eventually got somewhere, but it wasn’t smooth and even at its best, it was not ideal.


So, believe me when I tell you I can relate. Cat and dog behaviour is entirely different, cats don’t have the same social needs as dogs, now that’s not to say cats don’t have social needs, they do. They just aren’t the same. The two species have developed complex communication skills through body language and vocal sounds, but guess what? They are not the same as each other. 


This can lead to severe miscommunications resulting in severe fights and even fatalities if not dealt with and managed correctly, in rarer cases one or the other animal needs to be re-homed because their welfare needs cannot be met while in this situation. Fighting over resources is not uncommon, dogs generally find cat food very desirable because it so high in protein, much more so than their own food, they don’t know high amounts are harmful to them. What about you? That’s right; you are also a resource to both your cat and dog because they value you, and may fight for your attention. If you are worried about the relationship between your cat and dog, seek help from a behaviourist who is going to give you the tools to help them get along with kind training and lots of management. Believe me, I know the entire family are on edge and can’t relax when your pets aren’t getting along.      

Lockdown is easing, so what now for our reactive dogs? 

July, 22nd, 2020

Now lockdown would appear to be winding down over the next few months many of you will be looking to get help with your reactive dogs, especially because avoiding other dogs on walks has been less challenging of late, at least for some. And now all the midnight dog walkers will be starting going back to their isolation as it was before.


This worries me! It worries me a lot! Why? Because as a behaviourist and more importantly an owner of several reactive dogs, that have no control over how their fight or flight responses that force them to react in social situations that frighten them, knowing that there will be many dog trainers out there that just don't understand brain biology and the neuroscience of behaviour.


They will want to help you, that's why they train dogs, but because of this terrible lack of understanding horrific, archaic techniques that surmount to torture, are going to be used on these precious dogs.


I'm a big fan of having the dog training and behaviour industry regulated, I  have a foundation degree, degree with honours, accreditation with the IAABC, and it doesn't stop there, how can it, what I learned at unit a decade ago is out of date now, I'm always doing CPD that reminds me of that, I'm always learning and updating my knowledge, partly because I live and breathe this stuff but partly because I wouldn't be fit to help you otherwise. I'd be the one using out of date techniques.


I generally have a positive outlook, and am very empathetic, we all have different ideas about what makes a good dog trainer, and that's great! However, nothing worries me more than someone who does not see the value in ongoing education alongside the practical experience. I know this doesn't guarantee anything, this is real life, occasionally a bad egg or frankly incompetent person will somehow slip through the net of the most rigorous examination and assessment process.


But could you for a minute imagine the government saying we need more GP's so let's forgo the 7 years of education and hands-on experience you currently need because you might be crap at your job anyway, and most people don't know what qualifications GP's need, so if you call yourself a GP it won't add value to your practice to get the qualifications. I'm pretty sure there would be an outcry and rightly so!


To all the dog owners out there, do your homework, make sure your behaviourist and trainers are qualified, at least to degree level, when you need help with anything other than basic training. Make sure they are accredited and you know the ethics of the organisation they are accredited with. Most of all listen to your instincts, if you are asked to do anything to your dog that makes you feel bad like jerking the dog lead or using a pet corrector it's because you are doing something bad, and you will regret it.


Maybe not now, but at some point, you will. I know that because I did things following bad advice that I deeply regret because I was desperate to fix my dog, I had no idea I was making it worse, sometimes these things seemed to help for a short time and I was extremely defensive if anyone tried to tell me otherwise!


If you are looking for a pet sitter, dog walker, dog trainer or behaviourist. Check out their credentials before you trust your precious pets with them, look to see what qualifications they have, what accreditations they have, a simple internet search can tell you how rigorous their application processes are and how highly regarded those organisations are if you haven't heard of them yourself.


I'm extremely proud to be accredited through the IAABC, the qualifications I had to have, the recommendations I required (including from a vet I had worked with) to qualify before I even gained the right to go through their rigorous assessment process.

My First Dog, to whom I owe everything 

July, 6th, 2020

This is my story. In loving memory of Scrappy, to whom I really do owe everything!


I started my journey with rescue dogs in 2006 when I spoke to Graham Shelbourne, a course leader at Nottingham Trent University who inspired me to follow my dreams, and finally enrol at uni in my 20's, with the full support of my husband Lee, to do a Foundation Science Degree in Animal Studies. It wasn't enough, I was hungry for knowledge so I stayed on afterwards to do a Bachelors of Science with Honours in Animal Biology. 


Almost as quickly as I started my studies at Uni, insisting I would keep my options open, study a wide range of animals, and definitely didn't wasn't going to work with dogs, like everyone else, I immediately folded. I was completely obsessed with genetics, brain biology, neuroscience and behaviour of the dog, and how we could use that information to rehabilitate rescue dogs. Oops!


I brought my first rescue dog home in 2007, having studied for a year by this time, I was ready, it was finally happening, I had never had a dog before, but I had lots of other animals, and I did dog training at Uni, I mean how hard could it be? Right?


From the moment I clapped eyes on Scrappy, the Jack Russell I knew he was supposed to come home with me, he had the most beautiful hazel eyes I had ever seen, you could see the depth of his intelligence and a wariness behind them, a young adult really shouldn't have. He was so reserved in the dirty, damp, dilapidated rescue kennel, he didn't come up to greet me, or even acknowledge me as I looked at him, my heart broke for him instantly, his pain was palpable. No one had shown interest in him, he had been there a few months, I really couldn't understand it.


That was it, in that moment walking past that kennel for the first time I had chosen him, Lee wasn't there, but my heart already belonged to this tiny little wirehaired dog, it was a done deal. Scrappy pulled like a freight train the first time I walked him out of the kennel that day. That should have been my first clue that behaviour issues were being suppressed, but I didn't know as much as I thought I did and I buried that feeling of uneasiness deep into the pit of my stomach where I did not let it surface ever again.  Besides I had bigger things to worry about, I had reserved a dog without even telling my husband, the husband that didn't want any dog's at all really (we now have 7 so it hasn't really worked out how he imagined but he loves them all deeply).


Lee as forgiving as ever came with me to collect Scrappy, he asked to look at the others dog's, which is something I have reminded him many times over the years to see him squirm while trying to cover Scrappy's ears. Scrappy pulled so hard to the car on his lead the day we took him home my hand hurt in no time and the poor dog was coughing and spluttering with the pressure of the flat collar against his neck. Poor Scrappy. 


I will never forget how mesmerised he was with the view of passing houses and trees as we made our way home in the car, he sniffed loudly at the tiny gap in the window and the air vent, while sitting on my knee in the front seat (it was normal to have dog's travel like this then, even though it seems crazy now). 


Scrappy came home with an entire fleet of behavioural problems, severe separation anxiety, a lack of impulse control, no bite inhibition, he was extremely reactive and afraid of other dogs, and like the flicking of a switch, they all suddenly presented themselves, after several weeks of the most wonderful honeymoon period you could possibly imagine with a new rescue dog. I was in way over my head and doubted whether I could keep my promise to look after him no matter what, many times over those early years. I did everything wrong, I made massive mistakes!


"When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion." - Abraham Lincoln


This is my approach to dog training. At the beginning of my training journey, I was what you could call a balance trainer, this meant I was instructed to do many things that made me feel bad, giving the lead a good tug when my dog pulled on it, using a loud noise to interrupt watchdog barking etc. I did these things not just because I was told to, but because I was truly desperate, and these techniques seemed to stop the behaviour issues almost at once, at least for a couple of weeks until Scrappy learned to ignore what I was doing, but not before it had soured our relationship, previously based on trust. Things were going downhill fast. 


I did not understand what I  was doing had been damaging my dog, teaching him to suppress behaviour, which was having a terrible knock-on effect, spilling out into all aspects of his life and relationships. 


What I should have been doing is helping my dog make better behaviour choices, in a kind, compassionate force-free way. But I just didn't understand that a reactive dog has no more choice over reacting badly than an epileptic dog has control over having a seizure. The motivation for reactive behaviour is usually fear. Even those these dogs appear very confident on the outside, that's just something they have learned to help protect themselves from danger. 


My dog forgave me and fortunately for the last part of his life I had learned the error of my ways, but it still haunts me now that I made those mistakes. Since my degree studies, I have dedicated my life to training and working with rescue dogs, I do good, I feel good


I have volunteered as an animal welfare visitor for the police commissioner for 7 years where I personally was responsible for having the kennel cough vaccine introduced at the Nottingham police headquarters after presenting my case in a meeting. I also volunteered at rescues training dogs to loose lead walk.  I did this until 2015 when I was diagnosed with Bone Cancer. I had a bone transplant in my leg and throughout my recovery Scrappy diligently watched over me, silently laying with me without judgement, for which I will be forever grateful. 


As I learned to walk again Scrappy was so gentle on the lead walks, so sensitive to my every limp, stopping and patiently waiting before I even knew I was going to stumble, stopping whenever I dropped the lead without me ever asking. I knew Scrappy was intelligent, I mean really, really smart, but I didn't know the depth of his emotional intelligence until then. I used my time off work to continue and refresh my dog knowledge. 


Since my recovery, I have volunteered as a behaviourist for many rescues, and still devote some of my time to this, currently fostering for a wonderful rescue to whom I offer support. I worked professionally as a dog trainer for a large organisation in 2007 which I did for nearly two years, homing my training skills with many different breeds. But it wasn't enough, and the organisation was very resistant to change, and I found it very difficult to accept mediocrity, and as much as I loved the dog's and championed for their welfare, I very quickly realised I was never going to be the change I wanted to see in the industry, in a place that stifled creativity, and believed one size fit all dogs. It was like working for the Borg from Star Trek, I really wanted to be beamed up and released from the collective.  

 

Then he was taken from us suddenly to Cancer without warning. I was in pieces, Lee was away, I had to make the decision to euthanase, I shamelessly begged the vet to do something, anything, to help him, how could this possibly be it? I insisted they called the head vet in the middle of the night, which they did, to only confirm the worse, I gave him permission to put him down on the operating table and I dropped the phone and screamed. 


After that Lee hurried back to me equally devastated. We couldn't even bare to be in that house without him. So just like that we moved, I already had other dogs by this time, and thought it was about time to give them a backyard they deserved, so why not make a rash decision, and high tale it out of there? I continued with my job as a dog trainer but I was not fulfilled, I was losing my identity, so I drove from Nottingham to Surrey on a regular basis to work with extremely aggressive and reactive, terriers and hounds at breed specialist rescue, that only accepted dogs other rescues couldn't help and were at danger of PTS. 


I had already taken home one of my bite cases, before we had even moved to a village location, with a house that had that backyard I was talking about. There I was in my element and knew I had really undersold myself taking a job as dog trainer where I was unable to help the dogs that I trained due to the one size fits all training methods I was not allowed to deviate from, that anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of canine behaviour would have laughed at, in honesty.  

 

So I abruptly jacked in my job not long before Christmas, with an ever-growing number of dogs, to set-up my own business as a behaviourist. Did I mention I had a very forgiving husband?


Since being in business I have achieved accreditation with the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants as an Associate Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant. Which was a dream I had since reading about the organisation while I was at Uni, but I had never imagined this dream would become a reality at that time. Things change when you have confronted with your own mortality and then your first dog dies, suddenly life seems very short and past worries fade into insignificance.


Through my experiences I have learned that nobody gets into dog training because they don't like dogs, everyone wants the best for them and to help them, I certainly did, and hands up I got it wrong! Really wrong! At one time. Not everyone has an understanding of behaviour to help dogs like they want to, and I didn’t at the beginning of my journey. 


I appeal to you, if you are ever asked to do anything to your dog that makes you feel bad, question it, training should be uplifting, and make you feel good because you are doing good, as part of a team with your dog. 


Through my work I  spread the message about force-free dog training, help balance trainers use kinder training methods by recognising not everyone has the exact same beliefs and making sure training is inclusive as long as my codes of conduct are followed. 


Together I stand with the general public, a fantastic network of other dog trainers and behaviourists, and a couple of amazing rescues to raise awareness and improve the welfare of our canine companions, not just locally but all of the world. This is my story. 


In loving memory of Scrappy, to whom I really do owe everything!

Online Vs In-Person Behaviour Consults

Dog - Dog Aggression In Multi Dog Households

UK Vs Imported Rescues