If you're struggling with an anxious dog - take heart. This beautiful dog is now doing very well at gun dog work, and she's a real credit to her owner Michelle. I'll admit, I'm feeling pretty proud of her myself after reading this..
I first attended Gemma's classes in February 2013 with my 14 month old Labrador Jelly.
I have experience with dog behaviour and training and was looking for nothing more than to go through the motion of training classes (which in all honesty I didn't expect to teach either of us anything as she was a very well behaved girl already) just so I could take and achieve the KCGC awards up to Gold level.
Nothing could have prepared me for the change in Jelly that is still present today. Jelly was perfect, except for one thing, she was scared of children and strangers, men in particular.
It all stems from when she was chased by a child at only 4 months old. From then until February I lived with this fact, trying to not make a big deal of it, getting strangers to give her food and trying to source children to go for walks with in an attempt to change her opinion of other people! There was a small improvement but she was still noticeably frightened.
At first, Jelly was scared of everyone in the training group, Gemma included! The only good thing about this was that her recall was excellent, she just wanted to be back with me where she was safe! Gemma couldn't use Jelly for demonstrations because if she tried to take Jelly's lead, she would panic and practically attach herself to my leg!
Over time, something truly remarkable happened. There was no active attempt made to address Jelly's fear in class but she started to become much more confident.
A previous trainer had tried to help during classes, getting people to feed Jelly but this didn't help and made Jelly more suspicious. Instead, I believe the relaxed atmosphere, and the fun training sessions (for both human and dog) made Jelly thoroughly enjoy being in the company of unfamiliar people.
The fun and relaxed aspect of the session also changed me and so Jelly saw how chilled and happy I was in the company of others, rather than me over-analysing Jelly's behaviour and trying too hard to change it.
I now have a dog that perhaps isn't as well behaved (she now actually wants to run over to strangers on walks! don't worry she still comes back thanks to training classes!!) but is more importantly happy and relaxed and this is what I always wanted. She has benefited tremendously not only mentally but physically.
Long term stress can have physical affects and Jelly was always on the slimmer side of normal (unheard of for a Labrador!) but now I am having the normal Labrador owner battle of watching what goes past her lips now she isn't burning it off through stress.
A noticeable turning point was when she started dragging me through the door on arrival and pulling me straight to a male owner that she had made friends with, EVERY week!! Gemma also liked to make the exercises more challenging and for one of our Gold exercises, she would sit with the tastiest bits of fresh food in her lap whilst we would have to call our dogs away from her!
In February, it would have been impossible to even make Jelly stay with Gemma, let alone have to opportunity to call her away. But, by May, we did the exercise and to my horror, Jelly wanted to stay with her Auntie Gemma and it took 3 calls to get her to come! Most owners would see this as a negative thing but I was overjoyed that Jelly had made that choice and was enjoying the company of others.
I have also attended Gemma's classes with my others dogs, sometimes attending twice weekly! I joke that the sessions are the social highlight of my week! The groups have always been so welcoming, I have made long term friends and have such a giggle but more importantly it gets me challenging my dogs and they are so much happier for it. It is so rewarding to see them reaching their full potential.
I am struggling to find the right words to emphasise how amazing my experience with Gemma has been. I think the fact that I have taken 4 dogs to her in 6 months, when I have the knowledge to train them to what most normal owners would class a 'high standard', speaks for itself and I am so excited to be booked onto her next beginners group with my new puppy in a few weeks time.
I have been to numerous other trainers in the area and can say that Gemma is by far the best! The sessions aren't the normal repetitive exercises, the dogs are challenged, the exercises fun and the dogs are learning to change their attitudes - to think for themselves and make good decisions to gain themselves praise and rewards rather than the old fashioned way of training where owners say the command, the dog does it, and that is that.
This is good but I believe this is why many dogs are only good in training lessons and not so good in day to day life. Gemma's teaching technique is so easy to apply to daily life too and so the dog can continue to think for themselves and try to please its owner.
My dogs and I have a far better relationship since I met Gemma and training my new puppy has been so much easier thanks to what I have learnt. At 11 weeks old, she does sit, down, bed, wait and retrieve and will sit happily in front of me to be trained for up to an hour at a time with a look on her face that simply says "what next mum?!" Not many people can say that and its because of Gemma that I can! "
Michelle and Jelly :-)
p.s - this nearly brought tears to my eyes writing this! thank you so much for making Jelly so happy, she's a different dog now, she loves everyone! doesn't bark at people in the kennel or house now, the huge test was all the puppy visits this summer and she loved everyone!! some even said they wanted her instead!!! see photo!!! what a hussy!! x