Belfast Part 2: dog training

I was a bit tired on Saturday morning after
the night before,
but a shower and a lovely breakfast soon fixed that. After getting directions from Anna, the very helpful receptionist at
Beneficts,
we took the bus to Newtownabbey, for my first experience of professional dog training. I’ve wanted to watch a training class in action since I talked about dog training
here
last year. I contacted Robin Bates (APDT) from
Dog Training NI
and he invited me to observe his classes to get a better idea of what’s involved. I had no idea what to expect as we made our way to the Orange Hall in Mallusk, but this was a perfect introduction to dog training, because of the variety of things to observe.

Robin taught three obedience classes between 1 and 4 PM. The first was made up of adult dogs whose owners wanted them to learn obedience. Some of them had done the puppy class already, and all had a good understanding of what was expected of them.
Robin asked each owner to do tasks such as sit, down, heel while walking etc, then practiced recall and off leash walking. The dogs had to be able to wait while their owners left them at one side of the room, go to their bed when asked, and retrieve objects and bring them back. Like humans, dogs have unique personalities, and this is never more obvious than in a training room full of them. Jack the mixed breed and Hank the German Shepherd were almost always obedient, while Ralph the spaniel barked a lot and had a mind of his own. The rest were somewhere in between.
O J was an absolute star during this class, lying still, taking everything in but not getting up at all. Even when other dogs got treats and ran past him to retrieve their toys and play tug of war, he never moved. The dogs are all familiar with each other, so bringing a new dog into the mix can be a challenge, but they ignored O J and he didn’t bother them, which was more impressive because his harness was off and he wasn’t working. Many other people noticed this too, and complimented him. It was nice to have the opportunity to have him in such a distractive environment and see that he can completely control himself.

The second class contained two dogs who had specific problems that their owners wanted to fix. The female labrador seemed quite quiet, but Charlie the westie was a character. He kept wanting to meet O J and play, because he is so friendly and loves everybody, so we added distraction issues to the ones he was already dealing with. They did get a chance to play at the end, and O J was very gentle with such a small dog. Charlie was afraid of nothing though. He seemed like such a fun dog to be around, and his owner was great fun too!

The third and final class was puppy class, and wasn’t as chaotic as I had expected. It was their fifth week, so the youngest pup was about sixteen weeks old. There were nine in total, and they were quite quiet and relaxed. Breeds included shitzus, a rottweiler, a golden retriever, a cockapoo (cocker spaniel x poodle), a keeshond, and black lab/retriever Greg, who is owned by a first time puppywalker, and will hopefully progress to become a guide dog. He is a beautiful dog, and his owner was very friendly, so we talked for a while after. She was happy to meet O J and see a working guide dog, and she had lots of questions which I was happy to answer.

Before the class finished, Robin came to talk to me about what I thought of it, what I wanted to do in the future with dogs, and to ask if there was any way he could help further. It was great to hear how he became a dog trainer, and his views on particular courses. I asked many questions, and told him my concerns about training dogs from a blind person’s perspective. The work can be quite visual, and so much of a dog’s behaviour is detected through its body language. He agreed, and gave an example of how a dog in class bit him recently. He saw it coming and was able to step back, therefore avoiding a more serious bite. He didn’t seem to think it would be impossible, and never implied that I wouldn’t be able to do it which was nice. Perhaps obedience is a safer option than working with dogs who have behavioural problems. He also suggested looking more at the theory side of things, as there is still a lot of learning to be done in that area. Its definitely what I’m going to start with anyway and see how things go. He promised to email me a reading list, so the search is on for books in braille or audio formats. He told me to keep in touch and to come up again if I wanted to. It was great to have such a positive beginning to my dog training adventure. Who knows how far I will actually go with this, but even if it becomes no more than an interesting hobby, I have to thank Robin for his great introduction. His gentle way with dogs impressed me, and I learned a lot about how to act better around dogs, just by attending his classes.

We collected Dougal on the way home, and I was surprised to see him so calm. He was happy to see me but not in a mad hurry to leave the kennels, which was a good sign. Apparently he was quiet and didn’t bark as much as some of the other dogs. The kennel is more expensive than where I left him before, but worth it for the walks twice a day and the more professional care he would get.
Both dogs spent the evening cuddled beside each other when we got home. They like being away for a change of scenery, but I think they miss each other’s company.

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6 thoughts on “Belfast Part 2: dog training

  1. I thought I commented but maybe i didn't. I'm glad OJ behaved. That was really cool you met up with a puppywalker. I didn't know they would have been at a mainstream class.I would love to go to a class run by guide dogs.Take care, and glad you had a good time. Xxx.

  2. Torie the owner said that it was a great form of socialisation for the dog, as for some reason, which I can't remember, she felt that he missed out on some of the critical socialisation period that should take place in the first few months. It was great because he wasn't working, but still had to do obedience work all the time. I think it is a good idea to have them participate in a mainstream puppy class for six weeks or the short amount of time they last because it gets them familiar with other breeds, and both small and large dogs.

  3. Sounds like a very interesting day at the class. I was going to ask the same question as Torie about why the Guide Dog puppy was there but you have answered that one. Do you think you will go and observe any more of his classes? Sounds like something you should have recorded. I certainly would be interested in it. Maybe its an idea for a little documentary?

  4. Very cool. I have to admit, I'm slightly jealous. πŸ™‚ All of the dog trainers I've contacted have not been as open…at all. I'm glad you had such a great experience.PS: O.J is amazing. πŸ™‚

  5. Nicky I was thinking that too actually. There would be some amazing audio there. Its definitely something to think about.I'd love to make a documentary following a guide dog pup during the year that it spends with its puppywalker, like a journey from pup to guide dog type thing. Maybe someday.O.J says thanks Jes! The trainer really was nice, and he's sent me that reading list already!

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