On this day, I’d done just that, and the two
puppies were playing nicely, when unseen around the corner came a crocodile
of large lambs, being driven into a huge adjoining field by the crofter
… I tried in vain to catch Mindy, but she had gone off after them
like a rocket, paying no attention to me at all …
I dashed after her, but stood no chance at all of catching her as she
snapped at the lambs legs, one after each other, running wildly up and
down the croft, and round and round at break-neck speed …
The crofter was incandescent with anger, and all his helper could do was
try to beat Mindy off his lambs with a stick when she was close enough
About thirty minutes later, I finally managed to catch Mindy by throwing
myself across the moor as she was passing, and spent several minutes holding
her down, trying to calm her …
The crofter was muttering about ‘black dogs’ and ‘killer
dogs’, and telling me she was untrainable, and I’d better
get rid of her.
The news spread around the village like wildfire. Pet dogs are not really
tolerated here, even less if they are a nuisance.
I took so much advice from different people about how to train Mindy.
One stocksman suggested that ‘a good kick up the arse from time
to time’ would be in order, and one lady told me to beat her with
a supple hazel stick.
I watched every single television programme on training dogs, but could
never seem to get it to work for me at all. She just took no notice of
me at all.
Then, hot on the heels of her first mishap, came her second.It was a combination
of circumstances. Mindy just happened to be outside, and a visitor just
happened to have left the gate open, and a neighbouring crofter just happened
to be driving his sheep down the road in front of the house.
She went off like a shot, woofing and snapping, dispersing the orderly
crocodile of sheep all over the place … Once she stopped one, she
went after another. The crofter, my neighbour, was very angry, and I had
*no* way of calling her back, because she wasn’t paying any attention
at all to me. She was only caught this time because she ran madly into
a sheep pen, and one of the men captured her for me.
Two mishaps - but on an island where the sheep are inviolable, I knew
something had to be done, and very quickly, before Mindy was shot.
It was actually a very stressful time for me … I and Mindy both
were alienated from a lot of our neighbours, and word spread quickly that
I owned a ‘Killer Dog’ … I knew of course that this
wasn’t all of the story, but had no way of proving it …
I also recognised that it was possible that I wouldn’t ever be able
to control my dog, in which case she would have to be re-homed, away from
I was so disheartened by my own failure to train Mindy that I contacted
the SSPCA about re-homing
her, but they had no spaces, but they did put me in touch with Mike Grantham.
I called him, in rather a panicky, desperate
and tearful state, and he explained to me that dogs and owners had to
be suited to each other, and I should think carefully whether I wanted
to put in a lot of protracted work on my dog. If I didn’t then the
kindest thing would be to re-home her.
He also explained that there was nothing ‘wrong’
with Mindy, but she was only doing what her instinct programmed her to
I thought about it a lot, and decided that
I wanted to keep Mindy, and learn how to train her properly … So
I made an appointment with Mike for a weeks training in Inverness …
Mike showed me the basics of handling dogs,
with specific emphasis on gently letting them recognise you as a leader
– this is what Mindy had never done – as far as she was concerned,
*she* was having to be the leader herself, because I was not showing the
right characteristics or actions …
He taught me how to walk her properly, and
how to behave towards her as a leader, at meal-times, and when she wanted
attention, and when she was demanding, through barking …
He pointed out to me something that I hadn’t
realised too – that my ‘killer dog’ was actually a sensitive
soul, outside of the characteristics of her breeding …
Gradually, through Mike’s daily training
and repetition, Mindy learned to pay attention to me and respond to what
I wanted. This was the bones of a foundation for Perfect Recall …
However, because Mindy needed to accomplish
a Perfect Recall in the challenging circumstances of being surrounded
by sheep, and do it fast too, she was trained on a long lead using Mike’s
special behaviour modification programme …
More importantly, *I* was trained in the correct
process too, because it takes a long time for a new learned response to
go into long-term memory …
I enjoyed my weeks training because it proved
to me that I *could* control my dog, without crushing her spirit, or hurting
her, which I absolutely didn’t want to do …
With Mike’s effective methods, we made
considerable progress just in the five days, achieving a perfect recall
under ‘chase’ conditions …
In the two months since we’ve been home,
I’ve continued the training just as Mike laid it out in Mindy’s
personalised manual. We practise daily everything we have been taught
– it has been absorbed into our daily routines – feeding,
walking, attention and affection. With long-line work as a ‘reminder’
Mindy has come along in leaps and bounds …
I truly believe she is happier now that she can just be a puppy (she’s
still young, only a year old) …
She responds to me, outside, when I call,
as she has been trained to do … The focussing exercises cause her
to watch me frequently when we are outside – if I stop, she stops
She will now walk past loose groups of sheep
on a road, looking back at me for reinforcement, and even when they bolt
away, as they do, she still looks, and may still begin to follow, but
a call from me will stop her before she gets going.
Mike tells me that, provided I am consistent, eventually she will tire
of being interested, because a dog doesn’t continue to do anything
which is not in some way rewarding.
So we are still learning, but I am now feeling much more joy from having
my beautiful dog … and everything is much more carefree because
I don’t have to worry about what I will do if so-and-so, because
I have good, enforceable control over her, wherever she is, whatever she
is doing …
She is still a spirited and headstrong little dog, but that’s her
breed characteristics, and I like that.
The difference now is that she takes notice of me, and does what I say.
I would thoroughly
recommend Mike’s training to anyone, whether their dog is problematic
or not, because there are things that we need to understand about our
dogs which are, as Mike puts it ‘counter-intuitive’, and only
when we understand them do we get the best from our pets …