Dougal is a Belgian Shepherd x Border Collie. He came to us when he was 18 months old through the Victorian Dog Rescue Program. He was well behaved and very affectionate and we fell in love with him very quickly. From the first day we never had a minute’s trouble with him, even when we left him at home on his own. He was friendly with people and also with dogs who visited our home. But we soon discovered that once he was out of the gate, it was a completely different story!

If we were out walking him and he saw another dog approaching, he became uncontrollable, leaping about, howling and barking. He would not be comforted or corrected, seemingly terrified of any dog that we encountered. It was impossible to pass by someone walking a dog and it was just the same if he saw a dog behind a fence or in a car. We could only walk him at odd hours, keeping to the quiet back streets, praying that we would not see any other dogs.

The rescue people told us that he came from a farm in Mildura and was probably never socialised. Due to a marriage break-up he was handed into the pound, followed by various foster homes. When we adopted him we were his 4th home in a very short space of time.

We tried taking him to local dog training club but this was a complete failure. He was put into a class with several other dogs where he howled and barked continuously, leaping at the other dogs, disrupting the class and getting us a lot of dirty looks. We were given no help or advice at all and after a few weeks, dsappointed and embarrassed, we could no longer bring ourselves to go back there.

The rescue people then told us they had heard good reports about Four Paws K9 Training so we decided to give them a try. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done for Dougal and for ourselves. From the first day we were given expert advice, encouragement and assistance. The trainers were patient and understanding of Dougal. He would begin howling even before we go into the carpark and we were sure that everyone at the school knew we had arrived! Jim would take Dougal onto the grounds, with him lunging, pulling, barking and howling all the way…whilst I would go and join the queue to register. I remember looking at all the dogs waiting with their owners in the queue wondering if we would ever be able to do that with our dog!

Dougal was put into the Bandana Dog’s class (all reactive dogs must wear a yellow bandana and attend a special class- hence the name Bandana dog’s class), where we were taught special techniques for helping dogs with issues. For many months we could not actually get close to a class and had to stand some distance away…and of course there was no question of joining in on the socialisation activities.

Tricia (Dunlop) was the main instructor for the Bandana dog’s class at the time and she helped us through those first few difficult months when we despaired of him ever becoming ‘normal’. Another instructor who devoted a lot of time and energy to helping Dougal was Hannah. We also received great help and encouragement from Trish Harris, the director of the school. Many other instructors would also come along and give us a hand with him whenever they saw us having a particularly difficult day. In particular we remember Laura, Sean, Vanessa and Marilyn who each spent almost a whole lesson with just Dougal and us.

Dougal is very clever and quick to learn obedience skills but the behaviour issues too much longer. Then gradually he began turning the corner – there were actually days when he made little or no noise at all and little by little we began moving him into a class, closer to the other dogs. After nearly 12 months in the Blue level, he passed the assessment and went into the Yellow level. He was only in Yellow for 2 months and at the end of the year he’d moved up to Green level. By this time, he was quite well behaved in class most of the time, although we still had days when he was nervous and easily distracted. His behaviour towards the other dogs had improved to the extent that we began taking him into socialisation activities at the end of the day – what a long way to had come!!

At the end of the year Awards Ceremony at Four Paws K9 Training, the team at Four Paws recognised the huge progress Dougal had made and presented him/us with a trophy for “Most Improved dog”, a monetary voucher to a pet supplies store and a free dog wash as his prize. We were so happy and so proud of him, we were really over the moon! We were also very touched by the genuine happiness shown by Trish Harris and many of the trainers over Dougal’s achievement. They are really sincere people who are completely dedicated to helping the dogs (and owners) who enrol at the school.

Trish also helped by suggesting that we take Dougal for sheep herding lessons as this would be a good outlet for hims high level of energy. We began taking him to herding every week and he really took to it well. He has now become a very good sheep herding dog and this has helped build his confidence as well.

When we returned to training after the Christmas break, Dougal spent only 2 months in the Green level and was moved up into Red level – the 4th and final sub-level for Basic obedience certificate. He no longer wears a bandana and stands quietly in the queue alongside other dogs when we register (this was one of our dreams from the beginning). We still have some work to do with him as there are still some days when he can become distracted and restless but he does settle down in class fairly soon and is now fine around most dogs. The great thing is we are on the home stretch and confident that given more time, he will be absolutely perfect!

Lastly, we are very proud of Dougal’s achievements and forever grateful to Trish Harris and all the wonderful and caring instructors at Four Paws K9 Training. We recommend Four Paws K9 Training to every dog owner and particularly to anyone who has a dog with issues. Four Paws K9 Training are simply the best!!

Jim and Sonia Reid
Moonee Ponds, Victoria.