Harper's Dogs Trust Dog School Experience

Helen and John Clift have been volunteers at Dogs Trust Merseyside for 10 years now. They have adopted several dogs from the Centre since it opened. Often taking on some of the longer-term dogs who need a little more help and support.

Looking through some rescue pages Helen saw Harper's picture and was immediately smitten. After an enquiry and lots of meets with their older dog Benji, Harper came home to start her new life with the Clift family as Helen describes below.

"Harper is a 2-year-old Collie Cross from Greece. She was born on the streets of Athens and arrived in the UK when she was 4 months old. She then had a series of homes and spent a brief time in a rehoming kennel before making a seven-hour road journey from the south of England to be adopted by us. She was making good progress under the watchful eye of her new dog companion Benji who sadly passed away only three months after starting to teach normal dog life."

"As you can imagine Harper's world changed yet again. It was then we signed her up for the six-week Dog School course & this turned out to be the best decision we could have made for her. From the moment I made an enquiry to Dog School, Michelle the Head Coach explained everything to me and gave me the relevant forms to complete to enrol Harper on the course. On the 3rd of January 2018, we headed to Dogs Trust - Merseyside centre for our induction. Harper didn't come along to this meeting, it was just as well as there were loads off invaluable information for us to concentrate on. We were given a copy of the presentation to take away, which was excellent to refer to later."

"The following week it was Harper's turn. I have to say that I was a little apprehensive. I really didn't know how she was going to cope, going out in the dark for the evening class, a new place to visit and new people to meet. However, this was totally unfounded, as soon as we arrived in the car park we were greeted by a very jolly coach asking us to stay in the car until all the previous classes dogs left. We thought this was very organised & professional. When it was Harper's time to enter the training barn, our class entered one by one and there was a designated space for each of the dogs. Each space separated by dividers. There was a mat there for Harper to lie on, a filed Kong to occupy her and a bowl of water. Harper was happy and I relaxed."

Harper the dog at Dog School Merseyside  

"When we were chatting with the coaches Harper was able to munch on the Kong then we learned to trade for other treats. We worked on Harper's name, sits and downs, verbal and nonverbal. We also started to look at recall, this was absolutely brilliant because Harper had no recall ability at all and I had no idea where to start with her training. The class seemed to whizz by so quickly, it was very interactive and informative. As we left the class we took an information sheet with us with homework to do during the week. We have a busy schedule but I was determined to do the best for Harper and planned my days to include 2 or 3 minutes a couple of times a day to practice everything that we had learned in class."

"The following week we went to class and Harper was very keen to get into the barn to see what treats were in store for her. We were asked how things were going and if we had any problems. Then we had the opportunity to show what we had been working on at home. Harper was very good, she was able to concentrate even though there were ample of distractions. This was another thing that I had needlessly worried about. We were given a new set of tasks to work through and Harper was keen to learn. Whenever the coaches were chatting about the next element of training the dogs could settle on the mats with either their favourite toy or a Kong before trying the next task."

"We started to look at loose lead walking, playing with a toy and building on the recall training. All of these were clearly explained by the coaches who were there to help at each step. During Harper’s next class we continued to build on the loose lead walking and recall. The weather was cold but dry so we had the opportunity to work outside. This was brilliant as Harper had previously been unnerved in the dark and this gave her the opportunity to build some confidence up in a safe environment where she was happy and felt safe. We also started parallel walking with our class buddies. This was very controlled and totally guided by the coaches. Again, building Harper’s confidence all of the time. Back in the barn, we looked at how to introduce grooming and examining our dogs. Gently building up her confidence for when she needs to visit the vets or groomers. The other fabulous process we started was 'wait' so I could go through the door before Harper rushed through. I was impressed with this simple strategy that was very effective."

"Harper’s fourth week involved ‘leave’. I really did think that we were going to fail at this one. Harper loves her food and to be asked to leave a tasty treat, a step too far I thought. Again, an effortless process for us to do but extremely effective. We continued with the training from previous weeks adding a little more like loose leading walking past dogs and people. There was always a coach or Dog School volunteer on hand to help with anything. The classes are small so we could get the full benefit of their knowledge and advice. Each week we were reminded that we could contact the coaches before the next class if we were struggling with anything. This was beneficial as on a couple of occasions I emailed with questions asking for advice. The coaches were prompt in their reply, being clear and concise with the answer. I was very impressed and it meant that I didn't have to wait until the following class."

"Each week, when we got home from class Harper, lay on her bed, relaxed and went to sleep. She didn't move for the rest of the evening. Our 50 minute class appeared to be more tiring than a two-hour walk! We then got to Harper's final week of Dog School. All the activities that we had been working on over the past five weeks were put to the test in such a fun and interesting way giving Harper and me the opportunity to show off her new skills. This was a playful way to show how training can be and Harper loved it. This has certainly given us lots of ideas to stimulate Harper's mind as well as exercising her. Chatting with the coaches each week about highs and lows of the previous week was very significant as it gave them the opportunity to tailor the training to Harper’s needs. I was given two little sayings that have become extremely important in building Harper’s confidence whilst out on walks. For this, I cannot thank Dog School enough."

"Two weeks after completing the course it was half term and I walked Harper along a busy road by the side of a mere we were visiting. There were children running and shouting, bikes, prams, dogs & a lot of geese. Harper was a little giddy to start with but very soon settled down to a loose lead walk. It was totally amazing! I was so proud of her & know that I would have never been able to get to this point without Dog School. We still have a lot of work to do but I have no doubt that Harper will continue to grow in confidence and show what a clever girl she is as we continue with these positive training methods. A huge thank you to Dog School, the knowledgeable coaches & the dedicated volunteers!"

If you would like to share the Dog School experience then get in touch with the team at Merseyside on [email protected] or call them on 07388 377386. There is a class for all with a Puppy class, Adolescent class,  Rescue class and an Adult class so everyone is catered for. The Merseyside Dog School team would love to hear from you and help you with laying those important foundations for you and your lovely dogs.