With the pandemic there has been a huge increase in the number of pet owners. People have been working from home and life situations have changed.
Getting a furry friend seemed like a good idea for many… the realities of living with another species can sometimes not be the romantic story that we had conjured up for ourselves. There’s dealing with the fur to start with, not to mention the barking, toilet training, neighbour complaints and scratching of beautifully polished wooden floors (something I know all too well about!)
I am not shy about saying my favourite part of dog ownership is the training.
The real connections between pet parent and animal start with teaching obedience and also tricks if you really get into it! It’s a way of finding a common language between species.
Communication and understanding of each other develops when we train our dogs. It’s almost like solving a puzzle, for both handler and pet. It’s so rewarding when you see them thinking it through and getting what you are asking them to do.
Perhaps if we all got into dog training a little more, there might not be so many unwanted doggos in the pound.
Since this month we are focusing on puppies, I caught up with Jenna Chadwick, a very well respected trainer from the North Coast K9 academy. We talked about her love of Zeus’s eyebrows, how she became a trainer, and delve into some tips for new dog owners.
What do you love about dogs and what made you decide to become a trainer?
I’ve always been interested in animals. I grew up watching David Attenborough Documentaries, bird watching, hatching skink eggs and frogspawn. Observing animals was fascinating. I even trained a goldfish as a kid! I got my current dog, Zeus, to become an Assistance Dog so I knew I would be training him. Through a series of unfortunate events Zeus developed some behavioural issues that meant I had to scrap the goal of Assistance dog and had to focus on his behaviour. I had to dive deep into the world of dog training, psychology and methodology.
As to why I decided to become a trainer? Well it just sort of happened. I had to learn a lot to handle my own dog and I enjoy it. I enjoy learning about dogs and what makes them dogs. Seeing the connection and relationship develop as a dog and person learn to communicate and live together is truly rewarding.
How long have you been a dog trainer and where did you get your training from ?
I had the good fortune of being a part of the North Coast K9 Academy. Soph is one of the trainers there who worked with Zeus and me. Generously sharing her knowledge and encouraging me to learn, experiment and push Zeus and myself. I ended up helping out at the Academy as the school grew and they needed extra staff. It was a fantastic learning opportunity, I got to work with many dogs, people and breeds. It felt like jumping in at the deep end as I learnt to assess dogs and people quickly. I would go home and research, join online webinars, courses and classes so I could come back each Sunday a little more prepared and educated. I have been training at the academy for 3 and a half years.
You own a working line German shepherd, tell us a bit about him, and why you chose to adopt him
I have one word. Eyebrows. They say don’t pick a dog based on colour, pick one based on temperament. Well I foolishly disregarded all advice and common sense and got Zeus because he had big expressive eyebrows. He was a gangly 6 month old who stumbled off the back of a ute, wandered over, sat next to me and looked into my eyes with a big goofy expression. Above his intensely dark eyes were these two big light tan eyebrows, moving inquisitively as he took everything in. And that’s how I got Zeus. As to why I was getting a Working Line GSD? I was looking for an assistance dog prospect. I honestly have no idea how to describe Zeus as a dog, his personality is so big! He’s a combination of two protagonists, Buddy from the film Elf and Sterling Archer from the TV series Archer. Zeus is incredibly enthusiastic about life, believes everyone sees the world like he does, is convinced that willpower and exuberance can solve most issues. He’s ridiculously handsome with so much character and sass that it’s hard to tell him off. He’s very smart, learns quickly, demands tummy pats 24/7 and truly believes every moment is the best moment ever and nothing could possibly go wrong. Unless I am standing 50 feet away petting another dog. Then the world is ending and he’s going to warn everyone with high pitched yodelling. Basically he has big emotions, zero self preservation and mummy issues.
If Zeus could talk, what would be the first thing that came out of his mouth when he woke up in the morning?
Jenna with Zeus and his eyebrows of course…what a handsome boy!
Jenna is a trainer at www.northcoastk9academy.com
Photo by Blair Chadwick
What methods do you use to motivate Zeus? Does he like food or toys? Is there anything else that he likes?
Motivation was another complex journey for us! I think I got the only WL GSD [Working Line German Shepherd Dog] that didn’t want to play. He is a very interesting dog when it comes to play. He showed signs of wanting to engage and play, he just didn’t want to play with normal toys. He had zero tolerance for frustration, so if I touched a toy he would explode and redirect onto me. All our play sessions ended with blood, sweat and tears. So I started using the garden hose to play with him. He loved it and I could stand behind a low wall to prevent him from making contact with me. Slowly I introduced training while he was in that heightened state of mind. Built up his patience and ability to wait for the reward so I could eventually be out from behind the wall without risk of injury. It took me years to build his play drive and direct it into an appropriate outlet. When at the height of his reactivity phase I couldn’t use many rewards as he didn’t take food, didn’t play and vocal praise could send him over the edge. I had to keep everything calm and low energy. I used pats and gentle vocal encouragement to mark wanted behaviour and attitude. Fortunately Zeus had some food motivation when at home, this meant I had a way to motivate learning, build confidence and slowly change his mindset through positive association. We slowly worked together, building Zeus’ food motivation and lowering his anxiety and arousal enough to use food outside of the home. Food eventually became a reasonably high value reward which I began to then use in games. Throwing pieces of food for him to catch or chase. This introduced an element of play into our rewards. It worked really well as a form of motivation. This was a great transition into using toys and play as motivation and reward.
When I take professional photos of dogs, I try to avoid pictures of them panting as this can sometimes be sign of stress and it can look uncomfortable in photos. What other signs do dogs show when they are a bit anxious that people can look out for?
Panting can definitely be a sign of stress. Though all dogs express their emotional states a bit differently. The whole demeanour of a dog, the context and environment all play a part. For example, Zeus always has his tongue out as he gets hot easily and needs to cool down. Looking at the eyes, ears, and listening to breathing rate can help determine if his tongue is out due to stress or heat. A tightness around the mouth, eyes and quick, shallow breathing would be an indicator of stress. The whole body is involved when communicating emotion. Is the dog stiff, still, fixated? Is the dog avoiding eye contact, having a tucked tail and turning away? Both are indications of stress. The important thing is to get to know our own dogs and their behaviour and body language when in a stressful situation.
You are not shy of taking snaps of your proud pooch and have made some awesome images yourself. Do you have any tips for dog owners for easy positions they can train their pups to help them get such good pictures?
I do like taking photos of Zeus, it’s a fun way to proof training as well. To get a nice shot our dogs need to hold a position while we step away to get the right angle.
The dog therefore needs to hold a position for a short duration, while we get the shot. Use the same training language when asking the dog to sit or down for a photo, use rewards during the process.
Some fun tricks to teach for photos could be ‘Paws Up’, ‘Hold’, ‘Chin Down ’and ‘Wave’. Practise any new trick or command at home first. Get the dog used to seeing you bring out the phone or camera.
Often it’s when we are out when the dog sees the camera, this is a distraction and changes how the dog interprets our command.
For example, perhaps you have taught ‘Chin Down’ with a hand signal, then suddenly you’re holding a camera in one hand while signalling with the other. You then lift that hand to steady the camera and the dog breaks position as this is a new component that confuses the dog.
What do you think is the biggest mistake that new dog owners make when they get a dog?
This is a great question. I think when people get a dog, whether a puppy or adult, they jump straight into training. I personally value engagement, relationship and environmental stability over a sit or high five. It’s great that people are enthusiastic about their new dog and are looking to create a connection, I just think that the meaning of connection has got a bit lost. A good connection means we have a dog that trusts us and we know what our dog needs. Training can happen at any stage, it’s the relationship and helping the dog be confident that is important. In actual fact, training will be easier if the dog is engaged with us and feels confident
If you couldn’t have a German shepherd, what type of dog would you have?
I find so many dogs interesting. I like working and sporting breeds, I like a spicy dog that’s going to have a big attitude. As for specific breeds other than a GSD? Belgian Shepherd, Poodle, English Springer Spaniel, Sheltie, Pomeranian, Flat coated Retriever, Corgi and Koolie. Honestly there are many breeds I’d like to work with. As long as the dog is affectionate, enthusiastic, smart and cheeky I’ll love it!
If there was only one thing you think people should teach their dogs, what would it be?
From a very practical perspective a solid recall should be a high priority. The local off leash parks and beaches are technically only for dogs under effective control and that means recall. Shared spaces would be a lot more enjoyable if dogs were genuinely under control. Wildlife would be safer and the dogs would be less likely to be injured in an accident or run away. Recall is something that benefits the dog, the owner and society. I think dog’s would be accepted in more spaces if they were truly under effective control.
Well thank you Jenna, that was a very motivating talk. It goes to show how far you can come from a difficult situation with your dog. Zeus is now a pillar of the canine training community here in the Northern Rivers, and combined with his mum Jenna, they are proving to be a shining beacon to others who are having struggles with their pooches. If you are having difficulties with your dog, whatever that may be, don’t give up!
Enlist the help of a good trainer like Jenna (I mean, this woman can even train goldfish!) and you will be surprised by how much you can turn around, even the worst of situations.
Find out more about my dog photography packages here!
You can find Jenna at northcoastk9academy.com and on all the socials.