Monday, 4 February 2013

Why I believe the only way you can help dogs, is to help people


My name is Nico Joiner. I am the Training and Behaviour advisor (TBA) at Dogs Trust Loughborough. I started here back in April in the portacabins (before the centre was finished!) with the rest of the management team. However my dog experience started at my nan's rescue shelter when I was around 7 years old.

I spent term times with Auntie Rita and my partner in crime Wilhelmina the foxhound, hosing down Merlin's compound - he was the pot bellied pig. My nan handed the site over to what was then NCDL in 1999. I then returned for work experience when I was 15 and the next 7 years moved on like this:

  • Two weeks work experience turned in to 7 weeks!
  • My work placement soon became 2 ½ years of volunteering, 
  • Volunteering became a full time canine carer role at Dogs Trust Canterbury and I was there for 5 ½ years before the big move to the Midlands.

And now I'm here on this blog, taking this opportunity to explain a theory I have learnt the importance of since working with dogs: prevention is always better than cure. 

In my new role I have the responsibility to put this theory into practice by training the team and helping to get new protocols and procedures in place.  It might sound a bit formal but having measures in place allows us to prevent problems, which is so important as the dogs rely on us.

The early signs of a potential problem can be so subtle.  A skill that’s taken me years to acquire and, as dogs do, one that I keep learning more about every day .

With any problem there is a beginning, a middle and an end; or, more likely, a waving flag. For example, my 7 year old self makes friends with a hungry foxhound, the boy finds it fun to feed the foxhound, the foxhound acts like the boys greatest friend in the world - Wilhelmina gains a kilo or two!

Our assessments and time spent with adopters is our chance to help them deal with a known behavioural problem or combat one that may arise in time, so we try and prepare people to think about the end before its even started.  We want to help before they are waving the flag and thinking there is no way out.

Stage 1 -Assessment

Recent scientific developments relating to the study of dog behaviour, has enabled Dogs Trust to refine our processes to get to know a dog when it first arrive.  Our character assessments are purely based on observations.

One of my tasks as a TBA is to train the staff to carry out our assessments of all new dogs. These assessments give us an insight in to what they may have been through in the past which helps us consider how they may react in future. From this we can profile the dog's ideal home and put in place appropriate training programs.

Stage 2 – Training Programs

All our training programs revolve around avoiding negative emotional responses and creating positive experiences for the dog. That can sound a bit technical so the simple way to think of it is to consider how muscles work.  The more a muscle is worked the bigger and stronger it gets - so if anxiety is the muscle, the more the dog practices being anxious and worried, the stronger the muscle or behaviours will get.  Of course as the behaviours get stronger the reactions seen in the dog get so much the worse.

Stage 3 – Rehoming

Once someone has shown interest in a specific dog and is considering rehoming we use our assessments to inform people of all the behaviours we have seen plus any history we may have. It is also our duty to not only communicate the personality of the dog but show people how it is best to manage and train the dog.

Our ultimate goal is to not just successfully rehome dogs but to securely rehome dogs. We aim to equip our adopters with everything they need to know about their chosen dog to ensure they can deal with problems as they arise.

In our line of work people often say they're more doggy people than people people. I am here for the dogs 100% - I still love driving in to work just as much as I enjoyed running down the woods with ten dogs chasing me as a 7 year old! I have thankfully kept my sincere childlike love for what I do but I have also learnt many tools to make sure I am able to make as much of a difference as I can. Although I am more of a doggy person than a people person I know the only way I can help dogs, is to help people understand how and why dogs do things.  Working with people has now become something that gives me just as much of an enjoyment.

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