Written by W&W client – Rona Brown
This is Ailsa. Who wouldn’t want such an adorable puppy? Much to my surprise, it turns out I didn’t – at least not the version of Ailsa that dominated my life during her first months with us.
We had a dog before, in fact we’d had a Cocker Spaniel before, although she was the “show” type of the breed rather than a Working Cocker. We hadn’t been completely daft and had done our homework on the challenges of owning a working dog and I remember reading that they should come with a health warning. We were open-eyed and ready to properly train Ailsa, sure in our abilities to raise a well-behaved dog.
We read all the training books, watched online videos and took advice from other owners. We felt prepared and at first as a new puppy, Ailsa seemed really smart and very willing to learn. This was going to be a breeze! Then, as she ventured out into the fields and her natural instincts kicked in, it was like we had two dogs. One that was adorable and wanted to be close whilst in the house and the other who’s behaviour amongst the sights and smells of the outdoors was like that of a whirling dervish. A switch went on in her head and she became deaf to calls and completely unbiddable. The slightest hint of a bird on the distant horizon would send her pelting across fields and on several occasions disappearing completely out of sight for considerable periods of time.
I felt like we had lost all of our freedom and as she grew in strength as well as confidence, despite her relatively diminutive size, she could pull me off my feet whilst on the lead. A walk became something we dreaded rather than look forward to and on more than one occasion we discussed whether we had made an enormous mistake and considered the nuclear option of rehoming her.
A regular visit to our local farm shop proved to be amazingly fortuitous. We would take turns to run in and grab provisions whilst the other would sit with Ailsa. On this occasion, sitting in the rear of my car with the tailgate open I noticed a sign-written car with the words “dog training” written on it. I virtually pounced on the owner and after I had stopped pouring my heart out, she said she would be happy to help.
That lady was Jemma Martin of Whistle and Wag Dog training, and it is no exaggeration to say that this chance meeting transformed our lives.
We scheduled some individual sessions with Jemma and little by little things began to improve. She witnessed first hand Ailsa’s highly attuned prey-drive and aptly described it as her “going to the dark side”. I remember on our 3rd or 4th session; Jemma asked me how I was, and my tearful response was that “I don’t hate her anymore”. We still had a long way to go, but Jemma’s knowledge, patience and skill started to change things.
We still have a 16-month-old hugely energetic cocker spaniel, who races along footpaths in a blur, but she takes guidance from our calls and whistles, and has proven to be a dab hand with gundog techniques of fetching, finding and waiting patiently for command. It has been a wonderful transformation and whilst the journey hasn’t finished, I think the original health warning can be turned upside down, in that I am now in good health and so is Ailsa thanks to Jemma.
A massive thank you to Rona for sharing her training journey with Ailsa, we are so proud of what you and David have achieved with Ailsa and look forward to working with you both in the future.