Heel! Market Drayton dog trainer talks new canine career
They’ve long been called man’s best friend due to their overwhelming loyalty and companionship.
But dogs also have a knack for bringing people together, says Debbie Harrison, who owns four Dachshunds, a Labrador and a Cavapoo.
“When you first get a dog and take it for walks, you stop and say hello to other dog owners who you may never have spoken to before. People make friends because of their dogs,” she says.
Her canine pals have also helped the fitness instructor to flourish in a new career as a qualified dog trainer at CanineKinetics Dog School in Market Drayton.
Approaching 50, Debbie knew that she couldn’t continue teaching more than 25 fitness classes a week.
Passionate about dogs for many years, she started studying for qualifications in canine modification behaviour.
She met Helen Rowley, owner of CanineKinetics, when she took her four-year-old Cavapoo Ivy to a dog agility session in 2016.
Helen was opening her dog school and gave Debbie, who lives in Loggerheads, on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border, the opportunity to put her training into practice.
For the past three years Debbie has combined running 15 fitness classes a week and 10 dog training classes, with studying and, having passed all the assessments, she is now an instructor for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
“After 30 years as a fitness instructor, I was looking for a career change. It was tough to start studying at 50.
“I have had to do research, coursework, attend practical sessions, residential courses and submit written work, but it has been worth it. Once I started learning I found the subject fascinating. I am planning to study for The Advanced Applied Canine behaviour course level 5, which is the equivalent to a foundation degree,” she says.
At the dog school, she teaches classes for puppies as well as follow-on classes for older pooches.
There is an indoor classroom as well as an enclosed outdoor paddock and a sand arena.
Debbie uses positive reinforcement and reward-based training that encourages ‘good’ behaviour by rewarding a puppy when they get something right.
“They are rewarded when they do what we want them to do and hopefully they will want to do it again to get the reward,” she explains.
If a puppy does something their owner doesn’t want them to do, they do not get any attention or treats which means they are less likely to repeat that behaviour again.
“I work with no more than five dogs per class, as I believe this offers a better learning opportunity for both the dog and their owner.
“The fewer dogs there are the more they will be able to focus, if it’s too busy they get distracted and owners get frustrated when they aren’t seeing any progress. A lot of puppies end up in rescue because their owners have got disheartened with the training,” she says.
Debbie also holds one-to-one training sessions that are tailored to customers’ needs. “It may be that someone has a dog that jumps up all the time, or pulls on the lead or has a go at other dogs. We can work on these issues together,” she says.
“I enjoy seeing owners that are happy with how their training is progressing and helping them to get better results,” adds Debbie.
Patience is key when it comes to training a dog but she believes it should also be enjoyable.
“Training your dog should be a pleasure. They are not going to be perfect all the time – they are dogs, not robots, but there is a difference between a well-trained dog and a dog that doesn’t know any boundaries.
“There is always something new to learn and every dog teaches us something different.
“You want your dog to be able to live harmoniously in your home and if we can help achieve that, then we’ve done our job,” says Debbie.
She competes in agility with Ivy, who is a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Miniature Poodle.
“She’s very, very fast and you can see she loves agility from her little face when she’s running. It’s good fitness for both dogs and owners. It’s good for your mental health too. You get to meet like-minded people and have fun with your dog,” says Debbie.
Helen, who owns border terriers Mabel, Dotti and Dora, also competes in agility and runs classes. CanineKinetics has a popular Gym Pups which including activities such as puzzle solving, soft play obstacle courses and puppy pilates to help owners bond with their new pet.
Helen has been involved in canine health care, behaviour and training for over 35 years and qualified as a RCVS veterinary nurse in 1987.
During her work she recognised the link between behavioural issues and physical discomfort and discovered the benefits of hydrotherapy and therapeutic exercise.
She gained additional qualifications to allow her to specialise and later set up CanineKinetics, which offers hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and acupuncture, in 2013.
“I love seeing the difference I can make to dog’s lives and seeing those that have been ill or had physical injuries living more comfortably. But it’s not just about the dogs, I like to think that we also support the owners too.
“When you get a dog, you think it’s all going to be lovely but there can be problems or they can have physical difficulties. It can be a difficult time so we are here to support the owners too,” says Helen.