Interview with Angela Stockdale

Gill: Firstly may I thank you for giving us the time to share your knowledge. May we start by asking you how you first became involved with dogs?

Angela: I have always been mad about animals in general. As child I had a menagerie ranging from goldfish to goats. I can remember my mum asking why, at the age of about seven years I had put my goldfish in the bath – my reply was ‘To give them a run! – Insanity usually starts at around that age I am told. I hand reared billy goat kids and rehomed them. I had many different animals as a child – rabbits, Guinea pigs, a pet hen called Ethel and numerous others either my Dad or I would bring home! We always had a dog in the family – Gilly the boxer and then Brandy the Labrador. Every day after school I would walk my dog down to a local Gypsy camp to see the ponies. I spent every waking minute with one of my pets or another to the extent my parents were quite worried about a teenager’s non-interest in the opposite sex – Guess I’m an early learner

I remember putting a head collar on Gilly and teaching him how to ‘track’ when I was about nine years old – that dear chap was such a friend The neighbours looked upon me as the ‘animal fanatic’ in the neighbourhood and

also brought their dogs to our home for me to ‘train’.

Cutting a long story short (Don’t faint in amazement, Gill!) I lived above a vet’s when I first left home and helped in surgery in my spare time. I took in orphaned animals from rabbits to billy goat kids and then found them new homes. As I was spending all my spare time (and money!) on these animals, it made sense to make a career change! Whenever a dog was brought in for destruction, Chris the vet, would ask me if I thought I could do anything with them and/or rehome them (obviously with the agreement of the client). Tina Terrier was my first ‘rescue’, brought in with a broken pelvis. When the owners were tracked down, they denied ownership after they were told that she’d had an operation. I nursed her back to health and found her a new home – I still have pictures of her now – they always make me smile

Lady Perkins was another babe brought in to be PTS, as her owner had died. I will always remember untying her from the bench in the waiting room and carrying her downstairs. I had a week to find her a home. She was about fourteen years old and was virtually blind but she was so happy. One day in the ward, I remember going down to clean the patients out and when I let Lady Perkins out she walked up to a theatre gown, wagging her tail, expecting it to make a fuss of her! I found her a home and she lived for another 18 months – she was such a little sweetie

Working as a vet nurse, you learn to accept that you can not save them all and whilst you never get used to it, you learn to cope when an animal has to ‘cross over’ I found it ‘tolerable’ when it was in the animal’s best interest but on two occasions, a dog was PTS because of behavioural problems. The last one I will never forget – She was a 6yr old GSD bitch called Mishka. The owners had changed business from a Scrap Yard to running a Guest House (not a lot of difference really !!) and they could comprehend why Mishka would not accept the guests! The owner would not stay with her for PTS and so left. Mishka was fairly aggressive but absolutely terrified. My vet

wanted to put a dog catcher on her and I asked him to give me a minute. I took her lead, calmed her and asked her to SIT which she did. I then had to tape her muzzle and use my full bodyweight to hold her down as her vein was raised and she was PTS. I was about 22yrs old then and that is when I knew that I could not do this job anymore. I felt I had to try and help these dogs before they reached us for the last time.

After discussing the possibility of helping dogs like Mishka and offering a ‘behavioural service’ to our clients (though I did not know it had a name then!) Chris and I worked out a ‘programme’. He talked to and watched the client whilst I sat in and watched the dog. When the client had left, Chris and I would confer – him putting the people’s point of view across and I the dog’s – sounds crazy I know but it worked!! We helped many dogs and I continued to rehome the dogs brought in to be PTS. I could go on about many lovely dogs that found new homes but you are probably falling asleep by now anyway<G>

Cutting it short again ( I know, you’re probably thinking ‘If this is short…….!) after several office type jobs to keep my little homeless friends and working in my spare time with those with problems I was offered a job in welfare – that was and still is no doubt my true vocation I spent my time rehabilitating and rehoming the dogs with special needs for a couple of years but was then told I was not allowed to take in anymore dogs with problems. I then left and set up my own Rehab. Centre and Sanctuary taking in only dogs with special needs. Family commitments & finances prevented me form carrying on in my own centre. I then felt the best way I could help these dogs was to try and share my experiences with others so they, in turn, could help these special dogs – hence my involvement with various rescue organisations.

Breathe a sigh of relief – I’ve finished this question

Gill: If a young dog had been under-socialised and was wary of meeting new people, how do you about working at this?

Angela: I would first ascertain whether the dog’s ‘wariness’ was being reinforced by the owners – as you well know this is often the case, even with the best intentions from devoted owners. I would suggest the owner’s follow guidelines as in ‘If only we could talk!’ (I am seriously not trying to sell my booklets here!) as it will add consistency in the home and reduce the chances of the owner further reinforcing the dog’s anxious state. Most dogs of this type are GENERALLY stressed, never knowing when they may next meet a stranger.

I would also recommend ‘Pleased to meet you!’ which is briefly described in

the next question. The reason I have written these booklets is to help dogs, their owners and the trainer/behaviourist to achieve sociable behaviour without using force or punishment.

I would suggest that the dog be taught ‘The Hide’ to offer the dog a ‘safety area’ for when he/she feels threatened thus reducing the chances of the dog becoming aggressive. I would also recommend that the dog be kept well away from any situation that may cause him/her to become stressed even if this means not taking the dog out until further into the rehab. programme. In place of daily exercise would be mentally stimulating games such as retrieves, searches and teaching tricks using the clicker approach even if the clicker itself is not used. This in itself will build up the dog’s self confidence and further develop the relationship between dog and owner.

They would then be invited to join either one of my monthly rehab workshops for long distance clients or my fortnightly rehab and socialisation groups if they are nearer. The dog would be included in whichever group suits him/her best (see website for further details). The other members of the group are advised on how to respond to this dog. Normally, they would start off with totally ignoring the dog and then participate in the ‘Go See’ exercise. The ‘Go See’ exercise is beneficial in two ways – the treat always comes from the handler thus eliminating the potential frustration a dog may feel when a ‘real’ stranger hasn’t got a treat which can ‘create’ a bite! Also, the ‘Go See’ cue ‘tells’ the dog that the stranger must be okay as Mum/Dad says so.

VERY IMPORTANT – at these sessions the owner is not ‘nagged’ about reassuring his dog as he will probably do this away from the group anyway!

The dog learns to cope with the ‘handicap’ of his owner inadvertently giving the wrong ‘signals’. Plus, the poor owner has enough to cope with by having such a dog and meeting new people without being nagged by me

Please note – these are only guidelines as each case is individual and should be treated as such. I have a video on this and will hopefully have it available to trainers within the next couple of months.

Gill: If a dog barks and jumps at visitors in the home and the only course of action has been to shut the dog away when visitors arrive, how can we train them to accept those visitors quietly?

Angela: This would depend to a degree on whether he dog was aggressive or not and whether the behaviour is borne of a fear or distrust of people or a disrespect.

I have just finished a booklet on this subject too!!

The dogs needs a sanctuary area within view of the front door, preferably. He/she should spend time in this area as part of his/her daily routine and should be associated with a high value reward that he/she gets at no other time. This area should be ‘closed’ by means of a stair gate. It is vital that whilst the dog should not have access to the visitor, he/she must be able to see what is going on.

The dog should also be associated with a ‘Goody Jar’ containing high value rewards that, after association, is only brought out when visitors arrive.

Set up situations are ideal. When the visitor knocks at the door, the dog is taken to his ‘sanctuary area’ and the Goody Jar placed in full view of him. Both the owner and the visitor totally ignore the dog as the ‘greeting routine’ is carried out in full view of him/her. If and when, the dog is displaying calm behaviour he may be allowed out to join the people -do not force him -it must be his decision.

Everyone still ignores the dog. The goody jar is passed to the visitor by the owner. At random, the visitor asks the dog to SIT and reward with a treat if he does. If he does not respond to the first cue, the treat is placed back into the Goody Jar and given back to the owner. This exercise can be repeated after a few minutes.

If the dog was simply disrespectful and was not at all worried about the stranger – if practical I would recommend that both the owner and the visitor leave the room if the dog is jumping up, shutting the door behind them and not re-entering the room until the dog was calm. One has to be very careful though as many ‘disrespectful’ dogs are wrongly diagnosed and their OTT greeting behaviour is actually because of the dog’s insecurities and desperate need to ‘seek approval’

This is so difficult as, like I said before, each case is so individual. I would ask you to consider anything I write is simply a guideline that you may want to keep in your toolbox. Because I specialise in aggression – I am probably over cautious when advising without seeing the dog and his individual situation.

Gill: What are your thoughts on human to dog hierarchy? Do you think dogs that are allowed to sleep on owners beds, get on furniture, eat before and owner food etc, can become an issue/problem?

Angela: I personally believe if a problem arises, then the dog had a ‘problem’ in the first place. I have nine dogs – some of who are allowed such ‘privileges’ and some who are not. I would like to mention that I feel it is so wrong to say ‘It is not the dog’s fault- it’s the owner’s’. If the dog didn’t have a problem – the owner wouldn’t! This is not to say that owner’s cannot inadvertently reinforce a ‘problem’ but the ‘problem’ is usually there to start with.

I am not convinced that any of these routines actually dictate who is the senior partner in a dog/human relationship but such exercises can add stability and consistency to any dog which in itself can have a beneficial effect. I feel that although our dogs live in a world ‘dominated’ by people, it is our duty to be their guide and guardian not their ‘dominator’! In order to convey this to our dogs I feel that we do need to demonstrate that WE there to guide THEM and not the other way round. That is they need to ‘trust’ our ability to ‘guide’ them. Some people may call this ‘respect’ If so – respect should be earned not demanded. So called ‘in house routines’ can help an insecure dog who may have been labeled unruly or ‘dominant’ (how I HATE that word!!!). Remember, many insecure dogs will try to control their home environment as this is when they feel able to cope. If they have control – they know what is likely to happen thus giving them confidence. If they lose that control – they do not know what is likely to happen thus the possibility of causing them to feel threatened.

Does that make sense?

Gill: What is the first exercise you would want to teach a young dog when it comes to training and why?

Angela: Responding to his/her name and teaching the owner not to ‘abuse’ this. If one has the dog’s attention that you have a good first step forward to teaching! Anytime the dog responds to his/her name, this should be reinforced with a reward PLUS verbal and/or physical praise. The dog’s name, in my opinion, should mean to the dog – ‘Hey listen! I am going to ask you to do something for a reward!’

Wow! That was a short answer – relieved eh?!

Gill: When an owner has a problem going out without their dog, as the dog then becomes destructive/barking/messing etc, what can they do to help overcome this/these problems?

Angela: Have you placed spy in my home? ‘Missing You!’ which covers this type of problem is my latest booklet! Have just received illustrations and they’re wicked! Aha! I know, to save you buying one you’ve asked the questions that are answered in my booklets. Sorry – can’t be serious about anything!! Now back to the question, where were we? Oh yes, Separation Distress!

The first thing I would recommend is that the dog has a full medical check over. Sometimes when they are feeling a bit under the weather, they feel more vulnerable and less able to cope on their own.

I would also take into consideration the dog’s age. IM experience, many older dogs can suddenly develop this type of problem as they feel physically less able thus again making them feel more vulnerable and unable to cope on their own.

As this problem can affect a wide range of dogs for various reasons, the question itself can have many ‘answers’. A recently adopted rescue dog may well suffer from Separation Distress. A young dog, obtained as a puppy may well develop this behaviour at around 8 months, when not only are the teeth

setting in the jaw , creating a need to chew, but also at around this age many dogs become more reactive to everyday situations and can be over sensitive. Intelligent dogs who lack mental stimulation can develop this

problem out of boredom.

So as one example (otherwise I’d be writing all night!) let’s take the situation of an young adult dog who has developed this problem.

Most dogs of this type show similar characteristics :

They are described by the owner as ‘very affectionate’ and follow the owner around the home. They are usually very bright (maybe the not quite so bright dogs don’t understand what Sep. Distress is and therefore do not have the problem!

Let’s assume the problem is due to the dog’s basic insecurities and not out of boredom. One needs to build up the dog’s self-confidence and address any inadvertent reinforcing of the dog’s insecurities by the owner. I would suggest providing a consistent lifestyle within the home (If only we could talk! or similar for an example). This in itself will have a stabilising effect.

I would suggest that the owner’s accustom the dog to not always having contact with them all the time when they are IN the house. Inadvertently, the owner’s often actually reinforce the dog’s reliance on them thus undermining the dog’s self confidence hence their inability to cope alone.

By ignoring demands for attention they will not be ‘reassuring’ their dog. It is very important, with dogs of this type, that whilst demands for attention should be ignored , a little gesture of ‘Good kid!’ or similar is made when the dog accepts the ‘ignoring’ and walks away. If this is not done, some dogs will become worse as they feel rejected.

A ‘safety area’ should be created within the home. Ideally an area where the dog feels secure and can still see and hear the owner but can not physically make contact with them. A stair gate or similar would be ideal for closing the ‘safety area’ off. You may even consider creating a ‘den’ within the safety area – a crate covered with a blanket or similar may be used but DO NOT SHUT THE DOG IN – THIS IS NO SOLUTION FOR THE DOG!

I would also suggest a positive visual signal be used to indicate ‘no attention’ times. I personally use an A4 piece of card with the words ‘WHAT DOG?’ written on it. I find that this helps the owner understand how to react when the signal is in view. Even though most dogs, in my opinion, can not read, the sign should be placed in full view of them. In my opinion if a dog has something positive to focus on he/she accepts new ‘routines’ with more confidence.

‘WHAT DOG?’ should mean to the dog – ‘Do what you like, sunshine, it will not make the slightest bit of difference’ not ‘I am ignoring you ‘cos you’ve ripped my house to pieces!’. In time the dog will view this signal as a cue, no different to any other e.g. SIT. It is essential that the area one chooses as the dog’s ‘sanctuary’ must be viewed as such by the dog and NEVER be used as a punishment.

I have found that by giving the dog positive guidelines to coping without holding Mum’s hand all the time, this in itself can reduce the distress the dog feels when left alone.

I also recommend that a Destruction Box be left for the dog when the owner leaves the house. No good giving the dog chewies and toys alone – he is going to feel stressed for a while and needs to ventilate! Taking his feelings out on a cardboard box full of lovely destructible items plus a few treats will allow him to do so without costing the owner a fortune!

Greeting and leaving routines should be quick and non-emotional. Associations with leaving routines should be broken.

So in summary (I know this is what you have been waiting for!)

  • Teach the dog to stand on his own four feet, whilst the owner is at home, by teaching him the ‘What Dog?’ exercise and ignore any demands for attention.
  • Break any associations with leaving routines with actual departure.
  • Provide him with a ‘Den’ where he can hide if he feels vulnerable.
  • When you leave the house, make ‘Goodbyes’ quick.
  • Leave ‘The Destruction Box’ out for him, just in case he needs it!
  • Greetings should be low key, regardless of your dog’s reactions.
  • Look forward to building up your ‘No Claims Bonus’ on your household insurance again!

Gill: If somebody wants to become a dog trainer/behaviourist and asked you for advice on how best to start, would what you tell them?

Angela: There are many courses run in the theoretical side of behaviour/training. However, whilst very useful, they were not written by the animal you are trying to understand. Sure, learn form other peoples experiences and learn about behaviour and learning generally. But if you are unable to ‘read the dog you can only address the ‘human problem’ which is often not the dog’s problem.

Go to your local rescue centre and ask if you can spend some time with their residents. Teach ten dogs without problems to SIT – you will be amazed how much the dogs will teach you!

If you want to work with dogs – then work with dogs! Spend time watching them, how they respond to each others gestures. How they look when happy, stressed, excited etc. ‘Hands on’ experience, IMO, is essential if you want to develop your skills to their fullest potential. Whilst you may learn from people, IMO, the dogs themselves are the only true experts in canine communication and understanding.

Believe me – the dog’s have all the answers to any question you may have – it’s down to you to learn to ‘read’ the replies.

I find it sad that, in the UK, many good dog people, not necessarily trainers, feel incompetent because some ‘academic’ people who have entered this business have implied that one can not be a behaviourist unless they have a degree. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but I have not yet met a dog with a degree and my right paw man, Stanley, has NO problem resolving dog/dog problems.

For anyone who feels they can not help dogs with behavioural problems because they are not academically minded, please don’t be discouraged – some people read books and some people ‘read’ dogs . Some really clever ones who don’t have nine dogs, two kids and a full time job do both …..or so I’ve heard<g>

Learn from other’s experiences. Read any research that has been done. But above all get ‘hands on’ experience from the only true dog experts – the dogs themselves. They always welcome new students!

Gill: On our forum at the moment we have been discussing how trainers/behaviourists and anyone that works with dogs & people, find the people hardest to work with. You need excellent communication skills with people otherwise you will be unable to help in our opinion. What are your views on this and any helpful ideas?

Angela: You really want an honest answer? Okay – I cheat! If I want to feel stressed I talk to clients. If I want to relax I talk to my dogs!

Probably because my main experience has been in rescue where you don’t have the ‘help’ of an owner (C’mon I’m trying to be diplomatic here!) I had to develop an approach that would teach the dog to cope with not only HIS problem but the added complication of having a human being on the end of the lead!

My first conversation with an owner usually includes the sentence ‘ Your dog is obviously very intelligent and sensitive. (they love this !) You have done so well in not allowing this problem to develop further’ or words to that effect. These owners have enough to contend with having a problem dog and often feel it is all their fault anyway. I need to build up their confidence, not undermine it. Even if I think they are total pratts, I can not help the dog if I can not ‘win over’ the owner. I often humanise as few pet owners really understand the strong instinctive behaviours within dogs. I refer to ‘bad manners’, politeness, and various other human terms. I also tell them how infuriating it is to have owners with dogs without problems being so ‘irresponsible’ by not giving the client’s dog space. Funnily enough, that is often the truth!

With the aid of highly valued human and canine ‘stooges’ in my Rehab. Support Groups (otherwise know as THE NAUGHTY BUT NICE CLUB) I create an environment for the dog to learn for himself rewarding and non- rewarding behaviours. I do not nag the owners not to reassure their dogs as they will do this anyway! They are there to relax and gain much needed support from other members. The dog learns that flying out at people, for instance, even when Dad’s saying ‘Go on, my son, I’m right behind you’ through verbal or physical ‘encouragement’, actually incites the stranger coming closer instead of going further away.

The aggressive dog is obviously muzzled for safety, besides I don’t want to lose my no claims bonus on my Public Liability insurance <G> The ‘club’ members are primed on how to react to the ‘new member’ and the owner is allowed to just relax, enjoy the company of others who have ‘been there’ whilst the core group members ‘do their job’. This is really difficult to explain in writing. I suppose I could best describe the approach I use as one where the dog learns by the consequences of his OWN actions rather than those of his owner.

Gill: What are the main behaviour/training problems you see in your job?

Angela: As I specialise in aggression – aggression!!!! More dog than people aggression – that’s my excuse for having nine rescue dogs – I need them as stooges. No one’s ever asked how may I use though – what a relief as only three are currently employed for helping with behavioural problems. The rest just keep my sanity! Those of you who have a spouse and young children will know EXACTLY what I mean!

Gill: If somebody is looking to get a puppy or rescue dog how should they go about selecting one that is right for them and there environment?

Angela: Oh Gill, a subject so close to my heart This is quite difficult for me as I have always felt drawn towards the dogs with special needs so do not have much contact with the average pet dog owner in rescue. I have homed many special needs dogs to special owners and I must admit this is where I feel my vocation in welfare lies. I am quite concerned that it is being publicised within the dog world, here in the UK, that the general public do not want a dog with a problem and that such dogs should be ‘eliminated’ to give the ‘nice’ dogs that have ended up in rescue a chance. Every aggressive dog I work with is not only nice but very special – just confused, let down by people and misunderstood.

Sorry, that’s not what you asked – got a bit carried away there!

If someone who had children and/or no time or experience for a dog with special needs I would advise as follows :

Do not get a puppy unless you can be certain of the parentage. Go for a dog at least 18mnths to 2yrs old. At that age you are more likely to be sure that ‘what you see is what you get’. If you take a puppy, you can not be certain that he/she will not develop problems as he/she matures.

Do not take a stray, whose history is unknown.

Only go to recommended rescue organisations, who fully assess their dogs and who offer a full behavioural support service to adopters and their dogs.

If you work full time, try and get an older dog and, if you can, one who is used to being left.

If you live in a rural environment, avoid herding & coursing breeds as they are more prone to stock chasing problems.

If you live in an urban area and have to leave you dog – avoid guarding breeds as this may well annoy the neighbours!

This advice is what I feel I should, in all honesty, advise the ‘average pet owner’. However, I always suss them out to see if they can take one of my special dogs into their family. I believe that ‘ Every dog SHOULD have his day’ See, I can’t keep away from the subject …. BTW have several special dogs needing homes – one who is best described as ‘autistic’. Such a honey, just needs the space to enjoy life in his own little world without the pressures of a ‘normal’ domestic environment. Full behavioural support given for the rest of his life.

Gill: What are your favourite dog books/authors and can you tell us why they are your favourites?

Angela: This is quite embarrassing… if I tell you the truth, promise not to be horrified, Okay? Good, then here it comes …… I spend my whole life, when I’m not being a Mum to two young children, either working with or writing about dogs. I also support a lot of other trainers who have entered into the wonderful world of canine delinquents! Occasionally I spend time with my very patient, understanding and tolerant husband. Get the picture???

As you can imagine by the time I get to the bedroom, which is the only time I get to read – I’ve had it! I have read and enjoyed various books by Karen Pryor and Jean Donaldson and I love Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t know if that has any dogs in it but I do remember the depressed lift and that the answer is 42.

So the truth is I do not read enough books , although I do read articles from various sources regularly. Articles are short enough to fit in whilst the tea’s cooking provided you can switch of from the kids best efforts to break the sound barrier!

I do however have a favourite film – I loved it so much I actually bought it! Yes, you’ve guessed …. it’s the latest version of Dr. Dolittle, with Eddie Murphy – That film is the nearest I ever get to reality.

Gill: On behalf of everyone we would like to thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview and answer all the questions so thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Angela: Thank YOU for having the time to listen, after being viewed for years, as a total animal nutter who can talk about nothing but animals, it is so nice to be able to waffle away without being told to shut up

Gill: If you have any workshops, books, videos, web page you would like to add please list below for people to visit and buy.

Angela: I would welcome any visitors to my website where details of my booklets and workshops are displayed. My video will be finished shortly, subject to computer crashes! Based on one of my workshops it is entitled ‘Understanding your dog – you’ve read the books … now ‘read’ the dog!”

I would also like to offer any help I can to anyone working with ‘special needs’ dogs, particularly those in rescue I help various people around the country with the more difficult cases by viewing video footage which they send me. One, at times, can feel so isolated in this ‘job’ – a problem shared ……