Interview with Gwen Bailey

Gwen Bailey is Chairman of the APBC, and a Behaviourist for The Blue Cross Rescue.

Gill: Hello Gwen. 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 working with dogs and how long for?

Gwen: We always has a pet dog in the family and I was always more interested in animals than anything else as a child. When I was 12 until I was about 16, I worked in a breeding and boarding kennels almost every weekend and holiday (I used to lose nearly 1/2 stone during the Summer holidays because I worked so hard!). It wasn’t a very well run kennels and, as a result, I handled a lot more difficult dogs than I should have done and learned a lot more about behaviour than would have been possible at a better place (I used to smell of dogs so much at the end of the day that my mother constantly threatened to make me take off my clothes before I came inside). Then I read Zoology at University, and came to work for The Blue Cross 12 years ago.

Gill: I’ve read both your books – The Perfect Puppy and Rescue Dog, both are excellent. Have you got an future plans for another book or a video? If so, can you tell us more please?

Gwen: Thank you. I have written another two, both have been published by Harper Collins, one called ‘Good Dog Behaviour – an owners guide’ and the other called ‘The Ideal Puppy’ which a more concise version of The Perfect Puppy which is also intended to help people choose if they don’t already have a puppy. I don’t have any future plans, but I’m sure something will come up eventually. I didn’t really plan to write the others but, like I’ve often heard other writers say, the others were just books inside me that had to come out!

I would love to make a video version of The Perfect Puppy or Rescue Dog, but would need to look very carefully at the financial position or find a sponsor.

Gill: Do you personally rehabilitate dogs with behavioural problems in the rescue centre?

Gwen: Not any more, although I used to. Nowadays, most of my time is spent teaching and helping others to learn as I’ve found I can reach more people, and hence more dogs in this way. I have done it in the past though, including rehabilitating my own dog Beau who used to bite people, other dogs and cats, so I know what owners and staff are going through when they struggle with rehabilitation. Although we would like to do more, there is always a time limitation when working with many dogs at a Centre and kennels are not the same as a home, no matter how much we try to make life good for the dogs in our care. So although there are some things we can do in kennels, proper rehabilitation is more easy to do and done better in a home with a real owner if possible.

Gill: Are the Blue Cross prepared to rehome a dog to a family who already own a dog (s). If so, how do they go about introducing the dog to a potential new owner’s existing dog?

Gwen: Of course. The family would be asked to bring their dog to the Centre where they would meet their prospective new dog out on a walk in a big open space. If they get on okay, we try them in the home. Usually dogs will ignore each other and not want to interact which is okay. If they hate each other on sight, which sometimes happens, we know it is not a good prospect. If a dog has had a history of being difficult with others, we ask the new owners to come up a number of times so the two dogs can get to know each other until we are satisfied that they will get on.

Gill: If someone came to you asking for advice as to working in this field and learning, would you recommend a correspondence course, a residential course, working for a rescue society/local dog training club or something else to start them off?

Gwen: It is essential that they have a combination of practical experience and academic knowledge. If they don’t have the practical experience I would advise them to get this first as the academic stuff is much easier to learn if you have something to relate it to. Rescue societies are a great place to learn about all sorts of dogs and all sorts of behaviour problems. You also need to be a good trainer so a dog training club would also be a good place to be. Then there are a whole range of courses, some better than others. Look at the ABPC website ( for a course list run by members and associates.

Gill: How would you go about training a dog to greet people at the door in a household where the dog normally reached the door first when the bell was rung and the owner usually had to hold or put the dog in another room due to it jumping up at everyone?

Gwen: If the dog pleased to see people, that’s a good thing as most of my clients just want to keep people away. I would begin with the family as dogs that jump on visitors usually greet people they know in this way too. Basically, there has to be no more reward for jumping up and the dog is only greeted when all four feet are on the ground. If the dog is large or hurts, a line needs to be used to make sure the dog stays down. The family can then keep practicing this, coming in through the front door and out by the back door until you see an improvement. One supervised session should be enough to teach them good behaviour when greeting their dog so that over a few weeks the dog improves. Then it’s time to begin with visitors.

Gill: What do you feel is the best was to get a good relationship and bonding with a rescue dog that seems to be distant and uninterested in people?

Gwen: Time will make a difference and just being with a family where it feels safe. Play will help considerably, encouraging this gently, trying to find a game that is enjoyed. Failing this, tasty titbits fed every now and again will help let the dog know that humans are sources of good things. Dogs that are distant or uninterested in people have usually been ignored by people too much during puppy hood and need to learn that they can actually, be quite good fun after all.

Gill: If you take on a puppy that’s 16 weeks or older and has had very little socialisation, do you feel that this can be overcome and enough socialisation taken place to increase the likelihood of this dog becoming a socialable acceptable and well mannered pet?

Gwen: It depends on the breeding, how old it is, the experiences the puppy has had and the commitment, skill and knowledge of the rehabilitation. Sensitive breeds like GSD’s and collies seem to need more socialisation and are harder to socialise when older. Other more robust breeds, like the gundogs, are easier to work with as they are less reactive. If the puppy is younger than about 7 months, and not become really confident in its use of aggression, it will be easier to work with and so the chances of rehabilitation are greater. Unfortunately, the early days of puppy hood can never be brought back and so these puppies will always carry mental scars. However, if people are prepared to work with them, the majority can go on to become reasonable pets providing not too much is expected of them.

Gill: If a dog seems fearful of getting into your car, how would you start to overcome this?

Gwen: It helps if you discover why. For example, if the dog had an accident in that particular car, getting him confident of travelling in a different car or a van would be the first step. With all fears, you need to go through a systematic desensitization so, first, you need to know exactly what the dog is afraid of – getting in the car?, the noise of the engine running?, the movement?, being travel sick? Once you know, you can desensitize specifically for that particular fear, using toys and food to speed up the process.

Gill: Can you tell us of some mentally stimulating games we can play with our dogs?

Gwen: Bridge, backgammon?! You need to tailor your games to whatever the dog likes to do best. This tends to be breed specific, e.g. tug-of-war for bull breeds, chase for herding breeds, etc. Once you know what they like to do, it just takes a bit of imagination to think up ways you can arrange things so they have to get the reward they want. Start simple and work towards complexity. Don’t forget that most dogs really enjoy running, which is why agility is so popular with dogs. This combines moving with some mental exercise (or should do) so you have a great combination. I can’t give you specific games as it would take too long, but anything that causes the dog to think about how to get a reward will be mentally stimulating.

Gill: If a dog has never been taught how to play games using toys, how do you begin to teach this?

Gwen: It depends on the dog. I think you need to observe it for a while and find out what interests it, and also how much it is interested in people. Some dogs are quite concerned about people and so you need to get them playing without too much interaction at first. Some dogs are very sensitive and so you need to be careful not to put them off by playing boisterously. Some dogs like to chase toys, some like to chase larger objects (e.g. sheep!), some like to tug, some like squeaky toys. Getting them to play with people sometimes takes ingenuity and a lot of effort, for example, I taught my dog Beau to play by putting food in an old film canister and throwing it with the top slightly open so he could get the food when he reached it. We gradually progressed to food in Kongs until, eventually, he would play quite happily, although he never liked to chase – he is a ‘carry things in your mouth’ type of dog. Games should be fun and sometimes people put too much pressure on their dog to play. Keep it light-hearted (learn from children who are good at this). Try to introduce games at a time when the dog feels like playing – sounds obvious, but many people think a dog should want to play all day. So I think the general rules are: find out what the dog likes, be sensitive to their sensitivities, don’t expect too much too soon, and HAVE FUN!

Gill: If a dog is being sick in a car when travelling, have you found anything successful to give the dog to help him/her with this?

Gwen: Depends if it’s fear or genuine motion sickness. The former begins as soon as you start off (the dog begins to drool and look unhappy straight away), whereas motion sickness usually comes on later in the journey. Fears can be desensitized and, with car travel, this needs to happen very slowly. I do not know of a cure for motion sickness, although I’m sure there will be alternative medicine which will help.

Gill: Do you use Clicker Training and if so what do you think of it?

Gwen: I don’t use it although I have tried it out with different dogs and my horse. I have also seen them used at a Puppy Class run by Elizabeth Kershaw. She is an excellent teacher and was achieving very good results with her new puppy owners. I think it is a very good ‘tool’ for novice owners and really helps with the communication between dog and owner. I think the success lies in the ‘remoteness’, that is, that the dog or puppy is not confused or overwhelmed with patting and lots of confusing noises coming from the owner – instead there is one simple obvious click that signals ‘food’.

I also think it is useful for ‘expert’ trainers who want to do advanced training as it lets you ‘reward’ the dog at the exact moment he has done what is required. For intermediate trainers who train easy exercises such as the sit and recall, I think you can achieve results as easily with traditional methods. My horse is an Arab with a quick brain and he really seems to enjoy our clicker-training sessions. We achieved results quickly, but I find it really difficult to be remote and not to praise and be terribly proud and enthusiastic as soon as he does something right!

Gill: How do you train a Chase Recall?

Gwen: NOT WITH A SHOCK COLLAR. Shock collars are for people who don’t understand dogs or haven’t bothered to learn other methods.

Teaching a chase recall depends, again, upon the dog in question and what motivates him or her. Dogs that are easy to teach are those that are obsessed with toys. If they are that sort of dog (usually the herding breeds and their crosses), you need to first of all create an obsession for their toys if they don’t already have one.

Then you teach general control over toys and some obedience lessons, e.g. a good retrieve, a ‘wait’ after toys are thrown. You then take two toys, position your dog some distance from you, get your dog’s attention and throw one toys down so it lands quite close you. As your dog comes to get it, give a strong ‘leave’ command and quickly throw the other toy. Dogs will usually prefer to chase the moving toy and so get ‘rewarded’ for leaving the first toy by a more exciting game. You can then gradually build this up until the dog will stop running out when you shout ‘leave’ and look up at you waiting for you to throw another toy or give another command.

Gill: Do you have a favourite dog related video you watch or a favourite dog book? If so, may we have the name please and your reason for liking it.

Gwen: Ian Dunbar’s Sirius Puppy Training video is funny, sweet and educational. It made a tremendous impact on the training of young puppies in this country and encouraged lots of people to start training puppies earlier with kinder methods. My favourite dog book is ‘Think Dog’ by the late John Fisher. John was a wonderful man who helped us all to understand dogs better.

Gill: Do you wish to add anything else?

Gwen: I don’t really have anything else except that at The Blue Cross in conjunction with Intervet I am currently in the process of producing a pack which will help breeders to socialise their puppies. The pack will contain a leaflet on How to Socialise a Litter, a ‘Sounds Familiar’ audiotape, socialisation charts and leaflets on socialising for new owners. All of these items will be available at cost price in the very near future and breeders wishing to obtain these should send a s.a.e. to: The Blue Cross, Shilton Road, Burford, Oxon OX18 4PF

Gill: Many thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this for us.