Finding help for my fearful dog – what I wish I’d known

November 25, 2019

As Carol found out the hard way when she sought help for her fearful dog George, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or behaviourist without having any formal qualification. Just because they have a glossy website and great reviews, doesn’t mean they are good. Here’s her story. 

George, my Golden Retriever, was always a confident puppy until a few years ago, when he saw and heard fireworks exploding overhead. The poor dog went completely to pieces. He hid under a table for hours and refused to go outside.

As bonfire night approached the following year we bought tablets from the vets to help calm him. They made no difference. Since then he has developed many phobias and suffered a complete lack of confidence, particularly around traffic. In fact it grew almost out of control.

I did my best to try to help him and took advice from websites and dog trainers. To no avail, George was scared. He would sit in the house and rolls his eyes to the back of his head. I needed to help him regain his confidence.

I would give him at least an hour or more exercise a day. He would play outside in the garden but at the sound of a car he rushes back inside. This happened even if I was playing with him.

Even in the house, the sunlight frightens him when coming through the blinds, and he runs and hides. Memories of the fireworks would not leave him.

“In the end, in desperation, I researched all the local dog trainers and found one… which boasted on its website an impeccable record in dog training.” 

Positive reviews

In the end, in desperation, I researched all the local dog trainers and found one not far from where we live, which boasted on its website an impeccable record in dog training. 

I rang and explained about George’s problems. They said they understood my concerns and that they would be able to help my fearful dog.

I dithered for a few months but in desperation I booked him in for a two week residential dog training programme. It was very expensive, but having done plenty of research, I found nothing but positive reviews. I chatted to them via email and visited them in person and they were warm, friendly and helpful. I was sure it would be money well spent to help poor George. 

Warning bells

Warning bells began to ring when I tried to contact them to say that George was due to have his flea treatment. I couldn’t get through and they didn’t return my calls. Eventually, I drove to the dog training centre with the George’s treatment and was concerned to discover that he had developed a bad skin infection. But they reassured me that George was being seen by their vet and was improving every day. 

The lack of communication continued. I asked for a video which they sent and it showed a very worried looking George but they told me he was on the course and doing well. I told them repeatedly that he did not need to learn the basics, which I had taught him. His recall needed working on but that was all.

Unhappy George

Eventually I decided enough was enough. I contacted the training school and said I wanted George to come home early and we were told we could go and get him there and then. 

My husband went to get him and when they got home, I opened the back of the car to hug my boy and he stood cowering in the corner. George also growled at me when I took his empty food dish away after I fed him the following day. He had never done that before. 

When I approached the dog training centre I was told by the owner that it was my fault, that he had never heard of this happening and that he was experienced in training guard dogs and police dogs. But I know my dog and he was far from happy. 

Professional qualifications

My mistake was to not check further to see if the trainers were properly qualified. The staff were lovely and polite, the dogs appeared to be very well looked after and I felt reassured they would give George the help he needed. Since then I have done further homework and have not found evidence that they hold professional dog training qualifications. 

I have had no joy in raising a complaint directly with the dog training company and when I took to social media to share my experience on their Facebook page, they simply deleted me. Which explains why every review I read was positive. 

Thankfully George is getting better but he has never truly recovered from his experience or regained his confidence. Bonfire night and the days and weeks surrounding it are a nightmare for him. I let him find his way under the bed or the dining room table. He still lacks confidence along the roads and even the sound of a drawer being closed can upset him. 

I have learned my lesson the hard way and feel very guilty and sad for George. But I genuinely thought that I was doing the right thing for my lovely dog. If I can spread the word and help to make dog owners aware of the risks of working with a dog trainer who is not professionally qualified, then at least one good thing has come from poor George’s experience.

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