1 The Story of Hedgehog Coaching
Updated: Jan 15
He looks like an angel doesn't he? Indoors he is, but outdoors...
I started working full time with dogs over 25 years ago, at the age of sixteen, in a boarding kennel and grooming parlour, where we also had a contract to mind the local police dogs. Working with dogs was always my destiny, I grew up with them and making a living alongside dogs and their owners always feels a privilege.
The other dog owners look down their noses at you, 'You can't even get your dog under control,' they're thinking. You feel the shame cover you like a black cloud and the rest of the walk you're even more anxious and vigilant. You hate that you can't relax, that you have to run from people you wish you could stop and chat to.
I don’t know what came first, the name or the nature, but Hedgehog was one of the prickliest dogs I ever handled and his life and that of his owners was filled with stress and tension, hyper-vigilance, tears and disappointment. That’s why I have dedicated this doggy website to him and all dogs and owners who relate to his story. I hope my studies and experiences may bring help and hope to others.
I came to know Hedgehog when I started taking on dog walking customers independently. Because, due to the long waiting list, I did not have a licence for walking large groups of dogs in public, I advertised myself to walk dogs individually. Of course in doing so I attracted all the owners with so-called “difficult” dogs who weren’t accepted with the group dog walkers because of their problematic behaviours, such as poor recall or anti-social tendencies.
When I got to know them, I remember thinking how hugely Hedgehog and his owner contrasted with the happy, relaxed dogs that I grew up with and that I had interacted with in my work by and large, apart from the police dogs who are not pets and require different handling. Hedgehog seemed to me to defeat the whole purpose of having a companion dog, a dream for so many. His owner had suffered a personal tragedy and had had a nervous breakdown shortly after taking him on and perhaps therefore failed to give him the necessary puppy socialisation, but there are many reasons why dogs "act up" in public, it can also be due to a trauma that occurred later in the dog's life and neither is it only specific to rescue dogs.
Hedgehog lived in a very built up neighbourhood and to boot a street that led directly to the entrance of the local park. From the moment they stepped out of their front door there were many dog walkers passing by, no matter the hour, and families with young children, skates, skateboards, bicycles, pushchairs. Added to this, there were many cats resident on their street and at the top of their road a school, a busy shopping centre with much traffic, hustle and bustle and market stalls.
For an unsocialised and frightened dog it couldn’t have been a less suitable location and it proved a nightmare. Hedgehog habitually barked loudly and lunged, snarled and bit, reacted towards children, animals, adults, traffic, spinning in circles and gnashing his jaws. He was a large, powerful dog and he had bitten his owner numerous times, redirecting his ever increasing fear and frustration at her legs as she struggled to hold on to his lead and she was terrified he would bite someone else.
Still in Training
Hedgehog is the main reason I began to further my studies. It's my intention to document Hedgehog’s full story and the recovery stories of others like him, since more and more people came to me with their “difficult” dogs, who had often tried numerous trainers to no avail, and also in my own experience I did not feel equipped to help. I realised that a very deep scientific understanding is required, paired with patience, compassion and positive methods, to begin to rehabilitate dogs like Hedgehog, also to prevent further damage or trauma occurring. There are many dogs suffering because they are not being correctly understood and their communications are going unheeded.