A kind of magic can happen when you bring together a group of people who are passionate about helping dogs, three behaviourist tutors whose skills include complementary therapies and emotional intelligence, a veterinarian, and three handlers whose dogs have very special needs. When the venue for the three day course is beautiful Tilley Farm in Somerset, all the ingredients blend together to create a safe, tranquil space and a portal for healing.
The aim of the course was to demonstrate how we can strengthen the bonds with our dogs and help traumatised dogs to feel safe. The work we engaged in was that of exploring ways in which we can help our dogs develop increased emotional intelligence through empowering them to make appropriate choices in their day to day lives.
Meet the teachers
The three beautiful dogs who attended the course were chosen because their special needs meant they would not normally cope in a group environment. We all learned so much from them, and it was a joy to watch each of them begin to relax and open up throughout the course.
Teddy, an 18 month old collie mix, originally came from Poland and was taken into rescue when he was found as a stray. He has separation anxiety which manifests as destructive behaviour, lacks confidence, displays obsessive behaviour through shadow chasing, and is reactive towards other dogs, especially when on-lead. Where people are concerned Teddy is a real cuddler, and we loved watching him shift from intense neediness to simply enjoying the interactions he chose to engage in. He enjoyed The Real Dog Yoga and Tellington TTouch with Toni, and Bach Flower therapy with Lisa.
Ella, a 9 year old Papillon, strongly dislikes being touched, and has bitten. She was attacked aged three months, and then attacked, ragged and carried off by another dog when she was two years old, so has undergone deep trauma. Add hip dysplasia and it was clear that pain issues are a strong contributory factor to her reluctance to be handled. Ella’s handler has had personal traumas to deal with, including several family bereavements, and we explored how our sorrow also impacts on our dogs and can create a rift that damages the bond. She had Tellington TTouch with Toni and Bach Flower therapy with Lisa, who also used this for her handler. On day 3, Ella lay beside Lisa, and then her handler, deliberately seeking out contact.
Elska, a 7 year old Tamaskan, is very fearful and suffers from separation anxiety. She’s dog reactive since being attacked, is very nervous around people she doesn’t know, and is reluctant to leave the house, even for walks. Elska displays many of the characteristics seen in wolves and wolfdogs, especially extreme shyness. Her response to Zoopharmacognosy sessions with Isla was beautiful to see.
Meet the team
Toni Shelbourne is a Tellington TTouch Practitioner, Real Dog Yoga Instructor, author and Former Wolf Handler. She’s on the Panel of Experts in the Dog Welfare Alliance, and is an Affiliated Member of The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour.
Dr. Isla Fishburn PhD, MbiolSci, BSc, is an Accredited Animal Behaviourist, is on the Panel of Experts in the Dog Welfare Alliance, INTO Dog Professional Member, Affiliated Member of The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, Energy Practitioner in The Balance Procedure, L2 Reiki Practitioner, L2 Bach Flower Practitioner, Zoopharmacognosy practitioner, and the owner of Kachina Canine Communication.
Lisa Tenzin-Dolma is an Accredited Animal Behaviourist and is the founder and principal of The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour. She’s the founder of the Dog Welfare Alliance, co-chair of The Association of INTO Dogs, and represents INTO Dogs (with co-chair Carolyn Menteith) within the Animal Behaviour & Training Council. She teaches Emotional Healing and Bach Flower remedies as well as behaviour, and specialises in emotional intelligence.
Veterinarian Dr. Amelia Welham gave a talk on pain and behaviour on day 1, and stayed with us for the afternoon to assess the dogs.
Nutritionist Emma Rutherford joined the panel at the end of day 3 to add her insights into the importance of correct nutrition.
Dean Barrow filmed the entire course and will make the video publicly available in January 2017.
It was an intense, information packed three days, with talks by Isla, Lisa and Amelia on the first morning, followed by an assessment of each dog. On days 2 and 3 we each worked with the dogs and their handlers. Toni used Tellington TTouch and The Real Dog Yoga, Isla used Zoopharmacognosy, and Lisa used Bach Flower remedies. The dogs were wonderfully responsive, and the feedback from the handlers after they returned home was that they showed distinct improvements.
The take home message was the importance of observation and of listening to both handlers and their dogs, and the transformation that can occur when we relieve the emotional and physical pressures on dogs and help them to feel safe and secure.
We all had a wonderful time! We met a lot of fabulous people, many of them professional behaviourists, we fell in love with the dogs, and we felt inspired by the open, enquiring atmosphere and by what we learned from each dog about their unique needs as individuals.
This photo of Elska was taken on her arrival home, and it demonstrates how the modalities we used helped to ease a fearful, highly stressed dog into feeling safe and secure enough to relax.