Melbourne is my home. I never had any desire to go anywhere else, unlike my parents, who left Birmingham in the UK, along with my older sister and I. My parents wanted a better life. I was two years old then, and our first home was in Broadmeadows, in one of those army barracks. Mum and Dad bought our first home in Melton.
If you ask me, my idea of a holiday is four days away, with my three dogs, no mobile phone, and away from the kids.
I’ve owned dogs all my life. As recently as ten years ago, I never had an inclination of becoming a dog trainer. When we lost our dog to cancer in 2009, my daughter had asked if we could get another one. When I got Luna, my black German Shephard cross Labrador, she was a cute, all black puppy. Within four hours getting Luna, she had fallen down the back doorstep and we were at the vet. We came back home and were under instructions not to take Luna out until all her vaccinations were done.
When Luna was four months old, she’s had her full shots and we took her down the street. A woman with her dog was walking towards us, and our little gorgeous puppy turned in Godzilla.
Luna was snarling and looked like she wanted to kill something. I was shocked and appalled. The woman stopped, and I know she said something, walked across the road and Luna became a little puppy again.
I went to the vet and asked what I could do. They advised me to see a professor of Veterinary Behaviour, who diagnosed Luna with fear aggression. She was prescribed medication and was drugged for the next 12 months with doggy valium. Luna was sleeping 20 hours a day and was encouraged to attend a food-based, treat-training class. We did that, but it was two steps forward, one step back with her.
I kept a diary for the first 100 days and was in a community training group in Port Melbourne. They were really good about it and they were very open regarding different types of training methods.
By the time Luna was two, if I was walking down the street with Luna and someone intrudes within her 8-metre space, she would just lunge, growl and bark, Luna had pulled me over three times. When I hit the ground, all I can think was ‘Don’t let the lead go.’ Also, my two older daughters were about to give birth to my first grandchildren.
Of course, people would be really scared, I would if it happened to me. I had to start considering euthanasia.
My mother, who was in her 80s, was watching this Youtube clip and said to me ‘You might like to watch this. One of them was the Alpha Canine Group dog boarding course.’ I rang them, asked about it, and told them straight up.
‘If I send Luna there, she would bite you.’
I sent Luna away for 20 days, and when I picked her up, there was a difference. Luna wasn’t cured, but now she was stopping to think, instead of reacting. I thought ‘We need to do this. I need to learn how they do this.’ I decided to travel to Boronia and continue this training with Luna as a client.
What I have learned is that dogs like Luna are misunderstood, and without the proper diagnosis and training, they are condemned. The earlier you can intervene with proper training the quicker you turn things around. Unfortunately, drugs and treat training, I found don’t work.
After 10 months as a client I was amazed at the difference and what we had accomplished, so I then started the part-time Professional Dog Trainer course. It wasn’t an easy course to do. I had to attend the kennels in Macclesfield and work with 150 different dogs under supervision. Learn how to take classes by teaching the director and theory classes once a month. Attend dog training classes twice a week in Boronia, where I began getting knowledge of the business, as well as the training. It was not unusual to have 200 clients on a Sunday, with 40 trainers.
The training was onerous; I had to be in a position to commit to it. I managed to get my work to agree to work four days a week; thankfully I have an understanding employer.
In the last nine years, I’ve never looked back. I’ve learnt something about myself. Even though I have had dogs all my life and been involved in local training groups until Luna came along, I was never thinking about being a professional dog trainer, I wanted to offer this training to others. Dog Manners started five years ago, doing private lessons at someone’s home, or the local park until I found the current premises in Altona North.
I have always loved animals, at 14, I borrowed money from my parents so I could buy a horse. Mum and Dad were afraid of horses – which was funny – but my mates and I would ride our horses from first thing in the morning and wouldn’t return until dinner time.
I went to Melton Primary School, and at the time they didn’t have a high school, so I went to Bacchus Marsh High School. Like most teenagers, I was feeling angsty and left school at 15 so I could get a job. I quit my first job the first day, as all I did was wipe the dust off the hangers in the dress shop.
I got married at 19, back then there was no discussion on what you’d do with your life. It’s like there this knowledge that’s engrained – you’d grow up, get married, have kids and you don’t look for a career.
When my youngest was six years old, my husband and I got a divorce. We did it smartly, as we had seen other people go through the process. We kept coming together, argued, walked away, but call each other the next day. Eventually, we sorted it out and got a lawyer. The first lawyer I contacted said ‘I can get you 80% of everything.’ I walked out of his office and found another one. My next lawyer got the agreement into court and the magistrate congratulated us, our agreement must have stood out as a very fair settlement.
Our kids saw the relationship between Mum and Dad falling apart but watching this process of working out the settlement, I think this helped them in a lot of ways and taught them how to deal with issues.
I remember I was once bagging my ex-husband with my oldest in the back seat of the car. ‘Mum, you have to stop talking about Dad like that,’ she said. I thought it was a fair comment and it’s a good thing for a 15-year-old to say to their mother. A lesson for me to learn, you have to talk about the issue, not the person, especially in front of the kids.
In the late 1990s, I realized I needed a job which had flexible hours and paid decent money. I did a security course and became a security officer. Mums are good at this kind of jobs as they are good at dealing with kids. When someone is being a dick, I have that ‘You need to stop that now’ tone of voice.
Most importantly, I want my kids to understand that you can’t stay home and live off the pension. You need to work and do something; I didn’t want to be stuck on the welfare trap.
From security to local laws then a sheriff’s officer and these days, I work full time in administrative support at a prison.
Dog training is my passion though, I may have gotten my certification from Alpha, but I am also an employee and I still go there twice a week. I cannot tell you how much you can learn having involvement with so many other trainers. You see all the intricacies of training with different people, dogs and behaviour, I continue to learn something new every time. The trainers at Alpha all come from varied walks of life, but we have a common goal – to improve the life of the dogs.
If you ask the normal person ‘What is a good dog?’ you’d likely get ‘friendly and I can take it to the off-lead park. There is this split in the community about dogs, which believes that dogs should say hello to every other dog and run up and play at the park. There is no thought to manners, what about the dogs that are timid, anxious or just don’t like other dogs in their face? That’s the simplest fact that I hope to educate people with.
I admit I am biased, Luna cannot go into an off-lead park, even on lead herself, she will behave, but if an overfriendly dog runs up in her face, she will probably still react. The number of times I had people yelling at me, as their dog was running up “It’s ok, he’s friendly”. During the early period walking Luna and seeing someone with a dog off the lead on the street was my nightmare.
When I used Cruickshank Park, a few years ago now, it was not unusual to see dogs not coming back when called, run up to strangers and dogs, excitedly jumping on them. There must be a way to discuss what is good rules and etiquette at parks and on the street, with no blame or judgement, just how to manage everyone’s interest. I am hopeful.
There’s a real divide. Everyone loves dogs, but how do we get everyone to live together? Owners need to understand and manage their dogs, while the community needs to understand we need the rules.
Twice in my life as a trainer, I felt there was no other option but to euthanise a client’s dog, explain that to an owner is heartbreaking for both of us. The dogs were too large, and the owners are physically incapable of controlling them, the risks are too great. You can fix a great deal, but you must be able to physically control the dog so they cannot hurt anybody or any animal.
I don’t judge anyone for the choices they have to make for the wellbeing of their family. But the animal industry could do a lot better in the behaviour area. Medicate or euthanise seem to be the only answer a lot of people receive. I have seen and helped a lot of people with behaviour issues, it can be done. It does take time and effort though and if you have a dog like this, and you have young kids, you may not have the time or confidence to build your dog’s relationship.
In 1990 I moved to Yarraville. It’s my ex-husband’s parents’ home, and I bought it off them as part of the separation discussion. We were both happy with the outcome; the kids have their home, and they could go into the local schools. Living on Williamstown road, I just deal with the traffic and noise.
I’ve been in and around this area since I was 19 after I married him. I have seen it change from pretty much a European community, Asians and then the LGBTI community, and lots of other nationalities and it is still changing. Lots of dynamics and changes, especially with the buildings with townhouses coming up everywhere.
In my free time, I try to see the family, 4 kids and 7 grandchildren. In 2016 I was diagnosed with an auto-immune syndrome, which took a bit of time to get on top of. I’m currently doing well, managing my medication and when I can, do some couch potatoing.
Something many don’t know, I’m a 2nd dan in Taekwondo way back in March 2000. Back then, I wanted to quit smoking, and roped in my good friend Julie Bence, also a Yarraville local. We wanted to do something so our young kids can do it as well. Along the way, the kids dropped out and we kept doing it. Once, we went to the tournament in Mildura for the State Championship, and we were the last two for the Open Female. We were laughing so hard, and the referee actually stopped the fight, pulled us in and said ‘You girls actually have to fight.’ Julie won, she’s much tougher than I am!
In the future, I hope to be able to grow Dog Manners so I can go full time and continue to help families have great family dogs.