“The best days of your life” were most definitely not those spent at school for Gill. Being stopped from studying what she wanted to, sidetracked her ambitions for quite some time. Thankfully a move to the south of England created the opportunity to follow her dream of working with animals. With a passion for dogs, in particular, she has created a successful working dog training business. This is part one of her three-part story.
Let’s start by you introducing yourself
I’m Gill, I run Allsorts Dog Training. I’ve been a full-time dog trainer for about six years. Previously I was a dog walker / pet carer, which made me realise that some dogs needed extra training to cope in the busy world we all live in. I started as a general dog trainer in local halls and running puppy courses. Then three years ago I managed to rent a field near Hambledon, in Hampshire, which enabled me to run outdoor classes and has worked out really, really well as we can work with real-life distractions. Because of this it’s meant that it attracts outside type dogs, or more generally what we would think of as working dogs.
Have you always lived around here?
I’m from Warrington originally. In the early years I worked in Sales & Marketing for retail & leisure companies. I went into working with dogs, nearly fifteen years ago now, after I moved down south.
Why did you move down here?
I met my husband [Quentin] when we both worked for the same company. I moved down to Hampshire to be with him, and we decided after a couple of years that it was good timing for me to have a change in career.
You say you went into marketing, was that part of a career plan?
No. I wanted to be a vet, but the school I was at told me that I wasn’t clever enough and would never get the required grades!
Ouch – not very helpful
They weren’t prepared to support my ambitions, which resulted in me pretty much abandoning further education at the time. I drifted in and out of jobs after school with no real plan. I started out in retail and worked my way up into marketing. But I always wanted to work with animals, so when we could afford for me to make a choice, that’s when I went into dog walking.
Working with animals was always in the back of your mind, niggling away?
Oh yeah. I still hate my teachers for the way I was treated. Not, ‘how can we help you to get the grades required?’ or, at least, ‘try’. Just, ‘you’ll never make it, so don’t even bother’. I’ve never forgiven them for that. I had the incentive, but not the backing. Because I was told that I wouldn’t get the grades at A level, they blocked me taking the sciences at O level [as it was back then] so that was that.
School careers advice notwithstanding, if you had your time again, would you still have liked to have become a vet?
Yes. If I knew what I know now, and was 15 again, I’d tell them to go take a jump. I would have made sure that I got the extra tuition or whatever was needed. My parents would have been happy to support me, but they trusted the school’s advice and didn’t know any different. The opportunities just weren’t there in the 70’s, the school careers person had a lot of influence.
You might not have ended up as you are today though?
Of course, and despite sounding bitter about my school days, I don’t have any regrets with the way things have turned out as I wouldn’t have met my husband and who knows where my life would have taken me.
We can’t change the past
Exactly, so we might as well embrace it.
How did Allsorts Dog Training become a business? Was there a defining moment?
No, it was a slow, gradual process really. I started out with the dog walking business. Whilst I was running that, I was doing courses on dog training in my spare time to help with my walking clients; During learning the theoretical & practical side of things from different sources I realised that the only way forward for me was using force free and positive reinforcement methods, so became accredited with the Institute of Modern Dogs Trainers (IMDT) and later the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). During this time I also spent time shadowing other trainers. Once I had that knowledge, I started offering training on a part-time basis. I let the dog walking clients slowly run down. When I eventually got down to about three clients, I knew it was time to bite the bullet and go for it. By that time I had all my qualifications., so I felt confident enough to take the plunge.
I was no longer a dog walker that did a bit of dog training, I was now a full-time dog trainer.
This is a locally run business?
I work from home and have exclusive access to a rented field in Hambledon, seven days a week, to run my training sessions.
What are your key areas for training?
I’ve seen in the last five years that there are a lot more working type dogs that have become pets. You used to get Spaniels, Labradors, Terriers etc. that were predominantly show or pet bred. That’s to say they were bred for their looks and temperament. But for reasons that I’m not quite sure of, working dogs have become a lot more popular and in the case of cocker spaniels, in this area, vastly outnumber the show type. One of the reasons might be that they appear to require less maintenance. For example, working Cocker-Spaniels don’t need to be professionally groomed as often as a show type dog does. Or it could just be that the breeders have seen an opportunity to raise the profile of those breeds and make more sales. Up until about ten years ago you rarely saw a working dog outside of a working environment, but now it’s common for them to be family pets.
Do owners come to you with specific problems?
Yes, it might be something like, when I take my dog for walks in the woods, he chases everything in sight and won’t come back when called. Can you help me?
I suppose that’s quite common?
The three main concerns for my clients can be grouped under; ‘Good Manners’, ‘Recall’ and ‘Walking on a lead’, and often it’s a combination of the three.
Do you offer a variety of courses?
I used to, but my main focus now is bespoke programmes. At the end of the day all dogs are different, even though they may display similar issues. The cause may be different, so it makes sense to treat them and their family as individuals.
And you start with a consultation, or assessment.
I work from two angles; what the client hopes to achieve and where we think we can realistically get to. Part of the early assessment is establishing whether I’m the right person for them or would it be better to forward them on to a specialist if I feel the issue is either medical or requires a clinical behaviourist, which I am not.
How often is it the owners behaviour rather than the dog that’s the problem?
To be fair, by the time they contact me they have a pretty good idea that they have a problem. They just don’t know why it became an issue and they just want to deal with it. I would rather not blame either side and work on the solution from now on.
So they’ve done their own research …
Yes, They’ve often read the books, watched the YouTube videos, seen the TV programmes but it hasn’t worked for them.
I can see why you’re leaning towards the bespoke programmes.
They’ve realised that they need something structured for their dog, not something that’s a catch all solution, which may or may not work.