APBC Practical Handling Course review

Karen Wild Sally Jones APBC Practical Handling Course

Practical Handling Skills 2 Day Course – April 2012

Big issues in tiny packages

Rebecca Heyworth reports on how Sally Jones and Karen Wild, full members of the APBC, skilfully guided 24 willing handlers and 18 dogs through this course on practical handling for the behaviour professional.

I’ve heard it said that brain size is a rough indicator of intelligence potential?  And while teeny dogs have no problem being as dog-like as any breed, surely art of lead work was something this average sized human had mastered?

This was the question I asked myself whilst hovering on the end of an exceptionally determined Chihuahua, who quietly but firmly dictated the mode and manner in which we were to walk, right in front of a gathering of peers at that! I was to find this a recurring theme and no time for resting on laurels!

But I was certainly in the right place as the course really was what it said on the tin - and day one duly dealt with the nitty-gritty basics  – from behaviour  ‘temperature-testing’ at the start of a consultation to the dynamics of good lead work.

It was thought provoking to witness two distinctly different ways to establish good lead work, surely germane to every respectable human-dog relationship?

Karen taught a ‘come away’ on offer of calming signals, such an effective way to remove reactive dogs in real emergencies; and the finale to the day was a cone-weaving practical exercise to help improve handling for owners. Attendees worked in groups and commented on each other’s skills, which was slightly nerve-wracking in front of people who knew at least as much as I did and in some cases an awful lot more besides! Even so, as we warmed up anxieties gradually lessened.

A memorable break to the hard work came during a discussion on equipment. Definitely one of Sally’s guilty pleasures - visions of her passionately stroking a favourite ‘pet’ treat bag will live on! And it was especially interesting to hear the differing views on ‘Which Harness’ (or headcollar or lead) – as Karen undoubtedly is an aficionado. I never thought the topic could be so entertaining! Though humour aside safety and comfort was of course the highest priority.

Day 2 unfolded to bright sunshine, perfect for working outside. The focus was handling dogs around other dogs and of particular interest to me was Sally’s ‘Head On Technique’ (“HAT” – new book there, Sally?)

Sally constructed a barrier – an agility fence, but one could use whatever comes to hand - between the reactive dog and stooge dog.  Starting at sufficient distance to keep the reactive dog sub-threshold, and keeping the dogs on the go all the while, gradually and surreptitiously removing pole after pole, circling the dogs closer together over the course of a few minutes – a canine ‘piggy (fence)-in-the-middle’ if you will.

Without missing a beat the (non-reactive) dog was swapped to the inside track, so he was even closer to the reactive dog. Eventually the dogs were within a few feet of each other, the poles on the fence all gone, and physical barriers all but abolished.

We only had time for one session and yes, it would have been even more interesting to see a highly reactive individual’s response to the stooge in this set up, but every dog has its day and this wasn’t it – the ‘reactive’ dog behaved in exemplary fashion, probably to the relief of his owner!

Overall, a thoughtful, provocative and stimulating course. It provided the opportunity to work up close with two of the best professionals in the field, who were most generous in sharing trade secrets peculiar to them; and who delivered a stream of expert and helpful advice throughout. 

It made all the difference to work alongside ‘real’ dogs and I’ve certainly honed existing skills as well as added new ones to my kit-box. Covering the essentials from body language of dog and handler, stress signals and how to alleviate these, plus training skills essential to behaviour modification, the course was an excellent basis to build ones rehabilitation toolkit for clients and their dogs.

And I’m happy to say that my saga with Karen’s indomitable Chihuahua, Bonnie, had a successful conclusion - dutifully trotting close to me on loose lead – reminding me that some of the biggest lessons in life can come in the teeniest of ‘intellects’!

Rebecca Heyworth BSc (Hons) PgDip CABC  (prov)


(photo by Beverley Saucell)