‘We could all use a cuddle from a dog’
Jack Fenton, known as the ‘Dorset Dog Trainer’, is coming to the island this weekend at the invitation of Wellbeing Animals Guernsey to run a two-day workshop on canine behaviour. Jo Le Page caught up with him ahead of his visit...
Can you tell us about your background, where you grew up and what pets you had as a child?
I’m based in Dorset, England and have lived here all my life. I live right near the beach, which is wonderful for dog walks. I didn’t have a lot of pets as a child – they were mainly cats. I had severe social anxiety as a child and didn’t really go out much, preferring to stay in my room to read and write. Before I found dogs, my plan was to become a writer – which I would still like to do.
At what age did you start to develop an interest in dogs?
I didn’t become firmly interested in dogs until I was around 16. I had horrific anxiety growing up and tended to avoid being outside, so I didn’t see a lot of dogs. My younger brother was obsessed with them, though, and over time I became fascinated with how they interacted and benefited us. It’s incredible watching someone’s face light up when they spot a dog on the street. I remember my little brother interacting with a Labrador puppy and just how happy everyone was for that short space of time. That piqued my interest in dogs.
At what point did you start to look into the behaviour of dogs and decide to study psychology and neuroscience?
When I began working for an assistance dog charity at 18, I devoured as much information about dogs as I could. I realised quite quickly that there was so much information that it was almost overwhelming. Even now, seven years on, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of all things dog.
I’ve always been interested in the study of people due to my anxiety. I wanted to know what made people ‘tick’ and how they interacted with one another. This led me down the rabbit hole of different psychological concepts and how the brain works. This has made me very effective when working with the human end of the lead, as it isn’t just about the dogs (as great as they are).
I have a deaf puppy who absolutely loves scentwork and I have seen first-hand the mental stimulation and benefits of this. Can you tell us more about your involvement and interest in scentwork?
Scentwork is incredible for the reason you’ve highlighted – it is inclusive. I can do scentwork with dogs who are anxious of people, nervous of noises and have various physical disabilities (such as blindness and deafness). You can tailor it to each dog no matter their needs – and there are very few things training-wise that are like that.
Scentwork is incredible because it’s what dogs do anyway. No matter your dog’s breed, they will spend their time sniffing and hunting. We can use their incredible superpower to improve their overall behaviour, create more focus on us and give them a job they love to do.
Dogs need to use their noses – to put this into perspective, a dog’s nose is so powerful that if our eyesight was as equivalently powerful we would be able to see a stop sign clearly on the moon.
I have seen the benefits of therapy dogs in schools and nursing homes. Can you share with us what drew you to therapy dog work and how you have seen the benefits for both dog and person?
Therapy dog work is beautiful because of the connections it creates with the wider community. Assistance dog work is focused on the individual, whereas a therapy dog will head into a location and provide comfort and support to so many people. Whether it’s a nursing home or a special educational needs school, the benefit of having a four-legged friend visit is remarkable. The dogs adore it too – therapy dogs tend to be the happiest dogs I have the pleasure of working with because they love their job so much.
I love doing therapy dog work for that reason – the opportunity to help communities create deeper connections with one another. Times are tough at the minute and we could all use a cuddle from a dog.
What are commonly asked questions, common concerns and issues that are asked of you by dog owners?
Most caregivers are concerned about their dog’s behaviour out on walks. They panic that they can’t call their dog back, or worry that they’ll get hurt if their dog pulls them on the lead. There is a lot of misinformation out there about dog training and caregivers are so desperate to get it right that they can be led down the wrong path.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to help support Wellbeing Animals Guernsey in their wonderful work in the future, as well as growing my dog training business in Dorset and continuing my further education in psychology and neuroscience.
If you could sum up advice to dog owners in a few sentences, what would that be?
Be consistent with your training, even if it’s just five minutes every day. Think about how you reward your dog – chasing a treat will always lead to a better recall than giving it by hand. And give your dogs time to decompress and relax, they need it just as much as we do.
For further details about Jack’s workshop this weekend, contact WAG chairwoman Marguerite Talmage – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jack Fenton is a dog trainer based in Dorset where he runs his own canine training business focusing on basic obedience, behaviour modification and scentwork.
He has trained and helped socialise more than 200 assistance dogs and was a co-founder of Helpful Hounds, an assistance dog charity which
trains dogs to work with people with autism, Down syndrome and physical disabilities.
Jack has also trained a number of school therapy dogs to help children cope with challenging behaviours and anxieties.
WELLBEING ANIMALS GUERNSEY THERAPY DOGS...
All WAG therapy dogs are fully assessed to make sure their temperament and behaviour are suitable for spending time in potentially stressful situations.
They visit patients in hospital, residential homes, schools and other establishments where it is essential that the dog is well behaved and
unfazed by unusual or sudden noise or action – particularly so when visiting dementia or mental health wards and schools for pupils with special needs.
WAG volunteers and anyone who is interested in enrolling their dog as a WAG therapy dog are invited to attend Jack’s workshop this weekend.