Hi, I’m James.
I’m the founder and ‘Canine Behaviour Coach’ at Sussex Dogs – and if I may, I’d like to tell you a story.
(My hat’s name is Bitey, by the way)
I’ve been living and working with dogs since I was 10 years old, which seems like a lifetime ago now – but for most of my professional life, I worked with technology. I did stuff with systems and data, mostly for other people. I also taught a lot of that stuff.
One day, apropos of nothing, I had one of those ‘lightbulb’ moments – I realised that I just didn’t enjoy most of the tech stuff anymore, and that I hadn’t done so for some time. It had become monotonous, and a drain on my energy. If I’m being honest with myself, I was probably running headlong towards ‘burnout’.
I began to question what I was doing with my time, and it became apparent that a lot of it just wasn’t rewarding anymore. It was ‘fine’, in all the usual ways – and I was good at what I did – but it didn’t inspire or fulfil me in the slightest. I was just going through the motions. I still enjoy some of it, like building websites (I built this one), but a lot of the day-to-day data stuff had lost its sheen.
Ye gods, the hair!
At the same time, we had recently adopted a rescue dog from the Dogs Trust in Shoreham. Side note: What an amazing team of passionate, dedicated, professionals. They do incredible, important work.
Anyway, my partner and I had adopted this dog from them. He was our first dog in a few years, and he was absolutely brilliant – and absolutely bonkers. Milo – a young Lurcher bought as a ‘lockdown puppy’ – came to us with multiple complex emotional/behavioural issues, no training, no impulse control, and no ‘socialisation’ (by the way, I’ll write a piece about all the misconceptions around this subject – please do subscribe to our free newsletter for that and lots of other useful content).
So – we were suddenly ‘in charge’ (yeah, right!) of this manic, vocal, untrained mess of a dog with crippling separation-related behaviour and an ‘anxiety’ dial stuck on 11. Life had suddenly got a lot more interesting!
I AM A PICTURE OF CALM
Why yes, that is me vibrating – why do you ask?
What do you do in a situation like that? You reach out for some help to make life a bit easier. We ended up seeking advice from different resources and people, all with different approaches, and we had differing (inconsistent) degrees of success across a range of behaviours. That wasn’t working for us – and more importantly, it wasn’t working for Milo. So I did what I have always done when faced with an interesting, complex challenge – I taught myself. I set aside a big chunk of my time every day to researching and developing a dog training curriculum, and then teaching myself from it.
It turns out we’ve learned a lot since the last time I worked with dogs. Along the way I learned about dog physiology and psychology – all the foundational knowledge required to understand what motivates dogs, and why they do the (often seemingly bizarre) things that they do. I immersed myself in dog behaviourism and modern training methods, learning how and why they work, and why they sometimes don’t (hint: dogs don’t learn when they’re bored or overwhelmed).
Finding behaviourism a bit too rigid and restrictive (and often based on old assumptions and research), I then discovered Concept Training – which works at a much deeper level than ‘behaviour training’, and has come about as a result of the last couple of decades of scientific study of dogs. As I went, I used Milo as my ‘guinea pig’. The effects were dramatic.
Fast-forward a while, and everyone we know who had known Milo since we adopted him kept telling us what an incredible change they had seen in him. People at dog parks started asking us how we ever got such a quick and reliable recall with a lurcher (hint: a solid recall is not breed-dependent), and noting how quickly and enthusiastically he responsed to requests.
I haz it.
Then, friends and neighbours started asking me to spend time with them and their dogs. So I did. And we got results – big results. I’ve spent my professional life learning deep, complex subjects, then condensing them into understandable concepts and teaching those concepts to others in a way that makes sense to them. In some ways, dog training is no different to systems architecture or data modelling – except it’s a lot more fun (when you do it with games)!
Back to my ‘burnout’ moment. What was I doing with my life? I felt like such an idiot when it dawned on me that I was already spending more of my time doing something that I had come to love with a passion I hadn’t felt in years – because it was helping Milo, and other dogs, and their owners to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.
It’s a trite saying, but we really do only live once. I decided to go with my gut, start moving away from the tech world, and help other people with their dog training struggles. Turns out there are a lot of people to help – especially once Covid hit, and an estimated 3.2 million(!) new pet dogs were added to families in the UK during the two years of rolling lockdowns we had.
Way, way too many of those dogs ended up in shelters, and eventually went on to their new families (those that found one) carrying the trauma of a) an early separation from their mother because the ‘puppy farms’ were running full-tilt, b) a few months of life with a family that couldn’t cope with them because they didn’t know how to teach them any life skills, and c) another few months in a cage with different humans coming and going every day. Thankfully, many of those dogs are now with families who are committed to giving them a good life – and that starts with giving them life skills.
Let me show you them.
On a practical level, teaching our dogs life skills like calmness, optimism and confidence lets them take whatever life throws at them and deal with it safely and appropriately. Calm, optimistic, confident dogs also live longer, because the stress hormones like cortisol that cause fear, anxiety and aggression also shorten their lives considerably when their levels are regularly high.
On a welfare level, our dogs deserve the best life we can give them. That means teaching them life skills that will let them live a fulfilling, rewarding, enriching life, while also being a pleasure to be around and take to places. The fact that we can do that by playing games with them – and by allowing ourselves to have fun and be a bit silly along the way – makes living with dogs a truly joyful experience.
The most wonderful side-effect of being your dog’s best trainer and advocate in this way is that it absolutely revolutionises the way your dog looks at you. You become the source of everything rewarding in their world – which turns training into a collaborative process in which you both have a say.
When you ask us to mentor you on your dog training journey, you are making a commitment to making your dog’s life the best it can be.
What kind of dog is this?
Found him on a hike. Funny ears. Friendly though!
My personal promise to you:
I will work with you to help you become the best trainer that your dog could wish for. I’ll give you the skills you need to adopt a ‘training lifestyle’ that will help you achieve the dream you had when you took your dog home that first day.
I will approach every consultation, start every walk, write every newsletter, and attend every client training session with gratitude, humility, humour, and a singular goal in mind – expressed in the simple, powerful Sussex Dogs Mission Statement:
Improve every dog’s life.
Anyway, that’s enough from me – we’re off to change some more lives. I’d be thrilled if you joined us.
James (and Milo)