Let’s just say I’m in my forties and leave it at that. 10 years ago a dog came along and changed everything. More on him later. This is a multi dog story.
I am the cliche “grew up with dogs” girl. We had Sheba, a German Shepherd cross when I was a baby. She was a resourceful girl who used to bring home milk, bread, and once a frozen chicken for us. She was too much dog and went off to the Police Boys Club. Then I was allowed to choose my first puppy, a Border Collie x Irish Setter from an oops litter, and I chose the one with dirt on his nose. We named him Toby and I was upset when mum washed his face. He grew to be more my brother’s dog. We got Francine, a Corgi x Dachshund from the RSPCA, a funny dog that killed my budgies. Later, my step father wanted a dog to join him on long-haul trucking runs, but little Diesel the Australian Wire-haired Terrier bonded with me instead…
I was involved with my first “rescue” in the nineties. Charlie looked like a Cattle Dog x Border Collie and was obtained to take care of some racehorses on property, but was basically left in the paddocks with them to work it out for himself. When he started nipping at their heels, they were going to put him down, so my brother intervened. In our backyard, no one could approach him, he was petrified. I spent several hours in the yard, hanging out, and when he finally approached me I decided we’d bonded and I couldn’t rehome him. When I moved to Queensland on a whim, he came with (and back), then to Sydney with me too. He pulled badly on leash, hated every other dog we met, and was storm-phobic, but for 14 years he was my companion. He protected me walking the mean suburbs of Sydney at night. And he did accept my now husband Dean and his Chihuahua Meesha, which we took as a sign.
After Meesha & Charlie passed we managed a year without a dog at all. We were thinking we’d get something between Cattle-sized & Chihuahua-sized, something more “manageable”. At the local shops, a rescue group had a food donation bin that we always donated to, with photos of available pets on it. It was Easter, and all the dogs had “adopted” written on their posters, except one. Much larger than we were thinking (marked at 35kgs), I was still drawn to him. We met Winston the next day, and adopted him immediately. He barked at night for the first week with us and walking was hard - he pulled but was also apparently scary AF to everyone else. People would pick up their white fluffies and cross the road to avoid us. We researched dog training and found a number of board & train places, but wanted someone to come to us and help us in-home. We eventually hired Irma from Clever Canines, and I think it was our second session that Dean & I looked at each other and said “she’s training us, not the dog!” Later that night, I said “I could do that”, and just like that, I decided on a career change.
Dog training is an unregulated industry, but it didn’t feel right to just start trying to charge people without some kind of trainer training under my belt. I chose to study and volunteer first. In July 2010 Pawsonality was born, the logo representing Winston, Charlie & Meesha in the paw prints on the heart.
A few years and foster dogs later, we had the choice to foster a Bull Arab type puppy or a troubled older Shepherd-type dog. Figuring the pup would be adopted quickly, we decided to help the Shepherd. This is when Roxy first came into our lives. Super smart but anxious after apparently being born in the RSPCA and then having 3 homes in her short life, I set to work training her to live with people. After the first adoption attempt failed, I was struggling and almost gave up on her, asking to send her to the Animal Welfare League NSW shelter. I felt guilty as I knew she would not cope back in that type of environment. A second adoption attempt occurred before that had to happen, but ultimately she came back to live with us. Apparently we were the only ones that could put up with her.
Roxy is my “you get the dog you need” part of the story. Where Winston taught me patience (everything in his own time), Roxy taught me trust. Up until we committed to adopt her, she regularly escaped our yard. We used to contain her in a run, which also helped keep her & Winston separate when we weren’t home, and one day came home to find she had escaped the run but stayed in the yard. The more trust we gave her, the more she flourished.
She killed the neighbour’s cat (in our yard) and chased our own. I had studied cat behaviour, looking to add integrating cats & dogs as a business service. Roxy became my test subject, and while still managed, we have control with the cats still feeling safe enough in their own home. I’ve been able to help clients with similar methods, and actually improved my cat consults because of what Roxy taught me.
She fought with Winston, over food, me, and whenever the neighbour was in his yard. She has honestly nearly killed him a few times. And again they became my test subjects, developing a managed reintroduction protocol that has worked for a number of clients as well (further refined since the Chad Mackin & Jay Jack seminar this year). This journey has been hard, traumatic at times. I know exactly how clients with similar issues are feeling, and this helps me help them better.
My life has been rich with dogs with character. Winston inspired me to become a trainer, and both Winston & Roxy have played a huge role in the trainer I am today. She is conversational where he is not. She picks up her own cues where he needs to rehearse over & over again. He is about the walk, while she is about the experience. Both reflect different aspects of me, test me and make me laugh every day. I wouldn’t change it and am grateful we made the choices we made, despite the hard road it has been.
About the Author:
Marcia formally studied dog training & behaviour at Hanrob Animal College, and in 2010 Pawsonality was born – training and behaviour that works with the individual pet’s personality. She then studied feline behaviour and subsequently completed Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services. She also regularly attends seminars and dedicates time to personal education & research, to stay as up-to-date as possible.
After spending 2-years in a large Sydney pound, seeing many animal and social welfare issues first hand, Marcia joined Team Dog in 2014 as a volunteer Community Support Worker. Team Dog works on programs to assist pet owners navigate the Companion Animal Legislation, particularly in relation to impounded pets and dog declarations."