“Get a dog they said, it’ll be fun they said…”, I feel like this should be catchphrase of mine!
Welcome to the world of Captain Knob Dog and her trusty side kick – Sergeant Dick Head (for the un-initiated that would be our stars of the show: Nola the Border Collier and Paul the, erm… Poo picker-upper-er).
SO… Who Am I, who are we? Why am I here? Who is Nola and who is Captain Knob Dog?
This blog is a celebration of the who, what, when, where and why of my life with my Bestie: Nola (AKA Captain Knob Dog).
I’m not very good at linear time lines, I prefer a more frenetic approach to most things in life, so please bare with as you’re taken on a journey that’s probably back to front. I originally planned to write this as a documentary of how we got to today, then blogging our future escapades and endeavours – but id prefer to do things on the fly and see what’s what as we go.
So, Who am I? Why am I relevant to this story?:
I’m Paul, Late 30’s, loves steak and BBQ’s and long walks on the beach… and would just love to meet you…. Sorry – though I was on Plenty of Fish for a moment!. I’m no kid anymore, I’m old enough to know better then to lick batteries, grew up around dogs, specifically rescue JRT’s – it always shocked me how many people found these dogs hard work cause they were so easy to live with – but then I was a Kid, Dad did all the work, my responsibilities ended at not letting them run out through the front door, so yeah for me, they were easy!!!. Fast forward a few years and my Partner and I started dating, when we met she already had Kalel, a Northern Inuit, she had already put months into training this gentle giant who just wanted to be friends with everyone and everything. So yeah, my history with dogs was fairly easy – I defo thought I had an affinity with animals….how wrong was I!!!.
Fast forward a few more years, I left a job of over 12 years service where I was totally in my comfort zone, started a new high pressure job, then during the pandemic the company started a new company in the middle of Covid – that’s right, we started a new company in a global crisis (Bonus point – we survived). My partner and I moved house, so in the midst of a pandemic, the stressors of the world, life, employment and new home we decided it was the perfect time to get a puppy!!! (Yay!!!).
Side note – we never planned to get a puppy, we never planned to get a border Collie – life just happened to throw us all in the mix, a friend was sent pictures of some border collie pups at just 4 hours old…. For those of you who know me you know what happened – I jumped in with both feet.
So Who is Nola?
I wanted to write a brief on Nola, I wanted to write so many things but decided against it, I think we’ll get to know more about Nola as this blog goes on so instead I thought id write about how Nola came into the world.
At 10:23am on 9th May 2020 Nola was born. They were only expecting 5 pups, so after the fifth they thought “Cleo” was done – Nope not quite, Nola’s inactive body was helped from Cleo, she was alive (barely). Nola at half the size of the rest of the litter was teeny tiny – no one expected her to make it. (For those in the know the red flags probably start waving, setting of flares and shouting out loud at this point). Nola was too small to feed from mum, what she could get wasn’t enough, she wasn’t big enough, wasn’t strong enough to get to mum and feed as well as she needed, she was only gaining weight from the syringe feeding. At 7 days old we visited, Nola was clearly not like the others, too small, weak – almost sickly. We asked about her and they were very honest, they told us straight – she might not make it, they didn’t think anyone would pick her….. Well say hell to Paul – I like an underdog, show me someone who needs a lift or a helping hand and I’m there. Before we left we’d paid, named her and arranged to drop of some belongings to get Mums scent.
At the time I was naïve, unknowing. I didn’t realise how important the first 8 weeks of life were, I didn’t realise Nola would forever be missing the first 4 weeks entirely and the following 4 she would forever be playing catch up. During her first 8 weeks of life she never caught up to her litter mates, every time we saw her or videos she just doesn’t seem part of the pack.
If I knew then what I know now would we still have picked her? 100% yes. I love an underdog and this underdog has taught me more about myself then I ever thought possible.
Captain Knob Dog – The Arrival
“It takes 2 to tango but 3 to musketeer”
Throughout this blog you will meet multiple characters – all are real, in some cases I may change names / relationship to ourselves but before we delve into part 2 I think its only fair to introduce you to my partner.
Some say she has the patience of a saint and has the superpower of turning bananas into lemon shaped banana flavoured fruits…
Others say she might melt in the rain…
All I know is her name is Sarah and she has been my long suffering partner for a long time.
Now before I move on, I think its important you understand that Sarah really is the most patient person I’ve ever met. I am not an easy person to live with – The Captain is not an easy dog to live with, but Sarah remains our constant. Sarah is the opposite to me, if I were a dog, id be an Aussie Shepherd – I need something to do, I can people but I’m also independent. I’m stubborn, friendly towards strangers, sensitive, I’m easy to train, have a tendency to bark and I’m prone to weight gain. Were as Sarah is more of a Shih-tzu, she’s happy at home curled up on the couch, relaxed but on guard, likes easy exercise consisting of short walks, would rather not go out in poor weather and she has a squishy face!
So Part 2….
“is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a border collie puppy?… NO – IT’S A LAND SHARK!”
Precisely 7 weeks and 6 days after Nola was Born we picked her up from Warrington and brought her home, to her home, her fur-ever home. So far so good, she didn’t shit in my car.
Filled with the joy of a child about to leave school for the 6 week summer holidays, we were filled with the sort of optimism and joy money cant buy. It was short lived.
OH MY GOD… it didn’t stop, the chewing, the biting, the nipping, the being on the move. The puppy blues were real. Im ashamed to admit it, but one night during the first 4 weeks I said the words “I don’t think I can do this, she doesn’t stop, ever”. These first 4 weeks flew by in a blur, a blur composed of lack of sleep, tiredness, a land shark that wanted to nip, bite and chew everything.
There were so many signs given off during Nola’s first 12 weeks of life that I just didn’t know, see or have any knowledge off at the time, there were hints of separation anxiety and fear especially. Although we recognised things weren’t right, we just had this idea that once we could walk her, all would be good. How Wrong we were.
So what DID make us stop and think – no, this isn’t right?
Well sadly for us it was puppy class. We went to the same puppy class as Nola’s litter mate, a well respected and recognised class, I was more than happy to drive out my way each Sunday because – we were going to a well respected teacher.
Worth it right?
Surely this experienced trainer would fix everything?
Surely.. please, tell me they’ll help??.
Nola couldn’t cope, reflecting backwards I can clearly see her leaping at the other dogs, fixating, desperate to do just something – anything.
Surely our highly recommended trainer could help? Would help? Surely they’ll make this easier?
Nope, like a naughty child we were banished out the classroom, sent to work around the corner were no one could see us and we couldn’t see them. We soldiered on for 6 weeks, each week thinking it was all me failing, surely I was the failure for not keeping control of Nola?.
We finished puppy class and graduated, we booked some one to ones and paid for the trainer to come to us but we got nowhere.
Over the few months Nola had been with us, her general behaviour deteriorated. Inside the home she was hard work, outside the home was even worse.
So what next?
What’s the problem?
What do we do now?
Its around this time, autumn 2022 we realised trainers couldn’t help us, we needed someone with a superpower, we needed a super special rare form of human being, we needed….ALCOHOL and a behaviourist.
Life with The Captain Part 3.
“Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever”
Given the rather morose heading you’d be forgiven for expecting this to be a sullen and sad blog – but its not, or rather it was never intended to be despite how it starts.
I often think what would happen to Nola if I just gave up. I’ve been tempted, I’ve wanted to quit. I’m ashamed by it – but I suppose its natural. I know its nothing more than moments of self doubt, it’s the reactive dog grief cycle, its anxiety and the big black dog creeping up on you when you’re tired, run down or when you’re at a low ebb. This is how these thoughts get you, they creep up when you’re vulnerable.
But it just seems to be a reflection of life and reality in the world right now. It’s all too easy to focus on the negatives in life, it just seems like experiences are more vivid when we look back if they’re not positive.
How many times do we hear about people making a complaint because they’re not happy with their food, or the level of service or the quality of an item?. If we sat and watched 100 people use a service – who would you remember? The 99 who said thanks and left or the 1 who made a complaint?. What’s worse is that of those 100 people, 99 just said thank you, 1 person went out of their way to complain – but nobody puts in the effort to put in the positive, no one takes the energy needed to complain but compliments instead. And I feel that’s the same when living with a reactive dog.
Im no fool, I know how bad Nola is, I know that if I ever quit she’ll be put to sleep. Charities don’t re-home people reactive dogs. No one in their right mind would take on a dog with as many triggers as Nola and maybe that’s the secret, i’m not in my right mind?.
I can list the negatives, I could list many of them – I’ve lived them, experienced them first hand. But I don’t need too because the world is littered with these stories, just look at the number of reactive dogs in rescue or PTS.
But what I can do is list some of the positives and hope you can make a similar journey to myself because living with a reactive dog has made me a better person.
Living with Nola has taught me..
I’m an impulsive person by nature, my mind tends to wander and “shiny thoughts” tend to take me away but living with Nola has taught me to be there, be patient and allow what will be to just be.
Seems weird right? How can living with a reactive dog teach me relaxation?. I’ve learned that I cant control everything, I don’t need to be that control freak who micro manages everything (although I still try). I’ve learned that I cant be 100% in control of everything, I don’t need to stress the small stuff – just let it happen, what will be, will be. I’ve learned to switch off and not worry about things I cant control.
I’m not the social butterfly you’d believe! I often make jokes saying things like “I could never have a birthday party – I’ve only got 3 friends” but living in the reactive dog community I’ve managed to somehow convince some more people to like me haha!
This is quite a deep one, not a lot of people can look into themselves and question what they see, do, or why things make them feel the way they do because its just not a nice experience and people sometimes don’t like what they find. As I’ve grown with Nola and questioned her responses, its opened up a self awareness I never knew I had, its also opened up compassion, empathy and sympathy for others. Id never say I was dead inside before, but I could be damn cold and switch things off. But I no longer need to do that, I’ve learned to adapt, accept, understand and even question thoughts and feelings.
I’ve attended courses, webinars, gained certificates, CPD’s, I’ve assisted training classes, reactive dog rehabs, I’ve expanded my horizons, opened new doors and pathways.
They say you become an average of the 8 people closest to you – and I agree and through having a reactive dog those 8 people now are 2 life long friends, 3 work colleagues and 3 people from the reactive dog community. This community has taught me, shown me, exposed me a different world and embraced me. Ive spent too long in the construction industry becoming colder, harder and more indifferent but I taking my experiences for the reactive dog community and making my life and working environment a better place.
And the biggest thing for me… i’ve found a way to help others, i’ve found understanding when people form the reactive dog community have been struggling. Ive shared my experiences and hopefully for the better.
“You cant open new doors with old ways, living with a reactive dog has taught me new ways to live my life.”
Life with The Captain Part 4.
“The one where we didn’t know what to do”
Question: What’s the difference between a dog who needs a trainer and a dog who needs a behaviourist?
Answer: It depends who you ask…..
So what’s the difference between a trainer and a behaviourist?
Again – it depends who you ask.
I’m not helping you am I?
You think I’m being awkward don’t you?
Well I’m not being awkward, I’m just rewinding my mind to the position I was in back in mid 2020.
Covid furlough was in full swing, seemed like everyone else was off work, enjoying the sun, chilling out. Everyone except Paul. During Covid I was classed as a key worker, I worked through the lot.
Also it seemed like everyone had gotten a dog, I remember looking out the back window over the fields, felt like everyone else had these great dogs, running around off lead having fun.
Summer & Autumn 2020 felt like everyone else was living their best life, except me. Felt like everyone else was off work at home having parties – but not me. Felt like everyone else had these perfect dogs, off lead, living their best lives – except me.
But it wasn’t just me, my partner had it worse – she had our dog who clearly had issues to deal with……. and me and all my issues, Sarah had a double dip of reactive dog and reactive Paul – in the middle of a pandemic. I’ve no idea how she stayed sane with both Nola & Me.
So why wasn’t it fun? What wasn’t working? Why did we need a behaviourist?
Quite simply, Nola couldn’t cope. We initially thought “aggression” because we were unlearned, we just saw this behaviour, this lunging, barking, alertness. To was centred towards people & dogs backed up by things that moved.
Nola wasn’t happy, she wasn’t comfortable, she was at 100%, 24/7. If you’ve never been there then you wont understand what it is to dread walking a dog in a beautiful autumnal evening. Sneaking out the back, running fast as we could past kids not in school and disappearing onto the farmers field just to be on alert for other dog walkers. 20 – 60 minutes, every day – it was exhausting. We couldn’t be within 50m of anything that was alive or moved.
We got a trainer just tell us shes nervous, another delved into anxiety, another suggested hemp oil, lavender smells etc etc etc.
We had an over the phone diagnosis from a local “respected” behaviourist that told us we were doing everything wrong, cease & desist we got howled, stop the day care, stop the walks – my friend is an awesome dog walker – she her first then when I get chance I’ll come see you in the next 3 – 6 months. Well…that was helpful, not even any behaviour first aid.
Probably well placed intent – but Paul doesn’t take well to being talked down too and told by a stranger what I MUST do and I will have to wait till they can fit me in – we needed help ASAP – so that went no further (did I mention im as reactive as Nola?).
We eventually stumbled across a lady from St. Helens which isn’t too far away. Although specialising In training she was an adept behaviourist and actually helped.
And this my friends is where the story ends surely – we’d found help?……
Rather honestly after 2 close booked 1 to 1’s our new help had to be honest – you need more help and support then I can give you.
Imagine sitting there and feeling hopeful you can move forward and someone tells you that “you need more help and support then I can give you”
How much trouble are we in if someone says that?
We were absolutely crestfallen.
BUT….. she never abandoned us, she admitted we needed more help and support then she could give us, which is when we got introduced to the Control the Meerkat team (specifically Kayleigh, Danielle & eventually Ellen).
Now, what’s the difference between a trainer and a behaviourist????
Im not going to give you a dictionary definition.
Im not going to tell you what the experts might say.
Im going to give you my experience.
A dog trainer is exactly that – they help you to teach your dog, they are training you to train your dog. Despite what ANYONE in the world says – dogs do not understand the words coming out of your mouth, they learn a cue. I could teach Nola a sit down using the cue word “Oklahoma”. How else do you think some people use “down” or “lie” or “Lay” to get a dog into a lie down?.
Now the difference between a trainer and a Good trainer?… a good trainer will be able to “read” your dog, they’ll see things like fear, ro
ached back, wariness and other tell tale signs of a dog not being comfortable. Now the difference between a good trainer and a good behaviourist is a whole different world.
A good behaviourist could turn their hand to training (mostly) because that’s where many of them started, but a behaviourist will read and empathise far more, they’ll see the same roached back but they’ll see the environment too, they’’ll see the tucked tail but they’ll see the lip lick, the ear twitch the turn of the head to or from, eye movement, tension. They’ll go beyond the breed stereotypes, they’ll go beyond fixations, they’ll consider the innate, the predatory motor pattern, they’ll consider the person and the recent interactions. A good behaviourist will see the relationship between person and canine, the home, the inside world, outside works, they’ll understand physiology but most importantly – they understand the emotions involved, they can see and diagnose fear, anxiety, aggression, guarding. A good behaviourist will do as much for you as they do for the dog.
They wont make you feel stupid, they’ll help you understand, they’ll explain, support and they’ll help you build or even repair your bond.
A good behaviourist was exactly what we needed and in the form of Kayleigh & Danielle, that’s what we needed, what we hoped for and what we got.
But the bonus was the extra 2 things we didn’t know we needed. We got Understanding and Hope.
So, what is Nolas diagnosis?
Why Is Nola the way she is?
Nola is a little scared puppy in a big scary world. In a nutshell, Nola wants scary things to go away. She might look scary when she’s shouting but its all a big performance – she wants you to think shes scary, but look a little further….. The muzzle isn’t wrinkled, the posture is more prepared for flight, her eyes aren’t showing more white, her ears are mixed from up and flat to front to back, her balance changes from leaning forward to turning back. But her options are limited – shes on lead, she cant flight because she’s tethered to me, she cant possibly let the scary thing near because that’s not allowed – she has limited options and possibly the frustrations of these limitations too.
Shes Reactive – shes scared.
Shes also a herding cow – so we have a scared reactive dopamine chaser.
She wants to be optimistic, she is inquisitive but she needs time, understanding and support. And ultimately – that’s all we can do!
Life with The Captain Part 5.
“How deep is the mud? Depends on who you ask”
Its been on my mind for a long time to write a survival guide.
It feels dramatic saying “survival” rather than something like helpful or supportive or coping but the word survival fits.
Ive made multiple social media posts pointing fun and jokes at dealing with a reactive dog and my life and the things we do and most people ignore them or read them and drop a like or comment but for those of us living with a reactive dog the interactions are different, the comments and feedback just “hit” different when someone who understands reads it and just gets it there is a camaraderie of understanding, there’s a tangible connection of mutual understanding.
For this post I want you too remember just one thing…..It doesn’t matter how big or small your problems with your dog are, it doesn’t matter what your work or personal problems are or your personal situation – if you’re struggling, then you’re struggling, hopefully what I say here will help.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Don’t get caught up watching what other people are doing, their journey, their road, their direction and destination – all their own. THEIR OWN – NOT YOURS. I get, I’ve done it, I’ve seen people with a reactive dog come to classes and within a few months they’re showing videos and pictures and sharing their wonderful journey on social media how wonderful life is with their “rehabilitated dog” and you know what? – It made me fucking sick.
It really did, it kept me up at night, made me angry and upset.
Once the anger and upset passed the guilt and shame set in, if they could do that in a few months with a little help why couldn’t I after all the learning?, all the courses?, the time, the energy, the money.
Id paid the price in blood sweat and tears (literally).
First you see one person do it, then another and another – the cycle repeats, Anger, Shame, Upset, jealousy.
Then you see these people with a well balanced dog, they just don’t put the work in and get a great 1 in a million dog. The jealousy rises again.
The cycle repeats.
And then I paid the ultimate price, my mental health.
Id finally done it. I was broken. All because someone else had been successful where I hadn’t.
And you know what I got out of all of that? Nothing.
Absolutely nothing because it doesn’t matter. Their journey was a completely different direction, they had different issues, they had a different mountain to climb and you know what? None of it had anything to do with me because it didn’t effect me.
Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s – they are different journeys, different struggles and different mountains to climb.
You don’t have to celebrate for anyone else, you don’t even have to acknowledge it – all you need to do is save your energy for your path. It might be nice to see people be successful but sometimes it hurts – if you let it.
Self Care is vital
Have you ever heard the phrase “you cant pour from an empty cup”?
Essentially this means that in order to take care of anyone else, we have to take care of ourselves. If you’re running on empty you might not be in the best place to care for or support your dog.
Learning to put yourself first is hard, I’ve given so many pieces of myself to others, to my job, to friends or family and even the dog that I’ve been totally worn out, a walking zombie, taking my dog out and not even noticing the triggers, not noticing her body language. Sometimes I snapped, shouted or spoke harshly purely because I was tired.
It helps no one to feel like that and be like that.
You don’t have to walk your dog every day. You don’t have to train or rehab every day. Some days you should just do nothing, recharge, fill your cup.
I like to exercise, running, walking, the gym, saunas.
Other days I like to BBQ or cook.
And other days I like to go out with my partner or sometimes just sitting and listening to music or a podcast.
I take self care very seriously, I still have the bad habits of trying to fix everything and everyone else’s problems but now I make sure that even though others are my priority in life – I put myself up there high on my priority list to do the things I need for me, no matter how selfish it feels, just remember you cant pour from an empty cup.
You are going to make mistakes.
You are. You will, You have and you will make more. It happens.
I’ve made mistakes. Made enough for us all combined by my reckoning – But I keep on trying.
You’re going to make a mistake, miss a trigger coming or be tired and lose it and shout or snap or scream.
Its not ideal making mistakes, it really isn’t – but guess what? Shit happens. Mistakes and accidents happen.
When you make a mistake its not what you’ve done that matters – its how you deal with it going forward. You could order a steak at a restaurant and they cook it well and you wanted medium rare now you’ve got 2 choices – Ask for a steak to your liking and enjoy the steak OR kick off, get riled up and upset, cause a scene and still get the steak the way you wanted
Either way you get the steak you wanted in the end, you can cool and calm and enjoy it once it lands or you can get upset, cause a fuss, wait even longer for the replacement steak and enjoy less cause your upset. Either way you get a steak, but one you enjoy despite the accident and the other you don’t. It’s the same for with our dogs, you can make a mistake and move on, learn from it and get right back on track – or you can chastise yourself, blame yourself and get upset and ruin the process next time you try. You made the mistake, forgive yourself and move on.
Ignorance is bliss.
Im sure we’ve all been there haven’t we, the family member who once had a Labrador for 3 weeks in 1976. The friend who has a shih tzu they never trained but just naturally walks right beside them on a loose lead ignoring everyone else. The well meaning neighbour, the colleague, the podcast, the neighbours cats uncle who once bred a pigeon that shit on a wall owned by a horse…
It seems like everyone thinks they know best and want to tell you their advice.
And you know what? Theyre full of shit. Ignore everything they say, there’s no need to be mean about it, just ignore them.
Some of the highlights ive had whilst owning a reactive dog are:
“get rid while you can”
“it’s a fucking dog, show it whos boss”
“put a boot up its arse”
Blah Blah fucking Blah. Absolute drivel. Ignore them. Some of these people don’t really mean it, some say it because they’ve heard someone else say it and some people might actually believe it.
You’ll be tempted to be defensive, you’ll start your rhetoric about what your trainer / rehab / behaviourist tell you and you’ll feel the need to defend what your doing. But guess what – Don’t. Don’t defend it, just smile and nod, you don’t need to thank them, just nod and ignore them. They are not interested in the truth and reality, they’re interested in what they want to say and what they want to hear. Don’t waste your energy trying to change their opinion, just move on. Some of these people still praise dominance theory and think your should spray water in a dogs face. Ignore them and move on.
What other people think of you is none of your business.
I used to worry what people thought when my dog was triggered and going off, I could just imagine them looking at me think “dear me, they need to sort that dog out”.
I used to be sitting on the floor literally doing nothing with my dog, id see the neighbours in the windows and id be worried what they think of me.
I used to try to explain myself away, to an extent I still do.
It took me a long time to realise this but you know what, you don’t know anyone an explanation.
As long as you and your trainer are happy – what does it matter? Strangers passing cars or walking or neighbours don’t know what or why your doing what your are doing. And so what if they think you’re a knob head – will it make any difference to your life?
“Those who matter, don’t mind. Those who mind, don’t matter”.
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