Monday 22 August 2016

An interview with Kathie Gregory

Kathie Gregory is a qualified animal behaviourist and trainer and has worked in the industry since 2001. Passionate about raising standards and awareness in how we teach and work with animals, she encourages everyone to use the best methods available. We caught up with Kathie for an interview, to find out a little more ...

How did the book come about?

KG: I was so thrilled to own horses for the first time that I kept a diary documenting their progress.
When meeting Charlie and Star, people commented that they were not typical of the reactive Thoroughbreds they knew, and how lovely to see chilled, content horses. They could see what a difference I'd made, and said that others would be interested in my methods and how I achieved what I had. Of course, that got me thinking. I realised I had the bones of a book already in place by charting their progress, so after discussing it with my husband I began the process of writing A Tale of Two Horses.

Can you explain the concept of free will teaching?

KG: Yes. It focuses on advanced cognition and emotional intelligence. By enhancing an animal’s cognitive abilities and awareness of self, he is able to make decisions and choices for himself. I then teach him how to manage his emotional responses, so he can regulate his emotions, enabling a balanced response to whatever situation he finds himself in. It gives him the autonomy to think and behave freely, and I can trust that he will behave appropriately for the situation with little, if any, guidance from me.

How do you use free will teaching in day-to-day interaction with Charlie & Star?

KG: Free will teaching is a way of life, so it is used in every single decision and action. My mindset, body language, and speech are all part of free will teaching. How I approach managing the horses’ environment, teach them, respond and adjust during our conversations every day, are part of the whole concept.

What are the main benefits for the animal(s)/people of FWT?

KG: The list is huge, but I'll keep it to a few key benefits!
*You don't have to put time aside to do specific exercises: free will teaching is not something you train; it informs your approach to everything you do, whether working directly with your horse or attending to management and husbandry issues. This means you are using it all the time and it naturally progresses and develops the mind.
*Safety and reliability is a huge issue when working with animals as large and strong as horses. Problems occur when horses cannot control their emotional response; FWT shows them how to manage their emotional mind so they can cope with situations without going into a blind panic and acting on instinct. They are capable of controlling their reaction to assess the situation and give an appropriate response, unless, of course, they genuinely do feel threatened. The point is they learn to be in control of their mind to make that distinction.
*Every part of it is force-free, ethical, and with the best interests of the horse at heart. A contented, happy mindset free of fear and anxiety results in a well balanced horse who can achieve his full potential, and take you further than you thought possible.

Did you face any challenges with Charlie & Star? How did you overcome them?

KG: Yes, I did. During the first year, Star suffered an eye injury that required drops to be administered several times a day for over a week. Overcoming Star's reluctance for me to do this took a little time and patience. I worked on getting closer to her eye in small steps that she could cope with. When she was not comfortable I moved away and we started again. After a couple of days the procedure was down to a fine art. Star stood with her eye open, and I put in the drops: it took about 3 seconds.
I also had a challenge with Charlie. He applied active defence strategies when he realised he had a voice and a choice. It resulted in a strong offensive of biting and rearing to let me know he was not going to do anything asked of him. This outcome is anticipated and expected when an animal reclaims his ability to express himself and it is often a necessary part of rehabilitation. It was resolved by understanding the reasons for the behaviour and adjusting to defuse the situation and increase his sense of safety, rather than try to combat and suppress his actions.

Do you work with dogs as well as horses? Any other animals?

KG: Yes, I work with dogs, too. I have many clients around North Devon teaching their dogs language, choice and decision-making, with great success. I occasionally work with cats, but concentrate mainly on horses and dogs.

What can people find on your new website? When will it launch?

KG: I'm really excited about the new website. It has the concepts of FWT and more detailed information about what I do. My blog is now included in the website, so you can catch up with Charlie and Star, and meet my puppies, Wolfie and Remy. Look at the Courses page for more details of my book A Tale of Two Horses, along with the workshops and seminars I teach. I also have a new course in the pipeline, so keep checking in for updates and news. My website is about to be launched, so there is a good chance it will be live by the time this newsletter goes to print.

Find out more in Kathie Gregory's book A tale of two horses – A passion for free-will teaching, available now!

Two horses with behavioural problems embark on a rehabilitation programme using only positive, reward based methods, developing into self confident, well balanced horses. Woven throughout is the story of their owner’s life on a rural farm, and insights into her work with dogs, cats and other species as an animal behaviourist.

Create a true partnership with your horse! More info.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Hello summer!

It may have come to your notice that it’s SUMMER! Yes – that big golden-orb-in-the-sky that you dreamed about over winter has finally put in an appearance! For us humans, it’s usually a time to get out and enjoy the fine weather and long days. For us pet owners, it’s a time when we can spend more time outdoors with our animals, whether in our gardens, or out in the wilds.

Whilst we may be desperate to soak up the sun and head outdoors, it’s vital that we consider our pet’s needs at this time of year. We may think nothing of spending hours in the hot sun (covering up appropriately, and applying sun cream, of course), but, for our pets, it’s a different story …

To help you help your animals, we’ve created a list of things to keep in mind when out – or in – and about with your dog or cat.

The essentials

Water, water, everwhere …

At least, that's what you should be thinking. With longer, warmer days comes an increased risk of dehydration. On very hot days, (yes, we do have them), simply sitting in the sun is enough to dehydrate us. Whilst dogs and cats don’t sweat like we do, they still lose water through panting, and sweat through their paws, and they can still become severely dehydrated. So, tip number one is to be alert and ensure your pet always has access to plenty of clean drinking water. That’s always, folks. And if it’s SUPER hot, slip a few ice cubes in the bowl, too!

Gimme shelter …

Just as important as water when the sun is out, it’s imperative that your animals have access to a shaded, cool area, where they can retreat to out of direct sunlight whenever they wish. This is particularly important for cats, for whom shade-seeking is an important strategy for coping with hot weather, along with reduced physical activity … no, they’re not simply being lazy in the hot weather! 

The area should be large enough to allow your pet to stretch-out and cool-off, and shouldn’t cramp them … just like these fellas …

If you have a couple of pets, they may want stay close to one another, but make sure that there’s enough room for them to space themselves out a bit: huddling together will increase their body temperature. Some pets, particularly older ones, like to fall asleep in the sun, and may not move into the shade unless woken. If you think your pet is about to snooze in the sun, move them into a shaded, cool area, or indoors.

Summer breeze …

Of course, even indoors temperatures can soar, so ventilation is vital. Keeping windows open to enable a flow of cooler air is a good start: screens can be used if you’re concerned your pet could make off, or if you live in an urban environment. Cooling fans are also a good idea, although some animals can be irritated by the constant breeze. Try placing a fan near a window to direct air into a room, rather than onto Fido’s bed. 

Everybody's free (to wear sunscreen) …

If you’re on a public beach, or out-and-about, shelter may be difficult to find, and whilst we can slip on a t-shirt or hat, for our furry friends, it’s not so easy. Clothing to shade your pet from the sun is a particularly good idea for smaller dogs – but be especially careful this doesn’t make them hotter!

No doggy clothes? Sunscreen or wipes are the way to go. If your pet has white or pale fur, they’re likely to have pink skin, too, and this will catch the sun more easily. Cats with white ears are particularly prone to cancer on their ears precisely because of this, and dogs are no exception (I even know of a horse that needed to wear sunscreen), so a little application of sunscreen, either as a spray, cream, or wipe, on any pale areas is a good way to prevent sunburn in your pooch or kitty. Or horse. You should talk to your vet about an appropriate sunscreen for your pet (a number are available): NEVER USE HUMAN SUNSCREEN, as this contains zinc oxide which can be lethal to pets if ingested.

Paws for thought …

If you’ve ever walked barefoot on the pavement on a hot summer’s day, you’ll know how scorchingly hot it can become, so spare a thought for a dog’s paws. One evolutionary theory says dogs evolved in freezing, arid conditions, so whilst they're adapted very well to the cold and dry, hot and dry climates are more challenging. Whilst contact burns from sun-baked asphalt are uncommon, dogs with more sensitive pads, such as those with immune or skin conditions, are more liable to get a physical burn. The biggest issue, though, affecting all dogs is body temperature. Dogs have a dedicated thermo-regulatory system in their paws that moves colder blood from the pad to the body, where it warms up again. In hot weather, this mechanism can cause a dog to overheat simply by walking on a hot surface, no matter how big or small their paws are. Keeping your dog off dark, hot surfaces is the best way to help here, or limit walks on asphalt to the cooler times of the day. Keep in mind, too, that asphalt temperatures continue to rise for a while after the hottest time of the day, so early morning or evenings are good times for walkies. Or you could buy him some doggy boots.

Work. Out.

We’ve all seen people jogging along with their dogs in hot weather, and whilst wild dogs can run for a looooong time in extreme cold, and even extreme heat, jogging along with their owner on a hot sunny day is a completely different matter to being in the wild. You may enjoy a sprint in the sun, but for Fido, it could turn into a very nasty, or even fatal, experience. With an owner 'in charge,' many pets will jog along until the point of collapse if you’re not careful. The best advice in hot weather is don’t make your dog exert himself. If you need to go for a run or cycle, leave Fido at home until the weather cools down … just make sure you’ve read Summer breeze, above!

Paw-l party, anyone?

When the truly scorching weather hits us (fingers crossed … ), it’s often all we can do to go out into the garden and sit in the shade. If you’re active, though, many dogs simply can’t resist joining in the fun, and if you’ve a kiddy-sized paddling pool, it can be a great way for everyone to have fun together, let off some steam (literally), and keep cool at the same time. Just make sure you don’t overfill it – not all dogs are naturally good swimmers! Board shorts are optional … and don’t use the hot tub.

Your pet is an amazing animal, and nature has given him the ability to know when and how to keep cool in most conditions. But keeping the above points in mind will make sure that your animals are comfortable, and can enjoy the hot weather. 

Above all, be vigilant. Remember that many animals love the sun just as much as we do, and sometimes may do a little too much, particularly when it's absent for so much of the year! Keep the above pointers in mind, and you’ll ensure that your animal companion doesn’t suffer in the sun. 

Oakfield - Life begins at 14!

Just like us, as dogs get older they have to face new challenges. Whether through their own age or condition, or that of their owners, some dogs reach a point where they can no longer be cared for at home, yet cannot take to life in kennels. Unlike us, though, there’s no ‘old dogs home’ where they can go to enjoy comfort and company until they are rehomed. Until now!

DogsTrust has set up the most amazing place for older dogs: Oakfield Old Dogs Home. Oakfield is a quaint old cottage, designed to mimic the home comforts that many older dogs are used to: a comfy living room, a squidgy sofa, a garden to pootle in, and a working kitchen.

For older dogs who need a little extra TLC, Oakfield is a true haven where they can live comfortably and securely until they find their forever home, or forever, if necessary! The 'Oakfield Oldies,' as residents are known, have often spent years living with their beloved owners who, through no fault of their own, can no longer care for them. As you can imagine, this is a difficult thing to cope with for any dog, let alone our older companions.

Many residents at Oakfield have special age-related requirements, and need a little extra care. Take Angus, for example – he's the handsome chap in the photo at the top of this post. At the ripe old age of 14, Angus came to DogsTrust with pancreatitis; his aching legs meant he struggled to walk very far, and he needed a special diet. But, with a snuggly blanket, and familiar sights, sounds, and smells, Angus was soon settled in at Oakfield.

Providing this level of care requires much help and support, and DogsTrust couldn't have created and maintain Oakfield without donations from the public and the hard work of its volunteers and staff.

With more and more older pets than ever requiring rehoming, it's vital that places such as Oakfield Old Dogs Home are here to help our animal companions. Head over to the DogsTrust website and see for yourself how you can help these grand old canines be comfortable and happy during their stay at Oakfield, whether that's for the rest of their lives, or just until their forever home turns up. And, of course, you can make a donation to help with its many, many projects.

Do you have an older dog?

No matter how young or old your dog is, David Alderton’s and Derek Hall’s Living with an older dog, part of our Gentle Dog Care series, is invaluable in helping you to prepare for the physical and mental changes that occur as your dog ages, and to make your older dog comfortable and content. Head over to Hubble & Hattie to find out more …