| 11.9°C Belfast

'A dog is a wolf in your living room - it just needs to know who's boss'



Going walkies: a dog puts its best foot forward with some support from Jan

Going walkies: a dog puts its best foot forward with some support from Jan

Going walkies: a dog puts its best foot forward with some support from Jan

Most dog owners wish they knew what their pooch was saying - and one woman says she can teach us to speak our dog's language.

Seventy-year-old Jan Fennell, who lives in Lincolnshire, is the Dog Listener. Throughout her almost three decades at the top of canine communication, she has promoted the theory that dogs, being descended from wolves, fit in the social model of the pack, an ordered hierarchy with a clearly defined leader.

The author has developed the Amichien Bonding Method, which she says allows you to live in harmony with your trusted friend. This non-confrontational, stress-free, gadget-free method is based on the belief that dogs, when co-opted into human families, still see themselves as pack members.

She believes that the most inappropriate dog behaviour arises if the owner does not consistently signal that he or she is 'pack leader'. Theoretically this makes the dog anxious. It cannot conceive of a leaderless pack and so if its owner abdicates leadership the dog has no option but to try to take on the 'alpha' role itself.

Speaking ahead of an event this Saturday at Stranmillis College, Jan says that communicating with your canine is not as difficult as it may sound.

"The easiest way to describe dog listening is that I am not a trainer," she says. "I don't teach dogs anything. I help owners understand their dogs. And it's the owners who are the ones who create that magic at home with their own beloved dogs.

"I was so dissatisfied with traditional training. The hardest thing for people to get their heads around when they are first introduced to dog listening is that it is nothing like dog training.

"We never have classes, because they don't work. We never take the dog to the trainer, because that doesn't work. We never tell the owner that they have to punish their dog. We never correct the dog. People get into trouble because they are working with the information that they have and that causes the problems.

"Everything from a dog pulling on the lead and jumping up to being aggressive and wrecking the home all come from the same cause which is that the dog believes it is the leader.

"I hear all the time from owners that the dog is their baby, well the dog has a very different idea, because of the information it has been given. And then it is a parent trying to look after wayward children in a world it does not understand. And that causes the problems. Once we switch that and relieve the dog of that burden, then they relax and chill out.


Good listener: Jan Fennell with two of her dogs

Good listener: Jan Fennell with two of her dogs

Good listener: Jan Fennell with two of her dogs

"The other thing we do in dog listening is that we don't worry about breed. It's a dog - that's it. It will think a certain way, it will act a certain way to certain information."

Jan said her career was born out of a frustration that traditional methods were not working for her dogs.

"You would see people jerking dogs around on their leads, heel and all this sort of thing," she says. "And then you see dogs with problems. And it just doesn't work. And that actually is insanity, to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

"Traditional training will work with some dogs, but once you start pushing them around, some will think 'okay', some will think 'don't hurt me', and some will think 'come on then, I'll sort you out' and then we kill them because they won't obey or are aggressive. But no, they are too smart.

"I was inspired in 1989 by Monty Roberts, the original man who listens to horses. I remember thinking if it was that easy, why doesn't everyone do it?

"I was very sceptical. And then the following year he worked with my friend's young horse. And I saw a miracle happen. It was something impossible, but there she was, doing something that he said she would do. Within 23 minutes she was communicating with him, she had a saddle on, everything and was completely chilled out and was so calm and so happy. And I thought, if you can do it with horses, why can't you do it with dogs?

"So I looked at how he learned the language of a horse, which was to watch mustangs living free without humans interfering. I just watched everything I could about free living canines - wolves, African wild dogs, dingoes - as long as there no humans were involved and these animals were having to fend for themselves.

"I hate calling it wildlife, because it is not wild. The wilderness has immense rules. They learn the rules and they cooperate of their own free will. I had to clear a lot of my preconceived ideas and let them go. Then I started to mimic what the leaders did with my own dogs. And the dogs started to respond and respond well. I just got better and better at it."

Jan implemented her new ideas on her own dogs and the results were so impressive that people began asking her for help.

"I didn't start a business," she explains. "I was doing it for my own dogs and as I cracked it, my friends asked me to help them, then their friends asked for help. And word got around and all of a sudden it took off.

"I didn't set out to do it, it just happened. Local papers heard about me, then local radio. I was doing phone-ins on radio and different events. Then TV came along, then the Mail on Sunday did an article in 1999.

"A literary agent found me and said there might be a book or two in me. But there were five. None of it was me thinking that I would do this and I would show everyone. It happened because it works. When owners do it, it works."


All smiles: Jan with a happy dog

All smiles: Jan with a happy dog

All smiles: Jan with a happy dog

Jan says she has witnessed many canine miracles over the years, but one that stays with her is of a little Jack Russell called Barmy whom she saved from being put to sleep.

"If you are getting it right, the dog will show you," she says. "And if you are doing it wrong, you will know. There was a dog condemned to be killed, a little Jack Russell, who I called Barmy. I took him on. I said if the rescue can't re-home him and he is going to be put to sleep then I would take him on. What did I have to lose?

"He was biting everybody and snarling at everything. He was really one confused, screwed up little man. So I took him home and I left him alone. I didn't try anything, I just left him alone.

"The first thing he had to realise was that he had nothing to fear. And I fed him. I just ignored all his protestations, because I knew where they were coming from - his experience to date. I went in and out of the garden and I just let him get on with it.

"After two or three weeks I was sitting on the floor, looking at a magazine he started to come over to me. Because he started to realise that he had nothing to fear, he started to think, what is this relationship, and that is when I pushed on.

"Five weeks after getting him I rang the rescue centre and asked if they wanted to see him. And I brought him down. He trotted in with me, because I had taught him to walk nicely on a lead and I asked no one to touch him or go near him. He went into the office of the boss, and she asked if he was the same little dog. I asked the people to leave him and if he wanted to come to them, he would. And that is all how it all really started. I knew then that I had got it."

Jan says that she fine-tuned her method after watching wolves interact in the wilderness at Yellowstone National Park in America.

"My method is called Amichien," she says. "When we were looking for a name for it we thought, it's just another language, a communication system. So we thought Amie, as in friend, and Chien, as in dog. We just took a bit of French and stuck it together. It just means that you are a friend of a dog. It's all about communicating with your dog, speaking your dog's language.

"I have done this on a compound with wolves, I have done it with dingoes in Australia and with coyotes. I spent a lot of time in Yellowstone National Park in the US with the researchers, just watching wolves living free. It is just so obvious, but it's just people didn't think of it like that."

Jan explains her method of dealing with a barking dog. "When your dog is barking, people normally shout at them to be quiet. And your dog just thinks that you are joining in and that there is danger. So I thought, what would I do if someone was telling me that there was danger? I would say thank you. So when the dog starts barking I say 'thank you' in a totally chilled out way. And that is what the dog wants, it wants a leader.

"It's all about getting the dog to choose you as its leader. It's got nothing to do with dominance, or giving orders or commands. I don't want an obedient dog. I don't want a robot. I want a dog that says 'I want to be in your gang'.

"So every time it is important to the dog I step up as leader. That is the thing that they need. As long as we get it right, they can get it right. We are the cause and they are the effect.

"Dogs are far more forgiving than humans. And when people get it hopelessly wrong, they will forgive us. So many people try and make dogs fit our human world, when they don't function like that. They are a wolf in our living room."

Jan has helped millions of owners and their dogs over the years and that her main aim is to bring peace to homes.

"It's all about bringing harmony to a home. What I want is a lovely relaxed home, where peace reigns. Harmony is the absolute byword of the method," she says.

Find out more about Jan at www. janfennellthedoglistener.com. Tickets for An Afternoon with Jan Fennell at Stranmillis College, this Saturday at 3pm, are £15, to book visit www.rosiestrust.org

Tips for resolving your dog's behaviour

1. Be as patient as the dog is.

2. Learn where they are coming from and what makes them function.

3. Never expect them to fit into our world - because our world doesn't make sense to us.

4. Don't expect them to read your mind. If you want to teach them something, show them patiently.

5. Think how you'd like to be taught.

6. Above all, learn their language.

Belfast Telegraph