Sam Redmond is a qualified and experienced animal behaviourist based in Nantwich, Cheshire. Within her work (and at home with her own pets), Sam practices ‘Free Will Teaching’, a concept which I was introduced to by author Kathie Gregory in her book ‘A Puppy Called Wolfie’. Sam kindly agreed to tell us more about her work and explain how Free Will Teaching can be used successfully in a training environment.
Hi Sam! Tell us about yourself and how you became an animal behaviourist.
“When my kids were small, I wanted to do a job that I could work around them. I had two young Labradors (litter brothers), and it didn’t work out. We felt the dogs couldn’t live together, and they were unhappy, so one was rehomed. I knew nothing about dogs at this stage and wanted to know why it hadn’t worked, so I embarked on the COAPE [Centre of Applied Pet Ethology] Advanced Diploma. Ten years later, I am running a busy practice and continually expanding my knowledge. Over the years I have been involved in many arms of the pet world, having worked with dogs, cats and horses. I have worked my way through the Talking Dogs scentwork programme, given Gundog work and working trials a go, and have been an approved trainer of assistance dogs with DOG A.I.D. I’ve also written various articles for national magazines, featured on the radio and spoken at several conferences. If that wasn’t enough, we have owned and competed event horses and still own a little Shetland Pony.”
Tell us about your other pets.
“Currently, I own Koda, an eight year old wolf lookalike, and Tipsy, a three year old Jack Russell. Both dogs have taught me a huge amount. The terrier has been the biggest challenge, as you would expect!”
Your website shows that you have a keen interest in Wolfdogs – Can you tell us a little more about that?
“After owning a Northern Inuit, I began to work with breeders of wolf lookalike dogs, on puppy rearing programmes. After some time, it was clear that the gene pool for the Northern Inuit was small, and problems were emerging. As a result, my associates moved away from the Northern Inuit and into the Wolfdog realm, which gave me ample opportunity to learn more. I have worked closely with some Wolfdog breeders and ran regular training days for new puppy owners, providing behaviour and training support. Spending time with these animals has been an amazing experience and a privilege.”
What services do you offer as a canine behaviourist?
“I offer one-to-one behaviour sessions, along with puppy and teenage packages and home schooling for dogs.”
Can you explain what home schooling involves?
“It’s a simple concept really. Once I have established with the client how I work, we then arrange for me to go to their home while they are at work, as often as they like, and I train their dog for them. I feed back to them via videos and spreadsheets so that they can follow up the work I do when they are at home. It works especially well for puppies as I work with them and their owners right the way through the puppy and teenage stage, guiding and advising as we go. Because I have a close relationship with the dogs, I know where they’re at, so it makes for a good partnership.”
How did you come across the concept of Free Will Teaching?
“Kathie Gregory (the founder of Free Will Teaching) and I both trained with COAPE and have known each other a long time. I knew about the work that she was doing and it appealed to me.”
How do you incorporate Free Will Teaching into your work?
“I don’t incorporate Free Will Teaching into my work, it is my work. FWT is a concept, a way of life which works independently of traditional training ideas because it’s effectively Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, i.e. working on the mind. I no longer use traditional training methods. For instance, my terrier who has been raised on FWT does not know the commands “down”, “stay”, “wait” or “leave it”, because I don’t need a specific movement. I just need her to manage herself according to the situation. If we look at the traditional “wait” as an example, I have not taught her this because I have given her other options to choose from. If she goes ahead on a walk and I’m not sure about it, I’ll say “no further” and she’ll stop there and potter about until I’ve caught up. If I move around the house, she’ll come with me or she won’t. It’s always her choice. If there’s food around which isn’t her’s, I say, “It’s not your’s, it’s mine”. If there’s a gate ahead I’ll ask her if she wants to go to the gate and meet me there – she might go on ahead or she might choose to walk with me.
She has learnt to manage her impulses, desires and frustrations by herself as I talk her through things. Nothing gets suppressed, and this is the essence of Free Will Teaching. I listen to and read what she is saying and work with it. If I ask her to “leave it” when she spots a squirrel, as many of us have been taught to do, I am not achieving anything. The desire to chase is still there, it’s not going away – she’s telling me she really needs to chase the squirrel because she is programmed to do so, and if I stop her, all I am doing is suppressing the natural instinct. Instead, I give her safe opportunities to engage in such behaviour, all the while teaching her to restrain and manage that instinct. Now when she does see a squirrel she doesn’t zone out, which means I can make suggestions to her and she listens. As she has learnt to restrain herself it’s not a big deal for her when I can’t give her the freedom to do this.
I recently worked with a client who had a rescue dog with dog-to-dog behavioural issues. We taught the dog that when she sees another dog, she has choices; she can cross the road, sniff, sit or stand, watch, or turn around. All choices were given language to accompany them. She now actively chooses and tells her owner if she wants to cross the road to avoid the other dog. This is what FWT is about; it’s reading and listening to what your dog is telling you he/she needs to do, and going with it, providing you have taught the dog to manage emotions and desires. A young Malamute I work with has been taught to calm himself when his arousal levels escalate. We attached the word “calm” to this emotional state and taught him how to bring himself down. My dog Koda has learned all this too, later in life.
Everything I do with animals is about allowing them to be themselves, and manage themselves within the boundaries set out.”
It has recently been announced that shock collars are to be banned in England. Are there any other changes you’d like to see in the dog training world, and do you think the industry should be regulated?
“Absolutely. The industry needs an overhaul – we need change everywhere. I’d like to see prong collars and choke chains removed too. I’d also like to see dog grooming become more flexible so that dogs aren’t tied up and forced to accept the process, and large daycare facilities and dog walkers come under regulation with a cap on the number of dogs allowed and staff embarking on studies in dog behaviour and communication.”
What is your number one piece of advice for anyone who is considering taking on a dog with potential behavioural issues?
“Read A Puppy Called Wolfie by Kathie Gregory. It will be very helpful and enlightening. Also work with a qualified behavioural specialist referred by your vet if you need further help or advice.”
For more information about Sam’s work, visit www.dogtrainingnantwich.co.uk
Sam can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or search on Facebook for ‘Sam Redmond Dog Training & Animal Behaviour’
All photographs reproduced with kind permission.