Diaries of a Dog Trainer (part 2)

Barley was a gorgeous little dog. A Whippet cross Jack Russell, she was a deep tan colour with flecks of white on her feet and neck. She had the cutest little nose that seemed to finish her face off so elegantly, like a well placed full stop at the end of a bombshell sentence. The story goes that in the afternoon before the morning of when I walked in to find her sitting in the living room, a man had come into the pub and asked for a ‘stiff drink’. Accompanying him was a small ginger dog and my Father, being a certified dog swooner had immediately asked about her. The gentleman explained that the dog was one of two that his mother owned but that didn’t get on very well. Being the younger of the two and therefore it seemed less entitled to a place in the house, the man had been ordered by his Mother to get her destroyed. She was at the time, just six months old, a mere puppy still trying to make sense of the world around her.

My father on hearing this of course tried to defend the dogs right to life, highlighting the injustice at the story he’d just been told and surprisingly the man had agreed, but obviously with his mother being elderly and he having nowhere to go as he also lived with her, he’d felt he’d had no choice but to do as he was told. But the reality of what he was about to do, that is, end an innocent dogs life, had hit him hard now that he wasn’t in his mothers presence and so had come for a bit of dutch courage on the way to the vets. My father, realising that his protest was falling on deaf ears, and I suspect, feeling pity for the man with the ginger dog and most certainly the dog, he made an instant decision to take the dog off of him, if only to save her life. At least, this was the story told to us the next day when we bombarded my father with questions. It’s possible that this had been an elaboration of the truth in order to make any possible resistance from my mother difficult, however to this day my father will tell anyone the exact same story and considering he struggles to remember which of his daughters is called what most days, I’m inclined, at least on this occasion to believe the story is an accurate one.

We were told the first couple of days not to get attached by my mother as it was unfair to keep a dog in a pub under the circumstances. I can understand this to some extent too. At the time my mother had been a 28 year old woman with two children under the age of four to care for and a pub to run that could be demanding. She didn’t want the responsibility of a dog to care for too. But, it soon became obvious to her that her daughters were smitten with their new friend. After all, my sister, still barely a year old and never experiencing a pet and me, my first friend after I’d had to say goodbye to my pet duck because basically it had hated my mother and on numerous occasions had cornered her in the kitchen or chased her out of our old house altogether, she softened and accepted Barley as a new member of our family.

I look back now on some of the things that I remember about Barley and I shudder. Or more specifically that we used to do to Barley. We were never intentionally mean to her, she was our friend, but in our innocence and naivety we hadn’t realised that what we were doing was at times, quite reckless. Still, for all we put her through, Barley was faultlessly loyal and never caused us any harm. Today I can appreciate just how much impulse control she must have practiced with us and I’m genuinely surprised her head didn’t explode.  One of the games we used to play with her was to blow on her ears. To us, it was like we were playing the human version of where you tap on somebody’s shoulder then quickly turn away before they realise it was you and to keep going until you’re caught. We used to blow on her ears then stop as soon as she turned her head. Maybe it was because Duke was as daft as I was sometimes that I didn’t really see it, but Barley used to turn her head slowly and stare us in the face for a second before relaxing and turning back around. We’d blow on her ears again and again she would turn but this time turning her body, which was rigid and staring at us for a second longer. Usually around the third time we would blow and again she would stare but this time she would show her teeth and then snap at the air near our faces, at which point we would laugh and then leave her alone. ‘One day that dog is going to bite you and when she does, it’ll be nobody’s fault except your own’ my mother used to warn us if she ever caught us mid-act. ‘No she wont, she loves us, she would never hurt us, she <em>knows </em>we are playing!’ we would always chime back. Oh, how I cringe at the confidence we had, a classic case of anthromophorsism, our naïve belief that Barley understood our silly little human games because we knew we meant no harm. The funny thing today is, I often hear myself saying the exact same thing to other children now….’If that dog bites you, it’ll be nobody’s fault except your own’.

The only way a dog will walk on a lead as you want, is if you teach them how
The only way a dog will walk on a lead as you want, is if you teach them how

Walking Barley was somewhat of a headache. Whilst it was never us that was allowed to walk her, it was always my fathers job, we could whenever possible accompany him. Once out of my mothers sight he would hand us the lead so we could take it in turns. She was a chronic lead puller. Of course, it never looked that way when my father walked her. He was much stronger than us for a start and Barley was always a Daddy’s girl. Her and my father adored each other and she would always walk better for him, still though we wanted to try. After a while Carly would get bored of being yanked around and hand the lead back, but I was always more determined to get her walking nicely for me. I would plead with her to ‘wait for me’, I would try running to keep up to her pace, Id try stopping so that she couldn’t pull, Id try convincing her that there was something behind me. All of these tactics were futile. When I’d tried everything else and still nothing worked, I’d yank her back. The guilt I feel when I look back is horrendous now and perhaps that is my karma. I most definitely deserve to feel guilty for doing such a thing. I never meant it in frustration or anger, it was just something I’d seen other adults do when they were walking their dogs and after seeing it work, albeit temporarily when I tried it with Barley, I became convinced that yanking her was what I was supposed to do. On reflection, no wonder she wanted to get away from me when we walked her. Of course, my father winced whenever he saw me doing it, but Id meet his demands for handing him the lead back with a ‘but Dad, it works’ response. ‘Ok’ he would always say back ‘and you’ve done a good job at teaching her, but maybe it’s my turn again now, eh?’.

I remember specifically one particular incident that happened one summer and on this occasion, I knew even then that something really bad had happened. I was out playing in the front garden. It was the summer holidays and a gloriously sunny day. My mother was at work and my sister was at my grandparents house where she often stayed. My father had been doing the gardening and had finished just in time to make us some lunch so he had gone inside whilst me and Barley continued to play outside. By this point we had moved out of the pub and lived in a terraced house where my parents still live now. I had been listening to the radio and trying to change the station from my fathers beloved Magic828 to something a little less soul destroying when a young boy on a paper round appeared and shoved a paper through next doors letter box. I was quite socially awkward when I was younger and was often chronically shy if someone I didn’t know appeared. ‘Nice dog’ the young boy said, whilst I was busy trying not to acknowledge his existence. ‘yeah, thanks’ I said, willing my father to shout me inside. ‘Can I pet her?’ he asked. I looked in his direction before telling him rather dismissively no, she didn’t like strangers, especially boys. ‘Oh come on, dogs love me!’ he replied whilst starting to lean over the fence. I quickly grabbed Barley and scooped her under my arms as I could see even she was starting to get a little agitated now at the strange boy hanging over our gate. ‘I told you, she doesn’t like litt…..’ I started to say when suddenly he lunged forward to kiss her and as he did, he let out an almighty scream before recoiling and holding his face with blood pouring from between his fingers. It must have only been seconds, because before I had even properly registered him leaning in, he was now stood in front of me clearly injured. ‘You stupid little bitch. Your fucking dog is going to die now. I’m going to tell my Dad’ the boy suddenly said through swollen lips.

I stood in complete shock before turning on my heels and rushing inside. I started screaming for my father, crying and shaking and begging him to take Barley away and hide her somewhere safe. I was absolutely traumatised and believed that Barley now had a death sentence over her head and it was all my fault. ‘Whoa, Kaley, slow down and tell me what happened’ My father said, trying to get some sense out of me. I realised I’d been shrieking and took some deep breaths before explaining what had happened. I explained how I’d tried to tell the boy no, but he hadn’t listened. I protested in Barley’s defence and told him that it was all my fault and that I deserved to be punished. ‘Dad, don’t let them kill Barley, kill me, it was my fault, I picked her up, it’s my fault, all mine’ I said over and over again. ‘Kaley, nobody is getting killed don’t ever talk like that. It was the boys fault and maybe next time, he will listen when he’s told no’. Despite my fathers attempts to reassure me, I spent the rest of the week convinced that someone was going to take Barley away, so much so that Id even put some clothes in a carrier bag along with some string I could use for a lead if we needed to run away.

In the end, nobody did come. Two weeks later my father came home and told me who the boy was. It turned out that my father knew his father. The boy was a couple of years older than I was, I being 8 at the time and he being 10. This hadn’t been the first time he had had a dog bite from putting his face near a dog and for all the blood and drama, the boy had only a slight cut and bruising, which had healed by the time the two had spoken. The relief I had felt had been immense and I hugged my father and thanked him for not letting Barley die. ‘Well, maybe you’ll remember this as a lesson’ he said before ushering me into the living room and signalling me to say no more about it in front of my mother, who still didn’t know what had happened. And indeed, that day I learned not one, but four valuable lessons. Lessons one; never put your face directly in front of a dog’s. Lesson two; never attempt to hold a dog that feels threatened. Lesson three; dogs can and will bite, regardless of anything else under the right conditions. Lesson four; Never trust a paperboy. And I never did blow on her ears again.

Not all of my memories of Barley are quite so horrible. Most are of the tender moments we all shared. I remember the times I used to dig holes in the back garden using my Mothers silver spoons looking for buried treasure and Barley helping me to dig. I remember how she could predict a storm hours before it hitting and us bunking together in the place she chose to hide. I remember Barley coming into our rooms at night to look at us and lick our faces before going to bed herself. I remember days at the beach where we would all sit miserable under a pier because it was always raining. I remember all the Christmas Days, where Barley would wait patiently for us to ask her for help shredding the paper from our gifts and the stealth like precision she did it with too. I remember her falling asleep with her head in my lap when I practiced my reading homework with her as my audience. I remember all those tender moments and more as if they were yesterday.

Patience is a valuable training tool


When Barley reached about 10 years old and I 14 years old, she developed a rash on her belly. My mother had recently changed the brand of washing powder we used and so we put it down to that. But a few weeks later the rash had developed into angry looking blisters. She seemed to slow down too although remained her happy, stealth like self. By now, I was walking myself home from school and one Friday I had let myself in when this almighty smell hit me. At first I didn’t realise what it was, then noticed a thick black tar like substance coating the floor. I realised Barley had messed in the house and, not wanting her to get into trouble I quickly went about cleaning it all up. As I bent down to start scrubbing, I noticed Barley under the table, shaking and with a vacant look on her face. I watched as her body began to shake more violently not really taking in what I was seeing. ‘Barley…..Barley……BARLEY’ I said before suddenly she stopped and looked at me as though she hadn’t realised what she had just been doing. I looked on and watched her stumble out from under the table and wobble the short distance to her beloved beanbag before going to sleep. That evening, Barley didn’t have much of an appetite and slept a lot over that weekend. By the Tuesday, she was no better, she had messed herself another two times and could no longer keep her food down. Finally we had to admit that she wasn’t well.

The next day I was due to go to Alton Towers with school, but had made my mother promise to call the school if anything bad happened, which she did. I spent the day thinking sporadically about her and come home time my friends had reassured me not to worry as there had been no call. ‘She’s only 10, that’s young for a dog!’ they sang, repeatedly and even though I nodded in agreement I still couldn’t shake off the empty feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. As the bus finally reached my stop, I raced home. I never ran, to this day I hate running but on that day I ran like Linford Christie on speed. I burst through the front door and asked where Barley was, before noticing my mothers eyes swollen and red. She shook her head…’she’s gone’. It was all she could manage before breaking down. I screamed and ran straight into my room and threw myself on to my bed. I could hear my heart beat thumping in my head as I felt my insides literally break in to a thousand pieces. I had never experienced an emotional pain like it before. I would have sold my soul to have had it turn out differently. Soon after, my mother came into my room and hugged me tightly. We sat there crying for a while before I finally managed to ask what had happened. My mother explained that not long after I had left for my trip, Barley had messed where she laid and hadn’t attempted to move. My mother had called the vet, who had told her not to wait until her appointment that afternoon and to go straight away. By the time she had arrived, Barley had given up and the kindest thing was to put her to sleep. What we thought had been an allergic reaction had actually been cancer and even in the early days when we noticed the rash, it was still too late to have done anything. It had been nothing short of a miracle that she held on for as long as she did. ‘But I didn’t even say goodbye, Mum’ I bleated through tears and snotty sobs. ‘Yes, you did, she came into your room last night and slept with you’. And it was true. In the entire time we had Barley, never had she slept in mine or my sisters room. It had always been with my parents in their room. However, on her very last night, she had gone into my sisters room first and slept for a while before creeping into mine and settling with me. ‘Kaley…’ my Mother said ‘tears are just your eyes way of making you sad because you wont see her anymore, so don’t think with your eyes, think with your mind, because your mind lets you remember the happy times and when you remember the happy times, you cant be sad’. Those words have stuck with me ever since and I have never cried like I did that day again because of them. I’ve carried those words with me in to my professional career too and have since said the same to clients during their times of loss.

A few days later, we held a funeral for her. Because we’d had her body cremated, we only had her lead and collar. We each wrote her a note and buried our messages too. Mine thanked her for her friendship and all that she had taught me. For being there as I was starting to grow up and being loyal and faithful to all of us throughout her life. And that I was sorry for blowing on her ears.

The lessons I learnt from Barley have proven to be the ones I needed the most throughout my life since. She taught me to be respectful to animals even when their wishes were not in line with my own. She taught me about compassion and empathy for others and that it’s wrong to bully and be bullied and to be patient with things that take time. She taught me that you can achieve a lot from love and most of all, to never take anyone for granted because you never know if you will see them again… a lesson that I would learn again three years later, when it was time to say goodbye to Misty.