Image above – Jennifer Billot, founder / owner of Bone, Ball, Bark
What goes on in those little furry brains?
There is no recognised qualification for dog training in this country apparently. There are lots advertised but they are not regulated and there is no one, universally agreed, respected go-to organisation which every professional trainer must belong to. Finding a good dog trainer is really pot-luck and word of mouth recommendation is as good a guide as any.
I found this out talking to Jennifer Billot, a professional dog trainer originally from Kingston, who trained in the United States. Now back in Britain, she has set up her own business in Chiswick – Bone Ball Bark, to train dog owners and their pets one-to-one in London or further afield online.
It was while she was an undergraduate at Warwick University taking American Studies that she started volunteering at a guide dog training centre and became interested in canine psychology.
Their links with an organisation in the US which trained assistance dogs led her to the States, where she worked for five years with the organisation, training dogs to help people with spinal chord injuries, in Hawaii and Seattle.
She studied Canine Science in California – a two years Masters course at Bergin University, which involved a year of contact work with dogs and a year working on her thesis, which gave her an academic background to underpin the hands on experience and a bunch of letter after her name. She is Jennifer Billot MSc CPDT-KA.
Images above: Griffin asking nicely for a walk; a client’s boxer dog
Getting the better of your dog
What is ‘Canine science’? I asked, a little sceptically. “The history of domestication, psychology, physiology, a basic understanding of nutrition and a basic medical course.
“If your dog has a health problem, then a vet is the answer” she says, “but I can help with general health and nutrition (Bone), socialisation (Ball) and training (Bark).
Since she set up her business she has trained her own dog, a black Labrador named Griffin, now 20 months old. She filmed everything she did with him until he was five months old and this now forms the basis of her only puppy training package.
The average in-person courses generally involve five sessions – three over the course of three weeks and the other two within six months – for £450. There are longer and shorter courses and online training is cheaper.
Who are her clients? Most people come for puppy training, she tells me. She offers pre-puppy consultations as well as on-hands training – everything you need to know before you take the plunge, covering crate training, potty training, house manners, nutrition, introduction to the family and so on, with a shopping list of essentials included.
Images above: Jennifer with clients
How something as simple as a shiny bowl can be the source of your dog’s distress
“One of the first questions people usually ask is ‘how long will this take?'” says Jennifer. “That’s a really hard question to answer because it depends what the issue is, it depends on the environment, the dog’s age and experience, the home environment, whether the problem is medical. It depends on many factors.”
People come to her for advice on how to deal with their dog’s aggression. “It’s usually fear-based.”
Her training is force-free. It’s all reward-based – “marker training using a sound or a noise that says ‘reward’ and offers positive reinforcement.”
They might come to her because their dog isn’t eating.
“Whether or not I can help them depends on whether the problem is medical or psychological.. Sometimes a shiny bowl or a noisy bowl can put them off because it’s distracting.”
A well behaved, sociable, happy dog is what she is after but she is not a fan of the Instagram craze for making your dog pose “with treats all up their arms; it frustrates me when people ask so much of their dogs. That’s not related to real life situations.”
Jennifer has joined The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme, offering Club Card holders 10% off in-person and online three, five and seven session packages. Click here to see more details of how to claim the offer: Bone Ball Bark Club Card offer.
She has also joined our team of guest bloggers with a fortnightly column about the most common problems her clients ask her about.
Read her first blog here: Help! My dog won’t come back to me!
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