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From IT to Wagging Tails: My Path to Becoming an Accredited Dog Behaviourist

Updated: Jun 3

Becoming an accredited dog behaviourist has been a challenging journey, filled with many hurdles and supported by countless people along the way - you know who you are!

Eighteen years ago, after a relationship breakdown, I decided to rediscover myself. I left my IT job and embarked on a daring adventure to Uganda, inspired by my childhood hero, Dian Fossey. In Uganda, I tracked Golden Monkeys in the forest and spent time with Gorillas. My colleagues couldn’t understand why I’d give up financial security, but for me, it was a clear choice: continue as I was, or do something radically different. So, I chose the latter.

Pilgrimage to Dian and Digit the gorilla's resting place Karisoke Research Centre, Rwanda

Golden Monkey - Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda

After catching the Africa bug, I travelled to Botswana to start my PhD, studying the behaviour of white rhinos. Together with my 70+ year old tracker, John, we fly-camped in the Okavango Delta, spending days searching for rhino tracks in 40°C+ heat. John’s bushcraft knowledge was incredible. It was far from easy, and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The reality of surviving in Africa is vastly different from the romanticised TV documentaries. Resilience is key!

Putting a GPS anklet on one of my project rhino

Magazine shot - tracking rhino with telemetry

Reality - me and John getting rescued by mokoro after getting the Landy stuck in a crossing in the Okavango Delta

Upon my return to Wales and after submitting my PhD, the pandemic struck. With no job, no income, and no plan, I took some time to re-evaluate my path. I realised that I wanted to continue in animal behaviour and saw a growing need for skilled professionals to assist dog guardians.

Growing up, we had working labs and spaniels, although I think my dad would admit they weren’t particularly well trained. I spent every Saturday grooming them and clearing out their pen—any excuse to be with our dogs. Back then living in a small rural town in mid-Wales meant that researching a career as a dog trainer wasn’t as accessible, mainly because the internet hadn’t been invented (yes, I am that old).

Ronnie was my first dog as an adult, I picked a Weimaraner - what was I thinking!?

I wanted to return to my first love of working with dogs. Navigating the dog training world as a novice was a nightmare. There were so many acronyms for different training organisations, and I had no idea about the differences between ‘balanced’ (using aversive techniques) and ‘force-free’ trainers. In this unregulated industry, I could have leveraged my animal behaviour PhD, but that’s not my style. I needed to educate myself to do the job right.

After researching, I chose to become an ethical fear-free trainer. I aimed for my first accreditation with the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (IMDT). I completed both the 2-day and 4-day in-person courses, followed by the assessment.

Next, I signed up for the IMDT’s Behaviour course, which again is externally accredited—something very important to me. Getting back into study mode was tough, even with a PhD under my belt.

There’s another part of my story I haven’t yet shared. When I was around 13, my mum was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I had no idea what it meant then, but over the past 35 years, I’ve mourned the gradual loss of the mum she was and shared countless laughs with her. About 15 years ago, she was also diagnosed with dementia. Her decline over the last five years has impacted my mental health more than any other time in my life, making it even harder to focus on my IMDTB course. Some days, I’d sit in front of my computer and make no progress. However, the IMDT tutor team was incredibly supportive and I can’t thank them enough for giving me the time and space I needed to get the job done.

Me and Mum

Yesterday, I opened an email confirming that I’ve passed! I am now the only IMDT-qualified dog behaviourist in my county and surrounding area.

So, when you sign up with me, you’re getting a fully accredited IMDT dog trainer and qualified (IMDTB) dog behaviour practitioner with a wealth of knowledge, experience, empathy and compassion. You’ll be introduced to force-free, reward-based methods to tackle any challenges you’re facing with your dog.

me and my dog Buddy

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