Change of heart - How I changed my dog training techniques
Dog trainer Jordan Shelley tells Andrea McHugh why he’s turned his back on dominance-based training techniques.
It has been three years since dog trainer Jordan Shelley appeared on BBC’s ‘The One Show’ to demonstrate how his Cesar Millan-inspired methods could train a food-aggressive Jack Russell Terrier in just one session.
The dog was so aggressive that children in the family had resorted to wearing Wellington boots to protect themselves from attack.
Jordan took drastic action and ‘fixed’ the dog’s behaviour by constantly challenging him with verbal commands and assertive body language. The dog eventually gave up and ran away from the food bowl to the safety of his bed. The next night, Jordan appeared on ‘The One Show’ for a follow up feature with the dog sat next to him, appearing very docile.
The family seemed quite happy and furthermore, there was not a pair of Wellington boots in sight.
The producers hoped this would be the start of a regular dog training feature but, in truth, it signalled the start of a nightmare for Jordan, who found himself on the receiving end of hundreds of complaints from animal lovers claiming his training methods were outdated, bullying, and stressful for the dog. Even worse, Jordan became the subject of an RSPCA investigation.
At just 21 years of age and faced with such a barrage of criticism, Jordan could perhaps have been forgiven for going into lock down, but that’s not Jordan’s style. Within days he had booked a flight to America, accepted an invitation to stay with top trainers Ian and Kelly Dunbar, and attended their Sirius Puppy Training classes.
He attended Ian’s science-based conference ‘Training with feeling’, and went to the annual conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (ADPT).
In effect, Jordan embarked on what he described as a ‘real learning curve’ to discover kinder, more effective positive training techniques.
Fast forward three years and so complete is Jordan’s transformation that he recently received an ambassador award from the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (IMDT) in recognition of his achievements.
“When I look back, I shake my head in disbelief,” admitted Jordan, who has three rescue dogs.
“I looked at my dogs and felt terrible. I realised I’d been continually correcting and suppressing behaviour when it was not necessary. I felt so guilty because I know now that we can’t expect dogs to understand what we want from them — we need to teach them.
“I’d left school at 16 to work in Spain. I worked as an assistant in a veterinary surgery, which in many ways was my dream job.
“I’d always been interested in dogs and their behaviour, particularly those that came into the surgery and were struggling because they didn’t want to be there and didn’t like vets.
“I was a fan of Cesar Millan and I also met two ex-army dog trainers who told me that my approach needed to be tougher. I was young and thought they were experts, and so I believed them.
“Sadly, when I was 19 my dad died and as I am the oldest of four children, I moved back to London to help the family. I started working as a dog walker and then as a trainer.
“One day, I met a TV producer in the park who was impressed with my dogs. Within months I ended up doing a pilot TV show but unfortunately before the project was completed the producer died.
“With the experience I gained I went on to work with another producer to make a second pilot, and it was edited and extracts of this were shown on ‘The One Show’.
“I realise now that my training methods were very old school but at the time I was shocked at the public’s reaction, and it was a very difficult time in my life. There were journalists outside my door and some really negative stuff was written about me.”
However, there is a wise and courageous centre to Jordan Shelley, which makes him refuse to back down from life’s challenges.
“It was always important to me that I did the right thing by the dogs, and I recognised that if so many people and trainers were saying I was wrong then there had to be a better way.
“I’m always open to learning new things and when I see that something is better I’m happy to change. Once I learned the science behind Ian’s training methods, I immediately saw how much better this was for the dogs.
“So many interesting and skilled people have given me their time and expertise, and I’m very grateful.
“Today, I only use positive reward-based training methods, because if you don’t you run the risk of suppressing behaviours, which can be very dangerous. My aim now is to build a bond with the dogs so they want to work with me and I can help them.
“I still go to Spain and regularly work with dogs and puppies that have been abused. I get great pleasure from trying to help them.
“I’m not actively seeking more TV work, but life can be funny so let’s see what happens, as I still get approached about it.
“For now, I’m seeing clients all over the world and attending as many conferences and behaviour workshops as possible.
“I really want to keep learning and helping to spread the word. We need to reach as many people as possible, particularly those who still believe dominance-based training is the way forward. I know for certain that it isn’t.”