Dom started his first business in Sunderland in 2011 and took himself on a dog training journey with some of the world's leading trainers to become a dog trainer specialising in helping frustrated owners connect with their dogs, and building a better relationship through play.
Dom has previously dabbled in writing and has released a selection of books with his dog knowledge, and he is now known as the King of Canine Common Sense.
‘I was inspired to start my business because I was spending my free time volunteering in Animal Krackers, a local rescue centre in Sunderland, and I could see the benefits that a good walk was giving the shelter dogs who were awaiting rehoming, which inspired my business idea,’ Dom explains. ‘I wanted to offer a more enhanced exercise experience for the dogs. I've also owned three rescue dogs and I'm a big advocate of rescue dogs. Last year, I did a charity bike ride [read more about that here] to raise money and shine a light on the work of small, local rescues who often struggle beside larger charity organisations.
‘This year, due to lockdown, I was unable to repeat that so I thought, “what can I do?”. I decided to pivot and create a book (or a series of books) that would help continue what I started last year – and raise money and awareness for rescue dogs and organisations.’
Dom’s lockdown creation is called Rescue Dog Rehoming Remedies and brings together contributions from 11 leading dog trainers from around the UK, including himself and Stephen Wylie, who runs SHAK Sanctuary in Alnwick. All of the proceeds from the book will go to the 15 rescue centres he visited as part of his Tour de Rescue charity bike ride last year, where he cycled 200 miles and visited 15 rescues in 4 days.
There were four legs of the tour, in Northumberland, Teesside, the Peak District and Wales. The rescues that will benefit includ: SHAK Sanctuary and Alexa's Animals in Alnwick, and Bryson's Animal Shelter in Gateshead.
‘Those are just a selection of the smaller, local rescues who are often run by volunteers who devote their lives to helping the most desperate dogs in our community – but they don't have the staff or fundraising operation that the larger organisations, like Dogs Trust, have,’ Dom explains.
‘Often many of the dogs taken in by local rescues have been neglected, sometimes badly abused and occasionally they are hours from being euthanised. Stephen Wylie at SHAK often takes death row dogs that are just about to be put to sleep – not because their behaviour is beyond fixing, but because they've been given up by their owners and there's no one else to help. Local rescues are the last chance for many of dogs, and many of them have no idea why they are there. The rescue workers are picking up the pieces and they need all the help they can get.’
With his new book, Dom hopes to help shine a light on the work of rescues and remove some of the stigma that rescue dogs have in the eyes of some of the public – who think they are all in some way difficult or damaged.
‘Only a small percentage are like that,’ Dom reassures us. ‘With a little patience, and lots of commitment, most dogs in the rescue would make fantastic family pets. That's why all of the training advice in the book is simple to understand and easy to implement. It’s not a long, complicated dog trainer jargon-filled thesis on dog behaviour. It's an easy, entertaining read, and all of the contributors to the book have shared their own personal story of life with a rescue, so the reader can see that everyone feels overwhelmed when they rescue a dog, but most of the problems can be overcome.’
Some common themes run throughout the book, and one of them is that you need to be patient with your rescue dog. Dom compares that advice to climbing Kilimanjaro.
‘When you are travelling at altitude the air is so thin that just walking can be a challenge,’ he explains. ‘You feel like an old person carrying heavy bags of shopping walking backwards. Well, you kind of need to take it very slow and steady with your new rescue dog too. Give him or her time to settle in and decompress from their kennel experience. Don't rush off to join an agility class or allow your family to come and crowd them in their new home. Give them time and space to get used to their new surroundings. Some rescue dogs settle quickly, but it can take a couple of weeks, and sometimes a couple of months for them to feel at home and start to show their real personality.’
But, a key message throughout is that a dog is for life – and that’s an important message to remember through both lockdown, and Christmas. Plenty of people have welcomed four-legged friends into their homes recently, which Dom describes as the ’puppy pandemic.’
‘Now many are returning to work after furlough, so we are expecting to see a lot of dogs with separation anxiety issues because puppies have spent the first six months of their lives glued to their owner's side. Separation anxiety can result in destructive behaviour or whining and barking which upsets owners and neighbours and can lead to dogs being given up. Also, the unpredictability of Covid-19 means people's circumstances can change in a heartbeat, and when they are ill, lose jobs or have to move to find work – this all contributes to dogs being given up.
‘My message, in general, is that owning a dog (and exercising and caring for them) doesn't have to be difficult. Dogs have adapted well to life as man's best friend – the pet dog is a man-made creation. All dogs want is routine, structure and a loving environment that gives them enough of an outlet to do “doggy” activities, like running, playing, digging, chewing and sniffing. Anyone can provide that in two 20 minute trips to the park. It's when we don't give the dog what they need that problems start. If you can't give your dog 40 minutes exercise and attention every day then, unless you are prepared to invest in outside help (like a dog walker), you probably shouldn't get one – for Christmas, or any other time of the year.’
Rescue Dog Rehoming Remedies is Volume One and Dom is already putting together Volumes Two and Three as we approach Christmas. He’s also working on a dog training book for the next in his Street Smart Dog Training series, as well as a pet business book.