Over the years our 'pack' has changed dramatically. When Sam and I first started living together, our pack of 6 were entirely Bull-breeds; Bull Terriers (std & mini), a Frenchie, and an AmBull cross. As the years have passed, so have members of the team and our pack has slowly evolved (predominantly as Sam got more into Gundog training and Working West competitions) so although at time of writing - 2023 - we still have our original Frenchie and 2 Bull Terriers, we also have 4 working Labradors and our most recent addition - a working Cocker Spaniel - who was born at Arundawn Dog Rescue and is our 7-year-old daughters' first dog to train and work in the field.
Alfie (27.03.14 - 24.10.16)
Alfie, or 'Alfie-doo' as we affectionately called him, was the first of our pack to leave us. He was our little white deaf Bull Terrier. Alfie was brought to the UK from Spain in early 2014, but because of his medical and behavioural issues, his 'rescuer' could not handle him, and he was handed over to Arundawn Dog Rescue. He came to Sam and I as a short-term foster dog 'for 2 weeks' on 27th March 2014, so that we could assess him and make a start on working with his issues, ready for him to be rehomed. It quickly became apparent that he was very dog aggressive in public due to anxiety from his lack of senses (although friendly after slow and careful introduction). Because of this, along with his poor sight from severe dry-eye, skin issues & grain intolerance requiring a specific diet, and deficient immune system, he was deemed 'unrehomable' and was adopted into our pack - bringing our total at the time to 7, in a 1-bed flat! At that point we said 7 was our absolute limit and under no circumstances could we take on any more dogs! Alfie's dog reactiveness improved exponentially over the time we had him, and though we always had to be cautious out on walks, we trusted him 100% with any dog we brought into our home, where he felt safe and secure. He was always a very happy, loving and affectionate dog, and got the nickname 'our little tap-dancer' or 'tappy tappy' because of the way he moved his feet and 'danced' when he got excited. He was very gentle around our baby daughter and respectful of her personal space. Although completely deaf, he was probably our most vocal Bull Terrier and made the cutest noises when being given a cuddle or a vigorous stroke. He died unexpectedly from an unknown cause during the night, in the early hours of 24th October, 2016. We don't know his age, but estimate he was around just 7-8 years old. Our only regret is he didn't stay with us longer, he's very much missed by us all.
Oliver (28.04.13 - 27.11.16)
Oliver, AKA 'Mr Boo-Boo' came to live with us on Sunday 28th April 2013 as a foster dog from Absolute Bull Terrier Rescue, for me to work on his behavioural issues; as a severely abused dog (as you can see from his right eye) Oliver had fear aggression toward any strangers who tried to approach him. The first time I met Oliver, around October 2012 while he was staying with ABT's coordintator Karen, I managed to build an instant rapport and bond with him which no one else had been able to achieve. It was then that Karen decided she wanted me to take him on and work with him, though I wasn't in a position to do so for some months, until the following April when I moved in with Sam. Not long after Oliver came to us he started collapsing during walks and in June 2013 was diagnosed with severe DCM (dilated cardio-myopathy), a degenerative heart condition. Being given a life expectancy of 12-18 months at his initial diagnosis, and with a retail cost of nearly £200 a month for his 6 different medications, it would have been unfair on Oliver to even attempt to rehome him, so it was agreed he would live out his days with us - however long that might be. To that extent Oliver was technically the first addition to our 'original pack', officially bringing our total at the time to 6. We didn't want to decrease Oliver's quality of life, so he continued to walk with us off-lead as usual, though taking him out with our slower dogs so he wasn't so tempted to over-do it. Although his condition continued to deteriorate slowly, he still enjoyed life right to his last days, especially gentle walks in the Sussex countryside (although getting fewer and farther between in his latter days). His anxiety issues completely disappeared back in 2014, Oliver loved everybody and was a real 'cuddle-monster', wanting fuss and attention from everyone he met! He was loving and gentle towards our baby daughter. Oliver outlived his 'best case' life expectancy by just shy of 2 years and passed away in our arms at home on Sunday 27th November 2016, when we knew it was his time. He was around 10 years old. His ashes sit next to Alfie's in our kitchen. I miss them both terribly and still well up thinking about them.
Lily (April 2004 - December 2019)
Lily was a 'true' Miniature Bull Terrier, weighing just 11kg. Sam bought Lily as a puppy, long before we met, and is her first ever dog, making her the 'original original' from Sam's side. She made it to just 4 months away from her 16th birthday, despite having every single tooth removed after going rotten when she was about 12. After this she earned the nickname 'granny sloth' (from the animated film 'Ice Age') as this is who she reminds me of with her gummy jaw! She also had surgery to remove a few lumps and bumps from her skin in early 2015. Lily had 1 litter of pups when she was 3 years old, one of which - Noah - was kept, and lived with Sam's parents until he passed away following complications after abdominal surgery aged just 7 1/2, on 25th October 2014. As a 'golden oldie', Lily's favourite passtime was (perhaps unsurprisingly) sleeping - in fact most of the time, you wouldn't even know she was there! Though she alwys enjoyed a slow amble out, stopping at every bush we passed to have a sniff. But, when the wind got up her tail, she still gave the young 'uns a run for their money!
Cassie (July 2007 - March 2022)
My first Bull Terrier! Cassie came into Arundawn Dog Rescue in March 2009 when she was 20 months old. She suffered with severe demodex mange and malnutrition, after 'owners' decided to lock her away in a metal tool shed fearing her parasitic infestation was contagious, rather than getting her treated! When she arrived I gave her attention and affection, exercise and training, so she decided she was going to keep me, not the other way round! I had lost my last dog - a 67kg GSD x Anatolian Shepherd called Maverick - 5 months previously, and was now ready to love another. It was a long road to full recovery, and her permanently deformed feet needed frequent nail trimming. There were 'teething' issues in the beginning, including protective guarding aggression and prey drive, so it was a very steep learning curve for me, but Cassie was my first real introduction to correcting behavioural issues in Bull Terriers. She had a very calm and relaxed, submissive temperament, and helped me to assess, train and rehabilitate countless dogs. When I met Sam I only had Cassie, making her my first 'contribution' to our pack, while Sam already had Lily, Dave, Rocket and Bacchus, taking our total to 5 - though this was short lived with the official adoption of Oliver only a couple of months later.
In her later life, Cassie has spondylosis of the spine, chronic arthritis in a rear leg and mild kidney disease. She was fully retired from helping to assess dogs at around 12 years old and for the last year of her life lead a quieter life at Arundawn dog rescue living with my mother and her 'golden oldies, while I rope our younger dogs into doing the hard graft!
Dave ( 2009 - August 2021)
Dave, or 'Davy-Newson' as Sam calls him, was usually mistaken for a Boxer cross. He was in fact an American Bulldog x Boston Terrier...and the Boston was the mother, unbelievably! We often refer to Dave as 'the saddest dog in the world' as his facial expression was always so woeful, but in reality he is quite the opposite and has one of the waggiest tails we know. The harder you smacked his bum, the faster he wagged his tail! He could also be very vocal when he gets excited. Sam bought Dave as a pup in 2009, and as such is one of our original 5. Even in his later years, he acted like a much younger dog and was always full of energy. He was very athletic considering his parentage, and as a younger dog probably too fast for his own good - we were always telling him to slow down! Dave was often roped into helping me to assess the social skills of client's dogs and rescues, right to the end.
Dave sadly succumbed very suddenly to a ruptured tumour on his spleen at the beginning of August, 2021.
Rocket (2011 - November 2022)
Our other miniature Bull Terrier, though somewhat larger than Lily. Sam bought rocket as a puppy in 2011, making her another one of 'the originals'. In her younger years she really lived up to her name, we could take her on a nice long off-lead walk, and when we got home she was still bouncing off all the walls! When she turned 5 in early 2016 it was almost like a switch flicked over night (which isn't an uncommon occurrence in the breed), and she is now a much calmer and more relaxed dog, like one day she woke up and decided it was time she 'grew up'...until, that is, she goes to the beach - and the puppy in her returns! Rocket has a lovely temperament and craves attention and fuss, her only vice being her tendancy to lose her head and get over excited at times.
Rocket developed a bone tumour in her nose, which grew from the size of a small pea when first noticed, to a golf ball over a year later. The tumour eventually started affecting her quality of life, at which time we had to say goodbye to her.
Our French Bulldog. Sam bought Bacchus as a puppy just 6 months after getting Rocket - obviously a glutton for punishment! He is the youngest of our original 5. You could say Bacchus can sometimes be 'overly friendly', as he will run to people at full speed from 50+ yards to say hello - which some find a little intimidating with the accompanied 'snorting' noises he makes. As is common with Frenchies, Bacchus doesn't cope well with hot weather, and is more or less retired during the summer months, save the odd stroll on cooler days. He may require surgery to enlarge his nasal passage enlarged, though this can be a risky procedure so any decision will not be taken lightly. Out of all our dogs, although he is our smallest save for Lily, Bacchus is probably the most 'fiesty' and likely to tell another dog off for upsetting him.
Rem is (our best guess) a Labrador x working Cocker Spaniel, and as such it's fair to say as a young dog was absolutely nuts, with boundless energy and enthusiasm. I frequently say ''I'll never own another Spaniel!'' though we are fond of him really, and have ended up with a full working cocker for our daughter. Rem came to us with his sister from Arundawn Dog Rescue as a foster dog in January 2015. We estimate they were just 8-10 weeks old and had been dumped at a pet store, which we later discovered was most likely because they both had congenital cataracts which would require specialist and expensive surgery. I wanted a dog to train as a gundog, so forgetting our 'no more dogs' agreement after taking on Alfie we decided to keep him, bringing our total pack at the time to 8 dogs.
Unfortunately it turned out Rem didn't care much for the sound of gunshot, and it took us over a year to counter-condition him.
In order to raise funds for his cataract surgery, Sam abseiled the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth on 6th April 2015, while she was 2 months pregnant with our daughter! Rem often joined me to help working with other dogs. If anything, my only bugbear was that he was too dog friendly, and sometimes struggled to contain his excitement!
Sadly in 2020 Rem's eye sight had deteriorated to the point he was walking into things and was unable to continue his role as a working gundog. with increasing anxieties from his poor vision in a busy household with young children and lots going on, Rem went to live with Nobby's previous owners, who are now good friends of ours. He developed glaucoma and had to have both eyes removed, however he enjoys a spoiled existance next to the beach, and nice open walks with few obstacles to bump into! He does extremely well as a blind dog, and still comes to stay occasionally.
Nobby (June 2012 - 20/04/2021)
Nobby was a long-term client of ours, but for reasons too long-winded to explain, we had long before agreed that when we were in a position to do so we would one day take him on as one of our own, as we were always very fond of him and whenever he stayed - which was regularly - he settled straight in as though he was already one of the pack anyway. Although earlier that expected, and not under ideal circumstances, Nobby came to join our family permanently on 30th August 2016, taking our pack to it's highest number - 9 dogs. Although owning and caring for 9 dogs is hard work and stressful at times, it was all too short lived with the sad passing of Alfie just shy of 2 months later and then Oliver just 5 weeks after Alfie. Nobby was our biggest dog, and a real chunk of a Bull Terrier weighing 34kg of muscle, not fat! He goes by various names; nobs, nobby-doo-doo, nob-a-dob, to name but a few. Nobby had a stubborn streak like all bull terriers, and sometimes needs a bit of assertive handling to remind him of the rules and boundaries, but he's a gentle lad really with quite an anxious disposition in a lot of ways, though he gains confidence from being around the rest of his pack.
Nobby took the mantle on from Cassie when she was retired from 'active service', and he performed his duties in helping other dogs admirably.
He was fantastic and very gentle around both of our children, like the rest of the pack, sensing their vulnerability - even when our 2 year old son was clambering all over him.
Nobby was diagnosed with the heart condition DCM (same as Oliver) in early 2021. Oliver managed well on the medications and went on for 3 years. The medication did not have the same positive results for Nobby, and he sadly succumbed to the illness just a few months after diagnosis. He was 2 months shy of his 9th birthday, so not old by any means and was still my go-to 'right-hand-dog' up until just a month before his departure.
We brought Olive into our home aged 4 1/2 months on the 27th December 2016...all the way from Wales!
Olive was Sam's first real venture into the world of working Gundogs and following over a year of initial training started to compete with Olive in Retriever Working Tests, where Olive did well and very much enjoys her work. Now at nearly 7 years old (2023) Olive is retired from competitions but still works out in the field.
Gundog training differs greatly from your average obedience training session for pet dogs, which of course has the added bonus that Sam is continually improving her own knowledge and picking up new techniques to use herself.
If you own a working-type dog, Gundog training sessions, even if just for fun, are a great way to exercise and stimulate your dog, and to also build a higher level of obedience and compliance than you're likely to get from generic obedience training. Retriever training is essentially a very elaborate, structured and disciplined game of fetch.
Sam's second Gundog, who joined us as a puppy in between Christmas 2019 and New Year 2020. Tizzy was bred by a trainer Sam used to train with. Where Olive was slower and more dependable, easier to handle but not as confident, working Tizzy is like trying to drive a Ferrari in the wet with the traction control turned off!
Sam currently uses Tizzy in competitions where she has won in 'unofficial' competitive training days, and been placed in competitions but so far hasn't quite had the luck on her side to bring back a trophy - but we're hoping 2023 could be her season!
Steve is Olive's pup, born end of August 2021. I kept him on to train as my first competition Gundog.
He has many of his mother's attributes, making him far easier to handle. However he has his father's (a Field Trial Champion called Troy) drive and more confidence than his mother.
He will be competing in his first competition in June 2023, when he'll be approaching 2 years old.
Steve also helps me to do socialisation and assessments with clients' dogs.