New Beginnings: A lockdown discovery about human and canine communication and emotional wellbeing.

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My name is June Eaglesham and I am the Owner of Wee Molly’s Pals Pet Services, situated in the small village of Winchburgh, just west of Edinburgh. I am a canine coach and trainer, with my main focus being on improving the relationship between dog and handler. I’m also a budding blogger and writer, with a special interest in human and canine communication and emotional wellbeing. Welcome to my first blog!

Wee Molly’s Pals, named after my own best Pal (pictured below) began life in 2016 as a dogwalking, boarding and petsitting business, but it was much more than just those words – it was a feeling, a passion and a way of life. It has taken me until Lockdown 2020 to be able to fully understand and articulate the ethos and vision for my precious little business.

Pet Taxi
Molly the ringbearer

I use the term Lockdown 2020 as though it was some sort of festival but I am certainly not making light of it. It has been a period of fear, pain and uncertainty for so many of us. For me, it has been a period of rediscovery, clarity and SO much more.

Prior to Lockdown, things appeared to be going well for Wee Molly’s Pals. From the outside looking in, that was probably a fair assumption. Even though I ‘never stopped’, I wasn’t getting much in the way of training work and my confidence had taken a battering – procrastination had become a way of life. I had taken on a colleague to help with walks, but I was still running around like a headless chicken with absolutely no focus or route out of the chaos that was going on in my brain. I knew where I eventually wanted to be, but had lost sight of how to get there.

I continually compared myself to other, more established trainers and the imposter syndrome soon became very real. As someone who has battled anxiety and depression for most of my adult life, maybe I should have recognised those negative feelings creeping back in? Truth was, I was already too far down the path to slow down and take stock. I was actually dangerously close to breakdown (a place I certainly never had any intention to return to). I was also radiating that lack of confidence, and that came across in my dealings with clients and posts on social media – of course I wasn’t drawing people in! I felt like a jack of all trades, but a master of none – years of studying, attending courses, webinars, workshops, but I hadn’t found my niche, hadn’t worked out my specialism – what makes me stand out? Why would people choose to be my clients? I didn’t see myself as a ‘regular’ dog trainer, but the traditional route towards becoming a behaviourist wasn’t sitting right with me either. What was I?

As Lockdown was announced, and the reality of the situation kicked in, I knew I had to act. If Wee Molly’s Pals was to survive the economic downturn and continue to grow and improve, then I needed to kick myself into touch. I had to deal with these deeply ingrained fears and negative thought processes and finally put them to bed. I needed to find a positive way through and realised that I had to start with myself.

I decided to unpick myself from the inside out, work out my strengths and weaknesses, my motivators and fears. How could I do that effectively? Write it down. Until I dropped out of school, I had wanted to be a journalist and writing about my experiences has reminded me why – I have always had an innate need to investigate and research a subject until I know it well, and I LOVE to analyse. As an adult, I have always wanted to write about my personal issues to help others – this was ticking so many boxes, that it might finally work and I could be free of the negativity that has held me back!

So, I began writing a book of memoirs, as well as a ‘blog’ on Facebook. The ‘blog’ is an area I use to work on the thoughts that pop up while working through some of my emotional traumas (as well as the politics and injustices of Lockdown 2020) and how I relate them to the ‘here and now’. Here isn’t the place to talk about that – however, if you’d like to follow progress, here’s the link – https://www.facebook.com/thisbeautifulmesscalledlife. I started the project with a sense of urgency and the intention of self-publishing down the line. Now, publishing isn’t my main priority. How I move forward with the business I HAVE, very much IS.

Engaging with my memories has reopened my love of language and words, as well as giving me a better understanding of why I react to things in a certain way, but also where my skills lie. I began to wonder how I could apply these things to my business, but also to the dogs themselves to encapsulate everything that Wee Molly’s Pals stands for.

Before I entered the world of dogs, I worked in the frontline of social housing for over 23 years. Starting in Ayrshire, finishing in Edinburgh, my career spanned many legal and societal changes over that time. I was 16 when I was thrown into the fire as one of the last trainees on the Youth Training Schemes of the early 90s.

This taught me the need to be an excellent communicator at many different levels, from preparing legal cases and the formal language that entails, to dealing with a plethora of varying issues in the housing schemes.

A huge part of my role was conflict management – mainly during neighbour disputes, although I was once awarded a Merit Certificate by Police Scotland for my role in a large-scale anti-social behaviour operation which saw me mediating between the perpetrators and the police themselves. A lot of work on the estates surrounded multi-agency engagement, usually dealing with integration and inclusion. There was a responsibility on me to pitch that appropriately to gain trust in some communities, depending on the issue at hand. I had to be a good negotiator and mediator, but most of all, I had to understand and empathise with each individual and use my observational skills and intuition to get to the heart of a story.

Problem solving skills are essential in that line of work. Snap judgments or the incorrect use of words in a difficult situation could be a potential disaster – so many of my clients lived on a knife-edge. Some as a result of abuse and addiction, some through domestic violence, prison release, war and pretty much any other horror you can think of. Mental ill health is rife in our deprived areas and poverty is only a single factor.

When things went ‘wrong’, it wasn’t unusual to receive death threats, physical assault and verbal abuse – all part of the job when someone sees YOU as ‘The System’ and has an axe to grind (usually with a point – ‘The System’ sucks, but that’s a whole other subject). But even when people were showing me their worst side, I had to see through that to understand where they were coming from. I wanted to empower people, not be their enforcer – the difference between a good housing officer and one that’s part of ‘The System’.

The realisation that I was already using ALL of these vital skills with the dogs that I work with was a bit of a revelation (and also a facepalm moment). I love watching ‘conversations’ between dogs and my passion is teaching that skill to other people, but I have found it quite a challenge to articulate that in an easy-to-follow package. They ‘speak’ to us all the time and 2-way communication is made much easier once we know their little signals (that ‘yawn’ might not mean your dog is tired, just as wagging his tail doesn’t automatically mean he’s happy) and can acknowledge them or keep them safe.

Understanding what canine body language looks like isn’t enough, in my opinion. The emotions that drive the signals also need to be explored, as well as the need to see them as the sentient, decision-making creatures they are. How do we effectively teach this to our clients without feeding into the anthropomorphism (attribution of human characteristics to animals) debate? How do I get that across to clients easily and without stepping over the boundaries of canine science? THAT is my motivator – it always has been, I just hadn’t pinpointed it!

Now I’ve found my motivation, how do I put it into action? Over the past few months, I have been collecting videos of dogs in all types of situations, to use for a workshop which I wanted to call ‘Silent Conversations’. But I still couldn’t quite work out a way of presenting it that was different to any other body language course I had completed, without verging on anthropomorphism.

I do work on the ‘equal’ relationship with clients and purposefully won’t use certain words during training classes as I don’t like the connotations attached to them – ‘command’ is an example. I want to attract the type of client who wants to have a respectful and fun relationship with their dog, while setting appropriate boundaries to keep themselves and others safe. Someone who sees the dog as a sentient individual, with thoughts, emotions and problem solving skills. I don’t teach a ‘heel’ because I personally don’t think it’s vital – teaching ‘loose lead’ is my preference. I teach ‘life skills’, not ‘obedience’, because that’s not the service I offer. I like to work on a lot of calming behaviours in class, because I like to promote the calm in the human/dog relationship – there are many other types of classes available for activity led training, that’s just not where my passion lies.

#bethechange

I’ve started work on a course which I hope will be available on the website soon. It’s a lovely little mindfulness course – the chance to really see your dog on their level. I also have some exciting ideas about how I can bridge that gap to help humans understand their dogs just a bit better.

With my renewed passion for words and language and a good bit of self-understanding, I am now in the process of a makeover in terms of encapsulating all that Wee Molly’s Pals Pet Services is. I want to teach you canine wellness and how to help prevent your dog suffering from mental ill health. I want your dog to be emotionally resilient as well as having life skills in place. THAT is me. THAT is my business.

Thank you for reading! If you have enjoyed this, please do like/comment/share and feel free to give my business page a wee follow on Facebook. You’ll also find below a link to MOOD Scio, a West Lothian based mental health support project, of which I am a proud Board Member. Please feel free to check them out.

https://www.facebook.com/Weemollyspalspetservices

https://www.facebook.com/themoodprojectwestlothian

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading your blog 😊

    1. Thank you Laura!

  2. Congrats on your first blog post. It was very interesting and helpful to see other trainers are facing the same emotional ups and downs . I wish you all the best.

    1. Thank you Holly. Take care!

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