friendly Fern helps save lives

FERN the four year old female German Shepard/Retriever is helping Limerick Suicide Watch (LSW) save lives.

Owner Mike O’Mara said his four legged friend has proven a valuable asset to LSW and has been involved in numerous interventions and has helped many people in distress.

Mike who has been a trainer for the Irish Guide dogs for the Blind for many years often thought while patrolling the Shannon over the last five years, how he would like to introduce a dog to see if it would help people in distress to interact with the patrol more quickly through the dog.

“I did a lot of research through other Therapy dog groups and got a lot of expert advice from people working within the mental health area. The response I got was incredible and so Fern was introduced to patrols on a trial basis, and two years down the road she has proven a valuable asset to LSW after being involved in numerous interventions helping people in distress.

“She is very calming when she interacts with people and has a natural ability to pick up on a person when they are low, and just approaches them and looks for a hug, and snuggles in to them. The response from these people is amazing to see and they usually open up to us much quicker while hugging or rubbing Fern.

“We believe she is the first dog to do this kind of work and we are all very proud of her. As you can imagine she is very popular with all our volunteers and gets spoilt by everyone,” said Mike.

Mike O’Mara and Fern

Fern was a pup that Mike was training for the Irish Guide dogs for the Blind but was withdrawn from advanced training as an Autism assistance dog two years ago because she was too friendly, she wanted to greet every person or dog she met while out training.

Mike has trained pups for the Irish Guide dogs for about 9 years and has a number of dogs now working in full time roles with both visually impaired and Autistic clients around the country.

The process in becoming a puppy trainer involves an Irish guide dogs supervisor coming to your home to access your suitability to take on the role. Then training is done on an ongoing basis through classes with other puppy trainers in group and individual situations.

“A pup will remain with me from eight weeks for about 14 months before returning to Cork to be accessed for suitability for either Guide Dog or Assistance Dog and then continue on to advanced training in the center.

“As you can imagine letting the pups go after such a long time training them is extremely difficult and is the part of the experience I dreaded every time it came around. They became a part of the family very quickly even if you tried not to get too attached,” added Mike.

Since early 2017 Fern has also become a Therapy dog with Brothers of Charity where she calls to their center in Bawnmore and visits a number of clients who are intellectually challenged.

“She gets an amazing response from all the clients and staff alike in the center. The staff have told me that it is the highlight of the week when she arrives on site. She also does individual visits to houses in the community,” said Mike.

Fern also remains an Ambassador dog with The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and does many events such as school and business visits and supports many fundraising events around the country.

“She is a very busy lady but loves all the attention and fuss she gets in all the work she does,” added Mike.


Dog Trainer Dave Brunnock


Dave Brunnock with his dog Ally

A recent mishap with my gorgeous but stubbornly independent five year old West Highland Terrier, when she escaped through an open gate, barely avoided getting knocked down and had to be chased before eventually getting caught, reminded me that I had lapsed with the dog training I learned from Dave Brunnock.

I first met Dave when, after two months of trying to explain to my gorgeous new pup the meaning of the word ‘No’, failing and being surrounded by chewed shoes, computer cables and furniture, I enrolled us for puppy training class.

A certified dog trainer and behaviour practitioner, Dave believes most bad dog behaviours can be fixed no matter what age the dog is. However if you take your puppy to training classes where they and the family will develop skills to communicate with the dog and socialise the pet, it may prevent people from giving up, and giving their puppies or dogs away.

“I think people take on too much. There’s no need to give your dog to a rescue centre or the pound, you can fix 99 per cent of the problems. People don’t put enough thought in before they get the dog. They don’t pick the right dog for their lifestyle. If you are very active get an active dog but if you are not, don’t.

“You need to think long and hard about what would suit you best for the next ten or twenty years. Get a dog or pup to suit your lifestyle. If you are a placid person don’t get a hyper dog. If you are into jogging get a high energy dog.

“You could pick up a good dog from a rescue centre or the pound. Ireland is over flowing with dogs, there’s thousands of dogs out there that nobody wants,” said Dave.

Dave trains all breeds of dogs from Jack Russells to Great Dane’s, but he says, people don’t need to have pure bred dogs in order to train them, he has found that Rescue dogs make excellent family pets and can be easily trained. He uses gentle, but effective methods which have been proven to work internationally with thousands of dogs, and tailors the training to suit each dog and their owner.

According to Dave, much bad behaviour in dogs can be prevented by taking them to puppy training classes, which lays a foundation for future training and also socialises them which is extremely important, as dogs that have not been socialised can be fearful and aggressive.

However Dave says puppy training classes are not just for the pup they are also for the owner, “people want me to fix the dog, but a big part of it is about changing the way they interact with the dog. Often the owner is the hardest part, because the owner doesn’t follow the plan. It can be a bit like going on a diet, you can struggle for the first couple of weeks and then suddenly it gets easy for you.”

For Dave, dog training is about team work, motivation, communication, trust and building a stronger bond between the owner and their dog, and in the classes he gives owners the tools to do this, as he says, dogs are a totally different species and they have to be treated with compassion.

Dave believes that ideally, a dog should be kept in the house as a part of the family, where they learn something everyday, not locked out in the back yard where the isolation can affect their ability to learn. He says having a dog means making a commitment to exercise your dog twice a day, give them mental and physical stimulation and training the dog, which only takes a few minutes a day.

“Sometimes people think their dog is the boldest dog, even the boldest dog can be turned around if you work on it. It’s all about communicating with the dog and getting them to understand what you want.

“They have to learn your language, a certain few words like heel, sit, down, come, go to bed, get off. If you set these boundaries and rules when they are puppies, you won’t have any behaviour problems when they are older.

“Having a dog should be very enjoyable, it shouldn’t be stressful. It should be very relaxing to take you dog for a walk. So what I like to do, is get people on the right track with their dog from the word go, and they have a good life together then, there’s no problems. So when you take your dog somewhere they can be a pleasure instead of being a nuisance.”

A full-time certified dog trainer and behaviour practitioner since 2003, Dave has been training dogs for over 30 years. He trained gun dogs for 20 years, successfully competing in field trial competitions, and has trained dogs for many different purposes, but now mostly works with family dogs, working dogs and puppies.

A professional member of the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals), Dave also holds a certificate in Canine Psychology and has trained a wide variety of dog breeds.

Since 2000, Dave has completed numerous courses on Canine Behaviour and Training, as well as a professional dog trainer’s programme with well known Canadian trainer Ben Kersen and the Wonder dogs in British Columbia, Canada.

In 2006 Dave Completed a course in Dubuque Iowa with renowned American trainer Robin McFarlane, and a course on modern reinforcement training with Mark Fulmar, Sarah Setter Kennels in South Carolina, USA.

In 2011 he graduated from Randy Hare’s Scent Detection Trainer’s Course. Randy is one of America’s top police K9 scent detection trainers. Dave also completed several courses with the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association in the UK, and continuously updates his skills by attending courses and seminars with some of the worlds top professional dog trainers.

So, it’s back to basics for Missy and me, I need to get back on track with her training, so I don’t have a runaway dog again.  As Dave says, dog training needs regular maintenance, the puppy training class is just the first stage of training, there’s a lot more to be learned by dog and owner if you want a well trained dog.      087-7951268