Mutts Manners

Fern's story

Fern was such a special and unique case I wanted her story told in full, in the words of her owner.

I hope you enjoy reading about Fern's journey to balance.

"Joe's way". It's the best way and it works.

Mairi from Balerno, Edinburgh - August 2016

Fern is a Canaan Dog who was rescued off the streets of Jordan, in the middle east, as an 8m/o feral dog in Aug 2013. At that time it was reported that she had been hit by a car and she was showing the final stages of the Distemper Virus. Distemper is endemic in Jordan and dogs’ there have a higher tolerance than dogs in the UK and some do in fact recover on their own. She had massive warts all over the inside of her mouth and had the classic constant twitching that distemper dogs’ show. She was extremely malnourished and painfully emaciated. Skin was covering a skeleton with no muscle and she was barely able to hold her head up or stand. She was taken to the vet the following day but the vets in Jordan do not have modern equipment like x-ray machines and also do not have the training or understanding of conditions like our vets do and they touched her leg and said it was not broken and recommended putting her down as she had distemper and was infectious to other dogs.

The woman who rescued her did not get her put down and took her back home to care for her herself along with the other dogs/cats/kittens she was caring for at that time. Slowly Fern gained weight and soon was well enough to be shipped to the USA, to a family who adopted her. Over the next couple of years she was shunted from home to home crossing many state lines as she had behavioural issues that they were not prepared to deal with. She was extremely aggressive to strange dogs outside though she had lived with dogs and cats in Jordan and in her first home in America. She had also redirected her aggression to that owner when passing strange dogs out on a walk and had then been re-homed for this reason.

A few homes later and she had lived with a family for some time but they had a baby who was now a toddler and said that Fern was not adjusting to the toddler now he was walking. For however long they had her they only ever had her in the house and let her out to the garden for extended periods of time but didn’t ever walk her on a leash because of aggression and redirected biting. They also did not feed her properly nor did they take her to vets for checkups/vaccines or ever groom or bath her. Now they wanted rid of her and were going to take her to a kill shelter where she would never leave and be more aggressive and definitely have been PTS.

I found a foster for the 28 days that it takes to do blood work and paperwork and then I shipped her all the way to Scotland from San Francisco. Only on her arrival did the full extent of her behavioural issues become apparent. She was the most aggressive dog I have ever seen. And she had many other behavioural issues way beyond just aggression. I needed professional help. And fast. Taking her out was a horrendous ordeal. She was on constant high alert mode scanning for any dogs and anything that moved outside. When she seen or even smelt a dog she totally lost it. Complete meltdown. There was nothing that anyone could do to prevent it or stop it. It was awful.

I looked at dozens of dog trainer's websites and contacted every one of them to get help for Fern. I didn’t want just anyone. I wanted someone that would actually help her. Finally I found Joe’s website at Mutts Manners and I told him her story and he came out to do an assessment. He ticked all the boxes and I knew he was the person that was going to help Fern and change her life - give her a life back and make her be able to move on and leave all this behind her. Fern gravitated towards Joe when he was here for the assessment and obviously wanted to be with him and felt safe around him. I’d never seen her react this way with anyone before. He arranged to come back a few weeks later and collect her for a residential rehab with him.

When he collected her she was bouncing and so happy that he came back. She couldn't wait to go with him and she went off with him without a second glance back to me. Because Fern is a feral dog and has neurological issues resulting from having had distemper her rehab with Joe was unlike any other rehab he had previously done. She had to stay for 5 weeks and it was a very intensive rehab she got. But he dealt with the whole dog. She had some digestive issues from carrying so much stress for so long and he helped with this too. He gave her daily massages every day for 5 weeks. She had structured walks as well as fun off leash time with his pack once her rehab was at that stage. Joe had to think outside the box with Fern as she had issues not commonly seen in other dogs. But he always found strategies that work with her and she went on from strength to strength.

Fern having some off-leash fun with the Mutts Manners pack!


All the daily exercise built up her muscle and body strength too. She finally got to come home and when she did she was a completely different dog. She was calm and relaxed and she had never been like this before, in her life. Joe then had to teach me to be calm and relaxed and in control and I learned leadership skills and how to handle Fern on walks'. I will continue to work with Joe and do regular sessions together. I am still learning and I have lots more to learn. But I’m loving it and it's great to see Fern progressing a more each day. I cannot say enough good things about Joe. If you have any issues with your dog no matter if the issue is big or small, contact Joe and he will help you.


Fern going for a walk in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow


Now to balance the pack!

I also have 2 Border Collies. Bracks is 8.5y/o and Mirk is 7y/o. They don’t have any major behavioural issues. Just some minor normal stuff but Joe is here to help the whole pack. Not just Fern. He is helping me to get the boys balanced and to balance them and Fern together and have me as the human leader of the pack. Before Joe came there was no human leadership in my pack. Now there is.

Whilst Fern was still at Joe's he came out here and spent a day helping me to get the boys in balance following my newly taught leadership in preparation for Fern's return, as this is crucial to keeping Fern balanced. He showed me how to walk them properly on a leash. It's so simple and easy now that I've been shown and I can’t believe I put up with all the pulling and nonsense for all these years when the solution was so simple.

I had 2 weeks to practice this before it was time for Fern to return. He also showed me how to properly present their dinner at feeding times. How and more importantly why to have them sit and wait whilst I put the bowls down then wait for my release word before they are allowed to eat. How to then supervise the 3 of them eating to make sure no one tries to steal anyone else's dinner once they had finished their own. How to block this behaviour and prevent it from happening and why this is important as a psychological message to them that I am the pack leader and they follow that leadership. The pack leader does not allow stealing of other's dinner! He taught me that the pack leaders role is to eliminate the need for your dogs to compete for anything. By doing this you create a peaceful and harmonious pack. This is the true role of the pack leader. The pack leader is there to prevent friction and conflict. Not to be over-bearing and oppressive, but create harmony. This I now understand!

He showed me how to have much better off leash control with them as well. How to first have them calm before leads come off and then to still wait for a release command before they run off. Not to just run off simply because I have taken leads off. Once they are released they can go play and sniff and roll and do all the fun stuff dogs love to do. When I call them, just call once, and how to block ignoring behaviour so that I have control even off leash. I still have work to do to get everyone balanced together and work on my own leadership skills. But I have on-going follow up sessions with Joe to work on all of this and have his lifetime support which is invaluable. My situation is unique in that Fern is essentially a feral dog and strategies that may work with normal dogs just did not work with her. And also that I already have 2 dogs.

This was a massive undertaking on Joe's part and gave him many challenges he had never encountered before. But Joe is 100% committed and dedicated to Fern and he had to come up with new things he hadn’t done previously in order to help her and get her to a stage where I was able to handle her and walk her and strategies that worked in real life situations. And part of that is that the boys must be seen to respect my leadership. I will continue to have regular sessions with Joe as I get so much out of them and there are always new things to learn. I love learning "Joe's way". It’s the best way and it works.

Fern back home