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We all need a little TLC

Barbara Sykes & dogsYou may have seen Thinking Like Canines (TLC) seminars advertised in the E-vents section of Agilitynet and wondered just what it's all about. Just who is Barbara Sykes and why you should attend one of her seminars. Diana Lowe attended one of Barbara's packed seminars last year and says that Barbara's enthusiastic and positive comments helped sort out her difficult dog Storm.

Thinking Like Canines is a unique method to provide firm foundations for the successful training for agility, obedience, working trials, sheepdog trials or to be a happy, well behaved dog in a companion home. Whatever your end goal, a firm bond with your dog is essential and TLC teaches how to achieve that very special relationship highlighted by Steve Croxford in his article  'Simply the Best – What Makes a Good Handler Great? 

Barbara Sykes is a sheep farmer and the international trialist who also runs the Mainline Border Collie Centre in Yorkshire. This is not a breeding nor a rescue centre, although there was a litter of puppies last summer – she breeds only for a replacement in her pack – and there are long term rescues amongst the 21 collies and one beardie currently in residence.

Some of the pack live in the kennels, but others live in the house and her lovely Hope sleeps on her bed, so forget the hard hearted farmer myth. Author of a number of  books including Understanding Border Collies and Understanding Your Dog, Barbara and her dog team run corporate training days, the sheepdog experience, assertion and confidence building courses (excellent with children who have been bullied) and individual consultations for owners of problem dogs – all breeds, not just collies. Her magazine, Freedom of Spirit, is a must read for all dog lovers.

No stranger to success in competition. 
She is one of the few lady handlers to reach the top in the very male dominated sheepdog trialling world, having qualified and competed in seven English national trials and been a member of the winning English team at one of the Internationals. Her time is increasingly taken up with one to one behavioural consultations and travelling the UK, accompanied by some of her canine team, to fulfil the demand for her TLC seminars. The team is also a key part of her Corporate Collies programme – team building for businesses working with her dogs and sheep – all about correct body language, communication, confidence and working together.

All this work is built around her unique Thinking Like Canines technique and it is this that she works with during the seminars, assisted by three members of her dog team, usually Skye, Mossie and Rob. TLC teaches us to get into a dog’s mind and understand what they really think rather than our human perception of how we think they think. Basic good manners are an integral part of TLC and all TLC dogs are taught to walk behind their owners when told, and to have instant recall, a stop and a wait.  This goes back to the wild  where it is essential that pack members obey the pack leader and must work together for the survival of the pack.

  • Craig
    Diet and day to day living are all addressed as part of the technique and its success can be borne out by the number of aggression cases she has treated successfully, including Craig, featured in ‘Understanding and Handling Dog Aggression’ who came to her with a strong desire to kill anything and anybody. He is now a permanent resident at Mainline and is a happy and contented dog.  TLC does not go against, nor replace, any other training methods, but provides the building blocks to allow you and your dog to just enjoy living together or train for agility, obedience, flyball, working trials or sheep work.

  • Sam
    Sam (a rescue) and his owners came along to her recent seminar organized by Haslemere DTC having had a consultation some years ago. Sam’s mum and dad were delighted to stand up and endorse the TLC technique – ‘100% recall, eager and happy, seemingly focused with every fibre of his being. We love him so much that it makes our hearts want to burst and all this from a death row dog. Thank you so much’

  • Lily
    And another – ‘Lily and I want to thank you for one of the best weekends we have had for ages. An emotionally tough time in the last few years made Lily a rock for me to cling to and combined with an incorrect diet and handling, it is really amazing that Lily has been able to function at all. I have learned so much about the companion I thought I knew so well and to see why she was having trouble doing what I asked of her. I didn’t realise that my insecurities were affecting her confidence in me and I sincerely believe that the confidence I have gained in just a couple of days has made a huge difference to us both in the way we work together’.

Herbie the BeardieSo, is it just about Border Collies then? 
No -  TLC works for all breeds. Look out for the next series of BBC’s Natural World screening late autumn 2006 to early 2007 and meet Herbie the Beardie. Herbie ended up in rescue due to his uncontrollable behaviour. Bad mannered, hyperactive, far too free with the use of his teeth, and totally disobedient, an early attempt to harness his natural abilities by putting him to sheep was disastrous – for the sheep. Herbie just saw them as a nice fresh meal, went in and bit hard.  

He was heading for an ASBO -of the permanent kind, but got lucky as the programme’s producer likes Beardies and wanted to use one for the programme which follows Herbie’s progress with Barbara – the most important part being the learning of good manners and then to achieve the programme’s goal – to take a dog and train it to do the job it had originally been bred to do. In Herbie’s case to work sheep.

The programme has already been screened in the US to rave reviews and emails to Barbara seeking her help with other problem dogs.  This ‘make over’ programme has a very happy ending. Herbie not only has a permanent home with Barbara but he is a key member of her Corporate Collies team. It is essential that her dogs not only work sheep in a calm, controlled manner but that they are completely reliable with her clients, many of whom are not dog people and are very apprehensive of being taken out of their comfort zone. Herbie could not have joined the team unless she was 100% sure that his behaviour was now totally acceptable. He’s still a clown though – but a nice one!

Natural communication, canine psychology, nutrition, nervous and dominant aggression, hyperactivity, the reasons for pulling on the lead, poor recalls and waits, are just some of the issues addressed at the seminars. There are opportunities for discussion, debate, questions and hands on experience during a relaxed, fun, but also serious day (or two).

A lot of her seminars are on the events section of Agilitynet but a full list can be found her on her website – www.bordercollies.co.uk – along with information about all her activities, lists of her books and some interesting articles. These seminars benefit handlers and trainers. They are fun – this lady loves to laugh but, at the same time, is sensitive both to people and to their dogs.  They are interactive – she welcomes questions and comments as she goes along – you will not be preached at.  All she asks is that you come with an open mind and total honesty. If you book in to work your dog with her, then she needs to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Freedom of Spirit

Barbara Sykes' books are available from Agility Warehouse

About the author
Diana Lowe trains at Pachesham DTC with her now, not so difficult border collie, Storm, competing in novice/intermediate. She owns two other BCs. Willow, now eleven, was retired from agility aged two with severe hip displasia. Two hip replacements later she was as good as new but could never go back to agility. Mainline Hope is a Barbara Sykes puppy - named after grandpa Hope mentioned in the article - and starts his agility training in October.

Diana works as an event manager for WWF UK'