TEN years ago Janet Garrett gave up a high-flying career so that she could start running dog training classes in Swindon. Sue Bradley discovers if she made the right decision.




MANY consider jacking in the daily grind of the nine to five and setting up their dream business, but thinking about it and actually giving up the security of a regular salary and all the other perks of regular employment are two different things.


Just over a decade ago Janet Garrett was facing this very dilemma: at the age of 51 she had been at the top of her profession for several years and was working as an executive bilingual PA to the chief executive of a large multinational company based in Paris; yet in her heart she longed to make more of her passion for training dogs and to help others develop fulfilling relationships with their animals.


In the end she took the plunge, giving in her notice at the beginning of a recession and setting up Janet’s Puppy Skool from her home in Haydon Wick.


It was a bold decision, and to begin with the mother of two wasn’t absolutely sure it would work.


“I think it took me seven years to give my business suits to charity,” she admits. “In the beginning I knew I still had my old suits and could go back, but after seven years I finally thought ‘I’m not going back’.”


London-born Janet’s love of dogs stretches back to her childhood and her grandfather’s border collie, who was trained to bring slippers or find keys when required.


By the age of nine she had her own pet, a rough collie called Shane, and taught him to carry out tasks and tricks, and as time went by took up dog training as a hobby, moving on to great danes and shih tzus, many of which were rescues, before getting her first bouvier des flandres dog, Blue.


“He hadn’t had any training but was naturally lovely and I decided that if I was any good I would be able to do something with this boy,” says Janet.


In time the pair went on to attract widespread attention at events such as Crufts and Discover Dogs at Earls Court, as part of the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Gold Level demonstration team, and they appeared in newspapers and on the television several times.


“The Good Citizen Awards were introduced to counter anti dog negativity that existed at that time,” Janet explains.


“They used to accompany our appearances with music to make it fun for people to watch, but there was always a serious message.”


Janet rescued other bouviers over the years and this gave her an unquenchable thirst to learn more about dog behaviour and psychology. She went on to amass an impressive set of qualifications and steadily gathered the courage to set up her own dog training school.


Yet making the final leap was still tough as Janet had always enjoyed her working life.


“I discovered French after I left Lainesmead School and went to Walcot Comprehensive and it was the love of my life in terms of academic subjects,” explains Janet, who moved to Swindon at the age of seven after her dad, a London firefighter, was transferred to the town.


“I went on to develop my language skills and did all sorts of things with it. All my jobs were in sales and marketing, some working for French companies such as Courtaulds.


“For a time I decided to have a change and got a job with Swindon Town Football Club as the commercial manager, during the Glenn Hoddle period.


“Later on I became a chief executive’s PA at a company called Arval, which is owned by BNP Paribas.


“My boss was French and I loved working for him. I had been there for five years when his stretch finished and a new man came in.


“It was around this time that I got a bouvier puppy, Gus, and wanted to take him to training classes, but quickly realised that the classes we were attending weren’t the kind I wanted to go to with him.


“Meanwhile people were starting to comment on the number of dog-related qualifications I had and asked me why I didn’t start my own business.


“When John started to say the same thing I decided I would do it. It took about five months to get everything organised.”


Janet’s Puppy Skool has now been up and running within three outdoor areas at the Garretts’ home for 10 years, during which time she’s met hundreds of dogs and their owners, many of whom have gone on to become friends.


Her classes revolve around teaching pets good manners and behaviour while having fun and cover everything from puppies to seniors. She also provides agility workshops and courses and one-to-one advice and training.


Dog training has seen many changes over the years and the techniques used today are very unlike those championed by people like Barbara Woodhouse in the 1980s.


“These days training is all about emotions,” explains Janet, who now has three dogs, Gus, Mack and Riff. “It’s about how dogs think and feel and it has to be effective and consistent. It’s not just about getting them to sit.


“I describe the classes I offer as ‘fun and friendly’ because I’ve always wanted people to be able to ask me about things that aren’t normally covered in training sessions, such as biting and mouthing.


“I wanted to run a place where puppies would come flying in and love what they’re doing, and where people could make friends with other owners and pass on funny stories.


“We always stop for a tea break – we call it our ‘pub garden practice’.


“Our oldest dog is 11 ½ and she’s been coming since she was six months. The reason why she continues to come is because we keep doing new things.”


Along with the classes, Janet’s Puppy Skool holds various social events to raise money for charities such as Guide Dogs for the Blind and Children in Need. She also offers sessions teaching ‘tricks’, with both Janet and the dogs’ owners putting 10p into a box to support Dog AID (Dog Assistance in Disability), every time a new skill is mastered.


Despite the long row of letters after her name, including the DipCAPBT that signifies she has a COAPE diploma, Janet says she never stops learning about dogs and has recently qualified as a canine nutritionist.


Her advice to others weighing up the pros and cons of giving up their jobs to start their own businesses is to “have a go”.


“I think you’ll always regret it if you don’t give it a try,” she says. “For me the time was right: my qualifications fitted perfectly with my years of experience, and I think I was incredibly lucky that my husband, friends and family were behind me all the way.


“If they hadn’t pushed me I would never have done it and I’m incredibly grateful that they did.


“The fact that we were going into a recession didn’t stop me. I reckoned that people will always have dogs, whether there’s a recession or not.


“Ten years on and we’re busier than ever, with people coming back with their second, third or even fourth dogs, which makes me feel a bit like a primary school teacher seeing a succession of children from a family.


“And if I had a pound for the number of times I’ve been asked if I train husbands, I’d be a millionaire!”


• www.janetspuppyskool.co.uk