Writing and Reading

Category: Dogs

Who’s the Top Dog?

Please welcome the multi-genre best-selling author Jean Gill. I love Jean’s historical novels, the Troubadours Quartet. But am excited to hear that her wonderful dog story ‘Someone To Look Up To: (a dog’s search for love and understanding)’ is currently the number one best seller in its category on Amazon. I’ve asked Jean to give us an insight into her life in France and how she became a best-seller.
Over to you Jean.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Thank you, Deb! I’m a Welsh writer and photographer now living in the south of France with a big white dog, a scruffy black dog, a Nikon D750 and a man. We escaped the rain in 2003 when my husband retired. I wanted to write full-time after having taught English in Wales for many years. My claim to fame is that I was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Wales. I’m also mother or stepmother to five children so life was very hectic.

Have you always loved dogs?

I joined the P.D.S.A. (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) when I was seven. I knitted blankets for dogs and nagged my parents for one (with no luck, as we moved house and country too often). As an adult, the moment I was in a house with a garden, I adopted a dog advertised in the local paper as ‘deaf Pyrenean puppy needs re-homing’. So I think that’s a ‘yes’. 😊

How did you become a dog trainer?

When we moved to France, I joined French dog forums to meet other fans of the Great Pyrenees breed. We’d been owned by four of them and were discussing whether to start the great adventure once again. Training was often discussed on the forums and somebody recommended Michel Hasbrouck’s bestseller Dressage Tendresse so I read it and it all made sense to me.

Jean with Bétel learning to swim

I contacted Michel to ask whether he knew of a similar book in English for my friends, and he said, ‘Why don’t you translate it for me?’ So I did, and we found a publisher to bring out Gentle Dog Training. Michel and I became friends, and worked together to support dog-owners online, offering them his Dogmaster training.

When we welcomed two Great Pyrenees puppies into the family, I took the first one, Blanche, to Michel in Switzerland, for two days intensive training (of me, not of the dog). We always joked that she’d been to Swiss Finishing School.

A few years later, after we’d worked together online, I went back to train as a dog-trainer and passed the weekend’s challenges – like most experts, Michel is exacting. I wanted to continue but life threw me a curve ball. My husband needed an emergency appendectomy and I faced the fact that, in my fifties, I couldn’t take on all these new careers, or I’d explode.

I trained as a beekeeper instead and I did learn enough from Michel to feel confident in dealing with whatever problems my own dogs present. That has been a life-saver.

Is the book fiction or faction?

Faction. All the stories in the book are true, based on some of the thousands of true stories I came across on forums and in my work with Michel. They did not all happen to the same dog but I shaped them to make an adventure from the dog’s viewpoint, to show both the mistakes we humans make and the love we could find.

And your characters, are they based on real people/dogs?

The character of Sirius owes a lot to my own dog Bételgeuse, who had a sense of justice as big as his heart. His sister Snow is very like my Blanche-Neige, feisty and playful. Some of the anecdotes in the book are from my own life with dogs. Blanche really did steal a whole slab of Beaufort cheese and sat there with her cheeks hamsterful, jaws glued together, until I noticed and rescued her.

Unfortunately, the macho attitude to dog-training is also drawn from life and I well remember one man, a doctor by profession, bragging about how he disciplined his Great Pyrenees.

As for animal shelters: yes, there are indeed some like this, with these types of people working there. We have adopted three dogs from French shelters, since I wrote the book, and life matched fiction far too well.

Any advice for new dog owners? (My husband and I are looking to adopt our first dog from a rescue centre).

The great adventure begins! Advice is not a one-off as the more you learn, the more you’ll understand. Read Someone To Look Up To – of course! I’ve blogged about dog adoption too, with some advice here

And in my book One Sixth of a Gill which is available free to those who sign up for my newsletter.

Top Tips

Choosing – talk to the shelter workers about what sort of life you are offering the dog and listen to their recommendations. Don’t let pity rule you. Don’t choose a dog with health problems. Don’t choose a scared dog. Especially if you are new to dog adoption, you want to lessen your chance of dealing with aggression. Don’t worry if the dog is more interested in rushing along the lane on a test walk than he/she is in you – shelter dogs have to make the most of the tiny amount of time they have outside a cage.


If you can, make the journey from shelter to your home a chance for you to talk to your dog, to stroke him, to give him some dog treats, (if he likes them). Let him have an old cardigan with your smell on it. This is where the relationship begins. You can use a dog crate with the cardigan and some treats in it, especially if travelling alone. Make sure you have a collar with your contact on it, to put on the dog – dogs get lost by escaping at this stage!

Jean’s current dogs – Sherlock and Watson

Jean with Betel


Make time to be with your dog for at least the first 2 days and ban all your friends and neighbours from the house. Your dog has enough to deal with! Establish a routine to make the dog feel secure; a place to sleep, a place for food and routine times for going outside. DON’T let the dog off-lead anywhere that’s not fenced, for at least 2 months and even then, test that the recall can be trusted. If not, DON’T take a risk. It is normal for a dog to try to escape, even to go back to a horrible shelter. Your dog has to learn that this is home.

When your dog is lying peacefully, doing nothing wrong, praise him in a purring voice. Tell him he’s beautiful. Love him with your voice. Ditto when he does something you want to encourage.

NEVER ask your dog to do something unless you can enforce it. You are teaching disobedience and disrespect.


Ask for help if you need it, from a trusted dog trainer who never recommends hitting or shouting.

I could write a book on it! But of course I have. As has Michel.

What other books do you write?

I’ve written nineteen books, including medieval historical fiction (the award-winning Troubadours Quartet), memoir, non-fiction, Young Adult and poetry.

What is your next project?

I don’t know! I have several photography projects, including a shoot in a smithy with a master craftsman who’s going to make me a Damascene steel knife. My bees will wake up in the next couple of months. I am working on Watson’s vélophobie – he goes bonkers when he sees a bicycle. I can only guess at what happened in his life before us – he was dumped twice at the shelter. But I don’t know what I’m going to write next. Input from my readers will influence my choice as I have drawerfuls of ideas and don’t know what to choose. What do you think I should write next?

Thanks for sharing Jean and for your top training tips. I’m popping over to Amazon now to check out your other books.

As for your next writing project. I know your readers would love another historical fiction series or how about some cozy mysteries involving a bee-keeping amateur detective?

Check out the links below if you want to contact Jean Gill or would like to know more about her books.

IPPY Award for Best Author Website



The Troubadours Page

Youtube book trailers


Donut Dreams of Wendies (5)

I thought it was going to be just another ordinary day in our home but there was more activity than normal. Something was going on but I couldn’t quite put my paw on precisely what. I nodded off while waiting for the people parents to come home from work. She took me for a walk and I assumed he was out for a pint and would return later – he’d finished his week of call out duty and was likely to be chilling in a local hostelry. Bedtime came and went and I refused to go up those wooden stairs with the lovely lady of the house, so settled on the sofa.

Donut on setee

She sighed, gave me an affectionate pat, and off she went. Some time later I realised he wasn’t coming home. I walked up those stairs with the weight of the world in my little legs. Where was he and why hadn’t he come home?

It took a while to get off that night and when I did, I dreamt of the Wendies. For those of you who don’t know, Wendies live in the dark recesses of the planet Largo. The indigenous aliens use them to bribe and scare their offspring, much like humans do with their children. Wendies are the equivalent of the bogeyman or maybe Father Christmas (I sometimes get those two mixed up). Suffice to say that it wasn’t a pleasant dream. I’m glad I woke up before the Wendies spirited me away.


I wasn’t the only one who didn’t sleep well and she was a little short with me the following day. I forgave her though; she was obviously missing him too. I wondered when he was coming home?

The days passed slowly and I started to think he might be gone for good. I even went to his favourite place in case he’d been delayed there, but still no sign of him.

Donut on bar

Night times were always worst when I had to resign myself to the fact that another day had passed without him and it was such an effort to walk up those stairs at the end of each day.

I always enjoy my walks but instead of the usual human accompaniment, my surrogate auntie from next door joined me and my lady. I was left to daydream as they chatted about women’s stuff – no, please don’t ask for details! We occasionally met other dogs and their human companions, and I must confess to a hint of jealousy as I watched some four-legged strangers bask in the love of the human couples they were with. These occasions were tinged with sadness and I couldn’t even be bothered to make friends with these dogs, or have a quick sniff of their nether regions.

Then yesterday I sensed a strange atmosphere. She’d been shopping so the cupboards and the fridge were replenished. There was also some recently purchased beer in the house and a new spring to her step; call me Sherlock Holmes if you will but I know she’s not the type of lady who drinks beer.

My hopes were dashed when she went out in the car when it was dark. Another social function perhaps? Could I have misread the signs? I sighed and fell asleep.

Not sure what time it was when I was woken by the door opening and something else. Yes, it was that familiar Geordie accent. He’s home! My little family is almost reunited (miss you Victoria) and all is well again in my world.


Donut – It was great while it lasted…(4)

It was great while it lasted, but some things just aren’t meant to be. Pretty much from day one in our relationship I noticed that Teddy drew loads of attention. Don’t get me wrong, people love me too and I get my fair share of cuddles. But with Teddy it was different. Everywhere we went they wanted to admire or touch her. She lapped it up of course but for me, it became a little tedious.

As well as having to cope with this, a few dogs tried their luck (what a cheek!) but Teddy graciously told them that she wasn’t interested and I was her one true love. My heart swelled.

Teddy model photoTeddy with Ball

A few weeks ago we were playing ball at the dog beach. As an aside I was a little disappointed to discover that people are allowed on our beaches, but we’re not allowed on theirs. What’s that all about then? Anyway, we were approached by an older looking female Pug who introduced herself as Lola. She had the gift of the gab and it was obvious early on that she was an astute business dog. (I googled her later and was proved correct). She smothered Teddy with compliments, telling her that she was adorable and believed she would make a fab model. She told her about the glamorous life and the travel involved and I could see the faraway look in Teddy’s shining eyes, until she looked at me. Teddy smiled at me, and then turned Lola down. The shine seemed to have disappeared from her eyes and, much as I adored Teddy, I couldn’t let the opportunity of a lifetime escape her.


We had one final date the next day and as we sat holding paws and watching the magnificent sunset from the beach, we vowed to stay in touch and be friends forever. I hope she’ll remember me when she’s rich and famous.

Seeing me a bit down, my people parents decided it was time for an overnight break to take my mind off what could have been.

Off we went to Latchi to stay with some friends in a lovely villa and it was simply wonderful! The weather was sunny and we had lots of fun on long walks, fishing and just shooting the breeze. The people parents and their friends overdid it that night and while they drank and put the world to rights, I spent some time chasing the local cats. They were all a little delicate the following day – the people, not the cats – but I was as right as rain.

Donut with beer

I got on with the new people friends, two lovely men, like a house on fire. So well in fact that I’m beginning to wonder if there’s another reason that Teddy and I weren’t right for each other.

One other pleasant surprise during the weekend was the new music. I absolutely loved the Justin Bieber vibe and am pleased to announce that I’m now a Belieber!

That’s all until next time folks. Be good.


Donut Returns Home (3)

This is going to be my last post for a while, I’ll tell you why a bit later on. But firstly, I’m back home from my holidays now. I had a marvellous time but to be honest, I’m glad to be back with my people parents and into my usual routine.


I thought the holiday would be a great opportunity to get back into shape. I’ve been a little sluggish during the winter and haven’t kept as fit as I like to, so I’ve put on a little weight. My plan was to eat salads along with my usual food, not drink very much and go for long walks every day. I’ve never been a gym bunny so long walks suit me fine. I prefer cat food to dog food – I know, let’s just say that I’m different – so a few small bowls of cat food mixed with some dry biscuits and a couple of treats during the day and I’m well happy. I don’t know if it was the trauma of my dating experiences, seeing my people parents drive away, or getting used to the new environment that made me really hungry. The idea of salads went straight out of the window once I got my nose around the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. Braised Steak in Onion Gravy? Don’t mind if I do thanks. Bit of Sunday dinner roast pork or lettuce and tomato? Hmm, let me just think about that one! I did go for walks but shorter than I intended. I haven’t quite worked out whether I’m one of those emotional eaters or if I just love my food. The bottom line is that I returned home a little bigger than when I arrived and now the hard work of getting in shape really starts.

There’s also another reason why I want to get fit. We haven’t gone public yet, but look who I’ve met.

Teddy 1 - 21 Feb 16Teddy 2 - 21 Feb 16

Her name’s Teddy and I think you’ll agree that she’s absolutely gorgeous! Teddy could have any dog she wants but she’s chosen me, I’m so blessed. These days I don’t feel the need to bark at the postman or strangers, bird song seems oh so sweeter and I just can’t stop smiling. I’m loath to use the ‘L’ word due to my other dating disasters and it is early days yet. But I’ve got a good feeling about this, a really good feeling.


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