Category Archives: Heroic Dogs

Dog Squad Blog – My Friend Watson

In April award winning author Jean Gill told us all about her four-legged friend Sherlock. This time it’s Watson’s turn.

In November, 2016,  I started re-taking the online quizzes as to which dog breed would suit me, and I knew it was time to bring a second dog into our life again. A friend for Sherlock, whose story I told here One of the breeds suggested by my online quizzes was a Khortals, a wire-haired pointing griffon and I took a fancy to these beautiful feisty red-coated gun-dogs. I was checking out breeders and refuges, torn between getting a puppy and adoption, when one description smacked me in the face. 

Donald. A Khortals cross.

No dog deserves that name, whatever your politics. I took it as a sign. My Long-Suffering Husband had already said yes to the principle of another dog and he leaves the detail to me. So we headed up the motorway for an hour to Donald’s refuge, one of the better ones.

Even if you don’t understand French, you’ll see that Donald is 21kg, slim and cute. The drab dog that waddled out to see us was overweight and would be 32kg when he shaped up and gained some muscle again. Too big for most people but we were pleased – we’d thought 21kg was very small as we were used to Pyrenean Mountain Dogs.

Shelter information on a dog has a kernel of truth and much that is either behaviour induced by the situation or even well-intentioned invention, like Donald’s size and weight, intended to attract new owners. So, in direct contradiction of the ‘facts’ in his description, Donald pulled like hell on the lead, growled at Sherlock when lunging after rubbish on the verge. 

We later found that he is the most chilled dog we’ve ever had about us going out and returning. He was supposed to be prone to anxiety separation, which was why he was returned to the shelter. Nope. No anxiety. That was supposed to be his failing but – don’t worry! – we discovered other reasons behind him being dumped twice. He’d been picked up as a stray in February, no ID; transferred to the refuge; adopted in July for the summer holidays and brought back in September when his owner went back to work. So he’d spent most of 2016 in the shelter, getting fat and being called Donald.

What was true about him was that he was confident and affectionate with people. That would be a nice change, I thought, but I was worried because he’d growled at Sherlock. Two male dogs at loggerheads would not be fun.

I wasn’t sure but I knew he’d be easy with my husband and with visitors, and that it was up to me to create a respectful relationship between the two dogs, with – hopefully – friendship developing. So I went for it, encouraged by the volunteers at the shelter saying to each other that ‘Donald le doux’ had found a home. Surely the nickname ‘the softie’ had some basis? Unless it was a joke like Little John in the Robin Hood tales – a giant.

When the newly-named Watson came home with us, I tested my theory about why he’d growled – and why he was fat. I kept Watson on-lead but in the same room as Sherlock, while they both ate, each from his own bowl, with some distance between the two. Watson gulped his food down and would have had Sherlock’s if he hadn’t been restrained by the lead. I was right. Food had been competitive in the box Watson shared with some adolescent hunting-dogs – and Watson had won more than his share for months.

Over a few months, Watson slowed down in his eating habits and respected Sherlock’s food bowl. He lost his ‘every dog for himself’ mentality and learned to trust me. The detectives are a great team, more comfortable with each other than I could have hoped. At twilight one day, wild boar were grazing in the orchard outside our fenced garden and the biggest of them charged right at me. Sherlock, the ex-hunting dog, shivered in total panic. Watson, who’d been raised as a pet, didn’t hesitate. He charged back at that boar, to protect me. The boar ran away and the fence prevented any disaster but Watson had shown true courage and I won’t forget that moment.

He’s not a morning person so will just wave a leg at you from the comfort of his bed, and accept a tummy tickle, while Sherlock does his happy dance at seeing you again each new day. He has a slight problem with his joints but that doesn’t spoil his life or ours and he’s always up for a little game of frisbee. 

Now we know Watson, do we have an idea as to why he was abandoned, twice? Maybe because he has an extreme hatred of bicycles and cyclists. I suspect something happened to him – perhaps an accident or perhaps he was forced to go on walks attached to a bicycle. I’ve trained him to lie down if a cyclist comes past when we’re out on a walk but I wouldn’t trust him off-lead. He has plenty of room to run around at home so that doesn’t matter.

Or maybe it’s because he does weird howls in the night sometimes. The total Baskerville experience.

I showed this private video, taken with a stealth camera, to our vet who was no more worried than Sherlock seems. The vet’s only suggestion was that Watson’s a werewolf. I think he sees dead people. If I’m there when he does it, I can say ‘No’ and he stops, so he’s in control of himself and he’s not ill. It’s very weird and we’re lucky our neighbours aren’t too close. Visitors who stay overnight here are warned.

He is also territorial in the car and barks at a passing fly, much to Sherlock’s confusion. When we’ve taken the detectives on holiday, Watson’s rendition of ‘Are we there yet?’ has been deafening but we’ve managed to drive three hours into the mountains and enjoy a week with these two amazingly civilised ex-shelter dogs.  A filled kong toy to chew when travelling has been an ear-saver.

Am I glad I said yes to Watson? Look at this photo. Pure joy. That’s what life is all about.

Thanks Jean. If you’d like to read more, Jean’s latest novel, an eco fantasy for nature lovers, takes the original viewpoint of bees as central characters. At special pre-order price here and the Publication Date is 7thJune. I loved it.


www.jeangill.comJean Gill is an award-winning Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with two big scruffy dogs, a beehive named Endeavour, a Nikon D750 and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She is mother or stepmother to five children so life was hectic.

Publications are varied, including poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.

Sign up for Jean’s Special Readers’ Group at exclusive news and offers. If you review one of Jean’s books you can add a dog to Jean’s Readers Dogs Hall of Fame on her website. Contact Jean at with comments or questions. She loves to hear from readers.



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Dog Squad Blog – Soldier Dogs and their Handler

We go back to the seventies for today’s blog from my friend Andy who grew up in Llanbradach. After leaving school and working in a factory making helmets he decided he wanted out. With limited choices, Andy decided to join the British Army.

Here’s what happened. 

Following basic training, I became an Airborne Supply Specialist, which involved pushing whatever it was out of Hercules planes with 16 Parachute Heavy Drop Company, RAOC. But my error was to apply for as many courses as I could, from Medic, to Jungle and Arctic Warfare. The course I coveted most was that of Dog Handler, which I knew would help overcome my fear of German Shepherds. When my application was approved, I was packed off to Melton Mowbray to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps where they trained both animals and squaddies.

The course was brilliant and I passed with flying colours. Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked at the small print when applying but now discovered: after passing the course you will be sent on attachment to the Army Dog Unit Northern Ireland for two years. It was the height of the so-called troubles and even when regiments went to some parts of Northern Ireland, it was only for six months. I wondered how I was going to survive six months let alone two years. But this was a unique unit as everyone was a volunteer and the unit has been served by every Regiment and Corps.

During my first six months, I learned so many things from my fellow members and the dog I was given. Guard Dog Sand was a cross between a Rhodesian Ridgeback and Labrador. We became a real team, patrolling HMP Maze, HMP Magilligan and on point on patrols in Co Londonderry and Co Armagh and also during riots.

At the end of two years I was promoted to lance corporal and asked if I would like to extend for a further two years. I agreed without a second thought and was sent to the Maze Prison to take charge of C Section of 20 dogs and handlers.  

There were a few dogs who had reputations – Dixon, Jebel, Prince and a 108 pounds of a black German Shepherd named Sebastian. The history with this dog soldier was a horror story. He was sent to the Hong Kong police as a gift from the British Army. When taken out of his sky kennel he immediately attacked six police officers and was sent back to Melton Mowbray and then onto the Maze. He had chewed a Scot’s Guard handler, his next handler took four weeks to enter his kennel, and the same for the next. The following handler failed and the decision was made to destroy Sebastian. I found this too much and voiced my opinion and the reply came back from my Sergeant: 

‘Thanks for volunteering Max!’

This frightened me more than going out on patrol but I took two weeks leave and stayed outside Sebastian’s kennel reading newspapers and books, talking, or doing anything I could think of. I spent days throwing tennis balls into Sebastian’s kennel hoping for some sort of interaction but nothing came, until day 13 when he picked the ball up and brought it to me at the front of his kennel. I told him to sit and to my amazement he did! This was a major breakthrough and was followed by an order for me to take Sebastian straight out on the outer patrol of the Maze. So I had to go in clip him up and walk out with him. It was like going into a gladiator’s arena and while I did so, 15 men (2 in full baiting suits) were on standby with hoses, brushes, and one with a 9mm handgun. With dry throat and a cold sweat I walked into this beast’s domain. I called Sebastian and he came running over to me. I found this most intimidating but I gave the command ‘sit’. 

He did as told and I clipped the lead on Sebastian and we went straight out on the outer perimeter of the Maze. The smiles of my fellow handlers as I walked out was so rewarding; any doubts about me quickly turned to respect. 

From that day on we grew stronger as a working dog team, being called out for cell clearance, riots and hard patrolling. As our successes grew so did our reputation, throughout Northern Ireland. I can honestly say this dog saved my life and the lives of lots of others on many occasions. I never once questioned his reactions and trusted him one hundred percent. We knew each other’s footsteps one for one. I felt as if I had a bulletproof Ready Brek glow about me and my partner Sebastian (you have to be a certain age to remember the Ready Brek advert).

We worked in areas such as West Belfast, Armagh, Londonderry, Forkhill and Crossmaglen. Time flew and my four years soon came to an end. 

I was told to attend a meeting with the Commanding Officer and ordered to be on my best behaviour. I was marched into the room and carried out the normal army greetings of salute and standing ramrod straight as my whole body was on Viagra! I wasn’t sure why I was in there and suspected some sort of family emergency, but the CO’s tone was not that bad. I even wondered if it was good news and perhaps they had a sunshine posting in store for me. No such luck. The CO asked me to stay for another two years.

I grinned like an idiot when he read out our achievements and told me we were the Army Dog Unit’s best asset. I was chuffed to be asked to stay on and my ‘yes sir’ was the most enthusiastic and proudest I have ever said. 

All Army dogs were trained to the highest standards and saved thousands of lives in their roles as search explosive dogs (known as wagtails), tracking dog (known as groundhogs), or guard dogs (called snappers or land sharks). 

Sebastian and I grew stronger as a team and won many conflicts. It was a lot more than love that I had for this dog. I respected and trusted him and put my life in his hands on many occasions. He was a soldier as much as I was and a highly trained Army weapon too.

We were used for what the Army called hard patrols, where the dog team was at the front point of the patrol and would pick up the scent of anyone in front of the patrol. Then we were also used in riots for many tasks eg holding the crowds back, snatch squads, also close protection of VIPs, patrolling prisons and also cell clearance. On one occasion Sebastian and I were called to get two prisoners out of a cell. The remaining prisoners where locked in their cells and the prison officers had drawn back to the reception of the wing while Sebastian and I walked to the cell accompanied by two soldiers in full riot gear. The prisoners would shout abuse, spit, and throw whatever they could – including cups full of urine. This only heightened the dog up to switch on mode. The prisoners were hidden behind the door with weapons ready to attack us both. Sebastian with his nose and super hero sense walked into the cell and without hesitation turned to the left and nailed the prisoner holding the metal bed leg. The man dropped to the ground and yelled. Sebastian looked up at the same time jumping and grabbed the second prison by the upper arm. Both prisoners had given up in a matter of seconds. The sense of achievement from this result and many similar has never been matched since leaving Northern Ireland.

My six year tour was coming to an end as my final two months were spent training a new handler to take over Sebastian. The day I said farewell and thanked him for being at my side was one of the saddest of my life. It was only a few weeks later that I received a call from a fellow dog handler who told me of Sebastian’s sad end. 

Every dog is a unique individual with its own skills and personality. I’ve always put my dog’s needs before my own and each one I have had or worked with has been loved with all my heart.

My Unlikely Soldiers series is about the British Army during this period. Check out this link for further information

“Written with passion, humour and knowledge, Unlikely Soldiers is a riveting coming of age tale. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a good story, I’m waiting for the sequel with baited breath.”