At age nine, I finally browbeat my parents into getting a dog. Lassie was a huge, beautiful Rough Collie, and my constant companion for the next fourteen years.
My love of dogs continued and even once I started at University, I would spend the holidays helping at local rescues.
Fast forward to 2009 and I decided to go freelance with my journalism, after many years of working for various newspapers. This meant it was also time to welcome home a new dog!
I wanted to rescue and I wanted a Labrador. There were plenty in shelters across the UK but each time I made enquiries, either someone else had already reserved the dog or there were behavioural problems that I didn't feel qualified to take on.
Then, eight months into my search, a local rescue told me that a 'very large, beautiful, young yellow Lab boy has just arrived.' 'Bailey' as he was then called, had been dumped in the pound by his original owner. The rescue had only just taken him on and that afternoon, I went to meet him.
He was very leggy, loud, and thin. After racing around the yard a few times, he trotted over to me, flopped down beside me, and placed a gentle paw on my leg.
I was smitten.
The rescue desperately needed the space so they kindly fast tracked my home check and Dexter - as I renamed him - came home with me later that day.
It soon became apparent that Dexter was a highly 'reactive' dog. Anything that seemed 'strange' to him, resulted in his kicking off. He would be up on his hind legs, barking and growling, and all but foaming at the mouth.
And the list of things that upset him was a long one. Tall men. Motorbikes. White vans. Men carrying newspapers. Anyone carrying an umbrella. Balloons. Horses. Anyone sitting on a wall or the ground.
Our walks became a form of street theatre. Neighbours would gather to watch as Dex went hurtling down the street, me clinging onto the lead for dear life. And if we saw another dog while out on our travels, well, Dex would go beserk. Often I resorted to diving into bushes and lurking behind hedges, in a desperate bid to stop Dex seeing the other dog and having a temper tantrum because he couldn't interact with them.
I tried several training classes. Dex and I were thrown out of the first one, after he fell for an Apricot Poodle also attending, and disrupted the entire group with his howling and frantic attempts to reach her.
At another class, the 'trainer' sauntered over and squirted water in Dex's face to stop him barking. We left immediately.
In desperation, I turned to an online forum specifically for Labrador owners. There, someone took pity on me and put me in touch with a retired police dog handler. She was in my local area and we began going to one-on-one sessions a week with her. Finally, I saw some progress.
But Dex's reactivity was not improving. I began reading everything and anything I could find on the topic, and on canine behaviour in general. Jean Donaldson's 'The Culture Clash' proved to be a turning point and I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Dex and I spent hours, every weekend, in the tennis courts at a local park, working on building his focus and ability to cope with things that scared him.
Fellow dog owners would stand and watch. As the training started to have a real effect, one or two of them asked if I could help them with their dogs. I was more than happy to share all the exercises and techniques I was using.
In the same way that human psychology - one quarter of my degree - had always intrigued me, so too canine psychology now fascinated me. I went on to do training with the IMDT (Institute Of Modern Dog Trainers) as well as attending numerous seminars on topics including Resource Guarding, Aggression, and Separation Anxiety.
Increasingly, I was asked if I would take care of people's dogs when they went away, and thus my dog boarding business evolved. Perhaps inevitably, I also spent several years doing solo training walks for reactive dogs, which was particularly rewarding.
At the same time, the idea of adopting a second dog was appealing, but I wasn't quite ready, so instead began fostering. The fifth dog that came to stay was a young, traumatised girl from Romania, named Pearl. Pearl was meant to be with me for one week. I had never met such a broken dog in my life.
The 'forever home' that had been lined up for Pearl then fell through. Which was just as well, since I couldn't imagine letting her go. Pearl is now seven and a complex little soul who - just like my beloved Dex - has taught me so much about dogs.
In 2015, I moved to Borehamwood, and started Dexter's Dogs Daycare. My brother John came on board; he too is an experienced fosterer and rescuer.
Dex and Pearl are at the heart of what we do and it is wonderful to watch them playing and interacting with our guest dogs. Dex is now eleven and a half, and Pearl is now seven, and without their gentle and kind natures, none of this would be possible.