A dog trainer based in Aberdeenshire has been helping a Romanian rescue dog get used to life in the UK – with thousands watching her progress on Twitter.
Simon Wooler, situated in Portsoy, has been lending his advice on how best to help Sophie arrived she she arrived from Romania on December 16.
Retired BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones and his wife, Cambridge University economics professor Diane Coyle, adopted Sophie through a rescue charity.
The nervous dog arrived on their doorstep at 3am following a terrifying 72-hour journey.
Initially, Sophie had a hard time settling in, rarely leaving her spot behind the couch for weeks.
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) December 18, 2022
But eventually, Mr Cellan-Jones and Mrs Coyle managed to slowly bring Sophie out of her shell – while documenting their journey on Twitter.
One month later, she has now even begun running around the garden.
The hashtag “Sophie from Romania” has developed a massive following and received worldwide press coverage.
During their rising popularity, the couple received hundreds of pieces of advice from fans on social media regarding Sophie.
But despite being well-meaning, it was often contradictory and confusing.
Taking it at Sophie’s pace
This is where Mr Wooler, a dog behaviourist with 15-years of experience, stepped in to help.
His partner showed him the attention Sophie from Romania was getting online and encouraged him to message Mr Cellan-Jones to see if he could help.
Since then the 56-year-old has been staying in touch with the couple over Zoom and WhatsApp before eventually going to visit the family in London on January 13.
Mr Wooler qualified through the intensive Jean Donaldson Academy for Dog Trainers course and specialises in fear and aggression cases.
His advice for helping Sophie was based around “taking it at the dog’s pace”.
It involves recognising the need for patience and allowing her to slowly acclimate to her new surroundings and to the new people.
The strategy involves making positive associations with food to change her emotions from fearful of her new world to happy to see it.
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) December 29, 2022
Mr Cellan-Jones told the BBC show The Nine on Thursday: “What Simon has done for us is incredibly important.
“He has been a reassuring and calm presence. A lot of people have been making all sorts of suggestions like moving the sofa out a bit, taking more control, or bringing in another dog.
“He very much says calm down, take it slowly and go at the dog’s pace.”
What happened to Sophie?
Sophie has complex issues which started when she was found dumped at the roadside as a puppy.
She was then taken to a barn where she lived for a month before being collected and taken to the UK by a charity based in Peterborough.
— Diane Coyle (@DianeCoyle1859) December 17, 2022
Mr Cellan-Jones and Mrs Coyle’s previous dog Cabbage, also a rescue, died last January. After finding no luck with local rehoming centres, due to them all having long waiting lists, they decided to opt for a Romanian rescue.
They first met Sophie through video.
Mr Wooler, who moved to Portsoy from Wiltshire in 2020, has been encouraged by the progress that Sophie has made since she arrived a month ago.
He told the Press and Journal: “Sophie is doing better with Diane than with Rory. But it is statistically more likely that dogs are more nervous around men than women.
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) January 6, 2023
“It could be that they have been mistreated in their past but this is not always the case. It could also be things such as the tone of voice, but this is not well understood.”
“The time it takes each individual dog to settle in is hard to know – it is a big variable.”
Sophie from Romania is a story of hope
Meanwhile, Sophie from Romania continues to attract high-profile fans who eagerly follow her progress as she slowly develops more confidence.
Presenter and broadcaster Nick Grimshaw wrote on Twitter he was “obsessed” with Sophie and she “kept me going” while he was ill.
— nick grimshaw (@grimmers) January 12, 2023
Mr Wooler said he will continue to guide the family through his company Sociable Dog, which has years of experience in nervous animals.
He believes “unequivocally” that the arrangement will work out.
“I have no doubt she will be a smashing pet”, he said.
“I am very confident of that”.