Liam with two German Shepherds

Liam turns his love of dogs into a business

Dan Hodges Case Studies, General, Getting you back to work

Just one year after being recruited into the Royal Marines, Liam’s dreams of a long military career were cut short by a serious back injury. Then the 24-year-old from North West England decided to turn his love of dogs into a new career. On Employability Day, Liam tells how employment support from The Poppy Factory and funding from two naval charities helped him access training and then launch his own business.

Liam with two German Shepherds

A military career cut short

Liam said: “I always said I wanted to be a soldier and there are photos of me dressed in uniform from when I was little. I was 21 when I joined the Royal Marines. But one year into my time as a recruit, I ended up getting injured in training. There’s an exercise where you dig trenches to test your grit. After seven or eight hours of straight digging, I tried to stand up but I couldn’t. I was hunched up with a lower back injury.

“After that it was a year of rehab. Then they said there wasn’t a whole lot left that they could do, and I was medically discharged in October 2019. It was very disappointing because I was hoping for a long career in the military.

“I have good days and bad days with my injury. On some days I can go all day thinking it’s getting better. On other days I’ll wake up and feel very stiff and find it’s painful to bend in certain directions.

Finding a new direction

“When I left the Royal Marines, I was lucky to have my family and my girlfriend there ready to support me. But it was on the career side of things that I needed guidance. I wanted to take some time to figure out what else was available. Just before Covid-19 hit, I got a job cleaning in a hospital to keep things ticking over.

“Our family have always had dogs. We’re currently on our eighth German Shepherd, and I’ve trained our dogs and friends’ dogs too. My first thought when I left the Royal Marines was to go into dog training. I also thought about learning to handle detection dogs, but I couldn’t afford the course.

Liam with the drugs detection training dog, TimberSupport for training

“My contact encouraged me to register with The Poppy Factory to see what they could do. Then everything fell into place.

“My first adviser, Adam, helped me apply for the £3,500 I needed for the detection dog training, and the majority of that was awarded by the Royal Marines Charity. The rest come from the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust.  The training by Wagtail UK was amazing, with one-to-one instruction from people who each had more than 20 years’ experience and so much knowledge.

Setting up in business

“After that I was supported by Caz at The Poppy Factory, and she helped me think about launching my own business, Trained and Tamed. It was stressful at first and I wondered if I would be able to do it. I told Caz I’m not the best at paperwork and I need to be given deadlines. She told me how I needed to incorporate my business, make a business plan, create a website and start marketing, and I was very lucky to have Caz’s weekly phone calls and step-by-step support through the whole process. 

“I offer a a free half-hour consultation before the first training session. With my first client, I could see that I’d already made a big difference after just an hour of working with her dog. Some people might be at their wits’ end, and it’s really rewarding to be able to help them.

“As soon as my website went live, I realised this was real. I didn’t think I’d become the director of my own business. Now the future of the company is up to me, and I don’t have to ask permission from anyone about what direction to take it. It’s a great feeling and I’m really proud.”

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