Taking care of pets

Having to advise a family with young children that their appallingly bred puppy should be put to sleep was one of the worst moments of my life. By the age of three months, the puppy – a terrier cross – had bitten nearly 20 times; one bite resulted in the owner being taken to hospital. When my clients spoke to the breeder about what they should do, they were told to hit it around the face with something hard.

In 11 years as a dog behavioural therapist, I’ve been in homes where the dog is tied to a radiator, and pulled to the ground by a dog who leapt up and grabbed me with its mouth; I’ve seen a dog crying and trying to crawl up a wall to escape its owner, and dogs who ‘have it all’ but are sad and lonely because the ‘all’ doesn’t include being taken out much.

Department store John Lewis released research revealing the breeds most likely to need behavioural therapy, of which Border collies topped the list. As a working, herding breed that is designed for a very specific job (to herd sheep), it’s not surprising they can struggle to fit in to a suburban environment when their only proper walk is on the school run. When a dog lives a life without the opportunity to run and play, it will end up channelling energy into undesirable directions.

There are many reasons why a dog is ‘badly behaved’, but, thankfully, I have rarely witnessed wilful neglect. Most of my clients simply need a helping hand getting their dog on the right path, or want to make sure that they aren’t getting it wrong.

Currently, the dogs at the top of my books for behavioural consults are: miniature dachshund; French bulldogs and cockapoos (number four in the John Lewis survey). Their issues range from separation anxiety to fear-related behaviours, excessive barking and aggression – all of which come from somewhere. It may be breeding or what they have been taught, experienced or are even genetically predisposed to. It then becomes a fine balance in looking at what a carer would like to achieve with their dog, to what is actually possible.

I tell my clients we cannot change a dog’s personality or what they have been bred to do – sometimes those very behaviours they are performing are the traits that they have been bred for thousands of years to achieve – but it is possible to show them other ways to behave.

While our dogs are increasingly becoming emotional support animals as well as family pets, as a society, there is still a massive disconnect between what we want from them – and their limits. It’s important to remember that we are sharing our homes with these incredible, life-changing creatures with their own likes, dislikes and desires. I haven’t yet met a human who is perfect, so why do we expect our dogs to be?


The Daily Telegraph