Further Thoughts on Dog Training by David Cavill

Further thoughts on dog training, behaviour modification and accreditation by David Cavill

Complications continue to abound within the world of dog training and behaviour modification and as chairman of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council I have been asked several times over the last few months for an update.  I hope that this article will answer some of the questions being posed.

It is many years since the family dog ran free and worked off its energy and frustrations running the streets and countryside. Society has become more sophisticated and regulated and ‘the dog’ is now expected to ‘fit in’ after thousands of generations just ‘being’. We should not be surprised that the transition is confusing for the dog and difficult and uncomfortable for us. We demand much of our ‘best friend’ and are concerned and disappointed when he is found lacking in the social and personal skills we have come to expect via Fred Basset, Lassie Come Home and Lady and the Tramp. Puppies still have enormous appeal to all ages, but many are square pegs that find it difficult being forced into the convenient round holes of modern life. When they present a problem we want an ‘expert’ to solve it as we do when a tap leaks or the lights fuse.

It is therefore not surprising that the demand for dog trainers and those who set themselves up as being able to modify dog behaviour has soared.

Over the past fifteen years many hundreds of books have been written and published on training dogs and an immense amount of related material is available. Some is very sensible and useful to dog owners, but much is confusing and buried in jargon: a jumble of ideas, techniques and unproven ‘experience’ moulded into a convenient and sometimes flashy ‘package’ of smoke and mirrors that conceal rather than illuminates.

The result is that much dog training consists of a range of either vague aspirations or formulaic, prescribed and mechanical processes delivered by those who only partly understand the basis of their techniques – and misunderstand the rest. It is not surprising that much behaviour modification is unsuccessful and it is no accident that many ineffective methods wrapped and ‘spun’ with unrealistic promises of success abound on web pages. The result has been that over the past 15 years there has been a huge increase in dogs being dumped in rescue and being designated as un-trainable. The theory extremists frown upon the word ‘discipline’, thus the number of dogs being euthanized is constantly rising. Other organisations have a more modern, balanced intelligent training approach, have much more success and prevent hundreds of dogs from being rejected and put down.

As a result, the world of training dogs and those who are involved in the modification of their behaviour is in turmoil. In fact, although a report in 2008 by the respected Companion Animal Welfare Council in the UK does not actually use the word ‘chaos’, even the briefest scan of its 52 pages can leave the reader in little doubt that the situation is thoroughly unsatisfactory and this is reflected throughout the western world, wherever dogs are expected to ‘conform’ to the standards set by humans and their regulatory regimes.

Current situation
It is because of the wide range of ideas, theories, processes and techniques, which have gained an adherence over the last 30 years that many organisations have been established that purport to represent the best methods and practitioners of dog training and behaviour modification. Most are member organisations of like-minded people and each seeks to establish its authority through a series of stated aims, objectives and ethical standards. The situation has been complicated by the involvement of the major charities whose role is no longer to just re home dogs, but to rehabilitate them as well. Some have instituted research to help them achieve this objective, but there is general agreement among dog trainers with experience that this research has not been sound, which has led to even more disagreements between the varying factions.

One reason why there is so much bad blood and disinformation between groups is the decision by the pet insurance companies to accept claims regarding pet behaviour. The insurance companies, understandably, want to ensure that claims are dealt with quickly and effectively; the mechanism that they have introduced is that of referral by a veterinary surgeon. Vets are busy people – they do not have the time to assess the quality of practitioners so it is easier to select someone with a ‘qualification’ even if that qualification is irrelevant or spurious and the practical experience of the ‘expert’ is minimal. In addition, the political ramifications within the competing organisations have often led to their focus being on their status and influence as an organisation rather than what is best for the dog.

The report by the Companion Animal Welfare Counsel referred to above, suggested that there should be one registration organisation for practitioners and a series of meetings was held in 2009/10 to try and achieve this worthy objective. Those present recognised that this was likely to be very difficult and probably impossible. In practice this has proved to be the case.

Standards and accreditation
In their attempt to establish themselves as the prime group, each organisation has set themselves standards to which they expect their members to adhere. Some are fiercely academic, insisting on a science degree for all their members and stressing their ‘clinical’ qualifications (qualifications which do not exist in dog behaviour – a fly on the wall while the definition of ‘clinical’ was discussed at the meetings called by CAWC would have wept!) – whilst others emphasise their professionalism, vocational study, experience and dedication. A perennial problem is that there is confusion between the undoubtedly important and valuable academic study of animal behaviour and that of dog training and dog specific behaviour modification. There is an assumption that a degree or postgraduate general study in animal behaviour gives some extra insight into dog behaviour/training and practical modification skills.

This is not the case, not just because dogs form no part of most animal behaviour degrees, but what little is taught is only theory; this critical fact is not explained to the public by people using these general animal behaviour degrees. The Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council promotes a more transparent and open classification of experience so the public can choose their ‘expert’ from relevant, credible and reliable information about the qualifications of any individuals, rather than irrelevant ‘animal behaviour’ degrees, which do not provide an appropriate knowledge base.

Choosing a trainer or behaviourist is not rocket science but it requires a degree of common sense, which balances experience, personality and dedication. Qualifications are relevant, but it is certainly not just about academic expertise; if a student wishes to obtain a Degree, two are available in Britain specifically in dog behaviour, thus solving the problem for those wishing to attain a high level of knowledge. The questions that need to be asked about anyone purporting to be a dog behaviour specialist are:

  • Are they successful?
  • Is their web site transparent and open about their expertise, experience and specific specialised dog qualification?
  • Does the owner of the dog with a problem behaviour feel confident in their ability?
  • Is there a change in the behaviour of their dog when the expert is present and post consultation?
  • Do they use kind, balanced and practical methods?
  • Do they spend time with the owner, helping them understand the circumstances (that they have often created) that led to the dog’s fear, distress or recalcitrance?
  • Does the expert try to blind the owner with irrelevant jargon and complex scientific concepts or do they take a common sense, practical approach?
  • In dog behaviour cases does the expert provide a report and assessment which reflects the consultation process?
  • Can the expert practically handle the dog, especially in aggression cases when the owner is in difficulty and in real situations not theoretical.
  • Are they recommended by owners, whose dogs they have successfully treated?

All groups struggle with the problem that there is no satisfactory definition, status or fully professional designation for a person who trains and/or modifies the behaviour of dogs. There is an increasing number of qualifications, both work-based and theoretical, that are available but until last year when the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council published ‘Defining Roles for Dog Behaviour and Training Professionals’ there has been no common consensus of the various roles of those involved. This was written in consultation with many organisations including the police. It is now the widely accepted model and standard.

Most organisations have developed some form of internal accreditation system to justify the status of their members. In fact, there is a deliberate intention to mislead by some organisations that state they have ‘created’ an independent organisation that accredits them. Clearly if that organisation has no history or knowledge base or has the very people on their board from the organisation they are supposed to be accrediting, their role can only be described as fraudulent.

As a result, the whole concept of the term ‘accreditation’ has become devalued. The dictionary definition is ‘the act of granting credit or recognition (especially with respect to educational institution that maintains suitable standards)’, but the most important and key element is that the accreditation of any person or organisation should be truly separate and independent from the person or organisation accredited. There is a number of organisations in Britain that carry out this task and you can find a full list by accessing the National Database of Accrediting.

Organisations on the Internet: unless an accrediting body is a recognised university or on this list, then it will have been set up specifically to give credence to standards, which are not genuinely independently audited. Whatever the claims of separateness and independence, any accrediting body worthy of the name will be on the National Database of Accrediting Organisations.

‘The only thing two dog trainers can agree about is what a third trainer is doing wrong’ Steve White, Vice-president of the USA Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers.

Back in the 1940s, a psychologist called BF Skinner did a great deal of work on animal behaviour. He argued that it is pointless to imagine what is going on in an animal’s head. It was better to treat its mind as a black box, closed and unknowable, with inputs that lead to predictable outputs. He identified four ways to manipulate behaviour: these were – positive reinforcement (good dog – have a biscuit), positive punishment (bad dog – administer physical punishment), negative reinforcement good dog – stop punishment) and negative punishment (bad dog – take away the biscuit). He argued that by connecting an action to its outcome almost any behaviour can be trained. Skinner called this ‘operant conditioning’ and considered it as effective for people as for their pets!

There is no doubt that these processes work, but over the years, new ideas have been introduced, which emphasise the positive and eliminate the brutal. Curiously, this change did not come from dog trainers, but from marine parks and aquariums. In the 1960s an animal behaviourist called Karen Pryor discovered that rather than punishing bad behaviour, dolphins and killer whales loved rewards and, more importantly, if a reward were available they would repeat the good behaviour. She found that all she needed to do was wait for the behaviour she wanted, give a reward. Very quickly, the animal would repeat the behaviour, because it wanted the satisfaction and pleasure of the extra food. She also discovered that even if you replaced the reward of food with a whistle, the behaviour would be repeated. She once taught a goldfish to swim through a tiny hoop in response to the flicker of a flashlight! ‘Its easy’, she said. ‘You just have to have a healthy, hungry goldfish.’ Karen developed what we now know as ’clicker’ training; most advanced training and obedience work with dogs uses the ‘clicker’.

There will be many demonstrations of Heelwork to Music at Crufts and I would be very surprised if any of those dog trainers did not use a clicker. Certainly Mary Ray, who will once again be putting her dogs through their paces in the big ring, uses the technique and if you ever have a chance to attend one of her demonstrations of how she trains her dogs you will see how effective it is. This does not mean it is easy: the trainer needs intelligent, amenable dogs who are willing to please and must exercise considerable personal discipline and patience to achieve those displays, which look so easy.

Karen Pryor, her colleagues and followers have wrought immense change in the way in which dogs are trained. Heelwork to Music is a wonderful spectacle, but the principle is being used in many ways by dog trainers to make use of the fantastic powers that dogs have to make our lives safer and better. The dog has immense and useful abilities, which can improve our lives and alert us to danger. Working dogs can jump higher, run faster, see further and hear better as well as being equipped for subduing the most fractious of men, but these are nothing compared with the sensitivity of their sense of smell, that can detect a few particles of a specific substance per trillion, with ease. So, apart from being wonderful companions for families and individuals who are also able to take part in our leisure activities, whether it be racing, agility, flyball, obedience, hunting or pointing game, dogs have further, more professional roles. There are three primary areas of their activity: They are the helping hand (as with herding, guide dogs or dogs for the disabled), detection, protection and pursuit.

It is in the interest of all pet dogs to be well trained: to ‘walk to heel’, ‘sit’, ‘wait’ and ‘come’ when told to do so are simple commands well within the training capabilities of most pet owners. Problems arise when the dogs are, usually inadvertently, spoiled – for once they are adults and have bad habits, it is very difficult to modify their behaviour. Such problems require specialist skills as does the formal training for leisure pursuits and the higher levels of training required for working dogs. To have some understanding of the expertise and the knowledge required go to www.petbc.org.uk and click on to the cover of the booklet at the bottom of the homepage called ‘Defining Roles for Dog Behaviour and Training Professionals’. If you have not thought about it, you will be amazed at the dedication and patience of those involved, the complexity and range of the skills required.

However, let me get back to the development of the modern techniques of dog training. By the 1940s when Skinner was putting forward his ideas, Guide Dogs for the Blind (as they were then called in the UK) and Seeing Eye (in the USA) were already well established, but it was not until the 60s onwards that Hearing Dogs for the Deaf and Dogs for the Disabled (among many other charitable training groups) were established. During the last 40 years there has also been a much greater demand for pet dogs to be well trained and in the Kennel Club’s words be ‘good citizens’. This has led to an explosion of dog trainers at every level – and when there is an explosion there is nearly always collateral damage.

In this case that damage was caused by some trainers and charities being so seduced by the concept of positive reinforcement (the first of Skinners conditioning operants) which they, rightly, perceived as ‘kind’, that they forgot that in the domestic situation there have to be rules and an element of discipline. This requires a degree of negative reinforcement, but this does not, repeat not, mean ‘cruelty’ or hurting the dog in any way. There is no doubt at all that given the right conditions and an amenable dog which wants to please, positive reinforcement is very effective, but the enthusiasts for this approach have, as enthusiasts tend to do, taken the idea to the extreme and even used it to distort our understanding of the way in which the mind of the dog works.

You will remember that Skinner felt that the dog’s mind was a black box that we could not begin to understand. This is no longer the case. Over the past 60 years we have learned a great deal about how the brains and minds of animals work and an enormous amount of research has gone into trying to understand precisely the way in which developmental, evolutionary, environmental and genetic factors have combined to provide the behaviours that we see in all animals and particularly in dogs. It is unfortunate that much of this research is contradictory and it has led to a significant schism between dog trainers. I have written in the past that this divide is more a question of semantics then of real differences in approach; nevertheless those at either end of the spectrum (especially those at the ‘kind’ end of the spectrum) see themselves as being at war!

The key to all this is in the way in which we understand some of the words used to define the various interrelationships between animals of the same species. Skinner and many of those working with dogs and animals at the time believed that man had to behave in a way that asserted his authority over the animals he wished to train. They drew parallels with what they said was the standard model of relationships in the wild. This implied a ‘pack’ and a ‘pack leader’, who was in ‘control’ of the group. The words used to describe these relationships were ‘dominance’ and ‘alpha’ among others designed to emphasise and establish power and authority. Those committed to using only positive reinforcement techniques believed that this theory was not relevant and that research showed that such ‘packs’ were equivalent to ‘family groups’; the idea that control was being exercised was both wrong and misleading. They also suggest that those who do not concur with their view are themselves cruel in the techniques that they use.

Those trainers who see themselves as realists (and recognise that a measure of discipline within society and family groups, which has uncomfortable consequences, is essential if it is to be well ordered) see the first group as ‘bunny huggers’. They suggest that many of the problems of dogs in society (specifically the increase in dog bites that we have seen over the last few years) is a result of ground rules not being applied. There have been similar discussions among psychologists regarding the upbringing of children for as long as I can remember – and I began teaching back in 1963!

Who is right? I do not believe that there is any need to treat dogs cruelly (and no trainer worth their salt does so), but I am a realist and I was pleased to read a recent article by somebody who should know that rather supports my view.

Roger Abrantes is very well known in the world of dog training. He holds a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology and another in Ethology; he is the author of seventeen books many of which have become standard works. He is a world-renowned lecturer on animal behaviour and the drawings of dog positions and expressions he has published are generally agreed to be the clearest and most definitive of the many available. The article is called ‘Dominance – Making Sense of the Nonsense’ and in it he says: ‘The discussion on dominance has run away with us’.

He explains that the word has ‘so many meanings and connotations that it is difficult to know how to use it as a precise scientific term in the behavioural sciences’.

The article is the first of a series and if you are interested you should certainly follow them through. You will find them at http://rogerabrantes.wordpress.com. The detail of his discussion is too long to discuss in Speakers’ Corner, but in my view his arguments are convincing and should be studied by everyone who has any interest in dogs and why they behave in the way they do. This does not just mean dog trainers – it means anyone who feels it important to have a better understanding of dog psychology.

David Cavill is Chairman of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of David Cavill and the PETbc.

Golden Cocker, Golden Retriever or Gold Fish? – Ross McCarthy

Monday morning at nine am, I received a frantic phone call from a lady with a ten week old Cocker Spaniel Puppy who was biting her, pulling her trousers and attacking her whilst out on walks in the park, the dog was terrorising the family and “we need to see you today” demanded the woman. There was nothing unusual about the problem or her frantic manner on the telephone, but unbeknown to me at the time, this would evolve in to a most bizarre and unusual case.

Janet arrived at the centre for her consultation with her little Cocker Spaniel, Mango, who was jumping about in the car. Janet lives in Oxfordshire and so travelled in excess of one hour to see me. Mango led the way into the consulting room and as one would expect from a puppy, he loved the experience; meeting the people and the dogs, jumping around excitedly and grabbing toys to play with. Janet was not quite so excited at the prospect, I felt.

We sat together drinking coffee and I began to question Janet about the problems that she was encountering with Mango; of course, prior to her arrival I had a list of possible causes and problems in my mind and asked her specific questions to enable me to assess the problem.

She began her tale and informed me of little Mango’s reign of terror from the age of seven weeks and continued her story of the last three weeks with this puppy, there was no stopping her. She is an experienced dog owner, by her description, but had never encountered such a calculating, manipulative, difficult and downright aggressive dog. In short, she was quite exhausted with her daily interactions and confrontations with Mango – all 2.7 kgs of him!

This problem was most difficult to diagnose due to the inconsistency of Janet’s description. She had firmly made up her mind that this was ‘Cocker Rage’ and that Mango was a time bomb waiting to explode. After spending two hours in consultation with her, I did not believe that this aggression was idiopathic or ‘rage syndrome’ and felt that although the dog was confident and perhaps could be described as ‘dominant’ this problem was little more than rough play biting.

I gave her my advice and off she went with little Mango still excited about life; Janet was a little more positive too and almost managed a smile as she left. I telephoned Janet three days later and she proclaimed life was fantastic; there had been no further aggression towards her or her husband.

After two weeks, as I had requested, Janet telephoned me to advise me of her progress. Life was somewhat less fantastic now and Mango had begun to become aggressive and unmanageable again.

The following day Janet arrived at the centre for a second assessment in company with Mango and her husband Derek. I quizzed them both on their consistency in implementing my advice. There were numerous inconsistencies and neither Derek nor Janet could agree on, well, anything, although the problem had improved. There had been no aggression or the like for almost two weeks, the dog had become even more calculating and began jumping on the sofa to terrorise them – by now all 4.1 kgs of him.

Of course, if they had been following my advice properly the dog would not be jumping on the sofa in the first place. Mango had also started attacking Derek and Janet when out on walks. So off we went for a walk. No attack took place and Derek and Janet were amazed at my skill in preventing such a traumatic attack – I was more amazed at the owners’ behaviour than that of the dog – both owners displayed fear of Mango by jumping in the air or huddling together when approached by him – one of those occasions when a smile unwittingly creeps over your face!

I again reiterated my initial advice, proffered some further techniques, which I demonstrated and arranged for them to come to a training course with the dog the following day for a little consistency and for me to observe the owners in greater depth – this whole problem just did not fit. They had to drive for over an hour again to attend the class, but they were willing to do this.

I began the lesson at 10am, but Janet had not arrived so I began without her assuming that the distance may have deterred them. At 10.20 in walked Janet, Derek and Mango. Janet did look rather stressed, Mango looked as excited as ever and Derek just did as he was told by Janet. The explanation for lateness was that it had taken fifteen minutes to wrestle with the dog to attach the lead. Derek had been summoned for back-up and to aid with the 4.1 kg monster. The other dog owners, with their Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Akitas watched in amazement as Janet and Derek conveyed Mango across the room together, taking care not to put themselves in a position of risk – one of those occasions again when the smiles creep in, this time by the other nine people on the course.

The morning passed with no attacks and the obedience was excellent – particularly that of Derek who did a sit stay on Janet’s command of over an hour!

The following week, Janet arrived on her own with Mango, how brave I thought – things must be improving. Again the day passed without incident although Mango had been on an apparent hate campaign all week. At the end of the training session, Janet asked for some advice on how to handle Mango around the house. She was unable to get into the kitchen or certainly unable to get out of the kitchen unscathed. Mango would grab her and ruin her tights. I began to offer her information and advice on managing this problem – until I heard what I was saying. I had been lead into a discussion about walking through a kitchen using a lead for restraint on a tiny puppy. I stopped myself and discussed that this dog was possibly not compatible with her experience or lifestyle. She agreed and went off with her expensive puppy to try a little harder.

I felt quite disheartened. On my numerous encounters and tests with this cute puppy, I had never seen any aggressive attacks or any sign of one. I began to think that the longer Mango was in the care of Janet, the less chance we had of creating a normal tempered adult dog.

Two days later, I arrived at the office and my associate had just taken a call from Janet. The dog had savagely attacked her in the park on the previous day. She was so traumatised and the attack was so aggressive that she tried to call the police to assist until Mango knocked the mobile telephone out of her hand. She had spoken to the vet and he had informed her without seeing the dog that it was idiopathic aggression and an appointment had been booked to euthanise the dog that morning.

Thankfully, my colleague stepped in, spoke to the vet and arranged for Janet to drop Mango off at the centre for further testing and assessment.

Janet brought Mango in with a couple of old blankets and his food bowls. I asked to see the bites. I expected Janet to start rolling up her trouser leg to reveal the damage, but instead she began to unbutton her cardigan. The dog had bitten her arm right from the top down to her wrist – how bizarre – one would assume that a dog standing no higher than ten inches from the ground would be unable to grab her arm. Janet’s forearm was covered in scratches – much the same as one would have after pruning a rose bush. How this had occurred, to me is a mystery. The dog clearly had not made these marks in one lunge and so Janet must have kept her arm in the same place whilst being bitten. I had given up hope of finding the ‘missing link’ in this puzzling relationship and now focused on little Mango.

I took the dog home for seven days to asses and record the behaviour displayed to prepare the relevant reports before suggesting an outcome of returning the dog to Janet, re-homing the dog or euthanasing the dog.

The observations went well. There was a very mild display of aggression in conjunction with much mouthing and play biting over the first day. This was dealt with promptly and little Mango became a loving addition to the household and after seven days, he was taken to his new home. He has settled in well and his obedience training is coming along nicely with his new owners. He loves his interaction with their two children and the other dog in their home. The new owners were previously clients of mine; they have worked hard with their other dog to reform his behaviour. Mango’s new owners will train him for working trials in the future and he now has a fabulous lifestyle.

Janet is currently looking to obtain a Golden Retriever and try her luck with that – I did suggest that a goldfish maybe more suitable, but my advice (again) was not followed. I spotted Janet out walking three weeks ago with not one, but two Golden Retriever puppies – frying Pan and fire spring to mind, I’ll await her call

Grooming Aggressive Cats by Anita Kelsey

The difficulties involved and how to move forward
I have been a mobile cat groomer for three years now and can honestly say that 95% of semi/long haired cats either dislike but tolerate the grooming process, are indifferent to it and let the groomer do what is necessary, or are nice and relaxed, used to being combed and bathed and generally seem to outwardly enjoy their time on the grooming table.

Cat grooming typically involves nails being clipped, fur being combed through, maybe some matts shaved out, trimming around problem areas such as around the bottom, and occasionally a bath. A groomer can expect hissing and grumbling from some cats that dislike being handled. However, there are a minority of cats that are extremely aggressive towards their owner and groomer when approached with a view to combing their fur and these are the ones I’d like to talk about now.

This aggressive reaction can stem from fear, a bad grooming experience in the past, dislike of being handled, fear of pain from a badly matted coat, through to phobias of the grooming process, or even fear of the groomer’s table, some which can resemble a vet’s table as does mine.

The way forward is a very difficult path for the groomer and one I find myself treading very carefully whenever presented with the scenario of an aggressive cat, especially one that needs to be de-matted.

On the one hand, the cat must not get the upper hand and control the situation, especially when it’s coat is matted and the job needs to get done. On the other hand, having to muzzle a cat and hold it down on a grooming table when it’s in ‘fight or flight’ mode doesn’t bode well for future positive grooming sessions . A cat has a good memory and may associate firm grooming with a negative experience. It will react aggressively again when meeting the groomer or when the owner approaches it with a comb in hand.

Sedating a cat every time it needs to be combed isn’t realistic either. So, you can see how difficult each case is when having to groom the coat of a cat that doesn’t want it!

I am going to talk through some situations I have been through with various cats, the path I took during the groom, and the advice given to the owners. Each cat and situation is different and decisions have to be made step by step. It’s upsetting seeing an owner at their wit’s end because they cannot see a way forward with the upkeep of their cat’s coat, especially when it hates being handled. It’s also very unsettling as well as upsetting seeing a cat so aggressive and agitated, lashing out at whoever it can reach, including the owner!

The vocal warnings in themselves can send shivers down one’s spine. Chinchilla Persians are masters at this. Some Chinchillas howl even when my hands are just resting on their bodies to reassure them. It’s quite bizarre!

For difficult cats the lion cut (shaved all over apart from the head, paws and feet) is an option, but this can cause major distress for an aggressive cat and has to be done either under sedation on a regular basis, or at the very least under stress from the groomer. Both solutions are likely to leave the cat quite traumatised. Removing most of the fur from a cat is not a natural state but it could be seen as the only way to move forward with difficult cats. A vicious circle! As a cat behaviourist who does mobile cat grooms, I walk a very fine line as to the right decision to make for the cat, as well as the owner.

Murphy watching me pack up after the groom
A typical lion cut

So…let me introduce you to to our first case – A beautiful Maine Coon called Murphy.
I received an email from the owner who was clearly concerned with the matting on Murphy’s coat. She explained that Murphy didn’t like to be groomed and had several large matts on his tummy and around his private parts. By the time a coat gets to matting like this, very tight to the skin, it is useless to try combing out. Try to put a comb to a coat like this and the cat will react badly. As usual on grooms like this, I arrive expecting to shave out the matts and the cat to be a tad unhappy and a little intolerant.

Clients never really know how aggressive their cat is going to be. Either that, or they never tell you honestly!! The owner told me Murphy doesn’t much like being combed. That was putting it mildly!! From the start Murphy was out to have me for lunch. His nails were extremely long and trying to cut them down, mainly so that I didn’t get scratched, was hard enough. Within seconds I knew that Murphy would bite me the moment he had the chance too. I don’t like to use muzzles and 99% of the time I use a towel as a barrier to protect me and this is usually sufficient, but Murphy made it clear that lunch was my hands or arms and no towel was going to stop him! I put on my dog handling gaiters as a precaution.

A typical Elizabethan collar that I use on grooms to protect me and the client from a cat bite.

No one likes seeing their cat muzzled and neither do I. I believe that face muzzles panic a cat further. An already frightened cat thrust into darkness by way of a hood would be frightening for a human let alone a cat. That kind of heightened fear is dangerous and will make a cat forever frightened of the grooming process. Wearing a muzzle means the practitioner cannot monitor the cats breathing or see if any panting is occurring which is a sign of severe stress.

Instead, if I feel a cat is going to bite then I use two things: an Elizabethan collar (pictured above) or a towel placed around the neck. The Elizabethan collar means that a cat can see and breath with ease. Wearing protective gloves will further protect me from any bites or scratches.

The battle to get Murphy calm enough to shave safely was extremely difficult. He hated the table, was obviously reacting badly to me and the comb as well as being handled or held against his will. This is why his fur had ended up matted in the first place. The way forward in this scenario is very difficult and at one stage I advised the client that the only kindest way to do this was to actually have Murphy sedated to remove the matting and then we could start with a clean slate. I never say this lightly because an owner cannot keep sedating their cat for the whole of its lifetime just to keep the fur in good condition and clearly Murphy’s owner was very upset with the thought of that. Upon seeing the client’s eyes well up with tears I decided to think out of the box to get the job done with the least possible trauma. I had to shave this cat no matter what.

To remove the matts on Murphy’s tummy I decided to remove him from the table and have the owner hold Murphy in her lap. She held Murphy on his back against her stomach and held his two front paws together so he couldn’t lash out at me. His tail was gently tucked between her legs so away from my clippers and I managed to quickly shave the worst matt out before Murphy became unmanageable again. We took lots of 5 minute rests to give Murphy a break. It also gives me time to think of my next move 😉 . Each time we stopped, Murphy was absolutely fine but as soon as the comb or the clippers got anywhere near his body he totally freaked and turned into a feral monster. Shaving out 4 matts took a couple of hours and it was traumatic for him as well as us. The matts were finally removed and the groom was stopped. Murphy didn’t get a comb through. The rest of his fur wasn’t too bad. My main goal was to remove the terrible matting and then just leave him be to recover from the ordeal.

My methods are always geared towards the least possible stress for all concerned.

So – what about the future for Murphy?
In a situation like this, steps have to be taken to get the cat tolerating the combing. In the meantime rather than ignore what’s happening with the cat’s coat the owner was advised to feel EVERY DAY for little knots appearing. The main areas for matting are the arm pits, chest, tummy, bottom, back legs and inner legs. Feel a knot and tease or cut it out. When I say cut it out I mean with scissors BUT with strict safety steps put into place.

How To Remove A Matt Safely With Scissors
NEVER under any circumstances pull up a matt and cut across. Pull up a matt on a cats’ coat and you will be pulling up skin with it too. Cut across and you can cut the skin. Simple as that. Cats skin is like tissue paper and it moves easily and cuts easily. My advice is ALWAYS slide a comb beneath the matt. Once you have the teeth of the comb between the skin and the matt you can then safely cut the mat out. With cats that don’t get any form of regular grooming, owners generally see small matts forming and don’t think anything of it. Leave it for a few days or a week and more fur will form around the matt. Leave it for longer and the matt begins to turn into a tight pelt. Once it has formed into a pelt and is tight to the skin a comb CANNOT slide under it and you then have a problem on your hands. Only shaving can remove a pelt or tight matt.

Look at the photo below. Your comb should slide between the skin and the root of the mat. NEVER EVER use scissors without the comb in place.

The comb should always slide between the skin and the matt

So, now the client is faced with a cat that is going to remember the fight with me during the grooming and react badly when she tries to groom him. So, what’s the answer?

As well as trying not to let the cat ever get matted (checking every day for matts and removing them by gently teasing them out, or cutting out with scissors – NB: best time to do this is when a cat is sleeping or in a nice relaxed state), the next step would be to try and gently get Murphy used to the comb on his body.

Here’s some tips below: I mention the grooming tool ‘brush’ and by this I mean a soft brush or plastic tipped slicker brush as this would be the safest first step and more comfortable for the cat to nuzzle into. You will eventually be moving onto a comb which is the correct grooming tool for semi/long haired breeds.

Teaching a Cat To Tolerate or Enjoy Being Combed
Behaviourists Sarah Ellis and Chriag Patel suggested the following method in the Feb 2013 issue of Your Cat Magazine:

  1. Begin by creating a positive association with your brush. Place near your cat and reward with a treat when he/she starts to investigate it.
  2. Build to holding the brush in your hand, when you are interacting with your cat in a calm way, and allow your cat to sniff and rub against it when they wish.
  3. After a few days doing so, or when you think your cat is ready, stroke your cat with the brush in your hand, so that the brush is not touching the cat but your hand, holding the brush, is. Then hold the brush out for your cat to sniff again. If they rub against it reward with a treat and praise them with more physical attention.
  4. Once your cat is actively seeking the brush you can gently move it against your cats face. Gently and slowly stroke in the direction of the cats coat for 2 minutes a session.
  5. If your cat is relaxed and enjoying the experience try grooming different areas. Cats love the neck and head region and also the back and base of the tail.
  6. Tips: Try rubbing the scent of your cat onto the brush first. For nervous cats link the brush with a reward. Let the cat SEE the brush first and then follow with a treat. Never the other way around. You can even make it into a game. If your cat walks towards the brush then reward him/her!
  7. Never rush any of these steps. Always observe your cat and pick up on what they are telling you. If they appear uncomfortable them take a step back and slowly try again.

The future for Murphy is a tricky one. The absolute key here is to not let Murphys coat get into a state again and to slowly introduce the above steps so that his coat can eventually be combed through a small section at a time. Positive association is the absolute key as well as perseverance from the owner.

I hope Murphy forgives me like I have forgiven him scratching me 😉

Herbie gives up the fight

Herbie gives up the fight
Herbie hissed and growled at his owners whenever they tried to comb him which made them very nervous about any attempts to comb him. I was called when Herbie became extremely matted and the clients did not want him sedated again. I was already warned of Herbie’s aggression so turned up to the groom with my leather gaiters and expected a huge fight on my hands. Instead it was interesting to note that Herbie didn’t like the fact he had met his match. His hissing and growling became louder and louder as he tried to intimidate me into stopping. BUT, I always note when a cat is only hissing and growling, but not attempting to seriously bite or scratch. This meant I had a good chance to complete the groom without too much trauma on both sides.

When a cat is trying to intimidate vocally, the best course of action for a groomer is to not be intimidated and act with confidence and firmness. I positioned a towel at the side of Herbies face so that if he should turn around to bite me he would get a mouthful of towel instead of my flesh!! I didn’t need to use an Elizabethan Collar on Herbie. He soon realised I wasn’t going to stop and that it would be quicker if he just settled down and let me get on with my job. I asked the clients to stay, so that they could talk reassuringly to him and stroke his head whilst I shaved out his pelts. By the end of the groom Herbie lay still and exhausted. This is when I took the above photo. At one stage he seemed to fall asleep – probably from the exhaustion of so much hissing! I checked the clients grooming tools and like 90% of my clients, they had the wrong tools to begin with. The awful ‘furminator’ was put back on Amazon for re-sale and links sent to the correct combs for the long coat Herbie had.

In this situation it was basically down to two hard heads battling for control and I had to win if Herbie was going to regain his lovely coat without having painful knots tight to his skin. Once this control was established, Herbie quietened down. I advised the client to keep Herbie’s problem areas shaved (tummy, arm-pits) and his ‘nethers’ to be kept trimmed with scissors. Once these problem areas are no longer a major hassle for the client, they can start on gentle re-conditioning of the combing process, steps for which I noted above in Murphy’s write up.

As a cat behaviourist who is also a groomer, I have to decide early on what type of reaction I am dealing with. Herbie’s reaction was caused by his dislike of being combed, joined with his ability to always get away with a simple grumble to stop his owner! His learned behaviour meant he could control the situation and get away with never being groomed. This type of behaviour needs to be turned on its head. He didn’t bite and didn’t act in an aggressive or defensive manner out of fear. His body language was not defensive like some cats (ears flattened on the head, body stiff, body positioning so that all weapons are showing). I would never suggest sedation with a cat like Herbie. His feeble attempts to scratch me were minor ones. His bites were mere nibbles. Only his vocalisations were loud and threatening, luckily for me!! The clients were more than happy to see, at least for Herbie, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Most Chinchilla Persians HATE being groomed and will be very vocal during the process

Last but not least please, say hello to SPARKLE. A beautiful, petite Chinchilla Persian with a loud roar!
Sparkle has an extreme reaction to being combed and to being put on a grooming table (same goes when she is taken to the vets).

Her manner is extremely fearful. She pants wildly, gets very hot, almost goes into a fit with dilated pupils. I was quite concerned with how she was behaving and asked the owner to tell me when this started. Once I knew the background it wasn’t too hard to understand.

Sparkle had experienced a badly handled groom in her own home. Already a timid frightened cat, the groomer muzzled her from the start, held her down, didn’t take their time to work with and understand a frightened shy cat and just roughly and quickly completed the groom with a screaming cat who couldn’t see a thing. The cat would have viewed this as an attack on her within her own territory. It’s no wonder I was seeing this reaction to me and this has made the forward journey very very difficult. One which needed a well thought out plan.

On the one hand we have a cat terrified of grooming and on the other hand we have a long haired coat that needs grooming. Luckily Sparkle had no matts, because shaving would have been out of the question on my first visit.

My solution was to find her favourite food and have her associate my table with the food. Sparkle’s grooming sessions were to be split over time, so a groom every three weeks was booked in. Sparkle started her sessions placed on the grooming table, were she was offered her favourite treats as the comb touched her body. I was able to comb through small sections at a time whilst she was preoccupied with eating. I also allowed her to move about the table as she pleased (not ideal, but . When she went into panic mode I let her move about and lie on her back and wriggle around and would just talk to her gently not allowing her to fall or jump off of the table. Then when she sat up again I would gently start combing a section and her owner would offer her more tasty morsels. The owner would have to hold her in her arms for me to complete the tail, which most cats hate to have combed, but I did this as gently as possible. I also cut the under fur of the tail short and her nether regions short so that we didn’t have to worry about any matts forming in these areas.

We took lots of breaks where Sparkle could play with some toys. The photo above is Sparkle playing with a mouse on one of my grooming sessions. Small steps. I couldn’t imagine muzzling Sparkle and roughly holding her down on the table. It would have destroyed any trust and made it near impossible to reach any form of tolerance to the whole process. It doesn’t really matter how Sparkle looks. She is an in-door cat. It doesn’t matter that part of her bushy tail is short. What does matter is that her coat is kept tangle free and the grooming sessions are kept short, simple and with an element of fun on her side and patience on mine. Sparkle’s eyes still bulge with fear when she sees a comb but there’s no question of me thinking I need to win a battle. Kindness, understanding and patience is the key to gaining Sparkles trust again.

Well, there you have it. Three different kinds of situations in a multitude of aggressive/defensive behaviours that I deal with on a regular basis.

I still love my job though and will always be there for owners who have nowhere else to turn and for cats who need to be freed from terrible pelts.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact info@catbehaviourist.com

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Anita Kelsey for the CFBA. www.catbehaviourist.com

Handling Large Dogs by Jacqueline Bunn

I recently read a book by a well-known dog behaviourist and trainer in which she teaches a dog how to walk on a loose lead. The methods were very kind, very positive and were based principally upon the assumption that your dog is unable physically to pull you around and that this behaviour hasn’t been reinforced to the extent that it has become extremely rewarding to the dog and subsequently extremely difficult to counteract.

There were two entire pages devoted to the equipment frowned upon, with red crosses against the use of prong/pinch collars, choke chains and any form of electronic device designed to stop pulling, big ‘no-no’s’ that I totally agree with. However, there were also big red crosses against the use of head-collars, half-check collars and anti-pull harnesses.

Now, while I agree that in a perfect world where everybody weighs twice as much as their dog (for reasons related to ‘ballast’), everybody has limitless amounts of time and a personal dog trainer at their side every moment of the day, the wonderfully kind and positive methods of stopping pulling in this book were ideal; unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. Most of us don’t have limitless amounts of time to devote to multiple training sessions every day, don’t have a personal dog trainer at our side to whisper in our ear and most owners of large dogs probably do not weigh twice as much as them so find it difficult, if not impossible, to hold them securely enough to initiate kind, positive training methods without the use of tools such as head-collars and anti-pull harnesses – at least at the beginning of a training regime.

We live in the real world, don’t we, fellow big dog owners?

We are the owners that go pale at the sight of a cat at twenty paces (in fact this behaviour can become such a conditioned emotional response that we feel the same panic even when we don’t have the dog with us…). We are the owners that dread icy pavements. We are the owners that dread walking around a blind corner. We are the owners that prefer to exercise our dogs in wide-open spaces so we can see ‘trouble’ coming from infinite distances away…

However, we are also the owners who get monster hugs, who don’t have to bend down to pat our dogs or put their collars on, who can have a kiss or cuddle from their dog while standing upright, who have a BIG love for and from their dog…

This probably explains why we tolerate big dog problems, such as elephant-proportioned poos, slipped discs and popped shoulders from pulling, never being able to see the TV, having to push food as far back on the kitchen counter as physically possible and learning how to sit comfortably on the floor, because we have lost our sofas to our best friends…

So, bearing in mind that we are in the real world where we fear our mighty dogs pulling us around like rag dolls, how do we make walks as rewarding and pleasant for us, as it is for our dogs, when we have TOTALLY different ideas of what is rewarding and pleasant?

When considering this, take into account the following:

My Dog…

  • I need to explore and sniff EVERYTHING.
  • I can happily shift from 1st gear to 5th in the blink of an eye.
  • I feel an overpowering need to meet other dogs.
  • Patience is not a virtue that I possess or get any reward from.
  • I am physically unable to walk past anything even remotely edible or cat looking.
  • I need to get there NOW, if not sooner.
  • I don’t care how silly I look.


  • I need to walk at an even pace.
  • I am legally and morally obliged to control you (my dog) so that you are not a nuisance to others or pose a risk to any dog or person.
  • I need to use a lead from time to time, if not always, to enforce the above point.
  • I am not necessarily always in a hurry to get from Point A to Point B.
  • I know that the park will still be there whether we get there in 10 minutes or 10 seconds.
  • I want the rest of the world to see I have my dog under control.

See how the viewpoints of ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ conflict?

Okay, so how to compromise, especially when you have a dog powerful enough to give a rhino a run for its money…

Assuming that you don’t weigh twice as much as your dog so can’t use the body weight/ballast option to hold them, you have to find a way of being able to control them when they pull, at least while you are training with positive reinforcement techniques to correct the problem. In these litigious days, if we can’t control our dogs with 100% effectiveness, we could end up in court. Those of us with dogs that already have a negative – and unfair – public image are half way there already (apparently).

We have been leading horses and other heavy animals by the head for thousands of years. It is considered the norm and nobody complains about the method being inhumane or dangerous to the animal.

It figures that the concept should also work with dogs and it does – with certain subtle tweaks made to the configuration of the set up, i.e. to prevent inadvertent strain or injury to the upper vertebrae and neck muscles, it is necessary to use a two point system of control: a lead attached to the head-collar AND a harness or neck collar. The reason for this caution being that dogs – yes, even mastiff-types, Staffies and other dogs that don’t seem to have necks – do not have the same strength in this area as do beasts of burden, so we need to protect against excess stress or injury.

A head-collar designed and fitted exclusively for dog use is not an inhumane device when used properly. It’s not even a particularly inhumane device when used improperly (with the exception of using with an extending lead – definite no-no…) although it can be a bit uncomfortable for the dog to have the nose strap pull up into the eyes. However, the very fact that they continue to pull despite the fact that the nose strap is pulling towards the eyes would indicate that the dog isn’t too uncomfortable with this, don’t you think?

Of course, a head-collar used properly does not pull towards the eyes, because the leading-from-the-side action that the correct method of use applies prevents this from happening. The other point used against this piece of equipment is that it is cruel to make the dog wear something across its nose and in its line of sight as it might never get used to it.

Okay, hands up all of you that have spent an entire afternoon looking for your glasses only to have someone tell you that they are on the end of your nose? You get used to them, because you get something back – clearer eyesight. A dog will get used to a head-collar if what it gets back is getting out of the house and maybe even being allowed to meet other dogs.

Anti-pull harnesses also have the capacity for misuse, especially if they are poorly designed. They work by transferring forward momentum in other directions, either to the side or upwards, which is unnatural for the dog and thereby ‘takes the wind out of his sails’. However, poor design can mean straps or even nylon cord fitting tightly under and between the front legs and the rib cage, risking chafing, rubbing and even restricting blood circulation in these areas. Switched on manufacturers have realised this problem and started to use comfort webbing, neoprene and fleece sheaths to protect the delicate area of the dog’s ‘armpit’, however, prolonged use could still cause problems.

The other newer design of anti-pull harness is even kinder, with the point of contact being at the front or side of the chest strap, diverting the forward momentum laterally. However, the general problem with anti-pull harnesses is that they do not control the head and if you have a problem with your dog diving to ground or snapping, an anti-pull on its own may not be sufficient to control the problem of pulling if there is an element of jaw control required.

It is definitely a case of ‘suck it and see’ with the variety of different manufacturers now cashing in on the new era of positive reinforcement and kind, gentle methods of control (hooray!) offering so many different designs to choose from, all looking so alike, but with subtle design alterations that can have enormously different effects on each dog.

As well as the tools, however, there is the question of actually implementing the correct technique, and this, I’m afraid, can very rarely be explained in a book or via photos. These tools have to be ‘felt’ while being used, they require practice to master the physical skills necessary to utilise them efficiently and get the required results. How many of us, for example, have seen a dog straining through a head-collar, charging like a rhino with the strap somewhere around the dog’s eyelashes, the owner jerking the dog back helplessly? How many of us have heard: “Tried them. Head-collars don’t work with my dog”?

That’s like trying to use a vacuum cleaner upside down and complaining that it doesn’t get your carpet clean…

No, we have to face it – the truth is that the only real way to get the best idea of how the tools now widely available can be used to best effect, is to be shown just how effective they can be through personal training via a training class or one-to-one sessions with an established trainer or behaviourist using kind, positive reinforcement techniques.

The author of the wonderfully motivational book on stopping your dog pulling mentioned earlier is an idealist and the world undoubtedly needs idealists to move forward, but the realists among us know that reaching the ideal sometimes needs compromise and innovation – not beating yourself up quite so hard for needing to resort to tools in the meantime to enable us to get there.

If you have a big dog and just occasionally you find yourself on your derriere being pulled across the grass at a speed that risks grabbing the attention of the local constabulary, don’t be too embarrassed to admit that kind, positive training just sometimes isn’t quite enough on its own. Find a dog education professional who can show you how to use a head-collar or a harness, just as kindly and effectively without shame, with your head held high, knowing you are doing the best thing for your dog and for you.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Jacqueline Bunn for the CFBA, the CIDBT and their students of Dog Behaviour & Training

Heatstroke in Dogs by Jan Hyams

Dogs do not understand what heat stroke is or how on earth they would have gotten it. This is where we have to step in and be responsible owners. As with our children we need to watch the amount of time and energy spent by our dogs on days that are really hot. Because we are not used to overly hot days in Britain , when we do get them we try to enjoy them as much as we can and automatically assume that our dogs will know what is best for them in this hot weather also. THEY DON’T.

Before leaving the home (or even pottering about in different rooms) we need to think about where our dogs are going to be and where they have access to. They can and do become affected by the heat when they are left for long periods of time in certain rooms (especially rooms that are south facing), we also need to consider conservatories, caravans, kennels or buildings that have little or no air flowing through. Our dogs like to lie in the sun for long periods of time and if it is within the home it is usually through windows, so we should watch out for them as the magnification through windows, patio doors etc will intensify to a greatly!! Some dogs may be chained up and cannot find shade so they need to be moved, so in this and all the circumstances above plenty of fresh drinking water should be made available at all times. Heat stroke can even affect dogs that have long or thick fur that have had extensive exercise in warm humid weather, so if you have a dog like this do keep an eye on them whilst out walking. Try to make sure when you walk your dog, even those with short coats, that you do it either early morning or evening time when it is cooler. Do try not to walk them between 12-3pm at this is when the sun is normally at its hottest. Even when walking either side of these times I always carry a small bottle of water with me (erring on the side of caution), for both myself and my dog.

One of the main areas for concern which we have all read about, as it is greatly covered by the media, are the dogs that are being left in cars on a hot day (even in the shade with the window slightly open)!! Although we read about it every summer of every year it is still happening and dogs are still suffering. I often ask people to think what it would be like to sit in their parked car on a hot day with only an inch or two of open window??? I have tried it myself and it is very unpleasant. Now imagine what that must be like to do this with a fur coat on??? There maybe times when situations arise that are beyond our control were you may have to stop for one reason or another whilst you have your dog with you, if so then try to park in the shade and not leave your dog for more than 5 minutes.

A dog’s normal temperature should be 38-39 Celsius (100-102.5F). and dogs that are getting warm will pant to regulate this temperature so in some situations panting is normal and the dog is not in distress but akin to us sweating. Dogs cannot regulate their temperature against intense heat, so panting becomes fruitless. Their temperature may rise by only a couple of degrees but this can set off the early signs of heatstroke. Temperatures can sometimes rise quite quickly within a car (in 10 minutes) to a temperature as high as 49c (120F) which can then have fatal consequences for your dog.

Signs of Heatstroke:

  • Heavy laboured panting
  • Dry nose and mouth
  • Heavy salivation and foaming at the mouth
  • Both very pale or excessively red gums and tongue
  • Fast heart beat
  • Disorientation.
  • In the extreme stages, extreme lethargy, convulsions and coma.

To Reduce Temperature:
Make sure that the temperature isn’t brought down to quickly.
Pour cool or tepid water onto the skin slowly. Don’t use freezing water and do not throw buckets or bowls of water over the dog.
Place the dog slowly into a paddling pool (making sure the water is not too cold) holding its head above water.
Place the dog onto a soaked towel in a shaded area and putting another over the top of it.
Dribble water gently into the dog’s mouth then allow it to drink but not excessively.
Get your dog to a vet as quickly and calmly as possible.

Does your dog really need to go on the journey with you? Is it REALLY necessary to have him in the car?
Make sure your dog has plenty of room to move around in the car so he isn’t in direct sunlight.
Make sure there is plenty of shade as they can still overheat in an air conditioned car if in direct sunlight.
Leave enough time on your journey to stop for water breaks cooling of periods for them.
Keep their water colder; use a thermos flask instead of a plastic bottle.

Please Don’t:
Leave your dog unattended even with a couple of windows open (this can also attract thieves to your car and your dog) with water in the sun. They must have access to shade and water.
Over exercise or walk your dog in hot sunshine or when the sun is at its hottest no matter how much THEY want to go.

Please don’t pass a dog suffering in a car at a show, store or public car park etc. If you are worried or in any doubt then ask the shop or store to put out a tannoy request to the car owner, call the police, or phone the RSPCA.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Jan Hyams for the CFBA, the CIDBT, and their students of Dog Behaviour & Training

Intelligent Leadership Programmes by Colin Tennant

How we care for and train our dogs is of paramount importance in their future success at forming relationships with us. My German Shepherd Deiter is now two. I filmed his upbringing in the first eighteen months for a new video production dealing with the dog’s mind and development. He was obedience-trained from seven weeks, in the main without a collar or lead, simply utilising verbal praise, signals and body language. Discipline was by voice when required. He is now a highly-trained dog and can be walked amongst deer, horses and any other natural prey object for a domestic dog without issue. Most of our dogs become well-mannered and that is why they are our favourite animal – their innate pack or wolf behaviour is what allows us to blend their behaviour into our life for an enjoyable relationship as we, too, are pack animals.

Most experts understand the dog’s pack and wolf antecedents and the research by Robert K Wayne PHD in essence finds that the DNA of dogs and wolves is virtually identical – though domestication has certainly altered the dog to being more malleable, otherwise ownership would be as difficult as that of keeping a tame wolf.

However, as a dog and cat behaviour practitioner of over 30 years’ experience I regularly see unattractive wolf behaviour in my clients’ dogs and the variety that can cause immense conflict between owner and dog and between dog and dog. My job is to first alter the behaviour so the client can keep their dog, or at least manage the behaviour that makes owning the dog easier.

Unfortunately, there has been a trend recently to try and convince us that pack behaviour (dominance) does not exist. Yes, once again, and despite claims that the very limited study of this nature should be used to attempt to overthrow the established and well-documented mainstream behavioural research. It is most untenable. The proponents now wish to transpose the same mad arguments used by other academic ‘experts’ as to how our children over the past 30 years are supposed to have produced enormous problems of extreme badly behaved children that terrorise society. The fact that there are other well-behaved children is noticeable to all of us and that they now wish to renew outpourings of so-called academic conclusions is deeply sad and troubling.

Thousands of dog owners going peaceably about their business are encountering increasing numbers of badly out of control dogs in public places because the owners have been indoctrinated to believe that any correction is bad so the problem is exacerbated daily. The rule I follow is simple, and based on having trained thousands of dogs successfully – in public places, not school halls. Always reward first but when rewards no longer work then discipline may be required even if only a tiny part of the entire training programme.

Well, welcome to a minor group of academics from Bristol University who are extolling similar  parallel work that their child-destroying counterparts did. They desire to prevent trainers and behaviour practitioners from using any discipline on dogs and are campaigning in the media to label as ‘wrong’ the excellent non-conflictual methods of rehabilitation that I and others have successfully used to help thousands of owners take control of their dogs.

The dogs we deal with exhibit aggressive or other behavioural problems (like excessive attention-seeking, dangerously boisterous behaviour of diving at people in public places or the home or suffering from extreme anxieties because of this wave of feeble happy-clappy-yappy advice. Let’s kiss, hug and offer chicken to dogs and all will be fine despite the rising problems dogs exhibit. Dogs love chicken but if the motivation to chase other dogs is greater then unfortunately chicken will come second in their choice of attractions.

Commonsense, really
It is not arguable that dogs work on a rank structure (dominance). Those of you who own more than one dog or see your dog interact with others in the park see this daily. Dominance can be subtle and does not always mean confrontation. Rank and position maintain peace and order. When dogs step out of line they are admonished by a glare, teeth display or an attack, that’s dogs being dogs. Now, just how can these happy-clappy groups (mainly from academia) who have never worked in front-line behaviour state that dogs are not as I describe – replacing the word pack with attachment and believe there is a difference. Well there is – in words but only words.

They are now saying, despite the rising problematic dog count that we need to let them sleep on our beds and sit on our furniture in case we stress them by getting them off. If the dog shows aggression over food, feed them until they burst, they say. The dogs that attack children over toys? Oh, simply supply more toys, they say. The outcome of this irresponsible junk is dogs that do as they wish and are more likely to attack children through dominance aggression because we supply more toy targets for dispute and dominance. Now, you may think this is madness. You’re right. It is. These meddlers are purveying nonsense which, in my view, is also dangerous.

My Cairn Terrier Safie sits on my knee when invited and if people with dogs that are well behaved want them on their knee or couch then that’s their prerogative. However, the dogs that my fellow behaviourists and I deal with are not dogs that are obedient or well-behaved, but in 70% of cases are aggressive or downright dangerous. Of course the academics, having never worked in the industry, don’t even consider the families’ needs – whether you want a dog on your bed or furniture covered in wet mud never mind the hygiene issues, especially where children are concerned. They simply have not thought through what individual owners want as their standards in their home. Remember dear academics: people are important too .

The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association believes that more and more owners encountering problem behaviour is a direct result of the confusing counter information distributed. For owners, this makes decision-making confusing and, in time, their dogs become out of control and in hundreds of cases are euthanased because they did not form leadership rules or teach their dogs strict rules whether called pack , boundaries or other terms.

Brainwashed to ineffectiveness
In the last 12 months I have asked on my walks 22 people, whose dogs are very badly behaved and a plain nuisance in the park, why their dog is not trained – especially to come back. With only two exceptions all began to tell me what they don’t do . That comment is pertinent to my point. Whilst talking, they are either constantly clicking away or feeding their dog and trying to control it simply by endless food rewards as we are stood. I again ask what do you do – not what you don’t do . All I get is a blank look.

They have been brainwashed into becoming ineffective owners by advisors who believe in fantasy moralising. Often these owners have also not let their dog off the lead for over 6 or 12 months because they can’t get the dog back thereby ruining its critical socialisation and temperament development period with dogs and causing more aggression problems to other dogs they encounter.

I state the obvious: your dog does not come back despite following the advice for half a year or so – the methods you use don’t work – I have observed you. Tell the trainer. They say they have but the trainer will not alter the methods due to inculcated belief systems of non-discipline or being negative being the ‘in’ word. To me it’s inconceivable that a trainer would not show these people what to do by example in public place. The truth is that the trainer cannot achieve a result either and that’s the real reason. Of course, there is also the criminal offence under the Trading Standards Act of not doing what you say you can do and charging a fee for it. Not one owner told me how to get the dog back in a way that actually works and they can’t reward the dog because it does not come back. All is you hear is No Negative, No Negative, or if you prefer, discipline. No instruction in my view is tantamount to recklessness at some owners’ poor dogs’ expense.

I point out the actual negative behaviour in their dog they have taught: like upsetting daily most of the people walking their dogs, their dog running off and being hit by a car because it won’t recall, or causing a fight by piling on dogs without control. Now, that’s what I call negative and can lead, through endless frustration, to their dog developing serious aggression to other dogs. Of course, I am in no way blaming these unfortunate owners. They thought they were taking their beautiful puppy to an expert – they were wrong. I am not referring to lazy owners – these people are dedicated and work hard but are using a belief system that is defective and certainly not positive by result.

Intelligent Leadership Programmes (ILP)
I have personally on record instigated some 10,000 programmes on dogs which we have referred to for the last seven years as Intelligent Leadership programmes (ILP) in dogs in the UK. These programmes teach the dog psychologically that you are in charge and moreover link all the attention and praise dogs so enjoy to behaviour you wish to encourage – it’s simple and has an outstanding and unequalled success rate.

Members of the CFBA could probably add many thousands more which have been placed on their own variation programmes sometimes called Alpha, Leadership or other title. Of the 10,000 dogs presented to this centre approximately 7,000 were already aggressive to their owners or dogs or both. The majority of owners were considering placing them in rescue or, alternatively, considering euthanasia. The human psychological crisis in the majority of these cases was critical and emotionally catastrophic. The result has been spectacular and only last week a little terrier dog that was due to be put down is now being kept because of the programme above. And, yes, the owner had the dog sleeping on her bed, attacking her visitors and husband over food and it bit people who sat on the couch next to her. Strange that.

Questionable Science
Bristol University did an assessment of 19 neutered males all kept in prison-like conditions at rescue centres and after 6 months declared, having visited them with their clipboards, that dogs have little dominance pack behaviour as described by me and other worldwide experts but are simply attached. In other words: don’t use rank programmes to alter behaviour, they state. My findings from my own extensive experience with large numbers of dogs are totally supported by virtually all dog behaviour studies where dominance has been investigated, and by the practical experience of the vast majority of dog trainers and behaviour practitioners who have worked in the field for any length of time.

Now if they were to produce quantitative evidence and programmes they do use that work on the dogs I have previously described and that we can inspect – then I would look intelligently at their speculations. They don’t. They simply wheel out this irrelevant trial and deliver it as science. Well, if I took 19 male prisoners and neutered them and then drew the parallel that the behaviour in prison they were exhibiting was somehow a correlation of the behaviour of 19 non-castrated males living in normal homes in society and their dominant behaviour one would laugh mockingly at such absurd results. The fact is that this type of minor study is deeply flawed by its study group and environment but, as I said, wheeled out as science we are expected simply to accept.

Intelligent Science
Where safety can be an issue it is unfortunate if an interpretation arising from a study with few animals damages the long-standing practical experience arising from the handling and training of vast numbers of animals and well-established mainstream research from around the world. One such recent and the largest scale study led by world-renowned Dr Perez-Guisado and Munoz-Serrano of the University of Cordoba, using a sample of 711 dogs (354 males and 357 females of which 594 were pure-bred and 117 mixed breed) has, without equivocation, fully supported my and other experienced practitioners’ views about the dog as pack animal within our families. It simply overwhelms the Bristol findings and kicks it not just into touch but way out of the field.

Dr Perez further stated that significant factors that contribute to aggression in the dog are: a lack of basic training, first-time dog ownership, failure to subject the dog to basic obedience training, spoiling or pampering the dog (i.e. having it on the bed/furniture), not using physical punishment when it is required, spaying female dogs, leaving the dog with a constant supply of food. Now I don’t know Mr Perez but much of what he states is in my Intelligent Leadership Programmes (with the exception of punishment).

He says “failure to observe all of these modifiable factors will encourage this type of aggressiveness and would conform to what we would colloquially call ‘giving our dog a bad education'” He classically refers to the aggression as dominance which, of course, it is.
Dr Perez adds: “to correct the animal’s behaviour, the owner should handle it appropriately and re-establish dominance over the dog”. Need I say more?

The Canine & Feline Behavioural Association, and other mainstream bodies whose members are practically involved with dealing directly with dogs in real environments, are appropriately concerned when inferences are too lightly taken from small scale studies and whose findings are not in accordance with well established research and experience.

Colin Tennant – Chairman of the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association.

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy by Anita Kelsey

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden for their cat to play in or easy access to the great outdoors from a window or ledge, especially in large cities. It’s a well known fact that most people with pedigree cats keep them exclusively indoors, which many cats can find frustrating.

For cats that are kept indoors, or ones that used to roam but have since been moved into a place with no outside access, it’s essential that they’re given lots of stimulation within their own homes. You and I are able to go outside everyday and be stimulated by hundreds of different sensations: sound, visual candy, smells etc., but it’s a different story for the indoor cat who only has its owner’s home as its ‘life’. It is extremely important for the well being and happiness of your cat that you understand its basic needs. When confining a cat indoors, owners commonly make the mistake of providing no stimulation and this in turn can lead to your cat sleeping for most of its life through boredom and becoming obese. It’s important to remember that cats are animals and the natural state of a cat is to hunt, kill, eat and sleep.

Below is a few main pointers to encourage cat owners to think about their cats and improve the environment they live in.

To create the illusion of the outdoors you should provide a ‘tree’ or two and when I say ‘tree’, I really mean an elevated place for a cat to climb and perch. Cats feel more secure off the ground and like to sit up high and look down on their domain. The elevated space can be a cat tower/climber or even a space on a high shelf – with the ornaments removed of course!

Scratching Posts
Cats usually keep their claws in good shape by scratching tree trunks or fence posts. As well as keeping their claws trim, cats naturally scratch to exercise the muscles in their paws and to leave their scent, so it’s a basic and natural need. The indoor cat will scratch your furniture and carpets if a scratching post is not provided. Most cat trees have numerous scratch posts within their design and there are designs of every shape and size that can fit discretely into any décor. A large scratch post for an adult cat will also ensure they get to stretch fully.

A Room With A View
Next we come to windows. An indoor cat loves to look out of the window to watch birds go by and keep an eye on its ‘territory’. This is a great way to stimulate your cat and to relieve long hours of boredom. Window perches can be found online in many varieties. If you have property where it’s difficult to make any alterations to the walls (i.e. with screws, nails etc), there are window perches specially designed to combat this problem. These types of window perches use suckers to connect to the actual glass of the window, but are still strong enough to hold most cats’ body weight.

Toys And Boredom
If your cat sleeps all the time you will need to provide stimulation. You may think that your cat doesn’t need to play or doesn’t like playing, but you will be surprised once you have found the ‘right’ toy to suit your cat’s personality. Play time is imperative to relieve boredom, frustration; it also improves the bond between you both. Once you have found the correct toys for your cat they should be rotated to keep the cat interested. Leave out some fun little toys for your cat to enjoy on its own, such as ping-pong balls, open paper bags, cardboard boxes, furry catnip mice, etc. Most people get the wrong kind of toys and then wonder why their cat is disinterested. Here are some ideas for the best kind of toys to try out on your cat.

DA Bird Feather Teaser
Cats are natural hunters and their natural instinct is to kill things, so any toys that stimulate this type of behaviour are highly stimulating for the indoor cat. Toy mice, bugs, spiders or feathers on a wire or string make excellent toys. The ‘Da Bird’ range has a variety of add-ons with different critters such as bugs, spiders and mice. Play with them by half hiding them under a newspaper, rugs, boxes, etc., and watch as your cat enjoys the hunting process. Reward it with a treat afterwards or a little piece of meat (their ‘catch’).

I’m constantly surprised at how many owners never supply catnip for their cats. Catnip is a fun treat, which harmlessly ‘intoxicates’ your cat between 5 and 15 minutes and is completely safe. The main constituent of catnip is nepetalactone, which is an oil contained in leaves. It is believed cats react to the nepetalactone, because it resembles a chemical in tomcat urine. This is a much needed experience for an indoor cat and is a wonderful way to get overweight cats to kick up their heels a little!

Grass is essential and your cats will love having the opportunity to eat it as a normal outdoor cat would. They also love to rub against grass too. It’s easy to grow and you can buy special grass cubes for cats from any pet or Internet stores.

This toy is a wonderful addition to the hunting toy collection. Play with your cat for short bursts of 5-10 minutes and they will go nuts trying to catch the light. Because it’s frustrating for the cat that the light can never be caught it should not be played with for long periods of time. Never shine the light directly into the cats eyes. Sessions should be finished off with a hunting type game where your cat can actually catch something.

Cat Dreams DVD
Check out this wonderful cat DVD that I’ve recently discovered. Especially designed for the indoor cat, this DVD features singing birds, fish swimming back and forth as well as various other critters that your cat would love to get hold of and eat! Check out www.catdreams.co.uk. It may seem crazy but hey, we are cat people!

Cats are true carnivores and must get their supply of vitamin A from animal tissue. The indoor cat should be fed a ‘good’ quality brand of complete wet food (making sure you buy a variety of flavours). Check on the cat food for the words Complementary or complete. Complete means the food contains all of the nutrients a cat needs whilst complementary means it needs to be fed with another food source that has all of the nutrients or makes up the ones that the complementary meal lacks. I am not an advocate of dry kibble as I don’t believe a cat was designed to eat dry biscuits. it’s not a natural food source and can cause many health problems in the future. I won’t go into too much detail on this page but anyone interested in learning more facts about feeding your cat dry food may wish to check out the following web site: http://www.catnutrition.org/open-letter-to-vets.html

Of course I am aware that vets opinions, on the subject of kibble, vary greatly depending on who you speak to but Cat Nutrition.org gives you plenty of links to start investigating the facts yourself.

Make sure the food dish is wide enough for your cat’s face and is shallow. A lot of people buy dishes that are more appropriate for dogs (too deep) or too small in diameter (rabbits!). Just look at your cat’s whiskers to get an idea of the best width for your cat’s food dish. The best dish I have come across is called The Wetnoz Studio Scoop 5 cup. It’s a dogs bowl ;-)… The large size suits most cats’  faces especially large breeds such as Persians, Norwegian Forest and Maine Coons. Food should be placed away from water and definitely as far away as possible from the litter tray. You can make drinking water fun for your cat by buying it a water fountain.

If you have a multi-cat household then set up separate feeding stations, as cats like space away from other cats to eat and it will also stop unwanted behaviour such as food bullying.

Feeding times should be structured, e.g. breakfast in the morning, before you go to work and an evening meal when you return home. If you are not in until late, use a feeding timer.

Food in the wild isn’t available all day and your cat’s digestive system needs time to rest! Without a proper feeding schedule many cats WILL eat all day, even when full, which can lead to obesity. A feeding schedule also breaks up the day for an indoor cat and you will begin to notice your cat getting much more excited at meal times when scheduled feeding times are introduced. If you wish your cat to eat regular but small amounts of wet food through-out the day then consider a food timer which has ice trays.

Treats like Frieze dry chicken or beef are great 100% meat snacks and can be fun in a treat puzzle ball or given as a small bedtime snack to see your cat through the night.

Litter Tray
A lot of people buy litter trays that are too small or too gimmicky. Ensure you have a large enough tray for your cat to move around in and dig properly. They should also be able to collect litter from another area of the tray to cover their toilet. Large plastic ‘under the bed’ storage trays are great for this. Don’t line the tray with plastic bin bags or paper. This makes digging harder for the cat, is a totally unnatural material for them to have in their toilet area; bags and paper collect urine, which will turn rancid quickly and be very unpleasant for a cat, whose sense of smell is second to none. For this reason, most cats who have litter trays lined with bags or paper do not cover their toilet. One litter tray per cat is the general rule, plus an extra one in separate areas of multi-cat households, in case one cat blocks a litter tray site entrance (to stop the other resident cat using it easily). Cats do not need lids over their trays. These are mainly for humans. Although a very shy, timid cat may feel more secure with a hooded tray, most cats do very well without them. If you do need to get a tray with a cover make sure the litter tray is XXX large so that the hood does not restrict movement.

Last, but not least, don’t come home and get straight on your computer or crash in front of the TV without giving kitty some attention. The days can be very long and boring for an indoor cat, so they will be very excited to see you when you get home from work.

Time put aside for play is absolutely essential for your cat’s well-being. To be honest it’s also good for owners to wind down after a hard day with some good wholesome kitty love! Spend some time showing your cat just how special she is to you, after all, your cat isn’t just there for your entertainment or to look pretty sitting in your home.

Understanding your cat, its origins and basic natural behaviour, will help you to see what needs to be done inside its home environment and will enable your cat to have the happiest and most fulfilling life it can, especially if it’s confined for the rest of its natural life.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Anita Kelsey for the CFBA. www.catbehaviourist.com

Scratching Posts
A Room With A View
DA Bird Feather Teaser
Cat Dreams DVD
Litter Tray
Cat Tree
Window Ledge
Happy Cat

Lack of Understanding Your Dog by Jacqui O’Brien

Dogs are sociable creatures and enjoy vocal communication. They soon learn to get our attention and what they want on demand, before we realise that we are being manipulated. We often inadvertently reinforce the undesirable behaviour. A successful cure or control of most problems will certainly mean modifying the owner’s behaviour towards the dog.

Problem Barking
It is important to understand that barking is not the problem, but the lack of control. There are probably more situations that a dog owner wants the dog to give voice than not. Before trying to cure a problem, we must understand the underlying reason for its occurrence. Barking, from your dog’s point of view, is quiet natural behaviour. Dogs have a repertoire of auditory communications. They range from whines, yelps and screams, grunts, growling, tooth snapping, through to barking and less common howling. These sounds are used in different contexts and associated with various behaviours.

Barking is used:

  • In defence of itself, or you, and your property
  • In play
  • As a greeting
  • When left alone
  • Calling for attention
  • As a warning

The domestic dog learns to use its voice in many different situations often with our help.

Some of the following may be familiar:

  • When your dog rushes to the front door barking – do you shout after it to “shut up”?
  • When your dog barks in the car at something – do you try to shout above the barking “shut up”?
  • When your pup/dog goes to the door and asks [yaps or barks] to go out – do you let it out and when it asks to come in – do you let it in?
  • When your dog brings a toy to you, putting it on your lap or at your feet then barks for you to play – do you pick it up, throw it for your dog and have a game.
  • When your dog is yapping or barking at something that is out of reach – do you get it and give it to your dog?

If your answer to any of the above is “yes” then do not blame the dog; you have actually reinforced your dog’s barking. When you shout “shut up” if your dog continues barking, it thinks that you are joining, thus reinforcing what he is doing. You have taught your dog that barking gets your attention and you respond to your dog’s demands.

There are going to be situations that you are pleased that your dog has given voice:
Your pup asking to go out to relieve itself.
Your dog warning you that a stranger has come onto your property.
It is difficult for your dog to be selective – it can bark once to give you warning or it can bark until an unwanted stranger leaves your property.

What to do
Keep calm and do not join in with your dog’s excitement. Do not shout commands your dog is going to learn to ignore. There are several ways commonly used to modify a dog’s behaviour:
Ignore your dog’s demands – which often works, because the dog gets fed up and shuts up. There is always the exception and they just keep on and on and on. The use of orienting stimuli to distract and interrupt unwanted behaviour, this can be sound or scent.

There are various applications on the market from gas-propelled and electronic alarms, some of which are ultrasonic, others very loud. Devices that automatically release water or citronella spray, at the moment the dog barks. The problem is that they are not selective and could stop the dog barking at all times; also they can be set off by another dog’s bark. Stress may be the cause of the dog barking and this will make the dog more anxious. The most useful would be a remote control mechanism so you can time its use – you are in control.

The use of a non-vocal conditioned stimulus to interrupt undesired barking, such as a few pebbles in a can or metal discs on a ring. To obtain the initial response it is thrown near the dog to interrupt the barking giving you a few seconds to give calm praise while the dog is quiet. Then the tin or discs are just rattled. This method will work, but it requires excellent timing, skill and a steady hand to avoid giving prior warning before its use, because this could make your dog apprehensive to your slightest movement.

Teach your dog to bark on command then teach it to be quiet. This takes a little more effort, but is more reliable being a positive learning process; your dog will enjoy learning a new trick and having your attention – it can be fun for you as well. It may seem strange, to teach the dog the behaviour you are trying to stop, but if you look at it logically, if you can teach your dog to do something, you have the power/control to also stop the action.

Leadership – Fact or Fiction? by Ross McCarthy

The issue of whether a dog should be described as dominant is yet again a hot topic in the dog world at present. Not particularly for pet owners, trainers and behaviour practitioners who observe dogs daily, but a tiny group of behaviour counsellors or academics who speculate that there is not such thing. It is a long and complex discussion, that there simply is not enough space for in this magazine, but I will describe some of the points.

Dog professionals are always seeking to further understand the dog, what makes it tick, its behaviour and of course to develop new methods of behaviour reformation and training. Those of us who own more than one dog and who observe their dogs interacting on a daily basis are left with no uncertainty that our domestic dogs are pack animals derived from the wolf.

Asserting Dominance
My own male German Shepherds display ritualised threats in many situations throughout the day, each and every day. The older, more dominant dog will growl and bare his teeth frequently at the younger dog. The younger dog is very deferential (so far) and therefore fights do not occur – an innate pack order is maintained. My elderly dog takes possession of the food bowls, the back of the car, his sleeping space, my attention, toys, old bits of wood and he also dominates the younger dog whenever he feels like it, with no obvious reason evident to the human onlooker. My younger dog clearly understands the rules of the house and knows where he stands in relation to the other dog. If for example, my older dog is laying by the back door, the younger dog will not pass him, but if the situation is reversed, the older dog will simply walk towards him and make him move out of the way. A clear example of dominance and deference in action and it maintains the peace. This is of course fact, not theory and I have observed this in hundreds of other dogs through my work.

Why the question of dominance
The problem is, that some questionable minor research is done, published and swallowed without question by some people.

Often this is misinterpreted and regurgitated to pet owners as fact causing confusion. Although I keep myself abreast of recent research and the opinions of others, I always base my knowledge on the dogs that I handle and deal with on a daily basis by observing their interactions within the family group which often contains adults, children and other animals. I observe the dog behaviour patterns and how that dog interacts with each family member, other dogs, the family cat and visitors into the home.

There is no equality in dog society; you lead or you are led. This does not negate the fact that we can develop a trusting enjoyable relationship with our pet dogs. On the contrary, a dog that knows its position in the family pack is without doubt a happy and contented dog and moreover, a less anxious and more confident animal. We lead in most situations by default. We decide when the dog eats, goes for a walk and such like.

The word ‘dominance’ seems to be a contentious issue in the dog behavioural world. The word simply means “ more important, strong or noticeable than anything else of the same type” and “the relative position of an individual in a social hierarchy”.

People who wish to demote the word dominance, state that it now means when a dog wants to take over the family group – to lead in all situations and eventually to take over the world – the latter of course is written somewhat facetiously by people wishing to make a point or to perhaps make an issue where none exists. They prefix the argument with “new, modern” its no such thing, it is spin and reinvention to sell a prejudicial view.

A dominant dog has no desire to take over the family or to lead in all areas of life, just to protect its possessions and positions that it feels are important to him and in relation to his intrinsic pack rules. There is no malice, simply a normal innate drive lesser or greater in an individual dog or breed of dog.

When dogs interact with each other displaying ritualised aggression and dominance over each other which obviously they do, why would a dog not treat us in the same way? I am not suggesting that dogs view us as dogs, but what I am suggesting is that dogs have a complex blueprint of behaviours that prepare them for life in a pack and that they do not have the thought processes to accommodate other species behaviours. Dogs can only behave like dogs and we have to make the effort to work with and manipulate these behaviours to make the relationship work for our complex society.

I see many dogs of different breeds that one may describe as dominant. They are quite happy to ignore their owners and do as they like with whatever punishment their owners deliver being like water off a ducks back. They are pushy, in your face, in your way, causing mischief, attention seeking and demanding. They often mouth their owners, steal articles like tea towels, socks etc, pull on clothes and generally dominate the lives of their owners for most of the time. Of course, the result is masses of attention on their terms.

Dominance is not aggression. I know some dominant people, always pushing for their own way, always deciding where their group of friends should meet and at what time, who will drive, dominating the conversation over dinner and not listening to the opinions of others, but believing their view is correct. They are not aggressive people, just dominant and somewhat forceful. One could describe them as natural leaders in certain circumstances.

Dominance Aggression
Most puppies from the outset accept people as leaders, a source of food, warmth, fun, support, protection etc and simply rarely challenge us and on the whole are quite deferential. However, there are many dogs that I see that show no hesitation in challenging owners over possession of an item or position in a bed, on a sofa and the like. This behaviour often begins during puppy-hood. It is not uncommon in my line of work to meet eight or nine week old puppies that display vocalised aggression, snapping and biting at their owners over what the puppy deems as another trying to get what it now has. This behaviour is innate – an instinctual drive to preserve resources. This is dominance aggression. The foundation is set, but it is how we handle these early challenges and general interaction that either compounds the problem and increases the aggression or eliminates it.

Some of the current speculative ideas state that dominance aggression does not exist. The crux of the issue is that these same writers don’t tell you what does exist in their view, but simply use jargon to disguise their lack of real knowledge. Recently people have been describing dominance aggression as ‘control-complex aggression’ – bizarre. It really is just down to semantics, the behaviour is the same. Some people may inform you that when a dog growls at a person – it’s owner, it is simply because it has never been presented with a reason not to or has learnt that this is rewarding or more recently to avoid a perceived ‘punishment’. Of course the use of aggression generally is rewarding if people recoil and that is what usually increases such displays at a rapid rate. There is a large learnt component in dominance aggression, but the dominance is innate. An intrinsic behaviour that ensures survival of the fittest.

Many behaviour advisors now refer to dominance or ‘pack theory’ as being outdated along with dominance reduction programmes being unkind and when applied – causing the dog stress. They are wrong and these people produce no evidence to support these fatuous claims, it is simply read and regurgitated and that is what is dangerous and confusing for good pet owners who want the best for their dog. More bizarrely, they offer no alternative programme that we can see works, which is the Achilles-heel of their argument.

Dominance Reduction Programmes
If one brings up a puppy with fair leadership, correct socialisation, rules, control, obedience training to a high standard, mental stimulation and correct exercise there is likely to be few problems when the dog develops into adult-hood. However, these dogs are not the type of dogs that Frontline Behaviour Practitioners deal with. We deal with dogs that have not had such a good start and whose aggression is well embedded and has resulted in serious attacks on people. Even when there is a history of many bites upon an owner when I deploy a dominance reduction programme (leadership plan), the results are quite amazing. This of course is in conjunction with other re-training advice. I do not believe that a leadership programme is a ‘cure all’, but the results do speak for themselves. In my experience, the leadership programme has the opposite of causing stress, dogs become calmer, more malleable to training, listen to their owners more and are more content with life. That information is not taken from a book or a theory, that’s as it happens weekly in my office and from the words of the owners who are the final judges and who of course want contentment and happiness for their dogs.

In general within ten days of placing a dog on a leadership programme, in most cases the main conflict, trauma, and distress of the dog and owner had been dramatically reduced or in about half of the cases actually removed. Thereafter, relationships were so improved within a few months and further education and training could commence to get a good all-round result.

What causes real stress for dogs is confusion and conflict. I have seen so many people that are made to feel like failures because they are unable to follow bizarre behavioural advice that operates on a misguided system which begins with empty words like kind, gentle, reward bordering on mystical wishful thinking and time. Dogs that have bitten people do not have time – they need to quickly be brought under control to remain in that home and not another statistic in the dog rescue home or on the vets euthanasia list. Clients need advice, training and methods that work and show results and combine training knowledge and behaviour. That’s what I describe as kind.

A leadership programme is simply looking at the dogs innate drives and adjusting its routines accordingly. For example, when a dog seeks and receives attention endlessly, this is removed so that attention is given at the owners behest and not the dogs. No less attention, just a reallocation. We always link the attention to good behaviour. Many people implement this type of training – because it works. They simply do not have it under the heading of dominance, but attention control. Same issue; different words.

I do not advocate that all dog owners follow a dominance reduction programme, but when a dogs behaviour is seriously aberrant, I will do all I can to ensure that the dog stops biting people, stays alive and living with his family, safely and has an improved quality of life.

An example
Only last week, a rescued dog was presented to me by her third owner and if I could not solve the dogs’ problems quickly, she was being returned to the rescue home to be euthanased.

The very responsible and patient owner was critically torn between the love of her little dog and her lifestyle being compromised to such an extent that her husband could not go in to the kitchen without being attacked and virtually all visitors had ceased – this little dog has attacked and bitten over 150 times in the six months that her current owner had her.

The dog was already sleeping on the woman’s bed and the couch from where it had launched attacks on visitors and stopped her husband going near her. In one week, having put the dog on an intelligent leadership programme, all of the aggression had ceased. The owner was ecstatic with the result and her words were that this dog had never been so happy, relaxed and content – fact, not theory.

What we are talking about overall is a word game. We all need to make sure that we create a fair, balanced, communicative and symbiotic relationship with our dogs. Dogs are opportunists and extremely adaptive – they are not trying to take over the world, just take opportunities as they are presented to them. We must respect our dogs and give them the best quality of life we possibly can. Dogs need to be happy and controlled. Dogs are not people, they are dogs and to treat a dog like a dog is the kindest thing one can do. Allow your dogs to live in a consistent world with black and white rules, plenty of love, praise and attention, but always to encourage the positive behaviour. Dogs are very special and they deserve proper understanding and care – not mythical ideals.

Whether or not you feel dominance exits, it is only a word with a number of interpretations. Call it bullish, call it over-confident, superior, arrogant, overriding or even ‘control-complex’ if you must. It makes no difference which words we use to describe the same thing. Rather than be ‘blinded by pseudo science’ and some academics who wish to confuse you with jargon to promote their own vague ideas, just make your own mind up by observing your own dogs and those that you meet. Thankfully the more we study and understand the dog the more our knowledge grows and the more training methods evolve and change. Dogs are what they always have been and that won’t alter – their ancestry can not be changed. It is us who change through knowledge, not the dogs.

By Ross McCarthy

Lessons from a Deaf Dog by Barbara Sykes

Our little deaf rescue dog Drift has a home. He is now safe and happy along with Bobby, one of his friends from the barn they were rescued from, but he has left a legacy of unbelievable knowledge behind that I, for one, will never forget and will always be grateful to him for.

Over the years we have rescued deaf dogs, all of which have had behavioural problems and most of which have stemmed from not enough management and far too much toy orientated information. Hearing dogs that get wound up by just seeing a toy can be difficult to manage, but when a dog is deaf it is very difficult to break through its barrier of manic focus on the toy to get some attention and some manners from it.

In many cases owners have tried to get the dog’s attention by showing it a toy or a treat, which in theory gets the dog’s attention thus encouraging it to engage in some form of communication. However, what has happened in the case of our rescues has been quite different in practice. The dog becomes so focused on its treat that it completely bypasses the owner and any contact they try to make. A deaf dog can only know there is something on offer if it can see it, because it can’t hear any noise; consequently it begins to look for some kind of object as a permanent form of entertainment rather than trying to communicate with a living being. Some of the deaf dogs we have taken in have been hyper, some have been so ball or toy orientated that they haven’t known how to relax and enjoy human company. Many have become tail chasers as they seek to keep themselves entertained, having been denied the simple pleasures of a human and companion dog relationship. In all cases they have been dependant on some form of object, game, toy or ball to form any kind of communication.

We don’t communicate with toys, but use ourselves and our body language. With Drift we had a dog so natural and so responsive that in many cases he became our dog mentor in return for our human mentoring.

Drift was about nine months old when he came to us and he had spent most of his life shut in a barn. He had not been physically abused, but he had been neglected, was undernourished and like the other dogs that came in with him, he was a pack dog.

Puppies will form a puppy pack and when they leave to go into their new homes they need the same kind of mentoring and boundaries that they have received from birth from their mother. Drift was still part of a pack, but was now in adolescence so we gave him the same kind of instruction we would give to a puppy. He needed to know that he could trust us as well as a form of communication with us. He was used to trusting Ben and Bobby as they had been his ‘ears’ for a long time, so when he was given a pen of his own he needed someone else he could rely on and someone he could understand.

Right from the beginning I only spoke my thoughts to Drift, I never even attempted to call him or to give him verbal instruction. The body changes with each thought process and a dog will pick up on body smell and posture, but sometimes our thoughts are masked or are not clear enough. For that reason I spoke many of my thoughts aloud, not so that he could pick up sounds, but so he could ‘hear’ with his nose. When I went into his pen I didn’t just think that I loved him, that he was special and that he was safe. I said it quietly to myself. This put my body into the right kind of ‘smell frame’ – for want of a better explanation – then I would stand in the doorway with my back to him, talk to him for a moment and then walk out into the building. It wasn’t long before Drift followed me out.

This was the format for quite some time; we didn’t even try to advance to another stage. It was nearly two months before Drift was ready for a new learning curve, but in that time he had learned to walk on a loose lead. When he was unsure of anything he stood behind me and when he did walk freely around me he never went more than a couple of strides in front and he always kept an eye on me to make sure his ‘safety net’ was still in tact. When Drift sat down I began using a hand signal and each time he came to me I welcomed him with my body language; it wasn’t long before the hand and body signals preceded the action.

What amazed me were other people’s reactions to his progress or rather in their eyes, lack of it. Remarks such as, “you’ve had him for three months and he doesn’t know anything yet” or “so what else does he know, he needs to learn tricks to keep him busy”. Then the one that really got to me, “you can’t use those hand signals they’re not the proper ones”.

One – after three months he knew a lot, in fact he knew all he needed to know. He walked well on a lead, off the lead he rarely left my side and when he did he kept a close eye on me. He came when I signalled him and he both gave and received lots of love.

Two – he certainly didn’t need ‘tricks’ to keep him busy, he was happy being my pal.

Three – as long as the dog understands the signals given what does it matter if they are not the ‘proper ones’? I was told I had to lift my hand for him to sit, but to me that wasn’t natural. All I did was allow my body to carry out my thoughts and then encourage Drift to apply my body language to his actions.

After a trip to the vet to remove a hernia, Drift moved into the house. In a cage in my hall he was a clean and peaceful chap and when I let him out he either followed me round or played with the other dogs. After about a week his confidence grew and he became more than a little cheeky. On one occasion he sneaked under the yard gate and set off down the drive, there was no way I could call him back, but there was no need to worry; as soon as he realised he was on his own and outside of my protective pack area he came racing back as if he had a mad dog chasing him. Drift soon discovered which of my house-dogs would encourage him to play and which would put a definite stop to any of his antics. He was almost becoming one of the family and for that reason he was moved back into an outside pen. We had already asked ourselves if we should keep him and could we justify denying him a relationship with someone where there were less or no other dogs vying for attention? In the end we decided he would stay with us until the right home turned up for him and if it didn’t, then we had gained another resident.

Once again we received criticism, because we should be letting him go to someone who would ‘work’ him. He should be doing agility or something to keep him occupied. Drift didn’t need occupying, he was perfectly capable of amusing himself and he was extremely content. We were never short of people wanting to adopt him, but the reasons were often totally unacceptable to us. From wanting a deaf dog so it wouldn’t be scared of fireworks, to feeling the need to have a challenge. We also had someone who thought it would be good to have a deaf dog as the one they already had was blind so they could help each other. There were also some really good potential guardians for him whose circumstances were just not right at that time to take on such a commitment. So we waited. What we needed was someone who wanted Drift, not because he was deaf, but because they loved him. Finally his forever home turned up with two smashing people who not only loved Drift, but also our Bobby. So they are now together on a smallholding, forever friends and with nobody putting great expectations on them; they don’t have to ‘do’ or keep human beings entertained. They can simply be themselves and that’s what every dog deserves.

The one thing we all need to remember is that being deaf is not a problem for a dog, it doesn’t know any other way of living. Having a deaf dog is not a problem. The problem is the complicated way we humans try to deal with it.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Barbara Sykes for the CFBA, the CIDBT and their students of Dog Behaviour & Training