Author Archives: Peggotty

Reasons…and excuses

I was under no illusions at all that I was making excuses for my rubbish parking skills when I told the amused Sainsbury’s assistant ‘My new car – it’s too bloody long!!’ as I mowed down the cone I was supposed to stop in front of, as I reversed into the space so I could collect my ‘click and collect’ shopping. I sometimes joke similarly about my dog’s ‘floppy ears’ when she ignores a verbal cue to do something. I know, really, that it’s my poor judgement about a badly timed or insufficiently trained cue, not her ‘floppy ears’, that are the problem, but joking aside – with our dogs, it can matter.

The dog owner who says ‘My Mongolian Duckhound – they just have to chase ducks! It’s what they’re bred for!’ as an excuse for not having trained or managed the situation well enough to stop their dog pursuing the ducks on the local duck pond. The dog walker who says ‘My dog doesn’t like other dogs – that’s why he barks and lunges at them when other owners let their dogs get too close’. All too often Ignoring the role they had in putting the dog in the position that it felt the need to kick off; blaming other dog owners and their dogs.

The blame game

When do reasons become excuses? That I was having difficulty parking my new car was undoubtedly because it was a much longer vehicle than I was used to. I hadn’t learned how to reverse park it into narrow spaces or judge its length.  But that becomes an excuse when I am clearly laying some kind of responsibility on the car for the problem, or Sainsburys for putting the cone in the wrong place, not my lack of skill if I don’t plan on doing anything about it to change the outcome next time I have to reverse into a narrow space.   

Same as with dog training – blaming the dog for actions, when it’s our management and training skills that are lacking, is very common. It allows people to place the responsibility for unacceptable or ‘wrong’ behaviour on the dog, or on other people. But any experienced dog trainer knows that is silly. If a dog hasn’t learned (yet) to not chase ducks, then as the big-brained human it is our responsibility to aim to manage the dog so it isn’t in a position to chase ducks.  That the dog made a bad decision (as far as the owner and the ducks were concerned – the dog probably had a great time!) to chase ducks is down to handler error. That the Mongolian Duckhound is hard-wired to want to chase ducks may be a reason the dog decided to chase the ducks, but blaming the dog for doing it is making excuses for poor management skills, or lack of training, on the part of the owner. Not liking other dogs might be the reason a dog keeps kicking off at other dogs, but if it keeps happening, then it is just making excuses for not managing walks better. Blaming other dog owners, or the dog’s history, in an effort to seem less culpable is a very understandable human response to making mistakes.

‘Stuff happens’

Human frailty means I am probably as guilty as the next person in sometimes exclaiming “B***** dog!!”, as it legs it over the horizon, but I do know, in my heart of hearts, that my emotional response isn’t the slightest bit helpful, or fair on the dog, and must aim to try harder next time to not let it happen.

Does it matter? Maybe not, but if the owner continues to blame the dog, other dog owners, the ducks for moving too fast, or the rest of the world for just being there (like that pesky cone in the Sainsbury’s car park), without actually doing any training, or changing how things are managed, so things are less likely to go wrong again could lead to disastrous consequences. Avoiding taking responsibility for the dog’s unwanted behaviour rarely does the dog any favours.

Of course we all misjudge things from time to time and management might fail (and random ‘stuff’ happens) – but let’s not blame the dog (or others) when it does. It’s important to try and identify reasons why dogs do or don’t do things. But it’s also important to do something about those reasons if the consequences are unwanted or likely to be potentially harmful.   

So I can see I shall have to spend some time and out some effort onto retraining reverse parking in narrow spaces before I mow down some hapless pedestrian, since should that happen, the excuse that my car is too long probably won’t stand up in a court of law!

Stranger danger

I remember the day I went out with a client with a lungy barky GSD – at the training stage of ‘dealing with random stuff on walks’. At one point a large truck pulled up and a man got out clearly intent on talking to us, so while the handler did her ‘move the dog away to create a bit more distance and move behind mum’ strategy, I ran interference – the man was just asking directions. Which I gave him. Dog and handler doing really well on their own behind me. No lunging or barking. Almost relaxed owner.  As our accidental helper was about to go back to the truck I felt I had to ask – ‘do you know about dogs?’ because he hadn’t looked at the dog and owner at all. Not once. SO unusual. It turned out he had been a dog handler in the RAF and knew exactly how NOT to (as well as how to no doubt!) turn the dog into a whirling dervish monster dog. Turned a random encounter into a great positive training opportunity for which I thanked him.  

But how often can you rely on random strangers out on walks behaving in such a way to help you and your dog? IME hardly ever. They let their dogs come too close. They let their off lead dogs run over to us. They try to stroke and fuss our dogs – especially if they are cute puppies. Ask them to stop and they don’t. None of them mean harm. They love dogs just as we do. But every experienced dog owner can relate tales of how well meaning, but (but let’s be frank here!) ignorant people seem to mess things up for them. It’s a very human thing to want to hug and touch and make contact physically. It’s what most people do.

People will come up with loads of things to try and prevent those episodes happening. “My dog has mange” “Let me try and hug you to show you how unpleasant it is to be groped by a stranger”. I once had occasion to say clearly and deliberately to one person “my dog has bitten people for doing exactly what you are doing now. Please take your hand away”. Yet that person persisted in stroking her. It was a testament to Poppy’s progress that I was able to bring her away before she bit one more person for touching her in a way she deemed offensive! Calling out to people in the park “please call your dog away” as their dog runs over to say hello, rarely has a dog magically understanding the recall cue the owner might already be trying, in vain. That’s assuming they are trying. But many an owner could be genuinely mystified as to why a complete (possibly quite mad!) stranger is telling them to call their dog. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try these things. But IME we are so often left frustrated, angry or upset by what appears to be the thoughtless behaviour of these random strangers.

Being your dog’s advocate?

So if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that there is no point in relying on random strangers to change their behaviour to accommodate you and your dog. Being assertive and practiced at “being your dog’s advocate” in telling people to stop doing what they are doing can work. For sure. Always worth trying. But all too often unless you are prepared to be pretty rude to some people either in what you say, or what you do, and risk losing their willingness to help you in the future, as well as cause offence, you probably need to work on changing you and your dog’s behaviour rather than rely on changing their’s. If you aren’t very good at being assertive and start to sound worried and anxious in your attempts, you might well make your dog more anxious. Sound at all aggressive – ditto. But not only that – if it has come to the point where you and the other person are close enough to have that conversation, it’s probably already too late. They will have already stretched their hand out. They might already be cuddling your puppy. They have probably already made eye contact with your dog. Their dog is probably already trying to make “friends” with yours even more intimately.

Have a plan

So have a training plan to deal with ‘random strangers’. A strategy. It might be as simple as making sure you can easily turn and move away before the intruder- human or canine – gets too close so the situation doesn’t arise in the first place. It might be teaching your dog to move behind you. Your dog being up close and personal to you, with you acting as physical barrier, is likely to stop most humans in their tracks.

You could enlist the help of friends by asking them to role-play being a “random stranger”. Practice saying phrases like “Please don’t touch my dog” in a firm tone of voice, whilst rewarding the dog for moving behind you, for instance. Practice taking a step away, more or less subtly as the situation dictates, as the stranger moves closer.

Random strangers and their dogs can be a menace. They aren’t friends or training buddies who can be instructed in what they should do, or not do, to aid your cause. Accept it. 🙂 IME it’s much easier, and usually less stressful, to change how you and your dog behave than trying to change theirs. IME it’s much easier to train and manage a single dog than train or manage an entire population of random strangers.

Is Obedience for the dogs?

One of the first competitive activities pet dog owners took up with enthusiasm some 70 odd years ago was ‘Competitive Obedience’. It was an opportunity for like-minded enthusiasts to get together and train their dogs in a series of set exercises and be judged at just how well the dogs executed them. The exercises themselves have changed little over the years; but the techniques to train them most certainly have.   
 
The originators of the Kennel Club tests knew what they were about. The jargon and science we use today might not have been there, and our modern day understanding of the concept of ‘obedience’ has changed, but throughout the tests the dog is being trained for all the skills we want today. Impulse control, reliable responses to cues, being able to focus whilst being aroused and excited. Ability to become calm at the drop of a hat. Scentwork. Sharing and giving up articles willingly and happily. Independence and confidence in responding to cues at a distance from the handler. Being attentive to the handler. A willingness to work as a cooperative team and choosing to be with the handler. The first real test for any new competitor is usually finding a way to motivate the dog to want to stay in the ring! There are so many important lifeskills a dog acquires; so many training skills a handler has to learn to succeed.


Nowhere is the change for more positive, motivational techniques reflected than in the Obedience shows run by the British Competitive Obedience Society. The emphasis in the rules and tests is on the dog showing enthusiasm; wanting to join in with the handler in what are, by and large exercises of little immediate practical value. They have borrowed the best of the Kennel Club tests and given them a positive twist.  

So it is excellent news that BCOS already has their first post-covid show planned. Look out for it – if the idea of dogs being ‘obedient’ has put you off ‘Obedience’, then think again. Competitive Obedience (capital C; capital O) is for the dogs, as well as the humans.

A ‘good thing’

To my friends this will not come as a surprise. I LOVE doughnuts. I especially love the traditional deep fried, well cooked, caster-sugared jammy ones. I recall as a very young child where and how it started. The local bakers- Marigolds – not only sold them, sometimes we’d sit down and eat them at the few tables they had in a corner of the shop while mum had a coffee. I can remember also when I learned you could enjoy doughnuts any time. It was my brother in law to be’s fault. Yes, you, Jim Crompton. Driving me to the airport having had a stay in the USA, we stopped at something like seven in the morning to buy an assortment of doughnuts. Who knew that was even possible? But my love affair with them has never really wavered and its with regret my weight says I have to limit my intake of them these days.  

So what has this to do with dogs?

Well – if tomorrow I were to experience a doughnut that was horrible, as in truly disgusting that it made me ill I’d know – because of my previous positive experiences of eating doughnuts – it would be the exception. That it was a one off. My experience of many sorts of doughnuts mean I prefer some over others and some are, to be frank, disappointing, but my faith in the pleasure and delight doughnuts normally brought me would be undented.  So if we have a dog that is attacked and harmed by another dog, but our dog has had heaps of great, positive experiences of all sorts of dogs before he met that one nasty one, with any luck he’ll write it off to being a ‘one off’. The exception. With any luck he’ll happily continue engaging with other dogs sociably, knowing that mostly they are a ‘good thing’.

If the very first doughnut I’d ever eaten had been horrible and so 100% of my doughnut eating experience had been a negative, nasty one and I decided to never eat another, well, that would have been a tragedy. I might never understand the delights of doughnut eating. I might have gone though life assuming doughnuts were a ‘bad thing’ instead of the ‘good thing’ they are. But no doubt I’d be a couple of stone lighter too.

Follow the leader?

One of the things a lot of trainers used to insist owners taught their dogs was to make sure they – the owner – went through doorways first. It was believed that it supported the owner’s position as ‘pack leader’ and showed the dog who was in charge by leading the way. Like much advice associated with outdated ideas about how to deal with ‘dominant’ dogs, it has fallen out of favour and doesn’t seem to be taught much these days.  But is that wise or sensible? I say not.

However much I’ve tweaked and adapted my class content over the years ‘dog following owner though doorways’ has always stayed in there, somewhere. And I teach it to every dog I own. Yes, really. For many people it conjures up pictures of ‘pack leaders’.  Dogs being subservient to the human in charge. But in my book it’s just plain sensible for the dog to learn to tuck itself behind the owner, and let them deal with whatever may be out there first. It is also an excellent way for a dog to learn self-control.

Many years ago I used to teach classes in a hall which had a stage where people sat waiting for their class to start. An owner with a large RottieX arrived, dog out ahead of him at the end of the lead. The dog went through the door onto the stage – but something made the door swing shut on the lead. So the owner was one side – dog the other. What the owner couldn’t see, and didn’t, was there was a child on the stage just the other side of that door. As the dog bounced though the door, he jumped at the child and grabbed his arm. Fortunately, playfully, and without doing any damage. But by the time the owner had opened the door, the dog had let go, and the owner was blissfully unaware what had happened until he was told. Disaster was averted – but only just.

What I took from seeing that near miss was that from a safety point of view, the dog mustn’t be the one to discover what is on the other side of any door first. It’s simply too late, and potentially dangerous, to let the dog go through and then discover there’s a hazard on the other side. He will have already kicked off at the dog that is just outside, or started to chase the cat sitting on the step or grabbed the child waving its arms about excitedly. The harm will have been done. Shutting stable doors and all that.  

In the context of reactive dogs it is even more important.   Nothing puts more dread in my heart than seeing an over-aroused dog appear in a doorway before the owner is visible! Seeing them drag their owners ahead at stiles, doorways and gates, around blind corners – especially front doors or into a dog training hall – you just know it won’t take much to send that dog spiraling upwards and kicking off before the owner is even aware there is another dog around.  

It’s not a ‘teach the dog a sit stay and then give him permission to charge through ahead of you’ obedience exercise (although it can be helpful to teach the dog go though ahead on some kind of cue), it’s an exercise where the dog, as a default, learns to drop back behind the owner in order to negotiate narrow spaces. Where someone – either the dog or the handler – has to go first. And if needs be, pausing in that doorway first, so the environment can be checked out first. That it’s safe to proceed. No lurking cats, passing dogs or children. Nothing to do with being a ‘pack leader’, just plain sensible.

Pretty is as pretty does

Today some pictures of the cutest, fluffiest little dog needing a home strayed across my Facebook timeline. So many comments from people on how beautiful she was and how they’d so like to give her a home. She WAS beautiful too. But people were wanting to offer her a home purely on what she looked like? How crazy is that? OK, aesthetic appeal matters and I’d be lying if I didn’t say some dogs attract me visually more than others. But when offering a dog a home what it looks like surely is the least important thing to consider?

Poppy
Poppy – pretty, but could also be pretty horrid!

Meet Poppy a collie I owned. Poppy was very pretty. I had people say ‘She bites? But she’s so pretty!’ as though prettiness excluded any desire to bite people! I knew her history – she was born and reared (presumably with minimal human input) on a Welsh puppy farm and ended up in a pet shop in South London/Surrey before she was 8 weeks old. That she was unsuited to a pet home in an urban area with first time dog owners who had no car to take her to parks or dog training classes, no experience or knowledge to make good decisions about her, let alone deal with the issues such a poorly bred and reared dog would inevitably bring, seemed not to bother the pet shop owner. He sold her to them anyway. It did not work out well.

By 9 months old she was probably going to be euthanised because she was scary, scared, stressed and aggressive. It was sheer chance she ended up with me and I was able to give her a home which I hope was more suited to her needs and give her less cause to want to bite people.

We see so many dogs these days ending up in homes where those dogs and puppies that have NO experience of a life in a home, with people in their lives, wanting to fuss and cuddle them, or take them on leads for walks and expect them to meet other dogs and people – experience a toally alien life – under circumstances they’d never choose for themselves. Up close and personal when that may be the very last thing they want or need. They may have been shut in sheds and barns or shelters with no experience of the lives they are now forced to lead.

That their rearing and experiences are so wrong on so many levels is indisputable. That many learn to cope over time – because they have to – does that mean we should put them through it without a lot of hard thinking first?

So what are the alternatives? That raises other questions and dilemmas for another blog. I guess if we had all the answers we’d not see these dogs struggling and we wouldn’t feel we had to make appeals for good homes based on how ‘pretty’ or superficially attractive a dog is.

“Reactivity” and how to upset other dogs

Imagine…

You are a very sociable person. You were raised in a large family.  They often had friends round.You love people 🙂

wren whoosh and a bc
Getting to know each other – safely

Then as you were beginning to grow up and maybe even reached your teens, you were given away to a family of camels. Yes, camels. An entirely different species. They don’t hug or kiss or chat. They don’t talk to you in any kind of language you can understand – just a load of noises which make no sense to you. They stink too. Worse, they live in the desert, so from that day you don’t see another human being. But you get along OK. You adapt. It’s not a terrible life. Then one day, meandering about in the desert with your new camel family, you see on the horizon not just ONE human being, but a whole bunch of them! You can’t contain yourself. You charge over to them, laughing excitedly and generally making something of an idiot of yourself as you shout ‘HI! HI! OMG! People! Who are you?’ You hug and kiss a couple before they are really aware you are on top of them. But the third one is ready for you – and pushes you away angrily. After all – you are a complete stranger. You not only ignored all the social niceties of a proper greeting – you HUGGED him?? He gets cross.  At least the others just move away and put up with your nonsense. But that one who just got angry – he’s not prepared to let it go. He’s a bad tempered old bugger with a dodgy hip; he can’t evade you and it hurts. And you nearly had him over! He gets hold of you and shouts at you to ‘stop!’  Suddenly all your enthusiasm evaporates. You are frightened. You had never met anyone as grumpy as that before and you were only trying to be friendly and you hadn’t seen a fellow human being in ages.

Very quickly your camel family gallops up and intervenes and hurries you away. But mortified by your totally inappropriate behaviour, and angry with the grumpy old man who’d so viciously attacked you, it is clear they are upset as well. They make angry-camel noises at you. All very stressful. No chance for apologies. No making up between you and the humans you were so desperate to make friends with.  Everyone is angry and there’s a sour taste of frustration that you hadn’t been able to make friends with any of them and worse, finding out that some people are horrible to you. And you don’t know why. A poor encounter on every level.

So we can easily see how a young dog is being set up to make the kind of mistakes that can end in tears when encounters with other dogs are mismanaged, or allow him to behave in a way that upsets other dogs.  But worse than that, if something bad happens, what we humans do in response often compound those worries and fears. Our friend who lives with the camels wasn’t given the opportunity to learn actually most of that group of humans were OK, but, well, if you approach people in a crazy way, they are very likely to going to react badly, especially if they can’t move fast to get out of your way! 

Both our human friend and the grumpy old man might get labelled “reactive” in today’s world. The friendly youngster as he jumps up and down with excitement, shouting hello as he charges towards the group of people; the grumpy old man as he reacts sharply, and aggressively, to stop from being hurt or knocked over.  Very different motivations; potentially very different outcomes in the long term that might have been avoided had things been managed differently.

FINDING A DOG BEHAVIOURIST

Trainer? Or behaviourist?

People often use Facebook and Google to ask about training or behaviour issues with their dogs and FB can be great for exploring and sharing problems, and getting opinions from people who have experienced them, but it’s usually best to consult a trained and experienced professional. In the dog behaviour business though, there are no legal requirements; no rules at all about who can set up as a behaviourist or a trainer so you need to check their credentials with care.  

But which do you need anyway? A trainer or a behaviourist?

Essentially a trainer works with owners to help healthy, relatively untroubled dogs learn things. To use the old-fashioned term to be “obedient”. We talk about responding reliably to cues these days, and the techniques used are very different, but training is about helping the average, problem-free dog learn what owners want of them, and for owners to learn what is fair and reasonable to ask of their dogs. Trainers might be called in to help with housetraining puppies, or coming when called, or more specialist needs like competitive sports dog training or assistance dog tasks. The good dog trainer will have enough understanding of behaviour to spot if these training needs are symptoms of a more complex health or behaviour issue, especially if the dog is finding it difficult to learn to be responsive to what the owner needs or wants him to do. If they aren’t qualified to deal with those things (which they might, or might not, be), they should have the knowledge to know when to refer clients to other professionals.

Snowy’s “bad” behaviour was almost certainly in part due to him having dental problems and being in pain. It needed a vet’s input – as well as a behaviourist – to help him.

A behaviourist works with owners to help resolve behaviour problems. For example fearfulness, anxiety, aggressive behaviour, dog/dog “reactivity”. They aim to bring the dog’s behaviour to as near to problem–free as possible; the aim being to enable dog and owner to live in peace and harmony, the dog to live a ‘good life’ and to be more open to learning (training) if its needed. Not just for the owner’s sake of course, but for the welfare of the dog. That may need some ‘dog training’ skills as well, but that isn’t the behaviourist’s main role and they may refer clients to a trainer once underlying behaviour issues have been sorted out.  A good behaviourist works in cooperation not just with trainers, but with vets too. Most work only on vet referral since many behaviour problems result from pain or illness.

Some trainers are qualified behaviourists, and vice versa. There is inevitably a lot of overlapping of skills between the two.

Experienced or qualified?

Any trainer or behaviourist will do their best to ensure that their advice is founded in good science. Unfortunately evidence and good science is not only rather lacking in important areas of behaviour work, sometimes it’s pretty hard to apply to the ‘real world’. But it is widely accepted that a behaviourist would be educated in a directly relevant subject to at least degree level, so will usually have a relevant degree – either undergraduate or post graduate, typically in Applied Animal Behaviour or Clinical Animal Behaviour, and would normally have been mentored or examined in some way in order to demonstrate they can apply their knowledge and skills working with clients.  

If the problem is a serious aggression or behaviour problem then the first port of call should be the vet who can, and should, refer you to a qualified behaviourist. Veterinary surgeons don’t receive much training in dog behaviour at vet school, but they can specialise in behaviour work and some have pursued post graduate qualifications in behaviour, so it’s worth checking out if your vet’s practice has such a person. There are a few vets who are listed as specialists in veterinary behavioural medicine with the RCVS.

Some vet practices have vet nurses that have some extra training in behaviour to handle minor behaviour problems. Some may be qualified to work as behaviourists in their own right.  

Coaching and counselling skills also form an important part of the job. An effective behaviourist will have those too.

Dog behaviour work doesn’t have a single, straightforward set of skills, so although there are certain evidence based protocols which a good behaviourist would normally follow, it’s not like building a wall, cooking a soufflé or learning to drive so there will be variations in how each carries out their work.  There are two important significant variables that makes each case unique – your dog. And you.

So its a real hotch-potch of things to look out for. It pays to do some research to find out who is the right person to help you and to find out what their qualifications and experience can offer you.

LISTS OF BEHAVIOURISTS

There are other organisations than these listed – but these (below) should identify most currently in practice in the UK and some include the members of those other organisations. Each organisation has their own criteria for membership so you may want to check that out.  Typically they will have minimum academic standards, usually an assessment process, a code of practice and/or some kind of ethical statement, how members or their courses are accredited (if they are), if they have a complaints procedure (just in case things go wrong) and how they expect members to behave professionally, and how they maintain their skills. They vary. Note there are also behaviourists who are well qualified, and experienced, who are not members of any organisation. There is no obligation, legal or otherwise, for any behaviourist to join any organisation.   

ABTC – the Animal Behaviour and Training Council.

An organisation which brings together members of a number of organisations, including the long established Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC).  
http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/

Register of ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCAB)

The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) runs a certification scheme and lists those who have fulfilled their criteria.
https://www.asab.org/ccab/

FABClinicians – The Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians

An organisation established in 2020 which is a support organisation for those already academically qualified in clinical animal behaviour and working towards becoming certified by the Association of Animal Behaviour (ASAB).
https://fabclinicians.org/  

The International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants is what it says on the tin – it includes a number of respected British behaviourists as members so is worth checking out
https://m.iaabc.org/

Vet referral

Expect to be asked to go to your vet for a formal referral. It is usually best to approach the behaviourist first though to check out they are happy to take on your particular case, to discuss how soon they can see you and importantly how much it will cost. Behaviourists aren’t cheap. But you may be able to claim it on your veterinary insurance. The behaviourist (and your insurance company of course) should be able to advise you on that, so don’t be shy about asking – they will want to you to be able to pay them. You may also need immediate ‘first aid’ advice on how to manage a dog safely until you can see someone. That can be especially important where aggression is involved.

If they don’t want to ask for a formal vet referral, or suggest a visit to the vet won’t be necessary, ask why. It is considered ‘good practice’ to make sure health issues are eliminated and they ought to be able to justify such advice. Some behaviourists like to schedule a short assessment visit first.

Do your research

By now, hopefully its become clear It is important to do your research, even if the person you come across is on one of the registers, above.  Or indeed, if you find someone who calls themself a behaviourist, who isn’t on any register. They may also be good at the job, but be mindful they aren’t under any obligation to adhere to laid out codes of practice, or be answerable to a professional body. So long as your vet can satisfy themselves that person is fully qualified (and insured) it ought not be a problem for you to express a preference.

Other organisations will have their own criteria for membership and have members who may be excellent at the job, and well qualified in most significant respects.

1 – Internet – Check the various registers, above.

2 – Check the websites of likely candidates.   

Does it tell you what their qualifications and experience are? Especially if they aren’t on the registers, above. Are they relevant to what you need? “I became a behaviourist because I love animals and grew up with them” is NOT a qualification! Google their name – see if it throws up useful facts about their experience e.g. experience of specific issues which may or may not be relevant to your needs, interest in specific breeds or problems

Are they members of reputable organisation? (See above).

Do they describe HOW they work? Do they state what approach they take? They should. If they say things which suggest they buy into techniques which appear to rely on being a ‘pack leader’ or dismiss using food treats as a tool before they have even met your dog, for example, then you probably want to steer well clear of them.  If they are also trainers running classes, go and watch them at work if you want reassurances (but do ask first – it’s the polite thing to do J).

 3 – Ask other people locally. Get personal recommendations

Chat to local dog walkers, the local pet shop. Other dog owners. Be prepared for them to offer biased and uninformed opinions as well as sing praises of the people they respect though. Gossip and badmouthing people didn’t start with FaceBook! Just be ready to ignore what may just be scurrilous rumours about bad practice, but you are likely to get a picture of how well respected a behaviourist is, and their effectiveness, by talking to a range of local people who have experience of their services.

Now you have a behaviourist on board?

Once you have connected with a behaviourist, work with them as a team. A good behaviourist will want your feedback, and ready to adapt their advice (assuming its in everyone’s best interests to do so of course) to suit the circumstances, so don’t be scared to talk with them if their advice doesn’t appear to be working, or you believe it might be too difficult for you to follow. Check out you really are doing what they intended. 

But let’s assume all goes well and you are happy with the help you are getting. Behaviourists also love to know when things are working out and the problems sorted – so if they don’t ask, don’t let that stop you dropping them a line or giving them a call to say’ thanks! We are all well and happy now’. It will be appreciated.