This week a couple of new enquiries have surprised me somewhat. They have severe issues with their dog’s or cat’s behaviour, and really need help, but approached with a strongly pre-conceived idea of how we would work. It’s unusual for someone to tell you how you will do your job, and not a little irritating if I am honest, but I thought it would be worthwhile having a discussion about our expectations.
Notwithstanding we are in the middle of a pandemic and have a risk assessment longer than the Bible, cannot handle the animals in our care, cannot go to people’s homes for as long as it needs, and generally have been forced to change how we work (currently we work remotely, and it’s been brilliant!).
On a TV show, you are shown the disastrous home, terrible owners, awful pet’s behaviour. Then up pops the charismatic person who saves the day. It’s very interesting, but what it doesn’t show you are the hours of discussion, assessment, and planning that go into changing and retraining a human family and their pet. The TV show loves to see the crazy behaviour but this in itself is really damaging, since the more practice any animal gets at a behaviour, the more permanent it becomes.
Contrary to this, a registered practitioner never deliberately tries to provoke a problem behaviour from any animal. It’s unethical and unkind. In addition, we don’t need to see the pet in their home, behaving badly, because the owners can tell us every single thing about that behaviour (and they do!).
Yes, we need to understand what is happening, and that makes total sense, but we do that by interviewing the owners and family, as they can describe what has happened before. Imagine me asking someone to get their dog to bite them, so I can see what’s going on.
It could be likened to an electrician asking you to touch a bare wire just to see if it’s live, or a driving instructor sending you off down the road in the car on your own at your first lesson ‘so that you learn by your mistakes’.
That’s not how a professional works.
Instead we get a really clear picture of what has happened before, implement safety advice, then we re-establish some basic ‘better behaviour’ skills (because most pets and owners haven’t had this either, no fault of theirs). We then build up the exposure to the problem (noise, other dogs, visitors, cats, etc) very gradually whilst we make sure the pet stays calm and happy instead of getting upset. Satisfying and effective and above all, kind and sensible. But undramatic!