People have often asked me why I do this job and what qualifies me to call myself an animal behaviour specialist. The short answer is that I love animals and I have spent a fortune studying their behaviour. The long answer is detailed – yes I love animals, yes I am qualified but more than that I have many years experience behind me that is backed up by science, research and qualifications.
This is an industry that is not regulated. Anyone can call themselves a behaviorist but that doesn’t mean they are qualified to do the job or that they have an understanding of what goes in the animals brain. As part of my studies I did a module on nutrition but I am NOT a nutritionist, I did a module on neuro-pharmacology and studied the diseases that affect behaviour but I am NOT a vet and I do not give out advice on those subjects.
I have read books on counselling but that doesn’t qualify me to set up as a counsellor. Get my drift. There are people out there who think that because they’ve read a few books, watched a TV programme and owned a few dogs that they can set up as a behaviorist. There are also people who although have not qualified are damn good trainers. They have earned the right to be trainers through their experience but to practice in behaviour is a whole different ballgame. An understanding of the brain and cognition is vital. The job is so much more than what you see on TV. It’s not just about the animals it’s the people too. There are so many factors involved in a behaviour case, the relationships between people, relationships between humans and dog, physical and psychological issues in the dog, pain, illness, neuro-chemical issues and neurological issues, suppressed emotions in humans and dogs and variations in physical development. Then throw hormones into the mix. Until I studied I had no idea how the hormone cycle works and it’s correlation to development physically and emotionally. It’s never simple but fascinating and interesting. Training is essential along with an innate understanding of the brain and internal mechanisms.
All of this is what got me into this job. I grew up with dogs – dachsunds to be precise and I got my first dogs as a married adult. We got 2 litter brothers (Labradors) and we adored them but we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. It was a baptism of fire. I read every book I could find, took advice off anyone who spoke to me and none of it worked. Why? Partly because I didn’t know how to apply it and partly because it wasn’t methodology that dogs understand. It was all about showing your teeth, sitting in their beds, eating first and generally rank reduction ideas which I now know are alien to dogs and only suppress emotions.
The 2 years with both dogs were tough. It was full on and hard work. As the boys hit maturity they fought hard. Both dogs were struggling and on edge and with a toddler in the house it was getting tricky. We swallowed our pride and rehomed one of the dogs. It was the best thing we did for both dogs but it made me wonder why it didn’t work.
So I enrolled on a course with COAPE (now the preferred education provider for the Kennel Club) I loved their ethos about getting to the bottom of an animals emotions and treating them kindly in a way they understand. No dominance based stuff or pack leader business. Just good old understanding. By the time I finished the course I had a good grounding of all the things I mentioned that are involved in dealing with behaviour stuff.
I started out helping in a dog training class, learning practical handling skills, observing canine body language and human too for that matter. I learned a lot about the sort of classes I wanted to run, how I wanted it to look and the things I didn’t want.
I trained up and qualified as a trainer of assistance dogs with DOG A.I.D and learned how to clicker train and shape tasks.
I started some private behaviour work and built my experience and relationship with local vets. After a few years I started running my own classes. They took off and became very popular but I became a victim of my own success and I burned out. I had primary school age children and a husband and the workload became too much so I stopped running the classes and concentrated on behaviour work.
My lovely lab died age 13 and our next dog was Koda a Northern breed Inuit type. She has taught me so very much. Together we have done assistance dog demos, dabbled in working trials, search and rescue training and currently we are working our way through the Talking Dogs Scentwork programme. Koda was a teaching dog for a long time working with young dogs helping them learn social skills.
I spent a number of years running the obedience department of a local dog club and Koda often came along to help with classes. I developed puppy programmes and new class structures.
I have also become very involved in the wolf dog arena working closely with a number of these breeds. I work closely with a handful of breeders running training days for their puppy owners and helping with any behaviour issues although those are few and far between because the pups are raised so well and the owners get so much support from our training days and hands on breeders.
This has led to a number of invitations to run seminars and write for magazines.
What’s my favourite part of the job? Seeing the joy in owners and dogs when things are put right and the relationship is healed. Over the last year I’ve been learning the technique of Free Will Teaching – a technique that involves balancing emotions through giving choices and allowing animals to use free will to make those choices which in turn allows them to assess a situation and respond appropriately and safely. I am now raising a terrier this way and apply this to all my clients with incredibly effective results.
The job has its downsides too. Sometimes dogs need rehoming or putting to sleep. The hardest thing is when you meet a dog with so much potential but it’s been set up to fail it’s whole life. Sometimes the humans find it all too much and those cases are hard, really hard. These cases weigh on us, we take them home and wonder what else we could have done. Dog trainers and behaviorists apparently have one of the highest burn out rates and stress levels. I’m not sure there is any other profession that has to deal with adults, children, animals, emotions, hormones and different learning styles all at the same time. If that wasn’t enough the safety of everyone involved is in our hands. Why do I do it? Well it comes back again to a love of animals and people and wanting to see safe and happy relationships that last for life. Humans spend their lives striving for love, happiness and contentment. Animals just want to be safe, comfortable and happy. I think they deserve it don’t you?
Copyright © Sam Redmond. All rights reserved