At Best Behaviour, we have been working with people and their dogs for 11 years – so we have some perspective when it comes to the common problems facing the general dog-owning population. The recent pandemic and subsequent global crises have had a direct and indirect impact on all of us, affecting our lifestyles, priorities, finances and more. What we’ve noticed, as a training school, is that these events haven’t just affected us humans – they’re causing problems for our dogs, too. We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of people dealing with preventable behavioural issues, as well as a shift in attitude towards dogs, their needs and their training. We can’t ignore this welfare issue any longer, so we wanted to take some time to discuss the problems we are seeing and what dog owners can do to prevent and resolve them.
Whether you have just welcomed home a new puppy, you have found yourself with an unruly adolescent dog, are facing behavioural issues such as reactivity or separation anxiety, or are panicking about what to do now you are back in the office or about to go away on holiday – read on.
Since “freedom day,” when Covid restrictions were lifted, rescues have seen an increase in dogs being given up to shelters. The Guardian recently reported
that Dogs Trust has “seen a 39% increase in phone calls to hand over dogs since 12 July ,” and that “traffic to the ‘giving up your dog’ pages of its website in July was up 100% compared with February 2021 and 180% compared with February 2020.”
The pandemic puppy boom – when many were working from home or furloughed and decided it was a good time to bring a new dog into their lives – has resulted in many people who didn’t consider the long-term realities of dog ownership and who failed to seek the support they needed from professionals struggling to adjust. Not spending time training their dogs and not taking a proactive approach to socialisation, during a time when doing so was more difficult than ever, has left many owners with dogs who are under-socialised, untrained and may have developed behavioural problems. These can range from separation anxiety to troubling behaviours such as resource guarding and reactivity.
Why aren’t people training their dogs?
While we at Best Behaviour worked quickly to ensure we could continue to provide our dedicated clients with support online throughout the pandemic and lockdowns, many people simply didn’t realise it was an option while others were unwilling to adjust and didn’t recognise the immediate need to provide their dogs with structured training.
Now that we are getting back to our normal lives, it seems many people are prioritising different things. With around a third less people even searching online for dog training services, the dog training industry has seen a huge reduction in people training their dogs to prevent problems of the future and instead are waiting for deep seated problems to occur before seeking help. (despite statistics showing there are now a whopping 4 million
more dogs in the UK than there were in 2019!).
This is a worrying trend that is directly impacting our dogs’ welfare and futures. While some of this reduction can be attributed to the recent cost crisis, this certainly isn’t the only factor at play. When you consider that the travel industry is booming, as people rush to go on holidays which they have been unable to take for the past 2-3 years, it is clear that many people can and are spending money on more than just the basics – but what about the dog and their needs?.
What does this mean for our dogs?
As people look towards a summer of doing things which they’ve missed out on over the last couple of years, we are also seeing more and more people looking for “quick fixes” for their dogs. Though our super dogs often pick things up incredibly quickly, the reality is that quality training takes time and dedication. While our dogs may get the gist in just one session, they – just like us – need to practice new skills over a period of time if they are to truly learn how to behave consistently and reliably. Very few “quick fixes” last a lifetime – or, in fact, long at all – and many are actually unethical. Aversive training methods, using things like head collars, lead corrections and prong/e-collars to suppress the behaviours we don’t like (such as barking or pulling on the lead), often appear to work well in the moment but are ineffective in the long term. We also know they cause suffering to the dogs they are inflicted upon and can (and often do) create and compound behavioural issues; particularly aggressive behaviours.
With many of our pandemic-pups already suffering from behavioural issues due to a lack of training and socialisation during their formative months, as well as flashy social media clips giving a false impression of what is required to truly support our dogs, many pups are now going without – or worse, they are being subjected to inappropriate, sub-par training which can do more harm than good.
As owners panic about going back to the office or leaving their dogs while they go on holiday, they look to these “quick fixes” to resolve issues which have often been brewing for many months, such as separation anxiety. This attitude to dog training is incredibly dangerous when we move beyond basic training such as sit, stay and loose lead walking and into the realm of complex behavioural issues. Not only can an incorrect or rushed approach to resolving behavioural problems actually make that issue even worse, it can cause more issues alongside due to stress caused to the dog.
What can you do to avoid these problems or resolve them successfully, without rehoming your dog?
Fortunately, there are plenty of options for dog owners who are dedicated to supporting their dogs and not becoming part of the shocking rehoming statistics facing the nation. As a passionate team of trainers, who work to support our local dog-owning population to live their very best lives with their canine companions, we have compiled some useful tips on how to ensure you are providing your dog with what they need. Whether you have just welcomed a new puppy into your home, or you have had your dog for a while now and are beginning to struggle or feel overwhelmed, the below advice will be helpful.
Book training classes as soon as you can.
If you have just welcomed a new dog into your home or you are currently struggling with things such as recall, lead walking, jumping up or manners around the house, ongoing group classes will be your saviour. Group classes are the perfect way to help dogs learn to be calm and engaged with their humans around a range of distractions, such as other dogs and people, and to cover as broad a spectrum of training topics as possible. You should expect to attend classes for a minimum of 12 weeks and should consider attending for longer if you want to ensure you support your dog’s development and education from puppyhood, through adolescence and into adulthood.
Commit time to your dog.
The absolute best gift you can give your dog is your dedication. Committing to attending ongoing, progressive training classes to help them learn how to communicate with you and navigate the human world, taking time to speak with professionals for advice and taking the time to practice your training at home are all ways you can improve your dog’s quality of life and safeguard their future. Looking for the quickest way to skip to the end does your dog a disservice and may jeopardise their future if they develop problem behaviours.
Speak to your trainer about your concerns.
If you have booked classes and committed to spending the time necessary to support your dog, you should have found yourself a (reward-based, force-free, qualified!) trainer. This means you have a professional on your team to help you! Take advantage of their knowledge and expertise and speak to them right away about any concerns or problems you are having. They will only be able to help you if they know you’re struggling!
Consider a holistic approach to training.
Many people book a short training course or a single 121 session and feel these should cover absolutely everything they need. Trainers don’t offer these various services just for flexibility – they offer them because they allow them to provide the full spectrum of support to ensure their customers and their dogs are successful. If your dog is doing well in class and you are enjoying your walks but you are struggling with their behaviour in the house, consider a 121 session so your trainer can look at your daily routine and home environment and ensure you are meeting your dog’s needs, as well as provide you with a bespoke training plan to help you. If your dog’s recall has deteriorated, see if your trainer offers recall-specific courses to help you focus on brushing up this skill!
Explore ways to incorporate training into your lifestyle and routine.
There really is no excuse these days for not finding a way to provide your dog with the training they need. More trainers than ever before are offering a range of quality training services online, allowing owners to attend sessions from the comfort of their own home. At Best Behaviour, we not only offer online 121 sessions but we also have a comprehensive online training platform, Dogversity, which contains over 250 training tutorials as well as structured courses to follow. You can use this service to train any time and place to suit you!
Look for a trainer who offers a range of services and flexible training options.
As we’ve mentioned above, there are a range of different services and courses which can offer you comprehensive support to ensure you and your dog get all the help you need! Not only is this useful for ensuring you get the help you need, when you need it, but it also shows you that the trainer you are working with is as dedicated to their craft as you are to your dog. Here at Best Behaviour, we provide a 44-week general training course with a flexible booking system to allow you to book around your prior commitments. There is no need to miss out due to weekends away, events or appointments. Simply book the weeks you want to attend. We even have a flexible booking option which allows you to make post-booking changes should something unexpected come up! This allows you to secure your place in a course without missing out due to other commitments
Look for a trainer who is qualified!
In an unregulated industry, many people begin offering training services with absolutely no qualifications or training. Many more also start up training classes as a side hustle or hobby, again with little to no qualifications and without any intention of investing in their own continued education and training. Just become someone has driven a car, that doesn’t mean they are mechanic. In the same way, just because someone has had dogs for years or competed in agility, this doesn’t make them a dog trainer. Look into what formal training your dog trainer has done – ideally, they should, at a minimum, have accreditation from a respected industry body.
Speak to a behaviourist and follow through if your dog is struggling.
If your dog has developed a behavioural problem, it can be daunting. As we’ve discussed above, there is no quick fix for these problems without risking further issues and suffering to our dogs. Don’t waste time and money making the issue worse – contact a qualified behaviourist (again, this industry is not regulated, so check that the person you are contacting is actually qualified!) and follow their advice. Putting the time and effort in to support your dog now is truly the best and quickest way to resolve their issues in the long term.
Find ways to enjoy working with your dog.
We know this blog has been a serious one – this is because we have seen the very real and sad impact that a lack of dedication to our dogs has caused. However, we feel incredibly passionate about making training fun for both dogs and humans. There are so many amazing things we can do with our dogs to have fun, develop their training skills and strengthen our relationship! Our general training classes are designed to make learning and working together fun, but if you’re looking for more inspiration why not check out our other popular courses such as Scent Detectives, Fun Gundog, Agility and more! We want you to love spending time with your dog, while teaching them valuable life lessons and providing the mental and physical enrichment they need to truly thrive – so please do get in touch if you want help finding the perfect course for you and your dog!