08 Jun How Ani-Mal Came To Be.
My first experience with dog training started with our family pet, a Jack Russell named ‘Buster’ at age 12. It may be unfair to call this early experience training however, given that it mainly consisted of me dragging the poor dog over my homemade agility courses. Despite his apparent reluctance, I was hooked, and bought my first book ‘Dog Tricks by Mary Ray’. Four years on from here I encountered my first behavioral issue, at a time where Ceaser Milan The Dog Whisperer was at the forefront of all dog owner’s consciousness. My dogs had started to fight with one another, with no pattern I could identify or with any consistency I found predictable. This was a pivotal moment for me where I realized I didn’t want to respond to this unprecedented violence with more aggression. I saw no sense in forcing both dogs down into a submissive position to diffuse the situation, and thus began my search for another way.
I built up my experience with dogs in different settings- Hydrotherapy, Training classes, Rescue centres, Physotherapy etc and decided this was an area I wanted a solid scientific foundation in. This led me to study for four years at Exeter University, gaining a BSc in Animal Behaviour (with a years study abroad at South Carolina University). Here I continued gaining experience in dog training through volunteer work and helping people with behavioural issues. I read anything I could find relevant to dog behavior/ training that the scientific community was putting out, and tried to assimilate this into my own dessensitisation/ training programs. Since graduation in June 2018 I have set up my own company (Ani-Mal Dog behaviourist) and created an associated website (www.ani-mal.co.uk). From here, I have used google advertising and referencing from happy clients to build up my client base and offer a holistic behavioural solution to people in the Essex area. Between late August and June I have seen and treated over 250 different cases of ‘problem dogs’, with behaviours ranging from Dog Reactivity to OCD manifesting itself as excessive itching and licking. By far the most important thing I’ve learnt is how to effectively communicate with people. Here I mean to say that, whilst I used to emphasize my ability to help any dog, I now see my role is to motivate dog owners to shape their own behaviour. I broadly define my job as helping to bridge the communication gap between canine and primate communication.
The most valuable thing I have learnt through formal means (study, reading etc) is to create a toolkit of techniques and methods. Here, I mean to say that in an area of science and professional practice where every second dog trainer or behaviourist likely disagrees with the next, I try to take on board the greatest variety of methods available to me and stay open to new ways of doing things. This stems from two core beliefs: 1 that every dog, although often exhibiting the same symptoms, is different; and 2 that the methods the dogs owners will most realistically adhere to in each situation are different. Previously I would find myself almost obsessively absorbing every detail of one persons techniqures- first Ceaser Milan, shortly followed by Jan Fennell and so on. Never quite fully satisfied by the end of my enquiry into one persons methods I had to adapt my view of the dog behavior world.
I see my job here is to enhance the dogs and that dog owners quality of life by the most effective means possible. This has meant that overtime I have become highly adaptable to the specific needs dictated by the situation as opposed to using a more ‘one-size fits all’ method that I was first searching for when I moved into this field. To this end, I am a firm believer that I will never stop learning about dog behavior, be it from the dogs I work with or from other people in the same profession. Working with dogs is continuously humbling and rewarding as you never really stop learning about your trade.