My name is Nick Jones, and I run my full-time behaviour practice called ‘Alpha Dog Behaviour’ here in Worcestershire. I cover the surrounding counties and anything up to a 200-mile radius when asked.
Hi Nick! To start off can you sum up for us what it is that you, as a dog behaviourist, do?
s a behaviourist, my work tends to focus on a handful of common areas of problem behaviour. Dog to dog aggression is the most common area I am asked to resolve, followed by aggression to people and then other areas (which are just as important) such as separation anxiety, a serious lack of recall, excessive behaviour, nervousness and phobias. The list is rather long! My area of work has seen a popularity explosion in the last few years due to programmes on TV, so we now see a larger number of self-styled ‘Dog Whisperers’ or ‘Dog Listeners’ and other quirky titles and so on. It’s not easy for a prospective client to establish the best way forward given the conflicts of advice and approaches available online at present.
Would you say you have a certain or unique approach?
My approach is balanced and free from aggressive methods or attitudes. I work very closely with the owners to find a calm way forward leaving the dog relaxed and happy while giving control back to the owner. It’s mainly based on common sense, calm thinking and of course, years of experience. Every trainer has an individual approach, and as a prospective buyer looking online and making enquiries, it is essential that you find a person you can relate to and trust, as your practitioner can have an immensely positive (and sadly sometimes negative) impact on you and your dog (and her behaviour).
What advice would you give to dog owners who may realise they need a dog behaviourist?
To be fair, I feel I should point out that there is no single way to train or resolve problem behaviour. Different strokes for different folks I think the saying is. We live in a slightly PC era whereby some people even feel it’s wrong to say ‘No’ to our dogs, and that everything has to be done via positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is great, and I always aim to offer that where and when appropriate. Some dogs, however, positively respond to a short, harmless interruption and we can move on to more relaxed scenery without a problem. Some of my lovely clients have difficulty with their dogs because they lack the ability and timing to say ‘No’ in a way the dog understands and can relate to. They may also lack the awareness of desirable behaviour, and fail to mark that too. So it’s about balance.
A balanced approach cannot be over-emphasised, allowing the dog to channel its behaviour in a way that makes life enjoyable together – they all want to please us. The removal of stress is a key component in my work, so finding and addressing the stressors is fundamental to being able to move forward. You may know yourself how undue stress can hamper your day or even life; well it’s no different for your dog.
This brings to mind a recent email I received:
“We have spent a lot of money on training classes (which I have no problem with). We also consulted a person who advertised himself as a “dog whisperer.” I think he had watched Cesar Milan and styled himself on him, sadly, he did not have the same energy flow and was rather an expensive brute!”
Prospective clients, please be sure to thoroughly research anyone whom you are considering inviting to your home. Yes, we all started somewhere as behaviour practitioners, we all had our first job(s). Mine was unforgettable – a Bassett called Elvis.
Do you think recent popular TV programmes on dog behaviour and dog 'whispering' might have brought about new awareness of such issues?
Programmes such as Cesar and Stilwell have increased exposure and interest greatly. This is no bad thing, but some practitioners take these programmes as their training courses, model themselves on this image and go out dealing with what can be serious and deep-rooted behaviours while lacking experience and knowledge.
What steps would you advise dog owners to take in choosing the right trainer or behaviourist?
Firstly, I’d call these people and seek their testimonials.
Ask awkward questions, such as how long will the visits last and what equipment might be used (or not used), what training has the practitioner had, how they might deal with the behaviour you describe and anything else you can think of.
Ask what associations support them and their work. I am a full member to the CFBA for example, and this membership requires that I meet a series of stringent criteria before I’m accepted. I am now moving on to a Masters degree in dog behaviour to help meet further requirements that are likely to be required for future practice in the UK.
For the record, I welcome any amount of awkward questions you like to ask, can furnish you with many testimonials, and am willing to pre-meet with you if distance is acceptable. Allowing somebody into your home to handle your dog is an intimate experience, and trust in your trainer should be high on your shopping list.
The reason this subject is close to my heart is that I speak to many people who have already asked others to their home, paid money and seen little results if any and received no ongoing support. I work just as much in the owner’s interests as I do the dog’s. I want to see both parties happy and relaxed and enjoying the relationship. Dog ownership is meant to be enjoyable after all!
Programmes such as Cesar and Stilwell have increased exposure and interest greatly. This is no bad thing, but some practitioners model themselves on this image and deal with serious and deep-rooted behaviours while lacking experience and knowledge.
What are some of the common frustrations people have come to you with about their dog behaviourist/trainer experiences?
A frustrating aspect I often hear of is that the behaviourist or trainer didn’t do anything of a practical nature with the dog or owner, they just ‘talked dog’ for two hours drinking the owner’s tea, and didn’t recreate the problem behaviour you initially described in or out of the home. This suggests to me they are either out of their depth or lazy and would be better off sticking to small, easy class-based training.
Thanks for talking to us Nick! Anything you'd like to conclude with?
Well, hopefully this has opened your eyes to the potential pitfalls of seeking that particular ‘somebody’ to help you with your loved dog. I offer these thoughts more in the spirit of guidance than self-promotion or to knock others. I know of many sound behaviourists and trainers that do great work with high levels of dedication and commitment.
I do consider myself to be one of those (but of course!), and you can contact me as per the footer of this article. In the meantime you could look at members of various UK organisations such as:
I am a full member to the CFBA but respect the fact that there are other members of other organisations within the UK as listed above.
Try to remember that it is the practitioner and not the group they belong to that remains the most important factor when choosing a trainer or behaviourist for you and your dog. You can only establish the right person by making a good number of phone calls to weigh up the various pros and cons. Price can vary a great deal, so remain open-minded in this respect.
Please note that the first two on my list will allow you to claim on your vet insurance policy when working with a full member, and when your policy covers behavioural work. A vet referral is needed in most cases.
Should you wish to contact me directly free from obligation, I encourage that by the various mediums I use as below:
Nick Jones MCFBA
Alpha Dog Behaviour
Office: 01299 404356
Mobile: 0775 909 3394
Full Member of www.cfba.co.uk
Master Dog Trainer www.godt.org.uk