'You can teach an old dog new tricks!' says expert dog trainer
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home
You have been at Battersea's Dogs Home for more than 20 years and are now head of Canine Welfare & Training - what's your role like?
"Yes, I'm a part of the building! I started off as a kennel hand and then went into Rehoming and then I became the behaviourist here at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Now my role is in Canine Welfare & Training. In this role we train staff - that's not only volunteers but also people externally - and we deal with the animal training. We're literally not only training the dogs but also training the people!"
You're currently starring in a series for ITV called Paul O'Grady: For The Love Of Dogs starring Paul O'Grady - what was it like working on the show and how has the reaction been so far?
"It was great fun and Paul O'Grady is a sweetheart. He's one of those people - you'll be chatting away to him and then all of a sudden he's no longer next to you because he's wandered off to stroke another dog. To get him from A to B in five minutes was almost impossible. It would usually take him about an hour because he would be stopping to speak to everyone all the time.
Even though I knew what happened to Sparkle, when I watched it on the programme, I cried. I knew that she was getting homed but I still cried..."
"The reaction to the show has been pretty overwhelming. We've had a lot of support and a lot of people have really enjoyed it so far. We're appearing on the Crufts episode with Paul - we've got him running a Staffordshire bull terrier around the arena to try and get Battersea a trophy!"
Paul has said that he had it written into his contract that he should not under any circumstances be allowed to take a dog home. Did he manage to get to the end of the series without adopting one?
"Actually, he did adopt another dog! But we knew he would. We kept teasing him - there's a Staffie called Marcel featured in the programme. So I kept calling it Marcel O'Grady and any dog we came across, we'd put O'Grady at the end. You name it, we had an O'Grady on the end of it!"
Have you had an update on Sparkle since she was rehomed? [Sparkle is a Staffordshire bull terrier whose terrible tale of abuse featured in the first episode.]
"Sparkle's doing brilliantly, she's having the time of her life at the moment and it looks like she's become a little bit of a celebrity as well. Everyone's talking about her. Even though I knew what happened to Sparkle, when I watched it on the programme, I cried. I knew that she was getting homed but I still cried.
"I had hoped that I would foster her when she came in but she was just too poorly. It was such an appalling story. When she came in, it just got to everyone because whoever did that to her did that in order for her to die and that's what you just can't comprehend, that people could be like that. But Sparkle gets her happy ending and I think that's all that matters. That's why we harp on so much about people being responsible for their pets: that's what it's all about".
Can you tell us more about your favourite stories from future episodes? Where are they now?
"Marcel was a big favourite of mine. He was an elderly Staffordshire bull terrier who pulled at everyone's heartstrings, including mine, and he ended up being fostered by a member of staff. When he was rehomed, everyone turned out to wave him off. Because everyone was attached to him, there wasn't a dry eye in the house that day. I'm nearly crying now telling you about it. They're happy tears though. That's very much what Battersea is about: you have sad and happy tears all the time. But hopefully this weekend and after the programme, more dogs will go, that would be great".
The show will probably encourage people to adopt a dog. Are there any special considerations people should bear in mind when opting for a rescue dog rather than a pet shop dog?
"Regardless, if they're thinking about getting any sort of dog, they need to think ahead. A dog isn't just for a year or two. Some dogs can live up to 19 years, so you've got to look at the costs and the commitments. Having a dog does prevent you from doing other things - you might not be able to go out as much or on holiday as much. And on top of everything else, you need to put the work in. You need to bond, you need to be responsible and you need to train your dog. And training doesn't just take a couple of weeks, training is a lifetime commitment - you should be constantly training or putting some form of work in."
Can all dogs be trained? They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks - is it true?
"There are always going to be dogs out there that have practiced a behaviour for too long. They may have an aggressive nature because they've been taught how to be aggressive or they're genetically bred badly. However, on the whole, the majority of dogs can be trained and retrained. I've taken on elderly dogs previously and taught them a new trick - so you can teach an old dog new tricks!
I always say now that the majority of dogs are unemployed. They're just sitting at home doing nothing!"
"A lot of the dogs that come in to us have just not had any training and once you engage them in training, they go to the top of the class. Since I've been at Battersea, I've had over 20 rescue dogs and I've fostered hundreds and hundreds of foster dogs and the majority go on to make fantastic pets. In fact, we have a lot of rescue dogs that go on to become hearing dogs, a couple of our dogs have won Olympia in the agility world, a couple have gone on to become TV stunt dogs. We've even had dogs that go on to the police force, the army; a lot of our dogs are out there doing fantastic work."
Ian Nicholson, PA Archive, Press Association Images
Do you think dogs enjoy being trained or do you think it goes against their natural instincts?
"Oh, they love it. If you think back in time, all dogs were literally bred for a purpose. They were used for hunting and you even had dogs that were used for healing - especially your hairless dogs because of the heat that they produce. It was only a very tiny portion of dogs that were lapdogs, like Japanese Chins and other small and toy breeds. But most dogs had something to do and I always say now that the majority of dogs are unemployed. They're not working at all, they're just sitting at home doing nothing! If your kids are sitting at home all day with nothing to do, they get themselves into trouble and dogs are very much the same. Do nothing with them and they'll get themselves into trouble. Give them a purpose and some form of stimulation: they'll tire themselves out and they'll enjoy it!"
If owners are looking to attend a formal dog-training class, how should they go about it?
"Your local vet may be able to recommend a good class or go through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. What we always recommend for people to do is to go along and watch a class before you take part. You need to be sure that the class is going to be suitable for your own dog. For instance, there might be some classes out there that have dogs that are a bit more reactive and maybe that class wouldn't be suitable for the dog that you've got. And have a look at all the other people there. If they're happy and enthusiastic about it, to me it would look like a great club."
For dog training and behaviour advice, visit Battersea's dog behaviour advice page for printable factsheets.
MORE TH>N is proud to be supporting the Battersea Dog Agility Display Team in 2012. The team, made up of dogs living at the centre, are trained to take part in agility displays and travel to shows up and down the country. They raise awareness of the amazing work that Battersea does and demonstrate that rescue dogs are just as capable as all other dogs to be agility trained.
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