“THE DOG DON”
After his hit BBC series Good Dog Bad Dog enamoured the nation with its no-nonsense doggy boot camps for pets and their owners, Top dog whisper Keith Matthews talks to NIVT about the importance of dog training…
Keith Matthews was born with a gift. Since he was a toddler he has had an uncanny knack of communicating with his canine counterparts. Having trained dogs since he was 11 years old, today he is Northern Ireland’s premier dog trainer and having just starred in a prime time television show, he is also somewhat of a local celebrity.
Appealing to the increasing number of reality TV enthusiasts, Keith says he agreed to front the show, which enrolled six owners and their problem pooches into doggy boot camp, because he felt it would be an invaluable platform to educate the nation about the importance of dog training.
“The reality of the matter is there around 7.8million dogs in the U.K and 40% of them are classed as problem dogs,” he reveals. “In my professional capacity I’m only tipping at the iceberg and I see the same old problems day in day out.
“I feel it’s very important that people realise that there are serious questions they should be asking themselves before they even consider getting a dog.
“A lot of people get a dog and then six months down the line they realise, ‘this is a lot of work and we can’t cope with this.’ 100,000 dogs are placed in dog shelters every year. Britain is supposed to be a nation of pet lovers, but with figures like that, we’re actually a nation of failed pet owners,” says Keith.
Good Dog Bad Dog, which was aired on BBC One in April saw Keith deal with aggression, constant barking, furniture wrecking and downright disobedience as he guided both dogs and their owners through basic training.
In the company of presenter Kim Lenaghan, the series follows Keith through his six-week course, aimed at transforming canine delinquents into perfect pets. Under the spotlight are seven dogs with a variety of behavioural and psychological problems.
Throughout the series, Keith maintained that ‘it’s not necessarily what’s on the lead, but what’s holding it that’s the problem,’ meaning that owners hold as much, if not more responsibility for their pet’s behaviour as the animal itself.
“There’s an old saying that if you see a child and it’s misbehaving people will say, ‘well he didn’t lick it up off the street.’ It’s exactly the same with dogs.
“Dogs aren’t born obedient, but they’re not born disobedient either,” says Keith. “If every owner in the country taught their dog to walk properly on the lead, to sit on command and to come back when called – those three basic commands and taught them properly, then there should be no behavioural problems in dogs at all.”
During the series it soon became apparent that some of the owners were not putting as much effort into their dog training duties as others. In the convenience driven, rat-race society in which we live, Keith says that it is imperative that people realise their responsibilities as a pet owner and accept the work needed to ensure the health and happiness of their pets.
“One of the main reasons I decided to do the programme was I felt it would give me an opportunity to make people realise that the most important part of pet ownership is being able to dedicate time to train your dog.
“People come on the phone to me and say, ‘he’s our baby , but if his behaviour doesn’t improve we’re going to have to get rid of him. What happens if a child is badly behaved – are you going to take it back?” asks Keith.
“When you bring your new puppy home you become a trainer. Most people don’t seek professional help until the problems are already established – when you’ve got a fresh canvas, that’s when you should be training your dog. When you allow the dog to develop bad habits it takes twice as long to rectify them. Prevention is better than cure.”
The most common problem that Keith encounters on a day to day basis is aggression. With an increasing number of horrific, sometimes fatal dog attacks dominating the headlines of late, he says that as a society we have to take some responsibility for this worrying trend
“As far as I’m concerned, regardless of breed, when a dog takes the life of a child we have totally and absolutely failed as a society. There is something seriously wrong when a dog attacks a child in the family home. A dog is meant to be companion, it’s not meant to be a lethal weapon.”
Keith says that behind this worrying trend in aggressive behaviour in dogs is a shift in how pet owners are treating their animals. While we may think we are treating our pet as part of the family, could it be true that we are killing our pets with kindness?
“I see young couples all the time and they’re sitting there hugging and kissing the dog and the dog is up on their bed. While it’s wonderful that the dog has found a loving home, most dogs can’t handle that sort of kindness.”
“People are leaning on their dogs too much emotionally and the dog simply can’t cope with this. You never would have heard of separation anxiety in a dog 15 years ago.”
“The bottom line is, you should be the dog’s master,” explains Keith. “It’s not a very PC word these days, but that is the reality. There is no equality in the animal kingdom – people have to realise that a dog is part of that animal kingdom.
“Dogs are pack animals and there’s a ranking order. In order for you and your dog to coexist in harmony, you need to instil into that dog’s mind that every person in your home is a leader above him and that he is subordinate. That cannot happen if the dog doesn’t know his place.”
While he encourages everyone to become sensible, responsible dog owners, he believes that seeking professional help in dog training and attending obedience classes is the only sure fire way to prevent behavioural problems.
“Every dog is its own individual. A lot of people try to train their dogs themselves, but if you go to a professional and attend an obedience class for a number of weeks you will have a first class pet, provided you continue with the training. Training is an ongoing process, if you don’t use it the dog looses it.”
“In a lot of cases the vet is the first port of call for any puppy. They vaccinate the dog, give it is worming treatments etc and they really should emphasise the importance of getting the dog trained.
While Keith receives a significant number of referrals from vets, he says he feels the profession as a whole should take a more active role in encouraging owners to seek professional behaviour and obedience training.
“From my experience, vets often refer owners to canine behaviourists when they discover that the dog is difficult to handle during consultations, but people really should be tackling these problems from the offset, when the dog is a puppy.
“I would like to see compulsory dog training brought in by law; you have to have a driving licence to drive a car, so it only makes sense that the same importance should be put on the lives of animals,” says Keith.
Contact: For more information about Keith Matthew’s Copperbirch Dog Training Academy on www.keiththedogguru.com or call 0845 006 8865