This is an interview I had with Sussex magazine ETC
I spent time chatting with Claire Francis, a Clinical Animal Behaviourist, who has spent much of her career endeavouring to overcome animal behaviour issues.
Claire spent time in China dealing with the fallout of the inhumane treatment of bears in bile farms.
“They’d arrive with all sorts of issues, many extremely stressed having been wild caught and then and subjected to captivity, but many with medical issues and so rehabilitation, stimulation, trust had to be built and their medical problems solved.”
Claire now spends her time in Sussex helping dog and cat owners with behaviour problems. The problem can be down to an unknown medical condition, so all owners seeking help complete a lengthy questionnaire and the pet is required to be referred from their vet having had a examination so that any underlying conditions can be ruled out. Claire having worked as a veterinary nurse has a great understanding of medical issues and how these may contribute to behaviour problems.
Claire went on to say ‘If we have a nagging pain we can become less tolerant and may snap under situations that would normally be fine. This can be the same for animals and conditions like arthritis may contribute to less tolerance of being around other dogs as they may not be able to interact or escape quickly. Animals can become uncomfortable with being handled by owners and cats may have difficulties toileting and may choose to toilet in the home instead of outside anymore’.
Claire is APPC Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors and ABTC Animal Behaviour and Training Council accredited behaviourist, which means she has studied at university level and gained experience in the field. She also has an obligation to keep up to date with kind modern scientifically proven methods to ensure that pets are given the best chance to change their behaviour. With this comes the benefit to owners that have pet insurance as leading insurers cover behaviour problems and can meet her costs.
“Quite often I am the third person to see a pet with problems, as many owners turn to dog trainers first or non-qualified practitioners who can often make issues worse especially if they are using outdated or adverse methods.”
She explained that all dog breeds have behaviour traits that are well known and happily advises potential pet owners about what a specific breed will need in home comforts and activities. With any partnership it is about a marriage, in this case a pet and an owner, sometimes they simply do not go together. Their lifestyle wants are not compatible, the animal can’t cope, but solutions can be found with time, effort, and understanding.
The new fashionable cross breeds have a more unknown character potentially their own issues such as the Cockerpoo.“A small bundle of fur can often grow into an energetic and intelligent dog that demands a lot of training, exercise and handling when it comes from two working dog breeds, so owners need to be prepared,” said Claire.
Many French Bulldogs have breathing problems and often require surgical correction just to ensure they can breathe normally. Unfortunately there is a misconception that snoring is normal for these dogs but it reflects that they their airways are not wide enough to breathe properly. With this come exercise intolerance and behaviour problems occur due to being bored, frustrated or simply just feeling unwell.
Owners that take on working dog breeds such as Cocker Spaniels or Labradors forgetting that they are from a genetic line of dogs that need to be extremely active and also need a job to do. Being regular pet can be difficult for them and boredom and frustration behaviours can crop up.
If you are thinking about getting a pet from a rescue centre they will often know the behaviour of that animal and will be able to guide you with the needs specific to that pet. You also get to meet the animal a number of time before taking it home so you have a chance to bond with each other.
Pets have history, explained Claire, not always known even when bought from a domestic situation such as breeders or people trying to rehome their pets privately. Some puppy farms often use private homes as fronts due to the stigma attached to deceive buyers.
But with cats a mixed breed moggie seems to makes the best domestic pets rather than the pure breeds, as they are a bit more complex to deal with.
For cat owners territory can be an issue as we tend to live in close proximity to one another, a cat may find another cat in the vicinity that takes a dislike to them. It starts to refuse to go out into the garden, starts to urinate indoors in locations close to windows, doors, all trying to send you a message that they are too worried to go outside. This can be quite hard to resolve, as owners often struggle along for months before seeking help but if cat owners work together, cats taking turns in the gardens, it can sometimes be resolved with the assistance of strategically positioned cat litter trays and behaviour modification programs.
I asked if she was ever worried about being bitten, but Claire finds that animals do not want to bit you. It is often a sign of fear and recognising the body language is paramount to knowing how to personally behave around an unfamiliar dog. Generally an animal that bites will feel that it has no other option in order to escape from a situation it finds threatening.
“I’m not frightened, but I will control the first meeting, with having a comprehensive understanding of the behaviour problem and safety strategies in place such as often meeting away from the pets home so that we are all on neutral ground and if required using a muzzle. It is best to call me sooner as what may seem a cute trait such as the dog mouthing on your hand as a puppy can turn into harder mouthing and if not resolved can sometimes progress into a major problem for all concerned.”
Pets come in all shapes and sizes like us humans, they take up residency with us in our homes and for the majority the unit is one of happiness. But we have to understand that a pet will have to face unusual or novel objects, things they may find daunting such as visiting children, the hoover and other pets. The happy family that gets a puppy or kitten to bring fun into the home perhaps forgets that a pet will need to adapt as the family changes through the life time of the pet which are increasingly living longer. And an older dog might not welcome a bouncing new puppy invading their domain as well as the love of the owners.
With our ever-changing lifestyle, the hectic life of school runs and work, we sometimes need to give a thought for the family pet and how they are coping and lend a hand of support and love.