Victoria helps families divided over their love of dogs

Wed, 14 Sep 2005

The British are known to be a nation of animal lovers. More than five million people in the UK own a dog however that figure does not take into account other pets such as cats.

Not everyone’s relationship with their dog is as it should be. If your dogs are ruling your house and your relationships with other members of your family, the one person who can help is Victoria Stilwell.

Ms Stilwell, a pet expert says, "I go into the homes of families who are having problems with their dogs.

"Every one of the cases has been challenging in its own way. There are lots of books written about dog training, but when you actually study canine behaviour and go into more depth, you figure out there's not an answer for everything.

"You have to come up with your own ways of dealing with stuff. So, I find that I have methods that I've known which have worked with some dogs, but I'm never sure if they're always going to be successful. This means I continually have to reinvent techniques, and sometimes come up with new ones as well.

"The dog has to come to realise that the owners are a source of pleasure and responds because it's enjoyable to do so, not because it's been made to."

Despite her success rate, Ms Stilwell makes it clear that "when you're talking about dog behaviour, I never say 'cure', I always say modify".

She explains: "It's rather like human behaviour. If you've got someone who's had a psychological problem, you can't claim they're 100 per cent cured.

"For example, there are some instances where a dog is aggressive and has maybe bitten children or other animals. I can alter that in most circumstances, but, I could never say that it would never bite again.

"In this series I've been tackling all sorts of things, including a dog that goes crazy each time the mail comes through the letterbox, pets with major anxieties about not being able to walk outside on the road, ones that keep their owners up all night by needing to go out and pee, and those that get jealous whenever someone shows their owner any affection."

So the ultimate question is can canines feel emotion?

Victoria says, "Do you know, I really believe they can. If you think about it, jealousy is when you don't like someone else getting all the attention and you try and do something to stop it. That's exactly what dogs do.

"My biggest concern is that people don't give their dogs enough exercise or what I call sensory stimulation," she explains, "which means they don't put enough time or effort into understanding how their dog perceives the world and appreciating what they need.

"I have two loves in my life," she reveals, "the theatre and animals and I've sort of always juggled the two. But for the last five years I've really concentrated on my dog training, because that's where my passion currently lies."

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