February 20 is Love Your Pet Day, at least in the US. Certified dog behaviourist Karen September of Happy Dog MC, who has worked in the Monaco area for nearly eight years, gives some advice to Monaco Paws on tough puppy love
What got you interested in dog training?
KS: I grew up on a farm in Australia and we always had dogs and horses. I’ve been around dogs all my life as we bred Bull Terriers and Blue Heelers.
Have you found that dogs in Monaco have any special issues?
KS: Monaco is so small with a huge concentration of dogs so it’s important that dogs learn correct social behaviour. But the problem is that living in small apartments dogs don’t always get enough exercise and this can result in barking, aggression, anxiety and bad lead manners.
What is the most important lesson that owners need to learn?
KS: It is really important for owners to set rules, boundaries and limitations in the home and outside. I find that owners often humanize their dogs to the point that the dog becomes confused. Dogs are pack animals and need a strong pack leader.
What should owners do if they are having problems with a dog’s behaviour?
KS: Bad behaviour is a cry for help. The first thing is to look at the daily routine. Exercise is essential; dogs are travellers, they love to move and explore and if they don’t get enough exercise (a garden is no substitute for walking out) they become frustrated and bored.
How much exercise does an average dog need?
KS: I recommend at least a 30-45 minute walk, two times per day.
Why is walking, especially on the lead, so important?
KS: Correct lead manners where the dog walks respectfully next to, or behind their owner, is the foundation for teaching the dog you are his pack leader and he is a follower. If the dog is in front he will instinctually assume a protective, leader role and this is when the problems start.
How does the human become the pack leader?
KS: It’s all about energy. Dogs rely on their instincts, not conversation. If you project a calm, assertive energy your dog will relax and respond with calm, submissive energy and look to you for direction in all situations.
So, the training is both for the dog and the owner?
KS: Yes, definitely. Dogs and humans have a deep connection that goes back 20,000 years. However, you can’t be a friend to your dog without first establishing a leadership role. I am not saying that giving love and affection is wrong, but it must be given at the right times.
Besides lead training, how else do you help dog owners?
KS: I can help in lots of ways. I love to help people adopt a dog or choose a new puppy. I can help socialise a dog to a new baby or a change of circumstances. As well, I specialise in working with dogs that are overly aggressive or have anxiety problems.