Dog Behaviour

Sue Gilmore MA FCFBA

Dog Behaviour in Britain Today

The Chronology

In 1982 Colin Tenant, like many people of his time, recognised the need for a professional canine development body; he led the way in client-centred consultations and training to reform dogs displaying aberrant behaviours, which were socially unacceptable. He set up an international base for overseas clients in many countries and held the first consultation in dog behaviour in Lebanon where he returned many times. His background was in police and civilian working trials, obedience and solving canine behaviour problems presented to him. He was aware that the emphasis was on dog training not the related behaviours that dogs exhibit when in environments they were not designed to cope with. His London based canine behaviour business led the way forward at this time.

In the late 1980s Colin worked closely with Dr Bruce Fogle MRCVS and his nursing staff who refereed many of their clients dogs to Colin over the next decade. Most central London veterinarians at that time used Colin for expertise and professionalism in dog behaviour solutions. Bruce Fogle began to research and write on the subject from a veterinary perspective. His body of work is renowned worldwide.


Jackie O’Brien of the British Institute of Professional Dog Training (BIPDT) and Colin devised the first structures and standards of canine behaviour practice, coining the titles that would become synonymous with the business today. Other like-minded and highly skilled dog behaviour experts joined the early developments based on Colin’s original ideas of client-centred professional consultations in forming his Associates. Others set their own standards and systems to good effect.

Colin was the first to architecturally design and build the first canine centre in Britain specifically for safe, humane assessment of dogs especially with critical aggression cases in mind. The consultation rooms were large, airy and bright to produce a relaxed, non-threatening atmosphere, designed by Kevin Patrick Architects. This centre served London and south east of England from that time to the present day.

At this time, well-known experts such as John Fisher, John Rogerson along with others working in their local areas, were also developing ideas in canine behaviour and were in the vanguard of the movement. It is fair to say there was a nucleus of learned people in dog training who were changing the canine behaviour landscape. They were also developing new, psychological methods of training to reform behaviour.

In fact nearly all the methods used today to modify behaviour in pet dogs was developed and originated from these dog trainers who had gained an unrivalled knowledge of the dog’s psyche and how to solve all the behaviour problems we encounter today.

Though you may read many scientific papers on dog behaviour, often perpetuated by people with animal and zoology type qualifications, science has been sadly lacking in producing any meaningful programme used today. These pioneers of dog behaviour produced the most commonly used beneficial programmes. They were the dog trainers with acute field-led studies of dogs of all breeds; vocational training cannot be replaced by academic study alone.

Many skilled behaviour practitioners became aware that people with spurious academic qualifications in biology, zoology and other non- related disciplines were entering the market by taking one-year part time study courses in general pet care. They then presented a degree qualification to ply for trade, even though the majority – if not all – of their course had no canine in content; moreover, it was only theoretical. They were most concerned to discover these people had no experience, practical skill or knowledge, just scraps of non-related study and over-confidence having been taught by academics who were equally lacking in field experience about occupation and standards. This was not good for the dog owning public, but far more important, it was very bad for dogs.

During this decade the APBC and the CFBA were formed, with Colin Tennant & Associates being the forerunner of the CFBA. Both organisations were formed by dog trainers with foresight and most of all, unequalled knowledge of canine behaviour and psychology supported by people with training skills.

Those academic qualifications in animal behaviour were entering the market because nobody objected to them. At the same time, it was unfortunate that the volume of complaints was rising from owners being charged for a chat and a written report via an academic. Veterinarians were also raising concerns about very poor results from these same interlopers; there being no change in the dog’s behaviour, people were angry and quite rightly so.

Veterinarians were becoming confused about whom to trust. Many veterinarians simply used common sense and still do about whom they recommend. They recommend people who get their customers best value for money and experience, which is effectively market forces in action.

The idea that one learnt one’s art and craft by dealing with hundreds of clients under the guidance of experts demonstrating how to handle and modify a dog behaviour was being supplanted by people who had no such experience or skills and this sham was embedding itself. Many canine professionals noted the absence of standards of learning and they eventually formed organisations to stop these untrained people from using irrelevant qualifications to enter the profession.

What had occurred was that groups of academics that did not wish to learn over many years through interaction with multiple breeds and owner types, decided to skip the need to acquire knowledge. Instead, they introduced themselves with an irrelevant degree and stated with abject confidence that they knew more than people with decades of acquired knowledge and experience. It is as simple as that. They thereafter wrapped this up as putting the dog’s interest first; having standards of knowledge; positive and kind methods; all the hook words of a clever salesman delivered through an irrelevant degree cover. In essence they were making a break to take over the field of dog behaviour by stealth and by establishing a trickle of articles and public relations drives in the media in an attempt to destabilise the very experienced people who had the most success who were at the top of their profession. Though 99% of veterinarians do a great job, and we all have contact with veterinarians, a tiny handful decided to stop being veterinarians for sick animals and try to manipulate the degree status using it in dog behaviour, which of course it is not designed for. They are now calling themselves clinical animal behaviourists, a manufactured term unrecognised in Britain.

To hide their ignorance of canine knowledge and experience the academics would say they had two years’ experience before being allowed into one association of like-minded people. Of course this could mean a month’s work spread over two years as they had no skills or quantitative experience to solve any problems so it was the blind leading the blind and this was accepted as field experience when it was in fact a sham of power building.

There were already established canine behaviour courses written by canine trainers and behaviour experts with vast pools of knowledge. Some were good, some excellent and some not so good, but the market was unregulated. The Animal Care College was the first founded in 1990 by an educationalist, David Cavil, for theory courses, but the BIPDT had been offering practical dog training and instructor courses since 1978.


The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association was founded by Colin Tennant with the assistance of Jaquie O’Brien. Following discussions with PetPlan, who were the only pet insurance organisation to offer the pet owning public cover for behavioural problems.

The founder/owner of PetPlan was Patsy Bloom. Colin Tennant had, in the late eighties, worked with Patsy and her dogs for behaviour advice and her sister Madeline Bloom, whom he had known for many years and trained all her dogs at that time.

The CFBA was founded to counteract the new unqualified, inexperienced and most of all unskilled interlopers into the canine behaviour field. It was also to unite the very best and most experienced of Britain’s dog behaviourists, who had developed all the methods of problem behaviour programmes and solutions that we now use. Contrary to popular myth spread by questionable academic experts, virtually all dog behaviour solutions have been developed by these very experienced and skilled people.

Combinations of dog training and canine specific behavioural knowledge produced an array of programmes that are still used today. Skilled people who have worked with tens of thousands of dogs over decades developed these programmes, not UK science. This combined wealth of expertise has developed to provide the knowledge pool we use today.

Other organisations like the British Institute of Dog Behaviour & Training (BIPDT) began in 1976 and have produced courses in dog training plus a behaviour support mechanism. They had canine behaviour experts.

The CFBA thereafter established industry standards of excellence and codes of practice, bringing all the top experts in dog behaviour together under the auspices of one leading organisation. The major pet insurance companies, since the early 1990s, acknowledged the expertise of Full Members of The CFBA, a professional organisation that now has the only work based learning qualifications in association with Middlesex University who offer qualifications up to Doctorate level in Professional Practice in Canine Behaviour & Psychology.

It transpires that academia, in contradiction of Government policy on inclusiveness, has attempted to monopolise standards of qualifications to the exclusion of skilled dog trainers, behaviourists and proven experts, with the purported emphasis on dogs, but in reality their aim was to put their institutions first and monopolise the pet behaviour business.

There was a dichotomy of the two main groups, however, there were only limited options open to the public who had serious problems with their pets. On the one hand was an expert field with often decades of accumulative knowledge, with vocational experience learnt from observational psychology and behaviour outcomes and on the other, holders of a non-related academic qualification of theory who generally had not dealt with a single serious canine behaviour case especially in aggression.

Canine Behaviour Psychological and Practical Choreography in Aggression: Dog on Dog and Dog on Person
Over seventy percent of all dog behaviour problems presented is connected to aggression of one type or another. When conducting a temperament test(s) and rehabilitation training the following safety and dog handling skills are required. Some critical skills take many years to learn and hundreds of repetitions of handling dogs of many breeds, but they are crucial to the knowledge of a canine behaviour practitioner who leads by example, is confident in their ability to reform a dog’s behaviour and moreover demonstrates that change can take place in front of the owner.

  • Special environment time and distance assessments
  • Location of the test (centre, street, park, country area, other)
  • Public security fences and possible canine escape routes
  • Centre security testing areas with safety systems in place
  • Assistant (stooge) test dogs suitability and temperaments
  • Assistant (stooge) dogs sex, size, docility, reaction levels and sensitivities
  • Assistant (stooge) dogs temperament and adverse effects from being threatened/attacked on a regular basis
  • Client owner/handler capabilities and handling skills with their dog
  • Stand in handler trainer/practitioner to supplant the owner’s key role if necessary or when owner is physically psychologically unsuited
  • Other skilled assessors who might be required for distance/acting
  • Riding bicycles, walking a dog
  • Equipment to be used, safety, canine body devices, sound attention/training devices
  • The temperament sensitivity timorous over reactive nature suitability to use the equipment (e.g. muzzles)
  • The problem dogs’ aggression, levels of sensitivities, risks and dangers to persons involved in tests
  • Possible scenarios that may take place; anticipatory ideas applied
  • Indoor/out door locations. the differences of space. safe distances and canine radius triggers appertaining to behaviour in question
  • The practitioner in charge, issues instructions and safety information, clarity of instructions
  • Practitioner/trainer use and wear or offer safety equipment
  • Practitioner conducts and relays instructions and counter instructions as the action begins and instant changes of the said instructions
  • Critically watches the owner handler’s movements at every stage and advises accordingly
  • Controls the owners, the (stooge) assistant dogs used, watches canine behaviour acutely and relays the information to others present
  • Practitioner uses their voice, dog training skills to intervene, stop and trigger whatever behaviour is required for the tests’ assessments
  • To assess stress levels of all dogs involved and know when to cease tests, increase or decrease levels of suspicion, agitation, triggers etc.
  • To change assistant dogs as and when the situation dictates and according to the dogs; reactions to the tests involved
  • To read all human and dog behaviour (body language) to maintain testing
  • Give a verbal running commentary to the owners when required and explanation as and when behavioural information is extricated
    To know when to help the owner’s confidence levels when serious aggression is triggered expectantly and unrepentantly and assist
  • To observe lead or line distances when dogs are given more freedom and space
  • When muzzles are used, to decide if and when dogs can be released with or without muzzles and in what stages, distance and control
  • To know when to ignore minor aggressive spats and not intervene
  • To understand and explain clearly when aggression displayed is green, orange or red levels

In Conclusion

Iit takes about 5 years and no less than 300 dogs (aggressive) facilitated in all locations public and private. A good understanding of criminal law responsibilities for practitioner and dog owner(s).

The above cannot be learnt in theory at any college or degree in animal behaviour. Only hands on courses, which teach the above, are able to deliver a professional skilled practitioner and most important taught by equally skilled professionals with at least ten years’ full time field experience. University tutors DO NOT HAVE SUCH SKILLS or experience.

At present many academics simply pick books off shelves and regurgitate to students on dog aggression not knowing what they teach is accurate, dangerous or as in many cases simply ineffective. This leaves the student open to serious injury and/or criminally responsible in law when dogs bite under their jurisprudence.

Academic Theory Learning

The academic will have a degree in zoology, biology or veterinary science that will rarely have a component part relating to domestic dog behaviour training and care. They may do a part time course over a year of theory on pet behaviour, but this, too, is divided into multi pet species like cats, dogs, horses and avian, thereby dividing a year’s part time study into perhaps months on dogs, not a year.

Thereafter, with any expert at their side, the theory learner will dabble and enter people’s homes with serious dog aggression cases having never learnt what is described above in the vocationally trained expert. That makes their work dangerous, because they lack vocational applied knowledge of the most critical issues. They and/or the owners can be badly bitten when these owners seek help. They presume these same pseudo experts are qualified and experienced. That is simply not true. To disguise this lack of knowledge the organisation states they have a mentor, who can be two hundred miles away. Of course that is of little use in real situations, because the mentor cannot see or experience or judge the dog’s behaviour to advise on in situ. Mentors/teachers should be at one’s side, which of course is commonsense. Student veterinary surgeons do not have a mentor, but whilst performing surgery on a pet they have a qualified veterinary surgeon at their side, as one would expect. Another term used to disguise lack of experience is to say they will “mirror” someone, a euphemism for watching. Watching an expert on a rare occasion handling and stopping an aggressive dog attack another dog or a person is not acquiring experience or skill, it is simply watching. Experience is doing with the experts at your side to intercede and display consummate skill in defusing the tension and behaviour.

Academic Qualifications

We feel it important that a professional should have academic qualifications to work with dogs, but the level of academic skill should be tempered by learnt experience with experts. This academic learning is arbitrary at present, but we encourage people to consider Higher Education levels and beyond assuming the person can afford the cost incurred, if we are to make this available to all and stand against elitism.

The Companion Animal Welfare Council set up meetings to discuss the whole area of dog training and dog behaviour. The Chairman was the competent and very experienced Sir Colin Spedding. Many good organisations attended to try and form a consensus including the BIPDT, GODT, CFBA, ACC and others….

The meeting became a battle of the academics many of whom had never worked with dogs in a professional capacity trying to hijack the meetings and telling Sir Colin to change the CAWC remit to “animal behaviour”. They were rebuked and told to be aware of the remit and being a most even-handed man continued in a fair non- partisan way.

At the last meeting and in the spirit of the CAWC meetings, Sir Colin was presented with what he had been working towards, the Pet Education Training and Behaviour Council (PETbc).

The PETbc was the first council in the United Kingdom to be recognised by Sir Colin Spedding, chairman of the final CAWC meetings and in the presence of all organisations attending.
He stated: “there is no need to continue the CAWC meetings as Colin Tennant and David Cavil (PETbc founders) have achieved what the CAWC meeting set out to do”. He went further and personally complimented Colin and David on this PETbc foundation for the future of canine training and behaviour combined.

PETbc supports a range of dog training programmes, courses and modules at all levels by providing shared development expertise from its wide membership base for current and future generations of canine professionals. It was the first organisation to produce the industry roles for trainers and behaviour practitioners, setting them down in detail bringing the vocational training into line with current academic excellence.

PETbc’s many programs include beginner dog training, courses designed to teach young people the principles of dog care and welfare, intercollegiate seminars and facilitate participation by other similar and like-minded international organisations.

It has more approved course providers as members then any other organisation and most significant its leaders and advisor’s work in the front line of the industry with unrivalled experience of the work.

Chairman of The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association CFBA – Colin Tennant

The subject of canine behaviour and its relationship to dog training is a current hot topic and so it should be. I began my career as a dog trainer and of course I still am. I have spent my life equipping myself to understand the dog’s mind and moreover the complex relationships people have with their pets. The result of my work, like many others in the profession, is a very good success rate in reforming bad behaviour in dogs and teaching owners and family members to apply practical psychological dog training techniques for their dogs’ benefit.

The Gamut of Dog Training Standards

Many of you might immediately say: ‘well I already do that as a trainer’ and in many cases that may be true, however, unfortunately, the term “dog trainer” really is generic. It covers such ranges of ability within the discipline, from the person who trains/runs classes for two hours per week through to the professional who trains full time and has acquired immense skills through years of diligent input. Part of academia has noticed this blur and opportunistically manipulated it to its own ends.

The Kennel Club is, finally, operating the new accreditation scheme. This discerns what levels of knowledge people who practice in dog behaviour and or training have and this body of work will be collaborated. It is an official start to bringing dog behaviour back under the control of the dog world and an institution, The Kennel Club that is recognised by the public at large. I whole-heartedly support this new beginning and hope when fully operational that it will further develop practical and academic based courses in the profession as a whole. There are several private courses run in Britain, which also have a good educational standard, unfortunately, most are nothing more than photocopied nonsense.

General Dog Training

Issuing mechanical obedience instructions is not knowledge of behaviour; it is instruction and is rarely sufficient to solve problem behaviours that we encounter in practice. Of course I accept that often the dividing line is grey, but when one truly understands the dog’s mind and species drives – this, combined with dog training, is the mark of excellence for a future behaviour practitioner. Dog trainers who specialise in pure dog training do excellent work and are still the foundation of canine related education in Britain.

Canine Behaviour Practitioners

So what is a Canine Behaviour Practitioner? The CFBA defines it as skills in conveying specific behaviour ideas to dog owners, who wish to alter their dog’s behaviour. In simple terms (to solve problem behaviour presented to the practitioner) inducing families to work as a group in tandem on written and practical programmes. In other words, the dog’s entire lifestyle has often to be mapped out and a new regime/approach discovered to solve many of the behaviours presented to practitioners. Canine aggression is a common behaviour problem requiring such an approach. Empathy and flexible skills in people training/education is crucial, along with the ability to skilfully assess the human dog/ relationships.

Explaining how a dog views family members, its environment, its interaction with other canines/pets and the complex mechanisms dogs use to socialise with their own kind is very important as is the ability to explain this at length in plain English to clients. The client has to clearly understand why a dog reacts/behaves in the way it does to a given situation. Examples are; flight or fight responses, what happens when it is learning how to cope in fearful situations, imagined or real, or what are the psychological ramifications for dogs in stressful and constantly changing environments. There are also other ancillary skills needed like knowledge of criminal law and the courts, written and verbal evidence compilation and numerous other abilities not mentioned here. However, the essential skill is the ability to solve the problems presented as opposed to solely chatting about them. Last but not least, the intelligence to ask other professionals their view and recommendations on unusual or complex behaviour problems.

Other Counsellors

One UK pet behaviour association requires and promotes that its members have degrees in biology, zoology and so on, implying that they are better equipped to be counsellors than others. This is arrant nonsense and moreover, grossly untrue. This particular association hardly mentions dog training skills (which few of their members have) and that failing is bizarre to say the least.

It is crucial to be an extensively skilled dog trainer to even begin to develop a behavioural practice. I would go further and propose that people who are not highly experienced as dog trainers should be barred from proffering behaviour advice; this would eliminate the paper-orientated incompetent. There are few behavioural problems that do not require some dog training input.

At least 70% of our clients see us because their dog is displaying aggression in some form. Those who do not have the dog handling/training skills to, for example, set up situations where owners can watch their dogs handled in the same difficult situations that they encounter in the real world, should not have the audacity to pretend they can advise on such behaviours and moreover, how the clients should proceed. I am direct and blunt on this issue, because many of these counsellors pedal, like a dodgy salesman, this fatuous academic degree as a marketing point and to sideline the very best dog trainers who are specialised in practical dog behaviour – it fools only them. Many CFBA members have degrees including zoology and biology, but that academic degree was not the criterion upon which they were selected for membership.

There are over a million and a half of species of animals; the only way one can become an expert is to spend years learning about a very limited selection of species in the field gaining practical experience and knowledge, preferably working alongside a current practitioner. That is what multi-skilled dog trainers have already achieved; hence it is why they have become experts in understanding the dog’s mind and its behaviour. Animal behaviourists are welcome to join us providing they learn the necessary skills and stop pretending they have a special preordained insight; they do not, they have the ability to read and reference work, as do we all. Within such an established organisation as the PETbc or CFBA whose members have extensive skills, experience and knowledge, general animal behaviourists will not be taken seriously as they would like to be.

Dog Trainers – The Primary Educators

I can state without reservation that of the thousands of dog behaviour problems presented each week in Britain, especially those of a less advanced nature, most are already being solved by dog trainers. For example: an aggressive dog, which is taught good obedience is brought under control and then can be socialised or at least managed safely even whilst the behaviour is improved. A puppy dominantly becoming uncontrollable changes rapidly when trained well and begins to defer to the trainer, therefore is less likely to end up as an adult rescue dog or worse still euthanized. This is practical behavioural experience applied and in action – do the trainers get credit for this immense workload? No, certainly not by academia with its nest feathering activities.

When behaviour problems develop beyond a certain level, specialised experts in behaviour will be required, as it is with humans. Of course, I have not mentioned all the other professions within dog husbandry, including breed knowledge, kennel management staff, welfare workers – these require accumulated knowledge that has merit and is useful in understanding dog behaviour.

The behaviour problems our practitioners deal with have generally, but not always successfully, been dealt with by other people, before they see us. This is often because the public do have great difficulty in ascertaining who has the skills required to solve the problem. We are able to dedicate the amount of time needed and to use specialised experience to solve their dogs’ problems – my centre success rate is high 94% and can be verified by their post consultation polls the clients complete – however the CFBA practitioners’ expert dog training techniques combined with canine behaviour knowledge are critical to that same behavioural success our clients enjoy. CFBA Members and Associates work hard to maintain this standard of excellence.

A practitioner’s acquired knowledge includes; breed specific traits, the physical handling skills that allow one to read subtle nuances of behaviour, vocalisations, behaviour signals that dogs exhibit and endless human contact with dogs allows one to accumulate unrivalled understanding of the dog’s mind. Of course this practical field experience is what makes a person qualified and a true professional in the discipline of dogs and what CFBA members excel in.

The public will always use skilled canine behaviour practitioners who are also proficient trainers. Veterinarians and other related professionals will and do recommend people who get results and that is truly market forces in action.

We at the CFBA do not use nor condone the use of any mind-altering drugs on dogs or cats. We believe this is simply an abuse of animals.

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