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'Dog whisperer' ready to straighten out the mongrels
Friday, 25 May 2007
Recidivist dogs whose bites are as bad as their barks or cats that spray their owner's sofa may be offered fresh hope thanks to an animal expert who specialises in behavioural problems.

Professor Natalie Waran's Animal Behaviour Centre at Auckland's Unitec aims to get inside the minds of her four-legged clients to establish the root causes of antisocial animal behaviour, whether it is biting the children or destroying the furniture.

Professor Waran said research had shown more than 40 per cent of all pets have some form of behavioural problem but the clinic of five specialists, which includes two qualified dog trainers, was ready to deal with a range of issues and species.

Although Professor Waran has experienced "rabbits which become aggressive and can kick and bite", cats with spraying problems, rearing horses and other animals, most of the clinic's recent referrals had been for aggressive dogs.

The animal expert bases her treatment on sitting down with the owners and their pet to establish when the problems started and what triggered the change in behaviour.

Once she has identified the times and reasons why the bad behaviour occurs she suggests a treatment.

Professor Waran said dogs being pack animals are status-seeking and may feel more important than other family members such as children.

Then the answer is to teach the dog its place in the family and re-educating the animal, she said.

"Another major problem we often see is separation anxiety where dogs, ... become bonded with their families and [suffer pangs] when they're left alone during the day.

"Sometimes dogs will start ripping up the house, barking all day annoying the neighbours or start s**** ing all over the place because they're scared."

But despite recent high-profile dog attacks Professor Waran did not support the banning of so-called aggressive breeds of dogs.

"I think a lot of the problem relates to irresponsible owners but the second part is preventing those dogs from being aggressive by ensuring they had been properly socialised.

"The problems with these aggressive breeds is that certain types of people choose to own them and those sorts of people are probably not always open to people like me telling them what to do."

Professor Waran, who obtained her PhD from Cambridge University Veterinary School and practised animal counselling at Edinburgh University, said the animal counselling industry was still in its infancy in New Zealand.

The clinic operates on a referral-only basis from veterinarians and consultations of up to two hours cost about $120.

"It's a long process and some people can take the behaviour of their animals very personally," she said. "But the success of the treatments not only rely on diagnosing the problem but also on the owner carrying out the behaviour modification elsewhere."

Professor Waran said: "A man admitted that the most distressing problem was that his cat had sprayed him in his face. He took this very personally and wondered if the cat hated him.

"Once we questioned him in detail about the history of the problem and asked about his own personal hygiene, we discovered that the cat had started being a problem when the man had changed his aftershave."


How do you get a dog to behave?

Teach it its place in the family.

It's a dog's life in Manukau but a poodle's on the Shore

Death is the likely outcome for more than half of all impounded dogs in Manukau City but those caught north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge have better odds of survival.

In the 10 months to April, 3212 dogs were impounded in Manukau. Of those, more than 90 per cent were unregistered and 1800 were euthanased - more than 40 a week.

By contrast, just one dog a week was put down in North Shore City Council's territory.

Manukau City Council senior policy analyst Paul Wilson said the council had taken a proactive stance in seeking out roaming and unregistered dogs. The number of dogs put down in the area had decreased from the previous year when 2385 dogs were euthanased.

But Zarene Gerbich, operations manager for Animal Management, which handles the council's dog control in the area, said some dog owners needed to accept responsibility.

"If you want to buy a car you check out what it costs for the year, and know if you don't have a warrant or registration and get caught, then you are going to get fined. It's exactly the same with owning a dog."

She said many people probably gave up on their dogs if they were impounded because of the costs of retrieving them.

Possible expenses include a $40 impounding fee, $15 for transport, $15 each day for sustenance, a $120 registration fee, $120 for desexing and a $300 infringement fee.

North Shore City Council's Warwick Robertson said, "We are working hard in trying to educate people about their dogs and we try to re-home as many of them as we can."

In Waitakere, 56 dogs have been put down over the past 10 months.

More than a third of all dogs impounded in Franklin were euthanased between 2005 and 2006.

Auckland SPCA chief executive Bob Kerridge said economic factors probably played a part in many dogs being put down in South Auckland but was more worried about an apparent lack of consistency across the various councils with dog control.


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