One of the most popular of all pets is the dog. Nearly half of all households in Australia own a dog and over 59% of pet expenditure is associated with dogs. Legends have arisen around the faithful dog for many years and numerous towns support statues witnessing the high esteem some dogs are held in. These include the "Dog on the Tucker Box" at Gundagai, Matey at Surfer's Paradise, the Red Dog at Dampier in Western Australia, the Guard Dog at Eagleneck on the Tasmanian Peninsula and the statue in Balmoral of Billy, a loyal pet who followed his master, a street sweeper, around for 17 years.
But dogs are not always popular with everyone. A paper presented to the Animals, Community Health and Public Policy Symposium in 1989 estimated there were some 100,000 dog attacks on humans in Australia each year. Many councils have regulations about walking dogs and removing their droppings from the street. Council rangers get numerous requests to investigate barking dogs, dog attacks on stock and dogs roaming free.
Les Treuer is no stranger to "problem dogs". Not only has he dealt with aggressive, noisy and over-friendly dogs, but he has seen dogs kill another dog, dogs kill a horse, and an American pit bull terrier jump through a plate glass window when it suffered from separation anxiety. Les is a dog behaviourist. He works for an Australian company, Dog Tech International.
Les has had a love of dogs for as long as he can remember. His mother bought him his first dog when he was ten years old and the two became inseparable. Les spent many hours observing and trying to understand the dog's behaviour. As a result he was often asked for advice by his neighbours who wanted their dogs to "behave". Eventually Les became a construction engineer and worked in that industry until a back injury forced him to find an alternative career. He attended a course in dog training run by John Richardson and soon went to work part-time for Dog Tech. After learning about marketing and dealing with people, in 2004, Les joined Dog Tech full-time. He says he would never go back to his old job as he now works in a job which is also his passion.
Les and his dog Sassy.
Although Dog Tech does run "Puppy Schools", most of their customers come to them because they want to change some behaviour displayed by their pet dog. Owners often blame the dog or other external factors for the unsociable behaviour the dog is exhibiting. Les recalls one owner who was adamant the dog's continued misbehaviour and barking was because it had been born under the star sign of Cancer. Another insisted the microchip put into the dog was interfering with the dog's brain waves and this was causing the dog to jump up on people.
Les recalls a dog which was so scared in a storm that it broke its jaw chewing a screen door in an effort to get inside out of the storm. While Les has found some dogs suffer from storm phobia and others from separation anxiety, most "problem behaviour" is caused by the way the owners have been treating the dog. Dog Tech realises that domestic dogs have all descended from wild dogs or wolves. These wild dogs all live in packs. In the wild they have to establish their place within that pack and their behaviour is determined by knowing their place in that pack. This "pack mentality" is still present within domestic dogs and is a big determinant of behaviour. Dog Tech usually only have to spend two sessions with a dog and their owner to analyse and modify behaviour - usually the behaviour of the owner is the key.
Les says that many customers have problems with small dogs. This is probably because they are not always seen as dogs but as part of the family. Often they are pampered and spoilt. Some are dressed in shoes, clothing and even bonnets. Recently I saw a pet shop which sold a range of prams for dogs - so that the owners can push their dogs for a walk around the block! The dogs are also allowed to sleep on the lounge or even in the owner's bed. The result is that the dog thinks it is not only a family member but is running the family. Once Les sets up boundaries within the house the behaviour is usually solved. The dog born under the star sign of Cancer modified its behaviour once the husband stopped playing tug-of-war with it.
Three in every five households in Australia have at least one pet. They have these pets for companionship, recreation and protection. A 2006 report said that 91% of pet owners claimed they felt 'very close' to their pets. However many pets also end up neglected and unwanted. Many children want pets, and despite promises to look after them soon tire of the responsibility. It is not surprising then that the same report in 2006 found the main "carer for the pet is female, married with children, living in the suburbs and most likely employed".