The Animal Behaviourists and Trainers Council, the regulatory body for animal behaviourists and trainers states that a pet behaviourist must be qualified to the minimum standard of a degree specifically in animal behaviour.
There are many people these days who take a short course of a week or so and then claim to be qualified to work with aggression. This level of qualification simply is insufficient to provide a safe service and does not allow for an in depth understanding of the psychology and physiology of aggression. In addition, behaviourists, due to the Veterinary Surgeons Act, must work on veterinary referral.
I am Denise Nuttall B.Sc (Hons) in Applied Animal Behaviour, M.Res (Masters degree in research science dog cognition and forensic psychology) qualified and experienced dog behaviourist and I provide re-socialisation training for aggressive dogs. I specialise in dog aggression and anxiety and have specialised for 11 years as at 2019 (see qualifications).
Dog aggression is a major problem for owners of reactive dogs. It is alienating and frightening and often leads to aggressive responses from other dog owners. For the dog, who is usefully fearful of other dogs, life is miserable. Sometimes dogs are just doing a behaviour their breed was selected for, such as guarding or protection. Dog on dog aggression is a growing problem in our society. The Dangerous Dogs act 1991 amendments effective 14/05/14 makes it a criminal offence if a dog injures an assistance dog (whether or or not it dies) punishable by up to three years in prison. The trouble is, if your dog shows aggression to other dogs it may not know the difference between an assistance dog and a non assistance dog. In fact, you might not even be aware until too late. Therefore, it makes sense to reduce this risk. With our courses for aggressive dogs we offer a really effective and supportive aggressive dog training programme.
You may see trainers/behaviourists who tell you you have a dominant dog, advertising 98% success rates or cures in one afternoon but I fail to see how this can be measured over the life of the dog and also a cure for embedded aggression in an afternoon is just not possible so please don't be fooled into believing it is. I would question anyone who professes to be able to solve aggression problems. However, it is possible to improve things significantly for most dogs and indeed, some dogs do learn to live a normal life with other dogs and even learn to play with them. In reality we can help most dogs to tolerate other dogs without showing aggression.
How I approach Aggressive Dog Rehabilitation
I start off with a private behaviour consultation or Skype consultation where I will assess your dog with you and provide you with lots of information and advice which applies to you and your dog specifically. This includes a foundation plan that works on the reasons why your dog shows aggression and includes what you should do when an out of control dog approaches you etc. You will then be set a plan and given a report to keep you on track with the normal support that you would expect of a behavioural consultation with me. We will then review your progress via e mail or phone. This is all included in the cost of the consultation. If your dog insurance covers behaviour therapy you may be able to recuperate your costs through your insurance company but it is best to check first. Once you have had this consultation you will want to work more closely with other dogs. This is when you can attend our field based sessions with our "teaching dogs" where we will help you to teach your dog to be able to accept other dogs close by without showing aggression. You can attend these sessions once we have seen you and assessed your dog and you have started the rehab programme. You can attend as many or as few sessions as you wish or need to attend.
The practical sessions have a small number of dogs (usually one trainer to two dogs). We work with a well socialised stooge dog. Please click on Aggressive dog classes for videos and photos.
To attend these classes you must have first had a full behavioural assessment with me where I will put together a plan of action for you and your dog. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO ATTEND THESE CLASSES WITHOUT THE FULL BEHAVIOURAL ASSESSMENT as this is where I assess what form of aggression your dog shows; the treatment for different forms of aggression may vary and is set for you and your dog. It is during this consultation that you are given the foundations for being able to successfully attend the classes and benefit from the exposure therapy. It is also a matter of safety, I will need to know how your dog reacts in the presence of other dogs and people and have given appropriate safety training. I do not accept other people's assessments of a dog as it is likely that my opinion may differ from what you have already been told.
Please note these are all genuine and not made up like so many testimonials are these days!!
"Finally just a quick note to say how much doing Grumpy Growlers has changed things for us - it's given us some tools to begin helping Fflam and made life easier for both Fflam and I. His walks are so much more enjoyable and I feel I understand much better how he sees situations with other dogs. One of the regular dog walkers in King's Park even asked the other day if Fflam was the dog that used to bark at every dog in the park which made me realise how far we've come. We've still got a lifetime of work to do with him but I think we're on the right track! Many thanks, Anna"
"I thought you may like an update with regards to Nero. I wanted to express my sincere gratitude to the tools that your course gave us to enable us to train Nero. Nero is now an absolute and total pleasure to walk (off the lead). He is now almost totally comfortable with people and dogs. The change from the dog I got from Rescue is absolutely amazing and your training has helped us to create such a bond. I'm not saying he is perfect - there are still elements of selective hearing but he is almost there. I even had an unforeseen situation when throwing his ball on the field that about 20 children started running towards him. I instructed him to sit and wait where he was (at a distance), so he didn't trip any up and they swamped around him and ran past! He just sat there patiently and completely undeterred! Thank you so very very much. Jenny B."
"Hi Denise. Just to give you an update on Ellie. We have been walking Ellie without her muzzle for a couple of weeks now.Her reactions to any dogs she meets is friendly. We do of course watch for any sign that we need to call her away,but so far so good. The progress we have achieved is very much down to Grumpy Growlers and cant thank you enough. A few dog owners who "experienced" Ellie a year ago, have commented on the change in her which is so nice to hear. On our part we really enjoy taking her out as we enjoy both her and the walk as we are no longer anxious about suddenly meeting other dogs, it really is brilliant. Ellie is now such a lovely dog and is getting well known by other dogs and their owners who make a fuss of her as she seems to love people. Thank you again Denise."
Please see True Case for another success story including video footage. However, Harriet was so reactive and so young we felt it inappropriate to work her in the Grumpy Growlers classes, we worked privately with her. Please note we do not put up all our successes, only a small selection as examples.
Denise giving instruction during Grumpy Growler session
If your dog attacks another dog you may be prosecuted under the Animals Act 1971 or the Dogs Act (unless it is a banned breed under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act in which case you will be prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 which is a criminal act. If you own a dog which measures up to the recommended measurements of a Pit Bull or Pit Bull type you may be prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as the Pit Bull and/or Pit Bull type is a banned breed. This can be very confusing and owners may not know if their dog measured up to this as it appears to be a vague process.
Many people are unaware that they can do something about their dog's aggression. In my experience most dogs attending this course have either lacked early socialisation or have themselves been attacked by other dogs or are rescue dogs with an unknown history. However, if your dog bites a person during a dog fight or acts in a manner dangerously out of control this may lead to prosecution under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Since aggression towards other dogs can most likely be improved on it is worth trying to reduce this risk by seeking help. Most dogs which have attended this course have improved a lot.
These classes are not suitable for dogs which have caused serious (life threatening) injury or death to other dogs. For the safety of the other dogs and people these dogs need to be seen privately and this can be arranged through a separate behaviour consultation. This course is only suitable for dogs which bark at other dogs, lunge, snap or may have even bitten but with minor injuries to another dog.
This course is not suitable for predatory aggression as is not strictly aggression. This is dealt with separately. This is where dogs mistake other dogs as prey species and attempt to kill them.
It is important to know that younger dogs tend to avoid dogs or bark when afraid and this can change as they mature into a more aggressive response. Early signs of future aggression may be submitting, barking, air snaps, avoiding or lunging. Many people feel total shock when their young dog moves from these states onto aggression, but I'm afraid this is all too common.
Fflam (rehab dog)about to approach to sniff a teaching staffy, Ruby.
Fflam sporting a rather fine muzzle!
Much of the interaction is done between the rehabilitating dog and the teaching dogs, however, it becomes possible and indeed, important to continue socialising with the other rehabilitating dogs. In the real world our dogs meet aggressive dogs and we need to teach our dogs how to respond without aggression.This is only done when we are sure that it is appropriate and will not cause stress/risk etc. The aim is that the dogs don't feel the need to bark/become aggressive towards other dogs as we work to de-sensitise them within their comfort zone. The risk is low but it is important to understand that owning an aggressive/ fearful dog does have its risks. Greater risks exist for owners NOT rehabilitating their dogs as it makes it more likely that their own dog will be defensively attacked by other dogs whilst out walking. Also, if your dog does attack another dog you may be prosecuted under the DDA (Dangerous Dogs Act), if this results in a bite to a human. The DDA is a criminal act which would lead to a criminal record, fines and jail terms. The fact that we do this on private property does significantly reduce the risks for you as it is completely under our control.
Outdoor training for dog aggressive dogs is better than indoor classes for two main reasons. Indoors there is less space, more confinement, trapped pheromones and more stress which increases risk of aggression. Also, dogs learn contextually and do not generalise training well. Since dogs are mainly going to encounter other dogs in an outdoors context, their rehabilitation training should be delivered outdoors as this will have the optimum rehabilitation value.
Two grumpies sniffing each other... wow!
"I was referred to Grumpy Growlers and Denise by my local vet when my bitch Roxy started to show increasing levels of aggression to other dogs following a bite by another dog. The initial evening talk by Denise was very enlightening for me and made me realise that Roxy had been exhibiting signs of nervous aggression far longer than I had been aware and we had only just reached an extreme point in her behaviour. The outdoor classes were a great help to me. Roxy, although nervous, was able to interact at a safe distance and be around other dogs in a very calm and controlled setting and gradually I was able to put the techniques and lessons we were both learning into practice outside the class. By the end of the course Roxy was able to be in the company of other dogs without showing much nervousness let alone aggression. We moved onto the general social class that Denise holds where she can meet other dogs in a far less controlled setting. It has been some months now since Grumpy Growlers finished and Roxy is now back to full integration with other dogs. She is still wary of some and dislikes close contact with most dogs but I have learned to read her warning signs and am able to extract her from situations when she becomes too overwhelmed. She has become a much happier dog and thus has much happier owners since doing the course. Catherine and Roxy (3 year old Border Collie/Whippet cross)"
If you are interested in these classes please telephone Denise Nuttall on 01202 861340 or 07764 250554. You must have a vet referral. All you need to do is talk to your vet and explain the problem.