Home   Pets   Article

Pet training TV shows are harmful to animals and relationships to their owners, says Blue Cross behaviourist

Experts from an animal welfare charity are concerned the new wave of lockdown pet owners are learning harmful training techniques from TV shows and other media platforms.

The Blue Cross published results of a recent survey which showed 24% of owners thought it was fine to use items such as shock collars when training pets.

They also found 22% of owners took advice from YouTube channels and TV programmes and only 8% went to qualified behaviourists.

Ryan Neile, head of behaviour at the charity, said: "We're concerned because there's a huge amount of people now getting dogs or more pets in lockdown. Some of those owners are struggling with their pets behaviour - particularly dogs.

"TV programmes are promoting really outdated, poor training methods which can harm your relationship with your pet at a time when you're really looking to build trust.

"These techniques can cause fear and sometimes even pain. These are techniques we would never recommend anybody."

So what advice would Ryan give to the pandemic's new pet owners instead?

Ryan explains our dogs 'aren't wolfs in disguise'
Ryan explains our dogs 'aren't wolfs in disguise'

Be careful not to mislabel behaviour

A common problem behaviourists face is owners basing training off disproven science about animal behaviour or interpreting animal emotions as if they're human ones - for example, shrinking away from an angry owner is often mistaken for guilt.

Ryan added: "Often, it's not just an animal having a behaviour problem - it is a problem shared between the animal and the owner.

"A lot of people misinterpret behaviour. There is a tendency for people to think that dogs are pack animals and they aspire to outrank us or become more dominant over us. That's a result of really outdated, disproved information.

"It's still a common issue I deal with on a regular basis. The dogs owners share their lives with aren't wolves in disguise - but they're furry friends that just want to hang out with them and enjoy life together with them."

Animals may become stressed when they don't have any 'me time' in lockdown Picture: Pixabay creative commons
Animals may become stressed when they don't have any 'me time' in lockdown Picture: Pixabay creative commons

Lockdown is a change in routine for pets too

Though Ryan has no doubt there are a lot of pets who are thrilled to have their owners at home, Blue Cross has noticed more owners coming to them for advice in lockdown related problems.

A common issue has been children pestering animals to play too much while they are home from school.

Not having any time alone leads to the animal feeling stressed and acting as if they want to be left alone - by perhaps lashing out or hiding away - leaving owners very worried.

Ryan advised: "Owners really need to understand our pets are part of our family. They have needs too. They're not just there for us and to be entertaining for us. They need to have some privacy and some space, just like we do.

"Everybody in lockdown now will relate to the fact that relationships between family members may have become strained because we're sort of locked in together. The same would be true for our pets as well."

Ryan suggests families invite animals to spend time with them rather than chase them around the house or pick them up when they show they are not interested.

Ryan Neile, pet behaviour expert at Blue Cross, and Kit, dutch shepherd, and Tok, border collie
Ryan Neile, pet behaviour expert at Blue Cross, and Kit, dutch shepherd, and Tok, border collie

There are no quick fixes when training pets

The head behaviourist explained training which punishes animals harshly will stop a problematic behaviour - but also leads to animals not showing emotion or trusting their owner.

Ryan explains the alternative is reward based training and understanding why a pet is behaving in a certain way before solving the problem, which both trains the pet and strengthens the bond with the owner.

For example, if a cat howls because they're scared of the vaccum, don't tell them off for howling but teach them not to be scared.

This can be done by rewarding the cat for behaving well when the vaccum is at a distance before gently pushing that boundary, then repeat.

Ryan added: "It's not a quick fix. But the journey that the pet would go on would forge a really strong relationship. Do we really want to be causing our pets distress or fear or pain because we can solve that problem really quickly for us?

"There aren't any real quick fixes. The kind of work that makes a real difference is the one that works at a much slower pace and focuses on rewarding pets."

Instead, ask someone who knows their stuff

Instead of going to YouTubers and TV shows designed to entertain, Ryan recommends struggling owners contact charities like Blue Cross and the Animal Behaviour Training Council or use the resources on their websites.

To read more stories about Kent's pets, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More