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The dog supernanny

PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 March 2014

Devon’s dog supernanny Tricia Wills.

Devon’s dog supernanny Tricia Wills.

MATT AUSTIN

Is your dog barking mad? Kathryn Smith gets some top tips on how to cope from Devon’s dog supernanny Tricia Wills

Photography by Matt Austin

With nearly half a million dog owners in Devon there has never been a greater time for man’s best friend to step up to the mark. But things do not always go according to plan.

Tricia Wills is a dog trainer and canine behaviourist who specialises in treating unwanted or problematic dog behaviour, which she says has changed a lot over the past few years.

“Whereas at one time it was dogs biting other dogs or maybe the postman, now I am dealing with 21st century dog owners with busy lifestyles who have no room for error. I have become a supernanny life coach for dogs,” she said.

Tricia, 52, has worked with dogs for 25 years and deals with everything from aggression, anxiety and phobias to chasing and roaming issues.

Dogs also suffer from eating disorders. Some animals won’t eat while others choose to eat a variety of things, some more unpleasant than others.

Tricia had one case involving a golden retriever called Troy who had an obsession with eating his owner’s underwear.

She said: “He would collect it, rip it up and eat it which was very dangerous. It was a life-threatening habit and he could have potentially needed major surgery. A dog’s sense of smell is 1,000 times greater than ours and dogs like to be near us and items of clothing that smell like us.

“His owner was careful to pick the washing up, but it was a big open plan house and he always found ways to get to the laundry. I had to re-educate him and retrain his brain, giving him a negative association with the objects.”

Tricia’s Top Tips

-A high percentage of dog behaviour is inherited. It is very important to research the dog you are looking to get and ask lots of questions about the mum and dad to get a feel for what they are like.

-Once a puppy has had its injections, introduce it to as many new sights and sounds as possible.

-Socialisation is very important when a puppy is young. Between the age of three and 15 weeks is considered a critical period of life and what is established during this important time can influence a dog for the rest of its life.

-Nervous dogs need a calm assertive leader. They look on their owner as a leader.

-Never underestimate the power of a walk. It is paramount to a dog. It drains their energy battery and establishes a strong leader/follower relationship.

-They are pack animals and walking off the lead is very important.

-Rules and boundaries need to be set early on. Owners need to be consistent, not harsh and remember they are the leader.

Tricia’s interest in dogs started in childhood but she was not allowed one of her own until she was 15 and that came with a condition that she trained it.

She said: “I picked the hardest breed there was - an Irish setter called Squire. I only chose him because it was the breed that had just won Crufts. I blindly went out and got him without doing any of the research that I tell my clients to. It took me three years at a weekly training class but I stuck with it.”

Fed up with her day job, Tricia walked into a dog centre one day and offered to do some voluntary work.

“I gave up my full time job and from there moved on to house and pet sitting for people with smallholdings and farm workers.”

She moved from London back to her home city of Exeter. She studied dog psychology and canine behaviour.

She says the main issue she deals with is aggression as it causes fear among owners. The second most common type of problem is separation and anxiety related problems which can lead to dogs wrecking a house or excessive barking which disturbs not just the family but the neighbours too.

Tricia said: “This job has changed over the years. It was very black and white to begin with but now there are new modern day issues. People have very busy lifestyles.”

For more information call 01392 811723 or 07932 743982 or visit www.triciawills.co.uk

This article was first published in the March issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at www.subscriptionsave.co.uk/dev or call 08448484217

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