The COVID-19 lockdowns triggered a puppy boom as thousands of Britons purchased pooches to keep them company over the long months of isolation. A total of 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, with dogs the most popular companion by far.
Dog ownership figures rocketed during the pandemic, with 33 percent of households owning dogs in 2020 to 2021 compared to roughly 22 percent for the preceding ten years.
But one dog trainer has warned that owners are being “ripped off” by fraudsters posing as dog trainers who are capitalising on the record number of household pets.
Steve Moran has been working with dogs for more than 30 years and currently runs Stublach Training and Boarding Kennels in Byley, Cheshire.
He told Cheshire Live that he believes customers are being taken for a ride by trainers taking advantage of the lockdown boom in pet ownership, with some claiming to be accredited despite there being no official governing body in the UK.
He said: “People are looking for a dog trainer and if you go online, you’ll find more dog trainers than pebbles on a beach. Many say they’re an ‘accredited’ dog behaviourist.
“There’s no such thing but people will see that and think ‘they must know what they’re doing’.”
Mr Moran said trainers are using methods that are doing little to stem the rise in dog attacks that has been partly driven by the rise in first-time dog owners.
There has been a surge in fatal dog attacks in Britain since the Covid-19 pandemic, with the RSPCA warning that “impulse buys” during the lockdowns may have driven up the risks posed by certain breeds in certain environments.
Farmers have also complained of a rise in dogs attacking their animals including sheep and lambs as new owners struggle to control their pets.
He said trainers should not pursue a “one-size fits all” approach, adding: “How I train a German Shepherd may not be how I train a Labrador.”
He said: “How I train a Labrador might not be how I train a chihuahua. But now they’re all doing things like ‘tricks for treats’ – it’s not dog training.
“What it is, is a licence to print money. It’s a scam and this scam is getting bigger and bigger.”
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Mr Moran explained that certain breeds of dog, such as German Shepherds and Border Collies, have a natural instinct to hunt down other animals.
Activities like throwing a ball activate the so-called prey drive and encourage the dog to chase, which is why some dogs remain out of control when they chase after things like sheep or other dogs.
He said: “Anything moving activates its prey drive and its already been trained to chase. This is where the epidemic of dog trainers is coming from – they’re not dog trainers, they’re not qualified.
“What they are doing is cashing in on a cash cow after lockdown.
“A lot of this comes under ‘force-free training’. Basically you can’t put a dog on a lead or can’t shout at a dog but these people have no knowledge of working dogs.
“And if you’ve been throwing a ball to get the dog’s attention – when you let that dog out in a field and there’s a herd of sheep, bingo you’ve got two dead sheep.”
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He also said the “tricks for treats” method employed by inexperienced trainers would not work for all dogs.
“If you hold a titbit for the dog and it starts barking, the people training think ‘oh they’re enjoying it’ when in fact the dog is frustrated and is actually saying ‘give me the titbit, I don’t want to sit’,” he continued.
“So what happens? The dog, especially something like a German Shepherd or Border Collie, nips the hand of the person feeding it to get to the titbit because it doesn’t want to do the trick.
“They are training with these techniques that are no good when you let them loose. They have no recall whatsoever, so the dog won’t come back when you call them unless you have a titbit.”
He added: “It’s subjective – there are no ‘experts’ and I’ve been doing this more than 30 years. It’s about being able to read the dog but instead there are trainers saying that this one way is the right way.”
Mr Moran advised customers to make sure they carefully research trainers before they employ them to make sure their pooch does not develop bad or dangerous habits.
Additional reporting by Alex McIntyre.