A leading dog trainer is seeing an epidemic of canine behavior issues in her part of North Wales as the region grapples with a “puppy pandemic”.
An explosion in pet ownership, following successive Covid lockdowns, has created a generation of novice owners with dogs that are inadequately socialized, believes Emily Pantoja, a canine behaviourist from Waunfawr, Gwynedd.
Often the trend is driven by unscrupulous breeders anxious for a quick buck who produce puppies with temperaments totally unsuitable for family homes, she said.
One consequence has been a steep rise in aggressive behaviour.
According to Emily, 31, local veterinary practices and hospitals are seeing “extraordinary” increases in dog biting incidents.
Recently she was called to deal with a French Bulldog that had bitten the face of a six-year-old child.
It was one of many such incidents, all with a common theme.
“In the past two months, I have performed behavioral consultations for over 15 clients relating to dog-on-dog or dog-on-human aggression,” she said.
“The majority of these dogs were young and were purchased during lockdown.”
Emily, who runs the Max Canine training service, contacted North Wales Live to express her frustration at the rise in canine behavior problems.
These, she said, are likely to arise still further as lockdown is eased and owners start to return to work.
During a recent consultation, Emily was bitten three times by a young dog.
“It had already bitten every member of the family,” she said.
“I could give you a 100 more examples. For me it comes down to education and unethical breeding.”
As well as aggression issues, she is seeing many more dogs with separation anxiety.
Much of this stems from owners who fussed over their new puppies in lockdown, only to reap the consequences later.
Emily cites the example of clients whose two Cocker Spaniels are otherwise models of good behaviour.
But as soon as the owners leave a room, whether to visit the loo or pop to the supermarket, the dogs bark incessantly – so much so that the owners are now subject to a noise disturbance order from the local council.
“Their only solution was to take the dogs with them to the toilet or the supermarket,” said Emily.
A third product of lockdown, she says, is canine anxiety. Puppies cooped up at home remain unaccustomed to people, traffic, animals and other dogs.
Even mask-wearing has had a debilitating effect on dogs, who can no longer read the emotions of their owners, let alone strangers.
In a similar vein, the pandemic has produced a shift in working patterns, prompting stay-at-home employees to move to the countryside from towns and cities.
Here, their dogs discover new curiosities. One outcome is a new generation of sheep chasers, said Emily.
“A client of mine moved from Manchester with her good-as-gold Springer Spaniel,” she said.
“Its only problem was that it chased after livestock. On one walk the dog returned covered in blood.
“The owner was horrified but she was unable to find out where the dog had been, so she came to me for help.”
On her 10-acre smallholding, Emily keeps a small flock of 10 sheep expressly for this purpose. They serve as unwitting guinea pigs for dogs being trained in “extreme” recall.
Remarkable videos posted on her Facebook site show how clients’ dogs have been transformed from rapid sheep worriers to placid bystanders.
Emily shares the smallholding with husband Michael Parton, a major in the Royal Engineers who often acts as her “stooge man” when training dogs.
The military was formative for Emily herself. She spent a decade as a blue beret with the Army Air Corps, leaving with the rank of major and putting her people skills to good use in her new dog training business.
Last year the company was rebranded as Max Canine, a homage to Max, her faithful old dog with whom she had launched the business.
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A luminary was master dog trainer Graeme Hall, who presents Channel 5’s Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly TV series.
In this he often appears to achieve near-miraculous, instant, canine transformations.
Emily accepts the way TV foreshortens the reality of dog training, but insists results can be achieved relatively quickly.
“Most clients should only need to see me just the once, though there is ongoing support,” she said.
It’s estimated that 3.2m British households have welcomed a new pet since March 2020.
Most are dogs, and studies of Google search data have revealed a quirky snapshot of the fall-out.
Data shows that searches for “dog snoring” are up by 40%. For “French bulldogs the figure is 190%.
Google searches are up 150% for people baffled why their dog wags its tail while asleep.
Indeed Silentnight, which carried out the analysis, said sales of its dog beds had shot up 120% during the pandemic.
As pet ownership arises, and breed preferences shift, there has been a change in the type of dogs Emily is seeing.
Bull breeds and German Shepherds are now much less of a problem than trending breeds such as Collies, Cocker Spaniels, Cockerpoos and French Bulldogs, she said.
The rush to secure popular breeds has also fueled a canine price bubble, creating a vicious circle of behavior issues.
In just two years prices have quadrupled and amateur breeders have muscled into the action.
“If someone has a Labrador and they breed it with their mate’s Spaniel, they can sell their Springador pups for up to £3,500 each,” she said.
“If they have a litter of 10, that’s £35,000.
“However they won’t have paid for hip and elbow scores, nor with they have ensured the puppy’s parents’ temperaments are suitable.”
Again, lockdown has fueled the problem. Unable to view pups with their parents, many buyers are instead being shown videos that can be misleading.
“They may not even show the pups’ real parents,” sighed Emily, who said many dogs were being imported illegally from puppy farms in eastern Europe.
“When people call me about their puppies, and I look into their home circumstances, it makes me wonder what on earth the breeders were doing selling them in the first place.
“The reality was that they were doing it simply to line their own pockets.”
Emily has her work cut out dealing with the deluge. She’s booked up for appointments until June, though she will be running dog socialization classes from May onwards.
To cope, she’s looking to employ a couple of Bangor University students.
“When I started my little business 10 years ago, I never thought I’d be employing people and referring clients to other trainers,” she said.
Have you noticed more dogs in your community – and more canine problems? Have your say in the comments section.