MORE than half of all dogs do not always come back when they are called, and naughty pups cost their owners an average of £400 a year.
And while disobedient dogs can make us laugh there is a more serious side to the issue.
Behavioural problems are the most common reason for owners handing their pets over to Dogs Trust.
And in a bid to cut the number of abandoned dogs filling its centres – which totalled more than 15,000 in last year alone – the charity has launched ‘Dog School’.
The school comes in at a fraction of the cost of traditional dog training sessions – costing £40 for six classes for rescue dogs and £50 for non-rescues – and is designed to help the three-quarters of owners who have never received professional support.
One of those is Laura Kearns, deputy editor of our sister papers in Stratford and Leamington, who took her two troublesome pups to the rehoming centre in Kenilworth to learn some manners.
My dogs are very sweet, very funny and utterly adorable – until you want them to come back when on a walk that is. Or even lie at your feet when you pop into the local pub – I think that is something which only happens on television.
But Dogs Trust behavioural experts say it can be a reality, and work with you and your four-legged-friend to teach them all the basics, and for the owner how to achieve them.
I jumped at the chance to take one of our dogs Rosie – a two year-old German Shepherd crossed with a Collie – on the course. My dad even signed up to come along with us and take our other pup Bo – a four year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross Boxer.
At the induction – just for owners and not the pets – we had a ‘welcome to dog school’ where we met trainers and dog behaviour experts Jen Protheroe, Emma Rex and Amy Healey.
Between them they have more than 20 years of experience – so I think my beloved dogs are in good hands.
The basics of understanding dogs were explained, from when they are angry to upset and happy. They also ensured we saw reactions from the dog’s point of view, including how they try to get out of situations they do not like and how those reactions stay with the dog as a learned behaviour.
The actual classes – of which there are ones for adult, puppy and rescue dogs – are very small. In mine there were just four dogs including my two.
I was relieved that all of us owners were in the same position and at no point were we made to feel bad if our pets misbehaved.
First of all we taught the dogs how ‘settle’ – which sees the owner take some of their bedding, such as a blanket, and show the dogs that returning to the bed is a positive thing they will be rewarded for.
The training is done with positive reinforcement, using things the dog likes – in both of my pups’ cases that’s food. We used sausage, liver and biscuits to keep them interested.
Next we worked on sit and finally recall – something Bo definitely struggles with, especially if there is another dog to run off and play with.
I do not think the path to having obedient dogs will be an easy one. The trainers make it clear the hard work needs to continue at home. But I am looking forward to going back and learning more next week, and I’m pretty sure my dogs are too.
Visit www.dogstrustdogschool.org.uk to find out more and check the Observer for updates on the class.