Interview with David Appleby

David Appleby is a Practice Representative for the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a frequent lecturer and contributes to a number of journals.

Gill: Firstly may I thank you for giving us the time to share your knowledge. May we start by asking you how you first became involved with dogs?

David: I was brought up with dogs throughout my childhood.  I became involved with dogs  professionally when I joined the royal air force as a police dog handler.  After seven years service this was followed by a further seven years training and working and is a guide dog mobility instructor.

Gill: You hear so much about “dominant” behaviour nowadays. What is your views on this please?

David: In keeping with many others in the profession I have more recently try to avoid the use of the word.  The main reason why this has become a trend is because, for some people, it conjures up an image of harsh handling.  I have also become strongly inclined to avoid the use of the term because we have better ways of describing what is going on.  I think it is more accurate to describe dominance as uninhibited behaviour.  Similarly we can describe submissiveness as inhibited behaviour.

Gill: Within your experience what is the main behaviour problem that clients seek your help for and why do you think this is?

David: Aggression in its various forms.  The most likely reasons for seeking help are that it is difficult to live with and social pressure.

Gill: How would you go about choosing a good dog training class, what would you be looking for if it was a pet dog in need of basic training?

David: I would look for a class that was not overcrowded and for one without aggressive dogs that might detrimentally affect the development of my own dog’s behaviour.  I would equally be concerned to find a training class where kind effective techniques are used.

Gill: In Cocker Spaniels have you ever seen any evidence of the so called rage syndrome”?

David: Yes, its presence is well documented, although it is not limited to this breed.  Rage syndrome is a term that has been used to describe episodic dyscontrol (psychomotor epilepsy), characterised by sudden outbursts of idiopathic aggression. All too often, especially in the Cocker Spaniel, dogs have been said to have rage syndrome when their behaviour has not been caused by this condition.

Gill: Can you tell us more about what was involved when you were a guide dog mobility instructor?

David: I trained guide dogs in the advanced stages of training, teamed and trained them with their eventual owners and conducted annual aftercare for qualified guide dog owners.

Gill: If you have 2 or more dogs living in same home and interpack aggression starts, which is becoming a daily occurrence, how best should you handle this?

David: As with all behaviour problems there is not a single answer to cover all possibilities.  So the first step is to get a good history so as to determine the cause, assess the temperament of the dogs concerned etc.

Gill: If someone came to you asking for advice as to working in this field and learning, would you recommend a correspondence course, a residential course, working for a rescue society/local dog training club or something else to start them off?

David: Practical experience with animals is obviously important and opportunities should be taken where they present themselves.  If someone is serious about becoming a pet behaviour counsellor I recommend that they work towards a degree or higher degree in either a relevant subject or the specific subject where the latter is available to them.  I believe, as a consequence of what I hear and read, that the world is moving towards a situation where experience and ability alone will not be enough to be a practitioner and there will be a requirement for academic qualifications to support these.

Gill: Pet dog owners that have a dog that is fearful of other dogs are often told to go to training classes to socialise there dogs.  Surely this must aggravate the situation, may we have your view on this please?

David: I agree, throwing a dog in at the deep end like this is often counter productive.  Flooding an animal with fear eliciting stimuli can result in it developing learnt helplessness,  that is it learns not to try and escape but it does not learn not to be frightened.  Furthermore, if the dog uses aggression as means of coping it can result in other dogs in the group developing similar problems.

Gill: If a 13 week old puppy, that is quite sociable and plays well with others, is nipping at the 6 year old daughters ankles and ragging at them, what would your advice be as to overcoming this?

David: As with question seven, the advise given would depend on the motivation. Therefore, there is not one answer but a range of options.  For example possible course in this example include, play/mouthing, predatory behaviour, defensive behaviour caused by fear and so on.  The taking of a behavioural history before any advice is given can take 45 minutes, an hour or even more due to the wide range of factors that have to be considered.

Gill: What is your opinion on neutering dogs and what age do you feel this should be done?

David: By dogs I assume you are referring to both dogs and bitches. There are clear health advantages in neutering bitches in the form of a reduced incidence of mammary glad tumour and preventing pyometra. Neutering will also reduce or eliminate the potential for hormone related behaviour problems. For either reason neutering is most likely to be beneficial if it is carried out before sexual maturity. If neutering is being contemplated as a means of curing a behaviour problem it is essential that the problem behaviour is gender specific. Where neutering is carried out, even where appropriate, it may not be successful due to the learning and brain development that has taken place since maturity. Problems associated with a bitches seasons can continue despite neutering due to hormone release from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.

Gill: What is the first exercise you would want to teach a young dog when  it comes to training and why?

David: Interesting question, to which I don’t have an answer as such because I don’t conduct any form of dog training classes, although I did many years ago. If someone came to me for a training lesson now I would want to teach his or her dog to do something it could do very easily so that we started with an easy success. With my last puppy I just stood holding the door handle to the yard outside the house without saying anything until he happened to sit. By the end of the first day he had learnt that if he sat by the door it would open and he could go through. When I used to work with Royal Air Force police dogs, each new dog I was teamed with could learn some thing about our relationship the first time I put them on a lead and took them out of their kennel. Invariably, they would head towards the main path out of habit and I would go the other way/

Gill: What are your favourite dog books/authors and can you tell us why they are your favourites?

David: The books of Michael Fox because it from his books that I learnt to question and think more deeply about animal behaviour.

Gill: How do you teach owners to overcome a dog that is aggressive around food?

David: If it is its own food I would teach them to teach the dog that there is nothing to be afraid of.  How I want them to go about that depends on the circumstances of the case.

Gill: What is the best age to get a puppy?

David: Six weeks, tens of thousands of UK guide dogs cannot all be wrong.

Gill: On behalf of everyone we would like to thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview. If you have any workshops, books, videos, web page you would like to add please list below for people to visit and buy.

David: The details of my book please and how to order. You will find all the information you need at