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Aiming to enhance the welfare of animals...

by
01 October 2010, at 1:00am

visited The Animal Behaviour Centre and the Company of Animals in Surrey to hear about what has changed – and what hasn’t

WHEN Dr Roger Mugford left his job with a pet food company in the late 1970s to set up a consultancy to deal with small animal behaviour problems, he could scarcely have envisaged this growing into the multi-national, multi-million pound enterprise it is today.

Dr Mugford, who has a BSc in zoology and psychology and a research PhD from the University of Hull, set up The Animal Behaviour Centre in Surrey in 1979, pioneering the concept of behavioural therapy to the veterinary profession. 

Since then this referral practice has seen more than 50,000 pet animals with the aim of not just saving their lives and the sanity of their owners but of improving the quality of life of both pets and keepers.

The stated aim of the centre is “to improve the understanding and enhance the welfare of all animals, be they domestic pets, livestock or wild species”, although the vast majority of cases referred are dogs. Typical problems include aggression towards people or other animals, coprophagia, inappropriate soiling, separation problems, livestock chasing, obsessive behaviour and self-mutilation.

In 1984 Dr Mugford founded The Company of Animals (COA) as an associate business in order to market his inventions and over the years he has designed and manufactured a wide range of training products and behavioural aids. These products, and many others sourced from all over the world, are now sold in more than 30 countries through veterinary clinics, pet shops and other outlets.

The most successful of his inventions has undoubtedly been the Halti canine head-collar, more than 15 million of which have been sold, with sales running currently at about 1,000,000 a year. Close to 400,000 of these have been sold in the USA. Dr Mugford patented the original design and the newest design is still in patent and is bound to prove a highly successful product for years to come.

Working farm

The business started in outbuildings on veterinary surgeon Carl Boyde’s farm near Chertsey in Surrey but has since moved a short distance to a 100- acre working farm a short distance away. Part-owned and part-leased, this is home to the training and behaviour centre which specialises in all levels of dog training, behaviour consultations, and work to resolve legal issues about pets, in and out of court.

It also enables Roger, who lives on site, to indulge his passion for farming and in his spare time he looks after a small herd of pedigree South Devon cattle, a flock of sheep, some horses and, among other animals, a group of llamas which are useful, he says, in keeping foxes at bay.

Being close to both the M25 and M3 motorways, with easy connections to Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Dr Mugford is able to travel quickly to distant destinations in his constant quest for new products. One of his more recent trips was to Vietnam where he came across a selection of bamboo products which will soon be available to pet owners in the UK

Meanwhile, staff back at base are constantly researching and developing other new products to help resolve pet-related behaviour and training problems, with excellent facilities in which to test new designs and principles of animal training.

“The primary drive for the company has always been to develop products that help owners and their pets find an enriched life and to improve animal welfare,” he says. And such is the demand for products that the firm has acquired a warehouse a short distance away for storing and despatching them.

Stepping aside

Earlier this year, Dr Mugford stepped aside from the day-to-day management of the COA, handing over the reins to Steve Driver who has worked for the firm for over 10 years, playing an active role in its growth and success.

In his new role as managing director, Mr Driver is concentrating on managing the sales and marketing team to allow Roger more time to focus on new product innovation and development – and his many other interests.

Dr Mugford, who was awarded The Blue Cross Welfare Award in 2005, is a patron of Dogs for the Disabled, a trustee of Cancer and Bio- detection Dogs and his major current pre-occupation is the defence of dogs facing what he describes as “unjust treatment before the law with owners living in either palaces or poverty”, making frequent court appearances as an expert witness. He has also become a spokesman for “animal rights”, and is involved with such causes as The Born Free Foundation (Zoocheck).

He is just as passionate now as he was back in 1979 in his belief that pets help people cope with stress, raise their self-esteem, encourage healthy exercise and make them laugh and he is as determined as ever to continue his work to improve the well-being of pets – and help their owners.

Comfortable collar

The Halti head-collar, for instance, was designed to make it more comfortable for dogs to walk while putting owners in better control. The steering action of Halti is so effective that it led to the development of the Halti Harness, which works on the same principle of front control, but from the chest.

COA’s portfolio is constantly evolving and now boasts over 30 different product ranges. Recent additions include the hand-held Pet Corrector device which interrupts unwanted behaviour by a hiss of air, the CLIX range of training accessories, and the range of toys and accessories mentioned earlier made from bamboo.

The company has for many years been involved in importing and distributing major brands of pet products including the Nina Ottosson range of interactive games, FURminator deShedding tools, Sporn pet products and Homeopet.

This last is a selection of homoeopathic products developed by an American veterinary surgeon and introduced to Britain at the BSAVA congress in 2009; described as “safe, gentle alternative products, free of chemicals and with no known side- effects”, they are marketed to deal with everything from worms to trauma, joint stress and anxiety relief.

In addition to increasing its product range, the COA has recently re-branded the packaging across its entire product range, re-launched its website to make it more interactive and user-friendly, improved its point- of-sale aids with DVD display screens, and substantially expanded its sales in Europe, the USA and Canada with sales abroad increasing in one three- month period by 20%.

Train and Behave Week

The company also runs Dog Train and Behave Week each summer with the aim of raising public awareness of the advantages of having well-trained dogs that fit easily into society. This year, the fourth, had the theme Stop Barking, engaging noise pollution bodies with the aim of countering anti-dog legislation.

Full details of the COA are on www.companyofanimals.co.uk.

So, after more than 30 years running the referral centre and 25 at the head of the COA, is Roger Mugford at last slowing down? Not a bit of it, he says. “There is so much more to be done to improve animal welfare and to defend the rights of people and pets, especially against anti-dog measures being introduced at both national and local levels.”

And then there’s the constant search for worthwhile new products – plus the farm – to keep him fully occupied for a long time yet. 

Dog training and behavioural consultations

Fiona Whelan writes:

After more than 30 years, the Company of Animals Dog Training and Animal Behaviour Centre is now widely recognised as the UK’s premier base for dog training and behavioural consultations.

The centre now boasts a team of trainers and behaviour specialists who all bring their own wealth of expertise, enabling the centre to deal with everything from basic puppy training through to more complex behavioural issues. No problem is ever turned away as too difficult or “irresolvable” and many clients have found help at the centre even though they have failed elsewhere,

The ethos of the centre is to train dogs for the real world so classes are held outside on the farm with all the distractions that owners are likely to encounter whilst walking their dogs; these include livestock, wildlife and, of course, plenty of organic matter! It is one thing to teach a puppy to recall reliably in a village hall past a few toys but another to teach him to recall equally well in a 30-acre field full of sheep and tasty droppings.

Being farm- based also allows clients to deal with livestock chasing issues that they simply would not be able to work on elsewhere. Not many farmers will allow their sheep, cattle and horses to be used as “stooges” for over-exuberant chasing dogs.

The centre has rehabilitated many dogs who have found themselves in trouble after committing the heinous crime of sheep worrying; in fact, the farm’s resident collie Scooby is just one such success story. Scooby was brought to the centre by his worried owners who could no longer cope with his ability to escape and find neighbouring sheep; rather than commit this beautiful dog to a restricted lifestyle, he was simply retrained and given gainful employment on the farm as a working sheepdog.

But it’s not just the livestock that become involved in the rehabilitation work, all members of staff from the sales and marketing team through to warehouse staff have all served their time as stooge joggers, cyclists or scary strangers when the need arises (Neal the accountant is particularly talented on a skateboard).

Many of the dogs who come for consultations have issues with particular types of people due to previous bad experiences or simply a lack of appropriate socialisation or habituation. No matter what the criteria for the person are, chances are we have a member of staff who fits the bill.

Of course the most common problem is dogs that behave aggressively towards other dogs; again the centre is unique in that it has a range of staff dogs that come to work to help with just such problems; from PC the terrier through to Mabel the mastiff, the farm “pack” are well used to rehabilitating their canine counterparts.

All behaviour consultations are seen by veterinary referral and veterinary staff are actively encouraged to become involved. The centre has always operated an open house policy and veterinary surgeons, nurses or reception staff are all welcome to come and “see practice” either with their own clients or as part of their continued professional development.