Aiming to enhance the welfare of animals... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Aiming to enhance the welfare of animals…

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.

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