Why pre-pet counselling by dog trainers and vets is on the rise in UAE

Professionals like dog behaviourists offer these sessions to tackle issues like pet abandonment

By Anu Prabhakar

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Dog behaviourist and dog trainer Sonja Jashanmal says spending time with the pet is very important
Dog behaviourist and dog trainer Sonja Jashanmal says spending time with the pet is very important

Published: Thu 16 Feb 2023, 9:07 PM

Sonja Jashanmal recalls the time a family approached her for help. “They were thinking of buying a Labrador puppy for their three kids,” says Jashanmal, who is a dog behaviourist and dog trainer at Dogversation. But while talking to them, she instantly spotted a few red flags. “It turned out that the father would be at work all day. The stay-at-home mother was not genuinely interested in getting a dog and mainly wanted to please her kids, but the kids had school and after-school activities all day,” she says. “So when I explained to her that she was going to be responsible for feeding, walking and training the dog and that the kids will be able to help out occasionally, they made a decision against getting a dog.”

Dog trainer Alexandra Sullivan says that people in the UAE get too influenced by movies and buy the more ‘trendy’ breed
Dog trainer Alexandra Sullivan says that people in the UAE get too influenced by movies and buy the more ‘trendy’ breed

Such professionals have been offering pre-pet counselling sessions in the UAE, during which they get into the nitty-gritty of raising a pet — they help clients to make wise decisions, be better prepared and, in extreme cases, stop pet abandonment. Last year, Khaleej Times reported that the number of abandoned pets have been increasing in the UAE with Covid-19 restrictions loosening and people returning to normal life, and that animal rescue groups in the country have had to “investigate at least one case of a dumped dog or a cat every day”. Dr Katrin Jahn, owner and head veterinarian, German Veterinary Clinic in Abu Dhabi, says that although they don’t have specific statistics for the UAE, “behavioural problems are amongst the most common reasons for relinquishment to shelters and euthanasia globally”. “Many times, a mismatch of client expectations or lifestyle and the needs of the pet can cause unwanted behaviours to surface, which may then lead to abandonment or relinquishment,” she says.

Dr Furkan Morgulle, veterinarian, Advanced Pet Care Clinic, whose sessions are usually between 10 to 30 minutes, says, “We try to understand the lifestyle, personality, expectancy and experience of the owner-to-be and guide them accordingly… We strictly warn people against unregistered breeders as the animals can face many complications such as health problems, breeding disorders, behavioural problems and so on.” He adds that the clients’ questions vary depending on their situation, but they typically concern basic care of the pet, whether the animal is suitable for their lifestyle, possible interactions with the kids and other animals, and the process of possible future relocation of the animal. “People often want to know a rough cost estimate to own a pet as well,” he adds.

Seeking counsel

A pet dog can bring a lot of joy to a family but if they are underprepared to handle the challenges that come with training and raising a dog, it can lead to pain and regret.

Unknown allergies and upset landlords, who hadn’t been asked for their official approval, are often why new pet owners give up a dog, says Sonja. “So we look at the client’s home (whether they stay in a villa or an apartment with a garden), whether they have the landlord’s approval for a pet, their work and travel schedules, how many hours the dog would have to be at home alone, family members and lifestyle, other pets, plans to leave the UAE, allergies and so on.” First-time dog owners, she continues, are clueless about the time, effort and money needed to be invested in a dog. “I’ve had clients who were surprised to know that they have to take the dog out for walks.”

Finance is one of the key topics of discussion. Alexandra Sullivan, founder and dog trainer, Happy Hounds Academy, says her clientele includes several VVIPs and high-profile families. She points out that although the UAE does offer pet insurance, it doesn’t cover everything. “When we talk about the cost of high quality food, toys, vet checks, neutering, medical issues and so on, my clients are shocked to hear how expensive it is. Even my wealthiest clients don’t want to spend so much on a dog,” she says. And since financial burden could lead to abandonment, these professionals delve into minute details of what it really takes to raise a pet. Dr Katrin, for instance, says that a part of their ‘counselling conversation’ includes a financial plan. “Like setting up a separate savings account for the pet for unexpected circumstances,” she elaborates. “We discuss what kind of financial commitment they can expect for regular healthcare, food, toys, training and so on, and that it is a good idea to have savings in place for unexpected health concerns or air travel. For instance, some dog breeds such as French Bulldogs have a number of physical medical problems that can become very expensive to treat.”

Breed matters

They all unanimously agree that the biggest mistake most clients make is zeroing in on a particular breed of dog, with little to no regard for the animal’s needs. Sonja, for instance, once managed to convince a family to get a King Charles Spaniel puppy instead of a Beagle. They were first-time pet parents and lived in an apartment — a disastrous combination. “A Beagle is not an easy dog to have in Abu Dhabi,” she points out. “They are very active and stubborn and can be extremely destructive and vocal inside the house when their needs are not met. People often buy them because they look rather small and cute, and they are mistaken for a lap dog. However, Beagles are not a beginner’s dog and are much happier hunting on wide open fields instead of sitting in small apartments. Also, most Arab families choose a Golden Retriever, which is a very social, strong, active, energetic, physical and rather clumsy dog while they don’t tolerate physical contact, saliva or any jumping and biting. The much calmer, cleaner and independent local saluki breed would have been a better choice.”

Alexandra adds that people in the UAE get too influenced by movies and buy the more ‘trendy’ breed. “Like Huskies,” she says. “They have blue eyes, and look great. They don’t care that the dog comes from snowy countries. They have no idea that if you keep them chained in your backyard, they will bark. And when the neighbours begin to complain, they release it. Another popular breed is the Pomeranian but like all small dogs, they are very hyperactive.” She also says that clients with Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes often complain about their dog’s stubborn nature, not realising that they are born decision makers. “They are bred to save our lives when we make poor decisions, like pulling a sledge across thin ice.” Dogs, she says, need a rigid schedule, which includes everything from playtime to treats to dog walks, and the family has to stick to it. “Without all this, s/he can feel stress and anxiety.”

Dr Katrin explains that large, young dogs need a lot of mental and physical stimulation — sometimes more than what the family is able to provide. “So often, after discussing these issues, the client may opt to get a quieter breed of dog which will fit into their daily lives more easily. Sometimes we even decide that a different pet altogether, such as a cat, is more appropriate for the family.” At times, they even decide to get an older pet. “If the family is considering getting a puppy, the time investment is substantial, especially in the first 12 months. So an older pet may be more appropriate, as we can also assess personality and temperament better in adult pets that have crossed the period of adolescence.”

But in spite of such elaborate discussions they still, sadly, do get calls from clients who regret getting a pet and want to give them up. “I tell my clients to give them back to the breeder instead of some rescue shelter and not to leave them on the streets,” says Alexandra. “I know of real-life examples where a dog hasn’t been trained and has been left alone for too many hours outside, chained in some corner of the garden. They expect their puppies to come trained!” Even the well-meaning ones ask the wrong questions all the time, she says. “Like how easily they can be trained and whether the dog will be a good pet for their kids to play with. Instead, I focus on what they need to do to have a happy, well-balanced dog.”


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