Ross McCarthy, tutor and director of course development at the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training (CIDBT), catches up with one of his students, Ali Butler...
Q What is your current occupation?
Ali: Canine Behavioural Trainer.
Q What is your career background and history with dogs?
Ali: I grew up on a farm in Devon and have always loved animals. I have spent the majority of my working career to date working in the veterinary diagnostic sales industry. I decided to leave this job after having my children as it involved a lot of travelling. We always had a dog on the farm and my husband and I got our first dog together, a Border Terrier, not long after we got married and our second dog, a Golden Retriever, two years later.
Q Why did you decide to study dog behaviour?
Ali: I experienced some problems with my own dogs and I was given well meaning but often conflicting advice. It was very confusing and when their behaviour deteriorated I decided to start studying canine behaviour for myself in my spare time to help me understand why my dogs were doing what they were doing. It was at this point I became hooked on the subject and eager to learn as much as possible.
Q Why did you decide on the CIDBT?
Ali: It was very important to me that if I was to invest a significant amount of time studying, that the end result was a recognised qualification. The CIDBT enabled me to study in a flexible manner that could fit in around everything else and was also the only course I could find that I could go on to study at degree level. I am now working towards a BSc honours degree in canine behaviour.
Q What was the most memorable/surprising thing that you learnt from the courses?
Ali: I thought I knew a lot about dogs but once I started studying I was shocked, but also fascinated, at how many new things I was learning about their behaviour. Having so many experienced UK-established trainers at the end of the phone or email to support me has proven particularly helpful when trying to understand canine responses to different situations and what ‘our’ responses to them should be to help them overcome their behavioural difficulties effectively. Of course I can’t forget the dogs themselves, as they are my very best teachers!
Q What did you enjoy about the courses?
Ali: Learning about canine psychology and being able to enhance the relationship with my own dogs, as well as others. Gaining a comprehensive understanding as to the reasons behind why dogs do what they do has been fascinating. The course is extremely easy to follow and it requires attendance for practical examinations in Cambridge, which were challenging, yet fun-filled and packed with useful information. The trainers are extremely approachable and are happy to pass on their knowledge to their students. Choosing to study with CIDBT has set me up for life in my career as a behaviourist.
Q Have the courses enabled you to work in the industry?
Ali: Yes, I now run my own behavioural consultation business seeing clients on a one-to-one basis. I also work closely with some local veterinary surgeries taking behavioural referrals from them. I have become an associate member of the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association and am also a recognised trainer with The Guild of Dog Trainers abiding by their code of conduct. I have completed my National Dog Trainers Certificate with the CIDBT.
Q How did you go about starting that?
Ali: The CIDBT were absolutely great. They have supported me throughout and given me guidance as to how to set up my business. They have been there for me every step of the way and the combined experience of the tutors has been invaluable to me. Their advice and back up is first class and I really can’t praise them highly enough. It is so reassuring to have this continued support.
Q Is the job what you thought it would be?
Ali: It’s been fantastic and every day is different, which is great. Clients who come to me genuinely want the absolute best for their dogs and some behaviour can seem a real challenge for them to tackle. I love helping them find a positive solution to their problems, even when they have already tried techniques that have been unsuccessful in the past. It is immensely satisfying both professionally and personally.
Q What have been the high points?
Ali: It is a real privilege to make a difference, particularly when it can often be a very distressing time for the dog and their owner depending on the behavioural problem. Hearing a client’s happy voice at the end of the phone when they have seen a positive and dramatic change in their dog’s behaviour, seeing an anxious dog finally learn to relax, an aggressive dog remaining calm, a fearful dog growing in confidence or simply an owner starting to understand the influence they can have on their dog’s behaviour, makes me realise this is the best possible career choice for me. It is so rewarding to see a dog’s behaviour improve and being involved in enriching their lives is deeply fulfilling.
Q What have been the low points?
Ali: It can be distressing when clients become very emotional about the problems they are faced with, and at times it is hard to go home and detach yourself from this. After experiencing problems with my own dogs, I know only too well how every day life can sometimes be affected when you have a dog with behavioural issues. I can completely empathise with anyone finding themselves in this unfortunate position.
Q With hindsight what would you do differently?
Ali: I would have changed careers a lot sooner if I’d known then how rewarding this job would be!