A Visit With Dr Roger Mugford, Behaviorist, Trainer, Founder of Company of Animals

by Mary Haight on October 14, 2010

Dr Roger Mugford, a psychologist by training, has been in the business of helping animals lead their best lives for the past thirty years. He’s invented many useful, humane tools for training dogs, like the Halti lead that stops dogs from pulling. Mugford is the UK’s leading animal behaviorist, speaks and trains around the world, and is Founder and Managing Director of Company of Animals.

I met Dr Mugford at the H H Backer Christmas Trade Show in Chicago over the weekend, and we had a great chat flitting from one issue to another and what’s going on in the world of dogs, which I will write up a little later.

It’s funny what comes out of a conversation when dog people get together. Back at the turn of the century (ha!) Lake Shore decided that shared resources was the way to go  and wanted to operate out of a daycare center where dogs could get proper socialization and playtime along with a structured day.  Dr. Mugford was talking about how dogs are kept in unnatural circumstances, alone, in cages, without companionship, so I chimed in and told him about Lake Shore Animal Shelter and that we had been experimenting with a cage free environment for the past year thanks to an opportunity we found with Joseph Giannini of Urban Outsitters.  It had proved to be a relief to us all, especially the dogs.  Of course given the premise, gruff dogs or dogs recovering from surgery don’t work well in that situation so Lake Shore has foster care for those candidates where ruff edges are smoothed and the recovering are well-tended (any qualified Chicago dog people – email me, seriously!)

Much to my surprise, Dr. Mugford asked if he could come and see the shelter, and we made tentative arrangements for a Monday visit. We were all very excited to hear that he could make it before he had to be at the airport, so we had more than an hour with him on site, where he met and spoke with Ann Markham, Lake Shore’s Shelter Director, and Joseph. 

 After taking some video of the dogs which he hopes to incorporate in a talk he’s giving in Prague in November, he said that although he has a couple of farms with hundreds of acres, the principle is the same – this is the way dogs should be kept, and not in cages. They live in their dog play groups during the day, and find their own preferred spot to sleep in for the night.  Just like home! 

We were honored by Dr Mugford’s visit. He’s so down to earth we had a lot of fun too!  Thanks to Ashlee Gonigam and Becky Tomala (hope I got that right) from Matrix PR for arranging my interview with him, and then going out of their way to accommodate a side trip in his busy schedule, and to Joseph Giannini and Urban Outsitters.

This was timely given that there has been an ongoing blog discussion on how to make shelters a better experience for the dogs and for adopting families since summer (and well before of course), when Brent Toellner of KC Dog Blog brought it up in a big way in the comments, and it has popped up here and there until it roared again at Blogpaws with Mike Arm’s keynote

What it all boils down to is if we don’t start thinking differently, things will never change.  Help your local shelters make a start toward a new way of doing business.  What change is happening in your corner of the dog world?

18 comments
Burns Dog Food
Burns Dog Food

yes, I am also dog lovers. and have collections of dog products as well . This sharing of post is very helpful for me .

The Dogteacher
The Dogteacher

To those who are dog lovers like me, this concept is cool!

drdoolittle2800
drdoolittle2800

Thanks for the heads up, Mary. I read this and have tears in my eyes. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to finally find a shelter willing to try this concept. For over a year I have been trying like crazy to get this idea out and have met nothing but derision, scoffing and canned excuses. So many have stuck their toe in the water by moving to what I call "boutique" sheltering, but none have dared dive in all the way to what I call communal housing - UNTIL NOW! Lake Shore now gets my nod for most progressive shelter in the United States. For a year I have tried to describe this model (what you guys are doing) on my website = https://sites.google.com/site/drdoolittle2800/Wel... I have just gotten into the details of this new model on our group's blog = http://www.arc-na.org/the-end-of-animal-shelters Please join me there and read all about your shelter! God bless you guys for being true pioneers. In all fairness, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of rescuers across the country who do this in their homes every day, but getting a shelter director and her board to try this is unheard of! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now I have proof it actually works. Read all about yourselves on my blog! As soon as I'm through here I'm going to run quick like a bunny over and feature Lake Shore on my site and blog! For the readers who don't get all the fuss, what these innovative people have done is to house their animals in larger groups. There are a bunch of shelters that have been modernized and taken a baby step forward with semi-private rooms which house 1-2 dogs. Some shelter directors will allow 3-4 little dogs if they are perfect together. Here are the main players in boutique facilities: San Francisco SPCA, PAWS Chicago, AnimalArk, Washington Animal Rescue League, ASPCA, and Longmont Humane Society. Mary, I'm writing to you separately, but great job to all of you there! Get me the pics and video, okay?

Chris Dignan
Chris Dignan

Good stuff Mary. Dr. Mugford sounds like a great guy. Cage-free seems to be the way to go with the right type of dogs(temperament). Agree with Becky on how some of the kenneling issues would be diminished. Any plans for LSAS to do this on a larger scale here in the city? Thanks:)

Mel
Mel

I love this idea. I think a lot of shelter dogs could benefit from having cage-free time while also interacting with other dogs. I think it allows people to see a much happier and healthier dog than what they see now. Clearly what we are doing is not working, so I think it's high-time we start exploring ideas beyond what is traditional. I also love the farm idea. Can you imagine having ares to run on? The dogs would love it! The next time I'm in Chicago I would love to visit Lake Shore. How phenomenal. P.S. I agree with Edie. Would love to see more stories and pics of what they are doing.

Becky
Becky

This is a amazing idea, I have spent my fair share of time volunteering at a animal control facility in MO and this is a amazing concept. Its the way dogs are meant to live, this also solves a lot of problems, cage aggression, and gives you a idea of what the dogs likes and dislikes are so that placing them in a home (that will last) is much easier! I pray this spread around the world! Thank you!

KenzoHW
KenzoHW

What a great concept, I will definitely take it up over here in Little Denmark. Like any great idea it is so simple in his concept that it always keeps you wondering, why didn't I think of that before?

Deborah Flick
Deborah Flick

Love this post. My cousin-in-law lives in Chicago and one of these days when I come for a visit I'd love to connect with and see Lake Shore Animal Shelter. I love the concept and I'd love even more to see it in action!

Edie
Edie

I had no idea Lake Shore was doing a cage-free environment experiment. Please tell us more about that; I'd love to read the whole story. It sounds like one of those well, duh, of course animals do better under those circumstances idea -- that somehow no one had done! I guess getting someone agree to provide the facilities was key. Anyway, sounds like Dr. Mugford you had a terrific visit with Dr. Mugford. What a hero for animals.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi, Thomas! Change is not as easy as people think, is it. Dr Mugford did say that it was the smaller groups in UK, EU and in Asia that seemed to lead the way on this, and that makes sense given that Animal Control folks would hear this and think "Are you *nuts*?" with 500 dogs in various states of social capacity to contend with in an urban environment. But that's a knee jerk reaction and not a considered response. It does require a complete rethinking, reimagining of how to do what's best for the animals without putting employees or the animals in harm's way or incurring significant costs that won't be approved. It requires a much more hands on review of each dog on intake and observation of social interactions over days. A considerable time investment is required but changes are already happening related to going no kill. Many people are not up for the challenge. Lots of skilled dedicated volunteers would be required to make it work and/or other community outreach for support. So you're not crazy:) People are doing this in various parts of the world with success. Canned excuses are boring and say more about who's mouthing them than the idea presented for comment. That's the hard part of change--breaking through conventional thinking and getting past "No way". Wow - you are excited about this - Lake Shore is on your blog now? I'll have to go check it out and thanks for the shout out! Maybe others who are doing the same work will speak up and be counted:) Thanks for stopping in and happy to confirm your faith in this type of animal management program. Delta Rescue, a sanctuary outside LA, does this on a big scale but they don't adopt out or take in animals from people - they strictly rescue animals dumped in the wild canyon areas surrounding the sanctuary. Thanks for your enthusiasm and interest in our small efforts;)

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Chris! We had a great time with Dr Mugford! Large scale spaces in cities requires significant financial investment, so if we win the lottery...;-) It's funny, people expect to hear a lot of barking, and it's just not there. When five of us went into the prep area we were talking and Dr Mugford was filming...a lot of the dogs listened but there was hardly a bark to be heard:)

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

It would be wonderful to have acres to run on! I thought that when the Dr talked about his two 100 acre farms:) When I had my home in the country we talked about keeping dogs in the country and bringing them to the city for adoptions. But then everything would fall on me and I was taking care of my ailing mother at the time so it didn't come to anything. But shaking myself out of reveries, even in the city putting together several backyards end up making a huge difference in the level of curiosity in dogs, they actually show their personalities to people, making them much more attractive adoption candidates because they are happy, lively, engaged. And it shows. So it seems we should lobby for BlogPaws to be in Chicago - then we can all meet up, check out the dogs and have some fun:)

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Becky and welcome=) I think this gets rid of a lot of socialization problems. I hate seeing some of these poor dogs with pinch collars on, shaking every time someone comes near the cage. Training in pack management would be a new requirement, and it's a great way to get to know the personalities of the dogs, who is more - or less- sociable, etc. Glad you liked the post and thanks for stopping in!

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Kenzo - it would be interesting to know if anyone in Denmark is doing this - I'd look at the small shelters or maybe those in the countryside for the more adventurous or experimental models of animal management. Hey, if you find anyone practicing this way, would you let me know? Thanks for stopping by!

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Just let me know Deborah:) And I'm glad you liked the post - I thought the way all this happened was serendipitous, and it was fun too that it was tied to the on-going conversation we're all having about helping shelters change. I remembered the Blog the Change and added the hashtag after the fact, didn't manage to get the poster up...well...sometimes you can cross the "t"s and sometimes you can't.

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Hi Edie! I talked about it once on Twitter after #dogtalk and then in the comments of that post about giving pet shops and puppy mills the boot, linked in this post. But yes - people of like mind need to meet and interesting things can happen. So many of these places are afraid of dogs or have employees that really aren't skilled with pack management so cages make insurance cheaper I guess - but you are so right, it's a real "duh!"! We did have a great visit, thanks! And after reviewing a lot of the items at Company of Animals it was fun to meet and speak with Dr Mugford:) Oh, and by the way, Edie, the Pet Corrector's hiss is one that is primal and warns predators away so technically it should work on Coyotes! From Dr Mugford's lips to all Mama coyotes in Frankie's pathway ;-D

MaryHaight
MaryHaight

Welcome! Pretty great for the dogs, I agree!

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