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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
If I could talk to the animals
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

This week the BBC News website is looking at people who do unusual jobs. In the third of the series we speak to an animal psychologist.

When he encounters a snarling dog, seemingly intent on biting all comers, Dr Roger Mugford sees a challenge rather than danger.

A dog and Dr Roger Mugford
Dr Mugford has been working with dogs for the last 30 years
"I enjoy making people happy," says Dr Mugford, in an attempt to explain the motivation behind his work as an animal psychologist - a job he has done for the last 30 years.

"By dealing with my cases, I feel that I am removing anxieties," he adds.

Dr Mugford runs the Animal Behaviour Centre, which he founded 26 years ago and is based on a working farm in Chertsey, Surrey.

As its name suggests, the centre specialises in the treatment of behaviour problems in pets.

And, although the animal psychologist often carries out freelance work with bears, elephants, birds and horses, the emphasis is on treating dogs.

"It takes so little to make a dog happy," he says, in an attempt to explain his preoccupation with them.

Working with animals

"It is a privilege to work with animals and their owners - I'm very lucky to have a job like this."

Dr Mugford, 57, has a busy schedule planned when we meet.

His first task of the day involves providing feedback to an inventor who has developed a prototype feeding bowl and is in need of advice.

"It was very useful to speak to Roger and the experience has inspired me to make crucial changes," says Jane Grant, an inventor who travelled from Londonderry, Northern Ireland for the consultation.

After the hour-long consultation, Dr Mugford sees Max, a one year-old border collie who was brought in by his worried owners amid concerns he is unruly in a way which borders on dangerous.

Max, a manic ball of fur and teeth with a near-constant bark, is merely misunderstood and in need of firm guidance, concludes Dr Mugford after interviewing the owners to delve into the dog's background.

Hectic schedule

To confirm this initial assessment he straps Max into a special harness and takes him on a walk, introducing him to various stimuli along the way - from cows and chicken to other dogs - in a bid to profile the dog's psyche.

The final observation, back in his office, involves the dog's reactions to orders, which is followed by a debriefing session with Max's owners.

Over the course of the day Dr Mugford sees two other dogs.

He dashes to nearby Wentworth to visit a distraught client whose German shepherd's obsessive compulsive tendencies involve biting its own leg until it bleeds and constantly chasing its tail.

The final patient is a former stray who was discovered by his owners in a near-death state.

Dr Mugford, his client and its owner
Much of Dr Mugford's work involves observing animal behaviour

Dr Mugford believes the varied nature of his job, which sees him addressing the needs of concerned pet owners while enjoying a flexible lifestyle, makes it both an attractive option as well as one that is open to abuse.

"It isn't a regulated field - the area is full of rogues and vagabonds," he says, explaining it is unclear how many professionals do a similar job to him.

"To differentiate between the good and the bad usually relies on asking the vet's advice," he adds.

For those hoping to pursue a career in animal psychology, Dr Mugford suggests completing a veterinary degree or, at least, one which touches on physiology and psychology.

He completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology and Psychology at the University of Hull in 1968, before working on a PhD at the same establishment three years later.

Since then Dr Mugford has written a number of books and invented numerous devices to aid pet owners, such as a special harness for dogs.

This job requires compassion, lots of energy, a logical mind and an ability to carry out tasks which involve an element of counselling
Dr Roger Mugford

Although he is unable to pin down exactly how much he earns each year - "it is not as much as Tony Blair", he quips - Dr Mugford's clients can expect to pay 200 for consultations and 80 per hour for court appearances involving pets.

Nicole Emery, who was helping Dr Mugford as part of a work experience placement, is keen to work in animal psychology.

The 20-year-old from Woking, who is completing an HND in Animal Management at Merristwood College, in Guildford, said: "I'm fascinated by animals and the way in which they act.

"I'm interested in this type of work because I've always wanted to be a vet, but it also looks at behaviour and psychology."

I once had a job as an apprentice Cornish Pasty crimper
Lucinda Payne, Bristol, England

Dr Mugford's advice for aspiring animal psychologists is clear: "This job requires compassion, lots of energy, a logical mind and an ability to carry out tasks which involve an element of counselling."

But, he says, "some people are simply loved by animals - they have a certain magnetism. And you either have it or you don't.

"It isn't essential, but it makes the job a lot easier."

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