MEET THE BEHAVIOURIST
I am Amanda Tong, the founder and behaviourist at "The Animal Behaviour Academy" (and a hopeless animal lover)
I've always had a fascination with human psychology but the animal innocence and similarity of the animal world won my heart. If it wasn't for Feryl Badiani (a college friend of mine) I would have never started my first ever dog training and teaching course with Shirin Merchant after which I did freelance work in Mumbai for 2.5 years. Then I went to the University of Lincoln to complete my MSc in Clinical Animal Behaviour which trained me to deal with other companion animals as well as their humans. I continue to update my skills by completing online courses (The truth about cats and dogs by The University of Edinburgh and attending international academic conferences conducted by International Cat Care, APBC (Association of Animal Behaviour Counsellors), Domesticated manners by Chirag Patel and Cat's Protection (UK).
I am also a certified "Fear Free®" professional and strive to make people in the community more aware of stressed-out animals in the home, veterinary practices and animal shelters.
(https://fearfreepets.com/) I've volunteered for animal Non-profit organizations in the UK and was part of the student-led project to raise funds for Guide Dogs UK.
I collaborated with Sib Khushi (@sibkhushi) a cat rescuer and enthusiast and we hosted India's first feline behaviour webinar series in 2020-21. I also conducted India's first online Kitty Kindergarten and we have plans to expand this further.
I have worked with the Feline Club of India for their educational series & I have collaborated with brands like Sustainably Yours, Little Big Paw, Petsy, BarkButler x Fofo & Swiggy for pet-related projects.
Even though these are my qualifications on paper and they aid me to help animals and humans alike, my own dog's issues make me empathize with every single one of the people that I have the privilege to know and work with. I know the struggles of living with a pet that you don't completely understand and who doesn't understand you.
I'm convinced that my dog (Joey) secretly took a look at my dog behaviour problem textbooks and made a little checklist for himself. I bet he even threw a few extra ones there for fun. So believe me when I tell you, I know what you are going through. I believe it's important to look at things from both sides. I speak to your dog about his owner issues and I speak to you about your dog issues.
This made me an inter-species translator. I absolutely love my job as I get to make a difference in 2 lives; your pet and yours.
The Story of Joey
My dog the Muse
Photography: Ruel Rebello
Joey was one of the most complicated dogs I've ever met. In fairness, I was a lot stupider back then as well.
He has taught me more than any behaviour book could. For that I am grateful.
I remember the first day Joey came home. He was so tiny that he immediately walked behind the fridge when we tried to take him out he SCREAMED. That was the moment I realized how scared he was and how this was not going to be a regular journey with a dog.
He didn't wag his tail for about 3 weeks and it took him months to wag his tail at the rest of the family. He was the type of scared dog who shut down and froze when he was scared. It's not the normal defensive or retreated scared. This made it harder to spot and he would not tell you when he was afraid.
As he was growing up he would pick things up and chew on them as any puppy does. I was still quite new to the field and I helicoptered him trying to churn out "good behaviour". My grandparents would take things away from him (for his good) like plastic pieces, tablets, bags or tetra packs left out etc. Soon enough he began to guard these items.
If I constantly took things away from you, I'm sure you would get very good at hiding or guarding them.
At the same time, he began to growl and lunge at the broom, anyone who was cleaning or even wiping the sofa or table. Later we realized he was very uncomfortable with any kind of movement. We even considered getting some neurological tests done as at the time it made no sense for him to behave this way.
He wasn't left alone as the family thought of him to be a baby that needed constant supervision and
the first time he was left alone; we came home to poop and pee on our sofas. From there on out every time he was stressed or frustrated in anyway he would jump up on a sofa/ beanbag and just pee. This got so bad that he would jump up and look directly at us, he would quickly pee and jump down and go to sleep. We didn't recognize this anxiety till much later.
As Joey has grown up with cats around he has always been okay with them. We didn't allow or encourage chasing so he was able to chill with them. However, if I would pet one he would get very agitated about the cat taking away a resource (attention) and would try and intimidate them and growl at them. This is commonly perceived as dog jealousy. Whereas it's a dog way of trying to protect something if someone is trying to take it away.
If people in the house would come close to each other, poor little Joey would think a fight was gonna happen. This is because in the doggy world, direct eye contact and a head-on approach is more indicative of a conflict. He would try and resolve this conflict by coming in between those people. Little did he know my grandfather was coming to me to ask about why his phone is on silent.
I guess the point I'm trying to make here is little Joseph views the world through his own doggy eyes. These "issues" that humans complain about are all just misunderstandings.
Joey is 5 years old now, he doesn't jump on the furniture and he goes to the toilet on a few plants outdoors (accidentally killing them). I'm proud to say that now we can sweep or mop the whole house in front of him and he is as chilled as a cucumber. He does not try to intimidate the cat if you throw a ball for him and divide your attention. We worked on this slowly by teaching him that it was not the end of the world. We are better able to understand all the triggers that stress him out and give him space to work through any anxiety he may have about movement.
Everyday is a new journey. I understand what you are going through but I'm here to tell you that it's going to get better and it's worth it. Joey is not defined by the issues he had. He is defined by how he overcame them.
He knows how to sit, lie down, go to his bed, play fetch and tug, drop and leave, touch with his nose, spin, hands up, play dead, recall, leave the food, go through your legs, stay, find the treats and ball, bring the toy, crawl, wait and can pee on command.
He knows how to wait until the guests have said hello before going to great them. He can identify all his toys by name and knows the names of 10 important people/dogs/cats in his life. He knows the meaning of phrases like "not now" or "tomorrow Joey". He accepts medication and comes for his bath willingly (in exchange for some tasty treats of course) He also attempts to hunt some rats in our compound.
He has been making attempts to communicate what he wants by going back and forth between those objects. For example, if he wants you to go out with him he will run to the door and come back to you and go back to the door. He can recognize small tone changes when you are trying to fool him. This means we need to spell things out so that the dog won't understand but it still reflects on his capabilities.
Overall, he is such a loving dog who is smart as a whip. I wouldn't change a single thing about him because he has made me who I am.
I love you Joey.