The dog whisperer who saves canine lives

Abbie Withers has worked with dogs for 35 years, in film and TV, and now as a behavioural consultant, saving dogs which might otherwise be put to sleep

How did you first get started working with dogs?

I worked as a vet nurse in the UK and in South Africa and met another nurse who taught me how to groom dogs and cats. Then I branched out with her to handling animals for fi lm and television and eventually had my own animal agency.

Did you handle any animals that we might recognise?

Roly and Willy from EastEnders were on the books of the agency that I worked for right at the beginning. I once had to find a Shetland pony for French and Saunders. I’ve also worked on The Bill, Midsomer Murders and Harry Hill. On one occasion I got a call from The Jonathan Ross Show at three o’clock in the afternoon – he had Ricky Gervais coming onto the show that evening and as it was his birthday I had to find him a kitten to give him on air.

When did you start up Wish Come True Behaviour Consultations?

I’ve always done it really. I’ve not had my Facebook page for long and it helps people to get in touch with me, but people have always asked me for help with their animals.

What type of problems do you address?

All sorts really – barking in the house, jumping up, pulling on the lead and separation anxiety. I was recently helping someone who had rescued a tiny Yorkshire Terrier. As soon as I walked in the door it jumped up and bit me on the thigh. Dogs will do these things because people have unwittingly prompted them to do so. Dogs don’t speak, understand or think like people do, but people think they do and can give them reasons to be anxious, noisy or stressed. I educate people and tell them how they are affecting their dog. It just takes a few changes and then we have a much more relaxed and happy animal.

Are people often at the end of their tether when they call you?

Most definitely. A lot of people will be in tears because they just don’t know what to do. People often feel guilty that they are ready to send their dogs to a rescue home or even have them put down. I recently helped a lady who has two rescued apricot poodles. One of them wasn’t socialised at all and even with help from her Mum, who was experienced with dogs, they couldn’t do a thing with her. Family get-togethers and even her wedding were in jeopardy as her Mum was at the end of her tether. They were ready to have the dog put to sleep, but I turned the dog around in front of their eyes. It became a more relaxed dog, she was no longer in your face and doing circuits around the tops of the sofas.

How do you change a dog?

In a nutshell it’s about direct eye contact. I feel my purpose in life is to make an animal feel more secure. Often there’s nowhere for a dog to relax in a house, so it’s important to give them a bed. If a dog has annoying habits it will be told ‘no’ and ‘stop it’ all the time, this is all very negative. Dogs need guidance to do positive stuff, it’s important to emphasise the positive.

Have you ever failed to train a dog?

I know that I can train any dog. I have a dog which was about to be put to sleep for aggression, but there is always a reason why a dog is acting that way and I just needed to fi nd that reason. I absolutely adore what I do and I am very much looking forward to doing it more.

Find out more about Wish Come True Dog Behaviour Consultations HERE.

(This feature was originally published in 2015)