Victoria Morris

Victoria Morris with “the most adorable German Shepherd”, 7-year-old Ziggy. “When I was called in to work with him as a young adolescent dog, he was highly reactive, would have intense reactions to dogs passing by and his general obedience needed much work. There must be participation from both owner and trainer to make a meaningful change and to see how happy, confident and well-adjusted Ziggy is now is just the best!”

Tis the season when parents think about putting a pet under the family Christmas tree.

For animal behaviourist and trainer Victoria Morris: “Often, we can get caught up in the excitement of getting a pet that we sometimes forget to be realistic. A pet is not only for Christmas but is your companion and dear family member for a very long time.”

READ Victoria Morris’ 20 helpful questions to ask before owning a pet.

With over 20 years’ experience, Victoria, who is based just outside Monaco, always knew she wanted to work with animals. “As a child, I was mesmerised when travelling if there were animals there, for example at Dolphin Quest in Honolulu, I stood there for hours just watching and observing the trainers. I would ask them lots of questions and was decided from the age of 12 that my career path would be with animals.”

From that moment on, researched the field of Animal Behaviour, Animal Behaviour Management and Training and worked hard to build her career starting with jobs in zoos and aquaria, working with Humboldt penguins, Harbour seals, snakes, guillemots, Patagonian sea lions, Moluccan cockatoos, pelicans and Bottlenose dolphins. 

She launched her Pet Behaviour and Training Consultancy in 2005 in the UK and has been working closely with vets and other professionals in the field since, including with the Animal Care College in Ascot. She says transferring her business to France was a natural decision. “Having already had experience living a European lifestyle in Spain from an early age, I understood and really came to appreciate all the lovely aspects to everyday life that brings. Also, my parents were living in France.”

She admits, “Working in this part of the world is quite different to that of my consulting in Essex years ago when I had my consultancy there. Many of the pets I work with here have very different lives and routines. Many owners travel with their pets frequently, so I am often helping owners to train and desensitise their pets to travel including air travel, car and boat travel.”

Working with a team within a household who care for her clients’ pets is normal. “As a result, consistency is very important in terms of training and behavioural treatment, so this takes a very specific approach in order to successfully attain. Essentially what I do is very bespoke and requires tailoring my programs to my clients and pets needs according to their individual routines and situations.”

In addition to looking after the mental and physical well-being of the pets in terms of behaviour, Victoria – who has published articles in Dogs Monthly and been on radio – is also involved in making sure all veterinary care for her clients’ pets is provided and up-to-date so both owner and pet are ready to travel.

“There are certain veterinary treatments that are specific to areas my clients travel to and here in France, so I advise on this from my knowledge so far and from the great veterinary professionals I work with. I am also often engaged in travelling with my clients’ pets and bringing them to my clients who may have travelled ahead of time so I can be occupied with their safe travel and look after any behavioural needs.”

Victoria is often involved in helping owners choose the correct pet for them. “I will help them prepare for a pet’s arrival to the home – having the correct beds, bowls and training aids – so we can start in the best possible way, therefore decreasing any potential stress that pet may experience but also getting training routines established early on and making sure the pet concerned adapts well to its new home.”

In some cases, Victoria, who has a Combined Honours Degree in Animal Behaviour from Anglia Ruskin University, can recommend breeders and will also accompany clients to visit their chosen breeders or in some cases rescue homes or people who may be looking for adoptive homes for their pets. “I have a wonderful team of professionals I work with in various different fields from osteopathy, general veterinary care, hydrotherapy, massage etc and work with the best quality groomers, eye specialists and skin specialists and work on referral from these specialists.”

Victoria takes her responsibility as an animal trainer/pet behaviour counsellor seriously and is dedicated to continuing her professional education. She is a member of the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants and subscribes to many pet behaviour journals, such as the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (which she is also a member) and is an accredited member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers in the UK whereby she abides by a strict set code of ethics. “I do not use choke chains, half choke chains, prong collars or any anti bark systems – systems based around aversive stimulus – that are available and employed by other ‘trainers or professionals’ as these are ethically questionable and are ineffective.”

Her clients are offered a high-end service with attention to detail. “I provide one-to-one behavioural consultations at my client’s home, dog training tours/residential training, group classes in obedience, agility, dog dancing, Pet Aid Training – training pets to aid owners with limited mobility, Dog Training Days and Group Dog Training Holidays. 

Working with a wide variety of breeds, she assures, “Yes, all breeds can be trained but the trainer does need to be aware of the breeds genetic predisposition and to be aware of that breeds specific needs, however many people do use this as a limiting factor. What I mean by this is that people have a preconception that certain breeds are a certain way, and it becomes a self for-filling prophecy and no effort is made to shape good behaviour to avoid those unwanted behaviours.”

“Many people come to me with issues with fear-based behaviour, house soiling issues, aggression, separation anxiety, stereotyped behaviour and general handling and obedience issues.” Not all behavioural problems can be completely solved. “You can’t give someone a guarantee. It depends very much on the effort and dedication of an owner to commit to working with a behavioural problem, as well as several other factors including how conditioned and ingrained unwanted behaviour has become, the individual pet itself, its behavioural history, the severity of the behavioural problem and how effectively behaviour can be managed. Having said this, with appropriate training and management huge improvements can be attained with behavioural issues and problems and many of these issues can be solved.”

She has witnessed the many emotions that come up for an owner during the process of behavioural treatment. “It’s not always easy for an owner to work with a behavioural problem that they are experiencing with a pet. There are many family dynamics and couple dynamics involved, as well as the individual psychology of an owner which means as a pet behaviour counsellor you need to have good skills with people, you need to be able to listen and really understand what is going on in a household. 

“It often means people must admit where the management of their pet may be going wrong and how they are contributing to problems, how their responses to certain situations and behaviours are increasing the rate of undesirable behaviour. I have to be there to support my clients and am very dedicated to being there for them and their pets.”

She states the most common mistake clients can make is to anthropomorphise their pet. “They love their pets but sometimes too much, they forget to create boundaries and nurture discipline which pets need to feel psychologically secure. Enrichment and socialisation is also very much underestimated in terms of its positive effect on behaviour management.”

Victoria works on referral from veterinary surgeons and from recommendation treating a wide range of behavioural problems and training issues. “I work with dog aggression, separation anxiety, house soiling issues and much more. I also work with veterinary professionals and groomers when there are issues with handling. I work with both clients and their pets to desensitise their pet to handling/veterinary procedures, therefore decreasing stress for both owner, pet and veterinary professional/groomer etc. This is something that my experience working with marine mammals and exotic animals has well prepared me for and given me great experience in, as this is an extremely important part of animal husbandry.”

“The focus with the kayak is to introduce the dogs to a wide range of experiences and situations. It’s all about socialisation and developing confidence, obedience skills and enabling the dogs to develop into well-adjusted dogs that can handle changing environments and of course have fun socialising and swimming,” says Victoria.

As a trainer, she says you never stop learning and experience provides you with so much. “You have to have a presence with the animal you are working with, you have to understand an animal, its environment, its history, its diet and genetic predispositions but patience and kindness is of paramount importance which is why I abide by a strict code of ethics. 

Many people think that training marine mammals is very different to that of training a dog but the methods of training are the same applied according to that animal’s physical abilities and the modern training approaches employed with companion animals today originated in many cases with marine mammal training and the training of exotic species.”

Beyond dogs, Victoria has worked with Moluccan cockatoos, macaws, bottlenose dolphins, Patagonian sea lions, harbour seals, Burmese pythons, Humboldt penguins, pelicans, dogs, cats, horses, rabbits and goats. “People are now realising they can clicker train their cat, rabbit and horse and the wonderful benefits of doing so.”

Victoria Morris Pet Owner’s Checklist

For animal behaviourist and trainer Victoria Morris: “Often, we can get caught up in the excitement of getting a pet that we sometimes forget to be realistic. A pet is not only for Christmas but is your companion and dear family member for a very long time.” Victoria suggests 20 questions for potential owners to consider before choosing a pet.

1. What pet would you like to offer a home to? Have you had experience of this species before? Perhaps you want to first consult a professional, such as vet, and maybe a behaviourist for some tips, perhaps purchase a book or research on the internet.

2. Perhaps you would like a dog or cat? Have you considered if it would be appropriate to choose a puppy/kitten or adult dog or cat? Would you like to offer a home to one that has been rescued?

3. Do you have existing cats/existing dogs or other pets already in the house? Is it your feeling they will get on? It’s always good to ask a professional on how best you can introduce a new member of the family, especially if you don’t know how your cat will get on with the dog you would like to introduce or if you already have a cat, what’s the best way to introduce a new cat to a multi cat household? How can you successfully introduce your rabbit to your dog if you’d like them to get on? What dog breed is best suited to be around your rabbit? A hunting breed, for example, with a high prey drive wouldn’t be advisable. What breeds of rabbit are also suited to be with a dog? It is always a good idea to use the appropriate approach to introduce new pets to a household and to employ some good techniques to nurture a good relationship with those pets where possible (of course being always aware of safety, being responsible and not leaving pets unobserved/unattended or pairing pets together that are not best suited to be together or it may be dangerous to pair together). The objective may not be to develop a strong bond between the pets concerned but that they respect each other’s presence and know how to behave. You also need to think about the neutering/spaying of both rabbit and dog as hormonal levels need to be in check before introducing them to each other, you can speak to your vet regarding this.

4. A good question to ask is: Are you able to offer this pet a home? Do your work hours suit the needs of this pet? What contingency will there be if you travel? Do you travel a lot that would make choosing this pet unadvisable?

5. If welcoming a rescue pet into the home, are you willing to work with any existing behavioural problems/issues if there are any? do you have the time to dedicate to this? If it is a rescue dog for example, have you visited many times to observe the dog? Have you walked the dog before to become familiar with them? Have you had the dog stay with you for some time to gradually introduce them to your home and again become familiar with them? Have you a strategy for introducing the new dog to existing pets?

6. If you are choosing a young pet like a puppy or kitten, are you available to provide that vital early learning and socialisation? Will you have time for training? Are you ready to go through that ‘naughty teenager age’ where young pets can test you?

7. Do you have children? Is the pet if a rescue pet already well socialised with children? Or would you be welcoming children into the family later? Are the whole family willing to participate?

8. Is the whole family in agreement to offer a home to a pet?

9. Whose responsibility is it to look after the pet? Are all the family prepared to help?

10. Do you have a veterinary professional in mind to care for the health of your pet and can you commit to veterinary costs?

11. Am I able to dedicate finances to purchase all the housing, food, bedding, enrichment (toys) etc that that pet needs.

12. Am I able to dedicate finances to purchase all the housing, food, bedding, enrichment (toys) etc that that pet needs. How should you house that pet? Does that species benefit from being with others? Is the housing the right size to meet the welfare needs of that pet? How can you provide an enriching enclosure to prevent issues with stereotyped behaviour? Parrots, for example, can suffer behavioural issues such as feather plucking if they are stressed and not stimulated.

13. If you are visiting a dog breeder for example, have you seen the parents? How does the breeder appear to you? Are they asking you lots of questions about your home environment that suggests they are a responsible breeder? Are they giving you the puppy at the appropriate age e.g. (at least 8 weeks for a puppy)? Do they have breed papers and are they registered? Have hip scores/eye scores been done and are they attending to the appropriate veterinary care at the appropriate time before you collect the puppy? Is the breeder introducing experience with early socialisation e.g., desensitisation to noise/movement using toys and additions to the enclosure etc? Is the breeder abiding by correct animal welfare legislation and acting ethically? Note: Tail Docking and Ear clipping is illegal in most countries including most European Countries. This is not acceptable and is contrary to animal welfare. These procedures generally involve surgeries without anaesthetic, they are barbaric, and these incidences need to be reported. This procedure also has profound behavioural effects in dogs, interfering with their ability to communicate and can negatively impact behaviour.

14. If your choice is a dog, for example, what type of exercise can you offer? Are you able to exercise the dog regularly? How active are you and what type of activity would you be able to offer that dog? Can you have a significant enough presence and feel able to direct the behaviour of a larger dog?

15. Is the breed of dog you are choosing a hunting breed that requires a lot of exercise and has a strong pre-disposition to follow scent?

16. Is the breed you would like very active; can you provide the exposure and opportunities for exercise.

17. Does the breed you are choosing require a great deal of grooming? Can you commit to this? Does budget allow trips to the groomers? What type of grooming will there be? will my dogs’ hair need trimming regularly? Will my parrot’s beak and nails need trimming?

18. Are you versed in what vaccinations are needed for your chosen pet? For example, for your rabbit will usually need vaccines for Rabbit haemorrhagic disease 1 and 2 and myxomatosis. Your cat will usually need vaccines for feline infectious enteritis and feline leukaemia virus and some parrots may need a polyomavirus vaccination. You may need to think about regular flea treatment, worm treatment and may need to consider the pros and cons of sterilisation/castration for your dog/cat.

19. What about diet? Will you feed your dog dry food or wet? What are the pros and cons for example giving a raw diet? Does my new pet require special vitamins for example for coat health or feather health? Am I prepared to give live food to feed my reptile?

20. What kind of veterinary products are good to keep in the house?

Illness and disease
Depending on the species you choose, animals can be very good at hiding disease, from an evolutionary point of view, it’s what we call adaptive. If you think about it, it is never good going around advertising your illness to potential predators or animals within your group. As a result, you need to have a certain knowledge so you can prevent illness as far as possible and prevent behavioural problems. Sometimes behavioural problems can cause physical illness such as your cat or dog constantly licking areas, tail chasing or biting etc causing injury to the skin.

Training
You need to be able to train your pet so you can handle them effectively and regularly check health and pet enclosures/environments need to be stimulating so to prevent behavioural issues.

Training is also a great way to provide enrichment. Obviously, this all depends on the requirements of the species and how complex their needs are; however, I am a strong advocate for training and good enrichment schedules for all pet species. It cannot emphasis this enough! A lot of people don’t think they can train their kitten/cat or rabbit, but you can and there are so many positive reasons for doing so.

Choosing a breed
I am asked many times by clients who have chosen certain breeds of dog or are amid choosing a breed, did I make the right choice? Or what breed would be best? Yes, the breed is important, certain breeds have certain activity levels, are predisposed to behave in certain ways and have certain drives, this must always be understood and taken into consideration, this is very true, but on occasion it can be a limiting factor. For example, many think Jack Russell’s are aggressive and never get on well with other dogs, that they have a “little dog-big dog” thing going on. It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and people think that’s the way they are, and little attempt is made to prevent this behavioural pattern, so everyone continues to think of the breed in this way when it doesn’t have to be this way with appropriate shaping and training.

Yes, certain breeds are renowned for being better with children, but this is not always a forgone conclusion. We not only have a responsibility to shape a dogs’ behaviour, so they are desensitised to children and know how to behave with them but that the child also knows how to respectfully interact with that dog.

At the end of the day the environment must be right and depending on when you get that dog and its behavioural history, social ability can be successfully shaped. It is important to think what commitment we can make and if we can provide that dogs’ needs in terms of exercise and attention.

Having a pet is an extremely rewarding experience and I highly recommend it. I certainly find the owners who decide to get a puppy find my Puppy Programmes extremely helpful as I help the client get everything in place to start in the best possible way with their puppy from the point of choosing their puppy to bringing their puppy home and the exciting journey that follows!