It’s a dog’s life

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Calling Mel Downing a dog listener is a bit of a misnomer.

She doesn’t so much listen to dogs as talk to their owners.

Mel Downing

Mel Downing

The listening really refers to how she takes into account a dog’s personality and behaviour.

The main part of her work though is with the owners and getting them to understand their pet’s mentality.

Mel set up in business as a dog listener a year ago, after taking on a RSPCA rescue dog of her own.

The 43-year-old, of The Maltings, Blyth, said: “My dog is a German Shepherd Doberman cross called Scooby and she is very nervous.”

“It was through having problems with her that I ended up looking around for solutions.”

Mel heard about Lincolnshire dog listener Jan Fennell, got in touch with her and was trained by her.

“The difference in Scooby is incredible. She was very scared of lots of things but she is very sweet and loves people.”

Mel’s skill with dogs has proved so successful she has been nominated as a finalist in the new business section of the North Notts Business Awards next Thursday.

The awards, at Hodsock Priory, have been organised by North Notts Business Connections.

She volunteers at the Mayflower Animal Sanctuary in Bawtry and has received plenty of word-of-mouth recommendations from her work there.

Mel, who is married with two grown-up stepsons, says that owners have to understand a dog’s pack mentality.

“The dog will think it is its job to protect the owners and try to become pack leader, but this is a job the dog can’t possibly do because it’s in a world it doesn’t understand.”

“So the owners have to reassure the dog that they will look after and protect it. They have to assert themselves as pack leader.”

“Once we take the weight of looking after us off their shoulders, behavioural problems start to melt away.”

“It’s a way of life, it’s how we relate to our dogs on a daily basis.”

One of Mel’s recent success stories is Lola, a German shorthaired pointer puppy owned by the Fraser-Davis family of Gateford.

Parents Russell and Vanessa and their nine-year-old daughter Esme expected a few teething troubles when they first brought Lola home, but got more than they bargained for.

Mel said: “Lola chewed her way out of her metal cage, couldn’t bear being left in the house alone, howled constantly and even hid the car keys to prevent her new owners going out and leaving her.”

In despair, Russell and Vanessa turned to Mel.

Mel said: “Lola thought she had to look after her owners and went frantic when they went out into the big dangerous world, as she saw it.”

“She’s clearly a clever girl and reasoned that hiding the car keys would stop them going out and being in danger - she certainly wasn’t being naughty.”

Vanessa said they were really grateful to Mel and her dog listening expertise.

Vanessa said: “We loved Lola immediately but life with her was almost impossible.”

“Now we can go out and leave her for all the things you have to do in everyday life, like taking our daughter to school.”

Mel spends four or five hours for her first visit with a family and says results can sometimes be seen almost straightaway.

She will then give on-going support for the life of the dog, which is included in her £180 fee.

Mel said: “It is really important that owners are consistent in giving their dogs calm signals that they are doing the leadership role.”

“Pack leaders don’t have a day off.”

“For our dogs to trust us with their lives we have to prove ourselves to be worthy of this honour.”

“Dogs are very smart and will spot a chink in the armour if we are half-hearted about it, but what an immense privilege it is when they hand over the responsibility to us.”

“We all want happy stress-free dogs and, with this gentle method in place as a way of life, we can.”

Mel is also a homeopath, which is a holistic way of treating people, looking at the cause of ill-health, rather than just the symptoms.

She has found this approach also works well with dog listening.

“Sometimes the two ways of treating humans and dogs can feel a bit the same,” she laughed.

For more information go to or call 01909 591972.

To see Mel talking about her work with dogs go to our website at