CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Experts fix cranky pooches and marriages, too

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Experts who fix cranky pooches… and troubled marriages, too

The Dog Academy (Ch4)


Billy Connolly Does . . .(Gold)


Therapists and Freudian psychiatrists love to ask patients: ‘Tell me about your mother.’ But Channel 4 has discovered an even better question to unlock the secrets of the human mind: ‘Tell me about your dog.’

The Supervet started it, as owners poured their hearts out to Professor Noel Fitzpatrick before life-changing surgery on their pets. The Dog House followed, pairing rescue mutts with families recovering from emotional shocks and blows.

The format is perfected with The Dog Academy (Ch4), where animal psychologists demonstrate techniques to tame difficult canines . . . while viewers study their owners for clues to what’s really going on.

Married couple Louise and Paul brought in their 18-month-old cockapoo Bear, a dog so bad-tempered and snappy that their daughters called him the Bearosaurus.

For armchair pet analysts, this was an easy one, a beginner’s problem. Every wary, sidelong stare that Louise gave the dog told us she’d be happier with a crocodile in the house. Meanwhile, Paul and Bear gazed into each other’s eyes with soppy grins, their tongues hanging out.

Behaviour expert Victoria Stilwell (pictured) had to tame a ferocious cockapoo and a Chihuahua with an attitude problem in The Dog Academy (Ch4)

When Paul admitted that he’d slept downstairs on the sofa with the pet for the first few months of puppydom, it was no surprise to hear Louise say, ‘It just feels like it’s ripped us apart.’

Plainly, Paul was at that dangerous age in a man’s life, somewhere between about 21 and 95, when he needs to be adored. Dogs are good at that. Poodle crosses, which are clingier than clingfilm, are especially affectionate. Bear liked to show his devotion by biting Paul’s jacket and letting himself be dragged along.

The trainers spent a day teaching Bear to behave himself in exchange for lumps of chicken. ‘The Dog Academy has saved our marriage,’ declared Louise. Perhaps she’s brought Paul to heel with chicken chunks, too.

Chihuahua Gina, who travelled in a handbag to prevent her from attacking much bigger dogs, proved a more complex character. Two psychologists tried to convince us that the mini mauler was on the defensive all the time because her owner, Cindy, was a single mother who’d been let down in her relationships.

‘Your dog is mirroring what’s going on inside you,’ they told her. Cindy was happy to agree with anything they said, because they also mistook her for her 18- year-old son’s sister. Now that is good psychology.

The Big Yin was applying psychological insight to his own life, dividing people from his past into heroes and villains, in a return series of Billy Connolly Does . . . (Gold). On the debit side was a ‘psychopathic’ teacher, Big Rosie MacDonald, who would place a pencil under children’s knuckles before beating their palms with a strap, to increase the pain.

Parkinson’s disease has robbed the 80-year-old comic genius of the physical side of his storytelling, and his voice wavers as he recounts favourite tales

One of his more unlikely heroes was Cliff Richard, who inspired Billy to get up on stage and perform: ‘He was shaking his hips. That’s what I should be doing, that could be me.’

Parkinson’s disease has robbed the 80-year-old comic genius of the physical side of his storytelling, and his voice wavers as he recounts favourite tales. But it’s a joy to see how completely free from bitterness he is. Instead of being angry or frustrated, he seems simply amused that he’s still alive.

And he’s as wickedly irreverent as ever. ‘The Swiss get on my nerves,’ he announced, riffing on an old routine, to the delight of interviewer Mike Reilly.

‘They’re never to blame for anything, and they’re the guiltiest people in Europe. Anyone who yodels should be closely watched.’

As the cameraman cracked up, you could see the years falling away from Billy’s face.

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