Graham Kibble-White hears why Victoria Stilwell wants to be the supernanny of the pet world
Britain is a nation of animal lovers, with more than five million dog owners alone.
But what happens when man and his best friend fall out? Enter Victoria Stilwell.
"I go into the homes of families who are having problems with their dogs," the glamorous actressturnedpet-expert explains. "I find out what the problems are and try and solve them so humans and animals can live in harmony again.
"Every one of the cases has been challenging in its own way," she continues. "There are lots of books written about dog training, but when you actually study canine behaviour and go into more depth, you figure out there's not an answer for everything.
"You have to come up with your own ways of dealing with stuff. So, I find that I have methods that I've known which have worked with some dogs, but I'm never sure if they're always going to be successful. This means I continually have to reinvent techniques, and sometimes come up with new ones as well.
"Some dogs take to treatment very well, while others will need a bit more time. My overall method is one of being very positive, so instead of being dominant over the animal and making it submissive, my approach is training should be fun.
"The dog has to come to realise that the owners are a source of pleasure and responds because it's enjoyable to do so, not because it's been made to."
Despite her success rate, the 36-year-old makes it clear that "when you're talking about dog behaviour, I never say 'cure', I always say 'modify'.
She explains: "It's rather like human behaviour. If you've got someone who's had a psychological problem, you can't claim they're 100 per cent cured.
"For example, there are some instances where a dog is aggressive and has maybe bitten children or other animals. I can alter that in most circumstances, but I could never say that it would never bite again.
"In this series I've been tackling all sorts of things, including a dog that goes crazy each time the mail comes through the letterbox, pets with major anxieties about not being able to walk outside on the road, ones that keep their owners up all night by needing to go out and pee, and those that get jealous whenever someone shows their owner any affection."
Can canines really feel emotion? Victoria is unequivocal: "Do you know, I really believe they can," she says.
"If you think about it, jealousy is when you don't like someone else getting all the attention and you try and do something to stop it. That's exactly what dogs do.
"Plus, I know they feel anger, happiness, sadness and excitement. They absolutely do have feelings."
As far as she's concerned, most prospective dog-owners don't put enough thought into what they're getting themselves into.
"I really think they should educate themselves better," she says. "I always advise people to do your research, go on the internet to find out what sort of breed would suit you and your family, work out where you are going to get your dog from and so on.
"If you're going to get it from a breeder, make sure it's a respectable one as there are many irresponsible types out there. You could also go down to the rescue shelters and see what amazing dogs they have. It doesn't matter if you have a purebred or not, a mongrel's just as good."
However, even when you've carefully selected your pooch, there are still other issues to bear in mind.
"My biggest concern is that people don't give their dogs enough exercise or what I call sensory stimulation," she explains, "which means they don't put enough time or effort into understanding how their dog perceives the world and appreciating what they need.
"A lot of behaviour problems are from boredom and lack of stimulation, and if for some reason you are working for eight hours a day and you're leaving your pup at home, invest in a dog-walker at least.
"What would you do if you were left alone eight hours a day with nothing to do? You have to provide adequate entertainment for your dog."
Although she's always had an interest in animals, Victoria has another enduring passion.
"I have two loves in my life," she reveals, "the theatre and animals and I've sort of always juggled the two. But for the last five years I've really concentrated on my dog training, because that's where my passion currently lies."
Having married US-based actor Van Zeiler, she relocated to his home country where she founded Dog Trainers of New York and Dog Trainers of New Jersey. It was there she first saw the parenting series Supernanny.
"That's what brought the idea to me to do this show," she says. "I was hugely impressed by what nanny Jo Frost did and I thought, 'That's the same kind of approach I have with owners and their pets'.
"So I wrote to the programmemakers and said, 'I love your show and I have an idea about the same kind of thing with dogs'.
"They wrote back to say, 'We're already working on a concept like this, why don't you send us a video?'. So I sent them a tape of my work and it all went from there.
"I think Jo Frost is fantastic," she says, when asked how she feels about being compared to her, "and I'd be very honoured to become Supertrainer or whatever. I want to be the Supernanny of the pet world."
Surprisingly, when she was growing up, Victoria didn't actually keep any pets.
"My father wouldn't allow us to have a dog, because both parents worked and he knew it would be unkind to have one alone in the house all day."
Nevertheless, her childhood wasn't totally devoid of canine companionship.
"My grandmother bred beagles," she reveals. "So we would spend a lot of our growing years with her, where we were always surrounded by dogs."
* It's Me Or The Dog! is on Channel 4 from tomorrow.