As told to Paul Little.

Two years ago, after 40 years of working as an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, treating animal behaviour problems, I was able to do something about the question that was always left after finishing a series such as Pound Pups to Dog Stars, or as far back as The Funny Farm in 2000. It's the question I'm asked by people whose dogs have problems and are likely to bite kids or other dogs: why is my dog like this? There was a huge demand for answers to this.

That set me off on an education initiative to teach people how to change their dogs and prevent problems.

I had been reflecting on how my methods work and how I achieve what I do and suddenly had a gestalt, which manifested itself as an education initiative to teach people what I do. It just flowed out as I wrote for two days.


I'm also a zen practitioner, so I'm always asking myself: why do I do what I do? Is it meaningful and constructive? Is it contributing to society and animals?

The result was the book Dog Zen, which is really about an educational eco-system that tells the story of how we can transform our dogs.

The relationship between dogs and humans has evolved over 40,000 years. Oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates the relationship between us and our children is also a factor in our emotional involvement with animals.

So a dog is like a family member in this way, and that's why seeing an animal suffering and not being able to resolve the problem is so upsetting.

A lot of things happened in that year. The second series of Pound Pups went crazy. I got a call from England to do a follow-up to Driving Dogs, where we taught rescue dogs to drive a car. They wanted us to teach dogs to fly a plane. I had the good fortune to work with some of the world's great animal behaviourists. We also started Dog Zen Online.

Unfortunately, I have become the media go-to person when kids are attacked by dogs. There are thousands of these events a year and they don't need to happen. I believe in 10 years we can transform things to the point where dog aggression in our communities had been reduced to zero.

We now know the answer is that the first two to four months in a dog's life are the formative period and if we do the right thing with dogs then, we won't have the behaviour problems later.

That's what I mean when I say 2015 was the year I stopped thinking about being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

So it was a hectic year — and therein lies the conflict: you end up with a big life when you really want a more contemplative one. Bringing mindfulness practice into everyday life is really important with animals. Dog zen focuses on the zen state of a dog, but just as importantly, the trainer or owner needs to be in the present while working with the dog, even if you have a lot of other things on.

Ultimately the whole of 2015 was like a zen koan, where you put something in your mind and leave it there to be digested. You get the result without even having been aware you were thinking about it.