If Rover's gone barking mad, collar the Mexican Dog Whisperer and turn your pooch into a real softie.
JAMIE, the chocolate brown Labrador is, insists his owner with a rather strained grin, actually a real softie. Yet here he is, teeth bared, a deep and menacing growl rapidly evolving into a furious bark, jaws snapping as he lunges towards the slightly shocked looking pooch beside him.
Melanie Bowie pulls her two-year-old pet back with a determined yank only for Jamie to respond by tensing his muscles a little harder and rising on to his hind legs, front paws flailing and the bark rising in ferocity.
Marco del Valle has seen enough. He bounds over and with a sudden flick whips Jamie's rear legs from under him.
Now wrestled to the ground, Jamie's head swipes around only for Marco to push it firmly back down. At this point, most people might prefer to cut the odds of losing their fingers to a set of canine incisors, and simply run. Marco, however, gently and repeatedly taps the side of Jamie's neck.
The effect is almost immediate. Within moments the ferocious bark has been reduced to little more than a whimper, the hind legs have stopped thrashing and his eyes are no longer wild – indeed, could it be that they are just a little sleepy? If Jamie was a cat, he'd surely be purring.
Job done, Marco lets go and Melanie sighs with relief. What could have been a battle to control her forceful pet has been defused as quickly as it started, thanks to a clever technique which turns even the most aggressive of hounds into gentle, submissive pooches.
Familiar to dog owners across the city who have witnessed his ability to train seemingly unmanageable pets, Marco – known as the Mexican Dog Whisperer – is now keen to pass on another of his skills, a hypnotic technique that turns an over-excited or aggressive animal into a whimpering softie like Jamie.
It comes too late in some cases. Just last week it emerged that a dog, believed to be a Staffordshire terrier, killed Tranent owner Catherine Falconer's miniature dachshund dog and left her other pet fighting for its life. News of that attack broke as it emerged that the number of people in the Lothians charged with failing to keep an animal under proper control under the Dangerous Dog Act jumped from 27 in 2003 to 75 last year. And last month it was revealed that a record number of sheep have been attacked by dogs in the Pentland Hills.
Anxious to ensure their pets don't make such worrying headlines is a class of around a dozen concerned owners and their troublesome pets – from a gloriously sleek silvery, strong Weimar Pointer to a feisty, loud Jack Russell – which has gathered at Inch Park off Old Dalkeith Road, where Marco is holding one of a series of aggressive dog training classes. Part of the class involves teaching owners how to handle their dogs in a potentially volatile situation – including Marco's dog hypnosis.
"The technique is very effective when you are dealing with aggressive dogs. They go into a trance-like state which takes away their anger and releases all that aggression." In a difficult situation, the dog's brain filters through three processes, he adds. "There is fear, there is fight and there is flight. The first step is to bring the dog into a submissive position so they can release their fear, the anger and rage that it has, because they then know that they are in the hands of their master.
"And once they have released that, the dog can then relax in a flat position and the special massage in the neck can then drive it into a hypnotic state – where its tongue hangs out, its eyes are rolling in its head and it is perfectly calm." Right on cue, Toby the four-year -old Parson Jack Russell erupts into a fury of angry yaps. He's considerably smaller than Jamie the Labrador but, as Marco explains, sometimes the smaller the dog is even trickier to calm. "He's slippery, like a bar of soap," puffs Marco and he falls to his knees, yanks Toby's rear legs and attempts to floor him into a flat position on the ground. Holding the struggling dog's rear legs, Marco attempts to massage the key point on Toby's neck that should force him to succumb. Toby, however, has other ideas and snarls, wriggles and twists his way free.
It takes several attempts before the fiery terrier is showing signs of calming down – not that owner Helen Porteous minds too much.
"To be honest this is a dramatic improvement on how he was," she admits. "I was at the stage when I couldn't take him out, every time he saw another dog I had to immediately put him on his lead because I couldn't tell how he'd react.
"It isn't any fun walking your dog when you don't know what might happen. At home, if I wanted him to do something or to move for me, he'd growl. A couple of times he bit me, not too hard, but he was clearly trying to assert his control. Now, after just four sessions with Marco, he is definitely becoming easier to handle."
Marco's sudden snatch and grab technique to force the animal into a reclining position and then pinning it down while the gentle massage begins might appear aggressive but it is effective – most of the time.
"I agree that if I saw someone handling a dog like that in a public place, I'd wonder if they were harming it," nods Jamie's owner Melanie, from Corstorphine. "The thing is you don't hear the dogs squeal in pain when it happens, and Marco explains that there is loose fur which easily moves about – so it doesn't hurt. And once they are in that position, they submit."
Calming Edinburgh's aggressive dogs is just one element of Marco's work – he also has helped train around 4000 pets in both proper behaviour and in accepting commands. And if anyone has experience of putting dogs in their place, it's the man who helped set up the police dog patrol in Mexico City. Marco had been training animals for TV work and circuses when he was asked to help establish the Mexican capital's new dog patrol. He put hundreds of dogs and their handlers through their paces, teaching them vital skills to help fight the drug problems gripping the city.
Now 58 and based in Stockbridge with his wife Elaine, a lawyer, and their nine-year-old daughter Tida, he has become one of the city's most popular dog obedience figures.
But while it's one thing discouraging a boisterous pup from tearing at the sofa, it's quite another to deter a raging Doberman from terrorising the dog next door.
"I'm only 5ft 2in and Hugo is still just 16 months old," says Tiffany Geurin from Slateford, stroking her Doberman's glossy coat. "He became highly disruptive, if I left him he'd rip the carpet, chew the kitchen vinyl, he even pulled all the knobs off the washing machine. If he saw another dog, he became edgy and aggressive and he would growl at them."
Today Hugo is relaxed and calm, his wild streak calmed thanks to a few sessions under Marco's mesmerising spell. "Now he does what he is supposed to," smiles Tiffany. "He's a changed dog.
"He might look like he'd get the better of me – after all, I'm not that much bigger than him – but now he knows I'm in control."
• Marco Del Valle runs classes for aggressive dogs at various locations. For more details of K9 Edinburgh, call 0774 8097464, or log on to www.k9edinburgh.co.uk
Get your pet back on the leash
DOGS can become aggressive for a number of key reasons, explains "dog whisperer" Marco del Valle.
"Some are simply unfamiliar with certain situations, the lack familiarisation with other dogs or with humans.
"Some have had a bad experience with dogs or humans and so are responding with fear, and others might have the 'shy gene', where they are shy and unable to socialise.
"They then fix their problems with aggressiveness and that then becomes a characteristic of their personality."
Their aggressiveness then prompts confidence, he adds, creating a vicious circle of behaviour which can only be broken when the animal learns that it can be overpowered.
Once overpowered by its handler and placed in a relaxed position, the gentle massage of its neck helps the dog drift into a mesmerised state – which can result in its body shaking, its tongue lolling from its mouth and its eyes rolling.
"It comes down to the handler having total domination, which the owner has to learn as well as the dog."