Advising Her Majesty

The glossy British magazine, Town and Country, has dedicated a special edition to the Queen's 90th birthday on 21 April 2016. Besides many rarely seen photographs, animal behaviourist Dr. Roger Mugord lifts the lid on the Royal pets and their lives behind the scenes. Having worked for the royal household for decades, Dr. Mugford has long observed the sovereign and her cherished pets at close quarters.

"The Queen once called me in to deal with a specific problem of her corgis fighting. When I observed the Queen's management of her dogs, I was mightily impressed by her abilities as a dog trainer. Her dogs definitely knew their station within the Palace or where I saw them in Windsor Castle. They obeyed her implicitly, although corgis can be strong-willed. At the same time she had to ensure they responded to other members of the household, because so often the Queen and her husband The Duke of Edinburgh are away from home travelling, and a housekeeper or butler has to stand in for the Royal Family.

At feeding time, each dog had an individually designed menu, including an array of homoeopathic and herbal remedies. Their food was served by a butler in an eclectic collection of battered silver and porcelain dishes. The Queen would get all the Corgis to sit in a semi-circle around her and then fed them one by one in order of each dog's seniority in the "pack". They all just waited their turn. It shows an astonishing degree of control: I can do it with my two dogs, but with a large pack, it's exceptional.

I didn't dare ask if the corgis shared her bedroom, but I wouldn't have been surprised, even though they do shed rather a lot. The Queen has definite views about how dogs should be cared for and doesn't tolerate unkindness; her approach is kind but firm. I remember she took a very dim view of President Lyndon B. Johnson picking his dogs up by their ears. When she's talking about her dogs or her horses you see a completely different side to her; she relaxes. Dogs are great levellers and they're not influenced by social status, which must be a great relief to her. No wonder she enjoys being around them."

When asked what is so special about corgis above other breeds, Dr. Mugford replied: "I've owned three Corgis in my life, one of which, 'Rusty,' was a very capable herding cattle dog. Corgis have the heart of a giant, but in a shrunken little body. They are from the Spitz herding family of dog breeds, which all are tough and fit. The special quality about corgis is that they like cattle (and therefore by association people) to move, which is why they have attracted such infamy for nipping the ankles of the ceremonial soldiers on guard at Buckingham Palace."

The Queen's devotion to corgis dates back to her 18th birthday when she was given Susan, a Pembroke. She still has two, Holly and Willow, as well as the "dorgis" Candy and Vulcan. When young princesses, Elizabeth and sister Margaret, invented the "dorgi", by cross-breeding her corgi, Tiny, with Margaret's dachshund, Pipkin. At the time, the Kennel Club snootily observed: "The dachshund was evolved to chase badgers down holes, and the corgis to round up cattle. If anyone loses a herd of cattle down a badger hole, then these are just the dogs to get them out."

Dr. Mugfords's Casebook. Understanding dogs and their companions. 1991.