But I have to keep my dog on a short lead, or else … [insert disaster here]

Your dog has lunged or leapt up at someone, has pulled towards another dog as if with evil intent, tugs you towards whatever he wants to sniff.

So you shorten the lead and keep a tight hold on it. 

I understand. I can see why this habit has developed.

But did you know that if you do the very opposite as soon as your dog sees something you think he’ll pull towards, he’ll actually relax and stop pulling?

Really!

Tightening the lead when your dog sees something that worries him triggers the “fight or flight” reflex. He’s trapped so he can’t flee. So his only option (he thinks, in his moment of fear) is to launch an attack. This is usually confined to noise and bluster and no damage is intended.

But it can result in a “redirected bite” where your dog’s frustration at being restrained causes him to grab the nearest thing - his lead, your hand, your leg …

(If your dog has actually bitten and caused damage, see note further down.)

The right tool for the job

Struggling to control your dog with a lead 3 foot or shorter is making life impossible for both of you.

Your dog only has to move an inch or two away from you to make the lead tight.

And if you have the lead wound six times round your hand and held in a vice-like grip, he is feeling pressure the whole time. When you walk hand in hand with a friend, you don’t grip their hand tightly and clamp it to your side. You don’t frogmarch them along the road without allowing them to pause and look at anything!

For this week only, enrolment is open for From Growly Dog to Confident Dog! Go and check out all the elements of the course that could transform life with your difficult dog

So give your dog some freedom, and relieve your shoulders of the ache.

Get a 6-8 foot long lead. Choose one made of Softex or other such material which is soft on the hands, with no sharp edges to cut or burn. 

Some of the best ones are called “training leads” and have a trigger clip at each end, with several rings down the length of the lead you can connect them to. This gives you three different lead lengths, and the ability to fix it round your hips or bandolero-style across your body, and have hands-free walking.

You can get them in lovely colours too! 

You can certainly have a leather lead if you prefer, but you may have to work it to soften it enough to be easy to gather and slide through your hands. A lead is only as strong as its weakest part, so check that metal parts are welded, stitching is sturdy, and there are no rough edges.

Now you can give your dog a bit of freedom! 

 

  • He can pause to sniff (wait a moment then suggest he comes with you)
  • He can assess people passing or dogs approaching without feeling trapped (keep your hold on the lead soft)
  • You will relax!
  • Your dog will relax!

 

If you need to keep your dog leashed when you’re in a larger area, away from the road, a 15 foot line is ideal. You don’t leave it trailing on the ground to get all muddy and wet and yucky, you gather it in your hands so that you can gently let it out and gather it in as necessary. There’s a safe way to do this, so that your fingers don’t get broken when your dog lurches forward, and you’ll find detailed instructions in the online course: From Growly Dog to Confident Dog

Of course you must ensure the safety of others. So if your dog has bitten and caused damage you need to a) start teaching him to enjoy wearing a muzzle, and b) look for a force-free professional to help you.

 

Puppies

For a young puppy I like to use a “house line” - an 8-foot light line with no handle. This one can be left trailing in house or garden, and provides an easy way to capture your racing puppy! It's also great for roadwalks, to give your puppy the freedom she needs to explore her environment without being hauled about by the neck. 

So when your little pup plonks her bottom firmly on the pavement and says “Not moving,” you can wait at the end of the (slack) lead until she’s assessed the danger of the crocodile pit she thought she saw in front of her and decided to move again.

I had an email for help from a new owner, complaining about her 10-week-old puppy’s stubbornness when walking on the road. I suggested she re-read her email, replacing the words “stubborn” and “obstinate” with “fearful” and “worried”. She got the point straight away and started treating her little pup with the same kindness and patience as she already extended to her children. 

 

There’s no need to become the “master” of a dog

They are family, not staff.

I feel like crying whenever I see a puppy being dragged along the pavement - sometimes upside down. Yes, really. This happens.

Would you drag a frightened toddler along the pavement upside down?

Just give her a second or two …

 

Lead Skills are important for all dog-owners to learn. And if you have a shy, fearful, reactive, or aggressive, dog, it’s even more important that you can make the connection with your dog that a lead affords, and send only good messages down it! Think how soft-handed equestrian stars are. 

 

For this week only, enrolment is open for

From Growly Dog to Confident Dog!

Go and check out all the elements of the course that could transform life with your difficult dog.

 

 

 

How Can You Be So Kind to People and So Unkind to Your Dog?

It saddens me. So much. 

We see people who are perfectly polite to their fellow humans, who hold doors open and help people with their coats; people who say please and thank you, who don’t interrupt others; who laugh politely at lame jokes and encourage small children. 

All these people are pillars of society, shining examples of the better side of humanity, admired and respected …

Or are they? 

Give them a dog’s leash to hold and you may see another side of them.

They half-throttle their puppy, they’re holding the leash so tight. They yank and jab the leash when the pup is sitting perfectly still. They decide to move so they haul her along behind them. They bark rapid-fire commands at the dog: “Sit. Sit! I said SIT! Off! Down! Siddown!” and when the confused dog sits they say nothing. 

Where have all the pleases and thankyous gone?

I think a lot of this boorish behavior comes from a lack of confidence. 

Somewhere along the line, they’ve seen or heard something about having to show your dog who’s boss. If the dog moves a quarter-inch to the left or the right it must be pushed and pulled (punished, in simple English) to make sure it knows its place.

Their puppy is some kind of alien who must be continually stamped on to prevent it taking over the universe. 

Or perhaps just to stop their dog getting a toehold in their heart?

There’s huge social pressure for your dog to “behave nicely”. And there is an equally huge social pressure in appearing to be in control when the pup misbehaves. To be seen to be doing something masterful. To be the “leader”.

And nowhere is this pressure stronger than in the case of the Growly Dog. You need only remember that your Growly Dog is not kicking up a fuss because he’s stubborn, or obstinate, or nasty, or aggressive. He’s trying to keep away from something he fears. And there are some very simple quick fixes you can put in place to start to change things straight away, and - suddenly appear to be the socially acceptable owner with the socially acceptable dog!

 

Click here to register for your Free Live Training right now and begin the change!

 

 

Science vs. Folklore

There’s a lot of mediaeval claptrap talked about how to treat dogs. 

And sadly people who really should know better, listen to it.

It has been proven scientifically over the last eighty-odd years, without any shadow of doubt or question, that the way to get the fastest and most durable results from any animal, humans included, is to work through positive reinforcement. 

Simply put - reward what you like. 

Killer whales will happily put their chin on the edge of the pool and hold their mouth open to have their teeth brushed; rhinos will place their hip against the bars of their cage so that a vet can draw blood safely from outside; chickens will perform elaborate “agility-style” routines or act as wartime spotters in aircraft. All for an appropriate reward - a fish or a smidgin of grain.

And we’ve all seen dogs doing amazing things - finding earthquake victims, guiding blind people, doing dance displays, being “ears” for a deaf person, detecting drugs, warning their owner of an impending medical crisis - even flying planes. (Yes, really. Flying planes.) 

These dogs are not different, specially-abled dogs - they’re just dogs - often rejected, rescue, dogs. They’re the same as your dog. Your dog can do so much more than you may imagine!

Where’s the Integrity in this?

So these people who are kind to their family and harsh on their dogs are acting out of character. 

There is a dichotomy between their approach to people and their approach to dogs. (Sometimes they are only polite and friendly to people they know, and strangers fall into the sad camp of animals and aliens.) 

This chasm between the two extremes must cause conflict within.

But there’s an easy way to resolve it.

Give your dog the same respect and understanding you extend to your family and friends. 

Your dog has a brain too! And she has feelings! Work with her instead of seeing her as something to be opposed and contained. 

That doesn’t mean you put up with poor behaviour. You need to teach your pup what you want, and reward her when she makes the right choices. If you involve your dog in what you want her to do, she’ll happily oblige - removing the need for the master-slave approach and moving towards a friend-friend relationship. 

The lesson here? Follow your own instincts. There’s no need to listen to tv personalities who tell you otherwise. Don’t have anything to do with so-called trainers who want to hurt or intimidate your dog.

Are we meant to be kind while we’re here? 

If we’re meant to put out kindness, perhaps we are meant to put it out universally, and not just to a select few.

 

 

 

 

Register now for your Free Live Training,

with Question and Answer session thrown in, to learn

the Three Biggest Mistakes Growly Dog Owners make

- and how to fix them fast!

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s where you’ll find a free four-part email course to help you with your Growly Dog.

Are you as polite to your dog as to people?

Social Butterflies versus Wallflowers - over-friendly dogs vs. shy dogs

“Go on. Go and say hello to Aunt Ermintrude. Give her a kiss. Go ON!” 

This last would have been accompanied by a sharp prod between the shoulderblades to propel you forward.

Can you remember this happening to you when you were a small child? You wriggled and squirmed and really didn’t want to have anything to do with this towering, bearded, overpowering aunt.

But if you’d been left to your own devices, curiosity would eventually have got the better of you and you would have started to engage with this strange, mountainous, figure.

So is it with many dogs. 

Some are bouncy, in-your-face, love-everybody, kind of dogs - not in the least bothered by the Aunt Ermintrudes of this world. But many more are quiet, retiring, worried about anything new. The key to this is to strike a balance

 

The Social Butterflies need to learn a little restraint and thoughtfulness, lest they leap up on the wrong dog and get bitten or terrorised. Or of course they may leap on a shy and worried dog who will think in terror that her last hour has come.
 
The Wallflowers must be allowed to be Wallflowers! If you give them time to assess from a safe distance, they will gradually start to explore nearer, on their own terms. 

 

The funny thing is that we always seem to want the opposite of what we have! Those with the demented jumper-upper wish they had a calmer dog - continually snapping “Get down!” to their poor dog, who thinks that perhaps he needs to jump higher in order to please his owner. While those with a mouse-impersonator wish they had something more outgoing, and feel as if the world thinks they beat their dog. 

 

We always want to fit in with society’s view of being able to produce the perfect dog, without necessarily heeding what our dog has to say about it all.

 

Aren’t all dogs friendly?

Get your free email course to help
your dog adjust

This commonly accepted thought completely ignores the fact that dogs are all different! They are individuals, just as we are. Their breeding will influence their behaviour, but there’s huge variation within breeds and types. And we’ve all learnt - through the notorious breed-specific legislation - that you cannot tar all dogs of one breed with the same brush.

Because people notice the exuberant dog more than the shy one, they think that’s the norm. You can’t help but notice the bouncy Labrador with his tail thumping your legs (but there are many quiet, shy Labradors too). Or the half-crazed Poodle who thinks everyone must love him (Coco Poodle? Are you listening?). But In fact the quieter response is the more common one - and probably much better for survival in the wild situation that dogs were evolved in. 

Just because some dogs are in-your-face dogs doesn’t mean that this is how all dogs should be.

And what about responsibility for other people’s dogs?

Let’s say you have one of the bouncy dogs who thinks the world is his oyster and wants to greet everyone. Now imagine that instead you have one of the shy, retiring dogs. Maybe your dog desires only to be left alone, to have peace and quiet to enjoy her walk without interference. Your shy dog could be enjoying a tremendous game with you and your frisbee or ball, and the last thing she wants is someone muscling in on her prize. 

How would it be if you were enjoying a makeshift game of badminton with your family in your local park, and a load of louts came barging in, snatching the shuttlecock, knocking your children over and treading on them, wrecking your game - with their parents laughing at their antics all the while. Nice? I don’t think so.

So if your dog is the super-friendly one, don’t let him rampage all over the place, upsetting calmer, quieter, perhaps older, dogs. 

It can take a shy dog several days to recover from an experience like this - really! They may have to stay indoors for days to allow their hormones to settle back down - just as you might if you were in a mild car shunt. It could be a few days before you were happy to get behind the wheel again. This dog’s owner may be upset and begging you to put your unruly dog on a lead. This request, sadly, is often greeted with derision and insults. 

Many owners of boisterous dogs assume that their dog’s behaviour is not only natural, but acceptable.

I’m here to tell you it’s not!

These owners seem to think they have more right to be out walking their dog than others with more challenging dogs. They form this opinion, I believe, because sometimes their unruly dog is greeted by a show of teeth and snarling from the other dog. They assume that this dog must be nasty - aggressive - and therefore to blame for whatever happens. They forget that that dog was quietly minding her own business until their dog landed on top of her! 

Sadly, this usually gives rise to more insults and abuse.

It doesn’t take much imagination to transfer this scene to a school playground. Some children will be playing happily together while others cruise the playground looking for entertainment - often found by annoying the quieter children. Of course, playgrounds are carefully “policed” by school staff, and unacceptable behaviour should be halted immediately, so that the boisterous children can learn some social skills, learn how to treat other people respectfully, and the quieter children can enjoy their quieter life. 

The school playground is like the park

Is this chase enjoyable for both dogs?

Is this chase enjoyable for both dogs?

We don’t have school staff in the park. We’re meant to be grown up enough to manage this ourselves. I know it comes as a surprise to many of the “My dog is friendly” persuasion to learn that many other dogs are not. They are instead nervous, anxious, possibly recovering from an unsolicited attack which - unsurprisingly - has made them suspicious of all dogs. Or they may simply by diffident and self-contained, and not disposed to talk to strangers.

And some of these bouncy-dog owners will be genuinely astonished to learn this! But once you have learnt it, let it inform your dealings with other dog-owners and their dogs. It’s not a dog’s fault if he was attacked. It probably wasn’t his owner’s fault either, but it can have a lasting effect on the victim. It’s equally not a dog’s fault if he was not properly socialised as a puppy, and if he was adopted after puppyhood it’s not his owner’s fault either. 

Most people are decent and honest (in my experience), and they really wouldn’t want to see a child hurt or humiliated by another child’s actions. All they need to do is realise that dogs are as different in temperament as children are, and that some sensitive ones can be seriously upset by another dog-owner’s thoughtlessness.

The quiet, shy dog doesn’t care whether the boisterous dog has good intentions or not. It doesn’t matter if “He just wants to play,” or whether he is intent on tearing the other dog’s throat out. The effect of the confrontation can be the same - causing the anxious dog to get more withdrawn, or - as can often happen - become proactive at keeping other dogs away by putting on a tremendous display of aggression.

How can I help my dog?

So watch your puppy or new dog carefully. Whether extrovert or introvert, be sure to protect them from bad experiences. Allow your boisterous pup to express himself in a way which suits him, while gently teaching him what we would prefer.

And let your quiet observer quietly observe. From behind your legs if that’s where she feels comfortable. When she’s ready, she’ll be able to take much more in her stride. 

And whether you’re the owner of the over-friendly dog or the shy and anxious dog, you’ll find great help in this free email course: 

Is your dog the school bully?

The isolation of the Growly Dog owner - 9 ways to change it all

 

  • Does everyone else seem to walk a calm, quiet dog? 
  • Do you watch with envy as people walk their “good” dogs without a thought?
  • Do you wish you could go anywhere with your dog and not be embarrassed by her antics?
  • Do you feel a “useless dog-owner” because your dog doesn’t behave as people seem to expect her to?
  • Would you really like a trouble-free dog who you need do nothing with?
I tell you - we are the lucky ones. Those of us who have difficult dogs, growly dogs, aggressive dogs, shy, fearful, anxious dogs - we are the lucky ones. In learning about dogs, their language, their behaviour, we will gain huge insights into dogs in general, our own dog in particular, and the huge gap between what most humans think and what is actually true about dogs.

I feel so alone with this dog

Rest assured, you are not alone! There are many people around with dogs they struggle with. 

  • Some of them walk only at The Hour of the Difficult Dog, flitting furtively about like bats in the dark when they’re unlikely to meet another dog, or person, or cyclist .. or whatever it is that sets their dog off. 
  • Some of them have given up and don’t ever walk their dog at all. And if it keeps them all happy, this is a good thing.
  • But there are plenty more who accept that this is the dog they have - not the one they hoped for - and they do their best to help their troubled dog.

Because a troubled dog is what you have. No, it’s not necessarily your fault (though you may have made mistakes along the way - as we all do - that has made it worse). But your dog is troubled all the same. Don’t fret over past mistakes, or wrong advice followed - start from where you are now.

You began with a puppy

However carefully you may have covered the socialisation, familiarisation, and habituation for your puppy up to the age of 14 weeks, something may have happened later (a car crash, a dog-attack, an explosion …) to make him reactive. Or it may just be the way he is. Guarding breeds in particular are bred to be alert to every movement and sound, and … despatch it! And herding breeds have extra sensitive hearing.

Possible complications with a rescue dog

Smidge in her safe place

Smidge in her safe place

It may be that you wanted to give an unwanted dog a home, and that is indeed a very good and laudable motive. But the dog you chose may have arrived with baggage from its previous life which you now have to deal with. What confuses some new rescue-dog-owners is that their dog seemed “fine” when he first arrived, and it was only a month or two later that he “became aggressive.”

There are two issues here. 

  1. It’s not aggression, it’s usually fear. More below.
  2. It can take 2-3 months for a dog to settle in his new home. 

Before that he may be shut down and quiet, nervous of putting a paw wrong. Just like you would be if you moved into my house - it would be “Where does this cup go?” and “Is it alright if I sit here?” After a couple of months you’d have your feet on the table and be leaving cups all over the place! You’ve settled in and are behaving naturally. So that’s what your dog is doing - settling in and behaving naturally.

So why has my dog become aggressive?

This isn’t really the right question. “Being aggressive” is the interpretation you have put on her behaviour. What you want to look at is

  • why your dog does what she does, 
  • when she does it, and 
  • what you can do to change things so she doesn’t have to do it any more.

If something frightening approaches you, you have two choices - fight, or flee. If you are attached to someone else you are unable to flee, so you’re left with fight. So it is with your dog, who is on lead and unable to make the choice to scram. 

You (like your dog) may really not want to fight. Fighting is dangerous, can escalate quickly, and can maim or kill. So you’d probably use your voice first to try to keep the dangerous thing away: “Get away! Leave me alone! I’ve got a knife!” 

And your dog does the same: “Look! I’m ferocious! Keep away! You’ll get bitten!” and he does this by leaping about, raising his hackles, making himself look as big and tall as possible, swishing his tail up in the air, growling, snarling, and barking. 

Very often, this works for your dog. Either the other dog backs off, the other dog’s owner takes him away, or you - in your confusion and embarrassment - haul your dog away, quite possibly joining in with the barking by “barking” yourself.

Now you are upset, your dog is upset, (maybe the other owner is upset, but they may perhaps learn not to walk their dog straight at strange dogs in the future) and your walk has become a sorry mess.

When you got your dog you envisaged happy walks in field and forest, you thinking about birds and poetry and sunshine, and your dog trotting at your heels, keeping you company. Or maybe you’re the social type who foresaw walks with other dog-owning friends, days at the beach with the family, visits to cafes to chat, your dog being admired for her good behaviour. 

Instead, you’ve got this maniac that makes walks a misery. 

And no doggy friends for you.

Get your free email course here and get going with your new life!

All is not lost! You can start making changes with your dog right away!

So instead of retiring hurt and licking your wounds, have a look at what you can do to change things right now.

 

1. Give your dog a total break from walks for 3-7 days. If every outing is as stressful as I described above, you’ll both welcome the chance to chill and resurrect your fun relationship together.

 

2. Be sure you are not using any aversive dog equipment (broadly speaking, you want to have your dog on a comfy harness with a double-ended lead attached at front and back). 

 

3. If you’re afraid your dog may bite, muzzle-train him slowly so he loves his muzzle. This will relax you enormously. Extra benefit: you’ll find this helps to keep people away.

 

4. Choose quiet places to walk him where you’re unlikely to meet his “triggers” (the things that set him off)

 

5. Look into hiring a private dog walking field near you - fantastic resource for the growly dog owner!

 

6. Seek out a force-free trainer to help you. Any use of aversive equipment, or training by intimidation and control will work against you and make your dog worse. You have been warned! I am frequently helping people whose dogs have been made worse by one of these so-called “trainers”.

 

7. Start learning about dogs, their behaviour, and - very importantly - their body language, which is sophisticated and as clear as day, once you can “speak” it. Beware the gaping maw of the internet, which can take you down many rabbit-holes! Find a force-free trainer and study their reading list.

 

8. Find out what your dog actually loves doing. This could range from lounging on the sofa with you, to playing Hunt the Toy in the garden, hide and seek with the children in the house, performing tricks, helping you about the house with tidying up … Look at what she’s telling you she likes!

 

9. Know that you are not a “useless dog-owner”. You have simply found yourself presented with a problem you didn’t know how to solve. But you do now! Onward and upward.

 

 

And, as I said above - we are the lucky ones. Those of us who have difficult dogs, growly dogs, aggressive dogs, shy, fearful, anxious dogs - we are the lucky ones. 
For in our efforts to help our dog fit into our world, we will build a bond with our dog that can never be broken.

 

Start your new direction with this free email course that will take you through the steps for change - all force-free, of course, without intimidation or nasty gadgets.

Then hop over to take a look at the new online course that will take from where you are now to where you want to be with your dog.

 

Resources

www.brilliantfamilydog.com/growly-books 

Reactive Dogs UK facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/1633448230248202  

Reactive Dogs facebook group (rest of the world): www.facebook.com/groups/reactivedogs  

Walking fields to hire (facebook has some regional groups)

 

Online course (open for registration!): brilliantfamilydog.teachable.com 

 

Wiggles Wags and Whiskers Freedom Harness (UK): www.goodfordogs.co.uk/products 

Wiggles Wags and Whiskers Freedom Harness (rest of the world): http://2houndswholesale.com/Where-to-Buy.html 

http://www.xtra.dog 

muzzleupproject.com 

 

www.goodfordogs.co.uk/aggressive-dogs.html 

http://sue-eh.ca/page40/page23/ 

http://controlunleashed.net 

http://grishastewart.com/cbati-directory/

www.apbc.org.uk/help/regions  

www.apdt.co.uk/dog-owners/local-dog-trainers 

www.petprofessionalguild.com/PetGuildMembers

www.karenpryoracademy.com/find-a-trainer 

www.imdt.uk.com  

www.ccpdt.org

 

 

 

The Isolation of the Growly Dog owner

Why did you get a dog?

And did it work out the way you expected?

Companionship                         ✅   CHECK!

Exercise                                       ✅   CHECK!

Making new friends                   ✅    CHECK!

To make you feel important?        ❎    WA WAA ...

 

For some people, getting a dog is just the next thing to do to complete the image of the corn flake family - Mum, Dad, nice house, a boy, a girl, and the pet dog. It’s part of the image. 

Some people have visions of themselves striding across the moors in all weathers, their trusty companion two steps behind them.

Another person may be hoping to combat loneliness or bereavement by having a dog to talk to. They know that having someone to look after will take them out of themselves, perhaps get them out meeting more people. 

Yet another may have admired a dog sport - agility perhaps, dancing with dogs, or search and rescue - and are dying to get their own dog and have a go.

Then there are those who are more down-to-earth in their expectations. They love interacting with another species, having to learn a way to communicate without verbal speech. They want their children to experience the bond they had with an animal when they were growing up, and they know it can teach their children empathy, individualism, patience, and resilience.

Some so miss their previous dog that they want to replace him. Their old dog fitted their home like a comfy pair of slippers. They have entirely forgotten the puppy months or years they had to work through to reach this happy state.

Some people just love having a large, busy household, with children, in-laws, cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep, hens, horses, you-name-it. They are busy from morning till night ministering to their flock of dependents, and they find it very fulfilling.

But I’m not even going to waste any column inches on the deluded people who buy a dog as a fashion accessory.

 

It takes all sorts …

There are so many diverse reasons for people to bring a dog into their lives. Some are good and valid. Some not so much. Many are looking for the jigsaw puzzle piece that precisely matches the gap they are looking to fill. This is ok as far as it goes - but that’s sometimes not very far.

 

 

  • The sports dog fanatic, for instance, will choose the line and breeder very carefully, to get a dog suited to their purpose of speed, agility, soundness, temperament, and stamina. 
  • The corn flake family will want the perfect Walt Disney dog to complete their menage - a bombproof, undemanding, adaptable dog - probably of a fashionable breed or appearance. 
  • The outdoorsy type will want a dog built for long days in the field - a marathon runner rather than a sprinter. 
  • The empty-nester may be wanting something fluffy and cuddly.

 

What they may be forgetting is that their chosen dog will have an opinion about all this!

 

How many families do you know where the children are so different from their parents that they are almost another species? My mother was convinced they’d switched her baby in the nursing home, and referred to me as “The Changeling”. Even the adman’s dream - the corn flake family - may have children who don’t fit their vision of the perfect family. 

It doesn’t matter how carefully you choose the line, type, or breed - the dog you’re getting is an individual. He may slip perfectly into the mould you have ready for him. 

Get your free email course to sort out lots of puppy problems

Or he may not.

Then, as the saying goes, you’re stuffed.

Puppies first

Whatever made you get a dog in the first place, you now have a dog with his own personality. And just like with people, you’re going to have to work with that dog to make this “marriage” work. You may have to abandon your first idea entirely, when you find

  • your future agility partner is noise-sensitive and afraid of crowds of people 
  • your Disney dog gets sick of the children pestering him and snaps at them 
  • your forest-trail dog has a congenital hip problem 
  • and maybe your companion dog is not a people-pleaser and would prefer not to be cuddled 

You now have some work to do! 

Please don’t fall into the trap of comparing this new dog unfavourably with your old dog, who was no trouble. You maybe had that dog for fifteen years, you knew each other well, and have long since forgotten what that dog put you through as a puppy! (Yes - he did. You’ve just forgotten.)

What to do?

If the chasm between what you wanted and what you got is so huge that you are not prepared to put the necessary effort into the relationship, then make a decision straight away to re-home this dog to somewhere where he will be valued for his own sake. Don’t go soppy and heartbroken about it. Better to break off the engagement before you get to the church!

The shelters are bulging with dogs who people held onto until they hated them. These poor creatures are now walking basket-cases - they have been emotionally neglected and generally messed up. Their new owner will have a lot of history to work against. Sometimes this works out brilliantly. Sadly some dogs become serial “abandonnees” and keep finding themselves back in the dogs’ home.

If you realise that this dog is not at fault for failing to live up to your lofty expectations, and abandonment is not an honourable option, then keep granny’s words in mind: “You’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it.”

Coming to grips with the fact that relationships are a two-way process, and give-and-take are going to win the day, will get you a long way along this path.

Force-free, and blame-free, training will come into its own here. You have discovered that trying to mould your dog to be something you want and he isn’t leads only to frustration and ill temper. Go back to the basic force-free mantra:

 

Reward what you like
Ignore what you don’t like
Manage what you can’t ignore

 

Take blame and stress out of the relationship and work on finding where your dog scores. 

  • Is he funny?
  • Is he kind?
  • Is he hyper?
  • Is he dozy?
  • Is he active?
  • Is he patient?
  • Is he thoughtful?
  • What does he love? Food? Play? Running? Barking? Sleeping?
  • Does he love company?
  • Does he prefer his own company?
  • Loves dogs?
  • Is afraid of dogs?

 

Find what he likes doing best, work in those areas, and use his favourite things or activities as a reward. Be sure that the reward is something your dog finds really rewarding - not something you think he ought to like. There’s a world of difference between a dry biscuit and a sliver of hot dog or a game with the frisbee.

What else is rewarding to your dog - activity? Games? A walk? Opening the garden door? Once he sees that doing what you like brings him his top rewards, it’s full steam ahead to a successful partnership. 

Whatever misfit you seem to have, locking it in a crate and moaning is not going to change it to what you want. Confronting the situation and working with it will bring you a companion you can be proud of. 

And open up possibilities to you that you didn’t know existed!

Maybe your child is never going to be the gregarious doctor you hoped he’d be, and is happier working on his own in a forest. Maybe your daughter won’t join the family manufacturing business and would rather become a history professor. You adjust. You don’t choose your child, you have to accept what you’re given. 

So maybe your agility career has been blighted before it started, but you now have a devoted lapdog who you have become very fond of. And maybe your friendly family dog gets attacked and becomes fearful of all dogs and strangers. You adapt. You accept that this is the dog you committed to, and you make a life for him that accommodates his fears and phobias, his likes and dislikes, as well as your own.

It’s not the end of the world

And when you come across “problems” in your dog - things that he’s doing that you don’t like - take a longer perspective. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction of “Don’t!”, “Stop that!”, “Bad dog!” - that’s not going to help anybody. Adding your anger to the situation is only going to make it worse. (I tell you - I’ve been there! I know.)

You need to take the long view. Problems don’t usually arrive overnight. It just takes you time to notice them and realise they’ve become a habit you could do without. So they’re not going to disappear overnight either. Anyone who tells you they can effect instant change in your dog is likely to be using aversive methods - doing nasty things to the dog, in other words. This can have appear to be a quick fix, while your dog cowers into submission from this stranger who is unpredictable and unpleasant. But frightening anyone into doing something will never work.

You need to get your dog to decide to change his ways in order for there to be any genuine change

And this can only be done by force-free, science-based methods without using nasty gadgets or intimidation. Dogs may not have read the books, but their brains do operate in a pre-defined way - just as ours do. So learning how their brains work is going to give you a flying start with changing their habits.

You can start by getting Calm Down! Step-by-Step to a Calm, Relaxed, and Brilliant Family Dog which is free at all ebook stores.

And to get a free email course on tips to help you with everyday problems CLICK here

And tell us in the comments how your dog surprised you by turning into a great dog despite not being at all what you expected!

 

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How to teach your dog to catch!

My dogs are great catchers. I get great pleasure from watching their athleticism and joy.

Sometimes people watching their frisbee acrobatics look sadly at their own dog and say “My dog is stupid - he can’t catch”.

He’s not stupid - you just haven't taught him how to do it yet! Mine didn’t come with catching installed: this skill was carefully nurtured and developed.

You’ll get a lot of entertainment from teaching your dog to catch - with a puppy it’s even more fun! And, of course, it’s a great way to use up lots of your dog’s energy - as long as you observe some safety rules.

Puppy Gym

Puppies arrive on the planet with a mouth (and eyes) .. and that’s about the extent of their self-knowledge. Helping them discover where all their component parts are is an essential part of puppy-rearing. (This is why I feature “Puppy Gym” prominently in my puppy classes.) Learning that legs can move independently, that they can move sideways and backwards as well as forwards, that they can climb on and off things safely, and that they can land safely when they jump is key to their development.

And you can add teaching your dog to catch to this list.

Don’t start teaching catch too young with your pup. A very young pup (up to 10 weeks or so) doesn’t spot or focus on things very quickly. I’d wait till 16 weeks or thereabouts - and preferably once he knows lots of games featuring treat-rewards as well as chasing down toys.

To teach him eye-mouth co-ordination, make it easy for him by always tossing your treat with the same arm movement. I favour the downward toss- i.e. you hold up your hand near your shoulder, wave it a bit to get pup’s attention, then slowly bring it downwards and release the treat so it loops down to the pup. Aim for the top of his muzzle, right where the nose leather begins. The more accurate your throws the faster he’ll get it.

This is the entertaining bit! To begin with the treats will bounce off his muzzle and he’ll scramble to get them off the floor. 

Eventually his mouth will start to open as the treat comes through the air. And after a lot of practice at this, he’ll actually catch one!

He’ll probably be more surprised than you and start hunting on the floor for it again, not realising it’s in his mouth!

You can make it a lot easier for him by using treats that are clear to see - so little cubes of cheese are good. With one particularly slow-to-catch-on adult dog I used popcorn (plain, of course). And while corn should not generally form part of a dog’s diet, an exception can occasionally be made to get what you want. The popcorn worked for that dog because it’s huge, white, and floats down slowly.

At this stage you could be feeding your dog’s whole dinner this way, one tossed piece of kibble at a time.

Once your dog can catch a flying treat aimed carefully at his mouth, you can start tossing them at different angles. An adult dog (especially a greedy one!) will become quite athletic getting his treats. Take care that he’s on a firm footing, not a slippery floor. And build up slowly towards jumping.

Now you’ve got the catch mastered, you can move up a gear and start teaching your dog to catch a frisbee. 

Jake showing his catching prowess on his 14th Birthday!

Jake showing his catching prowess on his 14th Birthday!

Now add your frisbee

You need a soft frisbee that is gentle on the mouth and teeth - one made for dogs. This is a good one. It’s soft on the mouth, easy to squash into a pocket, and floats beautifully in the air for controlled catching.

Now using the same idea as with the cheese, you float the frisbee towards your dog who is right in front of you. So we’re talking about a couple of feet from hand to nose. No distance yet. After a lot of failed attempts he’ll be catching the frisbee expertly by the rim.

If he’s not inclined to release the frisbee, or wants to run off with it, simply stand on his lead so he can’t, then swap it for a treat every time. Once he’s got that, you can change your reward from treat to instant throw. He’ll soon know that the routine of “catch then give” means you’ll throw it again immediately. So he’ll be anxious to hand it over straight away.

Now start adding a little distance - maybe a yard to start with. 

And gradually grade up. As you increase the distance, you’ll build your own skill with the frisbee. A flick of the wrist is what’s needed to spin it, rather than brute force. And one of the reasons I like those soft cloth frisbees is because they’re so easy to spin and send over large distances. 

Now you have a way to exercise your dog safely while enjoying the sight of him flying after his frisbee and catching it expertly, bringing it straight back to you and pushing it into your hand - to throw again!

Safety note

There are dogs who do amazing antics catching their frisbee in competitions. But I have to say these images and videos make me very uneasy. The gyrations and hard landings look to me as if they’d take their toll pretty quickly on these dogs. I like to take life easier, and I aim to float the frisbee over the dog’s head, so that he can leap through an arc to catch it, landing comfortably and carrying on running. 

You’ll see in the photos illustrating this post that I look for fast running, an athletic leap, a soft landing - and I ensure that we’re not working on parched or frozen ground that would be too hard to land on. 

Remember this is another golden opportunity to teach some impulse control. Your dog will never get the frisbee by snatching it from your hand, or leaping up to mug you for it. He has to wait while you prepare to throw. You may want him to sit and wait, lie down and wait, or you may be happy for him to hurtle out twenty yards in the direction you’re about to throw it. Similarly, when you put out your hand for the frisbee to be delivered, it should be pushed into your hand - and not snatched away again!

 

Also on safety - don’t use sticks!

 

The only time I’d use a stick is if the dogs are in the pond and I know I can throw it far enough for it to be floating in the water by the time they reach it. Dreadful injuries happen (sadly quite frequently) to dogs who catch sticks in the air or on the bounce. The stick wedges itself against the ground and can impale the speeding dog with horrible results. So if you absolutely must throw a stick, ensure that it will land and be still long before your dog can reach it.

Multiple dogs?

Agile Coco Poodle loves his frisbee too

Agile Coco Poodle loves his frisbee too

Each of my dogs has his or her own frisbee. This means that

  1. I too get a great workout as my arms are going like a windmill, collecting and throwing frisbees one after the other, and 
  2. There’s never a collision or scrap over possession of the toy. They only go for their own toys. 

While my two older dogs will carry their frisbee for the entire walk without losing it, the two younger ones can get distracted and drop it somewhere. So teaching a search is also useful so that they find it instead of me spending ages looking for it. Rollo the Border Collie is brilliant at finding toys, and will lie down next to one (while his own is firmly clamped in his mouth) until it’s restored to its owner. 

Another supreme virtue of the dogs loving their frisbee: I can distract them very easily from incoming dogs to avoid confrontations. So if you have a reactive or growly dog, get him mad about retrieving as soon as possible!

 

So if you don’t as yet have a catching dog, get started teaching him this skill today. Enjoy!

 

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All text and images © Copyright 2017 Beverley Courtney