Beware the deadly mince pie! Christmas hazards for dogs

Some foods are dangerous for dogs |

In the excitement of Christmas Eve, somehow Jessie managed to scarf down a six-pack of mince pies. The shredded packet was all the evidence needed, plus an unusually quiet Jessie.

Fortunately Jessie’s owner knew the seriousness of the situation - she knew that raisins can be fatal to a dog - and rushed her to the vet without waiting for her to get sicker.

And that’s where Jessie stayed over the Christmas break, in intensive care, on a drip, while they worked to save her kidneys. 

That story has a happy ending. Jessie came back home, weak and tired - but with fully functioning kidneys. It was a harsh, frightening, and probably very expensive lesson for Jessie’s family. You can be sure there’ll be no mince pies left lying around in that house in future!

Join the waiting list here for our new courses specially for puppies and dogs!

Nor any Christmas cake, fruit cake, chocolate, chocolate with raisins, headache pills, artificial sweeteners, slug pellets, rat poison - the list goes on. 

Not to mention rubber bands, paper clips, mothballs, small pebbles, cooked poultry, wooden meat skewers, plastic meat wrapping, and elastic netting and string for parcelling meat.

The world is such a dangerous place! 

Not really. We don’t need to get anxious about it. Parents of toddlers automatically keep the area clear of known hazards.

We just need to know about a few hazards that are peculiar to the dog.

Like raisins and chocolate, for instance.

Who’d have thought the humble mince pie could cause so much trouble?

Leave It!

“I know he's only a puppy, but …” What you expect is what you get!

Puppy training should start on Day 1 |

The lady on the phone sounded harassed. 

She was ringing to look for help with her 16-week-old puppy. 

I asked her how her puppy was doing, and she replied:

“He’s very bitey, and he jumps up on everyone. I can’t tell you how many things he’s destroyed. I’m looking forward to him being clean and dry in the house - we’re not there yet. I know he’s only a puppy, so perhaps I’m expecting too much.”

No! You’re expecting far too little!

I had to explain to this caring owner that she was asking too little of her puppy, and instead of giving him the chance to grow, she was keeping him a baby.

With the exception of the jumping up, which can take longer (more anon), all of these things should be resolved by 10-12 weeks.

The sooner you start, the better!

And the longer you leave it, the more you have to undo!

That’s why I welcome puppies at Puppy Class from 9 weeks of age. And my own puppies are learning from the moment they come through the door - at 7 or 8 weeks.

The new arrival

When your puppy first arrives, it’s very simple to lay down the ground rules. He’s tiny, a bit anxious, eager to please, ready to learn, bursting with enthusiasm, and he needs to sleep most of the time. What better time to start building a solid relationship of trust?

Using a crate from Day 1 answers most of the problems this lady was having. If a crate is not possible, then at least have a puppy playpen or baby-gates. But a crate is best and will establish firm boundaries for the future.

1. If he gets too bitey in play, this is a sure sign that he’s overtired and needs a nap: into the crate for a while for a restorative ziz

2. Always wait till he’s stopped bouncing before you open the crate door - you may need to walk away from the crate and come back a good few times before he realises that staying still opens the door, but bouncing keeps it shut. Then greet him at his level as he emerges while you clip the lead on and whiz him out to the garden for a pee.

Get straight onto the waiting list for our new Online Puppy Course right here, right now!

3. He can’t destroy anything if he’s in his crate with his chewtoys at those times when you can’t be actively supervising him. Bliss! Remember he needs oceans of sleep. If he’s been awake for an hour you’re back to No.1 above.

4. Housetraining is a breeze when you use the crate and some simple rules. Free download here


I don’t want my dog to think the crate is a punishment

I don’t know why I sometimes meet resistance to the use of a crate. 

Most parents will use a cot for their baby or toddler to ensure that she’s safe and secure when left alone. The crate is the exact same thing for a puppy. 

There is no hint of punishment. So, just as with your baby, put the puppy in the crate, shut the crate door, and leave the room. 

He’s safe. He can sleep. A well-reared puppy is unlikely to soil his bed. You can relax and do something else for a while.

And know that you’re putting your puppy on the path to becoming a Brilliant Family Dog right from the start.

It’s all about connection

If you can make a connection with your dog, you can build trust, understanding, confidence. 

The quickest and best way to make this connection is through Choice Training.  Have a look at how fast people were getting results on my recent 5 day online Workshop:

Chewie waits patiently instead of jumping up to steal the food!

Chewie waits patiently instead of jumping up to steal the food!

“Just want to say a massive thank you for the 5 day Workshop. Chewie would jump up and try and grab and bite me if I was prepping food. Now he’s lying down with treats dropping. Loving his focus.”
Jan & Chewie

“Thank you Beverley from Molly and me! We have enjoyed the workshop immensely and made a lot of progress in a short time.”  Robin & Molly

“Bonnie and I are having great fun with the Sit Game - all round the house and outside too. Feels like she’s listening better and I’m more relevant to her when there’s distractions (and she’s a working cocker spaniel with a history of pulling like a train!).”
Sheila & Bonnie

“Really enjoying the Workshop. Willow now getting so much better and more eye contact. Thank you for all your time and hard work putting this together.”
Pat & Willow and Poppy

“I was amazed at the results encountered during your 5-day workshop and could not wait to get started on this course*.”
Scott & Gabriel and Gizmo


*What course is Scott talking about? Our new online Puppy and Dog Courses! 

Want to join us and get results like this? Join the waiting list here for my new online Puppy Course! Yes - as you can see above, you CAN learn all this online, and transform your life with your dog.

Any minute now the course will be open for enrolment and you’ll be able to check out the course for yourself before jumping in.

Got an older dog that you need a bit of help with? There’ll also be a course specially designed for the dog just out of puppyhood. Get on our waiting list now!

Join the waiting list here and be the first to know when the course is open for enrolment!

How can I stop my dog doing stuff I don't like?

My dog keeps ... [insert annoyance here]! |

People are often looking for an instant fix to something they don’t like. 

Me too! 

I’d like a magic wand to wave over life’s problems. Trouble is, people come to me thinking I can wave a magic wand over their dog’s problems and they won’t have to do a thing. 

A recent query was along the lines of, “My dog runs around barking all day in the garden. How can I stop him?”

You don’t have to be a genius to see that your first step must be - don’t leave him unattended in the garden! You can’t hope to change his behaviour until you’ve changed things enough to prevent him indulging in it.

My dog keeps … [insert annoyance here]!

Here are some starters for you:

    •    Jumping up on the furniture
    •    Raiding the bin
    •    Running off on walks
    •    Barking
    •    Destroying shoes
    •    you name it

Whenever someone tells me one of these things, I have one (smug) question:

“Where were you when he was doing all this?”

If you cannot yet trust your dog in any of these areas, then you shouldn’t give him the freedom to carry on doing what you don't like!

Practice makes Perfect - this doesn’t just apply to piano and tennis! 

Every time your dog indulges in one of these annoying activities he’s getting more fun from it, and getting better at it. It becomes a habit - and we all know how hard habits can be to break.

The good news is that good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones.
  • If your toddler had a fascination for the oven, you wouldn’t be leaving her unattended in the kitchen.
  • If your 6-year-old is a danger on his bike, you wouldn’t let him out on the road on his own.
  • If your teenager was beginning to mix with the wrong crowd, you wouldn’t be cheerily waving him goodbye of an evening, knowing you’ll be finding him in the police station later that night.

So if your dog is doing something you don’t like, the first thing to do is make sure he can’t do it. 

  • You can shut the door to the front room when you’re not there (this will prevent chewing the furniture and barking at the window). 
  • You keep your dog in the same space (room/garden) as you so he can’t chew shoes, raid bins, dig up the flowerbeds, bark at the moon. 
  •  And if he runs off on walks - you use a long line so that he can roam but not ramble. 

That's just for starters ...

Now that isn’t the end of the story. And none of this should be forever. 

Once you’ve got a measure of control over the situation, and you’ve removed the frustration and the yelling, you can start to re-teach your dog what you’d like him to do. 

Dogs don’t exist in a vacuum. They can’t NOT do something - they’re doers. 

So once you’ve eliminated what you don’t like, the way is open to change your dog’s habits to what you do like.

So come and join our free 5-day Workshop today! 5 days of free online training, with videos, text, and live broadcasts. You’ll get to meet a host of other lovely dog-owners who are looking to improve the connection between them and their dogs.


Head over there now and start getting some massive results!





Can I really train my dog by giving him a choice?

Training your dog a choice is much easier and more effective  than you may have thought |

We all want to do the best for our dogs. Of course we do! 

We love them dearly and want only good things for them. That’s why you’re here!

But it’s so frustrating that when it comes to training for your pet there are often so few options in your locality. Either the classes are at difficult times, too far away, or there’s just too much going on in your life. You were already using your allotted 24 hours in full before you got a dog! Now you’ve got to fit all this in - maybe three hours out of one of your valuable evenings at home with the family. 

Then there’s the trekking to the class, perhaps in the dark, having to organise babysitters - many won’t allow children. The weather may be awful, you may be held up at work, your car may break down! It’s common for even the most dedicated of dog-owners to have to miss lessons from the local class they’ve enrolled at. Life happens!

Another problem is that you can’t find any trainers you’d want to work with. There’s an awful lot of harsh training out there, often masquerading as good training - making it very hard to know what you’re letting yourself and your dog in for. Having your dog shouted at by a “trainer” is bad - being shouted at yourself, belittled, shown up - is even worse!

So all in all I do understand why lots of people decide to pass on classes and “do it themselves”. 

Trouble is, that only works if you know the answers already! Otherwise you may just be passing on the old-fashioned methods and old wives’ tales handed down to you in your childhood.

You need to have access to the latest in scientific training techniques, with convenient classes led by an experienced and understanding trainer.


You can get on the waiting list for our new Puppy and Dog training courses here!


Times they are a-changing

A young boy carrying jis terrier pup |

Well, I may have an answer for you! As a trainer who uses only dog-friendly methods, based in science (no pixie dust or magic mushrooms!), and who genuinely has the dog’s wellbeing at heart, I could be just who you’re looking for. I’m also people-friendly! You won’t be shouted at or belittled as sadly so often happens in dog training classes.

I get amazing results very quickly, and it’s all done by giving the dog a choice - just as you do with your family and workmates. You don’t order them around and expect them to comply! You show them what you’d like, then encourage them to choose to do that for you.

As you know by now, I don’t talk gobbledygook. Look at these emails - representative of many that I get. Life is too short to be trying to unfathom deep mysteries! We want it explained in language we can understand.

“Thank you for sharing your easy-to-follow tips, helping us to help Smidge become our Brilliant Family Dog!”
Janet and Smidge Patterdale x
“Thank you for your books and articles - they are a great help: clear, simple and easy to follow and remember. I've read similar books, but almost all are much more wordy and hard to remember.” 
Carol and Charlie in Singapore 
“Wow! Back to Amazon! :-) I’m only partway through the first book but it’s great. So easy to understand. So well explained.”
Shirley and Hettie, Huntaway

So that is always my aim. It’s absolutely pointless having information about how the dog’s mind works, and being unable to convey it to the person the dog has to live with - through not understanding how the owner’s mind works!

Hmm … but just look at the map

BUT - I hear you cry! - you live in the middle of England and I live in Australia / West Coast of America / Hong Kong / Scotland / [insert your location here]. 

Puppy Wilfred is proud to walk smartly along with his owner!

Puppy Wilfred is proud to walk smartly along with his owner!

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, things are changing. Anything can be taught effectively online, from baking to weight loss, from ancient philosophy to astro-physics, there are even popular courses on blacksmithing and aerial dance! I have personally taken a lot of online courses and found them hugely helpful.

And dog training is another subject that works really well! You follow the course in your own time, and in your own home! If things are explained thoroughly and understandably, and you are shown videos of the training in action, you can learn really fast. 

So here you go! I’m running a 5 Day Workshop live on Facebook, where you can learn how to teach your dog to connect with you, using games which your dog will love, in just five days. Yes, that’s my promise to you. Don’t believe me? Come along and take part - and prove me wrong!

It’s free, so you have nothing to lose! It’ll just take 15’ of your time each day to follow the Workshop, and as much time as you want to spend playing with your dog to do the homework.

The workshop starts on Monday 27th November at 0900 EST / 1300 GMT, so you’ve got a few days to get yourself organised.

You can register here, get access to the Workshop private group, and get started!

See you there!




Hello, World!

Five Ways to teach your dog that coming to you is the best thing ever!

5 ways to teach your dog that coming to you is the best thing ever |

If you want your dog to come when you call, you need to get into his head that arriving with you is the best thing ever! 

Instead of asking your dog to leave an exciting something to come to boring you, change his mindset so that he sees your call as an opportunity to spin on a sixpence and race straight to you like a missile.

20-week-old Rocco races to his owner at high speed!

And here are some NEVERS and some ALWAYS’s to keep you on the straight and narrow

9 Rules for a Perfect Recall


Get your free download and transform your dog's recall straight away!

Powered by ConvertKit

1. NEVER, EVER, reprimand your dog when he comes to you. If he runs to you and you tell him off, how likely is it that he’ll come next time you call? It doesn’t matter what he did when he was “out there” - coming back to you has to be the best thing he ever did. Be sure he knows that his prompt return always makes you very, very happy!

2. NEVER go on a walk without a stash of really good treats in your pocket. ”Really good” does not include his kibble, cat biscuits, or pocket fluff. Rather - cheese, sausage, hot dog, beefburger … If you did a good turn for someone and they gave you a dry biscuit as a reward, how likely would you be to put your hand up next time they’re looking for a favour? A whole chocolate cake? Now that’s a different matter!

3. NEVER call your dog, and - when he doesn’t respond - say “Ah well, I’ll call him a bit later.” This has been noted, documented, and logged by your dog, and filed under the heading “I only need to come when I’m called sometimes.” This is the absolute last thing we want him to learn! He needs to know that when he hears his name, he comes back - every time.

4. ALWAYS vary your rewards. Sometimes he gets a lump of beefburger when he arrives with you; sometimes he gets 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 tiny bits of cheese posted into his mouth one after the other; sometimes you hurl his toy behind you as he approaches, then race him to the toy; sometimes as he runs towards you you take off at high speed away from him - game on! - dogs all love to chase! What else could you do to excite your particular dog?

Puppy Cai loves this recall game! |

5. NEVER call him unless you have a 90% chance of him coming. Choose your moment, call him and refer to no.3 above. He doesn’t come? Then if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. Go up to him and call him from one yard away. Success! Big lump of sausage!

How soon should I start training my puppy to recall?


Straight away!

As soon as you get your new puppy or new dog, they should be learning that responding to their name is the best thing ever. Read this post to give you a start

Dogs love running fast. Make sure that running fast towards you is always more rewarding than running fast in the opposite direction. 

It takes time and steady application to develop a super recall. But think how proud you’ll be when you can call your dog’s name (once!) and he stops dead, spins round, and hurtles back to you! And think how relieved you’ll be if he had been racing towards a road, or a sabre-toothed tiger (or whatever hazards you have in your neck of the woods).

Want a bit more help with your recall? You’ll love the new course I’m finalising now - get on to the waiting list here, and have a thumping good recall in a matter of weeks

My dog’s NOT afraid of fireworks! But why?

My reactive dog's *not* afraid of fireworks: Why?  |

Fears have been high up in doggy discussions recently. It’s the Fireworks season in the UK and this is what’s brought them bubbling to the surface again.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November - gunpowder, treason, and plot!

And one thing common to a lot of these discussion threads was the surprise registered by owners of reactive dogs who were not upset at all by the noise. Some of these new owners had got prepared for the onslaught and were expecting the worst - then were utterly astonished that their dog couldn’t care less about it all.

So perhaps a little look at the subject of fear would be helpful here. 

Is all fear the same?

Humans are born with only two fears: fear of falling and fear of loud noises. And these fears are stimulated in the Apgar tests for newborns, to elicit the startle reflex and check that all is well neurologically with the baby. All other fears are learned.

So fear of ghosts, planes, spiders, heights, and so on, are acquired on our journey through life. Many of these fears are developed early on, and can be heavily influenced by our family's response. A mother who is afraid of spiders can quickly transfer this fear to her children, while the mother who is happy to pick up an insect and take it to a place of safety is likely to have children who are curious about the other species in their environment and not fearful of them. It’s also true that a natural predisposition to be cautious around predators means that people are more likely to be afraid of creatures than of … bicycles, or trees.

Free Puppy Socialisation Guide


Learn new force-free ways to teach your new puppy!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Now the jury is out on whether dogs are born with any fears. Certainly there will be a predisposition to fear certain things, and the social influence of the mother and the environment in which the pups are reared are definitely going to have a big effect. Hence the supreme importance of early and proper socialisation for puppies up to the age of 12-15 weeks (jury is out on the timescale too).  

But we can certainly influence this fear by showing extreme fear ourselves. 

Will I make my dog worse if I cuddle her?

Fear is an emotion. And you cannot reinforce an emotion. It’s either there or it isn’t. You can only reinforce a chosen behaviour. While it is not possible to reinforce the emotion of fear - that is, to reward it and encourage it and make it stronger and more likely to occur - by giving comfort to a frightened person or dog, it’s certainly possible to plant the idea that fear is the correct response to something. Hence the general firework advice to mask the noises and flashes as much as possible (loud tv, curtains drawn, prepare a den) and carry on as normal yourself.  

You can't make your dog more afraid by comforting her |

And this advice also extends to not making your dog afraid of other dogs by being afraid yourself! So many people anticipate a bad outcome at the sight of another dog - maybe because their dog is reactive and has barked and lunged in the past - that they will tense up, breathe quickly, panic, tighten their grip on the lead, winding it six times round their hand to shorten it. This is telling your dog that you are afraid of the incoming dog, and that strange dogs are inherently dangerous. As you’ll see in the Growly posts on this site, your first response at sight of an incoming dog should always be

  • Relax hands
  • Relax shoulders
  • Breathe out
  • Relax lead

This will be telling your dog that you are ok with the incomer. (Whether you are or not is beside the point!)

What’s conditioning? And what’s counter-conditioning?

So fears grow in people and in dogs through experience, through social learning, and from a pre-disposition - self-preservation is all-important, so being afraid of things about to pounce on you is sensible. There’s also genetics to factor in. Some dog breeds are more alert to strange things in their environment than others, and are going to be faster to develop fears - unless that careful socialisation, familiarisation, and habituation, is done.

So your puppy is being conditioned to certain fears through his life experience. A snake appears and mum runs away from it: noted - snakes are dangerous.

Counter-conditioning is when we weigh in to lessen a fear, or lessen the impact the fear will have, by changing the association in the dog’s mind to something good. If every time that pup sees a snake you stuff pork pie in his mouth - his emotional response is going to change, over time! No, we don’t want him getting curious about the snake and approaching it - but we equally don’t want him to panic and run off - into the path of our modern-day killer, a car.

Your dog is going to be afraid of things he’s learnt to be afraid of. It follows that without that experience he’s not going to have the fear in place. Of course there are dogs who are so psychologically damaged that they have a generalised fear of everything. But even these can be brought to a level of comfort with patience and dedication, and possibly medication.

So being afraid of snakes is not going to make your dog also afraid of cars. And being afraid of other dogs is not going to make him afraid of horses, or sheep, … or fireworks. 

Cricket will sleep through a thunderstorm!


Cricket the Whippet will sleep through almost anything |

In my own household I have two (Lacy and Coco) who will ignore most fireworks, but bark at a very loud bang - it’s an “alert bark” not a panic attack - one (Cricket the Whippet, the professional sleeper) who is not at all bothered, and Rollo the usually independent Border Collie who gets very unhappy and worried.

During the firework season Rollo sticks to me like a limpet, wedging himself under my legs and following me pathetically wherever I go. It’s at least reassuring that I am considered a place of safety. The situation is manageable without medication, as he doesn’t panic and damage himself trying to escape - as some dogs do.

The interesting part - for the purposes of this discussion - is that Rollo is not what is commonly termed “reactive”, while Lacy and Coco most definitely are.

Border Collies are a sensitive breed with superb hearing. So if they’re going to be worried about anything it’s understandable that loud and sharp noises would be up there. But it’s not automatic that a Collie would be noise-sensitive, any more than the dog who is afraid of men in hats, for instance, should also fear children. 

So what you can take away from this is that fears will exist in your dog; you can minimise those fears with appropriate socialisation at the correct age; you can help make those fears manageable with careful training; and that a fear of one thing does not automatically imply a fear of anything else. 

Want some more help with your fearful or reactive dog? Here's a free email course that will get you on the road to success!
All text and images © Copyright 2017 Beverley Courtney