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My dog won’t take no for an answer

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“My dog has many good points but does not take no for an answer and is very disobedient when he appears to be totally deaf.”

So wrote a reader of her “challenging” dog.

Well, I’m glad the poor dog’s owner recognises he has good points! But the rest of her statement means that she doesn’t understand her dog or his motivation one bit.

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Disobedient. The dictionary tells us this means “refusing to obey rules or someone in authority”. Now if you’re to obey rules, you have to know what those rules are. And I’m willing to bet this dog has NO idea what the rules are that he’s meant to “obey”!

A common misconception

There seems to be an extraordinary misunderstanding rife amongst dog-owners. They think their dog arrives pre-programmed with English (or Spanish, or Turkish, or whatever they speak themselves). They think that the dog will have a perfect understanding of the meaning of words enunciated loudly and with clarity. So “SIT!” should immediately have the dog sitting.

Furthermore, they think that all their physical expressions and vocal tones will be instantly understood. So “NOOOOOO!” said in a menacing way with finger wagging will clearly mean “Take your paws off the table and go to your basket.”

How is your non-verbal, non-human, dog meant to know this?

Teach first

In the first place, your dog needs to be taught what it is that’s wanted - not left to guess, take pot-luck and hope he gets it right.

You have to give the dog information about what it is you want, not just what you don’t want.

Think of a toddler in your home. You’d be showing her what you wanted, kindly and patiently, naming objects and actions in that motherly chatty way that comes naturally to loving parents. Requests would come as suggestions, (Do you think your teddy bear would like to have tea now?) You wouldn’t bark orders at her! You wouldn’t expect her to understand language before she is verbal herself!

You may treat your dog the exact same way. And it’ll help if you think of how you get your wishes known and followed with your human family.

Cues not commands

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Do you order, or “command” your partner or family?

Or do you perhaps ask them?

Perhaps you drop hints, without even saying anything at all! For instance, you may come home exhausted and throw yourself into an armchair. A sensitive family member may say “I’ll put the shopping away for you - would you like a cup of tea?” Or even, “You make us a cup of tea and I’ll deal with all these groceries.”

We give and take. We assess a person’s mood and act accordingly. We adapt our requirements to the situation. We are kind and patient (if we want to keep the peace!).

In enlightened dog training, we call these communications - not “commands” but “cues”. They can be vocal cues (“Would you like to sit?”), or they could be environmental cues (I’m holding your lead - if you want me to put it on you for a walk you need to sit). And no, they don’t understand every word - neither does your toddler. But they can get the drift.

So if you take the word “command” right out of your vocabulary you may find that straight away you get on better with your dog. Really!

You have asked your dog to Sit and she doesn’t. Instead of shouting SIT ever louder and more urgently, you may ask yourself why she doesn’t sit:

• Is it because she’s in pain?

• Is it because the floor is slippery so she’s unable to prop herself up?

• Is it because it’s wet and muddy and she’s a comfort-lover? (My whippet wouldn’t dream of sitting on wet grass - and I’d never ask her to!)

• Is it because she’s distracted by the dog over the road/the postman/children screaming/the shopping bags on the floor/[insert your dog’s fear or fancy here]?

• … or is it perhaps because you never taught her?

“Disobedient” and other such words

The dictionary gives us related words for disobedient:

unruly, wayward, errant, disorderly, delinquent, disruptive, troublesome, rebellious, defiant, mutinous, recalcitrant, uncooperative, non-compliant, wilful, unbiddable, intractable, obstreperous, awkward, difficult, perverse, contrary, naughty, mischievous …

I’ve heard almost all of those words applied to a dog’s behaviour by a frustrated and thwarted owner! Often it’s new dog-owners talking about their first puppy. They clearly are labouring under the misapprehension I outlined above, and are expecting miraculous perception from this baby of another species.

Usually I suggest they substitute the word they’ve used (often stubborn, difficult, disobedient) with a word which better fits the situation: try fearful, shy, overexcited, hungry, overtired … perhaps the sort of words you may use to describe that little toddler who is not doing what you’d like.

We all have reasons for doing things

Of one thing you may be sure - dogs don’t do things for no reason.

You may not be able to see or understand the reason - but there is a reason! And as we’re meant to be the ones with the bigger brains, and we chose to have this dog live with us, it’s up to us to work out what that reason is.

You’ll find some study of Dog Body Language will repay you well (see Resources below). Your dog will heave a huge sigh of relief when at last you seem to understand his clear messages! And no, they’re not obvious to most of us dumb humans till they’re explained to us.

Once you know whether your dog is just distracted or - perhaps - afraid, you’ll be able to deal accordingly with the situation. Keep in mind that you cannot train an emotion-based behaviour out of a dog. They’re not operating on a rational basis at that moment, any more than your shrieking toddler who wants something she can’t get.

So, as I replied to the reader I quoted at the top of this piece, assess the situation carefully before you apportion blame. Your dog needs your help and understanding, not condemnation.

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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.

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


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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?  Yes - as you can see above, you CAN learn all this online, and transform your life with your dog.

The course is now 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’s also a course specially designed for the dog just out of puppyhood

Our family’s always had dogs, why is this one so difficult?

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“Archie just goes mad,” said Anne.

“He’s so full of energy he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s always stealing things, getting on the chairs, he knows just how to wind me up  …

And then, when we go out, he’s not at all friendly with other dogs. Some children were rushing past on their scooters the other day - I thought he was going to grab them!

We’ve always had dogs - but I’ve never had one like this before! 

What’s wrong with him?”

This is a shame. Anne was very pleasant, well-meaning, and obviously devoted to the naughty Archie. When I visited her I saw the life that Archie lived and found the root of the problem fairly quickly.

Anne was indeed experienced with dogs. For forty years there had always been a family dog. 

Now she had the dog … but no family!

Her previous dogs had been brought up in the rough and tumble of family life. From morning till night (and sometimes during the night) there had always been activity. The electric energy children bring to a home was ever-present.

There would be visiting children, bikes to chase after, tears and jam to be licked off cheeks, shrieking, dropped food to be cleaned up, toys, gadgets, running and racing, tree houses to climb up into, a sick child to cuddle up with …

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Housekeeping in a busy family was basic maintenance, not perfection.

And then there were the school runs, walks to the shops, family holidays on the beach.

Archie’s predecessors had had a very different upbringing!

And Archie had missed out on all of this.


What Archie had missed

• He hadn’t learned to cope with children (Anne never walked to the shops these days and there were as yet no visiting grandchildren.)

• He did not encounter many dogs in the rural area Anne had retired to 

• The house was painfully quiet - and spotless. Anne was very, very houseproud. 

• He’d never been to puppy class (“The other dogs had never needed it,” said Anne, “so I didn’t bother.”)

• He didn’t know how to use up his energy in the day 

• He had plenty of long country walks which made him stronger, but his mind was never tired

• This was all exacerbated by the fact that Archie was a high-energy dog, bred to work till he dropped

So while Anne thought she was rearing her young dog the same way as her previous family dogs, in fact she was missing a huge chunk of his essential upbringing!

"I'm bored! If something doesn't happen soon, I'll have to make it happen!"

"I'm bored! If something doesn't happen soon, I'll have to make it happen!"

In this case we started a program of belated socialisation and habituation, Archie came to class and was very quick to learn the games and tricks I teach there, and Anne learnt that mental stimulation is infinitely more tiring than physical exercise!

You cannot “socialise” an older dog. This is something that can only happen in the dog’s brain up to the age of 15-16 weeks. What you can do is get him out and about, having new experiences, and enjoying them! If he’s not enjoying - for instance another dog walking towards him - then about turn and withdraw to a safe distance where he can observe the dog passing while you pop treats into his mouth. The distance will vary, but could be at least 50 yards. 

Anne didn’t need to take Archie on ever longer walks, building his stamina so that his energy was boosted - just spend a few minutes here and there during the day when she could play some of the games and tricks he’d learnt in class, and mind games to satisfy his busy brain. Here's a great book to get you started.

As a working dog, Archie quickly took to the games which involved his amazing powers of scent. Hide and Seek, in the house and the garden, became very popular! We even taught Archie some useful tricks: fetching Anne’s indoor shoes when they arrived back from a walk was very popular all round. It gave Archie a job to do straight away, and Anne was able to dry his feet when he brought her shoes, before he’d started running all over the house. 

Family Dog but no family?

Children go so well with puppies!

Children go so well with puppies!

So if you're like Anne - you want to get another family dog but don’t have the family at home any more, here are a few things to consider:

• Early socialisation to everything in our world is vital. This includes towns, shops, countryside, schools, fairs, horses, bikes, trains, dogs, children, etc. “Early” means from the day after your puppy arrives, at 8 weeks.

• A first-rate force-free Puppy Class will give you lots of tools and experience

• Mental stimulation is more tiring and satisfying than physical exercise alone. This was a big surprise to Anne!

• Playing with your dog is much more fun than telling him off

• Care less about the spotlessness of your home - you have a dog!

• Choose a breed that was not designed to run over moor and mountain for eight hours a day

• Worry less about what your dog is doing, and more about what you are doing

Most of all, enjoy your puppy!

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