Trust your dog, don’t control him!

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Lizzie had recently retired from a responsible position. 

She lived in a spotless and perfectly-kept home in the countryside with a husband who was always out at work. She wanted a dog for companionship and pleasant country walks.

Her children were long grown so it was a good while since she’d had a young thing to look after. 

So the advent of her puppy Bracken brought up all kinds of fears and anxieties in Lizzie - she was terrified something dreadful would happen to him, but she also struggled with the disruption a puppy brought to a neat, clean, adults-only, house.

At Puppy Class, Bracken was distracted and lively - typical of his busy and active breed - not, perhaps, the best choice for a first-time dog-owner of later years. 

Lizzie got very anxious and embarrassed by his behaviour at class. 

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She felt ashamed that she couldn’t “control” this puppy, and felt he was showing her up. 

She was perplexed that her image of the perfect dog trotting at her heels across hill and dale was not matched by the reality of a puppy who seemed to be always straining to get as far away from her as possible!

So I wasn’t surprised when Lizzie got in touch with me a couple of months after her Puppy Course finished to give me a long list of problems she was having with Bracken, and to ask for help.

Enter the prison!

When I arrived at her home I found something more akin to a prison! I was ushered through an airlock of two doors at the front door (a good practice in itself) to see an excited puppy leaping up at a baby gate. Bracken was not learning how to greet people stuck behind a gate!

She had four metal playpens barricading various rooms and corridors. She had baby gates in most of the doorways - this in addition to a couple of crates. And outside she had had fencing built round the patio to prevent Bracken’s access to the garden.

The house itself was spotless, with no sign of Bracken’s toys which had all been put away. 

Her focus was entirely on containing and controlling her eager youngster.

Her list of problems included:

  • Bracken was not yet reliably housetrained

  • He’d grab anything he could find in the house and initiate a chase game

  • Outside he’d get hold of stones and slugs, which Lizzie frantically tried to get off him

  • This was leading to a Resource Guarding problem

  • He’d steal any food so everything was locked away

  • He’d race off to any dog he saw on walks, play too roughly, and refuse to come back


The Program

This is what made Lizzie happy!

This is what made Lizzie happy!

  • I revised with Lizzie the games she’d learnt in Puppy Class - which had all been forgotten in the new clampdown era

  • I taught her new games - particularly for focus and recall - to show her that Bracken could keep his feet on the floor and engage intelligently with her

  • We played fast games so Bracken could learn to respond even while highly excited

  • Housetraining - we went back to new puppy basics

  • She revised her matwork with Bracken so he could reliably go to his mat when asked - and stay there till released

  • She learned to swap, not to snatch or chase. This stopped the stealing and the resource guarding, and dealt with the potentially dangerous slug ingestion

  • Lizzie learned to stop caring about stolen items so that grabbing stones was no longer the prompt for a chase game for Bracken, so it just died out on its own

  • She improved Bracken’s diet, going for a grain-free option

  • She learned how to handle a long line with soft hands so she could give Bracken comparative freedom without getting too anxious herself

  • She got a Freedom Harness for control without coercion

  • These both improved her Loose Lead Walking dramatically

  • We worked on a system for greeting dogs and people with self-control

  • She polished up her Tug play from class so that it incorporated masses of impulse control along with masses of high energy fun

  • She did some work using Dr. Overall’s Relaxation Protocol to teach Bracken to self-soothe and settle

  • And she started to use impulse control at every opportunity - every time she opened the fridge, every time she opened a door, picked up a toy or Bracken’s lead

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The result

Over the course of a month - with much reassurance that Yes, Lizzie was an excellent owner for Bracken, and Yes, she could look after him well and give him what he needed, and Yes, he would become her perfect companion over time - all the playpens, fences, and gates disappeared. 

She became able to walk him on a loose lead instead of the vice-like grip on a tight lead she had before, and she was able to let him loose on walks without panicking that he’d escape (or even want to escape). 

She had entirely stopped chasing Bracken for stolen items, with the result that he no longer bothered to steal them - he’d much rather have the offered game instead.

Housetraining? “Oh yes, he’s fine now!”

The Conclusion

Bracken was a grand little pup who was being wound up on a daily basis with constant nagging, recriminations, and control.

He was simply exhibiting puppy and early adolescent behaviours which provoked a huge over-reaction in Lizzie, owing to her anxiety that she was somehow failing the dog.

Once Lizzie learnt how to relax and release - and to stop worrying herself into a panic - everything started to run smoothly.

By relinquishing control and instead giving Bracken choices, she elicited really good responsive behaviour from him. 

It was a delight for me to see that both Lizzie and Bracken felt free to trust and enjoy each other. The journey could now begin!


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5 Surefire Tips to Get Your Dog to Jump Up on People


There’s a ring at the doorbell.

While you make your way to the door your dog is running rings around you, barking, jumping, grabbing at toys. 

You yell “Stop! Get down! Be quiet!” Now you’re both barking!

You open the door and your dog launches himself at your visitor, striking heramidships, sending her reeling.

You yell “Stop! Get down! Be quiet!” 

Your visitor staggers through the door with your dog dancing in front of her on hind legs, grabbing at her sleeve and leaving drooly smears on her bag.

You yell “Stop! Get down! Be quiet!” 

Your panting dog stands still for a moment.

You yell at him for being a bad dog.

Your visitor says “I won’t stay,” and starts to make her escape.

As she leaves you grab at your dog’s collar to stop him running out after her.

You close the door and shake your head in exasperation at your happy dog.

Look familiar? 

Here are my 5 Surefire Tips to ensure that this happens every time:

  1. Make sure dog is super-excited and racing around loose, barking

  2. Shout “Get off! Stop! NO!”, wave arms, dance, add to the excitement

  3. Give dog lots of attention for jumping on people and no attention whatever when his feet are on the floor

  4. Make sure dog knows that wherever he goes and whatever he does, it’s WRONG

  5. Don’t bother to train your dog. After all your old dog didn’t do it (though he was 12, come to think of it)


WAIT! You don’t want this to happen? 

You really want to change things? Ok - have a look at these:

  1. To contain the flying excitement, clip a lead onto your dog’s collar and put your foot on the lead so that he’s still free to sit, stand or lie down, but can’t jump up

  2. Greet your guest and ask them to ignore dog

  3. When your dog is sitting or standing patiently, ask guest to hold their palm out for the dog to sniff

  4. Reward your dog with a treat and gushing praise as you draw him gently back to your side

  5. Cleverclogs stuff: teach him to go to his bed near the door when the doorbell rings, and stay till invited off


Practice makes Perfect - so try this out with a friend who is prepared to wait outside the door while you take your time and calmly lead up your dog without having to worry about someone waiting for you. 

You could practice each stage with your friend, so that if your dog tries to leap up when the door opens to reveal the visitor, you can simply close the door gently and open it again when he’s calmed down a bit. 

Your dog will soon understand that it’s his good choices that enable you to open the door and admit the visitor! Such empowerment will have him making those good decisions over and over again.

Your regular visitors will be astonished and amazed, and glad that they’re able to wear ordinary clothes to visit you instead of disposable overalls. 

And they won’t need the ear-defenders any more either!

Maybe your dog’s been doing this since forever - but you can change it! It’ll take a bit of time and application, but you’ll be so glad when you can welcome a visitor to your home without them getting mobbed! You’ll be proud of what you’ve achieved, proud of your dog, and relieved that you’re no longer the big bad shouting joy-killer.


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Puppy dogs' tails tell their own story

Wouldn’t it be great if we had tails!

Dogs’ tails are so expressive. You can see what they’re thinking when you’re behind them, beside them, at a distance. There is a whole chapter in the Dog Body Language Primer on Tails. You may not have heard of this volume, but all dogs get it downloaded into their brains at birth - it’s how they naturally express themselves.

And we - people - tend to dismiss it. “Oh, he’s wagging his tail - he must be happy.”

Some of the time he’s wagging his tail - yes, he’s happy. But some of the time he wags his tail out of anxiety, anger, anticipation. Many a person has been bitten by a dog with a wagging tail!

It’s how they are wagging it that’s important

Did you know, for instance, that when a dog is greeting someone he knows and loves, he’ll wag his tail to the right? Sometimes, when really delighted to see his person, the whole back-end will wag to the right. Your dog will be in a kind of banana-shape as he runs towards you, tail a-wag on his right side, ecstatic grin on his face.

You can see some great info in this article by Stanley Coren which tells you about some of the finer points of tail carriage and movement. But if you just realise that your dog is speaking to you through his tail, you’ll learn an awful lot of his lingo by just tail-watching. 

The skeleton all being connected, it’s impossible, of course, for the tail to go a particular way without affecting the whole body posture. A terrier standing with tail stiff and erect will also have a stiff and erect body, stiff face, closed mouth, and unblinking eyes. A spaniel in full pleasurable wiggle will have trouble keeping any part of himself still - he’ll stay close to the ground, wriggling in a blur.

And a gundog on point will do just that - stand as still as a statue, every fibre pointing towards his prey, foreleg poised, neck stretched forward, tail stretching straight back: one big arrow pointing at the bird.

So you need to look at the whole dog when you decide whether this dog is friendly or not. His body - and especially his tail - will tell you more than just a bland “He’s happy”.

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10 Tips for creating a great vet visit for your dog

Let’s face it, visiting the vet could feel to your dog like visiting the dentist feels to many of us!

Dragging an unwilling dog through the door, then trying to stop her panting, pacing, and barking at everything that moves, is stressful for both of you.

Your puppy’s first visits to the vet will have involved being stabbed with needles and possibly having things stuck up her nose or her bum or down her throat. If not carefully managed - giving your pup a reason to enjoy the visits - this can turn into a fear of the vet.

And if you have a rehomed dog, she may have had unfortunate experiences at the vets in the past. She may have been afraid and then punished for her fear.

If you can ensure your dog enjoys her visit to the vet, then life is going to be much easier on future visits - and, of course, that’s exactly what vets and their staff want too! It’s no fun for them to wrestle with a distressed dog when they need to examine and administer treatment fast.

The more relaxed your dog is, the easier it will be for the vet to examine, assess, and treat her. If your dog is injured in an accident, you want her to feel as comfortable as possible in order to recover quickly - not be stressed and terrified. You’ll already be distressed and upset yourself, and anxiety is very “catching”. If you know your dog is ok with vet visit procedures this will be one less thing to worry about.

So let’s look at a few things which will turn your vet visit into a happy adventure:

1. Be prepared

Take your dog’s mat or bed or some other kind of “security blanket” - perhaps a favourite cuddly toy - which will relax her. If this is a routine visit you can also take treats, chews, and food toys for her to enjoy on her mat. Take care that other dogs are at a safe distance where food is involved, just in case.

2. Party time - not

A vet visit is not a doggy social occasion! By all means, chat to the others in the waiting room. Just be sure your dog doesn’t join in the conversation. Take a place well away from the main door with all its frantic comings and goings.

3. Cats and rabbits in their cages

are already disorientated and apprehensive - they don’t need a big snuffly nose at their cage door, frightening the living daylights out of them!

4. Other dogs in the waiting room

Why are they there? They may be contagious, or hopping with parasites, so you don’t want any contact between your pet and them. Or they may be frightened, or in pain, and will not welcome attention from your dog (or, possibly, from you). If you’re in pain and someone starts badgering you, there’s a good chance you’ll snap at them! Dogs are no different. I have seen the unpleasant consequences of a puppy being allowed to jump up on such a dog. Keep your eye on your dog and your lead short, and don’t get distracted chatting to someone.

5. A long wait

If your appointment is delayed because the vet has an emergency - and the waiting room is heaving with miaowing, whining, squawking, and barking, customers - leave your mobile number with the receptionist and head off for a walk. There’s no need to spend twenty minutes working hard to keep your dog calm if it can be avoided.

6. Park your Dog

When you’re occupied with the staff - sorting your bill or getting instructions for your meds - a good place to put your dog is between your feet. Stand on the lead so he can’t wander off. 

7. Take your time

You can ask to bring your fearful dog in at the beginning or the end of surgery times and possibly through a back entrance, avoiding the Waiting Room altogether. When my fearful dog Lacy had to go in for surgery, I requested to stay with her till she had become drowsy. We had a darkened room to ourselves where I read a book while soothing my anxious dog on her mat. By the time the vet nurse led her away she remarked that Lacy was calmer than most “ordinary” dogs. If your vet is really unsympathetic (this is unusual if you’ve explained things in a non-demanding way) you can vote with your feet and find a vet more suited to caring for your dog.

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8. A Greeting? Or an Assault?

Imagine you’re going to visit that dentist. You are standing in reception when the dentist reaches into your mouth and starts poking about inside it. Your reaction? Horror! You need to give someone permission to manhandle you, and when we accept the dentist’s invitation to sit in The Chair, we are giving that permission. In the same way, you can lift your dog onto the examination table for the vet to attend to him, rather than the vet approach him when he’s standing on the floor, turning what the dog thought was going to be a greeting into what seems like an assault. If your dog is large you can ask him to step up onto a chair then onto the table. Involving the patient in the treatment will lessen the stress considerably.

9. Safety first

If you know that your dog is very nervous and given to panic, train her to accept a basket muzzle beforehand. If the vet staff have reason to believe they are going to get bitten, then naturally they will need to muzzle your dog. How much easier if your dog already associates the muzzle with treats and good experiences, and you put the muzzle on her yourself!

10. There is a place for a social visit!

The Vets has a very strong, characteristic smell. You need to associate that smell with good things. Visiting the waiting room on other occasions - when it’s quiet - your dog can have friendly and non-confrontational interactions with staff. Your dog might get some treats for sitting on the scales so you can track her weight, or simply have the chance to snuffle about and learn that the distinctive smell of the vets is just part of life and not doom-laden. In my experience this is something that vet staff welcome. One vet told me, “I wish all my clients did this!” They do not relish having to fight with distressed and panicky dogs who may end up biting! It’s in everyone’s interest for your dog to enjoy vet visits.

Every time we take our dog to the vet we need to be thinking of the next visit. Having a plan and a few props will help you to relax and enjoy the visit too.


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