Hooray for change for your dog! Discard the old labels

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I just had the amazing experience of working with over a thousand people in my 5 Day online Workshop for Growly Dogs

And as ever, I learnt as much as my students did! Only perhaps in different ways. 

These were people who had got a dog in the hope of having a companion they could take anywhere - on country walks, visits to friends and cafes, perhaps as an agility star - and what they got was something very different.

They found themselves dealing with a dog who was naturally shy and fearful, or who had had bad learning experiences which coloured his reactions to anything new or different. These dogs continually perplexed their devoted owners, who were doing their best in trying circumstances.
So I was happy to be able to give them some practical advice, along with some thoughts on changing their mindset to help them.

What I learnt was that these people were selfless in their dedication to helping the dog that they got. Not perhaps the dog they had anticipated. But they set themselves to the task of helping this new person in their life with admirable tenacity, continually searching for better answers. And these better answers were what I aimed to give them!


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How will changing my mindset change my reactive dog?

For many, just changing how they thought of their dog made a huge difference in their dog’s behaviour! 

Crazy, eh? But true. 

If you continually refer to your dog as a rescue dog, a problem dog, a difficult dog, trouble, a nuisance, stubborn, you are giving yourself an excuse to fail.

Once you accept that this dog’s history is just that - history, and that he is now your dog, you have to take responsibility for the situation and make some change happen!

The renowned Veterinary Behaviourist Karen Overall says: 

“What we call something matters
because it shapes how we think of it.”

That is SO true! And it’s what many of the Workshoppers found! Changing how they described their dog changed their own perception - and produced some surprising results. 

I’d add to this my own saw:

What you expect is what you get

If you call your dog difficult, annoying, troublesome, a rescue .. You are expecting her to behave in that way. And guess what? She will. Once these students changed their way of seeing their dog, the dog miraculously improved!

Of course this goes for children, spouses and work colleagues too. We are very quick to attribute thoughts and motives to other people. Slow down and question that! And get rid of those labels!

How many of us grew up thinking we were “no good at maths” - or art, or music - because of the careless remark of a teacher in infant school? Perhaps we’ve spent our whole life believing an opinion made in a moment when we were 5 years old! Once we get a label we find it hard to see past it, whether it's on ourselves or someone or thing that we’ve labelled. 

And this applies to your dog just as much as to you. If you think you’re no good at maths because someone once said this, then saying “We can’t walk past another dog without an outburst” is going to result in … yes! an outburst, every time!

It’s not about the dog

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So many of the students in the Workshop had positive results, and were proudly posting of their successes, that I realised that this is a big hole in the approach that many people take to dog training. 

They think it’s about making the dog change.

Whereas, in fact, it’s you that has to change!

The added bonus here is that as you remove the labels from your dog, you begin to see her in a new light. You start with a clean slate - just you and your dog. Now you can build that bond so that you know just where you are together - no doubts, no misgivings, no apologies, no blame.

Try it. 

Spend today blitzing your mind for those labels and removing them. Speak and think of your dog as … your dog. Think of the good things that she does, the moments of joy she gives you, and describe her as those instead. 

Expect only the best from her, and you’ll start to get it.





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for making change with your shy, fearful, anxious, reactive, aggressive - Growly - dog

Give your dog an instant safe haven on walks

This post of mine first appeared on and is reprinted here with permission. More than two thousand readers liked it enough to share it on Facebook. So I thought you'd like to see it too!

We’ve all seen a small child clinging to Mom’s neck while he safely views the world from under her hair.

A little puppy has the same need for a safe haven.

You may have seen your own puppy hurtle in from the garden when there’s an alarming noise, and dive into her bed. Plunging into the den at speed is an important instinctive survival mechanism for vulnerable pups.

Gradually your whole home will become a safe haven for your dog, a place she can always feel comfortable and relaxed.

But what about when you’re out and about?

A Safe Haven in the Big Bad World

For a puppy, your safe haven will be between your feet. You should always protect your puppy from incursions from other eager puppies or dogs (or children, shopkeepers, parades with oompahs, sheep, noisy trucks …). If she backs herself between your feet she needs reassurance that she can safely watch the world from there.

Don’t worry - she’ll come out in her own good time, as she gains the confidence you can give her. Forcing her to confront her fears will only make them stronger, so give her time.

Quite a few puppies start puppy classes from under their owner’s chair! That’s fine, if that’s what makes them feel less vulnerable. By week 2 or 3 those same puppies are out and about exploring. Letting the pup choose when to venture forth is key.

All Grown Up

But once your dog is grown and bigger, what do you do?

You’re walking your dog on a leash and something appears that worries her. Now for many dogs a quick glance and appraisal of the situation is enough, and on you go.

But what if your dog is fearful or reactive? A dog who is always surprised by anything new appearing in her environment, and whose first response is often to bark to get it to go away?

If that’s your dog, then you need to know that with a reactive dog, Distance is your Friend. The first thing you need to do is get further away from whatever it is that’s alarming her (big dog? paper bag? person talking on their phone?).

But sometimes that’s not so easy!

If you’re walking on the street and someone approaches you with cries of “Oh what a lovely dog!” “Hallo doggie doggie!” “Dogs like me!” etc, you need something quicker - and perhaps more socially acceptable! - than turning on your heel and walking smartly away.

Distance, Close Up

Here are some actions I’ve found helpful for Lacy - a very pretty dog who attracts attention, but doesn’t want it!

1. Talk to the hand! As someone is approaching and just ready to dive on Lacy, I step side-on in front of her, hold up my hand like a traffic cop, and say “Hang on!” This normally brings the approaching hazard to a full stop and gives me time to organise the next step.

2. Carwash

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This is where Lacy runs back round my right leg and dives between my legs from behind. She’s now sitting in her safe haven between my feet. I can squeeze my legs softly on her shoulders to make her feel more secure. She’ll often put herself there if worried, without me having to say “Carwash!”

There are three huge advantages to this position.

•    One is that as Lacy goes round my leg her leash is now behind that leg. So even if the “oncoming hazard” still bends over, she can’t lunge forward to intercept them.

•    But this second one’s a winner: Very few people are going to make so bold as to bend over right in your personal space and reach down between your legs to touch your dog! Success!

•    And the third one is to lighten the social mood a little. Once Lacy is in Carwash, I can lift my hand in greeting saying, “Say Hi!” Lacy will lift her paw in a big high five swipe.

So she’s still “said hello” to the persistent hazard, without having had to risk her life by emerging from her safe haven.

I can hear some of you mumbling … if your dog is very large and you are not - what can you do? You don’t want to end up astride your dog!

Try a simple Get Behind. Send your dog round you so that, again, your leash is behind your legs, and your dog is peeping out by your hip. If your oncoming nuisance is unusually persistent, you can move slightly to body block them. Eventually they’ll get the message that they’re welcome to chat to you, but not to your dog, who has taken a vow of silence when it comes to strangers.

But All Dogs Love People: Really?

There’s a lot of social pressure on us to have a dog that conforms to the popular view that all dogs are friendly and welcome cuddles. But, of course, like people, some just “want to be alone”.

It’s not our dog’s job to provide cuddles and dogginess to the general population. In the same way that strangers don’t reach down and scoop your baby up from his stroller saying “I love babies!” - imagine! - they also don’t have the right to touch your dog without permission from you (and her).

If your dog likes nothing more than chatting to new people, then go for it, and enjoy her enjoyment. But if your dog is shy, allow her to retire to her safe haven without having to interact with scary strangers.

She’ll thank you for it.

Have you found a good strategy for keeping your scaredy-dog calm? Let us know in the Comments below!

And for more ideas for helping your anxious dog, get your free e-course My Dog Doesn’t Like Other Dogs: How to Stop the Barking and Lunging


Want to really understand why your dog does what he does? And learn quickly how to change it?

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 A safe haven for your dog when out
 A safe haven for your dog when out