shelter dog

When you change, your dog will change too

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I wrote recently about how a small change in your own mindset can trigger a dramatic change in your dog’s behaviour - without any “dog training” at all!

And I wanted to revisit this as it’s such an important - and little understood - part of the puzzle.

While we say “My dog is this, my dog does that,” it’s all about the dog. The dog is perceived as the problem. But the fact is that it’s the perception that is wrong!

Once people change their way of thinking and talking about their dog, they get massive change without having to do a thing.

Not only dogs …

As a child I was curious, questioning, always challenging what I was served up as gospel truth. So naturally, teachers didn’t like this and saw me as a threat (yes, even aged three …). So I was labelled “difficult”. I was the naughty child. 

This “knowledge” about me was passed on in reports and staff meetings, so that all new teachers were instantly brought up to speed with this troublemaker, instead of forming their own opinions from facts. The other children began to look to me for a response in new situations: I had a reputation to live up to! 

So my entire school life was coloured by a few instances in kindergarten and junior school - perpetuated despite the fact that I grew and changed. I came to believe these opinions myself. And then had to work through adulthood to shed this nonsense and develop my true self. (I can tell you that making prize-winning drawings and writing bestselling books was definitely not something those teachers foresaw for me!)

Back to dogs again

We have a much shorter time with our dogs - they simply don’t live long enough for us to spend years labelling them and predicting their poor behaviour based on our wrong assumptions.

And these wrong assumptions can creep into every corner of our lives with our dogs. 

Whenever you say “She always does this,” or “She never does that,” you are placing a permanent label on your dog. You are fixing in your mind that she cannot change, that she’s hardwired to behave in a certain way. 

Back to children - there’s a big difference between “You are an untidy child,” and “Your room is in a mess.” Or “You are a bad boy,” and “Was that a good thing to do?”

Focussing on the doing rather than the doer takes blame and finger-pointing out of the picture, leaving the way clear to solutions and change.

And while we look at the behavior rather than the perpetrator, we see that nothing could be further from the truth than the belief that your dog is hardwired to behave in a set fashion. It doesn’t matter how long your dog has been doing a certain thing - you can change it! 

  • She’s afraid of things? You can make her environment less scary while you countercondition her to better responses.

  • She’s boisterous and impulsive? You can teach impulse control and show her that she can get what she wants when she does what you want. There’s no need for confrontation, ordering about, “commanding”, having a battle over anything.

  • She annoys you by barking noisily, chewing the furniture, messing up the house? Manage! Train! Once you realise that these things are just what the dog IS DOING, and not what the dog IS, you can change it all.

Reactive dog, aggressive dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | It’s not the dog that has to change! Change your own mindset and change your dog!  | FREE EMAIL COURSE | #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy
Not on fighting the old
But on building the new


“Socrates” by Dan Millman


I learn a lot from my students, as well as from my dogs!

I’m delighted to watch my online students develop. The penny drops! They see where they have gone wrong in the past, not helped their dog. Sometimes they have unwittingly followed bad advice from the multitude of awful “trainers” and tv personalities out there, and actually made things worse.

But today is a new day! 

Tear off a new sheet!

Start from where you are and head forward!

It’s a joy seeing things improve for them without their needing extra gadgets, lockdown, extreme control.

They see that opposition is just as unhelpful in their relationship with their dog as it is in their relationship with a friend or spouse. Embracing their friend’s likes and dislikes is part of the friendship. Empathy for their fears and foibles is essential to a strong bond.

And a new life opens up for them with their dog, whom they can now view with different eyes. 

 

Check out this email course that will get you started on the change!

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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!

 

Want to make a start on this change?

Join our free 5 Day Video Mini-Course and change your dog by changing your mindset!

 

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

Reactive dog, aggressive dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | It’s not the dog that has to change! Change your own mindset and change your dog!  | FREE EMAIL COURSE | #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

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

So you want to rescue a dog? Read this first!

Reactive dog, rescue dog, aggressive dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | Has your rescue dog become very difficult when out? Read here how to get things running smoothly for both of you | FREE EMAIL COURSE | #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog, #rescuedog, #shelterdog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

You want to rescue a dog - give a home to a poor neglected beastie who’s had a bad start in life? Good for you! 

There are so many stories of spectacularly successful adoptions, where the dog fitted easily into her new home from Day 1, had few issues and was easy to train. 

But this isn’t by any means always the way it goes. So you need to go into this with your eyes open.

Different dogs, different folks ...

Do not allow sentiment to cloud your judgment! Most dogs up for rehoming (unless they’re very young puppies) come with baggage - of some sort or another. We all have baggage - life experiences that have formed our worldview - some good, some not so good. 

And not every dog is the perfect match for your life. Some will have been neglected; some will have been abused; some have lost an adoring owner through death or other catastrophe; some were just not given the right care. 

But they all have a history, good or bad. 

Same as you would, if suddenly transported to a new home where people do things differently. There’s scope for a lot of misunderstanding and confusion here - even which way you hold your knife and fork, or how to make coffee! So imagine how hard it can be for a dog to adapt to such a major change in his life.

Sometimes the dog settles into his new home seamlessly and easily, but sometimes this baggage takes a lot of work, some expense, and much dedication, to unpack. 

Love alone is not enough.

Backstory

Any reputable rehoming shelter will tell you the truth about your chosen pet. But sometimes they don’t know the truth themselves! If the dog was found straying there is no history attached. And a dog in even the best and kindest rescue centre can be completely shut down and depressed - or continually hyper and mad. Neither of these states will reveal the true dog. Only once your new dog has been in your home for as long as two or three months will you know what he’s really like, and what issues he may have. 

If I moved into your house, for example, at first I’d be saying “Is it alright if I sit here?” and “Where does this cup go?”. After a couple of months I’d be feeling at home and sitting where I liked and leaving cups any-old-where! This is when you’d see the natural me. So it is with your new dog!

“My dog was so quiet and easy, and now, two months on, he’s starting to steal things, bark, dig up the garden … what am I doing wrong?”

That's a fairly common question. My answer?

“Nothing! You’re doing it all right and your dog is making himself at home and behaving in a relaxed and natural manner and being a dog. Now the training begins in earnest.”

By the way, not all shelters are created equal. If you arrive at a place and it’s noisy, the dogs are all racing about their pens barking, showing repetitive behaviours like circling or jumping off the wall, and some dogs are lying deathly still and have completely opted out, then you will struggle to see what your selected dog is actually like in reality. Stress has taken over and made the original dog unrecognisable. It can take many weeks for this dog to unwind.

Think of those poor children in camps in war-torn countries: we would absolutely expect them to have substantial damage which would take many, many years to repair. Why do we assume a dog will just be fixed in an instant?

There are shelters with enlightened policies of taking in fewer dogs (though successfully rehoming more!), giving all dogs more space and distance, keeping things calm and quiet, not allowing public access to all the dogs - only the ones they select to offer a particular family. 

Check out these resources to locate a shelter which follows the latest guidance for giving rehomes the greatest chance of success:

www.nawt.org.uk/open-paw
www.openpaw.org

 

You may be working against a difficult history

Reactive dog, rescue dog, aggressive dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | Has your rescue dog become very difficult when out? Read here how to get things running smoothly for both of you | FREE EMAIL COURSE | #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog, #rescuedog, #shelterdog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

Keep in mind that if this dog were no trouble he may not have been abandoned by his owners. That’s not exonerating those owners - they should have thought before even getting a dog in the first place. Giving up on an animal through their own neglect and idleness is utterly wrong, and unfair. 

He may have developed habits through lack of adequate care or training, that caused his first owners to get rid of him.

•  Maybe he’d developed a habit of running off, because he was never taught a recall.  

•  Maybe he was left alone all day and chewed up the furniture. Not his fault, but this could be the reason he was thrown out. Or rehomed. So now you have to train recall and staying alone from scratch. Check out the articles here at brilliantfamilydog.com, the free e-course, and you can get started with this mini-course:

• Maybe he was never properly socialised as a puppy, and has a distorted view of strange dogs and people and things as a result. Here you’ll have an ongoing task - to help him cope with our world. And this is the one which may cost a lot of money and a lot of time, but which will repay you many times over in watching your dog change and develop and gain in confidence. Check out the resources for Growly Dogs, the free course and premium course

 

Love alone just isn’t enough

Love and nurturing will do a lot of healing, of course. But to deal with any difficult issues - such as inability to cope with the presence of other dogs on the planet without lunging, barking, or screaming, threatening to bite if approached, stealing and guarding stolen items ferociously - you need professional help. There’s no need to struggle on for months while the situation gets worse and worse and you regret your decision to get your dog! Get the help you need straight away. Once you understand why your dog is acting as he is, changing it becomes straightforward.

Finding a true force-free trainer is essential. Any aversive or coercive methods (shouting, throwing things, yanking the lead etc) will only compound the situation and make it far worse in the long run. You’ll find a list of useful organisations at the foot of this previous article

There are plenty of rehomed dogs who have turned into Brilliant Family Dogs! This may be by luck or by judgment, but is a great outcome. In my line of work I naturally tend to meet a lot of the rehomes that cause problems.

And I’m happy to be able to say that the situation can always be vastly improved. It’s a joy to see the dedication of the new owners as they work to rebuild their new dog’s shattered confidence.

Cast off the rose-tinted spectacles!

Matching a dog to your family is a delicate and difficult task. Be sure to remove your rose-tinted glasses before you make any decision. You and your family will be living with this dog for anything up to the next 15 years or so. The placement must be right for you and your dog, but also your children and your spouse too, not to mention your cat.

While you’re still looking for your perfect companion, do a bit of research into what you’ll need. Here’s your Action Step: While you can’t purchase a crate until you know your new dog’s size, you can certainly do your homework and narrow down the choice so you’re ready to get one as soon as you expect your dog to arrive with you. Don’t cut corners - go for the best and most robust that fits your budget. This crate is not for confining your dog to keep him under control - it’s to give him a safe haven where he gets all his meals and toys, which he’ll love, and which will help enormously with separation - both night-time and daytime absences. 

And don’t forget the essential training! You can’t expect your new dog - who may be very confused about what people want of him - to just know what you want. You have to teach him, step by step. And while some of those steps may feel uphill, most will be successful - if you follow a force-free training program. There are some excellent dog training classes around the world where the instructor is firmly grounded in force-free training, treating each animal as an individual (refer to that list above for umbrella organisations).

But if you’re in a force-free “black hole” and there’s no class around that you would countenance taking a dog flea to, never mind your precious new dog, take a look at the articles here at www.brilliantfamilydog.com

They follow the same style of teaching as my books, which have received over 150 5-star reviews from pet-owners, who enjoy their directness, simplicity, and effectiveness (and humour!). You may have a challenging new dog - but with a little help and support you can turn him into your perfect pet.

Happy hunting for your new companion, and may you be one of the great rehoming success stories! 

 

 

 

If your new dog is struggling to adapt to life in our world, join our free 5 Day Video Mini-course.

You'll learn new skills that will help with any dog!

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I'm not spending good money on a DOG!

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“We want a dog, but our commitment is weak. So we’ll just put our toe in the water and save some money while we’re about it.”

“So we’ll get a rescue dog, or a puppy from a farm - not paying all that money for a pedigree dog! And if it doesn’t work out, you can just take it back to the shelter, right?”

“Did you know you can get dog food for £10 a bag at Rubbish For Pets! Have you seen how much that other stuff costs?”

“Classes? No! I’ll teach him what’s what.”

“I’m not paying good money for a collar. This one from the market will do.”

 

Your dog doesn’t know how much he cost

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When you get a dog, you’ll soon find out that things cost the same whether you have a pedigree or a mutt. They have the same size stomach, the same basic needs, the same hunger to learn and fit in.

 

  • Vet care costs the same - vaccinations, worming, operations - the only difference is the weight of the dog for medications - the bigger the dog, the bigger the bill.

 

  • The advantage of a pedigree dog is that you can choose an accredited breeder who does endless, expensive, health-tests, and know that your dog is as healthy as can be and has had the best start possible. You’ll have an idea of what temperament you’re likely to get (though your puppy is an individual and can still surprise you!). The vet bills will start mounting alarmingly when genetic defects like Hip Dysplasia and skin problems appear.

 

  • Of course you can find nicely-reared pet dogs, but you need to know where to look and what to look for … bit of a minefield for the unwary.

 

  • Pups reared in a shed can have HUGE problems adapting to life in the real world. You may need professional help.

 

  • Rescue dogs can come with baggage. There may be a very valid reason why they were abandoned (not forgivable, but valid nonetheless). That’s fine if you have the will and the dedication to work through it all, as so many good people do. But be aware: it could get expensive.

 

  • If you’re sued because your dog causes an accident or an injury, the lawyers won’t care where the dog came from.

 

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  • And as for food - the better you care for your dog, the fitter and happier he’ll be. Many people don’t realise that behavioural problems can be exacerbated by a poor diet just as badly as the obvious physical problems - like joint pain, digestive issues, skin problems. Aim for the best food you can afford - it’ll pay you back in the long run through hugely reduced vets’ bills! Check here to find out what you should be feeding and why, and how to get the best price.

 

  • Training - you need to source a force-free trainer who uses the latest methods based on scientific research. This is a good starting place to look for UK readers. And here for USA readers. Unless you do a lot of study yourself, you’re likely to fall back on outdated methods from the (happily buried) past that can cause more harm than good. A really good puppy class will show you how to understand your dog and set you up for a lifetime of fun together. If you’ve never experienced an up-to-date, force-free training school you’ll be amazed at what happens in these classes!

 

  • Cheap collars and leads? A motorbiking friend of mine used to say “If you’ve got a £5 head get a £5 helmet.” That collar’s not very cheap if it snaps on the main road and an accident ensues …

 

Can you commit?

Getting a dog is a big commitment. You are pledging to share your home with this animal for the next 12-15 years. Trying to cut corners and save money is shooting yourself in the foot. The savings indicated above are truly false economies. It costs money to look after an animal properly so you may as well pay upfront and get it over with, rather than paying piecemeal for the rest of the dog’s life.

Show your pet the same respect as you show anyone else you share your home with.

 

Time, like fresh air, is free.

 

And if you really can’t bear to pay for a decent puppy class (or there isn’t one near you) get started with our free 8-part email course: 

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