Ian Dunbar (Veterinarian, Behaviourist and Trainer) asked other trainers and behaviourists, what was the most common mistake people made when getting a puppy. The results probably aren’t that surprising, but I think worth talking about.
Firstly – unrealistic expectations. People getting a puppy really had no idea how much time, energy and money would be needed. Puppies require a huge lifestyle change to most and this is not something people really understand or expect.
Another finding was that a puppy may have been the wrong choice for some people/families and that an older rescue dog would have fitted them so much better.
Thirdly – people were choosing the wrong breed or type of dog usually because people choose for looks rather than understanding what different breeds need or what they were bred for. On a similar theme, it was reported that getting a pup from a ‘bad’ breeder that didn’t raise the puppy well, really did set the new owner up for failure. So again, lack of research before getting the puppy.
And finally, that most people didn’t take time to do appropriate training and socialisation to raise a well-adjusted dog. This will take the first year being very proactive, and actually training is a constant, continuing requirement throughout the dog’s life.
So what do you think? Do you agree with these findings?
In my experience of working with dogs for over 20 years, I think the issues still remain the same, which actually makes me very sad. It’s so important to spend time researching before you get your pup. Find some people with the breed you are interested in and ask questions, talk to several breeders, ask yourself if you really have the time, energy and money to give to this pup. Is a puppy actually the right choice? If you consider a rescue dog from a good reputable charity, they will tell you all about the dog, what it’s behaviour and temperament is, and they will be able to find you a dog to match your requirements.
Please understand I am writing this post without judgement, but to spread knowledge and asking people to really take time and careful consideration as to whether adding a dog to your family really is the right thing for you and the dog.
I bet you have heard there are no bad dogs just bad owners? Well, I would like to say that I don’t agree with this. I don’t mean that dog are ‘bad’ it’s just that puts so much pressure on pet parents that if their dog is ‘misbehaving’ then it must be their fault!
I meet so many wonderful dog owners who tell me how much time and effort they have spent training and caring for their dog, but it’s just not going to plan. Their dog is running off or barking at people or growling at them when they try to take something off them to name a few. They tell me how they love their dog, but they just find it so overwhelming and there is so much conflicting advice online they don’t know where to start.
These owners who are struggling with their dog’s behaviour are not ‘bad’ people, they are often struggling themselves.
When you have a dog that isn’t behaving as you wish, then your whole life can be impacted. Where you can walk your dog, can you take them with you or is it easier to leave them at home, or is leaving them actually an issue. The fear of meeting another dog owner when their dog isn’t under control totally ruin your day. All the emotions come to the surface: fear, anger, frustration, embarrassment and guilt and this is all caused by your beloved best friend.
How can this dog that you love and be committed to giving him the best life be causing you so much stress?
I totally understand people wanting a quick fix. They turn to TV programmes or the internet and come across people using methods that looks like they work within hours. Why would that not be tempting; if professionals are doing it, it must be ok?
To change your dog’s behaviour without causing fear, intimidation and damaging your relationship you must step away from punishment-based training – those quick fixes. Lead jerks, verbal corrections, poking, using choke chains or prong collars (look them up if you don’t know what they are, and yes they are legal!!!) shock collars, aerosols cans, citronella collars etc etc.
I know you love your dog and want the best for them, so please take the time and patience to work with them to get to the end goal behaviour that you want.
To put it in context, have you ever tried to change your behaviour? To cut out chocolate? Stop smoking? Go to the gym every day? If you have, then you know how hard it can be to change any behaviour. Would you prefer to have a support team to help and guide you along the way or have someone ‘correcting’ you when you get it wrong? Find a trainer that is going to help and support you all the way and you will be so happy with your results.
For a list of recommended trainers see website https://abtc.org.uk/
PS I have a blog on my website if you want more Paws4thoughts!
Last May I completed a 50k running challenge. I walk lots of miles but very rarely run so, this was a challenge for me. During this month my left calf would become very tight and quite painful when I was running. However, I didn’t really worry about it, and just had a few days rest and got back to running again to complete the challenge. Over the next few months when I did a longer walk, my calf would again feel tight and slightly uncomfortable, but wouldn’t stop me enjoying my walk with my dogs.
Fast forward another few months and my back has started to hurt. Not enough to stop me doing anything, but definitely getting uncomfortable especially at night-time. Now I really like my sleep, so this was my trigger to go and get a sports massage to get some help.
So yesterday I had my first sports massage and you guessed it – it was my calves that were still very tight, and this was causing me to overcompensate and therefore my back was now taking all the strain. From something that started May last year, I am now in a worse position because I ignored it.
Why am I talking about my back? Well, it really got me thinking about dogs and pain. For those that work with me, you know I talk about pain often as a major cause of a change of behaviour in your dog. I was watching my dogs run around on our morning walk. They run fast, spin, twist, jump and sometimes slip (in all this lovely mud!). So why wouldn’t they pick up sprains and tweaks such like us? They certainly don’t slow down and rest. They are nearly always ready for the next walk, ball game or training session. Dogs are masters of hiding pain – why would they show it? Doesn’t make sense from an evolutionary viewpoint.
We therefore need to look out for other signs that might show pain as a possibility. Any change of behaviour requires a vet check. Anything such as becoming less tolerant of other dogs approaching them, become fearful over sudden noises or being ‘grumpy’ in the evening or not wanting to move from their resting spot. All these issues signal you should get help from a professional. It doesn’t matter what age your dog is, don’t think ‘oh they are just getting stiff in their old age’. Your vet can refer you to physiotherapist or canine massage therapist where they can do a full 'mot' and give them a thorough check up.
My dogs have regular physio and massage because I want them to be 100% fit and well if I am going to ask them to compete. However, I would love to see all dog owners think that having your dog checked as part of something they do regularly just like using flea/worm treatments and boosters.
I’m going to need another treatment to get me sound again, so just think about how active your dog is and that they might need some extra support too.
PS Did you know ball chasing is a huge no no when it comes to exercising your dog? Sprinting and stopping repetitively is so harmful for your dogs’ hips and joints. I wish I didn’t see all these dogs walkers with their ball chuckers – it really does make me sad as I know how damaging it can be.
Having a ‘teenager’ is tough. I don’t care how many dogs you’ve had or how much time you put into your puppy training and socialisation skills – everyone (yes me too) has challenges to deal with during adolescence. If you can accept that, then the journey is going to be so much more enjoyable.
Why do we beat ourselves up with the ‘I should have done’ or ‘why didn’t I do that’ or ‘I should have spent more time’ etc etc. The guilt we put upon ourselves just doesn’t help and in fact probably stops progress. We send so much time focusing on the ‘what if’s’ that we don’t focus on working through the problem.
Anywhere from 5 months up your dog will go through their adolescence period. This could mean challenges such as: being destructive, hyperarousal, reactivity (barking/lunging), prey drive, guarding, forgetting even the simplest cues and becoming the over the top, over social dog that must go and see every dog and person in the park! Does that sound familiar?
Do you remember going through your teenage years? Everything is changing. Body, brain, hormones are raging, and nothing makes sense. It’s time to explore the world but then fear kicks in and it’s too overwhelming.
Do you remember? It’s tough. It takes time. It takes patience.
This is the time that you will definitely question whether getting a dog was a smart choice. It all just feels too hard.
I am here to tell you it’s all normal. It’s all ok. This is a phase that I really want to give you permission to have days where you just except that your dog doesn’t know what sit means and their manners have totally disappeared. To give yourself a day off to not focus on the really long list of skills your dog still needs to learn. Stop, look, enjoy the now larger fluff ball that you are sharing your life with. Understand that not everyday needs to be a school day. Find out what they love to do and get involved. Focus on managing their environment so that they cannot rehearse the behaviour you don’t want them to do.
Dr Susan Friedman said “control the environment not the animal”. I love this because we can control the environment with planning. One of my go to sayings is “don’t set your dog up to fail”. If you know it might go wrong, why are you doing it? Traditional punishment training mindset tells us that we must focus on controlling the individual, but actually we need to focus on the conditions where the behaviour occurs. We can help our dogs learn by making the behaviours we want from them easy to achieve and therefore reward them for those choices. Thus making that ‘good’ behaviour choice more likely next time.
The good – it does get better
The bad – it’s going to take time and patience and a good sense of humour to survive
The Ugly – every dog will have their own challenges (but they can all be worked through)
I hope that has given you at least a little peace of mind today.
If you do want any support, please get in touch.
Have you ever seen a dog pick up an object, glance at you and run away? What do you think they are doing here? It might be their way of instigating a game with you, trying to get your attention or does it show that they have started to worry that you might try and take their ‘precious’ find as they feel the need to move away from you?
If it’s the latter, then may I encourage you to start working through this potential problem. Resource guarding is a totally natural dog behaviour. Why wouldn’t they protect and guard something they find valuable? Doesn’t matter if you are a dog or a person. Food, toys, socks or even a piece of litter they have just come across. Gundogs in particular have been bred to pick up and hold onto objects, so although all breeds can resource guard, some breeds are more predisposed to it.
I understand why you feel the need to take the item off your dog. It’s your sock and you don’t want it chewed; it’s the TV remove control and that is expensive; it’s a stone and therefore might be dangerous if swallowed. There are many ‘human’ reasons why you take the item from your dog’s mouth. However, that is human logic and not canine. Canine logic is ‘finder’s keepers’! If they found it, it’s theirs. When we take it from them you are teaching them you are a thief! You are the one that steals – and there you were thinking your dog was the one that always steals things!
You have given your dog 3 options:
All of these responses are not what we want from our dogs, but we have to accept that this behaviour is usually made so much worse by our lack of knowledge of how to read our dogs behaviour and that we need to understand their motives.
Let’s talk body language. One of my favourite topics and I will only go into some basics here. In short, it’s our responsibility that if we want to share our lives with our dogs, we must learn how they communicate with us and learn to understand them.
Signs that your dog is feeling uncomfortable are:
Freezing: your dog is very still, possibly crouching down and very stiff.
Whale eye: you can see the whites of your dog’s eye looking at you. Usually whilst they are freezing.
Growling: maybe an obvious one, but if your dog is doing a low growl, then they are very clearly saying, back away, I am worried.
Snarling: lifting their lips and showing their teeth.
Biting: using their teeth is the last step on the aggression ladder. The final step. The other steps haven’t worked and therefore there is no other choice.
When you see your dog communicating that they are uncomfortable please listen. We don’t want them to have to progress to using their teeth. No one wants that. If you have children at home, can you see how easy this situation could lead to a bite? However our responses to them showing any guarding behaviour are usually to punish them as they are ‘misbehaving’ so we remove the item they are guarding as a consequence of this unacceptable behaviour.
Please stop. Think. From your dog’s perspective, what has just happened?
They felt uncomfortable with your presence, they tried to communicate to you to ‘please stop, please move away’ but we didn’t listen. The thing they were worried about happened – they lost their precious ‘find’. The learning occurring here is that you are a thief, you are threatening and therefore next time they find your slipper or TV controller they won’t give any low-level communication such as freezing or growling, they will have to defend with their teeth.
Can you see how this is actually just a miscommunication? Your dog is doing their very best to say that they aren’t ok. However, we don’t listen. We actually can make it much worse as we take away their special prize.
Take time to train your dog to understand drop and leave cues. Use reward-based training so show them that they don’t need to feel threatened and can then happily respond to your requests of drop or leave. Take time to show them that when you approach them when they have food, toys or anything else, that they don’t need to protect this item. Sharing is a human concept that dogs don’t understand. Dogs are scavengers so very likely to want to pick up lots of items, so it’s our responsibility to train so dangerous situations do not arise.
The joy of social media is that they are always promoting the quick fix or the fastest way to solve a problem with the least amount of effort. Now don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t want to get the quickest results with the least amount of effort? I think most would put their hands up for that. However, when it comes to dog training or modifying behaviour, I want you to be very aware that most quick fixes will involve fear, anxiety and even pain.
I was watching some before and after training videos from another trainers Facebook page, of a young spaniel that pulled on its lead. The owner was struggling to hold onto him as he excitedly pulled up the road. The next video, which said was 20 minutes later, showed the young dog no longer pulling on lead, the owner looked like she was having a much nicer time BUT the body language the dog was displaying actually made me cry. He was totally submissive he had lost his bounce and joy and was looking very anxious and showed many stress signs. I don’t know what the ‘trainer’ did to this dog to get this behaviour, and yes, the results are what the owner wanted however I truly believe the price the dog paid was too high. The damage to the relationship between the dog and owner has taken a huge hit and caused severe damage. I also believe the owner really didn’t understand what damage this sort of training can do. Why would they question it – they had hired a professional?
Reward based training is just as it says. You use rewards such as food, toys, praise etc to motivate the dog so that they will do the behaviour that you want from them. I am totally happy to reward my dog for them to do what I need from them. To build a relationship of trust, to spend time understanding my dog and what their needs are. This isn’t about ‘cheese pushing’ as sometimes reward based trainers are called – this is science. Proven to work for all animals.
Have you considered that most behaviours we want from our dogs are for our benefit and not theirs? Come back when we call; from their point of view, we are actually ruining their chase game. Walking nicely on lead; we walk so slowly, and they want to get to the park to investigate all the new sniffs, why would they not pull all the way? Don’t bark at other dogs; what if barking makes them feel safer as the other dog goes away? Don’t raid the bin; dogs are scavengers, so why wouldn’t they eat anything they have access to? This doesn’t mean all these skills cannot be taught, and behaviours modified, but it does take time and practise so they can learn.
Can you imagine if you did something that you thought was fun and perfectly natural, but you got punished for it? No explanation. Just got shouted at or jerked by a lead or other equipment that causes pain. Each time you did that behaviour you received a negative consequence when it happened. Would you learn to stop doing it? Yes, probably, over time, however, wouldn’t it be preferable to be taught with kindness? To be shown what was expected of you, and be rewarded when you did it right and the environment set up so that you couldn’t fail?
Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or behaviourist. The industry isn’t regulated. Please be careful when choosing someone to help you. If you are looking for someone, then please use the ABTC website which lists all trainers around the country. These people have to be a member of certain organisations where they have been assessed and use positive, up to date, training methods. https://abtc.org.uk/
Having a dog is a privilege, to share your lives together. Make sure your journey together is one of fun, love and understanding.
The Teenage stage!!!
Do you have an adolescent dog? How are you getting on? Hard work right? Hallie has just turned 1 year, and she is certainly giving me days where my patience is fully tested! Did you know that the majority of dogs are given into rehoming centres at this age? If you have one, then you’ll understand why.
It feels like they are testing all the boundaries, forgotten their name, have developed selective hearing, huge amounts of energy, lost the ability to relax, excessive barking, chasing wildlife, stealing food and even some aggression.
Puberty is rough! *good news – this is a phase*
I do think this phase as a make-or-break time it in your relationship. It’s easy to lean towards using punishment in pure desperation. Shouting “No”, scolding “naughty dog”, or even hitting or shaking. However, these approaches will not resolve the problems you are having and will damage the relationship you have with your dog. Research shows that the more secure relationship you have with your dog, the easier you will get through this period. This is a time to show compassion, understanding and help your dog learn the behaviours you want from them.
Focus on setting your dog up for success. Do they need to be on lead when your guests come round? Do they need more chill time in their quiet area or crate? Do you need to use a long line when out on walks? If your dog is making mistakes, then ask yourself “can I set that up better next time?”. Manage your dog and set them up for getting it right.
Enrichment is key. Don’t try to tire them out with lots of long walks and ball throwing. This will actually make them ‘higher’ and have more energy. You want to focus on a mentally satisfied dog. Nose games are brilliant; get them searching for their dinner around the garden or use snuffle mats or slow feeders. Don’t feed them from their bowel, get them working for it. Do some training games, teach some tricks, spend your time capturing all their ‘good’ choices and reward them for it. Most importantly set them up for success.
You will have good days, bad days, some horrible days, but remember, you will get through it. It is a phase (just wanted to remind you again) and if you can focus on your relationship with your dog, then you will both get to the other end with a best friend 😊
What do you think your dog must know?
When you are training your dog, the list seems endless at to what they ‘should’ know. They must: recall, walk nicely on lead, stay, not jump on guests, not roll in poo, be happy on their own, not chew the furniture and know all the human rules such as don’t use your teeth or wee indoors etc etc.
When I am training my dogs, I try to make sure I remember that they have no concept of what is on my ‘should know’ list. They have no concept of right and wrong, they only know what I have shown them. Actually, that’s not true – they know how to be a dog! However, most of those behaviours don’t fit in our view of the perfect dog. Dog behaviours such as barking, jumping up, chasing rabbits, digging, eating just about anything – you can see these aren’t really inline with our ‘should’ list.
If you were suddenly transported to an alien world where no one spoke your language and all the rules didn’t make sense – how would you cope? Would you shut down? Would you fight for your right to ‘act’ a certain way? Would you try to follow others and see how to behave? Or run away? I know that may seem a little extreme as an example, but our dogs don’t understand human rules and I think sometimes they can really struggle with trying to understand.
I would like to encourage you today to think what is on your ‘should know’ list for your dog and see if you have actually spent time showing them how you want them to behave? Or are you just hoping they will just ‘know’?
Why don’t you spend 10 minutes today focusing on one skill that you want to improve and get started on your ‘should’ list.
There is definitely an increase in dog ownership, and I can see why. People were at home more and maybe saw this as a perfect opportunity to add a new addition to the family whereas usually they would be working away too much to consider it. We started focusing on home life more and maybe started walking around our neighbourhood and thought a dog would be a perfect addition to this ‘new lifestyle’ Rescue centres closed and therefore the dogs that are coming over from Europe were the only option for some if they wanted an older dog or didn’t want to pay the sometimes very high puppy prices.
So, with lots of new dogs around, it has got me wondering, what do we expect from our dogs?
This is not from a judgemental place – I got a puppy last year, so I added to my family too – but I do think that people are expecting dogs to adjust to our next ‘new normal’ without actually spending time training the dogs how to cope.
If you now need to go back to the office, this cannot be a surprise (although the timing of when is always up in the air) so time needed to be spent getting the dog used to time alone or finding a dog walker that they are comfortable with. Teaching your dog to settle in the park to get them ready for when we go back to the pub and want a polite pub dog! Having visitors in the house is something no one can have worked on (something I am personally now working through as Hallie loves to jump on visitors!) but in every other scenario it has been possible to practise and get our dogs ready for what will be expected of them in the future.
Lots of people tell me they were unable to ‘socialise’ their dogs properly due to lockdown??? This has really got me confused…other than the very first month of lockdown last March, we were able to travel within our local area and therefore our dogs were able to go to different locations, see different places and people. They were able to see other dogs and explore towns and countryside alike. Places likes garden centres were open so could walk around those and experience lots of people and some dogs too. Parks were definitely a busy social location. Socialisation isn’t about being hugged by lots of strangers and mugging other dogs; it’s about being around these experiences and accepting them as part of their world. To build confidence. This was all possible during lockdown, it would have just taken some thought and planning to generate.
If you are reading this and feeling that actually you didn’t perhaps do enough training and actually you do want your dog to have more skills and therefore can meet the expectations you have, then there is good news – your dog can learn the skills you need from them – you just need to get started. Find a good trainer to help you and just take that step. Every dog is different so even if you’ve had dogs before, there is nothing wrong with getting some support and guidance.
Dogs are amazing and definitely can make life better and bring joy and happiness. However, they can also cause stress, family conflicts and lack of sleep if they aren’t fitting in with our expectations.
I feel it is our responsibility to spend time to train our dogs, to show them what we need from them, to have realistic expectations of what is possible at this point in time and continue to learn together so that we can both have a brilliant life.
PS photo of my Cuba & Bria preparing for the worse last year when we were in full lockdown!
2021 hasn’t started how any of us wanted it to! Whether you are now home schooling, working more shifts or actually you have no work at all. Lockdown impacts everyone.
All I can say is I am so grateful for my dogs!
My dogs bring me joy, they make me laugh, they get me out of the house every day and definitely provide me with comfort and companionship.
If you have a puppy or young dog (I have a 19 week old puppy), I think this lockdown is causing some more worry about being able to appropriately socialise them and continue their socialisation process during adolescence.
I want to give some reassurance – you don’t need to go to puppy classes to socialise your pup!!!! What!!! I run puppy classes, so why would I say this???
Yes, I run practical groups for puppy owners, however these are an extra, fun element to the whole programme. If puppy classes just allow lots of free play, then this is not actually teaching your puppy anything good! They are either learning that every dog wants to play with them or teaches them to be overly bouncy or maybe even to become fearful because they feel overwhelmed. Puppy classes must be very carefully managed where there are off lead interactions.
So, without the option of attending group classes (who knows how long this lockdown will last) what can we do to make sure our pups are going to be ok?
Make a list! I love a list and I want to encourage you to make your own. I start my list with things I want my adult dog to be good at e.g. confident around livestock, traffic, children, noises etc. I want to be able to take my dog everywhere with me so I make sure I go to lots of different places so they can experience these. Travelling in the car. Being comfortable at the vets and being groomed. Happy around other dogs. Your list might include having other animals at home or attending shows. I want to encourage you to think about all the different skills you want your dog to be good at. This will then focus your time on getting your pup confident and working towards the adult dog you are wanting. Lockdown doesn’t have to stop any of these activities, all can be done on your daily exercise.
I have free resources to help you on my website: A puppy socialisation checklist and The First 7 days (this will help for rehomed dogs too).
There is also a guide to help get your dog through lockdown.
The Pawsome Puppy Programme is still open, and this is where you can learn everything you need to raise that perfect puppy! So, if you are worried and want to make sure you are doing everything right, then get in touch 😊
Keep safe everyone