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
What is it with human nature that we try to hide away from our problems rather than stepping up and dealing with them? We deny there is an issue and pretend everything is fine. We let the problem fester and get worse which leads to stress, anxiety and feelings of guilt as we keep hitting ourselves with the fact we should know how to handle this on our own. As an adult, we should just know how to deal with it by now shouldn’t me?
Why is the above statement so controversial?
We have had Alfie, a 6-month-old Cavapoo staying for the last week. He is training to be an assistance dog for a 12-year-old boy with Autism (Dogs for Autism charity). I have been helping the family train him since he arrived, and he came to us for a holiday.
He hadn’t met my dogs before so that was the first job. Asking your existing dogs to accept a new dog in the house should be done carefully. Doesn’t matter how well mannered and friendly your dog is, having someone come to stay is different to meeting them up the park. So, we met in a field, Alfie on a long line, and let them do a short walk together. Lots of sniffing and not too much bouncing (from Alfie) and all went well – he was in the club! Cuba unsurprisingly accepted him; Bria took a few days to be totally comfortable with a bouncing pup.
Bria is now 3 and we got her at 9 months and Cuba is now 5, so it was a long time since we’ve had a puppy. Having a puppy in the house needs planning. Nothing on the floor that you don’t want picked up and chewed. Check for cables, wires and low shelves to see what pup can get access to. It’s all about keeping him safe and my house. I already know he loves to pick up everything and try to generate a chase game – socks and shoes are a definite favourite. He also needs his own bed space. He came with a crate and bed so wanted to have them in the living area where we all spend time, but also somewhere he could retreat to if he needed to.
After checking he was allowed on the sofa (first place he went) he settled in very well. I put several lovely chew toys on the floor and a few ‘stooge’ old socks so we could practise leaving them! I gave him 3 days to decompress and just relax into the household routine, he slept lots and seemed to be very comfortable.
After this time our training started. We went to lots of different places to experience sights, sounds and smells of new environments. We did shops, rural locations and lots of travelling in the van. The cows and horses were definitely of most interest and he had to stop and watch them for a while. My job is to just allow him the time and space that he can process this new experience and not become scared or overwhelmed by it. Our shopping trip to B&Q meant we could practise walking beside a trolley and Pets at Home we practised settling in a busy place with dogs and people around. This is called ‘park’ – he needs to just lie down in any environment and not move until released – very hard for a youngster. He loves to chase birds, so recall was also on the priority list.
I truly love teenage dogs! I know most people find this age a real challenge, but this is the age where you really get to know your dog. Their cheeky side comes out. They test the boundaries and it can feel like they are intentionally being ‘naughty’. They are not by the way; they are just finding their feet (or paws) in this world. This gives you the opportunity to explore together with a partner that is still so excited about new things, and it’s wonderful to see their confidence building. This time is where you get to find out who your dog is really going to be. You are still shaping them and giving them lots of positive experiences so that they are developing into a wonderful adult companion.
Alfie is such a bright pup, it's a joy to work with him. Everyone we met also seems to agree he is a superstar. I love really getting to know a dog, they always teach us new skills as each one is an individual. I am so proud to be part of his journey to see him become an amazing assistance dog.
Are you aware that the veterinary governing bodies have now advised vets to not start or complete puppy vaccination courses? This is of course due to support the effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, at this time in a puppy’s life where socialisation is essential to raise a well-rounded adult dog, this decision is going to have a significant impact on this generation of puppies being raised now.
PLEASE DON’T PANIC! You can still raise your puppy well; you might just need to be more proactive and plan better than perhaps you would have done before these changes.
You can carry your puppy outside if unvaccinated. Your daily exercise can include your puppy in your arms or use a pushchair or trolley if they are too heavy to carry. Please don’t leave them at home until they are fully vaccinated – you are missing so many opportunities to expose your pup to the world. If there are 2 people in your house, your pup could get outside twice a day and you can walk to different locations to mix up the experiences being seen.
If you cannot leave the house, then you can just open the window and watch the world from a safe place. Or maybe your garden has a view of the outside world and you can still stay a safe distance from anyone that does pass. This is great for getting them used to smells and sounds and other daily noises. I recommend you also download the free sounds track from The Dog Trust website https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets
This you can play in your home and get your puppies used to fireworks, gun shots, livestock and other noises you might not have access to at home.
Socialisation doesn’t have to be about your puppy actually interacting with other dogs and people, it just being around them. So, go on your daily exercise walk, take some tasty food rewards with you (e.g. small pieces of cheese, sausages, chicken) and whenever your pup looks at something ‘new’ give a food reward. Pair these new things with tasty food! Just hang out and let them process what is going on around them. I know you need to give space from other people, but you can stop and have a quick chat (safe distance away) so that your puppy has time to look at them and listen to them – great experience. Same applies to dogs; let your puppy just watch them walk past.
I realise this isn’t ideal and of course there is nothing more fun than seeing your pup romping with others, but at this time this is not possible, so please keep your dog under control so either a short lead or long line (if suitable space to use).
Focus your time at home or on walks (if you can have your pup on the floor) engaging them with fun games, run around together, get them to ‘find it’ and scatter some food on the floor so they sniff and search for their food or find the hidden ball in the grass. This is a perfect time to develop an amazing relationship with your dog, with them thinking you are the best thing in their world!