Having a well-behaved dog is a priority for most owners. To help achieve this, the dog’s requirements for physical exercise and mental stimulation must be met.
One of the ways we can mentally stimulate our dogs is through the use of toys and chews. Dog toys come in a variety of forms; some are designed specifically for solitary use (e.g. food dispensing balls), and others are more appropriate for play with humans or other dogs (e.g. tug toys).
When choosing appropriate toys and chews for your dog, you should be aware that extremely hard products could potentially break teeth, especially if your dog is a powerful chewer. The size of the product should also be appropriate for your dog, in order to minimise choking or ingestion risks.
In the past, people have been led to believe that engaging in a game of tug with a dog can increase the likelihood that he will show aggressive behaviour. However, research does not show this, even when the dog is given the opportunity to regularly ‘win’ the game! Nevertheless, playing tug can be very exciting for some dogs, so it is important to teach your dog how to ‘take it’ and ‘drop’ upon request before the game is played. The tug toy should also be long enough to avoid accidental contact between the dog’s teeth and your hand.
If your dog is elderly, or has physical difficulties limiting his level of exercise, puzzle toys such as the ‘Nina Ottosson – Dog Tornado’ offer a great way to provide mental stimulation without too much physical exertion.
Supplying your dog with toys doesn't have to be expensive either. Homemade toys are a cheap, safe and effective way of entertaining your dog, as long as their use is closely supervised and they are immediately removed if any attempt is made to consume them. So, why not try tying a few knots in an old towel to make a tug toy, or give your dog an old cereal box to rip up and throw around? Some other doggy favourites include old plastic water bottles (with lids removed) and empty margarine tubs with pate smothered inside!©
Most dog owners will agree that walks in the park are more enjoyable when you are able to let your dog safely off lead, knowing that he will happily return when called.
Having previously trained guide dogs, I never underestimate the importance of a reliable recall. Can you imagine letting your dog off lead to play in the park, without being able to see where he is and trusting that he will return?
The key to good recall lies in the ability to effectively compete for your dog’s attention against all surrounding distractions, such as other animals, dogs and people. In order to do this you have to convince your dog that you are interesting and worth coming back to.
The first step is to find out what your dog loves the most, such as food or toys, and then use this as your dog’s reward for recall. Initially you should practice in your home and garden, creating a positive association for your dog coming back when called. Remember to reward each successful recall and also try increasing your distance from your dog.
Once your dog is returning to you reliably, you can then choose environments with increased distractions, in order to consolidate his recall. This allows you to build up a solid foundation of successful recall responses, making it more likely that your dog will respond when the distractions become even greater.
Please remember never to tell your dog off when he returns, despite how long it may take him, as this will punish the very behaviour you have requested, making him less likely to come when called in the future.
It is also a good idea to practice recalling your dog throughout the walk, to avoid your dog predicting the end of the walk and so choosing not to return.
Aside from training, there are few better ways to improve your dog’s general behaviour, than the provision of regular opportunities to expend his energy through exercise.
Taking your dog for a daily walk, is a great way for you both to get out in the fresh air and spend some quality time together; it also offers the positive health benefits of regular exercise.
Walks with dogs can vary from off-lead romps through the local park, to simple lead walks through the streets. All types of walks offer ways for your dog to engage in natural behaviours that he will find enriching. Whichever type of walk you choose, you can be sure that there will be value in it from your dog’s perspective!
It is well known, that a dog’s sense of smell enables remarkable feats such as drug or cancer detection, and is actually thought to be more than 10,000 times more powerful than that of a human’s. As any dog owner will testify, use of this powerful sense is often displayed on walks, with the dog’s nose stuck to the ground following some secret, mysterious aroma!
Knowing how important the sense of smell is to dogs and seeing how much they enjoy a good old sniff, why not allow your dog’s next lead walk to include more of what he enjoys? If this means patiently waiting whilst your dog is glued to the spot sniffing a lamppost, then why not do just that? After all, your dog is simply fulfilling an instinctual urge to gain information from any previous dogs’ ‘pee mail’.
Allowing your dog to engage in this enriching behaviour, without constantly dragging him away, will provide increased mental stimulation and an additional outlet for his energy. It may even lead to a happier dog!
It is a sobering fact that every single day in the UK dogs are euthanised because they display behaviour problems that their owners find difficult to cope with. These behaviours are often preventable and can stem from a lack of fulfillment of the dog’s instinctual needs. Take destructive behaviours in the home as an example, dogs are social animals that desire the company of others. When a dog is left at home alone, the lack of social companionship and stimulation can lead to them performing behaviours that inherently make them feel more comfortable (but which we may deem inappropriate) such as chewing furniture or shoes. They may also display signs of distress, such as toileting, barking or howling.
A great way to tackle this type of separation-related behaviour problem is to set the dog up to succeed in your absence. I regularly advise owners to take their dogs for a walk before they leave to go to out, making it more likely that they will sleep when they are left. Often, simply leaving the radio on for the dog can alleviate the stark contrast between you being there and the quietness of an empty house. If your dog is inclined to chew or bark in your absence then why not provide him with several food stuffed chew toys to consume whilst you are out? By being directed to these appropriate chewing outlets just before you leave, he will be able to engage in his natural scavenging instinct, be less inclined to chew on furniture, bark, etc. and your absence will be felt much less than if he were left at home to just twiddle his paws! The king of all food stuffable chew toys has to be the ‘Kong’, and can be found in all good pet shops.
Sometimes simple measures such as these are not enough to overcome a dog’s separation related issues. In these situations, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian who can refer you to a suitably qualified behaviourist. Enrolling your dog in a well-run doggy daycare is another helpful idea too. ©
Most people are aware of the very real danger that dogs can die in hot cars. Despite this, the RSPCA receives nearly 6000 phone calls each year from concerned members of the public who have spotted dogs that have been left unattended in rapidly heating vehicles.
Dogs lower their body temperature by pulling cool air into their mouths when panting. If the air is already warm, such as of that in a hot car, panting does not work and the dog is unable to cool down. Within minutes the dog will begin to suffer from the effects of heatstroke, which can very quickly lead to death. This situation is not solely restricted to hot vehicles either, the same can also occur when dogs are confined inside conservatories or caravans on warm days.
In the event of such sad, yet preventable, deaths, reasons such as ‘I forgot he was in the car’ or ‘It didn’t feel that hot outside’ offer little consolation for the grieving owner. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, prosecution for causing unnecessary suffering to the animal is also a distinct possibility.
It is important to realise that dogs should never be left alone in a vehicle and that leaving windows open, providing bowls of water, using a windscreen sunshield or parking in the shade will not make the situation safe for the dog.
If you encounter a dog suffering from heatstroke (early signs include panting excessively, salivating and very rapid heartbeat), move him to a cool, shaded area and contact a vet immediately for advice. It is important to douse the dog with cool, but not cold, water in order to gradually lower his body temperature. Small amounts of cool water should also be offered for drinking and the dog should be taken to the vets for treatment.
The RSPCA advises anyone who sees a dog left unattended in a car on a warm day to ring 999 immediately. ©
Scavenging comes naturally to dogs. In fact, they would spend most of their day acting on this instinct if they didn’t have us presenting them with the same quick bowl of food every morning and night. Herein lies the problem, what is your dog to do with all this extra time on his paws?
All dogs should receive walks and reward-based training, both of which are effective ways to combat boredom. You can also introduce enrichment toys and activities that involve sniffing to find food, as this will not only harness your dog’s most powerful sense, but will also provide an outlet for his natural scavenging instinct, helping to occupy your faithful friend.
Some ideas include using part of his daily food ration to stuff Kongs and Buster cubes, or scattering dried kibble onto a clean area of grass outside for him to sniff out and eat. You could even try sprinkling some treats into a cardboard box containing large pieces of scrunched up old newspaper, so that your dog has to really rummage around to try and find his food rewards.
Teaching your dog to follow a scent trail is enjoyable too. To do this, place some strong smelling cheese into an old sock and allow your dog to sniff it. Next, take your dog into a different room and leave him there for a minute whilst you slowly drag the sock along the floor to a hiding place (whilst your dog is new to the game, you can also place a few treats along the scent trail to make it easier). Bring your dog back into the room containing the scent trail and encourage him to begin sniffing along it, remembering to praise him as he moves along. When he finds the sock, reward him with the cheese from inside it! Begin with short and easy trails initially, until he gets the hang of the game.
Activities such as these require minimal owner time and effort, but are a great way to enrich your dog’s life and reduce the potential for boredom related behaviour problems. Also, taking your dog to a well-run doggy daycare is another great way of enriching your dog’s life too. ©
Walk into any pet shop and you are sure to be faced with a vast array of delectable dog training treats.
As someone who prides himself on being an up-to-date, ethical dog trainer, I am thrilled to see the growth that positive, reward-based training has had over recent years.
Despite this growth, some ‘traditional’ dog trainers would still rather use intimidating methods that cause fear and pain in the dog. Not only this, but they also contest the use of food reward and make false claims about this type of training to the general dog owning public. This serves to create confusion and unease, which needs to be addressed.
Firstly, these trainers argue that because dogs have lived by our side for tens of thousands of years, they should instinctively want to follow our requests just to please us. This is simply not the case. Dogs, like any animal (including humans), have to be motivated to perform a particular behaviour, and food rewards can be useful for this. In fact, food is such a strong positive reinforcer that it is effective in training animals such as dolphins, killer whales and birds of prey; proving that there is no need for ‘old-fashioned’ punitive methods.
Other common myths that people are led to believe include the notion that food treats are used to bribe the dog, and that once used, the owner needs to carry treats around forever. This is untrue, a bribe and a reward are two different things. A bribe involves presenting the food before the desired behaviour, such as by waving a treat at a dog in order to get him to come to you, and a reward is when the food treat is presented after the behaviour is performed. When reward-based training is done correctly, the dog does not have to have the promise of food before complying with a request. And, once a particular behaviour has been fully taught and is being performed reliably by the dog, other things that the dog finds motivating, such as play, can be used as a replacement for the food.
The benefits of using food rewards are many, but above all, the dog will enjoy being involved in the training. It is important to remember however that if they are used, the dog’s daily meal intake should be adjusted accordingly, in order to prevent him from becoming overweight. ©
In this day and age the majority of dogs spend most of their time indoors, making toilet training a big priority.
If you are currently having difficulty toilet training your dog, it is important to rule out any potential medical cause for the behaviour by taking him to be examined by your vet, as certain health issues may undermine your training.
To teach your dog what is required, start by taking him to the appropriate toileting area every two hours throughout the day. Once there, gently praise for pre-toileting behaviours such as sniffing or circling, and increase your praise as he begins to eliminate. As soon as toileting is complete (within 1 second), provide him with a very tasty food reward.
You should also try to prevent your dog from getting into the habit of going to the toilet inside your home too. To do this, he needs be supervised at all times when indoors, until four consecutive weeks have passed without any toileting accidents (baby gates can come in very handy during this time!).
If you happen to catch your dog toileting in the house you should make a sudden (not scary!) noise in order to interrupt him, quickly followed by gently taking him outside in order to finish his business. It is important to realise that if your dog has toileted in the house but you did not witness it, then any reprimands you make will not be associated with the mistake because dogs only live in the ‘here and now’.
It is important to stress that successful toilet training does not require punishment and that dogs do not toilet in the house out of any malice. Also, old-fashioned methods such as ‘rubbing the dog’s nose in it’ should be avoided as they are unjust, ineffective, and will damage the bond between you and your dog.
Finally, any areas within the house that have been used for toileting need to be thoroughly soaked with an enzymatic cleaner such as ‘Simple Solution®’ in order to prevent the dog from being encouraged to use the area again. ©
Over the years I have been overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude shown to me by owners of dogs who I have had the privilege to train. As well as getting a dog who behaves as a well-mannered member of the family, often the realisation that they don’t have to worry about the fictitious hierarchy that many so-called dog trainers wrongly continue to claim exists, leads them to say how glad they are that they chose me.
Finding the right dog trainer is hugely important, but it can be quite a task, especially when a simple Internet search brings up such a vast array of people claiming to have the necessary skills, experience, and understanding of dog behaviour.
To help dog owners in their search, it is useful to know what things to look out for and avoid. Firstly, any references made by trainers to aspects such as ‘pack leader’ or ‘alpha’ suggests that the trainer ascribes to dominance-based training, which is known by knowledgeable dog experts to be unethical and vastly outdated. This type of training relies on punishment to induce pain and fear, which not only compromises the dogs’ welfare and increases the likelihood of more serious behaviour problems, but it also damages the relationship between dogs and humans.
It is vital therefore, that owners are given the opportunity to understand the correct way of thinking about dog behaviour. This is why UK dog welfare, behaviour and training organisations such as the RSPCA, APBC and the DogsTrust have collaborated to provide a website to offer this information; this can be found on www.dogwelfarecampaign.org
If self-proclaimed dog trainers dismiss the use of food in training and suggest that the dog should do as he is told out of respect for the owner, the likelihood is that the dog will only end up doing as he is told in order to avoid the pain that is inflicted if he doesn’t follow instruction - not out of respect for the owner.
Modern professional dog trainers have to be more than just hobbyists. In addition to using reward-based training, they should at least have a recognised qualification in animal behaviour, years of of practical experience, superb people skills, and a huge amount of empathy and compassion for the dogs in their care.
Once owners have found a dog trainer who they think is right for them, they should ask to observe one of the trainer’s classes and speak to other owners who have previously used the trainer’s services, before deciding whether or not to go ahead. ©
Raising a puppy to become a polite member of society is an important job; with the first 14 weeks of his life marking a vital time in his behavioural development. In these formative weeks your puppy will be much more accepting of new situations and experiences, allowing you to create early positive associations with everything that you feel he may encounter during his life.
Many owners, after taking advice from their vet, are therefore justifiably keen to take their newly acquired puppy out and about to positively expose him to the sights, sounds and smells of the real world. By taking advantage of this ‘window of opportunity’ the likelihood that the dog will grow up acting fearfully is reduced, lessening the potential for any future aggressive behaviour.
Over 25 years ago, in order to make the most of this critical period and to complement the owner’s efforts to raise their puppy in the correct manner, the first ever puppy classes were established. Among other things, these classes provide puppies with the opportunity to socialise, allowing them to learn how to interact appropriately with other dogs and people. However, it is a sad fact that a considerable amount of owners are still unaware of the importance of puppy classes and miss out on this fantastic opportunity.
As a behaviourist, I see first hand how effective early concerted efforts with puppies are in reducing potential behaviour problems in adult dogs. This is one of the main reasons why I began teaching my own positive, reward-based classes for puppies aged 12 – 20 weeks. As well as addressing important aspects such as socialisation, mouthing, recall and obedience, they allow owners and their dogs to learn in a non-threatening, fun environment, helping to build the foundation for a happy future together.
So, if you want to give your puppy the right start in life, enroll today! ©
As a dog trainer and behaviourist I regularly encounter fear-based behaviour problems in adult dogs that could have so easily been prevented if correct socialisation towards people and animals, along with exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of the ‘real world’, had been done as a puppy. This has been proven to be particularly important whilst the puppy is between 3 – 14 weeks old; with further concerted efforts still required until the puppy has at least matured.
The opportunity to create a happy and confident canine companion begins with the breeder. The responsible breeder will aim to breed healthy puppies with a sound genetic temperament and raise them inside their own home. This allows your future puppy to receive lots of positive exposure to the vast number of things that he or she may encounter whilst living at home with you, such as the hoover or visiting guests. However, their responsibility does not stop there, as they also have to very carefully expose your puppy to the big wide world outside too!
In the same way as the breeder, when you finally bring your puppy home, it is important to follow the guidance of your veterinarian who will inform you of the potential physical health risks to your puppy when exposing them to the world during the vaccination period. However, by carrying your puppy in your arms when out and about, this risk is lessened and allows for vast amounts of positive social experiences to be provided at a time when the puppy is most impressionable.
A further important part of your puppy’s development is to attend a well run, positive, reward-based puppy class where your puppy can continue to learn how to interact appropriately with other dogs and people, and be taught how to act in a confident and sociable manner.
Without these early positive experiences your puppy may be more likely to act fearfully in any new situations, increasing the chance of serious behavioural problems ©.