An approved Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer - VSPDT


Theo Stewart – ‘The Dog Lady’


Canine Behaviour Training, Support & Problem Solving

Issues such as unhappy, unruly, needy, excessive barking, aggressive, guarding, over protective, nipping, snapping, biting, reactive to dogs, children or cats,  pulls on lead, toilets indoors, jumps up, separation problems, destructive, obsessive, possessive, growling, fussy eater, restless, stressed, hyper, nervy,  jumpy, fearful, panic attacks, attention seeking, self harming, fighting, OCD, demanding, defiant, puppy training, adolescence.

All dogs – all ages – all breeds
Single dogs – multiple dogs
Puppies – start off right, Older dogs, Rescue dogs


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The sounds of gun shots and bird scarers have changed this dear little girl into a fearful dog

CockerpooRubyLittle Cockerpoo Ruby is becoming increasingly scared outside on walks. She is no longer eager to go out.  It all started with a BANG – either a gunshot or a bird scarer.

Bit by bit bangs have infected all the places where they walk her. The only way they can get the ‘old happy Ruby’ back is by taking her to somewhere completely new, and even the new place is now contaminated by a bang.

Her general fearfulness is spilling over into other things now.

I have been to several dogs with the same problem and it’s incredibly hard for their loving owners to know what to do. A big problem is if the bangs are near to home, they are relentless. It’s a slippery slope unless the people themselves treat it differently.

Many people believe that to give their dog confidence in them they should behave as ‘the boss’ which can involve forcing the dog to do something she feels very uncomfortable with because ‘giving in’ would show weakness and the dog would no longer trust a weak owner.

In fact I would say it is the very opposite. The dog may perceive the bangs as life-threatening. Would a wise parent force his family danger? In this case, the lady herself said she wasn’t feeling happy by not ‘giving in’ to Ruby and removing her when she was scared, and she is now relieved that she can follow her own better instinctsCockerpooRuby2

If our dog growls for instance, instead of scolding we should be asking, WHY is she telling us she is uncomfortable. We need to get to the reason and deal with that.  If our dog has to be dragged somewhere, we need to ask ourselves why – and deal with that. Forcing Ruby into what she perceives as a danger zone in the name of exercise is counter-productive. The bangs keep happening and she simply loses faith in the people who are allowing her no escape, the very people she should be able to trust the most.

They will start by desensitising her in the house with small taps and then bangs, increasing the volume, distance and unpredictability of them, using a sound CD to help them also, and counter-conditioning her so she associates a bang with something nice. We have a plan of building it up in small increments, making sure always to keep within her comfort threshold.

Walks in ‘danger’ zones will not be taking place now until she can cope. She will be walked near home and as soon as any bang is heard they will go to work on her – which certainly doesn’t mean forcing her onwards.

With the other day-to-day stuff they will be doing that should back up their efforts, Ruby could suddenly get over her fears but, more likely, it could take weeks.

Her general confidence should improve too.

Another German Shepherd who reacts aggressively when people come into the house

GSDPortia GSDKodyThe evening didn’t start like this, with two calm and happy dogs. Kody on the left does not like people coming to her house and she makes that very clear with a lot of barking. While white GSD Portia is less reactive, she will join in.

It takes several visits for Kody in particular to get used to any new person. After a very noisy start in the sitting room with both dogs on lead barkng at me, I went back outside, rang the doorbell and started again. This time we went into the kitchen and sat at the breakfast bar with a bowl of tasty tit-bits prepared and to hand.

The dogs were then let in to join us.

As you can see, both dogs are happy and this was achieved very quickly. Portia is sitting beside me waiting for another piece of cheese, and Kody also was eating out of my hand. Usually she would have been barking at someone’s slightest movement and she has nipped people in the house.

I go to a great number of German Shepherds in particular that behave in an aggressive fashion when people come into their homes. I believe one very big part of it starts in early puppyhood. These dogs need socialising with plenty of people (and dogs) from about six weeks of age, getting as much as possible in in before four months old. Even then it’s never ‘job done’.

Maintainance is key.

Meeting people and other dogs needs continue to be a regular feature of the dog’s life else they will lose their sociability. Sometimes people at work all day simply don’t have time, but they pay the price.

I have personal experience of all this with my own German Shepherd, Milly. She used to belong to a client who bought her from what was to all intents and purposes a puppy farm. The lady didn’t even see Milly’s mother, and Milly herself had met nobody at all apart from the person who fed them all until she was twelve weeks old. A recipe for disaster. The poor lady who bought her couldn’t ‘bond’. Milly was scared of absolutely everything and everybody – including the couple who bought her.

When the dog growls and barks at people most owners try eveything they can to stop her – scolding, restraining and maybe threatening with something. It might ‘control’ the dog, but this is only a temporary fix and makes things even worse the next time. One reason we show anger to our barkng and snarling dog is that we feel we somehow owe it to the person who is the brunt of it.  We need to get over that and put the dog first. We need to try to understand the underlying reason why she’s doing it, and deal with that.

If they continue to keep Kody and Portia away from all people, things will never change. As I say to owners, the only way you will change your dogs’ behaviour is to change what you do yourselves. In this case each dog needs to be worked on separately, outside in the real world where people can be seen from a non-threatening distance, and they need ‘obedient’ visitors!

The bottom line is, it depends how much we want something. If it’s important enough we’ll do it.

Bentley is a V.I.D. Very Important Dog – and why not (up to a point!).

BentleyThis picture sums up three-year-old Bentley perfectly. He is extremely agile for a Daschund and he sits high on a shelf looking as if to say “who said you could take a photo of me!”

Bentley is a real little character with a mind of his own. His humans have worked hard with him, having taken him to training classes, using positive methods and reward.  Positive methods however don’t mean that boundaries aren’t important, and there are areas where Bentley needs to learn a bit more self-control.

He can become obsessive about having toys thrown for him, especially persistent when someone comes to the house. It would actually be rather sweet in small doses, but he uses it not so much for the pleasure of chasing as for getting the person to do what he wants. As I discovered, if one doesn’t obey him he then barks!

What concerns them most though is that Bentley growls when touched unless he has chosen to be touched, particularly when he’s asleep or resting beside them. Like people, some dogs are simply less tactile than other. Some grow to object when showered with touching and attention. Its quite difficult for people who adore their dogs to play a little hard to get, but the truth is that if they do the dog will probably stop the growling and even learn to welcome being approached and touched in small doses.

Imagine people in your house, unprompted, touch or cuddle you whenever you sit down for a bit of peace.  Wouldn’t you eventually get cross?  Soon, when people approached you, would you not say ‘go away, leave me alone’.  You may even shout at them when someone touches you accidentally. Let’s face it, when we cuddle another person or a dog, it can be more about making us feel good than the object of our affection. We somehow just can’t stop ourselves.

Bentley’s owners are very perceptive and all they needed was an objective point of view.

Sometimes we can be blind to the obvious when we are actually living in the middle of things.

Dog stares, transfixed by the cat … and then the cat moves

Johnny1Although the ultimate aim is for dog and cat to live happily together – the cat is confident and placid fortunately – there is a lot of groundwork to do first. The matter can’t simply be approached head-on because he has other issues which I’m sure are associated.

When he sees the cat he is transfixed – they call it trance-like. He is a food-orientated dog but will even ignore a piece of steak, so fixated is he on the cat.

Johnny is a German Shepherd crossed with something – and from his behaviour I would say there is Border Collie in there. He is ten years old. About three years ago his owner moved in with a lady and her cat, and despite numerous efforts and trying different things, the two animals have to be kept apart.

Johnny likes to keep everyone together, rounded up so to speak. If someone goes out of the room he stresses and barks. When I arrived it was strange. He barked at me, but when the lady went out to the kitchen he turned and barked at her instead, like he was upset that she had disappeared. When she came back and we were all together, he went back to barking at me. He howls and yelps when a guest leaves. He does the same thing when one of the couple goes out – but, strangely, is much more accepting when they both go out together and he’s all alone.

I am sure his attitude towards the cat has something to do with his needing everyone to be together, under his eye. A cat is simply too independent. If she moves he will chase.

Before they can make any headway with the cat problem they need to do some groundwork on Johnny relaxing his herding, lowering his stress levels in every way they can and on teaching him to give them his full attention.

Actual work on Johnny when the cat is about will start very slowly with the cat safely contained. Johnny’s owner already has been very successful with desensitising him to fireworks using food (they live in an area where bangs go off at all sorts of times) and now whenever he hears a bang he looks to her for food. He loves bangs! Once everything else is in place, the same sort of positive approach, along with patience, will bring success with the cat also.

I am sure that they will be able to teach their old dog new tricks and the two animals will ultimately be occupying the same room in harmony.

Molly is misunderstood and confused

BeagleMolly BeagleMolly1On the left is Molly in her favourite look-out place for barking at passing people and dogs, and on the right briefly taking a break after going through all her attention-seeking repertoire and relaxing happily after some clicker work.

I need to say before I go any further what great and dedicated owners little Molly has. They recognise they’ve not got the knowledge and things are going wrong, and they are making big sacrifices to put this right. This is the mark of good dog parents.

Little Beagle Molly is fifteen months old and, a couple of days ago to the total horror of the young couple who own her, she bit someone. Their reaction was very natural but to the more enlightened completely inappropriate and can only encourage further aggression, and things now are definitely heading in the wrong direction unless the way her humans behave with her is completely reversed.

They love Molly to bits, but simply don’t know how to ‘bring up’ a dog. She is totally confused. She can receive cuddles, shouting at her, rough and tumble play, scolding, kissing, more cuddling and punishment all from the same person.

Like so many people I go to, they say ‘everyone tells us different things‘ and seldom are any of these things helpful as they are mostly dominance based and involved punishment. They are at their wits’ end. In the evenings all Molly does is to run rings around them in order to get attention, and apart from over -boisterous hands-on play that encourages the mouthing and nipping, it is No, No and No. She nicks the remote or she will steal the man’s shirt and the way they retrieve the items invites defiance.

Wouldn’t it be great if people could attend positive ‘dog-parenting’ classes before they picked up a puppy or new dog? They would then start off using positive methods and reading the right books, they would know how to give their dogs the right amount of stimulation and  exercise (not too much and not too little), and I would bet dogs treated like this from the start would never bite and their carers would be a lot happier.

Molly is becoming increasingly scared of people and it’s no wonder. She will be associating them with her humans’ anxiety and anger rather than with good stuff. She barks fearfully both at people she doesn’t know coming to the house and people she sees out on walks. The barking at the window will only be making this worse.  She is punished for being scared. People don’t realise what they are doing. The bite occurred when they were out and a woman came up behind them unexpectedly and put her hand down to Molly. It was dark. Fortunately the skin wasn’t broken. The reaction of all the people involved was very unfortunate. One even said she should be put to sleep. Unbelievable.

The couple were absolutely devastated.

Things now will turn a corner, I know. These people are totally committed to changing things around, and after we looked at things from Molly’s perspective it was a like a light came on. I showed the young man how to use a clicker, starting with a simple exercise which Molly picked up almost immediately, and during the evening he was constantly clicking her for doing good things.  For instance, instead of yelling at her for putting her feet up on the table, he waited until the moment her feet touched the floor and clicked and rewarded that – teaching her what he did want instead of scolding. And best of all, he really enjoyed it.

She was using her brain to seek ways of being ‘good’!

This is going to be very hard work because several areas of the dog’s life need an overhaul, but I am sure they will get there and I shall continue to help them in every way I can for as long as they need me. From now on it’s going to be Yes Yes Yes.

The little girls used to be friends, but now they fight.

YorkieMiaTiny miniature Yorkie Mia, left, is now 6. When she was three years old they got a puppy – Wire Haired Daschund Coco. They are much loved little dogs. Both got on beautifully until Coco matured and then the conflict started – with a fight over a chew. Things escalated until tiny Mia was badly injured. They are now enemies.

Now the dogs have to be kept apart.

Coco lives with the couple and their young children, and Mia lives next door with her parents. They dogs used to have a special hole in the fence so that they could go freely from one house to the other, but no more.  Their hole is now blocked.Coco1

Whenever Mia is out in her garden, she runs up and down by the fence, in a frenzy of barking and trying to dig under it to get to Coco. It’s very similar to behaviour she does when the air blower is on. I videoed it. They thought Mia  enjoyed the action because her tail is wagging and she looks up at them. I feel, to this tiny dog, it’s like a puffing monster at nose level behind the wall, and she is frantic to make it go away; she is looking at them for help.

People often think that tail wagging means happy but it’s not necessarily so. It means aroused in some way. Another misreading is when Coco lies on her back with the little 2-year-old boy. They think she is asking for him to tickle her tummy. She may be saying ‘I give in, I’ve had enough‘.

A lot of problems can be averted if we learn to read our dogs.

We have a plan to get the two dogs back together. Everyone knows that it could take a long time and they are up for the effort and self-sacrifice. Both little dogs are extremely excitable and think it’s their job to protect their homes and gardens. This needs to be addressed. They need to value food more so that it can be used for working with them (not left down all the time). Over time they will learn to come whenever they are called and to be each side of the fence calmly.

The plan is that eventually two much calmer dogs who no longer feel that guard duty is their responsibility will meet out on neutral territory, starting with walking parallel at a comfortable distance. We will take it from there.

Over-exciting and hands-on play with a dog would equate to tickling and ruffling a young child who would doubtless end up in tears. Egging a child on in the way people wind up their dogs, wrongly believing they find it fun, would probably end in a temper tantrum with a child.  Just as good parents create a reasonably calm, safe and controlled atmosphere for their kids, we need to do the same for our dogs.

I am sure the eventual outcome will be the two dogs back together. But their  humans must never go back to their old ways or so will the dogs.

Frail and elderly lady with large Chocolate Labrador

LilySix months ago the elderly lady I went to today took on Lily, a strong and active four-year-old Chocolate Labrador.

So long as she’s not stirred up, Lily is remarkably calm seeing as she has little in the way of stimulation or interest.

The lady is however having some predictable problems. She is unable to walk Lily on lead at all – fortunately she has fields at the end of her garden so Lily can run off lead but she can go nowhere else. The second predictable problem is that Lily doesn’t come when called – or at least not until she is ready.

The lady isn’t strong enough to walk a pulling dog, and probably not sufficiently compelling  to compete with smells, other dogs and people they meet out in the field, so Lily doesn’t come when called until she’s ready. Fortunately she is very friendly with people and other dogs.

When I arrived the lady was trying to hang onto Lily at the front door, afraid she might run out. She is small and  unsteady, and Lily is quite big!

I shall be visiting her weekly for a while and we are starting off slowly, a bit at a time.  She will, I hope, remember to reward Lily for doing what she’s asked as that should make her more manageable. Being a Labrador, Lily fortunately is very food orientated. She will shut Lily away from the front door before opening it.  I showed the lady how to ‘charge’ a whistle for recall use and how to use it around the house and garden only for this week so that Lily comes to realise that the whistle means something special by way of food reward. I showed her how to walk the dog around her nice garden on a long loose lead – and although she was very slow she we managed, my arm through hers, before she did it by herself – and Lily was a star.

Apart from physical frailty, the lady is forgetful and a bit confused so grasping and remembering my instructions is a challenge. Fortunately she lives very near to me so I will do everything I can to help her to keep her beautiful, happy dog without which she would be very lonely. She has never been without a dog.

Next week, if she has mastered lead walking out in the garden we will take walking out the front of the house. We will also do more with whistle recall.  I feel she will soon need a dog walker if she can afford one.

Young Border Collie living with elderly couple

Five months agoBorderCollieLass I visited Lass and the elderly couple she lives with. This is the story back then:

Lass is now a year old. I have to admit I was dubious as to whether they would be able to cope with a highly intelligent and active Border Collie – the dog of choice for fit, experienced dog trainers who enjoy the challenge of a highly driven and intelligent dog.

The lady who uses either sticks or a buggy to move about  does a lot of the work with Lass. She has found creative ways to stimulate her clever dog’s brain whilst the man does the walking.

Like most puppies Lass needed to learn not to jump up, to walk nicely on lead – particularly as her humans aren’t too steady, and to come back when called. Back then, at seven months, she had selective hearing, chased cars and had a fear issue with the on-site tractor .

We have worked together for the past five months and they have kept regularly in touch which I love. Today I received this message:

“Lass is doing really well. No more jumping at cars and she walks so well now even with me and my stick.

John can let her off lead and the recall is amazing one call and she comes. She plays over the fields with a couple of dogs when John calls her she comes straight back…brilliant.

Getting close to the tractor too and will sit in the trailer now so getting there.

She is a year old in a couple of weeks and she is so much calmer now. She does still jump at times but people just say “what do you do”and she sits down we are so proud of her. We can stop and chat with friends and she just sits and waits for us. She is doing well with her staying too. John is getting further and further back. And he always walks back to her as you said.

We must thank you for your help with Lass we have learnt so much”.

Very protective Daschund-Bassett

DaschundX1Max, age two, was found as a stray and they understandably absolutely adore their little dog.

Unfortunately he has recently bitten several people including two young children and two postmen.

A few months ago they moved house to a busier street, and now Max is doing a lot more barking. He is getting a lot more worked up. He has taken it upon himself to be on guard duty big time. Any noise sends him flying around the house barking. He barks at passers by when out in the garden. Two different postmen were bitten when they entered ‘Max’s’ garden and put out a hand towards him – but outside his own territory one of these same men is like his best friend. Outside his own house and garden he is a different dog, and very friendly with other dogs too.DaschundX

Not only is Max becoming increasingly protective of the house, he is very protective of the lady and most of his growling and biting has happened in her presence. When I sat down Max stood facing me on the lady’s lap, barking while she ‘comforted’ him. I asked her to put him straight on the floor. She should be nice to him when he’s quiet and pop him on the floor when he barks.

Max also growls at the gentleman when he’s on the lady’s lap. He growls at them in their own bed at night – particularly at the man. I have nothing against dogs sleeping with people if that is what the people really like, but certainly not if the dog is taking posession of the bed and growling if they dare move!

The lady in particular behaves like Max is the centre of her universe.  She touches him and attends to him constantly. The moment she gets home from work, after a rapturous welcome, although he has had the company of the gentleman for most of the day, she is cuddling and playing with him for an hour before doing anything else. They are doing his bidding all evening until he settles.  All this adoration can, in my mind, be quite hard for a dog. As time goes by Max is increasingly taking on the role of protector and decision-maker.  This is a big burden for a dog and one that should be shouldered by his humans.

Gradually Max’s stress levels should reduce as the barking gets less because the people will now deal with it appropriately. They are dedicated to helping him. As a more relaxed dog he should be more tolerant  – though all people should respect his dislike of outstretched hands and his people must take responsibility for this, even using a soft muzzle when children visit so that everyone can relax. The rule must always be Safety First.

Eight month old Springer Spaniel doesn’t come when called

SpringerMontyOn the left is eight month old Springer Monty, finding it so hard to sit still while I took his photo! He lives with elderly Cocker, Millie.

The main and ultimate thing they want just now is for young Monty to come when he is called. He will do so, when he is ready and if there is nothing he would rather do.

Monty is a teenager after all.  I myself remember the trouble I got into when I was told to be home by ten and didn’t get in until eleven! I was even willing to endure my parents’ anger and do it again next time.CockerMillie

Sometimes ‘recall’ is a straightforward training procedure and classes will fix it, but this isn’t always the case.

Reliable recall starts at home.

If our dog doesn’t find us sufficiently relevant so doesn’t listen to us at home, if he is selective about how quickly he does as we ask at home – even simple things like sitting, and if he only comes when he wants to when we call him from across the room, then it’s not reasonable to expect him to come to us in a field full of smells and little animals to chase.

Reliable recall begins when he listens to simple things we ask him to do for us at home. We can make a game of recall around the house so that he is conditioned to come when called. Most importantly, he has to have reason to do our bidding. Is there something ‘in it’ for him? These things should be established inside before he is granted freedom outside again. Meanwhile they can give Monty exercise on a long line and work, work, work on a reliable recall in the face of distractions.

We tend to do things back to front. Because a puppy normally sticks with us, we give him freedom. Then, when adolescence strikes we may try to take that freedom away. Far better the other way around, to limit freedom initially and gradually grant it. Everything is much harder when the dog has already got used to freelancing.

One last thing about recall is that out in the fields we are competing with exciting stuff, so we need to make ourselves motivational, and the reward, whether it’s food or play, needs to be worth coming for.  Just as my angry parents didn’t stop me going awol in the evening, being grumpy with a dog that returns late won’t help at all. Little did my parents realise that extra pocket money for coming home on time would probably have worked a lot better with me!

Too much external control and no self-control

HuskyMontyMonty is a magnificent 20-month-old German Shepherd/Husky/Malamute mix. He is a strong dog both physically and mentally.

Doing his best to have his dog under control, the young male owner has been influenced by Cesar Milan, whose extensive TV coverage gives these methods some sort of authenticity. It’s not really suited to the young man’s own personality, but he’s doing what he can to be the ‘dominant Alpha’. Commands are harsh, the shouted word No is frequent and Monty is physically made to submit at times.

Controlled in this fashion, Monty gets rebellious and angry – and sometimes just a little scared.

The dog isn’t taught what IS required of him and things are getting worse. He now has bitten the father so badly he ended up in hospital simply because the man was doing his best to ‘show who is boss‘. In another situation where he ran off with the towel and the mother tried to get it off him, he bit her badly on the leg.

This is the typical and unnecessary fallout of using force and punishment-based methods. This young dog gets all his attention through doing ‘bad’ things.  He gets no reinforcement from being quiet and calm.

The young  owner isn’t happy with his own methods but just didn’t know what else to do. He is taking his responsibilities as a dog owner seriously but has to keep ramping up his own harshness as the dog becomes immune. It totally disempowers weaker members of the family who are unable to do this.

There is just one thing Monty was taught from the start using rewards and that is to go in his crate. It is now the one thing that he does happily and willingly.

Monty isn’t a vicious dog. He is a wilful and frustrated dog that doesn’t have understandable boundaries. Good behaviour, like lying down quietly, not jumping on people, not barking because people are talking and much more, simply isn’t acknowledged.

In my time there we clicked and treated every ‘good’ thing he did. We endured lots of barking in order to reward him when he stopped. When he lay down we rewarded him. When he sighed and relaxed we rewarded him. When he put his feet on the side we waited till they were on the floor and promptly clicked and rewarded him.

We need to turn things on their head – to get the humans thinking completely differently. To start with they will concentrate on’ accentuating the positive‘ as the song says and by not inviting confrontation. I want them to drop the word ‘No‘. This is going to take time and I hope everyone will be consistent, patient and resist shouting. Monty must be able to work things out for himself.

As our other strategies gradually fall into place, Monty should become a dog with good self-control with absolutely no need to bite anyone again.

Here is a brilliant clip demonstrating the total confusion and frustration that using ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ can cause.

Another dog settling into his new home

StaffBaxter1Baxter is a somewhat camera-shy one-year-old Staffie Mastiff cross and the couple have had him for just under one week. They are fans of Victoria Stilwell (I am one of her UK trainers) and want to start their relationship off on the right foot making sure they are using positive methods similar to Victoria’s.

It was a very enjoyable evening, and a red letter day for me – the lovely couple are my 2,000th clients!

Baxter had been found as a stray. He had been in kennels for one week and then a foster home for a few days, during which time another dog had attacked him – he bears the scars. However, this doesn’t seem to have caused him to bear a grudge against other dogs. He has a lovely gentle nature. I feel someone has loved him sometime in the past. StaffBaxter2

Underneath a quiet exterior I could read some signs of slight unease – it’s like he’s being careful.  In the picture he has crept onto my coat beside me, and his look is saying ‘Should I be here?’.

He is growing increasingly anxious if the man goes out of the room, particularly if the dog knows he is still about somewhere. He whines the whole time the man is absent. If the couple goes out together and they creep back later to take a look, they find Baxter happily asleep on the sofa. Before this gets any worse the gentleman needs to take measures so that Baxter doesn’t grow too attached, including shutting doors behind him regularly. Instead of the persistant whining when he goes out driving the poor lady mad, she should watch for and acknowledge every time he stops and briefly settles with some sort of positive reinforcement.

By and large he has very few problems. Already, by using the right methods, he’s stopped pulling on lead.  He’s fine with other dogs. He is polite around food and very calm for an adolescent dog. He has proved himself something of a Houdini and they need to work hard on his recall if he’s is to run free.

Maybe he will open up a bit more during the next two weeks as he settles in. Other things may surface.

Bringing up dogs to accept dogs, horses and strangers doesn’t just happen by itself

Terrierschoclab1 My new clients have three young dogs – two Lakelend/Jack Russell mixes of one year old (brother and sister) who we will call Mac and Mabel, and a 6-month old Chocolate Labrador – Chocky.

They are a very busy family with insufficient time to put in all the work really needed, so this is a challenge of breaking things down into essentials, choosing priorities and creating a plan whereby it’s less a question of spending extra time but more of doing different things in the time already allocated.

The people really only want two things at the end of the day. One is for the their dogs to be able to run freely in the garden. Unfortunately the Terriers have killed a couple of their free-range chickens and although they have boundary wire, the little monkeys can dig underneath.

terrierschoclabTheir other aim is for the dogs to come back reliably when called. The Terriers are highly reactive to any person or animal they meet and respond aggressively, becoming hard to control physically. Now Chocky, an unusually nervous dog for a 6-month-old Labrador, is joining in. They want their dogs running off lead but have to be able to get them back when another dog, a horse or a person appears.

Unfortunately these people simply don’t have the time to work properly on the root of the problem – undersocialisation and the fear and reactivity itself, though they agree they need to do something with Chocky’s walking before he gets much older and bigger. He is seldom walked on lead. They live in such a quiet area that they can often go out and meet nobody at all.

As they simply don’t have time for all the training work involved, the first issues would be best addressed by getting better fencing so the dogs simply can’t escape from the garden, along with a pen for the chickens.

The second issue – that of recall – is more difficult.  Firstly, they need to stop leaving food down all the time (Chocky is an unusual Labrador in that he doesn’t devour the whole lot as soon as it goes down) so that food has some value – why should a dog come for no reward when called if it’s not worthwhile, particularly if there is something more pressing to do? The children can do whistle recall games around the house and garden so that the dogs begin to become conditioned. Whistle = come quickly = high value reward.

I have tried to break things down into small tasks so that hopefully, at the end of the day, everything will start to come together and they will be able to see their lovely dogs running free without constantly worrying about who or what they might encounter next.

Boy is scared of their puppy

CairnBella1It is often fearful dogs that I go to. In this unusual case it is a bright, strong ten-year-old boy who we will call Ben, certainly no wimp, who is terrified of their eighteen-week-old Cairn Terrier puppy. His mother has also always been wary of dogs and this is part of the problem. There are four boys altogether and none of them like Bella much. It was the dad who wanted her. They have now had her for ten days.

Fear is no less real because it’s irrational

For someone like myself it’s impossible to imagine being scared of this puppy, but I do know what fear is like. It eats into one. Like nearly every other puppy, Bella will nip, jump up and chase feet. She has lots of indoor ‘accidents’.

The people don’t realise what a fantastic stable personality the little dog has. She seems unfazed. Whenever the younger boys are about she is shut outside by herself in the garden. She doesn’t fuss.  As soon as I arrived she peed on the floor and immediately she was scolded. The lady said ‘but I was told to be cross and rub her nose in poo’. The family told me that all day they were ‘having’ to say No, No Bella, Stop Bell, No!

How can Bella know what chewing is allowed and what isn’t unless she is shown? How can she know to toilet outside unless she regularly accompanied out there (they had put a dog flap in so she could take herself out)? How can she learn people don’t like being jumped on or grabbed unless she is shown what they DO like?

First I showed them how much more could be achieved by showing the little dog just what we DO want – by using a clicker. No more “No”!

Bella learnt so quickly! In no time I had her touching my hand wherever I held it out. Next I handed he clicker to Ben who was sitting safely on a high stool out of Bella’s reach. He was going to click the moment Bella touched my hand while I delivered the treat. His timing was brilliant. Soon he came and stood on the floor in front of where I was sitting, a big achievement, and I held his hand out in mine. Bella was actually touching Ben’s hand now and he wasn’t panicking. Twice she put her feet up on him and he clicked the moment they were back on the floor. Then he even found the courage to treat her himself but that was the point where he became anxious so, just as we would do with a fearful dog, we retreated.

What a good start. Dad then took over and taught Bella to sit using just the same method. He was a natural also. In the picture she is sitting for a click and cheese.

They now have a puppy pen so that Bella can be in the large kitchen with them and no longer banished to the garden. She will be more contained which will help the toilet training. Her continual presence in the room whilst being safely unable to jump or nip should gradually begin to habituate Ben. I suggested he should be getting rewards too!

I predect that it won’t be long before Ben is a dog-loving clicker expert and mum realises that she loves the puppy after all!

When trouble starts it can snowball

Wilf Wilf2Wilf is a delightful mix of Fox Terrier and Poodle He is four years old.

This little dog has had a lot of emotion and change in his life. Shortly after they got him as a puppy there was a family bereavement causing turmoil and grief and the puppy will have picked up on these things.

A year ago they lived in quiet rural North Wales and they have moved house twice since then – now to a much busier town area. Coinciding with the first move Wilf’s behaviour has declined. He has quite a serious skin condition that is also getting worse and this discomfort may be affecting his behaviour; he gets growly if a hand rests on him. Coincidentally, he changed vets and medication at the same time as that first move, and the new vet flipped him onto his back and pinned him down to examine him. Since this, unsurprisingly, he has also became aggressive and fearful of the vet.

Indoors Wilf is no trouble at all. He is quite self-contained and doesn’ seem to want to put himself out much for the mother and daughter who own him – though I found he came alive for cheese! He takes little notice of them when they ask him to do something – and may even do the very opposite! Its a shame because they do a lot of things with him in order to enrich his life, but there is just something missing.

It’s this relationship that needs to be strengthened if he’s to take notice of them when they meet other dogs on walks – or children,  both of which he doesn’t like too close, especially when he’s trapped on lead with someone he doesn’t fully believe in – someone who is herself becoming increasingly nervous. Most recently things have escalated to a little girl simply standing and staring at him being enough to cause him to react ferociously. They will now go near the local school playground and get him associating children with good stuff from a comfortable distance.

If they were to engage with Wilf a bit more, use food rewards and lots of positive reinforcement, I’m sure this little dog will liven up and become less touchy. He is another of those dogs that gets too much for nothing and he needs to work for some of his food and attention. This way both will gain value and his people will become more relevant.

They are having a new vet check him today to review the skin meds. He also walks into things which is strange though seems to be able to see okay. The vet will check that too. Maybe there is more going on than we know.


When can I go home?

Tibetan1 Tibetan2 This was quite heartbreaking in a way.

Tibetan Terrier Toby’s previous owner got him as a puppy seven years ago when she divorced. Since then they have been inseperable with Toby sleeping on her pillow beside her every night.

Now the lady has met a new man. He gave her an ultimatum – it’s me or the dog. She parted with the wrong one in my opinion!

They picked Toby up yesterday and I was there today. This little dog has been scratching the door, crying, pacing and constantly asking to go outside; he is simply waiting to be reunited with his past owner.

TibetanTobyThey brought a jumper of hers home with her scent on it. It was in his bed. In this situation I suggested they got rid of it because there was absolutely no point in reminding Toby of her now. The faster he realises that this is his lovely new home the better – because he has really landed on his feet. I am having to persuade the people not to fuss him and to give him time and space.

He is withdrawn and preoccupied. You can see from the pictures just how he is feeling.Tibetan3

They have taken the next week off work and I have given them several tasks to work on involving chicken – although he is refusing to eat he will take pieces of chicken! They need to prepare him for being left alone for two or three hours. They have a strategy for night times because the first night was very difficult. They will give him much better quality food than he has been getting previously and they will introduce him to the concept of working for reward rather than getting everything for nothing. He has never been off lead, so they will work on his recall so he eventually will be able to run free.

Toby’s life will be even better than before although he doesn’t know that at the moment.

He will come around.

Today Toby is simply waiting. His obvious unhappiness could make your heart bleed and had the lady in tears today.

A quick update. It’s now day three and already Toby is settling in. He is a lot happier.

If owners relax the rules there will be some sort of fallout

Sussex SpanielI went to see gorgeous Bertie four years ago when he was just a year old, before I started writing up my ‘stories’. He is an unusual breed – a Sussex Spaniel.  The majority of his issues which included separation anxiety and problems on walks were resolved – he’s now a pleasure to walk and great with other dogs – but his people have relaxed from the protocols, most particularly around food and guard duty.  As usually happens in these cases there is some sort of fallout – the dog regresses.

Bertie was rather mouthy back then, but more recently he has taken to growling when they want him to do something he himself doesn’t want to do. He may bark then use his mouth if someone comes through the gate when he is in the garden. Things came to a head a few days ago when he bit the doggy daycare lady who looks after him three days a week – she has two young children and has refused to take him any more.

It is a shame that she put Bertie into the situation at all. She left human food – packed lunch – on the floor, and Bertie helped himself! She then went to take the food out of his mouth and he bit her.

Knowing he has these tendencies, people should be warned not to leave food about just in case, and if  it gets as far as him mouth then it’s too late – it is their fault after all. His people have continued to work at exchange and he’s usually very good at giving things up now and he shows no possessiveness around his own food.

Bertie also gets cross if he’s settled somewhere and if for instance they want him to go outside before bed time or to get out of the car.  If he ignores their requests they man-handle him - a sure way to make a determined dog defiant.  I showed them how to get him into a willing state of mind with a bit of subterfuge! We worked on some clicker training and he was brilliant (so was the man!). They will now arouse him by engaging him in something interactive that he likes to do before asking him to go somewhere – and he will learn that there is always a ‘thank you’ reward at the end. There has to be something in it for Bertie after all. Even something as simple as asking for eye contact or to touch a hand before getting him out of the car will I’m sure do the trick.

This time the changes need to be observed for the rest of his life and not just until things seem to have got better.

Young dogs’ sociability can be compromised by aggressive encounters with older dogs

BearBear on the left is a 4-year-old mix of Jack Russell, Springer Spaniel and Shitzu! He lives with JR Nellie and an older Border Terrier.

All three dogs are very friendly without being pushy and life would be fine if Bear could be trusted with other dogs when out on walks. Unpredictably, he can mix with some other dogs when they are all off lead, but more often he is reactive and aggressive, particularly when either he or the other dog is on lead.

It probably all started when Bear was a very young dog; he would race up and down the fence with the neighbour’s very dog-aggressive larger dog doing the same thing the other side.  There would have been lots of barking and snarling. With hindsight it would have been a lot better if Bear had not been allowed to do this because he was already honing his hostile dog-to-dog skills – learning from the older dog. Nellie

Bear has attacked a couple young dogs out on walks which may well be doing them the harm that the big dog next door did to Bear.  It’s important that he never has the opportunity to do this again.

In order for Bear to learn reliable recall, working for food is the easiest and most efficient incentive (play and praise also can be used).

One might think that the work starts outside the house, but no.  A dog that is pandered to where food is concerned isn’t going to want to work for it. Bear won’t eat his very good food unless extra fish is added. I offered him a piece of cheese and he just  walked away!

Soon he will eat what he is given, he will go to his bowl rather than having it brought to him and he will eat it up without tasty extras added. Only then he will begin to value the more tasty stuff and they can then start to work on his dog-reactivity.

It is essential that he comes when called – not just when he feels like it but when there is another dog about. If he ignores them at home when they call him or want him to do something, he certainly won’t come running back when called if he’s spotted another dog.

When food gains value as a currency and they themselves gain more relevance so he more willingly does their bidding, they can then be using the special tasty stuff for rewards and reinforcement rather than bribes added to his food to make him eat!


Walks now enjoyable and no worries any more about the dogs with the little boy.

ShibaInus1Just over two months ago I visited  two gorgeous Shiba Inus, Shoko and Azuki (

Amongst other problems Azuki was very fearful when out on walks – of loud traffic, anything unusual and most particularly of approaching people. He would lunge and bark. His humans were not enjoying walks.

We developed a plan that combined management, training and behaviour work – most particularly with Azuki out on walks, working with him by himself.

Life now is a lot easier. I received this email today:

I actually enjoy walking the dogs now! The baby gate has made a big difference, it’s so much calmer in our house. Energy and excitement levels stay much more steady! Much less jumping up happening too – which is great. Because I’m not concerned about them knocking over my nephew like I was before they can interact a bit more which helps them learn more about kids too”.

Coco is getting used to Charlie now


Just twelve days ago I visited  10-year-old Chocolate Labrador Coco and new puppy Charlie . They knew things would be very difficult because Coco just doesn’t like other dogs full stop – they were expecting trouble. The initial introduction was a disaster but they have worked very hard since and here are the two dogs together.

The gentleman sent me this lovely photo today with these words:

“Coco is tolerating little Charlie much better than anticipated. He will sit with him now, he just doesn’t appreciate Charlie lunging into his face. Thank you Theo, we could not of done this without your help and recommendations…I am confident of that.”.

Coco looks reasonably relaxed but ‘tolerating‘ is a good word to describe his body langage! I’m sure in another couple of weeks with owners who are careful we will see him angled more towards puppy Charlie and, as he gets used to puppy boisterousness he will actually invite interaction. I have asked for another photo when the time comes.

They have ELEVEN dogs!

Elevendogs7One needs to run a ‘tighter ship’ with multiple dogs if things are not to be chaotic. A chaotic atmosphere is troubling to some dogs – just as it is with children, and the behaviour of the 5-year-old Cocker named Jigs is evidence of this.

Considering they have eleven dogs – a mix of various Springer, Cockers, Poodles and Cockerpoos all age under the age of six, these dogs are a tribute to their owners. The lady is a groomer and the dogs are gorgeous. A full-time job.  It isn’t surprising, however, that with those numbers there are a few issues.

At present the dogs rule the lady in particular. As she sits on her chair they leap all over her uninvited. There is some growling between them. There is also some trouble between two of the female dogs, one of which, Jigs, constantly parades a ball, pacing about growling. There has only been one major fight between her and Millly, the 6-year old Springer – so far.Elevendogs5

With so many dogs all together most of the time, the lady needs to behave a bit like an orchestral conductor! She should be calling the tune. She could be inviting which dog she wants on her and turning away those she doesn’t. She needs to watch out for and pre-empt trouble between dogs immediately.

All the dogs follow her everywhere – she is like the Pied Piper. It’s quite hilarious really. She is a very warm and lively person, and unsurprisingly the dogs are much more excitable with her than when they are left with her quieter husband. Jigs’ pacing, parading and growling doesn’t happen so much when she is out. She acknolwedges that she has some work to do.

She needs to take more control and Jigs needs helping out. It will be hard for her initially to get into new habits that are alien to her, but we have made a plan so that she is introduced to one thing at a time, starting by gaining control of her own lap! This will be followed by treating each dog individually, calling one at a time to her. Elevendogs3

Elevendogs6Most importantly the dogs need to learn that calmness gets the good stuff. At present they are wild with excitement at so many things – being let into the sitting room in the evening, going out into the garden with the lady (they won’t stay out without her), and when people come to the house. The excitement then stresses Jigs and Milly who may turn on each other.  When a visitor arrives the little white American Cocker (left) is scared and may pee, and Springer Milly runs and hides. The rest are very sociable. Absolutely delightful.

I have been to people with far more problems with just two or three dogs then they have with their eleven. A lot could be done by creating a calmer atmosphere and letting the dogs know that their humans – the lady in particular - aren’t their slaves!

They breed Cockerpoos. Last year they had two litters. This year the four unspayed females will hopefully have puppies (Jigs isn’t one of them). The dad will be handsome year-old Poodle Bo, on the right.

Clever Westie needs more constructive stuff to occupy him

WestieFraserOh Joy! This was one clever little dog.

Eighteen-month Westie Fraser that I went to yesterday lives with a couple and their 3-year-old son. He has two different traits, both of which result in toileting indoors.

When the little boy is up and about Fraser can become very amped-up. The child is bright, talkative and energetic just as little boys should be, and he is very hands-on with the dog. Mostly it is a lovely relationship, but at times I feel it gets a bit too much for Fraser, who, during the day can be displaying stress-related behaviours whereas in the evening, with the little boy in bed, dad at home and less happening outside, he is altogether a more peaceful little dog.

Fraser has developed a sequence of behaviours beginning with his hearing or seeing something outside the sitting room window and ends with his toileting on the floor. They live on a corner so there is plenty passing by.  Fraser first starts to bark, he carries on being agitated and barking for several minutes, then he starts pacing and compulsively sniffing the floor. His agitation ends with him either peeing or pooing – or both.

The other thing he does that also results in toileting is in the kitchen when they are busy cooking or doing something with the little boy. Fraser’s not getting their attention – they will be ignoring his usual squeaking and whining (something that usually ends in getting what he wants), so he pees – or poos. He may even look at them as he does so. Although they don’t scold him as such, he certainly gets a reaction! Whatever they are doing stops for a while.

When he is left all alone in the kitchen at night time or when they are out, the place is always clean so this backs up my theory. At most other times his squeaking and whining at them will get him the desired result.

The bottom line I feel is that Fraser doesn’t have enough to occupy his brain so he’s fairly frustrated. I thought we would just try some clicker work to see how he got on. In the past he would sit and stay on request but he refused to lie down.

This little genius got the hang of earning clicks (hence food) in no time at all. He was lying down/getting up/lying down repeatedly, really chuffed with himself.  The couple also caught on very quickly and soon the lady was teaching him to touch her hand (‘touch’) and to look into her eyes (‘watch me’). The options are endless.

We now have a tool for interrupting the alarm-barking routine and teach him to do something else instead – which this morning the lady told me is already working. The other thing they will do is to put static plastic window frosting on that window so he can’t see out.

So far as whining for attention is concerned, he needs to realise in all other situations as well as when they are busy in the kitchen, that it doesn’t work. He will actually be getting far more attention and mental stimulation, but not instigated always by himself, and certainly not as a result of whining and squeaking.

The lady will also be clicker training the little boy with Smarties (and the word Yes instead of clicking so as not to confuse the dog)! She will reward him when he gives the dog space, when he lets him eat in peace and so on.

I was really excited at how quickly this little dog picked things up, and the couple were amazed. We actually carried on for far longer than I would normally without a break, and he still wasn’t ready to stop. There are all sorts of things he can learn to do.

Fraser has a very rosy future and I’m sure it won’t be long before their floors are clean!

Worry about their dog is overshadowing what should be a magical time with their new baby

JRXBuddyDear little Buddy is an eleven-year-old Jack Russell Llasa Apso cross. They have had him for the past 8 years. His is another case where they had not prepared the dog for the new arrival and they are really struggling now.

They have tried to introduce Buddy to the baby – a very small premature baby who has just come home, but he went to grab his foot so now he is kept well away. Each time baby moves or cries, Buddy whines and then barks, high and ear-splitting. It seems a mix of curiosity and wanting to be involved – along with wariness. Too much change in his life too quickly. What is this new animal in my house?

Previously he had slept in their bedroom, but now he is shut downstairs. He barks and whines. It is such shame he wasn’t weaned into sleeping downstairs weeks ago along with loud YouTube clips of babies crying and the pram installed with a doll and a baby-smelling blanket.

I do understand how people don’t consider preparing their dog. I myself, many years ago, had a one year-old Labrador when my baby was born. It never occured to me to worry and like the great majority of dogs, he took little notice of the new arrival.

We worked hard at calling Buddy away when he barked – then rewarding him for coming. We counter-conditioned with food each time he looked at the baby or the baby made a sound. Understandably Buddy was at his most noisy while the lady was feeding Baby.

We worked on trying to pre-empt the behaviour before it actually happens, to catch him when his focus is on Baby but before he actually jumps up or barks. We mark that moment and reward.

In a couple of days the lady will be all alone with baby and dog as the man will be back at work. Buddy has never been shut away in another room. I see no other way than getting a puppy pen to keep dog and baby separate but in the same room – it doesn’t matter which one goes in the pen! An advantage of this is that dog and baby can get a lot closer – in safety.

The more familiar Buddy is with the baby, the less interested he will become.

Buddy’s food can be divided into small meals which he eats while the lady is feeding the baby. At present his food is left down all the time so that needs to stop. All good things happen near Baby. If he barks at her from the pen when she has nobody to help her, then she needs to take baby out of the room and leave Buddy. He will simply have to learn.

It is very difficult dealing with a very noisy dog because despite one’s best resolutions, it really gets to you in the end. These people are exhausted already. I shall be calling in a couple of days when the lady is alone to see what I can do to help her to cope.

This is an adorable dog, and if they can get through the next couple of weeks I’m sure everything will settle down. Just now they are on the verge of saying goodbye to him.

Agitated Rottweiler won’t let new baby out of his sight

KodaMy last visit was to an older dog being introduced to a new puppy. Today it was another older dog and a brand new tiny baby.

Rottie Koda is a very fit 8-years old and the baby is under 6lbs in weight. You can see from the panting the stressed state Koda is in. He only relaxed very briefly in all the time I was there – four hours.

Because he is such a well-trained, obedient dog they hadn’t considered him having difficulty accepting the baby. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but things would now be a lot easier with preparation over several weeks or months.

Koda has to keep the baby in sight all the time. Fortunately he is able to stay temporarily with the lady’s parents, and they are taking baby around there for just an hour every day.

Koda wants to put his big head under the pram hood. He wants to jump on the pram and on the occasion he succeeded it was to give the baby a big slobbery lick. His intentions may well be good, but the sheer weight of his head would be several times that of baby and the natural anxiety of his humans isn’t lost on Koda. With a small dog they wouldn’t need to worry too much.

Not only does he want to get at baby, he constantly barks at family members as though to tell them to give him the baby.  Barking to get things he wants has always worked in the past – in fact it is one downside to a well-trained dog being taught to bark for things. Koda goes frantic when baby is picked up. When baby is taken out of the room or back home, Koda is almost in meltdown.

I believe that this is a sort of resource-guarding issue, the resource being the baby.

I imagine that in the past, Koda being their ‘baby’, anything exciting (noisy or smelly or cuddly) that has been brought home has been for him. I wonder whether he feels baby belongs to him and it seems like he is increasingly frustrated because despite all the barking nobody will give baby to him.

Quite a few changes need to be made in Koda’s own behaviour and his family’s behaviour towards him.  As he’s used to calling the tune, he expects his persistent barking to get what he wants – the baby. He is obsessed, poor dog.

With a bit of experimentation we worked out a plan, stopping negatives like scolding and using clicker and reward instead. We had Koda on long lead.

With baby quiet in his pram, Koda began to realise that if he pulled the lead tight to touch the pram with his nose he could go no further. There was no scolding. As soon as the lead relaxed click and treat. He was learning! He was also learning for himself that lying down was much more rewarding than pulling towards baby or barking.

Soon Koda was responding even when the baby was crying in the pram. He began to find it harder when the young lady stood up and went towards the pram, so we worked on that. Then she touched the pram. Then she touched baby. Still we clicked and treated. When she lifted the baby, Koda was well over his threshold and no longer reponsive to clicks and treats, so the lady put baby back. We need to break it down into even smaller increments.

I suggest that they start their routine with a doll wrapped in baby-smelling blankets before going on to the real thing.

With patience I’m sure Koda will begin to lose interest in the baby and they will be able to settle down to normal family life with their lovely baby and beautiful dog.

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