Replace Bad Habit With Good Habit

Anything repeated often enough can become a habit.

I totally fell in love with scruffy ten-month-old Jack Russell mix Max yesterday. I had the perfect evening with him and his humans.

It began with just me and the daughter who is in her late teens. Then mum arrived followed by twSitting still is a better habit than jumping abouto male school friends of the girl’s and later a man – all people closely involved in the dog’s life. Lucky little dog!

As each person joined us I was working with Max. He had jumped up at me in a madly friendly fashion as I walked in the door and I immediately showed him that this didn’t work with me if it was my attention he wanted. More importantly, I concentrated on showing him what did work.

As more people arrived and as I worked with him, instead of jumping up at them, becoming increasingly excited and silly as would normally be the case, he was becoming more and more settled.

When finally the man joined us, he said Max must be another dog.

It won’t take much of this to build up a new habit when people arrive, so long as everyone is consistent. They have a lot of people coming and going so training the humans is the main problem here!

All I did was to consistently reinforce the behaviour I wanted. As you can see from the photo, Max became FOCUSED! He was sitting looking up at me as we all chatted. From time to time I reinforced the continued calm behaviour with Yes or a click and the tiniest bit of food.

Now he can develop a new habit, that of sitting at someone’s feet looking adorable in order to get his attention fix!

BanceMax1I then tried him on an antler chew. Chewing is such a great and natural way for a dog to relieve stress and to occupy himself. Max worked away at it for maybe an hour after which he simply lay down and settled.

Just like so many dogs I go to, Max generates nearly all his own attention with tactics like constantly asking to be let out and then back in again, jumping up behind people, mouthing, digging the sofa – anything he can think of.

If instead his humans initiate frequent short activities that he finds rewarding and that exercise his brain, he will no longer be driven into goading them for the attention and action he craves.


They can convert any unwanted habit into a good habit.

The small dog has fantastic humans in his life who have put time and effort into teaching him training tricks. Now they need to incorporate work on keeping him a bit calmer and making the desirable habits the rewarding ones.

At last he settles

At last he settles

Here are a few examples where his bad habit can be changed into a good habit.

Before bed and before they go to work, like so many dogs Max will refuse to come in from the garden. With a bit of management by way of a long lead so he can no longer rehearse the behaviour and food so that he’s motivated, this habit can soon be changed to him running in as soon as they call him.

While they eat their dinner, he has a habit of sitting on the back of the sofa behind them and trying to get their food! This habit can be changed with a mix of management and training. So he can no longer rehearse this behaviour he can be put somewhere else while they eat. He can then be taught a much better habit instead.

Whenever he sees a person out on a walk he will jump up at them. This habit can be changed through a mix of management and teaching him something better that earns him fuss.

Even pulling on lead is a habit. He is forced to walk beside them and the short lead is tight so that pulling against it is constantly rehearsed on every daily walk. A new habit can be established using management – better equipment – and a loose leash that is repeatedly reinforced by earning him forward progress along with plenty of encouragement, attention and reward.

Near the end of our session yesterday I put one of my Perfect Fit harnesses on Max and attached a training lead. Within a few minutes the now calm Max was walking beautifully for me and then for the daughter outside the front of the house.

Already a new and much better walking habit has been born.

It was quite touching how he was with me by the time I was ready to leave and we had removed the harness. He lay beside me, his head on my foot. What had I done to him?

We had a mutual understanding. Max felt quietly understood.


NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)


Independent. Learn to be Alone. Separation Anxiety. Panic

Why aren’t puppies, right from the start, taught to be independent – to be alone for short periods?

85% of dogs!

This seems a no-brainer considering the statistics. The TV series Dogs, Their Secret Lives on Channel 4 in 2013, discovered that a huge 85% of dogs show signs of not coping to some extent when left alone. In many cases their owners aren’t even aware of it.

Why isn’t independence given the same priority in preparing puppy for the world as socialisation and toilet training? Continue reading…

Jumping Up on People. Barking at Other Dogs.

Yesterday I visited a young couple with three dogs. All three were rescued from Bosnia and have come here from Italy where the couple used to live. One had been dumped from a car and the other two most likely had been strays on the streets.

Before I arrived and based on previous experience, I had anticipated meeting three dogs with a mixture of fear issues. Problems with living in a small house and feeling threatened by the proximity of someone they don’t know.

How wrong I was!

These young people must have the magic touch.

They rescued four-year-old Staffie Luna first. She is extremely friendly, too much so in a way. She did a lot of jumping up at me and jumping on me when I sat down.

Too much jumping up

Luna and Thor

The next dog they took in was Thor, a lovely fluffy dog who looks a bit like a Poodle mixed with a Schnauzer or Tibetan Terrier. He, too, is four. Like Luna he is friendly and well adjusted in the house, with some jumping up and rather too much pawing for attention.

Finally they adopted Zeus eighteen months ago. Zeus is a four-year-old Husky. He had been dropped from a moving car and is unsurprisingly now terrified of being in the car.

When he first arrived he was more or less shut down. He kept well away from his new owners. Now he’s one of the most chilled dogs I have met.

Zeus’ only has problems when they encounter other dogs when out. 

Jumping and pestering

The couple wants help on two fronts. They want to be able to have friends round without the dogs jumping all over them – to be able to talk and eat with them in peace. They also need all three dogs to be better when encountering other dogs on walks.

We started with the jumping up and general pestering. The couple themselves don’t mind it, but if they don’t want them jumping and pestering friends, then manners must start with themselves.


So far it’s all been about STOPPING the dogs jumping up and pestering.

They even had someone from Barkbusters who advocated water bombs for their reactivity to dogs and for jumping up. Did it work? No.

It is unacceptable and unethical to punish dogs for being friendly or for being scared. It is particularly risky to consider frightening dogs from their background. Thankfully they don’t seem to have suffered and it’s not something their savvy owners were willing to do.

We are now concentrating on teaching the dogs what IS wanted. There must be nothing to be gained from unwanted behaviour and all to be gained from desired behaviour. We used clicker. We used food and we used the attention the dog was seeking but only with feet on the floor and not while pestering and pawing.

The couple should also compensate the dogs by initiating attention when they are calm thus further reinforcing what they want.

Hello face to face.

These lovely dogs are only jumping up because they are so friendly which is lovely really. They like to say hello face to face. They can still do so if people lower themselves.

Dog-encounters on walks are a bit more complicated. Each dog has different needs and problems which include pulling on lead and which we will take separately. I haven’t included this in my story, but Luna, Thor and Zeus would benefit from some freedom off lead from time to time.

I suggest they find a dog-safe field that is rented out by the hour so the dogs can sometimes run free. 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for these lovely dogs because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Recall Could Save his Life

RockyCh1If a dog won’t come to you from the other side of the room when called, he’s unlikely to do so when out and chasing off after another dog!

They call him and little Chihuahua Rocky may just stand and look. If he does come he will stop short by several feet and then they will go over to him. Mind you – his humans give him attention whenever he chooses so in a way they are teaching him that he doesn’t need to do things when they choose.

What a great little character Rocky is.

The other day he ran out the front, and ignoring their calls was nearly run over. This prompted them to get in touch with me.

His ‘not coming when called unless he feels like it’ is also a problem out on walks. He is very reactive to other dogs (scared but brave) and will chase after them barking.

WRockyChhat’s the secret? Food! There must be something ‘in it’ for him if they want him to come back.

The tone in which he’s called has to be clear and encouraging too but not repeated over and over. Being given several chances looked like he was being begged to come – and Rocky just turned and walked away!

Whilst he’s fine and friendly meeting new people when out, Rocky is barky and wary when they come into his house.  Although he quickly accepted me, he started barking again when I walked towards the lady. He alerted to every sound outside and does a lot of barking in general.

We worked on rewarding not barking with food – particularly when he alerted having heard something, catching it immediately before the barking started with an ‘okay’ and food.

Where reliable recall is concerned I introduced a little game. The process needs to be done over and over (I usually say a thousand times) before it becomes sufficiently engrained to be a conditioned response which can be relied upon to work when really needed.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rocky, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

She doesn’t listen. Walks Aren’t Much Fun With Husky

Rescue Husky is a gentle and friencly family dogOrca is a three-year-old Husky who has been living with her new family for three months now.

She is proving to be a wonderful, loving and gentle addition to the family and has helped their 8-year-old daughter to get over a previous bad experience with a dog. The gentleman freqently takes Orca to work with him at his garage where she is hooked up for safety; she is as good as gold and friendly to everyone.

She ‘doesn’t listen’.

Out on walks however, Orca ‘doesn’t listen’ – especially when she is off lead. She has had the man waiting for two hours on several occasions. It’s not that she actually disappears but she stays out of reach!

I noticed at home that everything Orca wanted she got immediately. This was the case when she pawed him and when she jumped at him. Sometimes he reprimanded her, sometimes he actually fussed her when she did these things, whilst also saying they were behaviours that they didn’t want – especially with guests and the children’s friends.

Basically, every time Orca wants attention she gets it. Attention isn’t so freely available from the lady and consequently Orca pays more attention to her. You can easily understand how people adore her and want to fuss and touch her all the time.

Coming back when called

In addition to putting HuskyOrca1in some good recall training over a period of time both at home and when out, Orca needs to want to come back. As I often say, anything that is too readily on tap loses value, and this goes for an individual as well as for food. I did notice that when I ignored Orca’s jumping on me by tipping her off and then shortly afterwards I called her to me and offered her the attention under my own terms, she didn’t come. She just sat a little way away and looked at me! It illustrated my point perfectly.

The sort of jumping welcome I received seemed like a mix of excitement tinged with anxiety. It sounds like this is the sort of reaction she has to meeting other dogs when out. He needs to work at getting Orca’s attention on himself when required, rather than on other dogs. By earning her respect and attention at home through being a bit more consistent and not quite a pushover,  keeping her attention on him when out should be lot easier.

Changing one’s own behaviour in this respect can be quite hard if it goes against ones own nature, but playing a little hard to get can work wonders at times.

Teenage Ridgeback with Mind of his Own

a dog with a mind of his ownOne has to smile. This photo says it all!  He is sitting in the seat just vacated by the lady – ‘my seat’!

Samba is very big even for a Ridgeback. He is just one year old. They have had two Ridgebacks before but neither had prepared them for Samba. They were gentle and biddable.

A mind of his own

Samba is one of those dogs that when asked to sit will either do nothing at all or lie down. He exercises his clever brain by finding ways to control his environment. It is even a battle for the man to get his lead on before a walk.

The final straw that resulted in my visit was a nasty gash down the lady’s arm. When she’s alone with him during the week, Samba bullies her. He has to be ‘herding’ her wherever she goes, pushing and perhaps mouthing. He won’t let her out of his sight. When she sits on the sofa, he will run the length of the house and launch himself on top of her; she shouts, gets angry and scared and flails arms about – hence the unintentional wound from his nails. He grabs her arm with his front legs like he’s going to hump her.  Samba is a lot stronger than she is and is on top of her.

Things have got so bad that she goes out of the house to escape from him which results in even more time in his crate, which adds to his bad need for stimulation. His daily run isn’t sufficient.

They call NO the ‘magic’ word. This must change to ‘YES’ as they look for and mark all the small bits of good behaviour that they can. Cut out commands and scolding. Every command is setting up an opportunity for him to be defiant.

People hold the trump cards but don’t use them. They give them away for free when they can be earned. Food. Attention. Play. Walks.

Samba is sure to hold out for a while. Being a Good Boy isn’t nearly as much fun as the current reaction he gets for causing mayhem!

Constantly On the Go, Panics When Left

Milo looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth Milo can be both naughty and extremely anxiousWhat – constantly on the go and gets up to mischief if ignored? You wouldn’t believe it would you! Eighteen-month old Milo is divine. He’s a cross between a Jack Russell and a Cocker Spaniel.

He can be both very naughty and extremely anxious. You can see on the right the lifted paw – this shows he is worried and he does this a lot of the time. He constantly craves attention – and he has always had a lot of it. His lady owner is at home all day and he is very dependent upon her indeed (as perhaps she is on him).

His really naughty time of day is when the gentleman comes home from work! Milo tries him to the limit and is expert at winding him up. If he doesn’t get his own way he steals something or he chews something – his bed or the carpet for instance. If told to stop he may go wild and tear up the garden with the remote in his mouth. The lady has much better control in that he may come for her, but he runs the man a merry dance of chase around the garden, scaring himself in the process, when all the man wants is to put his feet up after a busy day.

The worst impact that Milo has on their lives is that he can’t be left alone at all. They can never go out together without taking Milo too. He cries and he howls, and they find it very distressing. He is with the lady all the time, all day and in their bed at night. Little by little he needs to be taught some independence. The lady is well aware of this and has made a start already, leaving for a few minutes and recording what is happening in her absence.

Milo is getting some sort satisfaction from his ‘naughty’ behaviour else he wouldn’t be doing it. Part of it may be that it helps him to relieve the stress which has built up inside him. He is a little dog very easily frightened by big things like vehicles and by different or sudden things.

Bless him. They have tried a trainer who advocated alpha rolling him and shaking stones in his face, and they have sent him somewhere for a weekend when they had to go away – and this establishment returned him saying he would now ‘behave’. He came back much more nervous than before and scared of even beng approached with the lead.

Now they have a regime that rests easy with them – kind solutions and positive alternatives to his unwanted behaviours that given time and patience will actually work, and certain rules and boundaries that should help him grow in confidence.

Just ten days later: ‘Things are going really well here Milo is like a different dog he is so calm and seems so happy and content. In turn we are so much more relaxed, our evenings have massively improved to the point where we say to each other where is the dog and he has took himself off somewhere and is fast asleep quite happy, something he would never have done before, he used to demand attention if we were watching tv or doing anything else and would never leave our sides. Over the weekend we were in the garden pottering about, R was cutting the grass and i was in and out the house usually Milo would be by my side or in the garden near R but he was sound asleep on the top of the stairs on his own, to me this was a massive improvement as that is something he would never have done in the past. I cant thank you enough for helping us back on to the right track, Milo is so relaxed and seems so happy and in turn we are so relaxed and happy. I know we still have a very long way to go with the separation issues but I can really see the light at the end of the tunnel now and know if we keep on with the routines and instructions that it will all be ok’.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.