Obedient? No, not disobedient. Unmotivated.


I always ask what people want of their dog when I first arrive. The gentleman said ‘an obedient dog’ and the lady said a dog that she could walk.

The two are part of the same thing. In my own words what they want is a fulfilled, happy and motivated dog.

The less compliant and obedient a dog is, the more a frustrated owner may intensify his or her approach. They repeat commands with a crescendo until they are shouting. This may intimidate some dogs into being obedient.

With adolescence came attitude

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Little Chihuahua is Perfect!

Chihuahua lying on his back in his bedThis little dog is a dream. I’m in love.

The lady is wheelchair-bound and has had 20-month-old Chihuahua Pepe for ten weeks now. Apparently he came from a home where they also had two big dogs.

He doesn’t bark too much, he isn’t demanding in any way, he doesn’t pull on his lead, he’s confident and friendly with other dogs – he has a dog walker. He’s not nervous of anything. He is fine with the people who regularly need to come in and out of the lady’s house.

He even takes himself into the sitting room with a chew when she needs to go out.

The problem is that with limited mobility, the lady needs Pepe to be more responsive to her requests.

He may go out in the garden last thing at night and finds it much more interesting than coming in to her when she calls him, particularly as she is unable to use a bright tone of voice.

When someone comes to the door, for his safety she needs him to jump on her lap before she wheels herself over to open it. It can take many ‘UP UP UP’s before he does so and she worries about the person waiting outside.Pepe's lady lacks mobility so he needs to respond to commands

I asked her, “What do you think is in it for him to do as you ask?”

She replied, “I cuddle him!” I could see she thought that was a silly question!

Well, this independent little dog isn’t fussed about cuddles, possibly because she tries too hard.  (I did find he likes a little tickle on his chest and behind his ears best).

The lady never uses food.

I demonstrated the power of food rewards by teaching him to both sit and lie down in about five minutes.

To get his attention she is going to use a whistle. It will be a bright sound. First she will ‘charge’ it with repeated ‘peeps’ followed by cheese or chicken (something special), many times until Prince gets the connection.

Then, when she wants him to come to her, one little ‘peep’ should do. She can immediately drop him the food which she will have beside her on her wheelchair in a pot or bag.

If she wants him on her lap, she will ‘peep’ and then pat her lap with ‘Up’. Then he gets his reward.

What a lucky lady she is to have rehomed such a wonderful little dog – a dog with no issues at all.  He is obviously a very happy Pepe to be living with her too.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Pepe, which is why I don’t go into the exact details of your plan here. 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).

Trying Too Hard to Have a Perfect Dog

wanting the perfect dogThey think Otis is a Ridgeback crossed with a Pharaoh Hound. This wonderful young dog has been through a lot in the one year of his short life. He started life in a puppy farm, ended up in a shelter for several months, and a couple of months ago was adopted by a young couple – my clients.

He was in a woeful, thin state having hated being kennelled. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they discovered he had a congenital heart disease so he needed major surgery.

The gentleman is with Otis all day as he works from home and has worked very hard training him to be a house dog and to be obedient. He has done amazingly well. All was going more or less to plan until three weeks ago when Otis went back to the shelter in order to be castrated.

Castration fallout

Since then he has become anxious and needy, developing separation problems; understandably insecure.

This dog is incredibly obedient, I would say somewhat repressed and over-controlled. With anxiety now part of the equation, the man has been becoming increasingly frustrated because this is an aspect of Otis’ behaviour that he is unable to control. The anxiety is affecting the dog’s behaviour towards people he meets or hears and how the gentleman feels about his dog.

Otis has been kept in the kitchen even when they are in the sitting room. He has been trained to stay in the crate even though the door is open. The reasoning being that if he’s allowed to join them once he will expect to be there all the time. When they go out for a smoke in the garden, they may leave Otis in the kitchen, watching out of the window, thinking that if they always let him out it will create a precedent.

The perfect dog.

I think this wanting Otis to be the perfect dog is backfiring on them. Just as something that is too freely available loses value, the converse must be true and if a dog is starved of something (company) he will crave it more and hence his increasing neediness for company. There is also inconsistency between the couple resulting in conflict. The lady is much more relaxed and wants cuddles while the man has been set on creating the perfect dog. I felt terrific sympathy for both of them.

At the end of our time together, he volunteered that he was banging his head against a brick wall of his own making. Otis had to be in the sitting room all the time I was there and he was as good as gold. With the ongoing self-imposed pressure to ‘get it right’ the man has been pushing himself and Otis much too hard, but in treating Otis in a way that rested comfortably with her, his wife was in effect undermining him. She, too, has compromises to make.

In his efforts to do his very best for his dog the poor man had lost his way and lost sight of the reason they got the dog – to enjoy family life with his lovely wife and their happy dog.

Their first task is to look for every GOOD thing they can see their dog doing and immediately reward it with a piece of his kibble which they should keep in their pocket – whether it’s watching the cat walk by without moving, settling down after pacing or not barking when he hears something outside.

It’s amazing what a different mindset can do.

I had an email this morning: ‘It was great to meet you last night. I can’t tell you how much things have improved already! Otis seems much happier and in turn so are we’.

‘Come’ Works a Whole Lot Better Than ‘Go’.

Today three of my five dogs were by mistake let out of their ‘daytime’ enclosure into the sitting room (with five lively dogs one needs some physical boundaries). The three offenders were the three youngest, German Shepherd Milly, Cocker Pickle (of course), and Labrador Zara. ‘Man’ had left the barrier open on his way through so it was time for a party.

I heard a lot of noise and shouting of GO BACK IN THERE and found three dogs chasing gleefully about, evading him, with the rug sliding about on the wooden floor.

Why do people make things so difficult? (Sorry, Man. Living with someone who thinks they know it all is enough to make you dig your heels in and do things your way).

I walked through the room cheerfully saying ‘Come With Me, Dogs’. I walked into their enclosure followed by three willing dogs. They received a small treat each from my pocket – thank you for cooperating. Job done.

‘Come’ works so much better than ‘Go’. At night time, getting an unwilling dog to ‘go’ outside can be much harder than asking him to ‘come’ out with you. I prefer to call a dog to her crate or bed – COME TO YOUR BED (reward) works a lot better than GO TO YOUR BED as many people like to do – inviting defiance; likewise ‘COME away from the front door’ in preference to ‘GO away’.

It’s that old contest between the ‘dominance’ approach (‘they will do as they are told because I must show them who is boss’), and the positive reward-based approach where the dogs are treated with respect. The pay-off of the latter is that the dogs will then treat us with respect and want to please us.

It’s a no-brainer.