Category Archives: Dog doc – reader’s questions

Building confidence & coping with a pup and a toddler

Dog Doc – Your questions answered

Question 1: How do I manage my reactive dog who is scared of other dogs

A friend has recently rescued a two-year old German Shepherd cross girl, Zuki.  She was kept in all the time so is very nervous of practically everything.  I asked how she was getting on with managing her on walks.  Anna is getting Zuki to ‘watch’ her as a dog goes past, whilst feeding treats, which is working well.

I suggested adding in some play with a toy, preferably something squeaky, on a strap, so that they can play ‘tuggie’ and really engage together.  It is another way of distracting the dog away from the dog going past, without it being too boring and serious.

Another option to consider is to have a basket muzzle on the dog.  This fits fairly loosely over the dog’s muzzle.  It should not be inhibiting to wear.  It means that the dog can get on with its walk and the owner can relax, knowing that the dog cannot bite anyone else.  Here are some links to advice about the use of a basket muzzle to muzzle or not to muzzle /conditioning a dog to a muzzle

Of course disagreements can still happen!  So it is still necessary to manage any interactions carefully.  However, if the dog can be off lead, even for only short periods, without the owner needing to panic every time another dog appears, this is a step forward.

Anna said “It was really useful to chat things through and interestingly, we’re not walking her for a few days while her nose heals from the canny collar and conditioning her to it again slowly in the garden in short bursts rewarding her when she walks well and that seems to be reaping rewards!”

Question 2: I have a very lively spaniel who is hard to control – can you help?

I asked the owner what was the worst part of his behaviour.  She said that he was 16 weeks old and although they were working hard on training, especially jumping up (by turning away from him), she was finding he was too ‘full on’ with her 3 year-old son.  She has a stair gate across doorways, so that the puppy and toddler can be kept apart, but felt that they should be able to play together.

I reassured her that they probably would play together, soon.  I told her to be patient, as both the puppy and the child are very young.  In a couple of months the puppy will be a bit more settled and consistent in his behaviour and she will find it much easier to manage their interaction.

It is also likely that the toddler will become increasingly familiar with the pup and the way he behaves.  He will be less interested in the dog and react less to his presence.  This is the best way for the two of them to learn to get along.  Of course it is lovely to see children and dogs interacting, but it takes time and good management.  See my Dogs and Children page for more information.


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Please note: I am not a qualified dog behaviourist or trainer.  I have owned border collies for many years and raised a number of puppies, so I am an experienced dog owner, that is all.  Information provided here represents my opinion, based on my experience.

Stick or Carrot? Dogs love both!

Go on then, throw it!
Go on then, throw it!

I went to see one of the pups from the last litter this week – gorgeous!  I am absolutely delighted with how she is turning out; beautiful conformation, lovely dark chocolate coat, and most importantly, really super temperament.  It was remarkable how like her mother she was – same shaped head, same naughty spots on her head and same general demeanour.  She came and gently licked around the bottom of my chin, which is exactly what her mum does.  Funny isn’t it?

I spent some of the time there inevitably sharing stories about all the mischief pups get up to and talking about management strategies.  Her family have obviously worked hard with her and she is an absolute credit to them.  But I was struck by their lack of experience, as she is the first dog they have had.  I remembered the challenges I had faced with my first puppy, Buzz, even though I had grown up with collies and taken on an 8 year-old from my mum a few years earlier.

One of the things I noticed was that the pup was being grabbed and taken to places, including into her crate.  This has made me think – should we use a carrot or a stick with our dogs (or children).  Do we want to make them do what we want, threatening punishment for failure to comply?  Or do we entice them to do it with a reward?

Enticing is hard.  Dogs do like carrot, or dog treats, or exciting, squeaky toys.  But sometimes whatever they are already doing is much more interesting.  It definitely takes practice to enable you to get a good, quick response to an instruction, rather than a disinterested sniff and a turned back.

Be rewarding!  There are four keys types of praise to use:

  • verbal praise
  • physical praise ie petting, stroking
  • food
  • play with toy

And as always, with dogs (and children) be patient!

Persistence Pays Off

Be patient, you will get there in the end!  That is the message I have for you this week.  Sometimes it feels as though you will never get there, but if you stick with it, you probably will, eventually.  Here’s some proof –

Chris and Luna proudly showing off their prize

On Sunday 9th October we went to an agility show.  We haven’t been to many shows this year, for various reasons, but we’ve been plugging away at training.  Luna is 6 years old now – at her peak, really.  I did her initial training but then two years ago, in March 2014 or thereabouts, Chris started doing agility with her.  They work really well together and have already had quite a few rosettes, culminating in their first ever win on Sunday, taking them both to grade 4!

On Wednesday I was back at training with the two ‘youngsters’, Aura and Busy.  They have both been doing agility since before they were a year old, yet both of them are still learning.  I have been doing agility now for 9 years.  I’ve been to hundreds of hours of classes, trained up four dogs from scratch and worked pretty hard with those four.  I am extremely proud of Chris and Luna’s achievement, feeling that it is well deserved on their part and that I have contributed in no small part to their success – it’s a team effort.

Yesterday I was watching one of my other puppies working with her owner and the trainer to learn to do one piece of equipment.  It really demonstrated what a complex, long-term process training a dog can be.  Everything must be broken down into easy stages and practised.  Practised over and over again, with a bit more practice and then still more practice.

One step forwards, two steps back

What is also noticeable when training dogs is that there are many setbacks along the way.  What seems easy one week can be really challenging next week.  What is easy in one place becomes much too difficult somewhere else.  A good example of this was Aura’s runs at the show.  She has made such great progress at training and is running around coping with most of the obstacles really well.  Yet in the ring, with the added excitement of it all, the other dogs and people around and the unfamiliar equipment, Aura becomes slightly hysterical and cannot cope with it all!  She finds it tremendously exciting and forgets everything she has learnt.  Watching her do a run with Chris, it was obvious that she wasn’t listening to what he was telling her – it was just too exciting!  Never mind, she had fun.

Have fun!

That is something that is vital to remember when training a dog – have fun!  It is the main objective I have in the lessons I am putting together for Training Classes for Dogs ‘n’ Kids.  I want people to understand that owning a dog should be about the pleasure it brings and that working with your dog is what gives you the most pleasure.

Of course, many of the lessons we learn in training our dogs apply equally well to other life lessons.  If you want to find out more about other work I do in helping people with their businesses, please head over to IndePenDent Inspiration.  Or leave me a comment about your training triumphs?


Playing Games – What do dogs play?

Chase me chase me!  This is a video of Luna and Aura playing tag, in the woods.  They play this game in the same spot on this particular walk and almost nowhere else.  It’s as though the bracken is just right.  Or perhaps it’s just the routine they have.  It makes me smile every time, they have so much fun!

Aura is great at getting the others to play particular games with her.  She will play ‘share-a-stick’ with Sunny.  Normally, when I throw a ball, Aura will be the one to catch it, or get to it.  She then drops it by Sunny, who brings it back to me.  This happens most of the time, although sometimes Aura brings it back to me herself, or sometimes Sunny gets to the ball first.  Occasionally Busy steals the ball once Aura has put  it down and she then taunts the others by running past them, laughing and refusing to give up the ball. Luna never gets the ball on a walk, although she likes joining in ball games at home and loves playing with a toy at training.

In the woods though, I refuse to throw the ball, because they are supposed to be enjoying the woods.  I also refuse to throw sticks, because they are dangerous (we now know).  So Sunny gets a stick and shows it to me, but then Aura takes it out of her mouth and runs past with it.  Or they both run along, side by side, holding the stick.

Another popular game, especially with youngsters, is ‘snap snap’.  Two dogs lie on the floor facing each other and snapping the air in each other’s faces.  They get as close to each other as they can without actually biting, but making loads of noise and dodging round each other.

As you can see, when you have a pack of dogs, you can spend hours watching and enjoying their interactions with each other.  All of which informs how you play with your dog.  They enjoy active, energetic and sometimes slightly rough play.  Most of all, they love to engage with you and have fun!  Why not give it a go?

This is one of the topics I am covering in my Training Classes for Dogs ‘n’ Kids.  Please Contact me if you would like to enrol on the classes?

Settle Down – An Essential Command

Lie Down and Settle

Settle down
Enjoying a coffee break in the park

We’ve developed a new tradition at the weekends; we walk round our local country park and stop halfway for a coffee.  The park Rushmere Country Park is lovely and the cafe is very dog friendly.  So we sat and enjoyed our coffee.  The girls were quite fidgety and restless for a bit, but then they settled down.  There were a couple of other dogs there, left alone while their owners went to buy their drinks and one of these was slightly anxious and vocal.  Chris asked me how you train a dog to cope with being left.  So how do you do that?

As with all training, start slowly and build it up, being patient!  You need to start with asking a dog to wait in front of you and gradually lengthen the time your dog can do this with you there.  Then you start to go out of sight for a short period, lengthening this until the dog can cope happily.  I will cover this process in more detail in the future.

Equally important for this kind of experience, is teaching your dog to settle down.  This is similar, but not quite the same as teaching a ‘down’ and a ‘wait’.  ‘Settle’ means “lie here in a relaxed way while I am busy doing something else”.  Of course we want our dogs to do that all the time at home, while we are watching TV or working at our desk, but we also need to be able to instruct them to do it while we are out, if we are enjoying our coffee and don’t want to be constantly having to manage our dogs.

This might be a good point to say that if you have a labrador or practically anything apart from a collie, you might be wondering what I am making a fuss about.  But I did hear of a dog (only part collie) that demanded to be played with all day, every day and was never left other than for short periods.  Coping with inactivity is definitely a required skill.

Here’s my video – the world’s most boring clip, showing my dogs being settled.  Of course Aura should have been rewarded for going down and pretending to settle, but I had run out of treats!  What you are supposed to do is wait until they are settled and relaxed and then give them calm praise, a nice long stroke and a treat.  I’ll work on that.

If you are enjoying my training pupdates, why not let me know?  If you want me to cover a particular topic, give me a shout?  Don’t forget to share with your friends and if you subscribe you will receive a notification every time I issue a new post.  Finally, if you want to see whether I know what I’m talking about, why not head over to IndePenDent Inspiration?

Dogs Off Lead – Why bother?

Following on from my last post, about how we train our dogs to come when they are called, so that we can let them off the lead, I started thinking about why we should do that.

This is a tiny video clip of my dogs in the woods, wandering about, separately and together.  They can sniff and nose around in the undergrowth, they can wander wherever they choose to go and they can run about, unrestrained.  Busy in particular usually races around after squirrels when she is in the woods, living up to her name!  (Unlike the rest of the time, when she is pretty chilled 😉 )  You can see her in the video, trotting along.

Why bother?  Why do we need to let our dogs roam freely?  Many people walk their dogs on lead and they trot along, perfectly happily, so it seems.  Or they have their dog on an extendable lead, so that the dog can wander about, supposedly at will.

My feeling is that both of these options are better than not walking your dog at all, but that neither is really giving your dog the freedom to experience its environment fully.  I think that because a dog is so governed by its sense of smell, being able to roam freely, at their own pace, makes a big difference to their ability to ‘follow their nose’ and really appreciate the environment around them.  I think that walking a dog on lead is a bit like us going for a walk wearing a blindfold, or even more tantalisingly, a semi-transparent blindfold, which shows us that there are interesting stuff going on around us that we cannot investigate.

Reasons for walking your dog

I think it comes down to why we walk our dogs at all and what we expect them to get out of it.  My understanding is that there are a couple of reasons for walking:

  • physical exercise – of course your dog needs exercise.  This is a bit of a difficult one though, as there is so much variation in the amount of exercise people feel that their dog needs.  An hour?  Two hours?  Two walks a day?  More, or less? I see the amount of exercise as irrelevant, compared to the overall level of stimulation being received.  If you walked your dog for two hours, on lead, along the same paved paths every day, it wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?
  • mental stimulation – I feel this is more important than the physical exercise.  Going along different paths, exploring and being able to go off in different directions, is vital for a dog’s general wellbeing, in my opinion.  And of course if they can interact with other dogs along the way, they will have a much more interesting experience.

Of course there are many benefits for you in walking your dog regularly and at some length.  And it is great to interact with your dog while you walk.  I do most of my training while walking with my girls.  They practise wait, down, sit, come, retrieve and a few other bits and bobs.  My girls know how to ‘mind’ out of the way of cyclists and runners.  Off lead, of course.

Walking my dogs helps me plan and structure my work as a dragon.  To see what else I do, head to my other website IndePenDent Inspiration

When to go off lead?

Developing a perfect recall

I recently had one of the pups back for a few weeks, which was an interesting experience.  It seems that just like when you have a baby you instantly forget what labour is like, once your puppy is transformed into a sweet-natured, well-behaved adult dog, you forget what it is like to have a puppy!

I began my daily 15-20 minute walks with Charlie on lead, switching to a long line whenever there was space.  This is basically a long cord, which can be left on the ground.  It is NOT a retractable lead, which must be pulled against by the dog.  It allows the puppy the freedom to roam a bit further away from you, with the security to be gathered up if he isn’t interested in coming back to you on his own.

Getting started

The trick is in working really hard on the recall at this early stage and in trusting the pup to come back, even when they are off lead.  How do you do that?  Here are some top tips:

  • Start in the garden and house, before you go anywhere.  Your puppy should know their name and know that coming to see you results in a reward, whether that is receiving a fuss and a cuddle, or a play with a toy, or some loving words, or a tasty treat.
  • As soon as you go out, use treats to gain interest and engagement, even while you are just walking along on the normal lead.  Use the puppy’s name and a positive tone of voice.
  • I also take a special toy, which I use to play tuggy or to throw a short distance, to add interest and engagement.

Once you’ve gained a bit of confidence that you can get your puppy back, let him go!  Warning: it will be scary and it might go wrong!  So obviously try and look out for possible dangers and try and find somewhere will plenty of space.

Do’s and Don’ts

Like everything else, it takes practice and patience.  The more you do it and the more relaxed you are with it, the more likely you are to succeed.  Some more tips:

  • Don’t expect an instant response, instantly!  Call his name and ‘come’ and then wait a few seconds for the call to register.  The more he is able to wander around and have a good sniff, the more likely he is to want to come back to you for a treat, knowing that he can then go off again.
  • Do practice the recall many times during the course of the walk.  If he thinks he is going to come back and then be put on the lead because it’s the end of the walk, that’s not much of a reward, is it?
  • Do keep your voice light and excited.  This is VERY hard to do when he is completely ignoring you and talking to another dog/person/butterfly.
  • Do praise him for coming back, even if it has taken time to achieve.  If I have to go and get him, I’m not going to be happy about it, but ANY response I get from him MUST be rewarded (although you might really be wanting to kill him!)
  • Do be more interesting and exciting than whatever else is going on. An excited voice, an interesting toy and tasty treats will all be needed.


If all else fails, run away!  Turning your back and legging it in the opposite direction is one of the best ways to get your pup to come back to you.  It’s scary and difficult to do, but will usually work.

Comment or Get in touch?

Good luck with your training!  Please comment below on your puppy training experiences or Contact me if you want to discuss your training.