Category Archives: Top Training Tips

To the extreme

Reading my social media feeds this week, you would think that the only way to train a dog is NEVER with this tool or ONLY with this tool, to ONLY feed this diet because this diet KILLS dogs, to NEVER allow your dog carry out this behaviour, ONLY get dogs from this source…and so on and on.

I understand that social media, as a communication tool, facilitates this polarisation, but as professionals, surely we have responsibilities in recognising and understanding the nuances in human-dog interactions.

We espouse “science” and “evidence” bases but yet commit science- sins of absolutism and declarations of ‘fact’ and ‘proof’ based in anecdote and bias.

The bottom line is that dogs and humans have been together, in one way or another, for many tens of thousands of years (if not longer). Both humans and dogs are complex social creatures, who bring lots of variability and flexibility to the table. Dogs are super-dooper adaptable, which is a feature that has probably allowed them to develop such close and intense relationships with us.

My clients are, for the most part, regular pet owners. They have busy lives, to which their dog is an addition, and their pet must slot in. My job is to help them help their dog to do that.
In essence, what I am doing is helping them meet their pet dog’s needs, improving its welfare, so that their relationship blossoms.

Sharing extremes is likely not helpful. My responses to queries about trying or avoiding such recommendations tend to range from “maybe that’ll work” to “that might not work in this situation”.

Behaviour is such a loose and flexible phenomenon that binding it in absolutes is not helpful. Many, many factors contribute, some within our control and some without.
What works for this person, this dog, this context, on this day, may be very different for another person or dog, or another context or day.

I am not at all suggesting that rules and laws don’t apply to behaviour, but rather the application of same, in every day life, may be a greyer area altogether.

My clients need help fitting their dog and its needs into their lives. That requires compromise and discussion, rather than dictating and self-righteousness.
Social media is powerful, but can be a dangerous place for novices, who may be impressionable or naive.

Yes, lots of training-cultural norms need to be challenged and re-challenged, and I enjoy that and the accompanying learning curve, but not at the expense of discussion, preference and appreciation for variation in approach.

By opening up, rather than shutting down arguments for or against, we can debate and discuss, and learn and adapt. Absolutes and definites shut that down, scare away newbies and make dog training a dictatorship, rather than an applied science that can be molded and shaped to help pet owners and their pets.

Got Puppy. Now what?

Regardless of whether getting a puppy or new dog around Christmas is actually a bad thing (for that puppy or new dog), is up for debate; arguing the point is not relevant now.

If new puppies are in new homes, which they undoubtedly are, we want to keep them there by supporting new puppy owners, giving them the best advice and helping them avail of the best resources on puppy care.

We have a FREE trouble-shooting seminar for all puppy owners in January to help, and make sure everyone gets off on the right paw.

When – Saturday 6th January, 2018
What time – 2pm-4pm
Where – at the AniEd centre in Glasnevin, Dublin 11; just off J5 M50

What will we cover?

It will be two hours of puppy-people’s questions. All those niggling, puppy problems and behaviour mysteries will be discussed, so that puppies and their families can stay together in peace and harmony.

We will cover topics such as:

  • what puppies need to know
  • social experience – puppy and people
  • social experience  – puppy and other dogs
  • social experience – puppy and other animals
  • environmental experience – growing puppy brains and building confident, resilient puppies
  • puppy’s first walks
  • travelling in the car
  • importance of mental exercise
  • care with physical exercise
  • puppy nipping, biting and bite inhibition
  • puppies & children
  • management – prevent unwanted puppy behaviour
  • crate and confinement training – benefits and pitfalls
  • alone training
  • night-time training
  • passive training – catch your puppy doing the right thing!
  • Park your Pup – teach your puppy to relax and settle, and be ignored
  • preventing resource guarding
  • handling and grooming comfort
  • toilet training
  • playing with your puppy

We have lots to cover, and no doubt there will be more to discuss.

Who should attend?

This is vital for new puppy owners, if even if they have had puppies before. There’s nothing like going from an adult dog to a new, young puppy!!

We will be discussing puppy training & behaviour relating to puppies five months and younger.

This will also be great for those thinking of getting a puppy so that they can be prepared.

Pet professionals and veterinary personnel are welcome to come along too, as they will often be in positions to advise puppy owners.

Please book!

This is a people-only event, and requires booking so we know how many to expect.

You can book by emailing, messaging our Facebook page, or calling and leaving your details (01 8308380 or 086 044 9275).
We are closed for Christmas and New Year’s but will make sure to respond to all bookings for this event as soon as possible. Rest assured, that if you have contacted us and left your details, you have a spot on this seminar!

Please share, far & wide so we can get the best support to new puppy people, and prevent an onslaught of unwanted, difficult puppies in 2018.


This will not be news to you, at all, that dogs love sniffing. Sniffing isn’t just a fun past-time for dogs, it’s essential behaviour that they MUST do for behavioural health.

Not only that, sniffing can be a great training tool.

Sniffing for training

Dogs pull on lead for lots of reasons:

  • they’re excited to be out and about
  • the world is an exciting place
  • they have twice the number of legs we do
  • they want to get sniffing and sniffing and sniffing
  • they want to get to things
  • they want to get away from things
  • we have trained them to pull

Pet owners spend lots of money on all sorts of, often times, scary equipment and lots of time on training exercises, to improve their dogs’ loose leash walking skills.

Changing the dog’s motivation for behaviour, and reducing his expectation (that crazy behaviour is required) will help to prevent pulling behaviour, making walks more enjoyable for all.


Is there a time or area in which your dog really, really pulls?

Do you find it difficult to get your dog from point A to point B, on lead?

Are there particular distractions that you find difficult to manage?

Establishing Sniffing Stations will help:

  • to get your dog out the door, without too much craziness
  • to get your dog from the house to the car, or from the car to the park or from one spot to a very exciting place
  • your dog get passed, toward or through particularly distracting situations
  • your dog get to another person or dog in a calmer fashion
  • to get a dog from a kennel to an exercise area
  • to get a dog to an exit (or entrance)
  • the dog to associate good things with potentially distracting or worrying triggers
  • your dog’s focus on you to increase


Start with your dog on lead, and use really yummy food rewards.

  • say “Go Sniff!”
  • drop a couple of treats to the ground, across your dog’s eyeline if possible but just point them out if he misses them
  • let your dog eat the treats
  • repeat approx. every two metres

We start out with Sniffing Stations close to one another, and can move them further apart as the dog improves, or closer together for really tricky distractions.

If you know that you need to move the dog over the same short route, make more permanent Sniffing Stations.
Use double-sided tape to secure little bowls or even lids to each spot. Pre-load with treats for each trip.
For more temporary but pre-loaded Sniffing Stations, use little pieces of double-sided tape at each station and place treats on each one. This will also take the dog a little longer to eat, so is great to get dog past tricky distractions.
(Securely stick tape so that the dog doesn’t take that too!)

Teach sniffing on cue

Put sniffing on cue:


Sniffing is a handy training exercise because:

  • your dog loves to sniff (and is already really good at it)!
  • sniffing is a polite dog behaviour and can be used to diffuse the tension between two dogs at a distance
  • sniffing is a calming behaviour for your dog
  • sniffing can help to divert your dog’s attention away from a trigger
  • sniffing can be used as a release cue, to let your dog know they they can go be a dog again
  • sniffing can be used to keep your dog busy or entertained when you are otherwise engaged
  • sniffing can be used to help your dog calm after excitement
  • sniffing can be used as a reward, after recalling for example
  • sniffing can be used to help your dog form more pleasant associations toward some trigger

Sniffing as a past-time

Make sure your dog has lots of opportunities to sniff. Forget about taking your dog for walks, instead make outings about sniffing.

Take your dog on a sniff, rather than on a walk. Who’s walk is it anyway!?

No, your dog is not just being “friendly”

Set the scene…you are walking your dog, interacting or playing, your dog might even be on lead, or at the very least is engaged with you and not looking to meet and greet…in the distance a loose dog approaches, directly, attempting to interact with your dog, who is not really in to it…

Regardless of how this interaction goes, it’s not appropriate behaviour.
You are, I am sure, a ‘socialised’ person. This means that you can pass other people without having to approach them, attempt to interact or touch them. Strangers running up to strangers, attempting contact, especially if one person is clearly not looking to interact, would be weird and concerning human behaviour.

Same goes for dogs. A socialised dog doesn’t need to greet every dog, doesn’t get excited by the presence of other dogs, and can read another dog’s signalling without having to get right up in their face.
This negatively impacts a dog’s comfort levels and behaviour, and is probably not great for either dog involved.

Dealing with Uninvited Approaches

Safety first

Not only does this behaviour present risks for your dog’s safety, but also yours. Lots of your first reactions may be borne out of panic, and that may not be helpful.

Picking up your dog, trying to move them with the lead, or even putting your body between them and the interloper, may increase the tension or arousal in the situation leading to an escalation in their behaviour.

When your dog is at risk, you might be tempted to put yourself in harm’s way, to attempt to prevent your dog being injured or scared.

I get that. As much as I might advise you don’t do that, to be honest, I am going to do whatever I need to do to protect my dog from inappropriate contact with another dog who may potentially cause injury or stress.

  • picking up your dog may cause the other dog’s arousal to increase, pursuing your dog up into your arms. This may lead to a more persistent ‘attack’, with the dog frustrated and trying to reach your dog, and may lead to injury to you as the other dog attempts to get to your dog, or re-directs onto you.
    In a panicked state and being lifted and losing control, it’s also possible that your own dog will re-direct on you or catch you with his teeth or claws.

If you must pick your dog up, try to tuck him inside your jacket and turn your back on the other dog immediately.

It might be possible to put your own dog up on to something high such as a log, a rock or even on a vehicle.

Regardless, keep your balance, and possibly implement some of our other recommendations to reduce the impact on you, and your dog.

  • restraining your dog on lead may offer some protection in that your dog doesn’t have the opportunity to go after another dog, but dogs on lead are more likely to react and aggress when they feel under pressure.
    But when another dog comes close, we can feel the temptation to tighten the lead, and even use it to move our dog out of harm’s way.
    Doing so may cause your dog’s reaction to escalate faster and increase in intensity.
    If your dog is in an interaction with the other dog, them being moved suddenly and stiffly may cause the interaction to go south fast.
    Moving them by the lead, may even cause greater damage and injury should there be a bite.

Your dog being on lead may very well contribute to an interaction becoming more tense, more serious, leading to more harm.

Dropping the lead and allowing your dog to move and escape may well offer greater protection as your dog can move faster without you, but may put your dog at greater risk in other ways. Your dog running may even increase another dog’s interest, leading to intense chasing behaviour.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, loosening the lead, may be your best bet, especially if the other dog’s intentions are social, albeit obnoxious.
Keep the lead loose, stay at your dog’s shoulder, and move with your dog as he moves or circles may help. Stay calm, hum or sing softly to yourself (“Happy Birthday” is a great one to sing as it’s hard to be tense during that one!), and be ready to move.

  • you moving between your dog and the approaching dog is often a go-to move…indeed I have done it myself. Sometimes this can be enough to deter an overly-exuberant greeter, but sometimes it may just draw the other dog’s attention to you, making you the focus.
    Where an interaction has begun or where there is tension, you moving may certainly cause fireworks.

Although we are tempted to try and intimidate the other dog so that they move away, this doesn’t always work as intended, instead leading to an increase in arousal and a lowering of already impaired inhibitions, possibly in both dogs.

We can teach a dog to move behind us on cue which might help to diffuse tension, and paired with some of our other recommendations, may help to cool the situation.


Being proactive, and looking to keep interactions low key is probably going to be safest and most comfortable for everyone, but this requires time and space, which you might not always have.

  • assess the situation – how is your dog feeling, how is the other dog responding – how direct, tense and intense are they, how much control does the other owner have, how responsive is your dog, how well will you be able to escape?
  • scan your environment for signs that loose dogs may be present, such as people who look like dog walkers and other dogs in the distance, listen for dog tags and paws on concrete.
  • walk in places that require dogs to be on lead, that offer you good vantage points with lots of places that you and your dog can escape to that provide visual barriers
  • remain alert close to blind corners or concealed entrances, which might reveal loose dogs suddenly
  • keep your dog’s attention on you with trained cues for simple behaviours such as hand targeting, and high value motivators such as food rewards and toys.
    It’s best to avoid stationary behaviours such as stay, sit or down, as this can cause your dog to feel less well able to control the goings-on.
    Remember, the introduction or availability of high value motivators may cause your dog’s discomfort to increase as he attempts to keep the other dog away from his prized possessions. It may also make you more attractive to rude dogs looking to score a treat from a stranger, or take another dog’s ball (someone else’s is always better, right?!).
  • get your dog sniffing – head down and sniffing can communicate a desire for a calmer, slower interaction among dogs which may be heeded. Your dog staring and making eye contact with another dog, may encourage it to approach.
  • walking away calmly and/or taking sudden direction change can help to keep your dog focused on you and less likely to interact with another dog, and may cause the other dog to give up in its pursuit
  • this is the opportunity for you to have your dog behind you, and you between your dog and the other dog, before tensions rise and direct approach is imminent. It may also give you time to call to the other dog owner, asking them to get their dog.

The other owner

While some of you will scoff at this, sometimes another owner may not be aware of the distress their dog potentially causes.

Culturally, among dog owners, it’s presumed that their dog running directly up to another dog or person is just an expression of their dog’s friendliness and joie do vivre. This interaction may be a teaching moment, if there’s enough time and everyone is open to discussion.


  • call to the other dog owner and ask them to get their dog, to leash their dog, to remove their dog
    There’s no point asking them to call their dog as doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that their dog will return to them.
  • as frustrating as it is when they say their dog is “just being friendly”, (we, of course know different), it’s best to stay as calm as possible so as not to increase the tension, or possibly get their back up, making them less cooperative
  • if your requests are not successful, tell them that your dog is not friendly, is sick or old, or is “contagious”
  • muzzle training your own dog, and having them wear a muzzle is a sure-fire way to get other dog owners to avoid you…
  • taking out your phone and really or mock filming them will often cause them to remove their dog and move away quickly
  • informing them that you will do what you need to do to protect your own dog, should they be unable to remove their dog immediately, is a last resort but threats may be necessary


Sometimes you won’t have time for any of the above, and are left with no choice but to react and to hope that you can minimise emotional and physical damage to all involved.

Repellents & Shields

Some you might be able to carry with you, but you may also be able to use things you find around you.

Repellents might include:

  • compressed air (Pet Corrector)
  • small aerosol can, citronella spray
  • water gun or spray
  • a Dog Stop alarm (very loud!)

The problem with these is that they will only be effective when the other dog is quite close. Outdoors the wind may blow a spray back into your or your dog’s face.

If something is designed to scare away another dog, it may also have that effect on your dog possibly leading to a greater level of distress in association with that context.

Shields might include:

  • an umbrella with a button pop
  • a length of cardboard, like a flattened box
  • a clipboard, sheet of Styrofoam, chopping board
  • your bag

Shields might act to intimidate a dog sufficiently that they move away, or may give you a few seconds to redirect and escape.

Again, anything intended to startle an oncoming dog might also distress your own dog.

Carrying a small back pack is a good idea, not only to carry things safely and out of reach, but also to use as a shield or as something to redirect a persistent interloper.

Other deterrents

Carrying a walking stick, or even an umbrella folded up may be enough to deter other dogs. Swinging it or cracking it on the ground can help to move them away.

Swinging a lead or line, or even the heavy handled end of a retractable leash may also help. Cracking the line in the air or on the ground may also cause sufficient startle to halt an approaching dog.


  • turn your attention to your dog immediately and keep them engaged
  • move away briskly, keeping your dog moving away, rather than directly
  • keep yourself between your dog and the other dog as you move
  • toss treats or something (such as pebbles) into the dog’s path (not at them), across their eyeline
    Tossing something bigger like a stick, or even your bag or jacket.
  • using a shield or repellent, and then using the couple of seconds it buys and get out of there
  • stepping forward and shouting “NO!”, “STAY!”, “SIT!”, “GO HOME!” or growling – might just buy you a couple of seconds of redirection so you can get out of there
  • get something between you and the other dog

Although the temptation is to ‘go big’, try calm and cool first and attempt to diffuse. Up the ante as needed.


  • grab collars
  • put your hands in the middle, or near mouths
  • pick up a dog
  • hit, kick, or punch
  • put your body or body parts in the middle

No magic wand

There is no one solution that is going to work every time. One of these may work in one context, but may be ineffective in another. The key is to have plenty of tools at the ready, and to practice when there’s no panic, so that you are ready when the shi1t hits the fan.

Sadly, loose dogs, under poor control, are an every day occurrence for the majority of my clients (and my friends, and me!), many having dogs who have been injured and are seriously distressed by other irresponsible owners’ actions (or lack thereof). Not only that, but a number of friends and clients have been hurt, frightened and injured by these dogs themselves, as they try to do their best to deal with the onslaught.

Understand that it’s not appropriate for dogs to behave like this (just as it wouldn’t be OK for people to behave this way), and that your dog is allowed to say they don’t want another dog in their face by ignoring them or even snarking. In that context, that’s appropriate behaviour. Do your dog a favour, and get them out of there quickly and calmly.

In my day…

We all long for our hazy days of youth, when we can look back, through rose-tinted spectacles, at the dogs we spent our days with.

Our expectations of modern day dogs are probably, in part, derived from our skewed memories of childhood encounters with dogs.

Did our parents need to worry about Kong toys? Did our childhood dogs attend training classes and undergo elaborate socialisation programs?

They probably didn’t, or at least we as owners didn’t implement this stuff, nor was it recommended or discussed much

Things have changed and times move on, and modern dogs face challenges their ancestors didn’t. And, as such, modern dog owners face challenges keeping modern dogs in the modern world.

What’s changed?

Modern pet ownership certainly seems more complicated…

  • dog control legislation enacted (in Ireland) in the 1990’s has meant that dogs are largely confined to an owner’s property.
    This limits the dog’s access to the outside world, and to more naturally paced and exposure based socialisation and experience-building for puppies and young dogs.
    Not only is it more difficult for puppies and young dogs to gain vital experience and exposure, dogs confined to their human’s properties have even further diminished choice in their lives; this is detrimental to welfare.

  • dogs live more isolated lives due to increased confinement, increased incidence of living in packed suburban and urban areas, and because their families work outside of the home. Cultural trends in women returning to work and the confinement of dogs, means that dogs may spend many hours each day alone and isolated from appropriate social contact.
    For social animals, this is detrimental to welfare.

  • supply & demand
    Supply – most pet dogs are bred accidentally, or, with an emphasis on phenotypic characteristics – either way, lots of dogs destined for the pet market are produced without adequate attention and preparation.
    Placing dogs in inappropriate homes relative to the dogs’ behavioural needs, its history, environmental requirements and behaviour issues, is a worrying trend, affecting the welfare of both people and pets.
    All dogs require work and commitment from their families, but dogs that bring behaviour baggage are going to require even more work and access to resources to support and help the dog in its new home.
    Demand – attraction and access to a wider range of dog breeds and types, that are not necessarily suited to their owner’s lifestyle, living conditions, or location.
    We cannot deny the role of selection  in the behaviour a dog breed or type will tend toward. If we have selected for certain behavioural characteristics for countless generations, we cannot expect that dog to just suppress that behaviour because he now lives in a city, or housing estate, or because his owner’s work…
    Bringing home a dog that is not appropriate for your lifestyle, time and resources makes it unlikely that that dog’s needs will be met, presenting a range of welfare and safety concerns.

  • as society becomes less and less tolerant of dogs, the expectations thrust upon dogs become higher and higher.
    Dogs are expected to be safe members of the community, friendly to all, cope with all environments, be tolerant and gentle with children, love us unconditionally, literally save lives, and improve our quality of life…
    Our rose-tinted-spectacled view is informed by nostalgia for childhood pets and movie dogs. It’s a long way down from that pedestal – there is no ‘real’ dog on the planet who can live up this.

  • when you know better, you do better.
    We have a well-established and growing science of behaviour – this means our understanding of behaviour, learning and cognition is improving week by week, based on more than just anecdotes.
    Science is self-correcting, so as we gather more information, it allows us to develop better and more effective tools.
    We are learning more and more about dogs, about how they learn, and about how best to help pet owners, now more than ever.

We’re not being needlessly complicated or conservative in our approach when we make recommendations for your dog’s training and care. Dogs have it harder than ever before, and it’s become harder to provide for their needs. We can make it easier by accounting for these modern challenges, and helping pets and their people succeed in the modern world.


Information gathering

So much of training and living with dogs is about doing, doing, doing, action, action, action.

Sometimes it’s important to take time, to be, and allow the dog process the environment.

Give them time:


The brain errs on the side of caution and tells the body to expect danger, as a default setting. That means we have to do lots of work to give the brain and body time and relief to gather information to facilitate a change in attitude.

The time to reset the brain is during a puppy’s first few months of life, and then to continue this in a structured manner over puppy’s first year. But we need to get that first few months right. Dogs who don’t cope with this well don’t need to have been abused or have had particularly bad experiences in early life. All it takes, is lack of exposure, lack of time to information gather.
We don’t get this behaviour developmental stage back again – we get one go, so we need to get it right.

 Information Gathering for Puppies

This is especially important for puppies, who are just learning about the world. And often explains why puppies and young dogs will suddenly plant themselves in the middle of a walk, unwilling to move on.


In a Puppy1 class Minnie takes some time to engage with a ballpit puzzle, and Ellie prefers to sit back and watch the goings-on.

Providing puppies (and all dogs) with time to choose how they wish to respond, helps to reduce stress and helps to build confidence.

Information Gathering for Dogs


In this clip Simon, on one of his first trips to AniEd a couple years ago, before he was rehomed, is out for a walk in a busy business park.
Simon, given his rough background, can be a little overwhelmed in some situations. This is our first walk together – that’s why he’s panting plus we had just had some ball fun inside too.
We came across a man mowing a lawn in behind a fence and another man with a forklift working. We moved across the road so that we were about 15-20m away from the action. As soon as he spotted this activity he stopped and I made sure to keep the leash loose. We just waited while he processed the noise and activity.
Notice his rapid head movements as he watches the scene and note his mouth becoming tighter at times as he concentrates on the activity. Listen for his big sigh as he gathers as much information about something that might cause him a little concern.
As soon as he’s ready to move on I mark (YES!) and reward him. That it looks calm and a bit boring (let’s be honest!!) is good – it means that he could relax enough so that he could just watch the goings-on without experiencing too much concern.


Let your dog take it in…

When your dog encounters something that interests them, especially if it causes them to be excited, to be scared or spooked, causes them to lunge, pull, whine or bark, give your dog some time to process that trigger.
If your dog is already reacting like this first move far enough away that your dog is able to give some attention to you and so that they don’t react that way anymore.

But, when you encounter something that you think might be of interest to your dog give you and your dog plenty of space from it.
Keep the leash loose and allow your dog to process any information that he can from what he is seeing, hearing and smelling.

Things won’t seem as scary or interesting to your dog if they have had some time to find out a little more about it.
This is really important for puppies, who are learning about the world, and for dogs who are worried or ‘reactive’ on leash.

It’s not always about “training”

You don’t need to jump in there with treats or cues straight away. Take the time. Don’t encourage, don’t nag, indeed, you don’t need to do a whole lot.

If your dog can’t information gather, you’re too close, you’ve stayed too long, the trigger is too intense. Distance is your friend, and there’s nothing wrong with packing it in and trying again another day.

Things to try, and not to try:

  • keep your distance
  • give your dog time
  • if you notice your dog stiffening, become more tense, or having difficulty moving away – help them. Move away excitedly, call to them, keep it jolly. Try not to put too much pressure on the leash as this tends to escalate things. If needed, move them along with brief, gentle pressure, and then use your jolliness to keep them moving with you.
  • never drag a puppy who has stopped
  • don’t attempt to lure a dog toward something he is unsure of or scared of. Don’t even encourage them to approach – give them time to choose.
  • You don’t need to understand their hesitation – just listen to your dog!
  • after some time information gathering, get ’em outta there, moving in the other direction
  • too much exercise for puppies and growing dogs is damaging – review your exercise regime, and think of outings more for exposure to the world, rather than physical exertion
  • don’t make puppy’s world too big too soon.
    While puppy is on vaccination hold, bring them in your arms to new places on foot and in the car. Remember, they have little choice when in your arms so don’t expose them to new things, people or animals when restrained.
    When they start going for walks, expand their world a few metres each day, starting at the front of your house or garden on the first day, then a couple of houses down the next day and so on. Rather than marching, try playing with toys, doing sniffing searches for them, and letting them range on lead (safely).

If you have difficulty moving a reluctant dog or puppy, give them some time (might take several minutes) and then encourage them to follow you back the way you came. You can move in a big arc to go in your intended direction too.


Learn to ‘listen’:


Teach a hand targeting behaviour, to encourage movement in a non-confrontational and low-pressure manner:


Add movement:



Make it fun!


Top Ten Training Tips for the New Year

It’s that time of year, time for promises and resolutions, time for a new you, and a new training approach.


New Year’s Training Resolutions

1. No more food bowls!

food bowl free zone

Probably not the biggest surprise that we recommend this but that’s only because of the enormous benefits it brings.

The easiest way to feed your dog, regardless of what they’re fed is to Scatter Feed; simply take your dog’s food and toss it.

Clip link

Toys that you can stuff are perfect for challenging your dog, giving them long-lasting entertainment and helping them calm after excitement through lapping and chewing.

Clip link

Clip link

Recycle your left over Christmas wrapping and packaging, making puzzles!

Clip link

Clip link

Clip link

Clip link

Clip link

Clip link

2. Prevent unwanted behaviour

Behaviour happens because the dog responds to its environment, and dogs do behaviours that work. That’s really the bottom line.

You are responsible for your dog’s environment, and what happens there…so you are responsible for his responses too.

The first step in any successful training program is to stop the dog practicing the behaviour that you don’t like because practice makes perfect.

Clip link

List the behaviours that your dog does that you don’t like – how can you stop your dog getting into that situation, in the first place? That’s your job, human!

  • keeping your dog on lead helps to prevent your dog jumping up, running away, chasing things, toileting in the wrong place – you can even use your dog’s lead indoors too!
  • using a long line can help to prevent your dog learning to not come back and have fun without you

Clip link

  • use a baby gate or crate to confine your dog to prevent a whole world of trouble, everything from jumping up and barking out the window to stealing, chasing and chewing!

Clip link

This is particularly significant in situations where your dog gets too excited, can’t focus, barks, lunges or loses control.

Triggers are things that cause these stressy emotional swings and the first step to helping your dog, is to identify things that cause this behaviour. Maybe it’s the approach of another dog or perhaps it’s when you stop to talk to someone while out on a dog-walk.

Once you have narrowed down the trigger, now avoid them! Walk in quieter areas, remove your dog from a situation quickly, move to give plenty of distance between your dog and the trigger.

3. Look for the good

We spend a lot of time thinking about the behaviours we don’t like, but once you’re preventing those, let’s start thinking about the things you do like your dog to do.

The first rule of behaviour is, that behaviour that is rewarded will be repeated. Remember, dog’s do what works!

If you like a behaviour, pay it! This means rewarding your dog with things he actually likes and wants quickly enough that he can associated that behaviour with access to that reward.

What behaviours do you love?

  • keeping the lead loose
  • sitting to greet people
  • quietly watching out the window
  • lying calmly
  • looking at you
  • toileting appropriately

If you love those behaviours, pay your dog well when he does them.

Your dog’s not being naughty all the time – what would you prefer he do? Make those behaviours more rewarding and he’s more likely to do them instead of the behaviours you don’t like.

More about passive training here.

4. Find what your dog loves

Use rewards that your dog really likes, not just things you think he likes or should like.

One of the most common I see, particularly in training class and sessions, is patting, often on the head.
Not all dogs like to be patted, especially on the head, or hugged and often when there are other things going on and possibly better rewards on offer. Your dog might just want the chance to practice the training exercise again to earn another of those rewards.

What your dog wants changes from situation to situation, so your dog might really want attention and tummy scratches when you’re all relaxing in the sitting room, but doesn’t want to know you when he’s out sniffing in the park.

Dogs won’t always want to be petted or fussed or to meet or hang out with people or dogs.

All behaviour has a function, why the dog is doing it, and it’s usually for your dog to get something or escape something. Your dog might offer behaviour because he believes it leads to him getting outside, getting to greet, getting to sniff and so on.
Look at those rewards and use them – they are real-life rewards.

Distractions are just rewards that your dog wants more than what you have to offer – think of those distractions as functional or real-life rewards.

More on using distractions and rewards here.

For really excellent training results, reward those behaviours that you like with things that your dog likes – simples!

5. Release the hound!

All the rewards and training and management can mean that your dog doesn’t get to be a dog a whole lot. Teach him a release cue so that you can clearly signal to him when he’s off the clock, and to go be a dog.

Clip link

Teach a particular signal, that tells your dog to go have fun, that he doesn’t need to be worried about responding and behaving.

Clip link

This release cue, Go Sniff!, can be used to give your dog a brain break, to allow him to enjoy some sniffing, to divert his attention from triggers and even to reward appropriate behaviour.

Clip link

6. Play more

Do you already play with your dog (and I do mean with your dog, not just with a toy)? Great!
If not, get started because those who play together, stay together!

Teach your dog to play with you, add variety and add training to play rather than play to training.

Clip link

I prefer tug-games to fetch, but mixing it up is best. In repetitive fetch games, you just become a mechanical arm, throwing a ball, ramping up over-excitement but not doing a whole lot for teamwork.

Clip link

Toys are also great for sniffing games too.

Clip link

Clip link

7. Zen dog

Teach your dog the value of patience and politeness. For your dog to be truly zen, we don’t want to have to ask him to be polite, or nag him or tell him off – he just is.

Remember, if you want behaviour, you gotta reward it so watch your dog closely and reward patience and politeness.

Clip link

Work on teaching your dog the art of doggie zen in formal sessions, like this, and in real life.

Clip link

Emphasise calm and calming down, rather than crazy. Your dog knows how to do crazy already (that comes as part of the package) so help teach calmness by providing lots of chewing, making sure your dog gets to be a dog, matwork and hanging out quietly.

8. Think about the memories and associations you want your dog to make

You are always training your dog. He is always learning what behaviours work and what behaviours don’t work.

Not only that, he is learning to predict the outcome of particular situations, all the time.
Something good about to happen – stick around.
Something not so good might happen – get away, or scare the scary thing away.

To live with our dogs so that they are happy and healthy, and so that people are safe, we make sure that our dog associates good feelings with proximity and contact with humans.

Every time your dog is exposed to something, look at his behaviour, what associations is he forming?
How is he feeling about this situation?
How will that affect his behaviour in two weeks, two months, two years?

  • manage your dog’s access and interactions with children – your dog probably doesn’t need to be involved if the kids are active or acting crazy
  • give your dog lots of distance from distractions
  • when you see a person, dog, other animal, skateboarder, noisy traffic or other big deal, feed your dog a couple of treats as soon as he looks at them – teach him that good things happen when distractions approach and to look to you because you probably have yummies
  • help your dog LOVE being handled and manipulated to prepare him for healthcare, veterinary and first aid

Clip link

  • teach your dog that when he has stuff and people approach, good things happen

Clip link

Clip link

  • make collar grabs very very rewarding

Clip link

  • supervise dog-dog play closely (great tips here) so that your dog is learning more appropriate social behaviour

Clip link

Clip link

9. Teach tricks

And then teach obedience behaviours with the same light-hearted,  fun spirit – remember, it’s all tricks to your dog!

Clip link

10. Just be

It’s easy to get sucked into our busy schedules, and often our dogs get left behind in the blur.
If you want calm focus from your dog, you gotta give it too!

When interacting with your dog, take your eyes off the TV, put away your phone, be there with your dog.

You don’t need to go into the whole mindfulness thing completely, if that’s not your thing, but just be with your dog.
Spend time looking into his eyes, take deep breaths, keep your eyes soft and half-closed and think about what he’s doing, how relaxed his body is, how you are going to spend time together.

Just be.


Use walks and outings as a way to spend time together. Don’t have your phone in your hand, or earphones on your head.

Go to quiet places. Bring a blanket to sit on, and a stuffed Kong for your dog. Half way on your walk, stop and take a break.

Walks don’t need to be military operations keep it calm, low-key and fun.
More on making dog walks more dog here.


Just be. Be with your dog. Do things that he enjoys. Do things that you both enjoy. Just be.

11. Bonus – be the best canine-owning citizen you can be

  • always scoop the poop, always
  • follow the rules
    No dogs allowed? Don’t bring dogs there.
    Dogs only on lead? Keep ’em on lead.
  • know the law
    Make sure your dog is under effectual control at all times (ROI Control of Dogs Act).
    Microchip your dog and keep his details up to date.
    Don’t let your dog wander, and certainly do not allow your dog to have access to livestock, no matter how friendly you think he is.
  • never allow your dog approach, run up to or harass any other dog, person or other animal without that individual having first solicited such interaction
    No, your dog is not “just playing”, if he’s approaching someone uninvited, he’s being rude.
  • be polite when approaching other dogs on lead, leash your dog and walk in an arc around them so that they don’t have to interact head-on
  • get professional help and choose your training & behaviour professional carefully – this industry isn’t regulated so buyer beware!
    Take a training class, and more than one – we wouldn’t expect our kids to be prepared for life after completing playschool and it’s not different for dogs after a puppy class.


For you…

Take a lesson out of the big-book-of-good-teaching: don’t make big, unrealistic and lofty resolutions (if you are into such things) – instead split behaviours, that you would like to acquire, into small achievable steps…

  • what’s the closest version of that behaviour that you already do?
  • identify the ultimate goal and recognise that that’s going to take lots of time to achieve
  • what’s the smallest step you can take toward that?
  • record your achievements, no matter how small the step

Splitting makes developing behaviours easier and more rewarding, no matter what species you are.


Remember that January is Train Your Dog Month and we have a whole program laid out for you to work on all month: Train Your Dog Month