How to teach sit and drop


Sitting is a dog’s way of saying “please”. Your dog should sit before a meal or before crossing the road.

Start by holding a small piece of food near his nose so he can sniff or lick but not grab it. Slowly move it above his nose so that his nose is pointing in the air. Move the treat back over his head until his bottom is on the ground. As his bottom touches the ground say “sit” and give the treat. You are pairing the word “sit” with the action of sitting.

If he jumps for the food you are holding it too high. If he walks backwards to follow the treat, do the exercise against a wall.

Use lots of praise and encouragement.


Once your pup knows the “sit” command teach him to “drop”. Ask him to sit, show him a treat and then slowly lower it between his front paws. As soon as his tummy hits the ground, say “drop” and give him the treat and lots of praise.

If you lower the treat too quickly the pup won’t follow the treat down and will lose interest. If you place the treat too far in front of his paws he will lean forward to get it and stand up.

Extend the period he stays in the drop position by giving small treats while still in the position. Gradually increase the interval between treats. You can use praise and pats in between food rewards. He will soon realise that the longer he lies the more you will reward him.


Principles of training your puppy

Training makes your pup an enjoyable member of your family. Build on the puppy party foundation by taking your dog to obedience school or adolescent classes.

Training your puppy should be fun for you both – don’t turn it into a chore. Make it part of your everyday routine. Ask your puppy to sit before meals, before a walk and before a game.

Introduce your pup to a wide variety of places, people, animals and toys in the first few months. This gives him the skills to cope with novel situations and makes him tolerant of the things he will encounter often later in life.

Training sessions must be short, sharp and exciting. Young puppies only have a very short attention span so limit training to five minutes, two or three times a day.

Be consistent with your commands. Pick one word for each action and stick to it. Your pup will find it easier to recognise a single command word rather than two or three combined.

Use your dog’s name before every command to get his attention. Sound excited and happy so that he stops whatever he is doing and looks to you.

Build a positive association between praise and reward by saying “good dog” before giving a food reward.

Say “ah-ah” when he does the wrong thing and do not give a reward of any kind.  For example, if the puppy lifts his front feet off the ground when you are giving a food reward say “ah-ah”, withdraw the treat and wait until the puppy holds the sitting position before giving it.

Remember that actions speak louder than words. Dogs read our body language and tone of voice as well as our words. Always talk to your puppy in a pleasant, friendly tone of voice. Voice tone is as much a positive reinforcement as an edible treat or toy.

Do not continue a training session if you feel cranky or tired, or if the session is not going well. Training should be fun for both of you. If your voice is sharp or stern your puppy will think he has done something wrong.

Find the reward that best encourages the desired behaviour. Most dogs enjoy food treats. Others are motivated by toys or displays of affection.

Most dogs value small pieces of moist meat over dry foods. If you are teaching something new or there are many distractions meat treats are more effective.

Alternate treats with praise, like “yes” or “good”, pats or toys.

Once he has learned a new command or trick, use rewards intermittently to increase his motivation. He will keep hoping that this time he will be rewarded.


Your puppy’s first weeks

A puppy’s world is turned upside down when you take her away from her litter mates and parents. Her mother guided her behaviour and her siblings helped her sort out the rules for life. She was used to her environment and had constant companionship.

Now you are that puppy’s world!  You are responsible for her well being and are her prime companion.  She looks to you for guidance and expects you to set the rules.

Your puppy may be living with your family for the next 15 years, and what she learns in the first few weeks will determine her behaviour for the rest of her life.

Start the way you wish to continue, be consistent in your expectations and commands and involve all family members in making and keeping the rules for your pup. Encourage children to be calm near the puppy.

Encourage desirable behaviour with petting and a treat. Reward the pup within one and a half seconds of the desirable behaviour so she associates the behaviour with the outcome. Punishment or scolding is much less effective.

Discourage mouthing or biting behaviour.  It can turn into a dangerous habit in an adult dog, particularly around small children.

Resist going to a crying pup at night. Check that she has adequate food, water and warmth and then ignore her. If you answer her cries she will keep at it. Once she realises that no one responds to her crying she should settle down.

Build your puppy’s self-confidence and ability to cope with the world so that she doesn’t need you by her side all the time. Dogs that are over-dependent on their owners develop unpleasant behaviours.

When you come home from work acknowledge your pup only when she has calmed down and given up demanding your attention.  If she pushes at your hands or jumps in your lap look away, withdraw your hands or manoeuvre your body so that she cannot access your lap. When she calms down ask her to sit then pet her as a reward for the correct response.

As soon as your pup is vaccinated get her out into the big, wide world.  Good experiences with all types of people, animals, situations and places are critical for healthy socialisation.  From 6 to 16 weeks expose her to as many new experiences as possible.  She will be less anxious and more tolerant as an adult if she has already met other dogs, cats, horses, children and other people, as well as had a ride in a car, been groomed and had a veterinary exam.

Some breeds like border collies, kelpies or cattle dogs are very active and need lots of exercise.  Other breeds have to be prised off the couch to play Frisbee or walk to the park. All dogs love a break from their own yard with their carer.

Avoid off-lead dog parks until your pup is confident with other dogs. Introduce her to dogs that are on a lead and under the full control of their owners so that she doesn’t become afraid of other dogs.  Allow your pup an escape route by keeping the lead loose when near other dogs or strangers.  She should never feel cornered as this can trigger aggression or intimidating behaviour.


Skin and coat care


Always use dog shampoos on dogs. Human shampoos cause dry, scaly and itchy skin in many dogs. This is because dog and human skin are very different.

  • Human skin is six times thicker.
  • Pets’ hair growth is seasonal (cyclic), whereas our hair growth is continual.
  • Dogs and cats shed their skin cells every 20 days. We shed skin cells every 28 days.
  • The pH of human skin is 5.5 while dogs is 7.5.

Do not bathe your dog more often than once a fortnight unless he has rolled in some unsavoury matter or your vet has prescribed a medicated shampoo.

Rinse all traces of shampoo off after lathering and massaging the shampoo through the coat and down to the skin.

A good quality dog coat conditioner makes combing and brushing easier but rinse it off too.

Many dogs with skin problems are sensitive to the sulphates in many common dog shampoos. If your pet develops a rash or has dry, scaly or red skin after shampooing seek veterinary advice.  If the skin is always dry and scaly ask about fatty-acid supplements and humidifying skin conditioners.

Clipping and grooming

Dogs generally enjoy grooming and soon relax into it. Most long-haired breeds need clipping every two months.

Poodles and other breeds who do not shed their coats soon get straggly and unkempt if their faces and feet are not trimmed regularly.

Pups as young as 12 weeks can be clipped. An early start gets them accustomed to the sound of the electric clippers and dryers, and to standing still for the groomer.

Thick-coated dogs like Old English Sheepdogs and Malamutes are often clipped short for the warmer months. This keeps them cool and comfortable, as well as exposing grass seeds and ticks.

The long silky coats of many terriers matt easily because the hair is so fine. The matts are cut away before bathing.

The hair in and around the ears and toes of Spaniels is clipped every two months.

Dogs lose some hair throughout the year but the thicker winter coat is shed in spring. You can aid the shedding process with daily combing and brushing. Use a comb for the feathering on the legs, and around the eyes and other sensitive parts of the body. The Mars Coat King is great for loosening and removing the mountains of dead hair along the sides and back.


Why should I desex my dog?

There are many advantages to having your dog desexed.

Desexing prevents the conception of puppies and eliminates the sexual urge.

We remove the ovaries and uterus in the female and the testes in males.   Dogs and bitches are usually desexed at 6 months of age although some are done earlier.

The hormone testosterone takes about a month to decline after castration.  Once it is out of the system desexed male dogs are less likely to wander and have no interest in bitches on heat.  Because they escape or wander less they are less likely to get run over, get involved in fights or lift their legs on every post.

A testis that has not descended into the scrotum has a higher risk of developing a cancer and should be removed as early as possible.

Heat periods or seasons in bitches occur about twice a year and last 3 weeks each time.

Bitches on heat often surprise their owners with their determined attempts to escape and find a mate.

Desexed bitches do not come on heat and cannot conceive puppies.

Desexing also prevents pyometron, an overwhelming infection of the uterus that makes older bitches very ill. Removal of the uterus is the best treatment for pyometron but general anaesthesia for the surgery is a big risk in an old, already sick bitch.

Desexing reduces the risk of breast cancer.

The desexing of females is least complicated when they are not on heat, pregnant or overweight. We recommend desexing bitches at 6 months of age before they come on heat and while the uterus is still immature.

Desexing is done under general anaesthesia. Dogs must be in good health and fasted for twelve hours prior to surgery. General anaesthesia always carries a slight risk but with modern anaesthetic agents, this risk is minimal.  A vet examines all dogs on admission to hospital and before sedation. Discuss any worries with the vet and let us know if your dog is not in peak health.

We do the surgery during the morning and keep your dog in hospital under observation for the afternoon.  A discharge time is arranged on admission.  A vet or veterinary nurse will discuss aftercare with you at discharge.

Once desexed and over the surgery a dog’s metabolism slows down.  Cut the total amount of food fed per day by 30% and make sure you continue with normal exercise routines.


Nuisance barkers

Unwanted barking irritates owners and neighbours alike.

Some dogs bark a lot because of:

1. Boredomthe dog that’s home alone a lot

Breeds such as Border collies, Kelpies and Cattle dogs were bred to work and are happiest when they have a job to do. Their energy, stamina and intelligence is wasted when they are left alone with little to do for extended periods and they become bored and frustrated.

All breeds want to be with their pack, usually their owners, and become bored when home alone. Bored dogs bark, try to escape or are destructive, chewing hoses and shrubs or digging in the garden.

2. Anxietythe dog that follows you everywhere

If left alone some individuals experience separation anxiety and bark for extended periods.

Other anxious dogs bark at threatening people or objects, such as the mailman or hot air balloons.

3. Disturbancesthe dog that barks for 5 minutes when visitors arrive

Postmen, birds, passers-by and meter-readers set these dogs off. They then feel rewarded when the intruder leaves, apparently as a result of their barking.

4. Discomfortthe dog who starts barking unexpectedly

Barking from a normally quiet dog may indicate pain or an inability to access food or water.

5. Excitementthe dog that barks until you throw the ball

What you can do

Try to understand the cause of the barking so that you can choose the most appropriate solution from the table below. If you’re not quite sure of the cause try some of these solutions anyway – you might find one that works!

Causes of barking problems Boredom Separation Anxiety Disturbances Discomfort Excitement
Possible solutions
1. Exercise * * * *
2. Training * * *
3. Play toys/dogs * * *
4. Hunting food * * * *
5. Change of routine * * * *
6. Veterinary care * *




  1. Exercise (for barking caused by boredom, separation anxiety, disturbances and excitement)

Dogs need exercise, some more than others. Working breeds require more regular exercise but even a couch-potato enjoys some outdoor entertainment. They all appreciate walks at different times of day and in variety of places, from the bush to the beach.

If walking the streets doesn’t appeal to you and your dog is friendly towards other dogs visit an off leash area. There he can play with other dogs or you can throw a ball or frisbee for him to chase.

Boredom is less of a problem in well-exercised dogs. Once home they are content to snooze or find a quiet activity.

2. Training (for barking caused by boredom, disturbances and excitement)

Training occupies a dog’s body and mind. It stimulates the bored dog and calms the overexcited dog.

The key to training is to find the most motivating reward. Food treats like dried liver or cheese are the number one motivator for most dogs. A special toy or praise works for dogs who are not food motivated.

Ask your dog to sit before every privilege, whether it’s a meal, titbit or ball game.

3. Play (for barking caused by boredom, separation anxiety and disturbances)

A play with puppy pals in the local dog park provides excitement and stimulation that will keep your dog quieter when he returns home.

Avoid play dates with other dogs if your dog tries to get away or squares up for a fight instead of play.

Most dogs love a ball or frisbee game with their carers.

At home rotate the toys you put out so that they retain their novelty value.

4. Food (for barking caused by boredom, separation anxiety, disturbances and excitement)

Games and food toys stimulate dogs as well as occupying their mouths so that they cannot bark!

Create a food hunt by scattering dry food around the garden or house. The hunt occupies their noses and minds as they search out every last biscuit. This is particularly good for the dog who has separation anxiety as it distracts their attention from the leave-taking.

Food packed or frozen inside toys that release it slowly, like Kongs and Treat balls, forces dogs to chew, paw and roll the toys around to extract the morsels of food.

Note that these foods are instead of, not in addition to, normal meals.

5. Change of routine (for barking due to boredom, separation anxiety, disturbances and discomfort)

Many dogs are comforted by routines. They like to know when to expect food and walks.

However, bored dogs want something different and stimulating – a walk at a different time of day or in a new location. Building a raised platform might also break the monotony for them.

Change your departure routine if your dog suffers from separation anxiety. Give him a toy or chew to keep him occupied. Scale down your goodbyes and returns by acting more casually. If he barks on your return ignore him until he quietens down then greet him calmly.

To prevent your dog reacting to predictable disturbances like the mailman, bring him inside or confine him to a different area.

You could experiment with blocking the sight lines of over reactive guard dogs.

6. Veterinary care (for bad cases of separation anxiety and discomfort)

Barking in a normally quiet dog may signal ill health.

Some dogs with anxiety related problems require medications in conjunction with tailored behaviour modification to learn calmness.



Paracetomol poison to cats

Don’t be tempted to medicate your off-colour cat with paracetamol this holiday season. Paracetamol at any dose is deadly to cats.

Soon after ingesting it cats’ red blood cells lose the ability to carry oxygen. The cats’ gums turn brown, they drool and they become weak and wobbly.

If they survive the first 12-24 hours the liver starts to close down, too. They go off their food, their face, lips and paws swell, their gums and eyes go yellow and their belly swells.

Most cats who ingest paracetamol die unless treated within the first couple of hours.

Aspirin is equally dangerous but more subtle in its effects. Aspirin damages cats’ kidneys and irritates their stomachs.

Very few pain medications are safe for cats. Only give medications prescribed by your vet for your particular puss.

Your dog eats what????? Dogs who eat faeces

Coprophagia is the ingestion of a dog’s own or other pets’ faeces. While offensive to us it is normal for bitches with young pups and pups exploring their environment. It is only dangerous to dogs if they ingest parasites with the faeces. However, coprophagia in an older dog maybe an indication of a physical or behavioural problem and should be investigated by your veterinarian before trying the remedies listed below.

Common causes of coprophagia:

  • Normal maternal behaviour. A bitch licks her pups to stimulate urination and defecation and then consumes their excrement to keep the nest clean.
  • Normal exploratory behaviour in young pups.
  • Boredom.
  • An inadequate diet. A poorly balanced, low calorie or indigestible diet may drive a dog to consume faeces.
  • An excessive appetite because of a disease such as diabetes or Cushings disease, or because of poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, or because of drugs that stimulate  the appetite like prednisolone, cortisone or thyroxine.
  • Dietary preference. Many dogs think cat faeces are a gourmet delicacy.
  • The poorly digested faeces of a companion dog with digestion or malabsorption problems are attractive to some dogs.
  • Attention seeking behaviour if the dog discovers he gains the immediate attention of his owners when he eats faeces.
  • A coping mechanism in anxious dogs.
  • The rare manifestation of a compulsive disorder


  • Pick up faeces in the dog’s yard promptly.
  • Restrict outdoor access unless the dog has defecated and the area is free of faeces.
  • Walk dogs on a leash to avoid ingestion outside the yard.
  • Move cat litter trays to an area inaccessible to the dog or provide a covered tray (as long as this is acceptable to the cat).
  • Feed an age appropriate, complete, good quality diet.
  • Provide a more stimulating environment including regular human attention, excursions outside the house yard, walks, doggy play dates, food finding games and activity feeder toys, such as stuffed Kongs, treat balls, bob-a -lots.
  • Add vegetable oil or fibre to meals to soften faeces and make them less attractive.
  • Add the meat tenderiser, papain, to the diet to make faeces less palatable or
  • Add pancreatic enzymes to meals to make faeces less palatable or
  • Add pineapple or grated zucchini to meals to make faeces less palatable or
  • Slip some white pepper or hot chillis into faeces to discourage sniffing and consumption
  • Deworm with Drontal, Milbemax or similar every 3 months.

Training techniques:

  • If your dog defecates on a walk give it a food reward to counter condition it to expect food rather than to search for faeces.
  • Teach your dog to come away from faeces with the command “leave it”. Teach the “leave it” command using a head collar and leash. Walk the dog toward an item he likes to pick up, such as a ball or chew toy. As he reaches for the item say “leave it” and turn the dog’s head using the head collar. As his head comes toward you reward him with a food treat and praise.  Repeat until he turns his head before you pull on the leash. Immediately reward him for turning. Progress to rewarding him for turning away from more valued items such as a juicy bone. Gradually phase out food rewards while retaining the verbal praise. Then use the “leave it” command to discourage investigation of faeces. You could use fake faeces from a joke shop as practice. You could reward obeying a leave command and ignoring faeces with an activity ball.

While coprophagia is distasteful to us it is usually not harmful to the dog as long as he is dewormed every 3 months. It is difficult to wean some dogs of the habit.

Smart Puppy Buyer’s Guide

The RSPCA have released a Smart Puppy Buyer’s Guide which provides some very good guidance on where to buy your puppy. Whilst buying a dog from the RSPCA or other shelters or rescue organisations is often saving that animal’s life, sometimes people are after a specific breed.

The RSPCA recommends only buying from reputable breeders who provide a high standard of care for all their dogs, so that you know your animal is not coming from a puppy-farm. Depending on the breed, you will want to talk with the breeder to see if they are taking steps to reduce the risks or incidence of inheritable disorders (eg hip dysplasia or heart valve defects).

The brochure also encourages early desexing of your new puppy, as part of responsible ownership.

So if you are looking to buy a puppy, please first of all see what’s available at your local pound, RSPCA or animal shelter. If you must purchase elsewhere, always look for a reputable breeder. And read the Smart Puppy Buyer’s Guide.

Reward-based training

Dogs play an important part in many of our lives. With proper training from an early age, they can learn to interact with people in a positive way.

With this in mind the Australian Veterinary Association has developed a set of practical recommendations for vets and dog trainers on training methods based on positive reinforcement.

Reward-based training: a guide for dog trainers outlines the benefits of reward-based training and identifies some of the problems associated with alternative training methods. It also includes a number of case studies, examples of training and comprehensive list of references for further reading on the subject.