Tag Archives: training

Discouraging biting

All puppies play bite and mouth their owners and other pets in the family.  Discourage it because it will continue into adulthood and become painful and unpleasant.

If your pup bites you too hard, even accidentally, stop playing, say “no” or “ah-ah” and walk away. Allow him to calm down and play more quietly next time. If you are consistent he will learn that the consequence of biting is no playmate.

Good mealtime manners

Manners maketh dog – as well as man! Good mealtime manners are vital to a healthy relationship between you and your dog.

Teach your pup to hold a sitting position while a bowl of food is placed on the ground in front of her. With your pup on a short lead in your left hand, ask her to “sit”. Lower the food bowl in your right hand. At the same time use your left hand to block her moving forward.

If she stands raise the bowl and encourage her to sit again.

Repeat using small movements until she remains sitting while you place the food bowl on the ground.

Loosen the lead and say “free” or “ok” to allow access to the food.

You can also take some food from the bowl to hold her attention and then drop it back into the bowl as you say “ok”.

Remain with her during the meal so that she doesn’t become possessive about food. Place your hand in the food bowl and encourage her to eat around your hand.

Add extra yummy food to her bowl while she is eating, so that having you around while she is eating means added bonuses.


Teaching your pup to heel

Walking well on a lead is the most valuable skill your pup will ever learn. Enjoyable outings depend on your dog following you and not dragging you around.

If your dog pulls ahead stand still until the lead goes loose before walking on. Treat him when he stays by your side. Persist, because if you give in and let him pull ahead he will take you where he wants to go, which rewards him with what he wants and ensures that he will do the same next time too.

Call his name to get his attention and make it fun to follow you. Change direction and encourage him to follow with a treat. Every time he stays next to you say “yes” or “good” and give a treat. This makes it clear that you want him to walk next to you.

Next encourage him to sit next to you every time you stand still. Stop walking, say “sit” and give a treat when he sits. Eventually he will sit when you stop even without a reward. This is vital near roads and bicycle paths.


Teaching your dog to stay

The key to succeeding with the “stay” command is to make small steps of success and not giant leaps of failure! Break the exercise into three components – distance, duration and distraction. Add one at a time and build on successes.

Start teaching “stay” on lead. Train in a quiet location with no distractions.  Do not move anywhere at first. Ask your dog to stay, place your flat hand in front of him and stand up straight beside him. Count to five. If he hasn’t moved in this time say “yes” or “good boy” and give him a treat. Practise this three or four times before extending the stay to 10 seconds. (Duration 10 seconds, Distance 0, Distraction 0)

Add the challenge of distance: tell him to “stay” and use the same hand command. Take a small step out to the side for one second and then move back in. If he doesn’t move say “yes” or “good” and give a small treat and praise. Practise this three or four times before moving further out. (1sec Duration, 1 step Distance, 0 Distraction)

With your dog on lead gradually move further and further out until you are confident you can drop the lead. Do this in a safe environment in case your dog decides to take advantage of his freedom.

Only progress one of the Ds at a time, so that your dog always wins the game you are playing. Either increase the time he waits or increase the distance between you, but not both at the same time. This seems slow to us but your pup learns more rapidly and permanently through repeated successes and having fun.  Keep your training sessions short and end on a high note so neither of you get frustrated.

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.


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.


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.



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.

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.

Aggressive Dogs

Meghan Herron, veterinarian author of a recent study on dogs aggressive to other dogs says “the number-one reason why dog owners take their dog to a veterinary behaviorist is to manage aggressive behavior. Our study demonstrated that many confrontational training methods, whether staring down dogs, striking them, or intimidating them with physical manipulation, do little to correct improper behavior and can elicit aggressive responses.”

The use of such confrontational training techniques can provoke fear in the dog and lead to defensively aggressive behavior toward the person administering the aversive action.

Far better to use non-aversive training methods including:

  • Training the dog to sit for everything it wants (only 2% of owners reported aggression afterward)
  • Rewarding the dog for eye contact (2%)
  • Food exchange for an item in its mouth instead of forcing the item out (6%)
  • Rewarding the dog for “watch me” (0%)

With consistent and regular sessions using these positive methods, aggressive dogs slowly gain confidence in their owners and become easier to take out on walks.

“Canine aggression and other behavior problems are not a result of dominant behavior or the lack of the owner’s ‘alpha’ status,” Heron says, “but rather a result of fear (self-defense) or underlying anxiety problems. Aversive techniques can elicit an aggressive response in dogs because they can increase the fear and arousal in the dog, especially in those that are already defensive.”

These fear inducing, aversive techniques should be avoided:

  • Hitting or kicking the dog (41% of owners reported aggression in response)
  • Growling at the dog (41%)
  • Forcing the dog to release an item from its mouth (38%)
  • “Alpha roll” (forcing the dog onto its back and holding it down) (31%)
  • “Dominance down” (forcing the dog onto its side) (29%)
  • Grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%)
  • Staring the dog down (staring at the dog until it looks away) (30%)
  • Spraying the dog with a water pistol or spray bottle (20%)
  • Yelling “no” (15%)
  • Forced exposure (to something that frightens the dog, such as tile floors, noise or people) (12%)