Using “dominance” to explain dog behavior causes more problems than it resolves.

Jumping up can be affectionate, even actively submissive behavior.

“The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous. It hugely underestimates the complex communicative and learning abilities of dogs.”

Science debunked this myth years ago but pop psych, ego driven and unqualified tv personalities continue to pander to their own insecurities by insisting that “might is right”.

Don’t believe it!

Here is an excerpt from a research paper three years ago.

Press release issued 21 May 2009

Paper in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior:

Clinical Applications and Research

Study shows how the behaviour of dogs has been misunderstood for generations: in fact using misplaced ideas about dog behaviour and training is likely to cause rather than cure unwanted behaviour.  The findings challenge many of the dominance related interpretations of behaviour and training techniques suggested by some TV dog trainers.

Contrary to popular belief, aggressive dogs are NOT trying to assert their dominance over their canine or human “pack”, according to research published by academics at the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.

The researchers spent six months studying dogs freely interacting at a Dogs Trust rehoming centre, and reanalysing data from studies of feral dogs, before concluding that individual relationships between dogs are learnt through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert “dominance”.

The paper “Dominance in domestic dogs – useful construct or bad habit?” reveals that dogs are not motivated by maintaining their place in the pecking order of their pack, as many well-known dog trainers preach.

Far from being helpful, the academics say, training approaches aimed at “dominance reduction” vary from being worthless in treatment to being actually dangerous and likely to make behaviours worse.

Instructing owners to eat before their dog or go through doors first will not influence the dog’s overall perception of the relationship – merely teach them what to expect in these specific situations.  Much worse, techniques such as pinning the dog to the floor, grabbing jowls, or blasting hooters at dogs will make dogs anxious, often about their owner, and potentially lead to an escalation of aggression.

Dr Rachel Casey, Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Bristol University, said:  “The blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people and other dogs is frankly ridiculous.  It hugely underestimates the complex communicative and learning abilities of dogs. It also leads to the use of coercive training techniques, which compromise welfare, and actually cause problem behaviours.

“In our referral clinic we very often see dogs which have learnt to show aggression to avoid anticipated punishment. Owners are often horrified when we explain that their dog is terrified of them, and is showing aggression because of the techniques they have used – but its not their fault when they have been advised to do so, for example by unqualified ‘behaviourists’ recommending such techniques.”

At Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, rehoming centre staff see the results of misguided dog training all the time.  Veterinary Director Chris Laurence MBE, added: “We can tell when a dog comes in to us which has been subjected to the ‘dominance reduction technique’ so beloved of TV dog trainers.  They can be very fearful, which can lead to aggression towards people.

“Sadly, many techniques used to teach a dog that his owner is leader of the pack is counter-productive; you won’t get a better behaved dog, but you will either end up with a dog so fearful it has suppressed all its natural behaviours and will just do nothing, or one so aggressive it’s dangerous to be around.”

Barking Mad

Dogs Bark! – Latest News!

Most dogs bark. Toto talks. His growling and barking is awesome. He mimics voice tone, emphasis and pace to perfection. He repeats your words back to you. In dog. People tell me he growled at them, they dont believe when I tell them he was just having a conversation with them. Until I do it again!

Dogs bark when they are happy!

They bark when they are sad!

They bark when they are angry!

They bark when they are mad!

Dogs bark when they are bored!

They sometimes bark when your team scores!

They bark when they are excited!

They bark when they are glad!

They bark to say Hi!

They sometimes even bark to say bye!


“My new dog is a female, two and a half year old Scottish terrier which weighs 18 pounds and is fed raw, I’ve had dogs all my life. This dog barks when it is on leash and it sees another dog”. Posted to an aggression list …

Madam, it’s a dog!

Not a Beanie Baby!

It’s a Scottie, for heavens sake!

They are supposed to bark, we bred them to bark!

It comes with the terriertory!



All joking aside, I think this might come under the heading “Realistic Expectations?”

We have in the past selected some breeds for particular behaviors. Labradors and Goldens are Retrievers. So playing fetch is probably going to be an easy lesson.

German Short Hair Pointers point, so a “stand-stay” is probably going to be a simple connection and you don’t have to work hard to get them to run around.

You can train a Scottie to bark less. It can be done but it is going to take a bit longer than to train a Labrador Retriever to achieve the same standard. See my response to the next email for a more detailed explanation.

The process is identical but overcoming genetic traits is always going to make the process longer and the results probably, but not always, more prone to regression.

Just Saying!

Rescued Beagle barking a lot!

I came across you website and was hoping you might be able to offer some advice for a barking beagle problem. I already have one beagle, male, about 4 years old, that I trained from puppy-hood and is a total delight.  A month ago I rescued a field beagle, male, about 1.5 year old.   He  and my other guy get along great, it is wonderful to watch.  

My big issue with the new guy is that he gets overly excited when we go for walks.  He barks a lot at squirrels and other dogs and just can’t seem to help himself even with correction.  He seems to bark out of excitement (he wants to meet and play with the other dogs) as opposed to being afraid or angry.  When he starts barking he gets so caught up in it that it is really hard to get him to pay attention to me and calm down (I have taught him how to sit and look at me and he can do it when we are in the backyard and there are no distractions but not when there are other dogs around). I have tried several different training approaches with minimal success and am thinking that at this point it might be good to get some advice from someone that knows more than I do .  Do you work on barking issues and, if so, what is your suggested approach in this situation (I have heard everything from distraction with food to electronic bark collar and everything in between)? 

Thanks, Susan


Hi Susan,

Thank you for contacting me. That is a very good question and I will use it as an opportunity to discuss barking at some length. It is a frequent topic on my radar.

It is tough to give you specific advice for this particular dog because your interpretation of what is happening might not be entirely accurate, but lets give it a go, try to understand what is going on and see what makes sense to you.

Try to not only select the parts you agree with already. You can only learn if you at least explore the different angles and perspectives and tenaciously debate their merit.

It seems to me that often with rescued dogs their experience is so limited regarding daily life, and neighborhood walks especially, that everything in their new world is quite stimulating.

Some dogs are more sensitive, more aware of environmental stimulation than others, they definitely come right across the bell curve. With rescued dogs our main goal is to try to bring them somewhat into the centre of the bell curve, it is not to deny their past or their genetics but to bring them by gentle coaching to be somewhat “normal” and live with us in gentle harmony.

I will emphasize that the behavior you are describing may have nothing to do with him being a rescued dog. I have worked with registered, papered and rescued dogs. Young, middle aged and older dogs.  Pure breeds, mixed breeds and unimaginable breeds who have been with the same family from eight weeks old or only just arrived and exhibit similar behaviors.

So really he is just being a dog and your concern may be more to do with how other people see the behavior and how they interpret your parenting than with him expressing his personality.

Bearing in mind you have only had him a month it would seem that he is still in the throes of working out what his new life is all about.

Be patient.

Gus in his element, watching, waiting.
Why do Beagles bark?

Excited beagles bark (not just beagles!).

When is a bark not just a bark?

Barking or Vocalization is a natural behavior for dogs. While we humans in our arrogance and our ignorance often think a bark is just a bark the tonality, frequency and duration of the bark have an almost unlimited variety which is definitely not random. Each dog has the innate ability to communicate different meanings at a distance, which means that what you think your dog is saying is probably incorrect.

If you live with a dog for fifteen years you will start to learn some of that dog’s language and if you are attentive and keen to learn you will pick up some of the expressions and give them meaning.

The chances of you being accurate in the translation are relatively slim except in broad general terms because the subtlety of the inflections are lost on most humans. We have developed our own languages to communicate more precisely, however even with this skill we often get the communication as a mixed message, even with people we know well. If you think, for example, how we can change the meaning of a simple phrase from a statement to a question or even sarcasm by having a lilt or rising inflection at the end of the last word you might start to wonder whether dogs have a fluency in barking that most people totally ignore most of the time.

Barking in and of itself is an expression, a communication and often the act of barking repeatedly can be self-rewarding. It feels good to the dog, like a mini orgasmrunners-high. There is a release of endorphins into the blood stream. Whoosh! There goes your little drug high! The challenge with this can be that the dog gets used to the high feeling and needs more stimulation to get the same feeling! (We see this a lot in fence guarding scenarios where the bored dog runs up and down the fence barking at passers-by wearing a groove in the ground).

So the barking gets worse more enthusiastic!

This actually is very useful when out chasing foxes, it is what we bred Beagles for!

Tally Ho!!!!

This is a good moment to point out that in order to get a strong behavior we want to mark it accurately and reward it instantly.

Timing is everything in effective training.

You will clearly see that in this instance the mark (identifying the fox or other dog visually or by smell) and internal reward (rush of blood to the head)  are very close together, fractions of a second between barking and feeling good. The response is autonomic, root-brain stuff, it is in the genes! It happens every single time with no exceptions. Powerful stuff! So this reward structure is very strong and very effective at creating a strong habitual behavior.

Think about drug takers, even though many times the long term consequences are clearly understood intellectually, the reward, the rush, comes so closely after the injection/ingestion/application and is so overwhelmingly feel good that the behavior is very difficult to eradicate. Almost impossible to eradicate in someone else, no matter how much you want it to happen!

Adding punishment after the reward is a complete waste of time. Again when the drug taker comes down from a high they feel like shit bad but they almost inevitably go back and do it again!

Punishing the dog sometimes makes you feel better. :-(

It makes you feel as if you are doing something, people feel frustrated and angry and by lashing out they release that pent up animal-like emotion. Humans are animals too!

Feel better? Feel bad? Feel guilty?

For some people it makes them feel better by diverting their anger and frustration and taking it out on the dog. However it is almost completely ineffective at changing the behavior of the dog. The dog may hesitate, cower, avoid you or bite you, depending on the personality of the dog, (the first three of which unfortunately is rewarding to us, “he knows he did wrong” is something I hear a lot, so we get in the habit of doing it!) but it does nothing to reduce the frequency or intensity of the reaction next time in the dog!

Which is the long term goal!

Be aware of this very human tendency and avoid it at all costs!

In fact the punishment is often so “remote” ( 2 seconds is way too long) from the initial response that the dog has already been rewarded and has no idea why you suddenly got pissed, the only thing that changed was another dog got close.

So the dog then goes from

“Look Ma! Another dog! What Fun! Can we play?”


“Aha! It must be the other dog you are angry at!!”


Oh F**** Oh my goodness, there’s another dog!”


“Now my mom is going to go batshit crazy get upset!”

“Go away all other dogs!”

Bark! Bark! Bark!

“my owner goes crazy when you get close”

“I think she will jerk me, bark at me”

“hit me again, shock me or spray me with Chanel No. 5!”

“Bark! Bark! Bark!”

Not you of course, but you may have seen someone else do this and wondered what is going on!

I don’t think that is quite the result they were looking for when they started this, but what happens is that some people find it does not work real well, get frustrated and so they do it harder, faster, more reactively and more aggressively! 

I recommend most emphatically

that you avoid any type of punishment.

I really think that you can turn a dog quite neurotic by punishing them for being a dog, feeling excited or anxious, you sure don’t want to add to the excitement or add to the anxiety, it is sometimes tough to tell these apart.

I have observed that often the dog does not even seem aware that it is barking, not consciously anyway, it is not deliberate, it is not defying you, it is frequently an automatic reaction and so in this instance the punishment comes “out of the blue” and from the dogs perspective is not connected to the behavior at all.

I see a lot of fall out, unexpected consequences, when people use punishment in scenarios such as this, sometimes where the dog refers the excitement from the stimulus and turns on the owner and responds to aggression with aggression. You see this at the dog park, a lot, where the aggressive owner has the aggressive dog. The other thing to think about is that a dog who is more aggressive brings out aggression in other dogs. Don’t be part of that equation!

Happy family dog went to coercive dog trainer who used prong collars and electronic stimulation collars. Has now bitten three people since his training! None before!

Don’t do it!

You become part of the problem not part of the solution and it is not building a long term relationship that will end well for either of you.

It is a huge breach of trust that can be very difficult to repair.

I think you will find that the behavior will probably fade if you ignore it. If you feel you have to do something you can try a number of things, some of which might seem as if they work simply because time passes and he would have settled down anyway.

I would be tempted to think that he will settle down as he becomes more familiar with the surroundings and your habits and rituals.  He is already starting with an elevated excitement level  being in his new home and all the new stuff that is expected of him. If you stay calm, go about your routine, you may well find that he will become less and less bothered by new stuff.

It is called socialization, becoming comfortable in a social setting, desensitization where we are dealing with stuff that he reacts mildly too, familiarization to stimulus and so on.

The one thing you do want to watch out for is becoming part of the problem, tensing up on the leash when you see another dog, for example. Joining in by barking with your dog as he barks, is another example. You think you are barking at him, he thinks you are barking at the other dog.

You can use positive reinforcement for a strong “look” which you talk about but just did not do enough work on yet. If he will do it in a level one distraction, in the back yard, then build on that with a level two distraction, and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,  before you ask for the performance in a level 9 distraction scenario. That is called systematic progressive training.  Check out my suggestion for where and how to do that further down the page.

You could label “quiet” when he is being quiet, unfortunately most people bark “quiet” when their dog is barking which does not help at all if they have never trained “quiet”!

Here is what you should do

1. Reduce the anxiety, excitement and distraction.

While we are training perfect behavior, management dictates a temporary reduction in opportunities to practice the behavior we dislike. Walk a different route? Different time of day?


2. Train an alternative behavior.

You can use distance to manage the intensity of the distraction so that you can practice success, mark and reward the success. Success might be defined as your dog seeing another dog in the distance and turning away from the dog and looking at you calmly, holding your eye contact for five seconds working up to a continuous minute or more. Ultimately you are looking for a performance of maybe three minutes attention that allows the other dog to pass by and leave without engaging with your dog. A behavior that is very specific.

Buster practicing steady and continuous eye contact
as a six month old puppy in Foundation Training.
I am not waiting for him to become reactive with other dogs.

As a puppy he was already lunging forward to meet dogs.

Herding dogs, i.e. German Shepherds, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds have a natural tendency which we have selected for
in the breeding for assertive, dominant eye contact
to help them manage animals larger than themselves.
This often makes other dogs uncomfortable.
So we train the eye contact, cued by the first sight of another dog
to head turn and gaze adoringly at us while the other dog passes by.

Yes! This is what I want!

Not vaguely, I hate it when you bark at this, bark at that and bark at the other.

So you might for example work him inside a tennis court or fenced area if that is enough distance that he does not react. You can train him on walks but you might find it hard to avoid getting too close to the stimulus, it requires constant attention to your surroundings at a distance that most people are not used to being aware of.

Then you can mark and reward him when he looks at another dog two hundred yards away and is quiet. Use the 2 second rule.

Only a Fool breaks the Two Second Rule!

If he looks at another dog for two seconds then you attract his attention and divert his attention. Never allow a gaze or stare at another dog to last for longer than two seconds without him turning his head, redirecting his attention, to you. Any longer than two seconds, (do not wait for a reactive moment) and the welling up inside will reach threshold relatively fast and then the emotional content will take over and make it so much harder (sometimes impossible) to get his attention back on you.

You will probably need to work on timing the mark so that you are precise. You can then add a word label, “quiet”, or “look” or “rhubarb”. You see the label does not mean anything to the dog in and of itself, (it does not speak or understand the english language) only what you have attached it to, rightly or wrongly.

The idea is to use familiarization first, preferably without him reaching the threshold at which he starts barking. This distance might be half a mile away. :-)

Manage the environment to set him up for success.  For example I use a local dog park. We don’t go in, or even near, but there is a good chance that if I stand with a dog in the middle of the soccer field next door that I can get a satisfactory performance, then over a period of days I might get a little closer, a little closer and so on. Always marking the behavior I am looking for (your look at me command for example) and ignoring any other. If I get a reaction on day three for example, it is not a dog problem, I just rushed the training. My mistake, snakes and ladders, go back a day and start again.

This is a lot of information so feel free to ask more questions.

Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to work this through with your new boy.

Warm regards,


Buster goes to the dog wash

This was a visit a couple of days ago.

This was a practice visit, he was settled and secured. He is somewhat relaxed, his right elbow is wide so his chest is not tense. Buster was rewarded, then we left. A couple of days later we returned and he was familiar with the environment and relaxed almost immediately.

The goal of this type of exercise is to get Buster used to (conditioned to) being handled, pushed, pulled and squeezed by humans.

This transfers into the home environment relatively simply and when done well Buster will generalize the acceptance of handling, the trust in humans and the different environments, groomers and vets.

To start with we are getting him used to it.

“Getting used to it” is termed “desensitization” in dog training terms.

Not entirely enjoying it, but stable and quiet.

After the desensitization we can work on “counter-conditioning” which means that he is not only tolerating it because it is not such a big deal, but actually welcomes it.

As an aside it is important that you work on the behaviors and reduce the anxiety first, the desensitization, before working on the counter conditioning. If you have not taken care of the anxieties first, trying to counter-condition can make the behaviors worse or block progress entirely!

The extra value in this environment is that any dog who is a bit reactive is being lightly stressed while getting a wash, shampoo and dried, (they would rather be somewhere else) so you get to learn something about your rescued dog in this environment. I will often bring the dog in shortly after arriving from the shelter as part of their behavioral and personality evaluation.

During this workout session I make sure that I touch Buster anywhere and everywhere, in particular his legs and feet, also his mouth, tongue, lips, ears, armpits, groin, tail and butt.

Each time I raise his paws individually I will restrain him for a few seconds and then release, putting my finger between his toes and in the palm. This is useful later to search for burrs or foxtails and also when he needs a blood draw. This is often a sensitive area. For many dogs this is quite threatening as a dog who has his paws damaged is at a real disadvantage in a prey/predator survival situation.

So I am careful to mark each moment of relaxed compliance with the clicker and a treat and do many repetitions with no negative consequences from the dog’s perspective. Soon when I take his paw he lets it go slack immediately and looks up in anticipation. We are making good progress!


My role is to evaluate the dogs performance under stress so that I can see what aspects need work. Do not try this at home with a newly rescued dog, the dog will already be stressed from all the changes.

To place them in this stressful environment early in the adoption and poke and prod them can be quite unsettling for a dog who has no experience.

(The first visit to the vet when they stick a thermometer where the sun doesn’t shine always seems silly to me. Hey, not on a first date!)

So you can see behaviors exhibited here that are unusual for the dog in normal circumstances when he has settled into your home.

For a Labrador or a Golden Retriever, often the water side of the equation is a minor surprise and no more than a minor irritation, some of them actually enjoy it! Although I think more frequently I see a dog that will dive into Lake Tahoe in February without a second thought when chasing a stick somehow turns into a quivering wreck when confronted with a warm bath!

For some dogs, with a few notable exceptions, I would generalise Border Collies and Aussies among them, it can seem as if you are a monster intent on killing them.

Have you ever seen anything more pitiful than Ellie in the bath?

Would you want to do a personality evaluation on this dog?
Check out what she really looks like in the next photo!

Personality and Behavioral Evaluations
are environmentally influenced!
Behavioral Evaluations in the Shelter environment
are not worth the paper they are printed on!

Buster – “Come!” 101.

So it occurred to me that I jumped the gun a little bit talking about Buster’s recall training at the beach.

Buster – Learning recall at the Lake – Notice that Buster is on his 30′ line while practicing recall in a distracting environment.

So here is a “painting by numbers” guide to having your dog come when he is called.

What not to do – Mistakes other people make!

If you want to amuse yourself go to the dog park without your dog and see how many dogs come when they are called the first time when their owners are leaving.

Not that many!


1. Consequences.

If you only work on come when you are leaving the dog park or crating the dog because you are leaving the house, you are punishing the dog for coming. Punishment is defined as anything you do that effects and reduces the frequency of a behavior.

What can you do instead?

Practice the come command several times and, bearing in mind that playing at the park is probably more rewarding than you are, tell him to go back to play again as a reward for coming!

2. Voice Tone.

If you shout his name, growl at the dog, if you bark at the dog, or if your voice sounds remotely grumpy, you are punishing the dog for coming.

What can you do instead?

Use a playful, fun and sing-song voice tone when you say his name so that he looks up at you straight away and his tail starts wagging!

Whenever you say his name the goal is that he looks at you directly and starts to wag his tail. So never use even a vaguely grumpy voice when you use his name. Always use a higher pitch tone that is a kind of yip that is playful and attractive. When he approaches you, be happy! If he likes petting then pet him gently and praise him with your voice. If he is shy and petting is not rewarding for him, please don’t do it! If your voice is not rewarding to your dog, shut up! Rewards are what your dog tells you are rewards, not necessarily what you might think should be rewarding. I have lost count of the number of photographs I have seen of the owner hugging their dog. The owner looking so happy, and the dog looking startled, fearful and intimidated, absolutely hating it!

3. Body Language.

If you unintentionally face the dog, lean towards the dog, lean forward from the waist, stare at the dog, reach towards the dog, extend your head or neck towards the dog or any combination of these, you are punishing the dog for coming.

You are behaving in a predatorial manner, from the dogs perspective, and reducing the chances that he will come towards you reliably, at all, ever.

What can you do instead?

Turn sideways, don’t look at the dog, drop down onto your knees with your butt on your heels like a dog in a sit. Non-threatening. Invitation to approach. He will come in to you even if you don’t say his name or call him.

4. Bribes

If you imagine that your dog will run towards you with unbridled enthusiasm because you hold out a treat. You will probably find that the dog will come eventually, when all the other dogs have left and there is nothing left to do. Because the treat will always be there when he does come.

Introducing food at a park when there are other dogs off leash whose manners you are unfamiliar with is a recipe for setting up a dog fight, might be you or your dog who ends up in the firing line.

What can you do instead?

You can use food as a reward for a correctly executed recall, marking and timing is important here, but do it at home or in a controlled environment (check out the elements of a wonderful recall in the blog “Buster goes to the beach” ). Build a great recall then fade the food. All of this before you ask for performance in an open environment.

5. Timing of the recall

Shouting “Come” when the dog is in mid-flight running away from them towards something very interesting. Shouting “Come” when the dog is in mid-wrestle with another dog or playing “Catch me if you can” with a group of dogs.

What can you do instead?

Watch the rhythm and energy in the play environment. Even with a dog who is easily distracted there are moments (albeit very short ones with some dogs) where the energy drops for a second and the dog looks around wondering what mischief to get into next, that is your opportunity to call his name and get excited, drop to the ground and start clapping your hands and having fun! Be the most interesting and fun thing in his field of vision! Have him come join you in the fun, do not reach towards him and try to grab him!

6. Repetition.

Calling “Come” repetitively when your dog is ignoring you deliberately. If he doesn’t come on the first call, do not continue to call him.

What can you do instead?

Either the distraction level is too high for his level of training, or the distance is too far from you for his level of training, so reduce the distraction, wait for the distraction intensity to drop off or shorten the distance between you and the dog, by approaching the dog. Use judgement, normally if you do not get a positive response from the dog, reduce the distance by half before you try a second recall. Do not call the recall as you are walking towards the dog. You will train the dog to ignore you or avoid you. A recall should be “I stand still and you come to me”, not vice versa!

6. Deliberate Intimidation

If you really think that your dog should run towards you because he fears your wrath then you are hallucinating and probably not reading this blog. If you feel angry or frustrated and you get increasingly frustrated and assertive when your dog doesn’t come he will avoid you.

You are punishing the dog for thinking about coming.

(Not you of course, but you might see this at the dog park.)

So please, set your dog up for success.

You can develop a great recall!

If he doesn’t have an awesome recall it is not a dog problem!

You may be sabotaging your own success.

Check back through these notes and ask someone to observe you who knows this information!

Go for it!

Buster – Manners around Food

Politeness around food, not taking it just because the opportunity arises, is an acquired skill for many dogs.

Learning that “Take it!”  and “Leave it!” are pre-requisites before accepting food from anyone is an acquired skill.

Learning that we are not in the land of “the quick and the hungry”.

This can be an understandable challenge for a rescue dog who has been a stray having to live off scraps and horse poop. When they arrive in our homes food may have been a high-value resource, literally a matter of life and death.

In many instances we might even assume that is the case. The truth is food sensitivity and reactivity is very common and may just be a carry over from a mis-spent childhood with no appropriate education!

Buster is very food motivated and also a bit pushy as is normal for most young dogs of almost any breed.

Buster learns and practices a settled down stay at an outdoor cafe. with food, people and dogs as distractions.

He will try to steal food off the counters, the table, or the plate. Also apple pie from the spoon on the way to your mouth, treats from the training pouch, steal from your hand when you are training or even grab a rinsed can from the recycling container on the way out the back door!

Really, from anywhere he can find it.

He has sharp little teeth and was not very cautious about how much he used them. He “warned” off other dogs from approaching when we were working with food.

As an opportunist and a puppy this is perfectly normal.

A good example of how “normal” behavior is completely unacceptable behavior in an adult and how valuable a good education can be.

To start off with we worked with stuffed toys and some adult dog education in the yard. He tried to steal the toys a couple of times, then over a period of an hour or so acquired some manners with toys.

Wendy is parenting Buster, his manners are improving dramatically and he restrains himself here as Wendy deliberately looks away.

Then I incorporated something a little higher value. In this instance a reindeer antler chew toy. This has some challenges for Buster and he was told off. Then the light came on and he was a little more devious, he tried chewing a stick right by Toto to tempt him to leave the antler but that did not work. However what he learnt in a single afternoon was that he was not the lord of all he surveyed.

Buster was interested in stealing the Antler but learned that Toto was not going to let that happen. Dogs learn so much from interactions with other dogs but the criterion is that you have to know how the other dogs will react when confronted by another dogs lack of skill. Stay clear of the dog park!

This can be a huge issue in a family home with young children and their friends and something that he needs to learn some manners. A nipped finger, a lost ice-cream and the lightly exaggerated stories making their way around the neighborhood can create an environment where other kids stop coming around the house.

For more serious bites, here in California, that is any nip that breaks the skin, even only one layer on the surface, becomes a liability issue threatening lawsuits, loss of insurance coverage and the “dangerous dog” label.

Just a dog being a dog? Well this is a great opportunity to build the long term relationship that we discuss at some length. We want to be the fountain of all good things, however it will depend on the appropriate behavior from Buster.

Here are some video clips from Buster’s training. Notice that the behavior we are marking is “Leave It!”. At first this is the result of a serious growl and slight lean forward from me. He does not know the command yet, although at first glance you might think so. My body language and posture is very predatorial and easily understood by Buster. A survival cue. I can praise and reward his behavior so that he clearly understands what is being rewarded. On appropriate performance and very quickly I can normally soften the voice tone so that it is the spoken word that cues the behavior not the intimidation in the body language. This is important in order to transfer the behavior to the family environment. Setting Buster up for success.

Success is defined for Buster, and rewarded, when he switches off his fixation with the food. The attitude will change, so he needs to withdraw his forward lean, turn his head and look away from the food (to start with just away will suffice) as he advances in his training I want him looking directly at me, getting strong eye contact and waiting for permission. The “Take It!” command.  We are using training treats here at first, we will change the bait around so that he is able to generalize the behavior and does not assume this only applies to kibble. Think about the fresh roast Turkey on the counter for Thanksgiving.

Buster goes to the Beach – Training Recall

If your dog doesn’t come 

when he is called,

you don’t have a dog!

Safety First!

The goal of all our training is to end with a dog who doesn’t need a leash. However most people don’t do the work necessary to get a reliable dog. They just let the dog off leash and then apologize as he jumps up, scares a child, jumps into the middle of a family picnic and steals the chicken legs!

Their idea of a recall is better described as “Come and Pray”.

They shout “Come”, swear and then pray.

The other mistake some people make, well actually a lot of people make, is to let the dog off leash at the park and let the dog just run around.

If the dog is in a high distraction environment and running in the opposite direction, away from you chasing a squirrel, heading for a trash can full of Big Mac wrappers at the school field or as he is herding and circling, scaring the Asian lady with a Maltese who is holding her dog to her breast and screaming and jumping up and down for some unearthly reason, please, please, please don’t shout “COME!”

Don’t shout “COME!” when the dog is running at 25 miles an hour in the opposite direction.

You did not do the work yet.

The dog has no idea why you are barking at him.

You DO know you are barking, right?

You are also labeling the opposite behavior to the one you think you are training!

Don’t teach your dog that “Come!” means “Chase a squirrel and run away from me!”

It is very frustrating and the next thing you might do is blame the dog for being stupid or stubborn or deliberately disobedient! Which is totally unfair to the dog!

You are the adult in this relationship, teach the dog what you want.


To train off leash behavior you need a leash!

Buster does 0-60 miles an hour in about a second and a half.

I don’t!

He can bob and weave and duck and stop and turn all at the same time while turning in circles!

I can’t!

So I need a plan B.

Plan B

First of all I leash him to an 80 lb dog to slow him down.

Teddy the Yellow Lab is my working dog, he loves to work. He is getting old now and can’t do a lot of the work he used to do. This he can do. Then I add a 30′ long line. I like the climbing rope long line because it is made so strongly, follows the dog smoothly, hardly ever snags and has a nice hand feel to grip if I do need to use it for restraint. (I very rarely do because my goal is to use it as little as possible.)

Excitement, fun and playfulness are also a given!

“Restraint Recall” I use Teddy my 16 year old Yellow Lab to help train an enthusiastic recall. You can use a willing friend to achieve the same result!


Also to be trained to a whistle tone.

What does “COME” mean to the dog?

Does it mean what YOU think it means?

What do YOU think it means?

To the dog “COME!” will mean, when correctly trained, all of the following nine components put together in the correct order in a continuous movement :

(As an aside would one of you maths wizards work out how many options there are for my five month old puppy getting these wrong! What do you think? Post a comment!)

1. Stop

Stop whatever you are doing, stop whatever you are thinking of doing next.

2. Turn

Turn immediately.

If you are running full speed in another direction, playing with your best friend, fighting with an enemy or have your head down a ground squirrel’s hole, stop now and turn.

3. Leave

Leave what you are doing.

4. Accelerate

Accelerate smartly! Like an Olympian in a 100 metre dash leaving the starting blocks.

5. Run directly

Run directly towards me as fast as your legs can carry you with passion, enthusiasm and vigor. Come straight to me.

6. Heel

Come in to a working position at my left heel.

7. Sit

Sit close enough and in a stable position so that I can hold your collar for safety, if I deem it necessary or desirable. I am not training a “fly-by”.

8. Stay

Stay until I release you, whether I am holding your collar or not.

Then you can go and play again.

9. Good Dog!

So it is actually a lot, a complex behavior that we frequently underestimate, for Buster a 5 month old puppy, to get his head round as a meaning for a one word cue.

If I am not requiring a complete recall, including all nine components, I will not use the word “Come!”.

For example if the dog is off-leash and I just want the dog to turn and accompany me in the direction I am traveling then I will use the command “This way!”

To train a great recall

I have found in my experience it is best to train recall by breaking the behavior into the separate components.

Train each component separately at first, the training can be on different days. For example here is Buster training Sit-Stay in a different environment on a previous day.

A great spot to be teaching Sit-Stay, he has an acceptable and understandable physical boundary. Setting him up to succeed! Mark Praise and Reward!

When you have all the components trained and practiced so that he can do them reliably and consistently then you stitch them together.

Back chaining is when you start at the end, the finish, and back chain the components one at a time.

  1. Good dog!
  2. Stay! Good Dog!
  3. Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  4. Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  5. Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  6. Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  7. Leave! Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  8. Turn! Leave! Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!
  9. Stop! Turn! Leave! Accelerate! Run! Heel! Sit! Stay! Good Dog!

We could use all these commands, but it does get a bit cumbersome and long-winded!

Now you have the behavior correctly trained, you can start incorporating the cue, “Come” and/or the whistle.

Then work the behavior, proof it, in training, in different environments reaching a gradually higher standard of performance in the 3 D’s of Dog Training. Duration, Distraction and Distance. Then when you do need it and it really matters, you can ask for the performance with confidence.

Setting a dog up for success

(and his owners!)

People often want me to train Come as a first behavior, that does not make much sense if you look at the whole behavior, you will find the learning way faster and with far fewer errors if you do each component as a separate behavior first, to identify mark and reward. It is way more fun for both you and the dog. The learning is also fast, fast, fast this way! So to be effective at pulling this together your dog should have a strong working knowledge of Sit, Stay and the Heel working position, Stop, Leave it, and “run towards me enthusiastically” in order to build a strong “Come” command. Even if he runs enthusiastically towards you it is not a safe and complete command without the finish.

If you shout “Come” and you did not do the work and your dog ignores you, it is not a dog problem. Be wise.

If you blow the whistle without training the recall you just become a whistle-blower!

The Magic Whistle

A couple of months ago someone observed me working a dog at the soccer field.

He was doing great recalls on the whistle. Ten perfect repetitions. I felt so pleased for him, I praised him and cuddled him and told him what a good boy he was and how proud I felt that he had learned this.

Next week I saw the same person there with their Husky, blowing a whistle again and again. Dog was completely ignoring them, as he has his whole life. They turned to me and said “the whistle doesn’t work with Huskies!”

True Story.

Back Chaining

This way the new bit of the behavior is worked on and the dog moves immediately into behaviors that it is familiar with and comfortable with. Like playing the piano or guitar there is intrinsic reward in repeating the parts that sound good! ( We also get to praise and reward the behavior).

Restrained Recall

The next part of this training is encouraging an enthusiastic energetic recall and for this I use a natural dog performance that I have alluded to in a previous post about loose leash training. The opposition reflex. The automatic pulling when restrained. So here I use it to our advantage, watch what happens with Buster and Teddy clipped together on the leash when I encourage Buster into a recall. He accelerates and pulls Teddy. Instead of the restraint slowing Buster down he treats the restraint as a challenge and increases his efforts. While he is in that mode, totally engaged in drive and acceleration towards me I can label a perfect recall. “Buster, COME!”

Magic Formula!

If your dog, pure bred, mixed breed or pound dog, shelter dog or stray does not come when he is called it has nothing to do with him being a rescued dog other than his education has been missing!

Your turn to do it right!

Buster – Don’t Eat the Vet!

Biting, nipping, mouthing, growling, snapping.

You little alligator you!

What on earth is going on?

All of these behaviors are really just a dog being a dog. It is one of a dog’s ways of communicating with other dogs. Most of the time it means the dog is anxious, nervous and feeling that it is threatened.

Buster has found this works to give him the safe space he feels he needs.

In order to deal with this I am including him in some group work with different dogs from my pack. Unfortunately sometimes when we remove a dog from its siblings early in life we also remove a chunk of their education. So dogs coming through rescue who may have been somewhat isolated or purebred dogs who are removed from the litter at 7 or 8 weeks do not have some of the skills they need.

This is the first lesson of a progressive systematic desensitization program to help Buster cope calmly with touch, hugs, restraint, paw holding, nail clipping, grooming and more.

Here is a lesson by Professor Marcus the Pit Bull.

Buster – The Leash, Friend or Foe?

Learning his ABC’s

Q. Why do dogs pull on the leash? 

a) Because they don’t like feeling restrained?

b) Because they think they know where they are going?

c) Because they think that if they pull you they will get there faster?

d) Because they have learned that when they pull your arm is like elastic?

e) Because when they pull they get closer to where the interesting smells are?

f) So they get to where they want to be?

All of the above!

Leash, Friend or Foe?

Jaz the German Shepherd, proudly leash walking in a great “heel” position with her owner.

The leash is your friend.

It should feel like an umbilical cord hanging in the breeze connecting you and your loved one. You can communicate through the leash in ways that will amaze you.

Most people communicate through the leash as if they are dancing in the dark. They are doing the waltz and their dog is doing the mosh-pit special! Someone is going to get their toes trodden on. They have no idea. Train the dog so both he and you are dancing the same dance, it feels awesome!

Your goal.

The goal is to train your dog so that the leash is superfluous. The law says that you should leash your dog so that is nearly always a good idea. If you are using the leash for restraint, guidance or worst of all physical punishment then you failed to do the training necessary for success. Using the leash can be the cue for your dog to understand that calm, serene and attentive behavior is now expected.

Q. Why do dogs pull on the leash? 

A. Because they don’t like feeling restrained?

With most animals there is something called an opposition reflex, when you push them they push back, when you pull them back they brace and restrain and if they can they will pull forward.

How to train a dog to pull on a leash

That is how you teach a dog to pull on leash, put them in a harness and restrain them gently, you can observe the balance change, leaning forward slightly as their muscles tension. Gradually at first you will feel them pulling forwards, restrain them a little harder and they will pull a little harder. If you repeat this the dog will brace into a pulling posture and over a short period you can see that he will become stronger. Almost like the world strong man competitions where they are pulling trucks. When my Yellow Labrador, Teddy, (also known as Boss Dog) was younger he was a very powerful dog and could pull a Range Rover when he was in harness.

Leash Aggression

The other challenge, a not insignificant point, is that when the dog tensions into the leash or harness, that to another dog even hundreds of feet away, the posture they assume feels, on a primal level, predatorial and aggressive.

They are not seen to be calm and stable but have their weight forward of their balance point. Even subtle movements, fractions of an inch, are very apparent to dogs who are experts at reading body language and predicting what is going to happen next.

This is a survival mechanism honed over thousands of years, sometimes you are the predator, sometimes the prey. This sets up tension between the two dogs which escalates into postures and voice reactions and leads to “leash aggression” descriptions by the owners.

Owners frequently report that the dog is charming in an off leash scenario with almost all dogs and yet when he is on leash he turns into the Tasmanian Devil. What if the factor is not the leash, it is the owners tension in restraining the dog and causing this reactivity? Maybe?

Walking on a slack leash

Curiously, Restraining their dog on a leash is the way most people try to train their dog to walk on a slack leash. Interspersed with jerks on the leash, barking at the dog “Heel, HEEl, BUSTER HEEEL!” and copious amounts of swearing. Then in frustration spending hundreds of dollars in the pet store buying anything and sometimes everything that promises “no pull”!

Doomed to failure?

Ya think?

Here is a clip of Buster on his first loose leash walking training session, the goal is for him to be able to do this in places of high distraction, reliably.

At the moment I set him up for success as much as I can so that I can find the correct behavior, add a verbal label when he is actually doing the correct behavior and reward him. You will hear a click at the end as he managed to do several strides consecutively, positioned well and attending to me on a slack leash. This click is to mark the correct behavior and is attached to a reward that will arrive shortly.

You will notice I am wearing a waist-leash, in fact I have one leash that fits exactly around my waist and his normal leash attached to that. Look for the action, it is a game, Buster loves games, I am the center of his attention for a lot of the time here. This is very early in his training but you can see he has potential to extend the duration of this behavior without once using the leash or collar for anything other than stopping him running off into the road or after a squirrel. (He is only five months old!)

Buster – Equipment choices and the role of exercise in effective dog training

Buster is safe, relaxed, content and in the shade. He is protected from people who want to invade his personal space and pet him. Almost like being in a crate or den. He can be easily restrained but is not being restrained. (Note the slack leash) Down stay works in a cafe, restaurant or at a friend’s house. In the house or on the patio. Safe, not invading people’s personal space by jumping up or begging for food. Good Boy, Buster!

So now I have Buster in a safe environment (see Buster – setting up for success)

What equipment do I need to take him through kindergarten?

Buy the store – not!

I have decided not to give you a list of stuff to go out and buy, over the next few weeks I will introduce equipment that will help and support our goal of having Buster be the best dog he can be and explain as I am going along what, why and how to use each one. You can then choose whether you focus on that particular behavior and think the equipment will help you achieve your goal. Bear in mind that I am an acknowledged equipment junkie and have, over a period of many years, literally bought every new piece of equipment with every promise of making life easier, the dog smarter, and taking away my clients pain in the most effective way possible. I have come to the conclusion after spending thousands of dollars that if you learn the basic principles of how dogs learn and you apply them diligently you will get the results you deserve. All you really need is a leash, a collar and a piece of rope (and even those are not absolutely essential if you are stuck shipwrecked on a desert island with a dog). All the rest is profit for the pet stores.

Profit is not a dirty word. It makes the world go around. When I spend money in a pet store and they make a profit they stay in business, provide better service, they add stock, something that I might really need will be on the shelf instead of having to order it. They are happy, I like being around happy people. They employ people, employment is good, it gives people a sense of purpose and then they have money to spend as well. This is why I like to spend in the local stores, the currency stays in the neighborhood and we all profit from that in the end. It is healthy for the community.

If you really think that the right way to teach your dog not to pull on the leash is to tie his elbows together with some kind of harness for the rest of his life then I don’t think you will be reading this blog trying to learn something new.

Regardless of what the all night channel tells you!

Those six-pack abs for guys, those overnight wrinkle reducing creams for ladies, or vice versa, are hallucinations!

There are no short cuts, magic leashes, magic collars or magic sprays or lotions.

Here is a clue, train the dog to walk on a slack leash! Then you don’t even need a leash!

Learning is faster and easier for everyone, human and dog, when you reduce anxiety.

The first few days I am going to take Buster out in public and evaluate his performance, his behaviors and his personality. I am not going to correct him at all. I don’t want to be part of the problem. It would be totally unfair to be trying to correct him for doing something that comes naturally, or that he has already learned, when I have not taught him what it is I do want him to do. I watch him very closely all the time, looking for subtle clues and not so subtle clues that will give me accurate information about his wants and needs. This evaluation gives me the structure and detail for his training program to address his sensitivities. Each dog is different. The basic training of tricks is simple but unless I address his individual emotional stressors he will never be all he can be. The anxiety would also make the training harder, slower and certainly more stressful than necessary. This would cause frustration and tension for both of us, but more importantly it would rely on my presence ( my authority, skill and experience) for him to perform the behaviors and would not transfer easily to his family. That is not learning what we want him to learn. I hate it when that happens, learning is faster and easier for everyone, human and dog, when you reduce anxiety. I truly would like to (metaphorically) tattoo that on your forehead so you see it every morning in the mirror. (Did I say that out loud? 🙂 )

Before I take Buster out for training in public I let him play and wrestle and “get his kinks out” so that he is not wound up like a top when we leave the house.

Here is a short clip of Buster and Jumping Jack Flash having a little work out. Jack is teaching Buster that he is not as important as he used to think, demoting him by gently controlling the play. Humphrey and Ted are parenting, they are the playground supervisors, there to see fair play.