How Do I Stop My Dog From… ?

Anyone that has worked with me will know that I like to keep my feet on the ground and to work with dog owners in a way that is relatable and easy to understand. It’s of little use getting bogged down in the technical aspects of dog behaviour modification. I have always worked with dogs and their owners using practical methods that can be repeated in my absence, so that with practice and effort on the owner’s part, along with my full support throughout, positive changes can be seen.

Many dog owners are at first overly focussed on the ‘Why’. “Why does my dog… ?” Although we can and should stop and consider the ‘Why’s’, we ultimately need to take the answer into consideration and focus on the ‘How’. “How do I stop my dog from… ?” Focusing on this ‘How’ is what will help solve the dog behaviour problems I’ve been presented with.

Supporting Dog Owners Through Change

Over a period that is now approaching twenty years of dog training and the resolution of dog behaviour problems, I came to the obvious conclusion that it is actually post-visit support to the owner that can make the difference between success or failure when undertaking tasks such as overcoming aggression to dogs, or people, or separation anxiety. The owner will need courage and a certain determination to keep working at their dog’s behavioural weaknesses and I see my role as not just offering the ‘How’, but to be there on hand as they work through the process.

Case Studies of Dog Behaviour

Below, I look at a handful of dog behaviour cases and some show my interactions/responses with the client with permission for publishing here. I shall go through them and head them up, to give you an idea of what sort of behaviours each case looks at.

Separation Anxiety in a Collie and Creating Calm Behaviour

It's always great to get positive feedback after a job, but here's one that is of interest. The dog, a border collie female aged 5 yrs, had been in a stressed state for quite some time, the dog would follow the owner intensely about the home and had never relaxed during the day as a result. There are some dog to dog issues also which we have made start upon. Collies are often good candidates for clicker training in my experience and with the owner here that has a good sense of timing, it's a perfect match making swift progress in the first week. It further proves the point I often make that older dogs can learn new tricks; the magic is in identifying the best approach with each dog and owner, and to remain flexible in doing so.

Hi Nick. It was really good to meet you on Monday. I don't know who was more tired me or Millie. I think we were ready for bed at 7! I have had two really good days with Millie, it's almost as if someone has stolen my dog and put a similar one in her place!

She is responding really well to her basic commands again such as sit and down. We are working on stay as she is doing this, but tries to get up and move before I want her to, but she's thinking about it now at least. We have already got a calmer dog going outside by making her wait until we want her to go out which has reduced this mad barking when she goes outside. The nudging of my arm has improved as I tell her down and now she just lies down and sighs at me! She isn't following me half as much, she doesn't seem that bothered if I am there or not!

Most of all, because I am off this week I have been able to increase her walks and we have been to the park for an hour, I am amazed at the improvement in her behaviour with other dogs already, although not perfect and I know it will take time, I feel more confident that I can handle her when she sees another dog. She seems less bothered by them too. Nick, when with Ted she is off lead, but at the moment when I am on my own, I use the extension lead as I feel happier at the moment with this. Is this ok in the short term until I am confident that she will do what I want her to when she sees other dogs?

Millie responds really well to the click and treat. I had forgotten a couple of other things which we had trouble with such as using spray bottles (when cleaning for example) or if Ted is using a drill or anything that moves and makes a noise. I successfully cleaned the window yesterday using the down and stay, and today, while Ted was using the drill, used the click and treat. Both times we only had one bark instead of a constant barking from her. I feel really positive about how we can develop this further and it's so nice to see her lie down and sleep.

I also wanted to let you know that we had a leak over the bank holiday and had to call out a plumber. In the past, I would have taken Millie out or gone up to my moms with her until they had been and gone, otherwise, she would have barked and scratched at the door the whole time she was here.

However using "on your bed"  and clicker, Me and Millie were able to stay at home in the lounge whilst they worked, and she only barked once! Also, Ted was mixing plaster with the plaster tool on his drill, Millie went over and started to bark and straight away he told her to lie down, which she did and he carried on with her just sat on the floor watching.

I really did not realise how she had taken over us.....but not any more! She doesn't seem at all bothered and is as happy as ever.

We walked around the park this morning before work and she walked lovely behind another dog without bothering with it at all. Before she would have pulled to get to it. When the dog turned to look at her she looked at me straight away.

The Introduction to Calm Behaviour and Good Manners

This email has been reprinted with kind permission from the owner Kathy. Let me start by saying that Kathy and Alan have done a superb job with Benson. They represent owners that took a dog with existing issues and worked hard, no, very hard at improving his behaviour with my guidance to start them off. He had reactivity issues towards other dogs in public, visitors to the home (he leapt on the sofa and very nearly bit my face on the initial visit - I'm still reasonably quick) and lack of recall to name a few.

They both had to make marked changes in their handling styles to bring Benson, a young and very strong Lab x Staffy round to their way of thinking and behaving. A firm but fair approach was needed and used. No aversive methods were used. He has been directed into better behaviour with the help and motivation of his stomach...always a good approach when it works!

It may also serve as a gentle reminder that there are few quick fixes to such behaviours. As I often explain, I give the tools, you work with them along with my support.

Hi Nick. I thought you would like to read an update on Benson.

We had guests on Xmas Eve, and as it was still daylight when they arrived we all met outside and they threw Benson treats (he loves the liver cake) while giving him little attention and then all walked in together. He barked a little once inside, but the guests continued with a few treats then I gave him a rope toy smeared with peanut butter and this distracted him for some time. I did keep him tethered so we could all relax, as Alan’s sister isn't overly keen on dogs and I didn't want Benson to pick up on her anxiety if he got too excited, I think meeting them outside helped greatly.

We took Benson on the Forest Dog Rescue sponsored walk in late December in the Wyre Forest. There were about 50 people and their dogs, and Benson was fine with all the dogs he met. As it was in the woods he did pull rather a lot but so did all the other dogs, but we felt it was a good chance for him to socialise with so many people and dogs.

On New Year's Eve, we took him on a late afternoon walk down a country lane so he would not be out when fireworks went off. It seemed that lots of others had the same idea as we met about 14 dogs coming in the opposite direction and he met all in a friendly way, although I did notice that most were bitches.

We purchased the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle as you suggested and it is a much better fit. He is fine with me putting it on him, but after 10 mins or so he tries to rub it off on the ground and it distracts him when I am recalling. I suppose this will just take time and I am working on that every day.

I am still dropping the line in the afternoons and his recall is very good now, and as there are few, if any other dogs he is really listening to me. If we do see a dog in the distance he will stop and look, but I find I can distract him by throwing treats one at a time and telling him to "find" as we move along until he loses interest. We still take him to Habberley Valley, but sometimes I find there are too many dogs and they surround him and me (Liver cake on me), and at times become a nuisance especially as their owners do not recall them. Twice I have had to ask another owner to call their dog when they have been trying to get in my pocket or are jumping up at me. I will carry on dropping the line locally where it is quieter until he accepts muzzle before dropping it at Habberley Valley.

At the moment he has about 40 min walk down a country lane in the mornings, and a 45 min run-around plus 15 min walk every afternoon, and I think he is calmer generally. He also waits well now when I have stopped to chat with people. That’s all for now, will keep you posted. Regards. Kathy.

Regaining Control of a Male Tibetan Terrier

This interesting case involved the basic recipe of ensuring that control was possible at all times and so we introduced a long training line. These are usually 30-50 feet in length depending on the breed and how far it will range. Using high value food as a distraction at workable distances for the dog is often a good way to go and with time and effort works time after time.

At the other end of the line is the owner of course and so it’s important that they are not simply hanging on in a passive manner. The owner can also be seen as a director, supervisor or referee when the dog carries out interactions with other dogs. It’s the owner’s job to positively guide these interactions…especially when such interactions are not always going well. Most dogs intrinsically know how to mix with other dogs, but we as the owners may also need to make some decisions given that we can think further ahead than the dogs can.

Hello Nick. Just a formal thank you really as we have seen good improvements across the board. I mostly walked Sidney in France alone and he has vastly improved. He still has a tendency to go into stalk mode, but he is easily distracted. Now back in England, I have reverted to walking both together mostly on riverside dunes as we meet lots of dogs there. I keep him on a long line, but Archie comes too and is off leash.

Sid is amenable with most dogs but still has unexplained (to me) occasions when he makes a jump at another dog - I have realised he rarely does this with bitches - but that is not exactly a clinical trial viewpoint! With one group of dogs who we meet a couple of times a week - 6 or 7 - in total I am confident enough to have him off lead and he is fine, but interestingly will go into a stalking mode if another new dog approaches and sometimes chases it briefly.

It was such beautiful weather in France that doors were always open so we have only just restarted having them sit and wait at the door but good progress. We are very grateful for your support. Kind regards, Maggie.

Puppy Behaviour Can be Wayward Too

This was a collie puppy I first saw for quite bad aggression towards the owners. An increase in direction and leadership training for the owners was needed immediately as the dog was nearly going back to the breeder or worse. Many new puppy owners are surprised at how strong-willed and 'bitey' young dogs can be.

Hi Nick. First of all, thank you for all the help you gave us just over a week ago I have studied the manual and the notes you made for us! Last week I slowly introduced the moist food into his diet and practised everything you showed me, this week I have done both walks so far with all the moist food eaten out on his walk. Last week I tried training treats (wainwrights) to help me along a little, but I must say the moist food seems to be working much better!

He is still doing well and we haven't lapsed on any of the rules! He seems generally a lot calmer - seems to know we're more in charge now and listens to us. Getting out the door is no problem now. When friends come or we go out we ask everyone to ignore him and he is so much better, just lies down and has a kip.

He is not barking at the birds in the garden half as much - and if he does he normally stops when we say ‘Leave it’. We are still getting him used to the muzzle - he has worn it for a very short time - but he doesn’t seem too averse to it. We think he has only barked at one dog since your visit - that was when it came round the corner suddenly. So there are definitely huge improvements - hopefully, you will see the differences at your next visit.

A Case of Dog to Dog Aggression in Border Terriers

As always, so nice to get good feedback. This is a Border Terrier in the London area that had become selectively aggressive towards some dogs. Remember that if not socialised well, given adequate training and leadership, any dog can go ‘off the rails’ and start to make poor decisions. It’s our job to stop it first of all and then put something calmer and more controlled it its place.

Hi Nick. It was nice to meet you on Monday - we are taking everything on board and already seeing changes! He has now spent 2 nights on the landing and is perfectly happy there. Getting out the gate and door is much easier - this morning he just sat and waited for me to call him from the gate first time (the front door took 4 attempts).

He loves the Nature Diet  (knew he would). We bought a muzzle - he has not tried yet but has been showing him it so he gets used to it. We’re both doing the ‘123 Method’ and so far so good.

Our new routine is I take him out early for a walk/jog (7ish) on a short lead and my partner takes him out at 11 and then we both go out in the evening with the training lead and techniques you showed us.

For the training lead, we have found a field with no other dogs around at top of the park which is perfect - after an initial 5 mins of totally ignoring us because of all the smells, he was recalling to us both and really enjoying his freedom on the long leash and leaping around in the long grass like he used. We’re also doing the postman routine with the leash on and this is working well, so we’re delighted so far!

Traffic Chasing Terrier. The Case of a Reactive Dog

After only one week, with a great deal of effort by the owner, the dogs improved in a relatively short time. This dog was obsessing with traffic and would have got itself killed if let off the lead near traffic. It's fair to say that smaller dogs are easier to control initially with this sort of behaviour as we are able to gain control more easily. So much easier when we can kneel down next to the dog. The owners have used a clicker extensively in this case as they have the timing to get it right. Clickers are not right for every case in my opinion. My responses are set within and in italics.

Hi Nick. I just thought I would update you on how we are going. Flash has been put through her paces as it were and is responding extremely well. She is now walking to heal really well and even did this off lead yesterday! She does return if tweaked on the long extension rope and is getting better at not ignoring!

The roadside work continues and she is responding really well to this and very often looks at cars now and does not always need distracting. However, she will bark and go for a car every now and again, so still early days but getting there. She occasionally goes for the feet/shoes but again this is less frequent.

Again keep working at this and set yourself up for success by arranging opportunities for her to 'fail' so you are able to correct her behaviour there and then without delay. Any opportune feet grabbing should result in you standing still (keep moving and it rewards the chase for her) as you issue an 'Ah-Ah!' type of sound in a displeased tone. Then calmly remove her from the shoe and place her into a timeout as discussed.

She is returning to her basket when instructed and tries every now and again to go on the sofa but will stay off if removed.

Going to her basket when asked is a great boon in the home, so I'm pleased about that for you. Again very well done! practice a few send to bed exercises whereby you reward her once she is in the bed and sitting there nicely. Build up the duration she is to remain in the bed to make it steady. Catch sofa jumping early where possible.

She still appears a little uncertain when we have visiting children as she barked at my friend's little boy who appeared nervous in front of Flash. I removed her with a stern ‘No’, but again was not sure of the best way of overcoming this, apart from the ‘Leave it’ command.

If you know the visiting child is nervous and the dog is also uncertain I would place her in the crate and be done with it. If the visiting child is more confident, then place her on the lead and allow them to drop in food from a distance free from pressure. Gradually shorten the distances and go from there. Always use a lead with visiting children until you are utterly confident. I suspect she will always be a little's in her nature.

She likes the Nature Diet but although we are feeding the puppy/junior, the website suggests by 6 months she should be on adult so any suggestion on this would be appreciated. Place her on adult as she's 8 months now.

 Overall definitely a step or few in the right direction and I am feeling happier as well when on my own with the dog.

Simply awesome work there. Very well done. As I explained, you've made that rapid 70-80% improvement very quickly, now you will settle into a slightly slower improvement curve and this is where you need to stick at it for lasting effect. Can I suggest you keep on with this now and re-contact me in a couple of weeks? I remain on phone/email should you need additional support.

Dog Behaviour Problems and Cairn Terriers

Dramatic change is very possible, and I regularly see it. Dogs are so inspiring when you stop to consider it. They live in this moment here and now. Not thinking about the loss of an old dog or past experiences, or even considering the future (well maybe about a meal or a walk...but not much further ahead than that!).

This ‘being in the moment’ facilitates change. They can change because they are open to it- free from hindrances of the past or thoughts of the future. Of course, dogs learn poor behaviour as well as good behaviour (though these remain somewhat subjective I know), but our dogs are often ready for fresh input and a new way of doing things. Read on for a nice example of adopting change after only three days. These two Cairn terriers and caring owners are a superb example.

Dear Nick. Thank you so much for our training session last Friday. We have been rigid with the training and not let up. Their walking antics has improved by at least 40% just in this small space and time, and keeping them calm around the house has really worked. We have had a few ‘time-outs in the kitchen, but again working wonders. They no longer get excited and jump in the mornings, so vast improvement there too.

I would just like to thank you for helping us and realise they are still a work in progress, (or we are work in progress should I say) – not to revert to our old habits. It makes them a pleasure to walk now too. Only the odd session from Treacle and we have the tools to rectify her straight away.

The food is also going down a treat too, so thank you for that as well. They actually sit at the side of me waiting for their food to be prepared and clean their bowls afterwards – how nice. Completely dry nights too, and they seem to be responding to commands instantly now – just totally different calmer dogs. I will keep you posted as to progress. With warm regards, Lisa, Darren, Honey and Treacle.

Boisterous Labradors and  Family Dynamics

I love my customers. More great feedback here from a family that have put their heart and soul into this headstrong male yellow Labrador. Lovely dog, lovely family:

As owners of a very lively, headstrong, 18-month-old Labrador, we felt that we needed help with his dominating behaviour. Nick was recommended to us by our vets, and we had 2 sessions with November and February. We were very impressed by Nick’s simple, logical and practical approach to a number of issues. We certainly did not pamper or molly-coddle our dog and felt that we were fairly disciplined with him. However, sometimes you need to be guided by someone....even if it is subtle changes in your own behaviour towards your pet.

Nick was, without doubt, very adept at doing this. He showed us how, by making a number of changes (mainly in our behaviour) and to the surroundings, things would change. They certainly did and, within a few days, it was like living with a different dog. The second visit looked at the progress we had made, and tackled any further issues that had arisen in the intervening period. We are still a ‘work in progress’, but with Nick’s help (and ongoing offer of support), we are looking forward to living with an angel rather than a devil!

The thing to emphasise here folks is that dogs really are able to change...quite quickly in most cases too. I was blown away by the improvements that were clearly visible within the dog and watching the proud owners show me what they had done was a joy. As they state they need to carry on and maintain the work they have started.

A Dog Behaviour Case of a Nervous German Shepherd Cross

This lovely dog is very nervous, but happens to live with a lady that is very caring and had already gone to great lengths to settle her dog since owning her as a rescue at the age of 2 and the dog came from an abusive background. Despite me having some initial doubt as to how much further we could take her, she has come along nicely having returned to some sound basic principles as her email below sets out.

After training my father to leave the dog alone this went really well. Jess is now much calmer and I know this sounds stupid but I think her quality of sleep during the day is much better, the slightest noise would wake up but not anymore "out cold". To start with she would pick up a toy and stuff it in your lap, this went on for a couple of days but ignoring these advances to play she gave up. After the week was up I suggested to mum and dad that they could play with her in their garden a couple of times a day for 5 mins but only if they wanted to and definitely not when Jess was trying to instigate play. This has worked really well and she is now quite happy wandering around their garden on her own which she has never done before. We have also stopped stalking pigeons and chasing squirrels!

So all in all a much calmer happier dog in the home.

As for the High Street, we are coming along well. I am not rushing this and have used the traffic light method since we met. We can now approach and walk up to the shop without a problem, still a bit nervous as we pass because she has her back to it but I'm working on this.

The long line in the park is great, it took her a while to go more than 10' from me but she has got it now. We do lots of recalls with chicken as the reward, much to the amusement of some of the elderly locals who walk their dogs at the same. There is one chap who has an elderly poodle which approached Jess for a sniff. I recalled her (all of 3ft away with my foot on the line) and she came back immediately followed by his dog, they both sat down and had a chicken reward it was lovely. We go to either Mayfield or Tunbridge Wells park morning and late afternoon for training, at lunchtime we go to the woods where she can let off steam off the lead and this has been really interesting.

Prior to meeting you, she would run around like a nutter in and out of the stream, dragging enormous sticks etc. this still happens, but there is a level of calmness in her now which I am amazed at, and no squirrel chasing, she frequently stops, checks where I am and carries on. Never without chicken we do recalls in the woods and she is straight back.

 I am going to keep hold of the line for as long as it takes as I think a more long-term view of her interacting with other dogs will be needed but I will, of course, keep you posted, the ball is now a thing of the past and I think it can come out on "high days and holidays" as she doesn't seem to miss this.

I'm working very hard on keeping her under control when visitors arrive, part of the problem is they don’t listen (and I don't mean the dog) which part of ignore the dog do people not actually understand? Anyway, when they do ignore her it's not bad at all, I leave her lead on for 5/10 mins which really helps and she normally takes herself off to bed. Still, a long way to go though for those unexpected knocks on the door.

When I left her at mum and dad's to go to the chiropractor she had her food-filled Kong at lunchtime and then slept for most of the afternoon, she did go in an out and wandered around their garden, which she has never done before so thumbs up on that.

As you suggested I have switched her to Forthglade with her Burns biscuits and she is loving it, so am I as Chappie really stinks.

I appreciate we both have a long way to go and you know I will keep at it, but I can't believe the transformation in her, when I first contacted you I said I thought my dog could be happier and she is so much happier for which I am truly grateful.