Lure? Bribe? Reward?

What are we really teaching our dogs?

Do you ever feel like all you do is bribe your dog with food? You want him to come to you so you grab a tasty treat and wave it around until he notices and comes running for it? You want him to drop the sock in his mouth so you get a piece of chicken and tempt him with that? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t … how frustrating is that! You might even wish he would just do what you ask him to simply because you spend your life providing for him and he should really have a bit more loyalty and love for you!!

Dogs have their own needs, their own priorities and their own ways of thinking. They may love us and be bonded to us but it doesn’t change the fact that they have different motivations in life.

Dogs find reinforcement everywhere, it could be chasing the squirrel in the park, sniffing every piece of grass or, maybe most annoyingly, barking! Sometimes we can easily outweigh these motivations, but other times we can end up in what feels like a battle of wills.

We all have our own hierarchies of motivation, some people will be driven more by money, but for others it’s relationships, or success at work. Motivations aren’t static, they can change daily, hourly or across lifetimes. For example, if you’ve just eaten a big meal, being asked to do something in exchange for food probably won’t cut it. Or if you’ve just won the lottery you probably wouldn’t worry about skipping work and losing your pay for a few days!

This is exactly the same for dogs and it’s the reason why we can’t always get a response from them. We quickly label our dogs as ‘stubborn’ or as having ‘selective hearing’ but really, it’s all a matter of motivation and priorities. If you’re waving a treat in front of your dog’s face when he’s just seen a squirrel in the park, his priority is unlikely to be the food… in that moment his only care is for the squirrel.

Similarly, if he knows what he’s going to get from you then he will know whether or not it’s worth his energy immediately. In human terms, you may not mind working longer hours once in a while in return for a grateful thank you and no extra pay, but if this started to happen every day, you would soon get frustrated and question it. Likewise, a dog may come back a few times when you call him and receive a ‘good boy’ and pat on the head, but he will soon tire of this and its value will be easily outweighed by other things.

It gets frustrating when your dog will only listen to you if they know you have something for them, using food as an example, he knows you have a treat so he will sit, lie down, spin around and do anything you ask, but when you don’t have that treat in your hand, or you have a ‘boring’ treat he looks at you blankly and walks away. ‘What’s the point’, he says, and you scream in frustration, ‘WHY won’t he just listen to me!?’

This is the unfortunate result of bribing your dog. When working with rewards in training, we can become so reliant on showing the dog what we have and then asking them to do something, it works well in the early stages of training but you need to quickly phase out this bribe so your dog isn’t dependent on it. You should never aim to remove food rewards completely; they will always be an important motivator but you can reduce the dependency.

A few simple changes can make a big difference…

Stop waving the treat in his face

Don’t show the reward until after your dog has performed the behaviour you’ve asked for

  • For example, put a treat on the table where your dog can’t see it, call him to you, tell him ‘good boy!’ and then reach for the treat and present it to him
  • Without showing him a treat, ask him for a behaviour he knows well (e.g. sit). If he responds, GREAT, quickly mark it (say yes) and reward him. If he’s unable to respond then there’s a strong possibility he doesn’t understand what you’re asking him. When he knows you have a treat, he may just try a behaviour to get the reward, rather than actually performing on cue.
  • In this case, you need to go back to basics and teach him the behaviours again, but without the treat acting as your bribe!

No more treats in your hand … get rid of the lure!

  • Luring is helpful when teaching new behaviours but your dog can become reliant on this so rather than always holding a treat in your hand, keep it in your pocket until the behaviour has been performed
  • Start by luring with a treat in your hand, but after a few repetitions, show the lure with an empty hand
  • Reduce your lure by using a more subtle movement

Increase your criteria and create some behaviour chains

  • Frustration tolerance is an important skill for dogs to learn, one way to improve this is to ask for several behaviours before they receive the reward
  • Making your dog work a little harder for the reward will encourage him to respond faster and more reliably in order to gain the reward
  • This puts more focus onto the behaviour chain and lessens the focus on the reward

Keep it varied, random and unpredictable

  • When we want to create a stronger behaviour, we use a variable reinforcement schedule where the rewards come randomly and unpredictably
  • In human terms, people will continually try to win on a slot machine because the intermittent reward keeps them trying … you never know if you will win 1p or £100
  • For dogs, they will keep coming back to you if they know sometimes they get a piece of kibble, sometimes it’s a fuss and sometimes it’s a handful of chicken … it’s worth putting the effort in if sometimes the reward is super amazing!
  • Do you find yourself giving your dog a treat every time you ask him to sit? Quite possibly not, but ‘sit’ is probably still his most reliable command? This is because you have put ‘sit’ on a variable reward schedule… there is no predictability to when the reward will come, it’s so random that he keeps offering the behaviour in hope that this time he will be rewarded.
  • Of course there are criteria for this, if you reward too infrequently he will lose interest and assume it’s not worth the effort, and if he doesn’t truly understand the behaviour you’re asking for, then the concept becomes irrelevant.
  • For this to work he must 1. Have a good understanding of the behaviour and 2. Be rewarded frequently enough to still feel motivated to respond

Food is not everything!

  • It doesn’t always have to be food – work out what your dog finds reinforcing and use it!
  • For some dogs, going through the door or into the car is a huge reward so ask him to do something first, for example, sit before he goes through the door
  • Being released to go sniff or play is a great reward for many dogs, so use this to reward recall or other commands during walks
  • Keep it varied though, life rewards aren’t enough all the time and they don’t work in every situation… you’re unlikely to release your dog to go chase a squirrel as a reward when you’re trying to stop this behaviour!

The Importance of Reward Delivery

We often neglect to think about WHEN and HOW we reward our dogs. The timing of a reward can make a big difference because it can influence the exact behaviour you reward, and it may not always be the one you intended. The reward can also overshadow the behaviour you have asked for. You may think your dog has listened to your ‘sit’ cue when actually he saw the treat and decided to offer the behaviour which works most often … a sit.

The order of this is so important, it must follow cue – behaviour – reward. NOT show reward – cue – show reward – behaviour – give reward!!

There is a big difference between bribing a dog and rewarding a dog. If you rely on bribery (whether accidental or intentional) you will be stuck in the trap of always having to offer your dog something before he is willing to listen to you. But if you focus on rewarding your dog then he should try harder to gain the reward, making his responses quicker, more enthusiastic and focused.

Alongside this, think about your behaviour when you deliver the reward to your dog. Your dog has just seen a squirrel run across the park, you call his name and he turns to come running to you, but when he gets to you, you reach in your pocket and hand him a treat… now what’s more exciting? The moving squirrel or the piece of food you just handed to him?

If you have a dog who will take it or leave it with food rewards then you have to work harder to make that piece of food more exciting than anything else! It doesn’t have to be complicated to add some excitement and value into a reward delivery. Movement is key for many dogs, chasing a treat across the floor, catching it in the air or following it in your moving hand can all easily add some intrigue.

Sure, there is a time and place for carefully delivered rewards, but for most of us pet-dog owners, precise reward placement is not top priority so use what you can to up the value of your reward. When done right, the actual process of taking the reward can outweigh the eating of it. You can turn the most boring piece of kibble into the most exciting event of the day.

I Don’t Want to Use Treats

This is one of the most common things I hear, followed closely by ‘when can I stop using treats?’. Unless you have a dog who is highly motivated by your attention or is willing to listen simply because he loves you, then you won’t get very far without treats!

Using your dog’s own daily food portion as rewards is the best way to make use of his food without having to worry about giving him lots of treats. It’s also a great way to increase motivation in a dog who is uninterested in food. Not all dogs are naturally foodie dogs, they will take it or leave it and willingly go several days without eating. For owners of these dogs it can be incredibly painful to be told food rewards are essential in training.

However, if your dog isn’t food motivated then it’s still no excuse, it just means your first step of training is to teach your dog to enjoy the food!

Read this previous post for more food motivation ideas

And as a quick summary…

  1. Ditch the bowl. Eating from a bowl is boring. It doesn’t help your training and it’s easy to get rid of so ditch it
  2. Food comes from you. You are now the source of food. Be creative with it
  3. Hand feed. Use food to reward your dog for behaviours he knows or for doing nothing. Hand feeding can be fun – you can throw the food for your dog to chase or catch, or play hide-and-seek with it
  4. Changing how you offer food can change how your dog feels about it, it should always be fun to eat and ideally it should be associated with you

Working with dogs who lack motivation for food can be more challenging but I am yet to meet a dog who can’t be converted to enjoy it, it just takes a little more time and patience!

At Adolescent Dogs we are passionate about reward-based training and we have years of experience with building food motivation and finding each dog’s individual motivations. We love to train our dogs using the things that motivate them most!

Enrich Your Dog’s Life

Enrichment has become a bit of a buzz word in the dog world. It has been a big topic for years but it has been discussed more than ever while we’ve been at home with our dogs in recent weeks.

‘Enrichment’ can seem daunting, there are so many activities, games and ideas to choose from. Where do you even start? What’s best for your dog? What if you don’t have time to create extravagant games or the money to buy all sorts of equipment to enrich your dog’s life? And is it really THAT beneficial?

We control almost every aspect of our dog’s lives, we control their feeding, walking, socialising and pretty much everything that happens in their day. They adapt remarkably well to our lives and, on the whole, they cope amazingly with the limited choices on offer to them.

When you consider just how much control we have over our dogs, it seems only fair that we give them opportunities to make choices for themselves and find an outlet for some more natural behaviours. Do you get frustrated when your dog tries to stop and sniff every tree on your walk? Do you shout at him for digging in the garden? What about barking when someone walks past the house?

We find it hard to tolerate some of the behaviours our dogs try to engage in. Understandably, digging up the garden or barking out the window are behaviours we find difficult to live with, but we have to appreciate that our dogs have their own needs to fulfil. A simple walk and a quick play in the garden aren’t enough for many dogs, and when we repeatedly stop their attempts to entertain themselves, it’s no wonder they become frustrated. Given how much time we have all been spending at home recently, I think we have a new appreciation for just how boring and repetitive our dog’s lives can be.

Creating suitable activities for your dog will help reduce his need to engage in other unwanted behaviours. These activities have many benefits, they can teach a dog to problem solve which is a great confidence booster … how good do you feel when you solve a problem or puzzle?! Successfully solving a problem will boost your dog’s mood and help him feel more positive. Dogs who experience success will have a more positive outlook on life. Just imagine repeatedly being told off, having your ‘fun’ activities taken away and having no freedom to make choices, you would soon lose confidence and develop a negative outlook about everything you do. Compare this to an environment where you learn new skills, successfully overcome challenges and have the opportunity to make good choices … how much more positive would you start to feel?

Rather than continually stopping our dogs behaving in ways we dislike, we need to create opportunities for them to behave in more appropriate ways. A dog who is always told ‘No, no, NOO’ will be left confused about what he CAN actually do. He may turn to other behaviours in an attempt to diffuse the negative situation or to find new ways of gaining attention. In comparison, a dog who is calmly redirected onto an appropriate activity, or encouraged to make good choices in the first place, will be more positive and enriched.

Enrichment provides a relaxing way for your dog to practice his problem-solving skills, improve his tolerance of frustration and tire himself out, all in a safe and appropriate manner. Food is a great way to activate your dog’s natural behaviours. All dogs need to eat so by changing how your dog receives his food, you can transform his meal times from a boring bowl of food, to a whole range of activities.

Sniff and Search

Start with a simple task of sniffing for breakfast in the grass or around the living room. Sniffing is a calming and tiring behaviour, it’s also a basic skill which all dogs will have. If your dog isn’t sure then help him out by ‘searching’ for the food with him. Gradually increase the difficulty, letting him find it more independently or in more tricky places.


Create a little trail of sprinkled food for your dog to follow. You can use crumbly food, like grated cheese or broken up dry treats, so your dog is focused more on the sniffing than the eating. Create trails to around different surfaces or areas of the house or garden. You can even do sprinkle trails around your walk to encourage more sniffing and exploring.

Novel Areas

Set up a selection of objects, cardboard boxes are a good way to start, and scatter some food around the objects. Sit back and let your dog take his time to work out how to find the food while exploring the objects. Always work at your dog’s pace and don’t force him to get involved if he’s not sure. Some dogs will need a lot more time to decide to interact with the game but this is all about CHOICE so let him decide on his own! If needed, begin with one or two boxes or objects, gradually building up the challenges as his confidence increases.

Activity Toys

We can be very creative and set up our own activities for our dogs, but sometimes having ready-made options is essential. Toys like snuffle mats, licki-mats or Kongs are handy to have ready prepared or can be made in a hurry. These engage your dog in calming activities by encouraging sniffing, licking and chewing.

Food Adventures

Our dogs often eat the same food every day, even if we use it in enrichment activities, it’s often the same dry kibble. Eating a variety of foods can be enriching in itself. Different textures, tastes and smells will create a new interest for your dog and these can be incorporated in other activities. You could hide some vegetables, fruits or meats in the games you play, or fill an old cupcake tin with a variety of food options. Let your dog choose what he wants to eat and give him time to investigate and taste all the foods on offer. Make sure you choose foods which are safe for dogs though!

Dig it Up

Digging is a typical behaviour which we find wholly inappropriate in our beautiful flower beds or vegetable patches. Yet it’s a wonderfully reinforcing behaviour for many dogs. If you have a dog who loves to dig, why not create a specific dig-area where he can engage appropriately in this activity. A sandpit can be cheap and easy to make, even in a small space, and within this you can hide toys, treats or chews for your dog to find. If you’re worried about just reinforcing digging everywhere then make sure you supervise him and direct all his digging into his sandpit, he will soon learn this is where he can dig and find reinforcing items!

Forget the Food

Enrichment doesn’t always have to be about food. If your dog enjoys toys then create a search game for his favourite toy, or play hide-and-seek with other people in the house.

When you’re on a walk, make a conscious effort to allow him to sniff and take time to encourage this behaviour. Remember sniffing is a calming, tiring activity. If your dog doesn’t do much sniffing then use ‘sprinkles’ to encourage him to sniff during your walk. If you’re concerned about lead walking and don’t want to be dragged from pillar to post in search of sniffs, then work on lead walking but stop frequently and give your dog a clear ‘sniff sniff’ release to encourage him to stop and sniff for a minute or two, perhaps choosing patches of grass or trees where you can use sprinkles of food to reinforce the sniffing.  

In summary, enrichment activities are a great way to boost your dog’s confidence, it will give him opportunities to make his own choices, build his tolerance of frustration, and offer an outlet for his natural behaviours and energy.

But My Dog Doesn’t Like Food…?

Motivating the unmotivated dog.

When you talk to people about reward-based training, the mention of food rewards often sparks the question about what to do if you have a dog who doesn’t like food?

Firstly, all dogs like food, otherwise they wouldn’t survive. It’s not a question of ‘liking’ food, it’s about what motivates them and whether food is important to them in the context you’re offering it. If you have a dog who will gratefully receive food at any opportunity then you probably don’t think about how you developed this motivation, it was just there. For other people, teaching a dog to enjoy food rewards is a huge challenge, but it can be done!

I have yet to meet a dog who never develops any interest in food rewards, it may not be their biggest motivator, but it’s always possible to create food motivation. If you have a dog who isn’t naturally ‘foodie’ then there are some simple ways to develop this motivation. Think of it as the first step of training!

No More Food Bowls

The first, and probably most important part, is to remove the food bowl. Eating from a bowl is boring and unproductive. It’s a waste of a great bonding and training opportunity. When food becomes more interesting then motivation for it increases. It’s no wonder dogs start being picky about eating when the whole experience is so dull and repetitive.

Everyone has an excuse for why they can’t stop using a bowl … they have limited time, they feed raw or wet food, the dog is too young or too old, he needs medication, he only eats if it’s in a bowl … but these are just excuses and if you plan a little more and get creative then it’s never impossible.

When time is an issue then pre-prepare some meals in enrichment or activity toys. If you’re unprepared, scatter the food in the garden or hide it in a blanket for your dog to sniff for. Enrichment toys, like snuffle mats and Kongs, are interesting for your dog and easy to prepare. Sniffing, chewing or licking activities can also promote calmness while using lots of mental energy.

When possible, find the time to be involved with your dog’s eating, this could be as simple as hand feeding, throwing the food for your dog to chase or catch, or playing a game of hide-and-seek with the food. If your dog understands some basic commands then practice these in exchange for food rewards.

You don’t have to throw the food bowl away immediately, start by weighing out your dog’s daily food allowance and use as much as you can during the day, then anything left at the end can be given in the bowl, or ideally in an enrichment toy.

Committing to this new way of feeding your dog will gradually increase their motivation for food. It won’t happen overnight, so persevere and really make the effort to be creative about how you feed your dog. Remember primarily to make the food EXCITING and VALUABLE.

Experiment with Food

If your dog doesn’t ‘like’ food rewards then you may be using the wrong ones. Dogs will have preferences about food, so try something more exciting like cooked meat or homemade liver cake.

Start with high-value foods and don’t hold back with these initially because when your dog’s motivation for food increases then you can start to include lower value items, like dry food.

JR Pate is a good example of a high value, easy to prepare treat

Mix up the Rewards

For dogs, reinforcement is everywhere… toys, squirrels, other dogs, people… every dog will find different things reinforcing. Food may not be top priority because there is something far more reinforcing to the dog in that moment. Food motivation can be increased by actually rewarding them for eating a treat. For example, give the dog a food treat and then play with a toy, or give the food treat and then let the dog off the lead.

Think about what your dog really loves and how you can use this to reward them for eating a treat. By rewarding after they eat, the eating will be paired with something positive and reinforcing, which over time will increase the value of the food reward. The food reward itself then becomes highly reinforcing.

Many dogs who have been trained using food rewards will find the process of receiving the treat as reinforcing as the actual tasting or eating of it. It’s not unusual to see a dog who will work hard to receive something as bland as a speck of grass or paper because they have such a strong positive association with the action of being given a treat.

Little and Often

Training is a slow process for many dogs and it can be slower for those who aren’t naturally excited by food. Dogs can find learning stressful and frustrating so if we expect too much or become frustrated with them, this can turn it into an unpleasant experience which can create a negative association with food rewards. Keep each training session short and end it before the dog loses interest or becomes too stressed. If your dog isn’t responding as you want then don’t keep going until he gets it right, it’s better to end on an incorrect behaviour than push for perfection and risk creating a negative and stressful training session.

When building food motivation, keep it easy and relaxed. Start with simple behaviours, such as eye contact or a nose touch. Showing your dog that learning is really fun will also improve their motivation for food rewards.

Is it Really About the Food?

Sometimes we say our dogs don’t like food, when in reality they are simply not in the right headspace to eat. A dog who is over-aroused, perhaps fearful or highly excited, is less likely to be able to eat. In a high arousal state, food is not top priority, so consider how your dog is feeling when he won’t take the treat from you. If he happily wants food rewards inside the house but immediately loses interest on a walk or in the presence of another dog then that’s a sign he’s no longer in a state to eat and this can be an indicator of stress.

In this situation, working on lowering stress is as important as teaching the dog to find food reinforcing. Focus on building food motivation in a location where your dog is relaxed (e.g. at home) and gradually progress to different locations.

A huge benefit of working with food rewards is that they can give us a clear indication of when our dog is no longer coping. If he stops taking the food rewards then it’s likely to be a sign that something has caused him to feel stressed. For reactive or fearful dogs, it can tell us about our dog’s tolerance or threshold level, if he stops taking food when he’s 20metres from another dog then that’s a sign he’s too close and no longer coping.

For dogs who struggle to eat because of stress (whether that’s fearful stress or excited stress), it’s important to carefully control and manage their environment in order to keep their stress levels to a minimum. Working simultaneously on increasing their food motivation and lowering their stress levels is an essential part of the training process, and from here effective behavioural modification can begin.

Building food motivation can take time and it’s not something which changes overnight. There can be many reasons why a dog lacks interest in food rewards, it could be to do with stressors in the environment, the type of food being offered, how it’s offered, or previous associations, as well as other influencing factors. Carefully consider what may be influencing your dog’s lack of interest and make a plan about how to start building his motivation or managing his environment better to help lower his stress levels.

It’s always a good idea to seek help from a professional trainer who can thoroughly assess underlying factors and guide you in ways to improve food motivation. There is always a way so don’t be too quick to label your dog and decide food-based training won’t work for you, it’s just another step along the training process!

Socialisation in a Pandemic

How do we properly socialise a puppy when the world is in lockdown?

Anyone with a new puppy will probably be very aware of the limitations our current climate puts on effective socialisation, or at least our expectations of how socialisation should be done. I collected a foster puppy just as the UK went into total lockdown, so I too felt the pressure and added worries about getting it ‘right’.

Many of us will have been told numerous times about how we should socialise our puppies, we may have received a lot of conflicting advice, but we have probably consistently been told it’s vital that this is done in the early weeks of puppyhood and we should introduce and expose them to as much as possible.

It’s important to be careful with socialisation and not simply introduce your puppy to anyone and everyone while letting him figure it all out. However, that’s not the purpose of this blog so have a read through my previous post about socialisation for a bit of background theory …

Here I want to discuss how we can properly socialise a puppy given the restrictions in place in the UK and many other countries. We can’t follow the traditional approach of meeting new people and dogs, nor can we do numerous short trips to new environments or busy places, so we need alternative solutions to ensure our puppies still develop into stable, well-rounded adults. We need to be creative and look at it from a different perspective. This could really change how we view socialisation. What really benefits our puppies? And are there actually better ways to socialise them? Only time will tell as we watch our ‘lockdown puppies’ grow into adults.

The Importance of Trust

Trust is central to good socialisation. Socialisation should involve careful consideration of your puppy’s feelings, emotions and responses to experiences. You should interact with him and support him through each experience, there is a careful balance between being supportive while also allowing a puppy to explore and learn.

Get to know his personality, a more sensitive puppy will benefit from more support, not overbearing, anxious mothering, but for you to step in when needed. Use plenty of rewards and prioritise gentle, gradual exposure to novelty. A bolder puppy will be able to explore a little more independently, have more freedom to figure everything out but will still require a vigilant human to support them and remain interactive throughout the process.

Be your puppy’s safe place where he can return to for security if he’s unsure of a situation. Teach him basic commands to build your bond and reinforce his focus on you.

Find the Novelty

A puppy who has positive experiences in novel situations will develop a more optimistic view of life and be better able to confidently handle new things.

This can easily be done at home, gather together some household objects (e.g. pots and pans, cardboard boxes, chairs or anything else safe for your puppy to explore around), scatter them around in an open space and let your puppy explore and investigate. Support him with verbal feedback and food rewards, but make sure you don’t use these to entice him into a situation he’s unsure of. Give him plenty of time and space to make the choice to interact with the novel items, and if he chooses to move away then don’t force him to go back – teaching him that he has a choice is hugely important too!

Novelty can be created in your own home by moving your furniture around or dressing up in different clothes and accessories to change your appearance. Changing how your furniture looks will create a whole new room for your puppy to explore and essentially give him a novel environment to experience. Wearing different clothes or accessories will allow your puppy to experience things he will encounter as he grows up.

Always watch his body language and don’t push him if he’s finding the situation difficult. If he spooks at you wearing certain items (e.g. a hat) then calmly leave the room and return in your normal clothes, then introduce the new items more gradually, perhaps putting the hat on while in the same room so your puppy can see the change.

Moving Objects

Other items you can play with at home could include riding a bike or skateboard in the garden, or showing him the hoover or lawnmower. Moving items can be scary or exciting for dogs, so carefully introduce these at a pace your puppy is comfortable with. For example, push the bike before riding it, let him explore the Hoover before it’s turned on or move it around without turning it on.

Use lots of rewards with these items, ideally tossing the treat away from the moving item so your puppy is always encouraged to stay back while building a positive association… remember you don’t want him running up to bikes or getting under the Hoover in the future so toss the reward away and teach him to keep his distance.

Visit Different Places

It may be quieter outside but you can visit different roads, towns or locations like the river and woodland. Each place will have new smells, sights and sounds so give him time to take it in and explore. You don’t have to walk far, letting him explore near the car or on a short walk will be plenty for him to take in. Take lots of rewards with you so you can keep reinforcing him around the new environment, especially if he chooses to come back to you, rewarding this choice will show him he can return to you for some support!

Let Him Watch

Simply sitting and watching people, dogs and traffic during your daily outing is a great way to help him feel calm and confident. Find a safe place to sit and give him time to observe while you feed him some tasty treats, or take your walk at a slow pace so he has time to take it all in. Keep these sessions short so he doesn’t become too tired or overwhelmed but make it part of your day to take him somewhere to watch other people and dogs.

Let Him Listen

There are some excellent sound CD’s available which are designed to gradually desensitise dogs and puppies to different noises. Find one which will play the sound of things your puppy will encounter in daily life, for example, people talking, dogs barking, fireworks and traffic noises.

Start at a low volume and gradually increase it if he remains calm and relaxed. Ideally you want him to notice slightly but quickly carry on with what he’s doing, so play the CD while he’s playing with a toy or engaged in an enrichment activity. If he spooks or can’t ignore the sound then it’s too much and you need to reduce the volume until he’s barely noticing it.

Handling Exercises

Set up some mock vet visits and work through handling your puppy. Watch for signs of discomfort, for example, wriggling, running away, cowering or becoming excessively bitey. Watch how your puppy behaves and combine each exercise with food rewards. Start by briefly touching different parts of his body and make note of where he is less comfortable, these areas will need slower, more careful work. Never force handling exercises, this will only create more fear, so always take it slowly and keep it really positive and relaxed!

Social Distancing Interactions

This is likely to be most people’s biggest concern, after all we have often been told puppies should meet 100 people in their first few months, and suddenly we can’t be near anyone else! However, interacting with a lot of new people can be very overwhelming and we can unintentionally force puppies into interactions they aren’t comfortable with.

Social distancing will certainly make us rethink how we socialise our puppies with people, and a hands-off approach may actually benefit a lot of dogs. Many dogs who develop fear-aggression or reactivity issues towards people will have had negative experiences as puppies. We may not realise until these issues present themselves as clear signals of barking, lunging or snapping, but most likely the dog has been showing signs since they were young, perhaps a subtle shying away from a stranger, or cowering or remaining quiet and still when being stroked by unfamiliar people. These are easy signals to miss and can be misinterpreted as a polite puppy, or we notice and assume he’ll get over it. Unfortunately, nervous puppies rarely just get over it.

Taking a step back and maintaining a safe 2-metre distance from people will give us more space to watch our puppies body language and allow him to ‘greet’ people without the pressure of a physical interaction. Let him sniff and watch people from a distance while rewarding him for staying with you. Watch for signs he’s uncomfortable (e.g. shying or moving away, lip licking etc.), if you notice signs of nervousness then simply increase your distance from the person or end the meeting and move away. This will teach your puppy that if he’s uncomfortable, you will take control and move him away – he always has the choice to move away from a situation he’s unsure of and he’s never forced to interact or stay somewhere he’s uncomfortable … this is one of the most important lessons you can teach him!

This is understandably a more complicated environment to socialise our puppies in, but it’s an opportunity to be more creative and rethink how we traditionally approach socialisation. At Adolescent Dogs we are enjoying the challenge of socialisation and we’d love to help anyone with a new puppy or adult dog who needs some inspiration for training or socialisation during this time.

Please Don’t Go…

Are we spending TOO much time with our dogs?

We are all too aware of the lasting impacts Covid-19 will have on every aspect of our lives. But have you considered the impact it could have on your dog?

For many dogs this will be the time of their lives, their families are at home all day, they have all the human contact they could ever want and they really are ‘living their best lives’. However, some dogs may be finding the constant human interaction quite tiring and the disrupted routine can be stressful for our dogs. Some dogs may be receiving far more exercise than they’re used to, which could be harmful physically or mentally. It’s important to try and maintain some sense of ‘normality’ for our dogs, this will help avoid increased stress levels and minimise the impact of ever-changing routines.

Many dogs will have spent years in a stable routine where they are left for several hours in the day while their humans go to work or run errands. They are comfortable with time on their own and it’s a normal part of their daily lives. Suddenly, their family is at home all day every day and they never have to spend any time alone. Some may still choose to take themselves away and settle on their own, but others will relish the human contact. What happens when you start to leave them again?

For other dogs, being separated from their humans is already a daily struggle and a cause of anxiety. It must feel great to not have the stress of separation, but you may face an even tougher challenge next time you have to leave. And for new additions during this pandemic, perhaps a new puppy or rescue dog, they will know no different to having humans around all the time. Being left alone is an unknown concept to them.

It’s easy to want to enjoy this time by showering our pets with attention and revolving our days around them. While we should absolutely make the most of this, we also need to remember that at some point, our lives will settle back into some sort of routine. Most of us will have to return to work and probably all of us will need to leave our pets on a regular basis again. It’s short-sighted to think that we should simply enjoy this time and not plan for when we have to leave them. In a few month’s time we face the possibility of a pandemic of dogs with separation anxiety. Now is the time to make a plan and it is also the perfect situation to work carefully on existing separation issues.

One of the biggest challenges in overcoming separation-related issues is that we can spend days slowly working on our dogs feeling calm and relaxed while we disappear for a few seconds, but then we suddenly have to leave them for several hours and we undo all our previous work because the dog is left stressed and anxious. During ‘lockdown’, we are likely to have the luxury of not having to leave our dogs frequently or for long durations. This is the ideal environment for successfully working on separation issues!

Whether your dog is a pro at being left alone, an anxious wreck or a total newbie, there are some really simple ways to start making alone-time stress-free for your dog. You can adjust the time lengths based on your dog’s tolerance and previous experience with separation.

Physical Barriers

  • Closing doors behind you while you walk from room to room will mean your dog can’t constantly follow. Return after a few seconds, gradually increasing the time. Keep your exit and entry neutral… no big excited greetings, this will only add to the anticipation of your return!
  • If a closed door is too much, try a baby gate so your dog can see you but not follow

Crate Training

  • Some dogs benefit hugely from having a safe space where they can relax on their own. An enclosed room or pen can work equally well
  • If your dog learns to be settled in this safe space then it can really transform separation issues
  • Read this blog post for more crate training tips

Enrichment and Activity

  • Using enrichment toys, long-lasting chews or fun activities can help your dog enjoy being alone
  • Start by teaching your dog to enjoy these activities while you’re there. A Kong stuffed with yummy food or a long-lasting natural chew (e.g. calves hoof, pizzle stick) are ideal for this, he can be busy with this while you’re working or doing household chores
  • Once your dog is enjoying these in your company, then begin to briefly leave the room before returning. Understand your dog’s tolerance before you leave, for example, 1 second might be enough for one dog, while for another you could leave for 2minutes or 45minutes!
  • Aim to return while he’s still engaged with his activity so you can exit and enter with minimal impact
  • If your dog remains relaxed, keep walking in and out, desensitising him to you leaving and entering the room

Break the Associations

  • Dogs with separation anxiety will often notice all the little signs that you’re going out … certain clothes, shoes, car keys, you talking or behaving in specific ways
  • Each sign will add more stress to the leaving process, so by the time you close the door your dog is already over-threshold and unable to cope
  • Breaking these associations can calm the whole situation and avoid the escalating stress, so pick up your keys, put them down, sit on the sofa, put your coat/shoes on, walk around, sit down, take them off, say ‘goodbye, bye, bye!’ as you walk around the house…and so on
  • Make a list of all those ‘signals’ you give off when you’re getting ready to leave and then find ways to perform them without actually going anywhere!

Routine Dilemmas

  • Naturally we like routines, we go to work at a certain time, walk the dog at a certain time and generally keep fairly consistent time schedules
  • Having rigidly set routines can create stress for our dogs because they anticipate events and build associations
  • Mixing up routines will help reduce this stress and avoid a predictable daily life which teaches a dog to rely on routines
  • Make small changes to break the expected routines, for example, vary the time of your dog’s walks, training sessions, meal times and alone time. Vary how these are done too, for example, dinner time as a training session or breakfast scattered in the garden. Alone time in a crate with a chew or in the kitchen with an activity toy
  • Being able to cope with change is an important skill and this is an ideal time to teach your dog to enjoy varying routines!

You can progressively combine all these aspects, for example, give your dog a chew and then perform some of your typical leaving signals while staying in the same room. Or put your dog in his crate/safe space with a chew and then put your shoes on and step out the front door for a few seconds or minutes.

Repetition is essential in this training. Separation often becomes more of a problem when it’s not practiced regularly, so make sure you work on this training throughout the day. Making it part of the daily routine will ensure it’s not a scary, one-off event for your dog. Remember to keep your entry and exit neutral and calm, if you engage excitedly with your dog when you return to him then he’s more likely to anticipate this exciting event, making it harder for him to relax while you’re gone. Equally, if you talk to him lots before you leave and make a big fuss then you’re already increasing his stress level before you’ve even gone. It can be hard not to fuss over our dogs before we leave, and even harder to ignore their welcome greeting when we return, but keeping this to a minimum will help prevent big spikes in stress around the separation process.

This training is a gradual progression, especially for dogs with long-term separation issues, and it requires a lot of thought and planning to ensure the dog remains as calm and relaxed as possible throughout the training. If you have a dog with more extreme issues or you are unsure about how best to approach the training then seek help from an experienced professional. Separation issues can be tricky and damage can be done quickly if not approached in the most suitable way, so it’s always a good idea to get some professional advice.

At Adolescent Dogs we can help advise on separation training and we have a range of online courses running during ‘lockdown’ to help with any behaviour or training challenges.

Puppy Fever … ?

Puppies are undeniably cute. We love to fuss over them, smother them with attention and embrace their comical, inquisitive natures. Raising a puppy isn’t easy, even if they are irresistibly adorable. Puppies are hard work, they require a lot of time, energy and commitment. Sometimes we aren’t prepared for their testing ways and their less-than-desirable behaviours. We sometimes forget that the small, cute puppy will, at some point, grow into a larger, older adult dog whose ‘naughty’ puppy ways may be less forgivable. How do we ensure we set our puppy, and ourselves, up for the best possible life together, and maintain harmony in the home even when their behaviours become testing or frustrating? It’s not easy but consistency is the magic word…

Prevention is key

Dogs do what works, they repeat behaviours which they find reinforcing and that reinforcement often comes from us, but it’s not always intentional. If you wonder why your puppy repeatedly steals shoes and socks despite you telling him off or providing him with his own toys, look at your own behaviour. Your ‘telling off’ has probably been quite reinforcing for him, and now stealing items is a great way to get your attention, even if it is rather negative attention. Chasing him around the house shouting ‘NO … DROP IT … LEAVEEEE’ is actually really quite FUN for your puppy!!

It’s important to thoroughly puppy-proof your home before your new puppy (or adult dog) arrives. This saves unwanted behaviour being practiced and avoids any expensive mistakes, both financially or behaviourally! Put tempting items out of reach … high shelves or boxes for shoes, boxes for children’s toys, or cupboards for anything else tempting. You can use stair gates or closed doors to prevent your puppy having access to rooms when you’re not able to supervise, so he can’t sneak off and practice any unwanted behaviours.

By not practicing unwanted behaviours like stealing or chewing items which aren’t his, he won’t form habits or find reinforcement from them. If you can put management in place to prevent them from day one, you will have a puppy who is much easier to live with!

Reinforce Reinforce Reinforce

Sometimes we are hesitant to use a lot of food rewards with puppies because we worry they will become reliant on it or because it requires too much effort on our part. However, behaviours and choices you reinforce will be repeated by your puppy so it pays to reinforce. Keep treats, or preferably your puppy’s own food, in sealed pots around the house so you can easily reinforce any good behaviours from him. You don’t need to ask him or cue him for anything, just keep an eye out for anything you like from him. It could be lying on his bed, in his crate or on the floor, it could be a good choice not to pick up a shoe or a child’s toy, or choosing to chew his own toy. Anything that you think is good and you would like him to repeat!

We can easily miss the good choices our dogs make, and focus only on the naughty or ‘bad’ ones. These often become the things we unintentionally reinforce. Think how many times you’ve battled with your dog to drop the sock he’s stolen, but how often do you go and reward him when he’s picked up his own and chewed on that? Start making note of the good things he does and focus on these, not the bad things!

Teach Him

Reinforcing his own good choices is a hugely important way for your puppy to learn, but you should still spend time actively teaching him good behaviours. This could be working on ‘sit’, ‘down’, loose lead walking or any other fun or useful commands you can think of. Dogs love to learn and it’s a great bonding activity to engage them in learning and teaching. Enrolling in puppy classes can be really beneficial and give you good goals to aim for as well as working through the teaching process and any challenges you face. Choose a class which uses force-free, reward-based methods and primarily focuses on building a good relationship between you and your puppy. If they also offer some socialisation/play time with the other class members, be sure that this is done in a safe, controlled way and that dogs are carefully matched to avoid any negative experiences.

Interrupt and Redirect

Puppies love to explore. They aren’t born knowing what is right or wrong to us so we have to teach them. When they make choices we don’t like, it’s important to gently interrupt and then redirect them onto a more desirable alternative. It can be difficult to remain calm at times when your puppy is doing something really unacceptable to you … perhaps chewing your favourite shoes … but try to avoid getting angry or doing anything which may scare him. This will only serve to damage your relationship and won’t actually teach him anything productive. Instead, interrupt his behaviour in a happy, calm way and quickly get his attention onto something else. For example, if you find him chewing your carpet, call his name and reward him when he stops the behaviour, then encourage him to do something else, perhaps play with his own toy or settle in his crate or bed. This approach will prevent the unwanted behaviour being practiced and avoids any conflict when you interrupt him. Always offer your puppy an alternative, it shouldn’t be a constant spiral of ‘no don’t do that’, ‘leave that!’, ‘NO NO NO!!’ … show him what you do want instead.

If you’re finding yourself constantly interrupting and redirecting him, think about what you could change to manage this better and limit his opportunities to make mistakes. Perhaps restrict his access to certain rooms, ensure you’re always supervising him or make use of a pen or crate to safely confine him when you’re unable to keep him occupied. Remember puppies need a lot of sleep so if his behaviour is becoming relentless, think about whether he’s getting enough rest time each day and start to make rest a central part of his day.

Remember that puppies are individuals and there is rarely one-method-fits-all, so if you are finding your puppy’s behaviour is challenging or you just don’t know what the right thing to do is, contact an experienced, force-free trainer who can help guide you and your puppy along. Growing up isn’t always easy and puppies rarely grow out of behaviours, so don’t wait for that to happen because it probably never will!

At Adolescent Dogs, we love working with puppies and we have years of experience with many different breeds, ages and homes, so get in touch and we can help and advise you.

To Crate or Not to Crate?

Dispelling the Myths of Crate Training

Written by Naomi White

When you say the word ‘crate’ you never quite know how someone may react. Some people will say it’s an essential part of their dog’s life, while others will find it quite offensive. To some people it feels like a prison; a punishing way of confining a dog.

Everyone has their own opinion and crate training isn’t for everyone. However, there are many benefits to crates so it’s important to consider these when deciding whether or not to go down the crate training route.

Why Crate Train?

We often neglect to provide our dogs with their own space, they are a central part of our families and it perhaps seems odd to think they may actually want to escape that sometimes. Most of us have our own rooms or places where we can get some peace and quiet within our homes. Our dogs need this too. A crate provides a simple way of allowing your dog to have his own space, somewhere he can go if he wants some alone time. The crate should act as a ‘safe place’, where he feels completely secure and calm.

This can be particularly beneficial for nervous or anxious dogs; they need somewhere they can go to relax and get away from stressful events within the home. It’s equally beneficial for dogs who struggle to settle, perhaps because they always want to be involved in what’s happening at home, or because they keep getting disturbed when they’re trying to rest. The crate is again a safe place where they can learn to settle and relax without disruption.

It can be particularly beneficial to begin crate training with young puppies, not only does the crate promote calm behaviour, it’s also a great aid in toilet training and avoiding unwanted chewing or destructive behaviours at home. Dogs will rarely toilet in their own space, so using a crate while you’re not able to supervise your puppy will reduce the likelihood of accidents and also teach your puppy better bladder control. They will be quicker to learn that toileting outside is most desirable and rewarding, because their opportunities to toilet inside will be much more limited.

Crating your dog can really give you peace of mind that he’s in a safe place and can’t get up to any mischief! Many dogs will entertain themselves when we’re not around to supervise them and when this involves chewing or destroying items in the house, it can become very dangerous.

It can also be an essential tool in dealing with more challenging behaviours in our dogs. Crate training can be a lifesaver for keeping everyone safe if you have a dog who displays aggressive behaviours, perhaps around food, toys or visitors. While you’re working through aggression issues, management is a key part of the process, and the crate fills this role really effectively. For dogs who react badly to unfamiliar people in the house, a crate provides a safe place for your dog to stay while they’re in the house. If your dog can’t tolerate people near his food bowl, he can be safely fed in the crate until his training has progressed further.

We don’t like to think about it but accidents happen and sometimes our dogs get injured. Depending on the injury, crate rest may be part of the recovery plan. The crate is crucial for keeping an injured dog calm and stationary during recovery. If they’re already well-practiced at settling in a crate, it makes life much easier and less stressful for them.

One of the biggest benefits of crate training is that it can promote rest time and calm behaviour. Most dogs simply don’t get enough sleep, they struggle to ‘switch-off’ properly and this can lead to many challenging behaviours. We often label our dogs as ‘full of energy’ or ‘tireless’, like they need more exercise than we can ever give them … but actually they would probably really benefit from more regular rest time during the day. Using a crate and building a positive association with this being a calm, resting place, will enable your dog to learn to settle and relax during the day. It’s a proper chill-out zone where they can take a breath!!

Training the Crate

So you’ve decided you want to try crate training. Where do you start?! There are many ways to do it and some dogs will need different approaches, but as a general rule, go at your dogs’ pace and always keep it fun, positive and calm.

Start with food … scattering food in the crate, feeding meals in the crate, tossing treats in for him to find. Do lots of quick sessions where your dog steps in the crate and the comes back out. This keeps it pressure free and avoids any scary ‘door closing’ happening too soon. You want him to feel great about going in and out of the crate. You can surprise him too by hiding tasty treats in the crate while he’s not looking, then just leave the door open and wait for him to go looking in there.

Let him explore the crate and when he chooses to step in, drop some treats in for him. Keep it all calm and easy, try to avoid too much bribing and over-excited reactions, you don’t want to make it a huge deal because ultimately you want this to be his calm place where he chooses to go … so start as you mean to go on.

Once he’s happily exploring the crate and he’s confident about going inside, start closing the door BRIEFLY. Don’t shut the door and lock him in for an hour – start small and gradual:

  1. Push the door shut, feed lots and then open it and let him out … repeat!
  2. Push the door shut, lock it, feed lots, open it and let him out … repeat!
  3. Add duration, closing the door for a little longer each time and reducing the frequency of rewards before letting him back out
  4. Add long lasting chews or enrichment activities, sometimes have the door open, sometimes close it. Stay close by initially so you can watch him and let him out before he becomes unsettled

The Benefits Crate Schedules

Dogs who struggle to settle in a crate or protest about being in one often do so because they’ve not developed a good association with them. They may have been forced into one or been left for a long duration without prior training. They may also have realised that creating a scene of barking or whining is a very effective way of being let out. These are common issues but having a regular crate schedule (and working on the above methods to create a better association) is a good way to overcome the issues.

  1. Use the crate for short, frequent sessions. Get your dog in and out of the crate as many times as you can throughout the day. This makes it a normal, repetitive event and not a one-off, unpleasant thing associated with you leaving
  2. Mix it up. Make it unpredictable. Sometimes he’s in the crate for 2 minutes, sometimes he just steps in and out, sometimes he’s in there for an hour or two (depending on age and training of course)
  3. Make it part of the daily routine. The crate shouldn’t be something which you put the dog in when he’s being annoying or when you need to go to the shops once a week. It should be totally normal for him. Make sure you use it lots. If you don’t want him to be in the crate while you’re at home then just pop him in for a minute or two a few times a day.

This approach often eradicates any issues with dogs linking the crate to being left alone, or protesting about being put in there when they just want to be involved in whatever else is going on. They will learn to rest and sleep when they’re in the crate which is hugely beneficial for dogs who otherwise struggle to settle themselves down.

Crate Rules

Crates need rules. Not so much for your dog, but more for the humans in the household. Particularly with puppies or a new dog in the home, we just want to smother them with attention and spend all our time with them. While this is completely normal, it’s not always healthy for our dogs. They need their own space too, and it’s important that they learn to enjoy spending time on their own, because at some point this will probably happen and they need to be prepared and able to cope with it.

In busier households, particularly when younger children are in the family, it can be harder for puppies to get proper rest. We have this temptation to always be playing or fussing the puppy and children can sometimes struggle to give a puppy space or allow it to sleep without being disturbed. The crate can be used as a clear signal for when the puppy needs some alone time. If this is respected properly then as the puppy grows up, he will learn to take himself to the crate when he wants some space. Without this a puppy may find it harder to settle himself or he may start to show clearer warnings when he wants to be left alone, and this can quite quickly become dangerous and scary as he grows up.

The Basic Rules

  1. The crate is for alone time
  2. No pestering, waking the dog, or disturbing him in the crate
  3. No intruding on space … no sticking hands through the bars, people getting into the crate or generally bothering him when he’s inside
  4. Choose a quiet location in the house to encourage sleep and rest, and to make a clearer definition for his own space
  5. Cover the crate to make it less exposed to other events in the house. There’s less for him to watch and get excited or anxious about

Remember that the crate is primarily a calm, safe space. It’s not there as a punishment so DON’T use it in anger. Naturally our dogs can annoy us sometimes, they steal things that aren’t theirs, they create noise we don’t like and generally behave in ways we don’t always appreciate. It can be tempting at times to use the crate to punish the dog for the naughty things he’s done. Resist this temptation because it certainly won’t help the situation and it may damage the crate training you’ve done.

A crate also provides a safe way to travel

A crate can provide an excellent ‘time-out’ zone. If your dog is pushing your buttons and frustrating you then actually taking a break from each other, before one of you snaps, is a great idea. The crate is perfect for this because it’s somewhere safe and secure where your dog can’t continue winding you up or find anything else naughty to do, he should also associate the crate with being calm and resting. When using it as ‘time-out’ make sure you still maintain the positive, relaxed association, no matter how frustrated or upset you’re feeling! Calmly encourage him into the crate and scatter some food around or leave him with a chew to keep him busy. By doing this you WON’T be rewarding him for being naughty, you’re simply maintaining his excellent crate skills and giving him time to calm down (while you do the same!).

Remember to also keep the process of going in and coming out of the crate a relaxed, non-event. Making it an emotional event will make the training more difficult so most importantly try to withhold from the over-excited greeting when returning to your dog. After being away from him for a while it’s only natural to react to his excitement with even more excitement but try to remain calm. The more exciting you make your return, the more he will anticipate this and find it harder to see the crate as a calm place, so keep calm initially and wait for a few minutes before you engage in an excited greeting.

Crate training isn’t always easy. Some dogs take to it instantly but many others find the concept more challenging in the early stages. It takes time and commitment but the benefits of a crate-happy dog are worth the effort! If you need help with crate training then seek advice from an experienced, force-free trainer. At Adolescent Dogs, we have lots of experience working through crate training challenges and offering guidance and support through this process, so get in touch if you need some extra help.

‘He Just Wants to Play…!’

Written by Naomi White

People seem to be dangerously unaware of dog-dog interactions and what their dogs are actually trying to communicate. Having an understanding of your dogs’ body language, behaviour and social needs will enable you to avoid potentially dangerous or negative situations. Unfortunately, many people don’t take the time to consider these things and their dogs end up exposed to all manner of stressful or risky interactions.

We aren’t expected to enthusiastically greet every person we meet, imagine the stress that would cause to us, especially if it happened all day, every day! Yet, we often expect this type of interaction from our dogs and seem almost surprised if someone else says their dog doesn’t want to say hello.

How many times have you been walking in the park and had another dog come barrelling over to your dog, perhaps this results in a game, maybe your dog gets chased across the park, or maybe your dog reacts in some way … growling, barking, lunging, snapping…? Have you ever considered the possibility that for months, or even years, your dog has been trying to communicate that he actually doesn’t appreciate this sort of greeting?

We need to be asking our dogs if they even want to interact with another dog (and make sure the other dog is equally okay with it!). If they decline, respect their choice, then move on and no harm will be done.

Forced interactions or negative experiences can have long-term impacts and this damage can be done quickly, especially during critical socialisation or fear periods in younger dogs. Don’t let your dog be victim to this, look at his body language and teach cues to help him out if he is involved in an inappropriate or unwanted greeting (see ‘let’s go’ post Make sure your dog is kept under control so he doesn’t approach unknown dogs without prior consent from their owner.

Many dogs are pretty tolerant with other dogs but on the odd occasion they may react less well to each other. It could simply be that the two dogs are a bad match (Think, we don’t all like every person we meet…) or perhaps he’s just feeling a little stressed or under the weather and therefore less social than normal. This can take us by surprise but it’s important to listen to your dog, don’t get upset with him but instead respect his signals and move him away.

Having an understanding of your dog’s body language and behaviour around other dogs is important in ensuring you’re able to step in and help your dog if he’s ever in a situation where he’s uncomfortable or his signals are being ignored. When a greeting or play session is balanced and enjoyable for both dogs, they should be relaxed and equally involved, they should also be able to take breaks and respect each other’s choices.

If you feel your dog is being greeted inappropriately, you need to be able to notice this and remove him from the situation. It could be another dog is persistently sniffing him, chasing him, barging him around or pestering him, your dog may tolerate this but he will probably reach a limit and give the dog a stronger warning. While this is ‘normal’ behaviour, it’s far better to step in and avoid the greeting escalating to this point. Even if your dog never seems to give a warning or ‘tell a dog off’, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get involved. If you feel uncomfortable about the behaviour of another dog towards yours, chances are he also feels it, so don’t stand there and let him deal with it, step in and help him out!

Sometimes we are so ‘busy’ chatting to fellow dog walkers or looking at our phones, we don’t even notice what our dog is going through on his daily walk. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched a dog being bullied while their owner continues chatting or walking, oblivious to the stress their dog is under. I’ve also watched dogs give multiple warnings or signals, trying to gain space and escape from a pestering dog, but again these are almost always ignored until the dog reaches breaking point and ‘aggressively attacks’ the other dog (okay, he probably made a lot of noise, the other dog screamed and ran off) … the ‘aggressive’ one then gets a telling off and often you hear the owner say ‘he’s never done that before!’.

He may indeed have ‘never done that before’, but he has probably been giving all the warnings, which you were too distracted to notice, and now he’s realised the most effective warning is a strong growl, bark and snap. What if that doesn’t work next time? Maybe he’ll increase that to a bite? And soon you really will have an aggressive dog. Even if he doesn’t ever bite, you will probably still have a dog who is fed up of being pestered by other dogs, has no support from his owner, and finds barking and lunging is the most effective way to gain space from other dogs.

If you ever see your dog struggling with an interaction, whether he’s the one who is ignoring signals, or his signals are being ignored, step in and help him out. It’s far better to show your dog that he can trust you than it is to let him ‘sort it out’ himself. If you’re unsure of an approaching dog or your dog doesn’t seem comfortable then politely decline requests from other dog owners for your dog to greet theirs, and use it as an opportunity to explain the importance of consent and choices.

When it comes to dog-dog interactions, being attached to a lead can create all manner of problems. When two dogs are on-lead they have very few choices and are often restricted into a head-on approach. These approaches tend to involve a lot of eye contact and force dogs into unnatural greetings, it can be very confrontational and create tension to approach in this way. Compare this to an off-lead greeting where dogs are more likely to choose a curved approach and avoid direct eye contact. It’s not uncommon for a dog who enjoys interactions off-lead, to find on-lead greetings extremely stressful and display reactive behaviours when restricted by the lead.

This can seem so confusing for us. How can a dog be so different just because he’s attached to a lead?

You have to remember that dogs communicate and interact in ways we rarely fully understand or appreciate. When your dog is restricted by the lead, he can’t choose to move away from an approaching dog, he can’t change his path or speed of approach, or divert his eye contact …  his choices are so limited. This can create a lot of stress or frustration which is often displayed with barking, growling and lunging. His stress may tip over into aggression and he may even snap or bite.

I always feel uncomfortable when watching dogs greet each other on-lead, in my opinion it’s asking for trouble. It’s difficult for a dog to choose to disengage from an interaction if the lead means he’s stuck in close proximity to the other dog. This lack of choice means tension between the dogs may increase and it can lead to a reaction. Many dogs will naturally choose to avoid conflict and use their body language to appease a situation, aggression or reactive displays are rarely a first or preferred choice. However, when these conflict-appeasing choices are taken away, your dog is left with few options.

Negative experiences, lack of choices and unsupportive humans, may mean a dog feels it’s necessary to react and use more aggressive signals to cope with interactions with other dogs. BUT you can help your dog! Don’t just assume he’s got it all together when he’s interacting with other dogs, watch him and make sure you’re close enough to see his behaviour. Follow a 3-second rule, allow your dog to greet the other dog briefly (for 3 seconds), then call them both out of the greeting before allowing them to greet again. By repeating this several times, they can both gather all the important information about each other while remaining calm and relaxed. If at any point, either dog chooses not to interact, respect their choice and move on.

Just as we humans don’t feel the need to befriend, or wildly greet, every person we encounter, we shouldn’t feel that our dogs need to do this either. Try focusing your walk on your dog … be his best playmate and the most fun, rewarding aspect of his walk. Make your walk about YOU, not about other dogs. By all means, choose a few sociable dogs for him to greet briefly, or if appropriate have a polite play session with, but don’t spend your walk bouncing from dog to dog, letting him do his own thing while you get on with yours. Walks should be about bonding, engaging with each other and having fun together!

Whether your dog struggles with socialising or not, it can really help to spend time with a qualified trainer who can observe your dog and show you how to read and understand his body language and behaviour. If your dog is beginning to display more concerning behaviours towards dogs then always seek help, it’s better to act quickly before the behaviour worsens or is reinforced further.

At Adolescent Dogs, we love working on dog-dog interactions and we’re always available to offer advice and support to you and your dog.

Day Care, Don’t Care?

Written by Naomi White

Doggy day care is a big thing these days, it has become a central part of many of our dogs’ lives. We use it as a way to ‘socialise’ our dogs and give them an opportunity to hang out with ‘doggy’ friends while we’re at work or too busy to be with them.

Day care looks great on the outside; glossy websites and Instagram pages are full of dogs gleefully having fun, living the dream of playing with other dogs, running around big open fields or swimming in paddling pools … ahhh this truly is a dog’s life!

Is it really though?

In general dogs don’t play in large groups, nor do they play for hours on end because, in reality, they appreciate their own space and social play is more of a momentary enjoyment rather than a day long event.

Socially it’s exhausting. Just imagine being at a party, surrounded by other people, most of whom you have never met before. It’s noisy, chaotic and downright exhausting.

Some people may enjoy this scene, just as some dogs may enjoy day care, but the majority of people will, at some point, feel that it’s time to leave, or they may feel anxious just thinking about it. If you do think it sounds quite fun, imagine that being your life. Every. Single. Day. … Over it yet?

As much as we like to think, and have repeatedly been told, our dogs DO NOT need a huge group of ‘doggy friends’. Some dogs are quite dog social, but on the whole, most are actually more ‘dog tolerant’, they appreciate a polite greeting and maybe a brief burst of play but then they’re quite happy to move on or engage in another activity. Even highly social dogs would not naturally choose to socialise all the time.

Day care facilities do a good job of appearing fun and exciting to us, making us believe there is no better place for our dogs to spend their days. But our dogs don’t think like us and the constant chaos of stimulation is beyond what most dogs can cope with.

There is usually little care taken to encourage rest time, so the dogs spend all day being busy and stimulated, adding to their ever-increasing arousal and stress levels. Managing arousal levels is unlikely to be a priority at day care but allowing dogs to become over-aroused is potentially dangerous in a group situation. Time-outs may be used when things do start to boil over but it’s likely to be a case of too little too late.

There are numerous of issues with day care set-ups, but if done right, it can be the best option for some dogs. If you are seriously considering day care or you already use one, then take time to research them thoroughly and ensure you find a suitable place for your dog:

  • Choose small scale places
    • Well-assessed friendly dogs
    • Good supervision, enrichment and rest time
    • Well controlled dog-dog interactions
    • Constant play time should NOT be priority

  • Question, Question, Question
    • They should ask you as much as you ask them
    • Your dog’s personality, his likes and dislikes, energy levels, play style, behaviour and health history
    • If they assess you and your dog thoroughly, they will have done the same with others, making it a safer, more trustworthy place to leave your dog

  • Qualifications and Knowledge
    • Knowledge, experience and up-to-date qualifications
    • Understanding of dog behaviour
    • What would they do if anything did go wrong? We don’t like to think about it but realistically, dogs are dogs, things go wrong, accidents happen or disagreements blow up and whoever is responsible should be ready to deal with this

  • Is rest time encouraged and how is this done?
    • Is it a routine part of the day or is it used when needed?
    • Is arousal, tiredness and stress considered?
    • Look at their resting facilities… Kennels? Crates? A quiet room?
    • Are enrichment activities used?
    • Each dog is different, think about what you and your dog are most comfortable with.

  • Doggy companions
    • Who will your dog be sharing their day with?
    • Dogs should be matched carefully, and interactions must be monitored
    • Is there management in place if dogs aren’t getting along?
    • Not everyone likes everyone so whenever multiple dogs are sharing a space this should be considered and managed.

  • How knowledgeable are they about body language?
    • Dogs are subtle communicators and things change quickly when you have multiple dogs sharing a space
    • Carers should be well educated in all aspects of behaviour and body language so they can maintain calm and avoid issues
    • Like us, dogs have good and bad days. Even the most well-mannered dog could be pushed to his limit more easily on a bad day, especially in a stressful day care environment. It’s a huge risk and situations can escalate quickly so vigilant carers are vital

There are amazing day care providers available and it’s a great option for some dog owners, but choose carefully … question them, research thoroughly, and expect them to spend time with your dog, asking questions and ensuring your dog is a good match for them.

Some dogs just simply aren’t made for day care though (or day care isn’t made for them, if you like!). It’s quite obvious to see why nervous or unsocial dogs would not enjoy the environment. However, some people will see it as an opportunity for their dog to socialise and learn to enjoy the company of other dogs, but in reality, it’s more likely to work the other way and simply confirm to them why they don’t enjoy socialising! It could work if enough care and control was in place to protect anxious dogs and keep all their interactions positive, while also providing them with their own space away from other dogs when they choose. But in general, day care facilities don’t offer dogs choices like this, in fact they offer very few choices for the dogs which is why it can be such a damaging environment.

This lack of choice means anxious or fearful dogs are often trapped in a highly stressful situation, and rather than creating a positive association with dogs, they are more likely to have their fears reinforced further. This could cause an escalation in their behaviour and create a need to display their feelings more clearly. Meaning your slightly anxious dog may become increasingly fearful or reactive.

If a day care does offer to take your less-than-friendly dog, they will have offered the same to many others. Which means your dog is mixing with numerous other unpredictable or anxious dogs. Maybe not the sort of place you’d like your dog to be learning and interacting with other dogs!

What about the highly social, dog loving dog? He loves dogs. All he wants to do is play. The best part of his day is playing with his friends. Great. Day care is perfect then, right?

Maybe don’t be so sure of that…

Think about it, a dog who loves other dogs will spend all day with them, playing, chasing, and wrestling with them. They’re just having fun and tiring themselves out. There’s no reason for anyone to step in and say enough is enough. Why would they?

We are painted this idyllic image of day care teaching our dogs better social skills, giving him the friends he needs and making his life better in every way. Realistically, even highly social dogs can be negatively impacted by day care environments, a dog who already finds other dogs extremely stimulating and exciting will be pushed further into this mentality. It is likely to leave you with challenges when you walk your dog as he now sees every dog as a potential playmate. This will damage his recall, his relationship with you (you can’t be more exciting than the dog, can you?), and create frustration when he can’t greet dogs. This frustration can be incredibly challenging and troubling … your endlessly social dog now turns into a barking, lunging nightmare when he sees another dog who he can’t get to. Let him off-lead and he returns to his crazy, dog-loving self. It doesn’t make sense?

Frustration is frustrating. It can be hard for us to understand why our dog loves other dogs when he’s off-lead, but apparently ‘hates’ them when he’s on-lead. It’s probably hard for him to understand too. One day he can play with tirelessly with dogs, but the next he’s restrained and can’t reach the dogs? That’s frustrating. Teaching your dog to respond differently to frustration, and control his impulses better, will go a long way to improving the behaviour, but it’s also worth asking yourself whether all those days spent playing crazy games with other dogs is really beneficial for him?

Play between dogs is unlikely to be well-managed or controlled at a busy day care, meaning the dogs will be learning, and practising, rather inappropriate and potentially quite undesirable play behaviour. Boisterous play is quite acceptable in small amounts, if the dogs involved are equally engaged in the activity. However, as soon as play becomes unbalanced it can turn into bully-ish behaviour. Dogs who have spent long duration’s engaged in exuberant or inappropriate play may lose some understanding of play signals and struggle to disengage from play when the other dog isn’t interested. When a dog doesn’t read these signals effectively, they risk being ‘told off’ by other dogs or, potentially even worse, causing another dog considerable stress and frustration by their persistent or inappropriate play behaviour. Dogs who try to ‘bully’ other dogs into playing are at risk of displaying increasingly aggressive behaviours as the result of receiving negative responses from other dogs.

A good day care will consider all these challenges and work in a way to ensure that anxious dogs are not overwhelmed or flooded by the experience, they can do wonders for building confidence, but it has to be done in the right way. Equally a good day care can instil better self-control in our dogs, teaching them a balance between enjoying the company of other dogs, while also learning when to take breaks, enjoy rest time, and listen to their humans!

While there are some dogs who do well in a day care environment, there are many more who don’t. There are other options available for those dogs, so don’t try to make your dog fit into a place that simply isn’t right for him. Consider individual walks, someone to pop in and let him out in his own home, or enrichment activities to keep him busy while you’re gone. You should never assume that day care is the only option.

And remember, day care is rarely the place to socialise your anxious dog, provide your over-friendly dog with new friends, maintain his social life, or teach him how to ‘play nicely’ and it should NOT be used as such. It is far more likely to worsen any challenging behaviours you’re already experiencing than it is to improve them. If you really want to gain something from day care, look for a skilled, knowledgeable person who works on a small scale and focuses their time on training and behaviour work … they will make your dogs life better not worse!

Don’t Walk the Dog!

Written by Naomi White

If someone told you not to walk your dog every day, how would you feel? Shocked? Horrified? Outraged? Relieved? Maybe you’d laugh or gasp in shock …

There is this idea that dogs need to be walked, and a dog can only live a happy life if it’s walked enough. The more you walk the dog, the happier it will be. That old saying ‘a tired dog is a happy dog’. Despite our long-lived beliefs, there is new research and new ideas which suggest that actually our dogs can benefit hugely from having rest days or complete breaks from walks. I’m sure some stressed out dog owners could also benefit from a few days without walking their dogs too!

A very interesting study by Linda Cooper found that implementing a relaxation programme by reducing dog’s daily exercise, and increasing enrichment and mental stimulation, led to reduced reactive behaviours, improved responsiveness to owners and quicker recoveries from reactive outbursts. While this was a small scale and by itself doesn’t necessarily prove anything, it supports the theories and experiences of many trainers and behaviourists.

It really does depend on the individual dog, there is no ‘one-rule-fits-all’ when it comes to our dogs. Many dogs are able to enjoy relatively stress-free walks, which have little or no impact on their stress levels or behaviour. They are good at coping with arousal and when they experience something exciting or stressful, they are able to recover quickly without an issue. However, for other dogs, this level of arousal is more difficult to cope with and can be detrimental to their behaviour.

“Each stressful event causes a rise in adrenaline and cortisol, as these hormones build up the dog will have less tolerance for daily events because their systems are repeatedly flooded with hormones. In turn, all their energy is focused on maintaining some balance in the presence of these chemicals and there is little left to deal with outside challenges.”

This post discusses arousal in more detail …

When your dog is repeatedly exposed to stimuli that cause these hormones to be released, it leads to an excess in their systems, making them more likely to be nervous, reactive, or living in a constant state of stress. This is where REST DAYS can transform your dog’s life!

On a REST DAY, your dog should have no interaction with the outside world. No walks. No playtime in the park. No visit to the local café or pet shop. A total stay-at-home rest day. For some dogs a ‘rest week’ is even more beneficial. A whole week of no walks. Imagine that!

This can be quite surprising because for many of us it’s a totally alien idea which we may associate with animal cruelty … a dog needs to be walked every day. Right?

Wrong. We often place so much importance on walking our dogs that we neglect any other interactions or stimulation in their day. Sure, we spend time cuddling them or playing with them, but the main interaction we have with them is going for a walk (and even then we mostly ignore them, but that’s another topic for another day…). When you replace the ‘walk time’ with other activities you suddenly have endless options and a totally new way of interacting with your dog.

Let’s face it, walking the dog can be stressful. Maybe he turns into a scary, barking, lunging mess when he sees another dog. Maybe he runs off and ignores you. Maybe he pulls so much on the lead you find the whole walk quite unpleasant. Maybe he has ‘mad moments’ where he starts jumping at you and biting your arms.

Walking the dog can be a chore and something we have to brace ourselves for some days. Knowing you can replace this activity with something really beneficial and less stressful can be eye-opening and incredibly relieving. There should be no shame or guilt in choosing not to walk your dog.

What can you do instead?

  • Enrichment activities – Kongs, chews, snuffle mats, searching for food in cardboard boxes or shredded paper. There are hundreds of games like this and a quick Google search for dog enrichment will bring up enough to last you months!
  • Training – teach your dog some new tricks, get a clicker and start clicking behaviours you like. Dogs love learning and training is a great way to improve your bond and get your dog listening and focusing on you
  • Play – have some fun with playing tug, working on training and impulse control at the same time. If your dog doesn’t play, take the time to teach him how. It’s another great bonding activity which you can take out on your walks in future
  • Find it – hide food or toys around the house for your dog to find. You can even hide yourself and have a game of hide-and-seek with your dog!
  • Sleep – your dog needs time to de-stress and relax. If he’s been coping with high levels of stress then he will need time to sleep. Most dogs don’t get enough sleep so make sure you prioritise this (see here for more about the importance of sleep and rest time)

This doesn’t mean walking brings no benefits and we should just keep our dogs inside and never walk them again. Walking and spending time outside brings huge benefits to our dogs and us. But we should think more about how our dogs feel during and after their walks. We shouldn’t walk our dogs just because that’s what we’ve always done. We must consider the impact this has on our dog’s behaviour and health. Prioritising rest days can have a huge effect on behaviour and lead to a more relaxed, calmer dog in general.

There isn’t a perfect optimum which fits all dogs. Each dog is different and each will benefit in different ways. Some dogs may benefit from a longer period of rest, for some regular rest days are important and for others, just the occasional rest day when needed will be enough.

Rest days can be particularly beneficial for dogs who display reactive behaviours. Following a reactive event, their arousal levels will be high, and may remain high for several hours or days. Taking the rest of the day, or the following day, off from all stressful events, and avoiding all stressors, will give your dog time to rest and allow his arousal levels to return to a baseline level. For dogs who have a history of reactivity and who may be experiencing multiple stressors each day, it can really help to have a longer period of rest days to give plenty of time for stress levels to reduce and an opportunity for true relaxation!

Contacting a knowledgeable trainer who has a good understanding of arousal and behaviour is a good place to start. They can help you plan how to work rest days into your dogs routine and find a beneficial balance.