Christmas and this season is all about giving! Here’s some of our favourite dog-products that Santa Paws might bring!
These are tried-and-true and things we use and recommend every day.
The Boring Necessities
To your dog, these are probably pretty run-of-the-mill, but they can be essentials!
In general, when it comes to products in almost all categories, manufacturers will add some gimmick, marketing trick, or notion in an attempt to stand out with their own USP. But, that doesn’t make it better for you and your pet 😉
We like to understand that mechanisms behind the workings and how that applies to your pet’s behaviour, and to your wallet.
While it’s great that there is such a range of harnesses available in every petshop and stockist, that can make choosing one that is safe and comfortable all the more difficult.
Look for harnesses that don’t restrict your pet’s movement, especially the front assembly (straps that cross the shoulder), when fitted properly. Make sure that straps behind the elbow don’t ride up into the arm pit too.
Harnesses, that have become very popular, with large panels that sit on the dog’s shoulders and back, make it more comfortable for the dog to pull, and most worryingly, are very easy for dogs to learn to escape from. I know they’re popular, but we don’t like them, and many dogs find them unpleasant to fit.
We recommend a simple H or Y-front harness that’s properly fitted; like this one from Zooplus.
These harnesses tend to be the best tolerated in terms of fitting them.
Here’s a simple fitting routine for these simple harnesses:
This clip shows you how to fit one using a stuffable toy so that, from the first time, the dog associates having their harness fitted with yummies:
If you feel you need more control in preventing pulling, you attach your lead, or add a second lead, to the ring at the front. Show here in this clip:
My favourite of the modern harnesses is the Blue9 Balance Harness for its versatility and fit, but recognise that they are expensive and difficult to get here.
Hands up, I have a total collar addiction and my dog has so many collars from all sorts of places that serve all sorts of functions, but really, most just look pretty!
Dogs in Ireland must be microchipped and wear a collar, with their owner’s details, in public.
My absolute favourite ID tags are the plastic tags from Identi-tag – you can fit lots of info on there, they come in teeny sizes and big, they are super hard-wearing (most of Decker’s are almost 8 years old and are as good as new) and very reasonably priced. Love them!
Collars that dogs wear for ID and that they wear most of the time should not be tightening, and just with regular buckles. When dogs are unsupervised, playing in groups, or confined, it’s best to use safety break-away collars or no collars at all.
Take care when using collars with snap buckles if you are attaching a lead and check how secure the buckle on your collar is regularly.
Some collars come with safety adjustments, like this in this clip here, with instructions for use and fit:
Martingale or limited slip collars are best for dogs with lots of coat, with narrow heads and with wide necks to prevent slipping. This is one of Decker’s martingales:
Or using a collar, like a Sighthound collar, with a wider side, which also helps to prevent slipping or the collar coming over the dog’s head. This is one of Decker’s:
In general, the wider the collar band, the more comfortable it will be, so choose the widest band you can find.
Lots of collars, to suit your dog and specifications, can be found in stores and online. Measure your dog’s neck with a string at the point you want them to wear their collar, and then measure that.
Go for the simplest lead you can find – generally, you don’t need all the bells and whistles. I like a plain five or six foot nylon or leather lead, with a safe trigger hook. Nothing more, nothing less.
I don’t like poo-bag carriers attached to the lead because they weigh them down and fall/hit the dog. But, choose biodegradable bags and always dispose of them appropriately; do not leave them on the street, hanging on a tree, in a ditch or anywhere livestock or wildlife might access them.
Swaggles do matching leads too!
I am a big fan of long lines but careful, safe use is required. More in this clip:
Long lines are just really long leads and most people do well with a 5m or 10m line – longer than that, becomes harder to manage.
You can get long lines in lots of places including online, e.g. Zooplus and in stores; I particularly like the Maxi Zoo range of long lines.
I much prefer long lines over extendable leads, but recognise that people love their Flexis! Here’s more on how to use them appropriately and safely:
Before we go any further with this one, it’s important to note that LOTS of dogs don’t like to wear coats, clothing and for some, even harnesses.
Clips that are often shared online, showing dogs freezing, having difficulty walking, refusing to walk or struggling to get away when a coat or clothing is being fitted or worn, actually depict a dog experiencing high distress levels.
Unless your dog needs a coat or clothing, it might be better to skip it, unless you can be sure they are comfortable with fitting and wearing.
Clothing that opens so that the dog doesn’t need to put their head through it might be tolerated better; these coats from Petstop open at the front so can be placed on the dog, rather than them having to pass through an opening, are reasonably priced and really good quality.
For safety and for training, some form of safe confinement will likely be required at some point in a dog’s life. The best way to prepare them for that, and help with other training exercises, is to confinement train. This means to make being behind a barrier a pleasant experience for a dog and to use confinement, particularly in crates, appropriately.
Wire crates are often most convenient as they can fold away flat and are sturdy. To reduce the noise, wrap the tray in a towel or blanket and then add the dog’s bedding. Savic crates are great, long-lasting and sturdy; you can get them and a more budget friendly line from Jeb Tools.
Plastic travel crates are required for airline travel and can be handy, if you have the space. Zooplus offer a variety but if you are travelling, check the requirements before you purchase.
Soft-sided crates are great because they fold flat, are lightweight and quiet, but a dog who chews or is looking to escape will not be safe with this crate.
Crates are not for every owner or dog so where confinement, management and safety are required, gates and pens are a great addition.
Regardless, when confinement is expected, the dog will need help to learn to settle comfortably behind a barrier so spend some time on that too.
Before you splash out on a new bed for your dog, do some research and ask your dog about their sleeping and resting preferences. See Day 10 of #100daysofenrichment for more!
There is a lot of variety in beds available for dogs, with lots of choices. I really like the Beddies range in Equipet and we have several, but there are lots and lots of awesome beds to suit every budget and every pet.
Don’t invest in expensive soft bedding if you have a chewer or a young dog but getting some VetBed will tie you over until you can splash out.
For fun and brain games
Now we get to have some fun!
We talk a lot about Kong toys and the Kong range, so of course Kong toys will feature here too! They are available from all sorts of outlets and have toys that offer all sorts of different challenges. The full Kong range can be viewed here.
There are lots of stuffable options out there, and not just Kongs! Try K9 Connectables to offer different challenges and enrichment outlets with these versatile toys.
One of my current favourites is the Toppl; it’s pretty durable and is a straight forward solve for dogs who experience frustration or are new to puzzle feeding.
It can be transformed into a more challenging feeder by combining a small and a large size, but it’s still a great stuffable toy on its own.
My other favourite is the Qwizl – as a straight forward puzzle toy it’s great for kibble or wet foods, can be lined or frozen. I use it with dogs who have a tendency to gulp and swallow the last bits of long chews, like pizzles, so that it’s safer and easier to grip.
Stuffables can be some of the most versatile toys so investing in a couple of different types.
While I love to use my dog’s regular foods in stuffable toys, treat foods feature too. I prefer to use real meats as treats like chicken, turkey or cheese. But, you gotta have some special treats too and I love these dried meats from RiRaw:
When it comes to choosing toys, think what your dog might get out of it; what sort of behaviours will these toys provide outlets for? Toys are enriching for dogs when they allow them to practice natural dog behaviours like chasing, biting, catching, chewing, dissection, tracking; play allows for practicing these behaviours.
Having a range of toys for your dog will allow them to try out different behaviours – your dog can’t be wrong, what behaviours they decide to use in toy or item manipulation is what they find enriching.
Tug toys from Tug-E-Nuff offer a wide range to tempt most dogs, providing lots of opportunities for tracking, chasing, tugging and even dissecting. Decker LOVES an oversized ball to chase and bite like Jolly Balls:
For literally hundreds of ideas and a ton of inspiration for choosing entertainment and fun for your dog, check out #100daysofenrichment and pick from challenges that you think you and your pet will enjoy.
All your dog wants for Christmas is YOU!
Certainly buy your pet gifts and items that make their life more comfortable and enjoyable, but, don’t forget that YOU are the most important part of your dog’s life.
Take time, lots of time, to just be and hang out with your dog, especially over the holidays when the chaos is swirling all around.
If you are taking some time off from work and your normal routine this holiday season, maintain your dog’s comfort by trying to keep some features of normality in their day to day. It’s especially important to keep a little separation and alone time throughout the holidays so that when everything goes back to normal and you leave again, the bottom of their world doesn’t fall out.
Prioritise time to just be with your dog and make sure to go for lots of SNIFFS! rather than walks – making sniffing possible is the biggest gift you can give your dog.
Run through the Sniffing Saturdays from #100daysofenrichment and try to include a little sniffing everyday for your dog.
With so many tempting but out of bounds bits and pieces hanging around during the holidays, it’s easy to understand how challenging this might be for most dogs.
While some dogs can be concerned by new and elaborate decorations cropping up all over, most dogs will be interested in investigating novel items. This usually means that they will approach them, sniff them, taste and chew them – that’s how dogs explore their world!
Make it easy to get it right!
Management is very much the name of the game, particularly if you have a puppy or a dog who is interested and interactive. Make it really easy for them to stay successful thinking carefully about how and where you arrange decorations, presents, party-food and other temptations.
keep things out of reach, remembering that dogs can jump and climb
take care with storing and disposing of foods and presents
use management, like baby gates and leashes, to prevent your dog accessing forbidden items
confine your dog safely when temptations are in play
consider decorating only limited areas elaborately
Check out this gorgeous scene, carefully managing puppy Tucker’s access to that tempting tree!
More on holiday hazards here and more on management during the holidays here.
Uh-Oh! Management Fail!
Sometimes management can fail; the door was left open, the baby gate removed, the dog wasn’t being watched. It’s easy. You are human and your dog is canine – mistakes happen.
Now the dog has got something we would prefer he didn’t have. What now?
First, consider the situation: is the item harmful to your dog, will they damage it? If, the answers are, no, let it go and don’t worry about it. Next time, step up your management to do a better prevention job.
If you need to reclaim the item, do so carefully…
STOP! Don’t pursue the dog. Going after them serves to convince them that what they took must be wonderful (because everyone wants it!), which may lead them to ingest it quickly (so nobody else can have it) or guard it (use distance increasing signaling to keep every else away).
Some dogs might even take stuff to get that attention and chase, as it works every time!
Instead, move away from your dog. Sounds counterintuitive, but moving away will attract the dog to you.
Move away and pretend to engage with something really interesting, with lots of oohs and aaahs for effect. For example, scurry toward the kitchen counters and tap it, move things, wiggle things. Keep oooh-ing and aaah-ing until your dog approaches to check out what you are up to.
Even if you must get the item back more urgently, don’t pursue the dog. Instead move away and create a diversion by, for example, opening the fridge and rustling packaging, getting the dog’s lead and pretending to prepare for a walk, or tossing food rewards away from your dog.
We don’t want to rely on this strategy too much, it’s for emergencies only. Otherwise, we might have the dog taking things to get you to play this game!
This is the important part:
Continue with your diversion tactics until your dog moves away from the item. Don’t make this interaction about the item or about getting it back.
When the dog discards the item, continue to redirect them. For example, encourage them to follow you into another room by moving and talking to them excitedly, jollying them along with you. You might even toss a toy or food rewards into another room to help your dog move away.
Close the door behind them – they don’t need to be present when you recover the item. Remember, we are not making it about the item!
Step up your management to prevent repeats of this!
There is absolutely no point in attempting to punish scavening behaviour – scolding and reprimanding won’t help you here. Once the dog has taken the item, they have had their fun and the behaviour is reinforced to happen the next time.
Step up management and start teaching them the behaviours you would rather they do when temptation is available.
The Floor is Magic
Food on counters, tables, and on low coffee-tables, during the celebrations can be difficult for dogs to resist.
Scavenging behaviour is normal, natural, necessary dog behaviour; behaviour that we humans go out of our way to suppress.
Making sure to practice settling and working on some canine entertainment in set-ups where food will be available tantalisingly close to your dog will go along way to helping prevent your dog taking food that’s out of bounds.
Where will food be most tempting during your gathering? At the dinner table, on the kitchen counters, in the living room low-down?
Introduce the Floor is Magic game in those places and start practicing now.
Work with some pretty yummy food rewards and let your dog see you place one treat on the counter or table. Immediately toss a couple of treats on the floor.
LOOK!, as a reorientation exercise and cue, is a valuable skill to have in your arsenal for all sorts of situations.
LOOK! means that your dog orients toward you, away from a distraction for reward. They never get access to the thing they have been cued away from. You can use any word that you like, such as “Leave It!”.
Check out these puppies learning to leave tissue, a puppy-destruction-favourite:
The key here, as always, is to make sure that you set your dog up for success. We need to use leads and barriers, along with space and distance from the distraction to effectively teach the dog to respond to you when close to temptation.
You can use anything as your distraction such as food, decorations, gifts or the Christmas tree. In the following tutorials, food in a bowl on the floor, is used as the distraction:
Holiday celebrations can have everyone somewhat wound up and it can take a food coma to help with relaxation. For the most part, we will want our pets to chill out too, especially when the family are hanging out or eating, and this is of course made even more difficult given the activity and festivities.
You know what I am going to say….start practicing now!
Establish your dog’s safe zone – a comfortable place they can go, spend time, without anyone approaching or interacting. Easy to do by giving your dog a yummy stuffable or an irresistible chew there every day, and leaving the dog to it. (For more see here.)
This helps to reduce your dog’s intensity about all the yummy stuff all the humans have!
Most dogs will benefit from some comfortable confinement during the celebrations, and all dogs will enjoy a break away from the action, even occasionally. (More on preparing for there here.)
To make sure that confinement is a viable option during your party or gathering, and that your dog will be comfortable there, start practicing now! Every day, prepare the most wonderful puzzle, stuffable or chew for your dog – with your dog’s absolute favourites. Give him his treat in confinement and let him out before he becomes upset.
A little bit of alone time, away from the action and social pressure, will benefit most dogs (and people!), while making it easier to maintain safety and reduce unwanted behaviour.
The key to this is practice, every day, so that when you need confinement, your pet will cope better, be more comfortable and you will be at ease.
Dogs learn what emotional response to expect, and therefore, which behaviours will be required in a given context. That might include the room they’re in, the people or other animals present, the time of day, what’s just happened, what comes next, the activities that go on there, whether good things, scary things or neutral things happen or can be expected.
During our celebrations, we might expect our dog to be calm and chilled, so we need to set up contexts that allow that to happen. Of course, seasonal festivities are anything but calm so, you’ve guessed it, we need to start practicing now!
Think where you will like your dog to be calm and chilled out during the celebrations. That’s where we start practicing by setting up a Calm Context there.
practice at times that your dog might normally be calmer
the house is quiet, no comings and goings, nobody expected to come home or call in
all their needs are met – they have toileted, they have eaten, they have been exercised, they have had lots of attention, interaction and company
you can practice with them on lead, if you like, to help reduce their moving around and getting themselves excited again
make less exciting chew toys, chews or toys available to minimise excitement but to give him something to do should he need that
It’s important that you start setting up this calm idea for your dog – no more active or raucous play in that location from now on. Make this place about being chilled out.
And it’s best that your dog has access to this room, only when it’s easy for him to be calm and chilled out.
Parking is a particularly great for when you are eating or relaxing, and you want to help your dog relax, but also not have to pay them too much attention. This can help to prevent or reduce so-called begging behaviour at the dinner table too.
Park your Pup with their lead on and with a delicious stuffable toy, chew or treat to work on. Hold the toy or chew under one foot, while you are sitting down, and the dog’s lead under your other foot. Give your dog just enough lead that they can comfortably lie down or turn, but not so much that they can jump up or get into mischief.
Start practicing some Parking today! It’s great to practice this exercise as you might use it on the day. For example, Park your Pup while you are eating a meal or relaxing in front of the TV.
Every time you practice calmness and settling in your calm contexts, the easier it will be for your dog to do this, in these contexts, during the celebrations.
Make time for crazy too!
All this settling and being calm is fine, but is tricky for dogs, particularly at exciting times. Always thinking in rollercoasters, regularly interrupt your dog’s settling and calm-time with some fidget and crazy breaks.
Help your dog to become familiar with this routine, by practicing settling and then crazy, settling and then crazy, ending with a little more settling. Not only will this prepare your dog for calmer, more settled behaviour in those Calm Contexts, but also help your dog develop better self-calming skills which will help him calm himself more efficiently after excitement.
Doorbells ringing and people coming and going, amid the excitement, can cause dogs a lot of distress. Not to mention the distress their dog’s behaviour can cause pet owners, who are trying to welcome guests while wrangling canine greeters.
There’s no time like Christmas and holiday celebrations to really test any control you thought you had over door and greetings goings-on!
While most people believe that their dog’s behaviour at the door is motivated by excitement, that’s not always the case. And it’s more than likely that most dogs experience a range of emotions and expectations when they hear the door.
Dogs can’t be expected to differentiate between intruders and welcome guests, but yet we want them to welcome visitors with calm and friendly behaviour, while scaring away gurriers up to no good.
For the most part, door action will cause arousal for dogs. This makes them more likely to become excitable, to bark, and even to aggress or have other strong emotional responses.
Dogs who approach the door with a wiggly body, they may or may not be barking, and generally calm and quieten once the guests enter are probably ok. The exercises described here will help.
But if a dog barks and continues to bark at the person coming in, jumps repeatedly, lunges or moves forward directly toward the guest or slinks away and attempts to avoid interaction, get some help before putting advice into play.
Management that includes confinement away from doors and incoming guests may be best, at the very least.
Dogs barking at boundaries, when people are approaching or passing, is related to distance increasing behaviour and the inner conflict they experience. Of course, most of the time, people pass on or leave shortly after arriving, and your dog’s behaviour functions for them in achieving distance.
Dogs do behaviour that works, so they bark each time.
You can imagine then, that when a stranger doesn’t leave, the dog may feel they have no choice but to try harder to scare them away. So, for some dogs, it’s safer for them to be confined away from the action altogether.
Even if you think your dog is excited to greet guests coming into the house, it’s important that we keep greetings low key. There’s a lot going on, with lots of excitement, so your dog’s normal tolerances may be stretched thinly.
Enthusiastic greetings, with lots of touching, petting and hugging, is not going to help you or your dog remain even a little calm as people enter or move about. Helping your dog learning to like being out of the way a little during the festivities is probably going to be better in the long run.
confine and secure your dog in another room, with a tempting treat, chew or toy to work on before guests arrive (More on preparing your dog for confinement here.)
Have your guests call or text, rather than ringing the doorbell or knocking.
let your guests come in the door and settle before introducing your dog
bring your dog in on lead to prevent jumping
Guests will probably be wearing nice clothes, specially for the occasion, so even a friendly dog jumping up or getting too close may be uncomfortable.
you (don’t have guests feed your dog) have high value food rewards for the dog and drop them every couple of seconds, or scatter a handful – this HIGH rate of reinforcement will help your dog to focus on this game, rather than losing control in excitement
Guests don’t need to pet or greet your dog too emphatically – let things settle before you think about letting your dog choose to interact, or not.
some dogs like to hold something in their mouth when excited; have a favourite toy type available at various spots around the door and areas where guests will be welcomed. Give this to your dog to carry before they greet guests.
don’t yell at your dog for barking – scatter treats, ask him for behaviours or tricks, hold a stuffable toy for them to lap, or remove them from the room
If your dog is more cautious meeting guests, try a new guest greeting routine to see if that helps them settle. Practice NOW with familiar people so your dog learns the pattern, without all the excitement of greetings at Christmas.
Many dogs are more comfortable greeting new people outside in more open spaces:
have your guests call or text when they arrive
they wait outside on the street, away from the house
bring your dog, on lead, out and walk in a wide loop around your waiting guests
your guests move into the house and ahead of you and settle
keep your dog back far enough that they are not reacting, barking, staring or straining on the lead to get them
once your guests are settled, enter with the dog on lead and feed him really high value food rewards really regularly
remove the dog after a couple of minutes and confine in a safe room with plenty of things to keep him entertained
A dog this uncomfortable with guests may not settle enough to be truly comfortable and may be better off confined away safely, with regular visits and outings on lead, or may do better with a pet sitter or with familiar people having quieter celebrations.
If a dog is unable to settle and can’t largely ignore guests after a few minutes, remove the dog and give them a break in another room.
Please be aware that sometimes, a dog appears to have settled because he has stopped barking and is ignoring the guests. The absence of barking or growling does not indicate comfort or happiness.
If your guests move, laugh or talk loudly, get up or come back into the room, your dog will start to bark or become unsettled again. This is a good indication that your dog has not been comfortable, and can’t cope with the extra stimulation and change to the guest.
Remove your dog and settle them in a safe confinement spot.
Sniffing & Snuffling for better door management
One of the most effective ways to control your dog’s arousal related behaviour is to redirect them to an equally absorbing task, but something that gives them more appropriate outlets for their excitement.
Sniffing and snuffling are the perfect alternative behaviours because they really encourage the dog to focus on the task at hand (finding food rewards), while helping them calm and preventing them practicing unwanted behaviour.
Start practicing today so that doors and greetings don’t cause drama at all this holiday season!
Practice this simple exercise each time you come into the house on the run up to Christmas.
Establish a Sniffing Station inside the door, or other appropriate greeting spot, at which you greet your dog. Use a snufflemat or similar snuffling puzzle, or just scatter treats onto the floor as soon as you enter.
Have treats in a tub in the car or your pocket so you are prepared as soon as you walk in, or just inside the door. Enter the house and excitedly bound to the Sniffing Station; scatter treats liberally for your dog to snuffle.
This helps to change your dog’s expectations. Instead of anticipating this spike of arousal and great excitement when someone comes to the door, they will think sniffing is best instead.
If others practice this too, and you put this into place with guests entering, you will have a calmer door situation, with lots of snuffling and sniffing!
Doorbell = Snuffle Party
Teach your dog that the doorbell signals a snuffle party! Instead of your dog running to the door, they run to you and their Sniffing Station to snuffle for treats; then you can bring your guests in calmly and quietly.
Establish a Sniffing Station with a snufflemat, a snuffle puzzle, or simply scattering treats on the floor, on a blanket or towel, or in their bed.
Practice in short sessions of just a minute or so at a time.
Begin working close to the door so your dog can quickly check that there’s nobody actually there. But as their comfort increases, you can move your Sniffing Station to the spot you want your dog to go to when the door bell sounds, such as another room, a confinement area, a crate or their bed.
Be exciting as you bound to their Sniffing Station – it’s a snuffle party after all!
Entertaining Canines: keep ’em busy and out of trouble
Entertainment and enrichment for pets is kind of our thing. If you want a FULL program of enrichment, training, fun and entertainment, check out our #100daysofenrichment project.
In general, during social gatherings, parties and meals, you likely need your dog to be pretty low key and out of the way.
The easiest way to manage their behaviour is to provide them with appropriate behaviours to keep them busy and entertained. Instead of thinking how to stop them doing things you don’t like, think what you would prefer them to do instead!
Get your dog hooked on entertainment!
Start practicing now with simple activities that your dog can work on themselves, without too much input required from you.
This category is great for confinement, for calming and when you want your dog to take themselves away and stay busy.
Get practicing now so you can find the best approach for your pet – it’s too late to discover they don’t like a certain thing or can’t work a toy on the day, when you really need it.
Before it all kicks off, provide your dog with plenty of appropriate mental and physical exercise so that they are relaxed and satisfied before the celebrations begin.
Always think in Rollercoasters: if you bring your dog up, they need help coming down again. This is why, it’s not necessarily a great idea to provide exerting exercise right before your guests arrive; your dog will still be wound up and now, with the extra excitement, will find it even harder to come down again.
Introduce some of these activities, and always follow with some down time and something from the pacifying category above.
With little time between now and the big day, and a busy time in general, elaborate training just isn’t going to be done or successful. When you can’t train, manage. Management means to prevent the dog practicing behaviour we don’t like, because the more they do it, the better at it they become!
Don’t worry too much about teaching new behaviours, and instead, make it easy on you and your pet, and plan to manage.
Does my pet really need to participate in this?
Parties and celebrations can be a bit much for pets and they will often benefit from a break.
This may be just as beneficial for you too, as the festivities might stress you too causing you to feel frustrated with your pet’s behaviour.
Set up a safe space!
Set up a safe space for your pet to retreat to, that’s out of the way, and easy for them to access. It might be their bed, a mat, their crate, or a corner of a room.
Think about where will be best given the plans you have for the celebrations; where your pet can be away from the action safely.
Start practicing now!
set up your pet’s safe space now
make sure everyone is aware of the rules – nobody approaches or interacts with your pet while they are there
every day, give them at least one tantalising stuffable or similar there
Make confinement a winner!
Having a safe space is great, but you might need to confine your dog to provide relief for all and to safely manage their behaviour.
Having your dog behind a closed door, baby gate or in a crate can help ease your mind from worrying about your dog getting into mischief.
Start practicing today!
pick your safe confinement area
every day, and I do mean every day, even if only for a few minutes, confine your dog with absolutely the best, most tempting, tantalising stuffable, chew or treat
release your dog before they become distressed and go back to normal
Consider letting your dog retreat or putting them away regularly during the festivities to give them a break, before they become over-excited or stressed.
It’s also a good idea to confine your dog just before gusts arrive so you can get everyone in calmly and safely, and then bring your dog out to greet.
Presents, toys, decorations, Christmas trees, forbidden foods and tasty, tantalising treats everywhere makes it tough for dogs to resist.
Think prevention first!
Confine your dog from areas where decorations are within reach.
If you have a puppy or a particularly interested dog, decorating elaborately in just one room makes it easier to keep an eye on all the bits and pieces.
Keep foods up and out of reach, so that your dog doesn’t get to practice even considering trying to counter-surf.
Confine your dog during particularly active times, when children are on the floor, when toys are ramping up the excitement, when food is flowing.
Start practicing today!
think of the situations in which your dog gets into mischief…
give your dog an alternative activity before these situations start
for example, before starting to cook or prepare food, or before sitting down to eat, give your dog a puzzle, a stuffable, a chew or something tempting to keep him busy in his safe zone
for practice, you can time confinement and safe zone work with these situations so that you are getting more bang for your buck!
Some excellent ideas from around the web (please let me know if you own one of these pictures or know who does for credit) and in this clip here:
Baby-gates and leashes solve problems
Management is simple with just three tools: stuffables or similar, your dog’s lead, and a baby gate here and there.
prevent access to the tree and decorations
prevent access to the kitchen and food prep areas
prevent access to rooms where foods and toys are within reach
stops dogs getting up stairs, where they might knock someone over
keeps dogs safe in a confinement area
prevents dogs getting to the hallway or doors to stop escapes or over-the-top greetings
tether your dog in their safe zone so that they are safely confined but not shut away from the action
bring your dog to greet guests on leash to prevent jumping up
sit with your dog’s leash under your foot so you can eat or relax in peace
allow your dog to drag their leash so that you can easily and safely restrain them should things get tense, when the door is opening, and when things get exciting
Start practicing today!
erect baby gates now so that your dog has time to get used to them before they are really needed
practice confining your dog, behind a baby gate, with a yummy stuffable to work on while you cook, prep, eat and relax
Park your Pup every day, while you relax or eat a meal:
With excitement ramping up, the mix of children and dogs will take extra care. Neither dogs nor children are doing anything wrong – seasonal excitement might just cause everyone to lose a little control, be a little less tolerant and decrease attentiveness.
more active and direct supervision is needed
more separation will be required
dogs don’t need to be involved when things get exciting so that they don’t associate such excitement with children and also to prevent jumping up, mouthing, knocking over or the development of discomfort in association with children
give children dog-care activities to keep them busy, rather than allowing them to hug, lean on, or lift pets
don’t allow children to take stuff from dogs and make sure to provide guidance about leaving the dog alone while he is in his safe zone or when he has possessions
Take care taking seasonal photos. Have an adult sitting between dogs and children and give children something to hold so they are not tempted to grab at or hug dogs, things that most dogs will find uncomfortable.
We often exert a lot of social pressure on dogs when taking photos – encouraging, luring and telling them to “stay!” and this can really cause dogs discomfort. Ease up, have an adult hold a chew or toy for the dog to work on during the photo shoot so that they stay put, without too much pressure.
Here’s an excellent webinar from Family Paws founder, Jennifer Shryock and it’s free! Check it out:
Quick Fix Training Help for Christmas and the Holidays
The beginning of December means only one thing…Christmas is coming!
A time of celebration, gifts and food; all the things that can cause chaos with the canines in the house.
I dare not have posted about Christmas before the first of December so, at this stage, we don’t really have time for elaborate training plans, but there are certainly lots of things we can do to prepare and even some quick, simple exercises that you can start practicing NOW for some improvement by the time the celebrations begin.
Well, if you’re here, that’s likely what you are considering. We know that celebrations and festivities can be a bit hectic; add in some over-excited pets and it’s chaos-to-the-max!
Getting ahead of it and making it a normal part of your Christmas planning and preparation will help things run more smoothly on the day.
We have some Christmas Bites planned to help you get ahead and prepare for fun and festivities:
Lack of routine and lots of potentially harmful food available can lead to ingestion of toxic and harmful substances, sometimes requiring urgent veterinary care.
chocolate, ‘sugar free’ treats, sweets and wrappers/packaging
grapes, raisins, Christmas puddings, mince pies
alcohol, caffeine, pain killers and medications (even those for pets)
cooked bones, high fat foods
decorations, Christmas trees, poinsettia, holly, mistletoe…yes, pets often eat these…
garlic, onions (and similar), some nuts like macadamia nuts
bins, rubbish and recycling – there’s lots of it about so make sure it’s out of pets’ reach
lots of dog treats and toys, and many other general products, come with little silicon or silica packets in the packaging, bag or box; if eaten by pets, they can cause serious problems and these packets in dog treats will smell of food making them more tempting – dispose of them before you give your pet their present and make sure that you put them well out of your pet’s reach, for example, in the wheelie bin outside or other inaccessible area
doors opening, comings and goings – make sure your pet is secured, one person is responsible for the, they are wearing a collar and ID, microchip is up to date
candles and extra electricals may lead to burns, singing of coat, chewing of electrical wires, hazards associated with oils and similar for burning
it’s best not to put wrapped foods under the tree or in reach – the dog’s nose knows and they may break through wrapping paper and packaging to access tasty treats, some of which may be harmful to them
Have your pet’s emergency OOH vet details ready, just in case!
I am sure most humans will agree that holiday celebrations bring about all sorts of stress. Your dog is no different. But the things that bring your joy, might be the very things that cause your pet stress.
changes to the house, garden and world around them
With decorations becoming more and more elaborate each year, pets may become overwhelmed by the transformations in their own house and garden, as well as in their neighbourhood.
Extra cleaning and re-configuring furniture, including things relevant to the dog such as his bed, feeding areas and so on, may cause them confusion and concern.
Some decorations, particularly outdoor ornaments, can really spook dogs such as life-size figures, moving or noisy displays, and hanging things, especially as they seem to suddenly appear. If you notice this, bring your dog away calmly and choose another walking route.
Some dogs show extra interest in projected lights (often projected onto the exterior of houses) and reflections caused by twinkling lights. Bring your dog away, try to reduce their exposure by removing the dog or removing the decorations and contact us or another suitably qualified behaviour pro.
routine changes and lack of routine
Dogs find holidays hard – they don’t know what day of the week it is, after all. With the hustle and bustle during holiday periods, dogs may get less exercise, entertainment and attention, putting them out of sorts.
These changes can lead to disruption to toileting behaviour, sleeping and nighttime behaviour, eating behaviour, and may see the resurgence of destructive behaviour, over-excited behaviour, barking, jumping up and other unwanted behaviours.
If you’re off work and home for a period of time, it’s important to attempt some level of routine in terms of alone-time for your dog throughout. This helps prevent the dog becoming upset when you go back to work and leave them alone again.
lots of comings and goings
Social gatherings, energetic children, shopping outings, deliveries and guests leads to more doorbells and knocking, which most dogs, at the very least, will find arousing.
This can lead to susceptible dogs becoming sensitised to door-activity, making their behaviour more difficult to manage and possibly even dangerous.
Know your dog!
A dog who barks at the doorbell and then recovers once visitors enter, is probably doing ok. But, dogs who continue to bark when guests come in, dogs who move forward in a direct manner, or dogs who move away and attempt to avoid interaction, will require closer management and care.
With the availability of lots of high value food, new possessions and toys, items left lying around, most dogs will be very tempted. So-called ‘stealing’ behaviour may increase, leading to inappropriate interactions between pets and their people.
This can lead to resource guarding related behaviour where dogs will take items, cache them, show aggressive responding (e.g. whale eye, freezing, growling, snarling, snapping and even biting) and may attempt to ingest items to prevent anyone else getting them.
children, vulnerable guests and general increases in activity within the house
Celebration means everything is go-go-go, children are hyped, new gifts and toys must be explored and tried out, elderly guests may be present, and everything is up a notch on normality.
Children, and their activity, may be particularly worrisome for dogs, and with holidays from school, dogs may not get their usual relief from this sort of activity.
Kids will often have costumes, new noisy and moving toys, and will be excited – this can increase the risk of dog bites, so extra supervision and separation will be required.
Elderly or vulnerable individuals may be bowled over by an exuberant dog, be jumped on or knocked on the stairs.
It’s a great idea to assign one sensible adult responsibility for the dog throughout the gathering so there is someone consistently monitoring the dog, supporting them and keeping them safe.
Get the entire family on board with planning and preparation so everyone is on the same page.
We expect our dogs to deal with whatever we present, regardless of how well, or not, we have prepared them. Dogs need support during holidays and it’s up to you to help them. Planning and preparation goes a long way, but a sensible approach to managing your pet during celebrations is really the key.
Start by lowering your expectations and re-aligning them with reality, understand that all this will be overwhelming for your pet and that they will respond accordingly.
Feeling under pressure about our pet’s behaviour may lead us to exert more pressure on them, resort to scolding and reprimanding, and letting your frustration get the better of you. If you feel that frustration bubbling, remove your pet to another room with an irresistible stuffable or chew to work on in peace – everyone can get a minute to take a breath and gather themselves.
Ask, “does my pet need to be part of this?”. Their behaviour is information telling you how well they are coping, or not, so removing them from the action may be best for everyone.
During holiday seasons, dressing our pets up and posing them for photos can add to the pressure they feel.
Dogs who show reluctance to have costumes fitted or freeze when wearing silly jumpers or props are experiencing a high degree of distress.
You don’t need to put yourself or your pet through it – there are countless apps that allow you to add emojis and animations to photos and videos, without your pet every knowing about it.
‘over-arousal’ and stress related behaviour
‘Crazy’ behaviour is often interpreted as happiness, but more often than not, it’s the first tier of stress-related behaviours indicating that the dog is losing control and not coping well.
This means your dog can’t listen or respond normally, is more likely to have a more demonstrative response, and his behaviour may appear less predictable.
All this excitement may be associated with trigger stacking. Just this list of stressors, one on top of another, will cause your pet’s behaviour to intensify, even though one or a small number of stressors may normally cause your pet no concern at all.
Join us for Christmas Bites to help you prepare your pet for festive fun!
Get a cuppa, this is a 30 minute read. But also makes a nice reference guide that you can dip back into when you have a question or need some guidance.
Puppies Bite. Deal with it.
And we’re going to help you.
There is much ado about puppy biting; that and toilet training tend to be the most common cries for help from new puppy people.
Puppies use their mouths, as do dogs. And it’s normal. Puppies use their mouths in communication, in entertainment, in exploration and education. If puppies are not doing these things, mouth first, we might be concerned about their health and development.
Here’s the low down: puppies develop through this biting stage. If you do nothing and just put appropriate management in place, biting behaviour reduces and everyone moves on with their lives.
I’m not going to say puppy “grows out of it”, because typically, puppies grow into problems and left unchecked, puppy biting may indicate or lead to more serious stuff.
The goal is not to stop puppy biting, just as we don’t want to stop other normal puppy behaviour. Really, we just want to survive puppy biting and not make things worse.
Normal Puppy Biting
Puppies start to intentionally bite their litter mates from about 2.5/3 weeks of age. As they begin to move about a little more, they will put their mouths on anything they can reach, and will bite each other, their mum, other dogs and humans they meet. If it fits, they will get their mouth on it!
When we take them home, usually at about 8 weeks of age, we interrupt puppies right in the middle of their bitiest period with their littermates (usually about 7-9 weeks).
Puppy biting is social behaviour and not related to teething. Indeed, it tends to reduce just as teething begins at about 14/15/16 weeks of age.
I tend to find that puppies are at their most bitey, with their new humans, from about 10-14 weeks.
They’ve just started to settle into their new home and feeling a little more confident, they’ve lost access to most of their social outlets (their littermates) and they need to
get their teeth sunk into any and all things.
Normal puppy biting goes away as puppies age; our work is aimed at preventing anything more serious developing.
Puppies have sharp little needly teeth (as if I need to tell you!) because they don’t have a whole lot of jaw strength.
So they need sharp teeth to make their point (!) in social interactions.
It’s perfectly normal for puppies to use their teeth in social situations and they just need to use a little bite, without too much pressure, to gain social relief; they can get their brother or sister to give them a break.
Common types of normal puppy biting:
chewing on you: often happens when puppy is quite calm; they might chew on your hands or fingers, sometimes manoeuvring your knuckle on to their back teeth
This is usually comfort seeking.
relief-seeking biting: often happens during interactions that involve physical contact, manipulation or restraint. Puppy wants to be free, finds the interaction and handling unpleasant, and is asking for distance and relief.
They will usually aim their biting at your hands, or the harness or brush you are using.
land-shark (as in your puppy turns into a land-shark doo doo doo doo doo doo) They might bite repeatedly, biting may appear as to come out of nowhere, they might jump and bite, and may vocalise and growl.
This often happens when puppy is over-stimulated and over-tired.
On top of those three biting categories, puppies will often bite at and chase feet, trousers and other clothing, and even hands that are moving and flailing.
That’s a lot of biting!
What’s not normal?
Me telling you that puppy biting is normal behaviour might provide a little comfort, but largely isn’t terribly helpful.
Puppy biting is certainly frustrating for humans, but the more tense or panicked we become, the more the biting escalates.
Of course, the harder puppy bites, the harder it is to stay calm; puppy bites harder and so an unhappy routine develops…and round and round we go.
I strongly recommend that all puppies and their people have qualified help to guide them through puppyhood and behavioural development. This will include programs in place to help with puppy biting and monitoring of their biting behaviour.
The vast majority of pet owners I talk with think that their puppy’s behaviour is terribly dangerous, intense and aggressive even when their puppy is demonstrating normal puppy biting.
While puppy biting is normal, necessary and natural behaviour, there might be times when puppy biting behaviour warrants more concern. For example, the following:
generally normal behaviour might be of concern when expressed at unusual, increased or decreased frequencies, intensities, severity etc. so if biting increases and seems a disproportionate response, seek help
puppy is growling, stiffening and biting when physically manipulated, restrained, moved or picked up
puppy is growling, stiffening and biting when items are removed from them, such as chews, toys or ‘stolen’ items, or when approached when puppy has such items
you often note puppy stiffening and growling before biting
growls, vocalises, hides from, snaps and/or bites new people
directs growling, snapping, biting behaviour toward children
Why is biting normal behaviour for puppies?
Puppy biting happens because puppies are immature youngsters, just learning to navigate their world, who are not terribly well coordinated.
They haven’t yet developed mature communication systems and skills.
When puppies bite, they are seeking something, making a request, trying to communicate their needs. And because they lack mature communication skills, they don’t have other ways to ask for a break, or a rest, or just time to process.
Dogs, including puppies, are often comforted by having things in their mouths. They might seek out sensory pay off by biting or holding something in their mouths when they are stressed, excited, and wound up.
Puppies often bite more and harder when they are over-stimulated, over-tired and just over everything, needing a break and a rest.
Whens & Whys of Biting Behaviour
The first job, for you, on the road to managing, preventing and reducing biting, and stopping it getting worse, is analysing the whens and whys of biting.
Can you match whens with whys for your puppy?
List out the times when biting happens.
What’s going on, who’s present, what’s just happened?
puppy bites during games
during, after and in anticipation of something exciting happening
when you hug them, hold them, pick them up, restrain them
when you groom them or try to put on their gear
in the evening
when people come home or come down in the morning
From this, we can look at the whys of biting; why is your puppy biting and what are they getting out of it. Remember, dogs, and even puppies, do behaviours that work!
to gain social relief so the humans remove the social pressure
so that you move away, leave them alone, give them space and a break
for attention and interaction
for sensory pay off
to help them improve their comfort and get their excitement under control
to gain access to things or places
Every interaction with your puppy is a learning opportunity; your behaviour makes biting more or less likely to happen immediately and over time.
What not to do
There’s no such thing as ‘bad’ behaviour and your biting puppy is most certainly not a bad puppy. Puppy biting is normal, we just happen to find it unpleasant!
Generally, the more you force, the more biting there will be.
Young puppies, in this biting stage, are also going through some very important behavioural development.
Adding force, startle, intimidation, and suppression may have implications for that puppy’s behavioural responding in their future.
All the work we do with puppies during this stage has ramifications later on; this work in an investment in your puppy’s future, in the dog you will have in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years.
Don’t yell, “NO!”, yelp or startle, slap, hit or “tap” anywhere on puppy’s body, push away, attempt to physically restrain or hold their collar, push their lips into their teeth, pinch, spray, pin, roll or scruff.
Don’t do these things or similar, and if you have started, stop now.
Just stopping puppy biting isn’t the goal. Preventing puppy practicing biting is our jam; that way you’re not a pin cushion and puppy is not learning to use their mouth to get out of socially pressuring situations with humans.
Teach don’t threaten. Prevent rather than punish.
Puppy people who do these things to their puppies are not bad people; we are not in the business of blame or force for puppy people, just as we avoid it for puppies.
There are all sorts of connotations in our culture about dogs putting their teeth on human skin and puppy biting HURTS! New puppy people are worried about their puppy; it can be frightening and confusing, and not knowing what’s best to do can cause humans to respond rashly.
It’s ok. When you know better, you do better. We will support you and your puppy; it’s a team effort.
A new puppy person might also feel pulled in different directions; everyone has advice and knows best when you get your puppy.
The information here is evidence based, as up to date as you’ll get, and based on thousands upon thousands of hours of puppy training, puppy rearing, and puppy-people education.
Whatever advice you choose, be consistent. Be predictable. Teach your puppy what to expect from interactions with you.
Work through our program. Consistently.
I tend not to recommend puppy classes because so many are a free for all, and for the same reasons, I don’t think daycares or dog parks are ideal for supporting appropriate behavioural development in dogs.
But I do like to set up short outings or meetings for puppy, with appropriate adult dogs, rather than lots of other puppies or young dogs. Giving puppy social outlets for biting with other dogs, may help with the underlying motivation for puppy biting behaviour, providing these interactions are carefully supervised.
We are not trying to stop biting; we just want to survive this biting phase and not make things worse. Our approach will reduce biting over time, and most importantly, open and develop channels of communication and trust between you and your puppy, while helping them develop life skills.
Consistency is our goal; one of these tools alone will not work over night. The program works as a whole, over time. Puppy raising is a marathon, not a sprint! Rather than concentrating on specific training exercises, we are living this program. Every interaction with your puppy is an opportunity for learning.
Go back to your whens and whys analysis. What can your puppy expect from these interactions?
You coming home and puppy anticipates great excitement…biting at the ready!
Redirect them by tossing food rewards or produce a toy as soon as you come in the door so puppy has something to do, other than bite.
Avoid putting puppy in those situations that anticipate biting. Practice not getting bitten.
2. Three-count Interactions
Your puppy probably doesn’t want to be picked up, hugged and touched a whole lot…it’s a bubble I burst for a lot of new puppy people! In general, this is a primate thing and not really a dog thing.
Plus you’ve just met your puppy and you don’t know one another that well yet. Learn to work hands-off, use your food, use your toys and use your engagement to encourage puppy, rather than going straight to putting your hands on.
If your hands are not on puppy, there will be a lot less biting.
Rollercoaster Games, played properly, teaches puppy
to release an item too, which can help with asking
puppy to let go of you or your clothing.
Think of your puppy’s day, and all their interactions, like a Rollercoaster. If we bring ‘em up, we gotta help them come down again.
The best ways to bring puppy down is to provide sniffing, lapping, and chewing. After any sort of excitement, help your puppy regain some control, without biting you, by facilitating some sniffing, then lapping and chewing.
4. Appropriate Enrichment, Exercise & Entertainment
Your puppy probably doesn’t need too much more excitement in their life; puppies find everything exciting and they tend to have big feelings all over the place.
Make Rollercoaster Games, sniffing, exploration and chewing the main forms of exercise that puppies get.
They don’t need to high octane play or meetings. Social and environmental exposure should be about puppy learning that their world around them is no big deal, rather than cause for alarm or excitement.
If you want to survive puppyhood, start #100daysofenrichment today! This is a free 100-day training program that will support all of this and provide your puppy with beneficial and appropriate enrichment.
5. Hands are not for biting
Instead of hands being for biting, turn hands into instruments of rewards!
Smear rewards on to your palms so the presentation of hands anticipates licking and lapping, rather than biting. Use wet food, cream cheese, yoghurt, peanut butter or liver pate as training rewards. Present your palm low down for puppy to lick. Regular
practice will help change puppy’s expectations from biting to licking.
Hand feed your puppy. Teach them to expect that hands will produce food rewards that are lapped up or tossed for sniffing or chasing.
Teach a hand target behaviour so puppy learns that hands are for bopping and then moving away.
This also becomes a nifty way of redirecting and moving puppy without having to put hands on.
6. Rest & Routine
Puppies, much like babies, thrive with a structured routine of feeding, resting, play and sleep.
Puppies should have about 18-20 hours of sleep a day! Most puppies, with whom I work who show lots of biting, are simply not getting enough rest. Think about a rest to activity ratio for your puppy; for most puppies a 3:1 or 2:1 rest: activity units is appropriate. For example, 40-60 minutes rest to 20 minutes activity.
Puppies will often need help coming down from excitement so that they can rest properly and then they need a comfy resting place where they know they won’t be disturbed.
Once puppy’s needs are met, teach them how to settle and establish a settle-context.
Make sure puppies are warm, fed, toileted and have a cuddle-buddy for naps. Give them a large soft toy
to snuggle with; this is especially helpful for very young puppies and for overnight.
Provide puppy with a stuffable toy or irresistible chew to help them soothe and calm, as they drift off.
7. Management & Confinement
I can’t recommend confinement training enough; you might work with a crate, a baby gate, a puppy pen. Whatever you use, do it.
Confinement train puppies properly so that they are comfortable with being behind a barrier. This is a life skill.
But confinement training (done right) can be really helpful in preventing biting, providing puppy with a quiet place of their own to rest, and helps puppy to learn about frustration tolerance and self-calming. A puppy behind a barrier can’t bite you and you can move away or closer, rewarding puppy’s behaviour appropriately.
Having puppy in their pen when the kids come in or when the household is moving about is perfect for preventing biting during this excitement.
This allows you to reinforce calm behaviour, by tossing food rewards, while keeping everyone safe and reducing biting-practice.
Letting puppy drag a light line, just on their collar, may allow you to move or restrain puppy, without having to put hands on.
Make sure puppy only wears their line when supervised, otherwise they will get tangled or chew it.
Let’s NOTrely on “time outs”:
A confinement area also gives you a place to put puppy when the biting gets too much. We will NOT be relying on a “time-out” approach; why would we want to apply a punisher to puppy’s attempts at communication?
But, when puppy has turned into a full-on land-shark it’s understandable that you might need a break.
Instead of picking puppy up and placing them somewhere, you storm off, as if mortally wounded, for about 20 seconds just to give everyone a chance to calm down.
If biting starts again as soon as you return, puppy needs some down time. Prepare a yummy stuffable toy and settle them down for a nap, ideally in a suitable confinement area.
8. Toys & Chews
Have lots of things to entertain puppy.
I’m not talking about just boring rubber balls, rawhide and rope toys lying around. You need a range of interesting toys that allow your puppy to express a range of behaviours. Rotate them regularly (every couple days) and just have 3-5 available at a time.
For tugging and redirection, my favourites are chaser fur toys or faux fur, if you prefer. (We love the Tug-E-Nuff range of Chaser Toys.) These are special toys that are just for these types of interactions.
Give your puppy an Activity Box; a good sized shallow box that you leave on the floor for puppy. Add a toy, a stuffable and some safe items of interest such as cardboard tubes or crumpled paper. Rotate items frequently and it doesn’t matter if they destroy the box or its contents just watch your puppy for ingestion or other hazards.
Redirect puppy to their Activity Box when you need to change their
focus from biting or being silly.
Puppies need lots and lots of things to chew. And variety is important too. Have a range of chews that are updated as puppy develops and rotate them regularly. More on chews and chew-ideas here.
Instead of how to stop behaviour, instead think what would you prefer puppy to do?
Maybe we would prefer puppy to engage with a toy instead, let go of you when asked, or ignore your trouser leg or shoelace.
We can teach those behaviours.
Check out our piece on developing a program for foot chasing, which helps you implement these teachings, here.
Putting this program in place consistently, helps you to learn to listen to your puppy and respond appropriately.
Learn puppy’s signs and relevant contexts. What tells you that puppy is becoming overwhelmed and that biting is imminent?
Be proactive and redirect puppy to a sniffing or chewing task, play some Rollercoaster Games to let them release some energy or excitement, give them a break and allow them to do their own thing, set them up for a nap.
What other proactive things can you put in place to help your puppy, and prevent biting?
Not one big of this program refers to “traditional obedience” or “manners”. That’s not what puppies need – a puppy who sits or gives the paw, will still bite.
Puppies, and dogs for that matter, need life skills so they can live in the human world, and they need outlets for their behaviour so that living in our world isn’t stifling.
More here: This is how we do it and here: Not the be all and end all.
Kids & Puppy Biting
Kids and dogs can be a tricky mix, especially with busy family lifestyles and high expectations. We could talk all day about child-dog safety, but here, we are just covering children and puppy biting.
Kids, especially small children, are often the focus of intense puppy biting. And normal child behaviour plus normal puppy behaviour can make parenting challenging. I often don’t recommend puppies for young children because kids can become scared of puppy, and that relationship can be tough to repair.
Adding a puppy is like adding another toddler to the family so best be prepared for some serious education for the whole family!
Why do puppies bite kids so much?
We already know that puppy biting behaviour is completely normal dog behaviour, and absolutely normal child behaviour is often the cause of extra puppy biting.
But there are lots of things we can do to prevent and reduce puppy biting through lots of careful management and adult supervision.
Children are shorter, and often on the floor, and more easily within reach for puppies.
Most importantly, children are more likely to behave in a manner that over-excites and overwhelms puppies.
Just like puppies, children might not be terribly coordinated, and they might not realise that they are making puppy feel uncomfortable or scared.
Children might be more likely to unintentionally exert social pressure on dogs, for example, holding them, staring at them, taking things from them and so on.
Kids may tease puppies, often unintentionally, and may treat
their new puppy as they might a stuffed toy.
Puppy will begin to anticipate feeling this way in response to
kids, and biting is imminent!
The goal is for kids and puppies to be able to share space rather than having intense or exciting interactions. Dogs love children with whom they can share space!
That’s what socialisation should produce: social neutrality; kids are no big deal and puppies can cope with their presence.
Puppy people with children in the home, or visiting regularly, must have a program in place.
Consider carefully the whens and whys of biting the children and prevent puppy being put in those situations.
Use confinement and designate child-zones and dog-zones so that everyone has safe space.
Prioritise making space-sharing possible. Set kids and puppies up with their own calm and engaging activities so that they learn to just be with one another.
Babies: There is no reason for puppy to have contact with baby. Set puppy up with calming and engaging activities when baby is present, such as sniffing, puzzles, stuffables and chews.
Puppy learns that baby means all is calm, they learn to busy and settle themselves and develop a positive, calm attitude to baby and baby related activities.
Always supervise dogs and kids directly and actively, or confine puppy elsewhere.
Toddlers: Baby gates and plenty of separation are best for puppies and toddlers.
Careful management is important when toddlers are move around and active.
Toddlers might like to participate in feeding puppy, putting together puzzles, tossing food for sniffing and rewarding. Puppy learns that approaching a toddler gets them to toss food away, giving puppy distance and reducing biting.
Use guided touch to help toddler learn how to touch puppy and practice 3-count interactions with puppies.
Always supervise dogs and kids directly and actively, or confine puppy elsewhere.
Children: As children develop, and their coordination and comprehension improves,
they will be able to participate more and more in puppy care. This helps
puppy and child to develop a wonderful relationship and the child’s
developing awareness helps reduce biting.
Kids love to keep records, they can weigh out puppy’s food, and supervise other household members in training and interactions with puppy.
Teach children to Be A Tree when puppy chases or jumps.
Video demonstrations for some exercises to work on with kids and puppy:
Teach children about the rules for interacting with puppy and 3-count interactions:
Our expectations of both puppies and kids can be unrealistic.
When getting a puppy, you will be doing the work, while guiding, managing, supervising, and providing education for both kids and puppies. On a repetitive and ongoing basis…
Puppies will need as much care and parenting as children!
Check out the FREE Instinct the Dogs & Kids course here.
What does puppy need when the biting starts?
redirect by tossing food rewards away or create a diversion (e.g. rustle packaging, open the fridge, get their lead)
make biting a toy appealing by waggling it
bring them for a toilet break
play some Rollercoaster Games
facilitate sniffing and exploration
leave them to their own devices (once safe)
provide sniffing fun and puzzles
give them their favourite chews and stuffables
some downtime, a nap, rest and relief
Most puppies come home when they are less than 60 days old. They have not been on the planet very long and couldn’t be expected to have any idea how to behave in the human world.
There will of course be clashes between what’s normal for dogs and what’s acceptable for humans.
But, we’re the ones with the big primate brain capable of guiding and teaching our pets, and most importantly, providing them with acceptable outlets for their behaviour.
puppy biting is normal, just like tail wagging or barking
puppies use their mouths in all sorts of ways
puppy biting is social behaviour, rather than teething-related
normal puppy biting reduces over time, usually by about four months of age
we are not working to stop puppy biting; we work to reduce and redirect, and prevent anything more serious developing
puppies bite to communicate their needs
seek help for puppy biting and puppy education
When does puppy bite? Change what puppy might expect from those contexts by setting up more appropriate activities for them.
don’t apply force, intimidation, fright or pain; take a deep breath, walk away, give puppy a stuffable toy and have a break…puppy rearing can be tough and you will survive this!
work hands-off and keep the bite end of puppy busy; practice not getting bitten
don’t rely on “time outs”
be consistent; work through our program, choose tools and adapt as you go
Puppies bite. And many puppies bite a lot.
Take a breath and remind yourself that this is normal. Don’t take it personally; your puppy is not trying to dominate you (‘cos, what then?!) or hurt you.
Hang in there. This will get better. Your wounds will heal, and you and your puppy will build a wonderful relationship together.
If you need help, contact us.
This is specifically about puppy biting that happens up until puppy starts teething (about 4 months). After that and once your dog gets their big teeth, we are talking about adolescent biting and mouthing, which can be a little different and may require alternative protocols.
A nice look at the evidence, or lack there of, related to puppy biting and dog training here.
Download the Puppy Biting Checklist here:
Download the 6 Reasons Your Puppy is Biting You infographic here:
You can download this entire puppy biting survival guide as a PDF booklet here.
Dogs bark for all sorts of reasons, and not one of those is to drive you mad, although that’s often the result. Barking, like all behaviour, functions for the behaver.
Your dog is barking for a reason and lots of barking (often considered “excessive”) or changes to barking behaviour (increases or decreases, for example) may indicate an underlying medical cause so a vet visit is a good idea.
When modifying behaviour, we need to know what the behaviour is, when the behaviour happens and why the dog does it. Here, we are talking specifically about barking that’s considered “attention-seeking” or “demanding”:
“Demand” or “Attention Seeking” Barking
We commonly refer to barking as ‘problem’ behaviour, but just who’s problem is it? Usually, it’s a human problem.
Of course, increased or out of context barking may indicate or lead to problems for the dog, but generally, help is sought when behaviour causes human problems.
Let’s consider the terms we use to describe this type of behaviour; we use terms like “demanding” and “attention seeking“, terms with connotations about how we view the dog’s behaviour and their motivations.
It’s odd because all behaviour is demanding, it’s functional, the behaver uses behaviour to gets things. And of course sometimes, behaviour is used to get attention. Attention being a reinforcer of many behaviours for many dogs.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this; this is what you and I use behaviour for too.
Your dog is using his or her behaviour all the time, to change the outcome of interactions. To get things he or she needs and wants.
Indeed, we actively teach dogs to perform behaviours to get stuff all the time and we teach them, often unintentionally, to bark for stuff too.
What is your dog doing?
This type of barking is usually directed at you or the thing the dog wants e.g. the ball that’s rolled under the sofa; sometimes, they don’t appear to be directing their behaviour toward anything in particular and are just shouting!
The dog may make direct eye contact with you, may bounce toward you, may throw their head back and may even follow you to get their point across.
This clip shows a not very nice demonstration (on my part); we were coming to the end of our session and he had been working hard, doing his best to calm himself.
We had just started to work on some handling work, which has caused some conflicted responding.
All this, on top of everything else, and then a break in opportunities to earn food rewards, is all too much leading to frustration related behaviour.
When does your dog do it?
Consider the context in which Balto is barking, above.
The picture we set up, tells the dog how they might expect to feel and to anticipate what behaviour they will need.
How do you think Balto will anticipate feeling and behaving in a similar picture again?
Look carefully at what’s happening just before and while your dog barks at you.
Whens often include:
you have food, whether you are eating or it’s food for the dog
you have a dog toy
there is a toy available or the dog knows where it is
you are preparing food, for you or your dog
you are on the phone or having a conversation
you are busy and otherwise engaged
you are relaxing
What do these pictures cause your dog to anticipate? How can they expect to feel and behave when they see this picture?
The clues are in what your dog is doing.
For example, you beginning to prepare food becomes a cue telling your dog that food will become available. If you have made that food available contingent on their barking, well, they’re going to bark!
It’s also valuable to make a list of whens for quiet too.
when is your dog not barking?
what are they doing when not barking?
what are you doing when they are not barking?
when can your dog just be?
what does that picture look like?
Why does your dog do it?
Dogs do what works – they are very efficient at learning how to get things they like, and avoid things they don’t like.
When we call this barking ‘demand barking’ or ‘attention-seeking barking’, we are describing the function of this behaviour, the whys.
Your dog has trained you – they bark and you give them what they want. Don’t take it personally – dogs do what works and there’s no more significance than that.
For lots of dogs, good or bad attention will quickly establish and strengthen behaviour.
Whys might include:
talking to the dog, even telling them off
giving the dog the food or toy they want
allowing the dog gain access to the thing they want
Why does your dog still do it?
Even though you might have tried ignoring your barking dog, they continue to shout.
When there has been inconsistent reinforcing and ignoring, off and on over time, barking behaviour will often appear very resistant to efforts at withdrawing the reward. This is likely because this behaviour works best in extinction burst.
Extinction is not just for dinosaurs
Extinction happens when we break the associations between the when and why and barking behaviour.
When extinguishing barking the dog learns that there is no point barking at the when, because the why is no longer available.
So this sounds easy, right? Just ignore the barking, don’t give in, extinguish that behaviour…
But, and this is what’s driving you crazy, before we get extinction we get extinction bursts.
Extinction bursts are not just for dogs; this clip shows some examples of behaviours you might recognise:
If you have been rewarding barking behaviour and one day decide, no more, your dog may bark a little more persistently to gain your attention (hey, what’s wrong?! this usually works!) and when this doesn’t work, he barks a little more, maybe louder, maybe he jumps a little bit more too.
All in all, the behaviour gets bigger, just in case you missed it…
The problem is, that you are only human and this burst of activity may push you to the edge, and you give in. Now your dog has a whole new bigger and better barking behaviour to get those whys.
Problems with extinction: intermittent reinforcement
If you have been rewarding barking now and then your dog may not notice at first that you have decided that today is the day for ending this behaviour.
This dog will try even harder and be a more persistent extinction burst-er.
Problems with extinction: spontaneous recovery
Extinction bursts may lead to eventual reduction of barking behaviour but before that the behaviour will go through cycles of bursts and recovery…yep, the behaviour comes back before going through another burst and another recovery, over and over.
This is really difficult to maintain and live with, so we give in and we get even bigger bursts of demand barking.
Problems with extinction bursts: frustration
Not getting the reward he expects may cause your dog to experience high levels of frustration. This can be especially relevant when we are talking about behaviour that is often arousing (exciting) so your dog may be too wound up and lose some control.
Frustration is experienced as an aversive, so may cause the dog distress. This can be associated with other things happening in that picture too, like the people or animals present, further damaging relationships.
And frustration can drive aggressive responding, causing the dog to redirect his frustration onto you, other people or animals present or even other things around him.
Extinction doesn’t sound so hot anymore, huh..?
Just ignoring unwanted behaviour (as is often recommended) is not good enough, easy, safe or effective.
Just ignoring unwanted behaviour isn’t very kind for dogs either, particularly as we are often not terribly consistent or clear with signals to our dogs.
For peace and quiet we need to develop a better program.
Achieving Peace & Quiet
Once we know the whens and the whys, we can begin to build a program to reduce barking behaviour and bring back some peace and quiet.
1. An ounce of prevention…
List the whens in which barking is likely. What are the pictures in which barking happens?
Prevent your dog practicing barking; practice makes perfect and your dog is already pretty good at barking!
Before this picture even starts, give your dog something else to do; something that might make barking at you difficult, something that changes the way they can feel about that picture (instead of frustration, calming, for example).
Ideas might include:
move to another room
set the dog up with a yummy stuffed, frozen food dispensing toy
park your dog with a yummy Kong toy
throw the ball before they bark
use two balls so he almost always has one ball in his mouth
set up some sniffing challenges in another room or in the garden
move toys to areas that dogs don’t have access e.g. the bathroom
don’t give the dog toys at source, where you store them
What else works for the whens you have listed?
2. Remove rewards
List the whys that drives your dog’s demand barking behaviour.
Prevention might not work every time, especially early on when you are trying to establish the program.
No more eye contact, no more talking to him, no more giving him the ball…turn your back, step away, sing a little song to yourself, put the ball away.
A little bit of extinction can be applied, only where we are working hard on all the other areas too.
Barking is still going to happen. You are human. Your dog is a dog. Even when you have been doing your best with numbers 1. and 2., barking will still happen.
Don’t get disheartened. You can decide whether this is one you want to go for, or sit out and just let the dog bark. Get back on track the next time.
Redirect just functions to redirect your dog’s focus away from barking or whatever triggered the barking. It’s a bit of a quick fix to get some peace in the moment.
Redirection might include:
when your dog barks, move away from them and pretend to engage in some very interesting activity, with lots of ooohs and aaaahs. Continue this silly charade until your dog follows you to see what you’re up to.
When they join you, interact with your dog, ask them for some behaviours or provide them with a sniffing activity, for example. Snuffling is my favourite point of redirection: it’s hard to bark when sniffing, and sniffing and snuffling can be calming and all-engrossing for dogs. Also, your dog already knows how to do this alternate behaviour – you don’t need to teach a new behaviour, just stick this established behaviour into existing situations.
Lots of snuffling ideas below:
when your dog barks, stop the interaction, go still and don’t reward. Step or turn away if you need to. Wait for the silence -this might be momentary. When they stop, verbally praise and make eye contact, smiling. Count to three before asking them to perform some behaviours or before engaging in some activity with them.
A delay is important so the dog is less likely to form further associations between barking and your interaction and cueing.
When people think barking, or ‘problem’ behaviour, their first go-to is usually, stopping it. But, that’s really the least efficient approach, and can even bring about some worrying side-effects.
Instead think reinforcement!
To reinforce behaviour means to strengthen it and when modifying behaviour, we set the environment up so that alternative or incompatible desired behaviours are more likely to be chosen as they provide the same outlets as barking.
Because we are working through the entire program, barking behaviour becomes irrelevant, inefficient and ineffective (Susan Friedman).
First, make a training mix using your dog’s regular food plus some yummies.
Using the dog’s regular food as much as possible helps to reduce the addition of extra calories when working with food reinforcers.
Have small bowls or containers of your dog’s training mix or food rewards in suitable places; in situations that barking occurs and in situations that quiet occurs.
This will make sure you are ready to reward and catch your dog being quiet.
Food is not the only reinforcer suitable for this work, it’s just fast and is great for snuffling.
We have to remember the whys of your dog’s barking behaviour too. The new behaviours we put in place should function for the animal, in the same way as barking did in those contexts.
4.1 Non-Contingent Reinforcement (NCR)
NCR means that reinforcement happens, regardless of what behaviour the dog is doing.
This can be an effective approach for dogs who bark when you come into the house or room, for example. Step inside the door and immediately scatter food rewards.
What we really want to do here is to do the thing that triggers the barking, and immediately make food rewards, snuffling, the toy or a fuss and attention available immediately.
You are changing the meaning of that when; instead of it cueing barking, it means that you make the good stuff available, which cues other behaviours such as eating, sniffing, playing or interacting.
Protopopova & Wynne, 2015, found that this approach was effective in reducing unwanted kennel behaviour in a group of shelter dogs.
And Zurlinden & Spanos presented their work applying their quiet kennel exercise to hospitalised dogs at VBS 2020. I love this work; when a person showed up in the kennel area/ward are, they gave treats to the dogs regardless of their behaviour. Rather than concentrating on what the dogs were doing, the aim was to improve how the dogs were feeling, to reduce their motivation to bark.
4.2 Respondent Conditioning: barking interrupted
Respondent conditioning is a way of learning about associations allowing animals to predict when something relevant is about to happen.
Adding a signal that tells your dog that something good is about to happen can be used to interrupt barking behaviour so that the dog engages in some other more desirable and incompatible activity.
We don’t really want to stop our dogs barking altogether but do want to be able to redirect their behaviour to stop barking if needed.
This signal, a kissy noise, is paired with a treat. The dog orients to you when they hear this signal, because it makes yummies happen, so that you can bring your dog away from barking.
Once your dog can orient to you, you can redirect them to another activity.
DR means to reinforce another behaviour, that isn’t barking. The more we reinforce (strengthen) quiet behaviour, the less barking there will be.
There are several types of differential reinforcement. Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible behaviour (DRI) is probably the most useful. Pick a behaviour during which your dog is quiet and reinforce that.
That’s why I like snuffling so much; it’s incompatible with barking, your dog is really good at it, and snuffling is reinforced by more snuffling.
Look at your list of whens, now turn those into snuffle parties instead of bark-fests!
Some really intense barkers might require a more gradual approach to reducing barking behaviour. Instead of aiming for quiet, we might reinforce fewer barks, quieter barks, smaller barking behaviour (barking without jumping, for example).
Quiet or quieter behaviour make treat chases and snuffle parties happen. Aim for at least ten reward-parties each day in relation to quiet behaviour.
Protopopova & Wynne, 2015, found that DR schedules may help to reduce unwanted kennel behaviour in a group of shelter dogs. And Protopopova, Kisten & Wynne, 2016, found that the use of an automated feeder may be effective in reducing barking by differentially reinforcing quiet behaviour in home-alone dogs.
5. Change the picture
Go back to your list of whens:
when does your dog bark?
when is your dog quiet?
5.1 When does your dog bark?
Keep a log.
Record when your dog barks and what is happening just before and in the barking picture.
The things that make up the barking picture, or context, tell the dog how they are about to feel (perhaps frustrated at losing access to your attention, interaction reinforcers…all the whys) and what behaviours they will need (barking).
Let’s start changing that picture. Change your dog’s anticipation. Change how they expect to feel and behave.
The first clue to this picture is now going to predict some other, quieter activity.
Practice lots. Maybe you only get a few seconds of settling the first time, but keep practicing. The more you do it, in a similar context to how your dog would settle themselves any way, the more successful you will be.
6. Change the motivation
The clue is in the name; this barking dog is seeking attention, interaction, connection. Even when the dog’s barking behaviour appears to function to get other things like food or toys, that they are applying such big behaviour, often suggests to me that they want more than just that.
Despite how annoying their chosen method of communicating that need is, the dog’s behaviour is information and they need you!
Throughout our training program, as we have been working to establish quieter responses and extinguish barking, we have been applying lots of food and other reinforcers. That’s fine, especially for teaching.
Go back to your list of whys; the functions of “attention seeking” barking behaviour (again, the clue is in the name).
The new behaviours, instead of barking, must eventually fulfill the same functions as barking behaviour did.
Examine those whys. Now, begin to add them to the reinforcement strategies you have in place during training.
We are not removing the other reinforcers (e.g. food); we are adding in those other functions, i.e. your attention, interaction, connection. New behaviour must be at least as, if not more, worth your dog’s while. If we are replacing well established behaviour, we have a BIG reinforcement history to match.
Teach your dog other behaviours, that are quieter, that get them your attention, interaction, connection.
Most likely, those quiet behaviours exist, or certainly did. We humans tend not to observe the subtleties of canine behaviour, and when we do, we often don’t think them relevant or misinterpret them.
Your dog was asking for you, before the barking escalated.
Film your dog. Set up the camera and leave it running, rather than you holding it, in barking contexts. Review your footage and watch your dog closely. What were they doing before the barking started?
Because this behaviour wasn’t reinforced and barking was required, it might not happen any more. That behaviour didn’t work, and dogs do what works, disregarding the rest.
Film your dog regularly. Become more attuned with their movements, subtleties and nuances. Just watch them. Their behaviour is information.
Teach your dog that simple, soft eye contact works. No words from you, don’t add a cue. No words are needed.
Come do our engagement course, with your dog, and open up a whole new way of communicating and interacting with one another. More here.
Reinforce eye contact by capturing it – this means to just catch your dog gazing at you. Make goods things happen when you catch them quietly finding your face!
7. Provide appropriate enrichment & entertainment
This type of barking may be telling you that your dog needs more appropriate stuff to do.
Unfortunately, enrichment, in the dog world, has become associated with elaborate puzzles and dramatic challenge that appropriate entertainment has been lost.
Before developing an enrichment program for your dog, or introducing entertainment, make sure you have a good understanding of what they need. Is it really more high octane activities? Is it really another tricky brain-game?
You’re in luck. We’ve done the work for you with #100daysofenrichment. All the background info you need to understand what your dog might really need, and hundreds of challenges for you to adjust for your individual dog. Start today!
Appropriate challenge helps provide dogs outlets for good stress, helps them build frustration tolerance and let them be a dog. Your dog would choose this for you both, if he or she could!
This has become much longer than intended, and certainly more in-depth. But you made it this far.
There are lots of categories of barking behaviour, that may be defined differently, but, barking, like all behaviour, functions for your dog. The program outlined here is specific to “attention-seeking” type barking, but this approach can be applied to lots of types of barking and other behaviours too.
Consider the function of barking (the whys) and examine the pictures/contexts in which barking happens (the whens).
collect the data: the whens, the whats and the whys
don’t just ignore unwanted behaviour
remove access to reinforcers
add more reinforcement: non-contingent reinforcement, respondent conditioning, differential reinforcement
change the picture (and consider the quiet pictures too)
change the motivation (your dog wants you)
add appropriate enrichment
This piece is a re-write from one I posted about four and a half years ago. I pulled it about a year ago, maybe a little more. I came across it, quite by accident, and decided that the tone no longer sat comfortably with me. It was a really popular piece, well-shared but there’s nothing like time to give you perspective. We are all learning and growing, me included.
If you want to read it, you can access it here. Use this password: transparency2020
It’s password protected so it’s not available generally, that’s all. I would prefer this be the Barking Mad piece I stand behind. You might be able to spot the tone and content that I don’t really like, or certainly, have moved on from.
Today’s piece sort of got away from me and is really a full dog-nerds program, but was inspired by some pretty funky “demand barking” advice being shared so I thought an update was needed. If I am calling out others’ advice, I may as well highlight that I too am not always happy looking back at what I may have done in times gone by (*cringe*). Fair is fair.
Online, self-paced recall master course for you and your dog!
Master Course Details:
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you need to be able to use the internet, blogs, Facebook groups and if you wish to participate to the fullest, be able to record and upload your short training clips
your dog and your course materials
your dog’s walking gear, e.g. collar, harness, lead etc.
a harness appropriate to your dog’s conformation is safest when working with long lines; we recommend a Y-harness like this one here
a long line of 5m or 10m (more on long line use as required on this course here)
various reinforcers for your individual dog such as their favourite food rewards and toys
a snufflemat or similar (ideas here) but you may also use a small bowl or container
suitable locations to practice that are low distraction and safe, and some places that allow for safe and distanced exposure to distractions appropriate to your individual dog
means to film your work for guidance and feedback when it’s posted to our Facebook group; it’s best that you can set up the camera or have someone else hold it so that we can see you and your dog.
Goals of this course
This course will help you to:
build a reliable recall
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improve your relationship with your dog through the development of rich reinforcement histories
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have fun with your dog
build value in different reinforcers
understand how and when to apply appropriate management
generalise recall behaviour to different contexts, including distractions
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multiple media learning resources for viewing or downloading
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comment facility at the online course area for participation, enquiries, interactions
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build a reliable recall with your dog that may be a life saver and will definitely open up a world of fun with your dog
Online Training with your Dog
Before you sign up, consider carefully embarking on an online training course. Teaching your dog requires plenty of time, patience, skill building and knowledge development. When working remotely in a group, this is largely on you.
A course like this is best for those pet owners who are really interested in committing to working with their dog daily, learning lots of new information about dog behaviour and teaching dogs, and in developing great mechanical skill in teaching.
If you’re ready to go, we would love to have you. You can apply here and pay online.
Please note that all dog training, including course activities, are participated in at your own risk. AniEd, staff and trainers cannot accept any responsibility or liability for any injuries or losses sustained during course activities.
You are responsible for your dog’s safety and behaviour at all times and you are advised to ensure you have adequate pet or household insurance cover for liability in the unlikely event of damage or injury caused by your dog to property or to a third party
There can be no guarantees in terms of success with training and behaviour programs as there are so many variables affecting your dog’s behaviour and your success.
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