Category Archives: Top Training Tips

Ask, don’t tell

We have lots of words for cues (such as antecedents, discriminative stimuli, conditioned stimuli, SD), but one we certainly don’t like to use is ‘command’.

It’s not just semantics, words really do matter. Using the term ‘command’ brings a very different image to mind, one of confrontation and the notion that “you better do it, or else…”.

Cues are signals that let the animal know what happens contingent on certain behaviour. You smell yummy dinner smells, head into the kitchen, and get to eat your dinner. Can you pick out the cue that told you what to do, and why you do it?

It’s as simple as A-B-C! Antecedent (yummy smells) – Behaviour (going to the kitchen) – Consequence (eating a delicious dinner)

Cues are occurring in the environment all the time; learning is happening all the time. You are not necessarily required – the environment is training your dog (and you) all the time.

We tend to think of cues as verbal signals, but really, these are probably far down the list in terms of efficacy.

Can you think of things that happen that cue behaviour in your dog, or you?
What behaviour does the sight of the dog’s lead cue? How about the sound of the doorbell?
Here’s a hint: look at the behaviour that happens after the cue.


When we say that behaviour is in the environment, this is what we mean. Things happening around the animal tells them what to expect. Learning is about anticipation.

And because learning allows the animal to anticipate what’s about to happen, they can make choices based on that information. The way we train, allows the animal time and space to make those choices; there isn’t some aversive hanging over them should they make some other choice.

When cues are framed as questions, it’s easier to illustrate. I ask Decker to choose: will I tug the toy or would he prefer I throw it? Same toy, same set up, same human, different choices depending on his preference.

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Not only am I using cues, but he is also using cues. From his point of view, him, for example, keeping hold of that toy, cues me to tug.

Why an understanding of cues, as opposed to commands, is really important is that this is a process of communication. Cues open up that communication, where as commands put a stop to it. Cues are part of a two way discussion, rather than a one-way-telling-or else.

I ask, he answers. He asks, I answer.



A good walk spoiled

Lots and lots is changing around us and our dogs during lockdown and those changes are not coming to an end any time soon.


One constant, that seems to have become more and more popular, probably out of necessity, are suburban dog walks around housing estates, green areas and suburban parks. With lockdown fully in swing, everyone is limited in where they can take their dog for exercise. And it seems that everyone is getting out more often, with their dogs, at irregular and less predictable times.

With our beach trips and hikes outside the 2km restriction, Deck and I are walking in local suburban areas more than we ever have before.


But suburban walks are not all they have cracked up to be, and even when things are more normal, I don’t know that this is the most beneficial or even safest way to exercise many dogs.

Suburban walks are patrols

Let’s have a think about what suburban walks actually are; how do they function in the lives of dogs?

Prehistorically, these trips, with dogs accompanying their humans, likely served some specific functions; the outings were probably more goal oriented and survival related, rather than just for exercise or to get out of the house.
Dogs may have accompanied our ancestors on hunting and foraging trips, on security and boundary checks, monitoring prey and predator behaviour, territory inspections and so on.

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What about now? How do suburban walks function for dogs now? Looking at the sorts of behaviours they demonstrate while out might give us clues; walking about a regular route, sniffing, marking, (and probably some chasing in there too) seem to be the most regular behaviours observed.

That sure sounds like patrolling to me…

The dog moves from sniffing one marking spot to the next; sniffing, overmarking, move on, sniffing, overmarking, move on…


Getting wound up for walks

It’s no wonder that most dogs get pretty wound up before going out. A level of arousal (emotional excitement) will be necessary to prepare the dog for the challenges to come;  patrolling is a big deal and an important job, after all.

Preparing to patrol and then actually patrolling requires that the dog narrow their focus and prepare their body to do their ‘job’ and that resulting arousal can lead to lowered thresholds for aggressive responding and stress related behaviour.

If we add lots of physical exertion to these outings, the dog’s body is preparing for that too, and if your dog is fearful or “reactive”, they are preparing to face triggers and deal with all that drama on top of everything else.

All of this means that the dog’s stress responses are engaged and ready to go; they need to get psyched up to be ready for patrol.


Suburban Sniffs

Even at the best of times, I don’t think traditional dog walks, often more military style than dog centric, are the greatest approach to providing dogs with appropriate exercise.

Instead of a walk, make it a suburban SNIFF!

Make it all about sniffing, rather than prioritising distance covered, steps counted or specific routes. Sniffing for a long time, as long as possible and as long as they need to.

But, this can be difficult to maintain in a more calming way in suburbia. The dog moves from marking to marking, many will be recent urine-marks so quite exciting, and there is one after another in quick succession.
You will have seen your dog move from sniff to sniff, quite quickly. This ramps up the excitement, one sniff after another.

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A Good Walk

Suburbia has changed; it’s more built up and more people seem to have new and young dogs. Pet owners want to be able to walk their dogs around their neighbourhood, but this might not work for all dogs in all neighbourhoods.

This suburban-walking business is certainly a challenge for dogs, and even more so now when there are more people out walking and it is harder to find regular quieter times and places.

  • start off calmer by making sure that the dog is comfortable with wearing walking gear and by teaching cooperative behaviours to have gear fitted; more here.

For example,

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  • change their expectations by establishing sniffing stations outside the door – instead of forging out all gung-ho, they learn  to check for a sniffing station:

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  • teach an alternative behaviour to door-bursting:

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  • Teach your dog the Go Find It! game…no, seriously, you need this game.

Use this to improve loose leash walking behaviour. Start with a “Go Find It!” and toss every couple of steps to prevent your dog ever pulling. As they start to watch you in anticipation, you can build the number of steps between each cue.

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You might play just to get the dog to a point where they can walk a little more calmly or to get the dog by distractions, for example.

Play when a dog or other trigger appears; cue Go Find It! and toss rewards away from the trigger; keep tossing to keep them moving on, if required.

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  • Always scoop the poop and dispose of the poop appropriately, even if that means carrying it to a bin or taking it home with you.
  • Give your dog more space from people than you usually might. People are, to your dog, behaving strangely right now. They might be wearing masks, engaging in exercise, stretching, breathing heavily, appearing or catching up quickly more so than before.
    Joggers and cyclists can help themselves and dogs out too by giving dogs and dog walkers plenty of space, especially when approaching from behind; dogs are easily startled by people quickly and suddenly appearing from behind, in their peripheral vision, and may lunge, bark or even bite with fright.

    #Socialdistancing is very much appreciated by dogs!


  • prevent problem boundary behaviour at home too; triggers like other dogs and people may be passing your windows and gates more often at the moment.
    Close blinds, supervise your dog, keep them on lead, give them stuffables and puzzles to work on in relation to access to front windows.

    It’s very difficult to manage your dog’s reactions if they have unsupervised access to gates and boundaries. At the very least, use visual barriers, such as tarp on gates, to limit the dog’s view of passers-by.

    Getting frustrated at boundaries may affect the dog’s behaviour in real-life interactions with triggers so preventing the establishment of this behaviour is important right now.

    If you are passing a house where there is a dog at the boundary, move on quickly and keep your dog from staring too much.


Practice good etiquette:

Dogs have in-built social rules, especially in relation to unfamiliar dogs. These are often in contrast to what humans want or think should be done. For this, you gotta be more dog.

  • Walking head on, straight toward one another is not polite in dog. Help your dog be polite, while also helping them to be calmer around other dogs; don’t walk straight toward one another, especially on narrow paths.
    Because there is less traffic, cross the street rather than approaching head on. Alternatively, turn and walk in the other direction, walk in an arc, or even move up a driveway or behind a parked car, to allow the others to pass. Be polite!
  • It is very rude for one dog to stare at another, especially hard staring for a distance. Don’t allow your dog to stare at another passing or approaching dog; move them along, change direction, divert their attention (the Go Find It! game works well here too!)
  • Do not allow your dog approach any other dog, person, child, or anything, unless attention and interaction is welcomed and solicited. It doesn’t matter if that other dog is on or off lead and it doesn’t matter if you think your dog is “friendly”.
    We would not think other unfamiliar humans friendly if they ran up to us and tried to force us into interacting.
    Your dog isn’t being friendly if they ignore that the other dog is trying to avoid an interaction or ignore signalling from another dog aiming to slow down an interaction. That is being rude. Help your dog be polite.


  • Give dogs space from one another. Dogs were cool with social distancing before it was a hashtag and way of being for humans.
    Unfamiliar dogs like to take some time to assess the other and to evaluate a potential interaction.
    It’s normal for adult dogs to largely ignore other adult dogs – they might glance over and go back about their business, they might mark and leave, they might even have a brief sniff (3-5 seconds) and move on. Normal.
    Wanting to stare at, stalk, approach every other dog(or human) is not friendly and it is certainly not an indication of a well-socialised dog.
  • Be the fun. You and your dog are in this together; be the fun and entertainment for your dog; encourage them to sniff and interact with their environment and be part of that. With you is where your dog gets their jollies.


Keep activities on walks lower key – it’s already super exciting to be out in the world. Patrolling. You don’t need to add that much more excitement.

Bring your dog to places that encourage longer sniffs, rather than relentless moving from one brief sniff to the next.
Encourage your dog to hang out, rather than move on; redirect them to sniffing slowly, methodically and more casually, rather than moving on and ramping up.

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Play sniffing games to encourage problem solving and focus on something other than the goings on:

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Stop regularly to take a break and snuffle:

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Whose walk is it anyway?

Since lockdowns have been put in place, one of the few outlets available for people have been walks in their local area. Pet owners have rejoiced and brought their dogs out with them; in some cases this has been unusual and a new thing for dogs.

If you want to speed walk or dawdle, if you want to stop and chat, if you want to read your phone or listen to music, maybe do that without the dog.

Make sure the dog’s walks are more dog; take time to let them sniff at will, engage with them, and keep them from becoming frustrated with human behaviour.


Dogs are different now

Ancient dogs probably had a whole lot more choice in their day to day lives than do our modern pets; they may have wandered largely at will so outings with humans were likely supplementary rather than being the central focus and highlight of each day for the dog.
Their patrols, and lifestyle outside of patrolling, were different.


Dogs today are largely socially isolated from other dogs and humans (but probably not so much, right now), they live pretty under-enriched lives but expectations, of their behaviour, have never been higher.

Just a few short decades ago, dogs were not required to be confined to their owner’s properties, they had company most of the day as in most families, one person worked in the home, and the population of dogs was different.

Most of the dogs in a local area had been born and bred there, or somewhere similar, from parents who had been born and bred there. This is relatively rare now, with people buying pedigree or intentionally bred dogs that come with more specific requirements or adopting rescue dogs that may have other specialist requirements.

The tendencies and skills dogs need to inherit AND develop to cope well with all that suburbia throws at them, may be elusive in lots of dogs.
People placing dogs, in whatever context, need to carefully consider this, as do prospective pet owners. If suburban walks are largely what you are offering, very very careful thought and planning needs to be in place for the right dog.
Dogs, even puppies, are not just clean slates that we can bend and mold to our will.

Right now, the impacts of suburban walks are heightened, but dogs, to survive these patrols at ‘normal times’, still need special skills. 

Pet owners are different too. A social media explosion in dog popularity has contributed to real dog behaviour and real expectations of dog behaviour becoming lost, or at least romanticised.
This idea that all dogs should be frolicking in Utopian daycares, groups or dog parks is just plain damaging.

Sue Sternberg has a great saying, something along the lines of “Reactive dogs are born, and also made, by other people’s “friendly” dogs.” (if you have a better memory than I, or remember the source, please correct me).
Letting your dog become magnetised to other dogs and allowing them carte-blanche with every other dog and in groups of dogs might not be helping you and may not be beneficial to your dog’s behavioural health, certainly long term.

The world is different and it’s more different to just a couple of months ago. Getting back to ‘normal’ will be a culture shock for everyone, including our dogs.
Let’s make sure we help them now, preventing more serious stuff down the line.

Lockdown Challenges: “reactivity”

With your dog’s routine being very different and the world around them very different, this lack of predictability and control may cause them to become stressed easily, and more sensitive to changes and triggers.


Stress busting activities, including lots of sniffing, will help. But the best thing is for you to make sure your dog gets lots of space from potential triggers.

This is preventative right now so that we can avoid bigger problems later on.

Stay safe & well!

Practice the Go Find It! game for so many benefits and applications:

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For lots more detail on helping your dog during these strange times: On Lockdown

As always, #100daysofenrichmentis available and offers a wide range of activities for your and your pet. Check it out!

Lockdown Challenges: Kids & K9s

Children and dogs cooped up together, as I am sure you can imagine, may lead to inappropriate interactions and negative associations being formed.

Active supervision means that you are actively interacting with and directly monitoring the children and the dog, and their interactions and activities.


If you can’t do that, it’s safer to separate.

Keep interactions low-key, and teach children and dogs to share space by providing them each with appropriate activities to keep them entertained.

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Stay safe & well!

For lots more detail on helping your dog during these strange times: On Lockdown

As always, #100daysofenrichmentis available and offers a wide range of activities for your and your pet. Check it out!


Lockdown Challenges: environmental exposure

Appropriate social exposure isn’t the only thing that dogs must have; dogs must also have lots of appropriate environmental exposure too.

Young dogs, particularly, require appropriate challenges to facilitate brain development.

#100daysofenrichment offers you lots of ideas and guidance to do this right so take a look at those challenges.
Consider setting up adventures for your dog, every day, even if you don’t leave the house; guidance on Adventure Time here.

Stay safe and well!

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For lots more detail on helping your dog during these strange times: On Lockdown

As always, #100daysofenrichmentis available and offers a wide range of activities for your and your pet. Check it out!

Lockdown Challenges: make sniff happen

While you might not be able to provide your dog with their usual level of entertainment right now, there are lots of ways to make sniff happen.

Sniffing is great exercise, mentally and physically, and can easily be provided in your home and out and about.


Check out these awesome sniffing challenges:

Learn to use an extendable lead or long line safely and appropriately:

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For lots more detail on helping your dog during these strange times: On Lockdown

As always, #100daysofenrichmentis available and offers a wide range of activities for your and your pet. Check it out!

Lockdown Challenges: alone time

At some point, life will be returning to something that more resembles normality. That might cause your dog great distress, as they are really getting used to being around you a lot more right now.

You might have already noticed some changes to your dog’s behaviour as a result of changes to routine, lack of predictability, family members around all the time, boredom and so on (much like ourselves).

Your dog might be following you about the house like a velcro-dog, they might vocalise when you leave the room, even briefly, or they might be more restless than normal.


Set up a safe resting place for your dog. Make sure they have the best stuffables and chews there.

Sit beside them, reading and relaxing for example, and establish this as a place they can chill out. Comfort must be established first, before you can add separations.

When they can relax with you right beside them, you can begin to add separations gradually.
Increments might include:

  • stand up and sit down
  • stand up and move about the room, return to your seat and sit down
  • stand up and go to the door, return to your seat and sit down
  • stand up, go to the door, and touch the handle, return to your seat and sit down
  • stand up, go to the door, open and close the door immediately, return to your seat and sit down
  • stand up, step out the door and back in immediately, return to your seat and sit down
  • stand up, step out the door close it behind you for a beat, return to your seat and sit down
  • stand up, step out the door close it behind you count to 3, return to your seat and sit down
  • stand up, step out the door close it behind you and build the time little by little, return to your seat and sit down

The goal is that your dog remains relatively relaxed and comfortable. You can set them up with something yummy like a stuffed toy to work on.

If they get up to follow you or otherwise become worried, just sit back down, talk to them softly and encourage them to go back to their stuffable.

This clip shows graduated separations with a puppy in a crate with a Kong; we are essentially checking at which level puppy is comfortable, or not. That information allows us to establish a starting point and highlight stages that will require extra work and time.

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You don’t need to use a crate at all and if you prefer, you don’t need to use a stuffed toy or food rewards.

Set up a settle context for your dog, so that they can get sufficient rest and learn to be calm in a particular set up.

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You can use this to add incremental separations too.

If your dog can remain relatively comfortable with you leaving the house, try to maintain the same leaving routine you use normally. For example, the sequence in which you get ready to leave, the words you use to say good-bye, how and where you leave your dog.

Using this routine, leave your dog for short times, every day, like it’s no big deal.

Go to another room, go on an essential trip, go outside and sit in your car. Leave your dog for a duration with which they are comfortable and build that incrementally a little every day.

Try to keep some parts of your dog’s routine in place as best as possible, such as their normal bed time routine.

And because routines might be all over the place, bring your dog for extra toilet breaks, just in case.

Stay safe & well!

alone time

For lots more detail on helping your dog during these strange times: On Lockdown

As always, #100daysofenrichmentis available and offers a wide range of activities for your and your pet. Check it out!


Lockdown Challenges: odd humans

People might be behaving oddly, to your dogs, at the moment. Anything that changes someone’s appearance, particularly their face, might cause dogs concern.

Wear a mask at home, briefly and have a treat-party! Put the mask on and immediately shower them with treats. Remove the mask and the treats go away.

And when out, give your dog lots and lots of space from passers-by, especially those wearing masks.

To create distance, turn and walk the other direction, walk in a wide arc around others or even move up a driveway or behind a parked car to allow them to pass.

Teach your dog that they can get distance from scary things without having to bark or lunge, or feel frightened.

Stay safe & well!


For lots more detail on helping your dog during these strange times: On Lockdown

As always, #100daysofenrichmentis available and offers a wide range of activities for your and your pet. Check it out!

Lockdown Challenges

COVID-19 restrictions are not being lifted any time soon so we must continue to help our dogs cope with the resulting changes and prepare for what’s to come.

On a day to day basis, help your dog maintain some sort of routine and prepare them for when life goes back to normal.
Keep their bedtime routine intact and bring them for a spin in the car regularly, for example.
Lots more tips to come…

Stay safe & well!

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For lots more detail on helping your dog during these strange times: On Lockdown

As always, #100daysofenrichmentis available and offers a wide range of activities for your and your pet. Check it out!

On Lockdown

How’s everybody doing? It’s a pretty weird time, to say the least!

This upheaval, uncertainty and change is not just causing stress for humans, but for our dogs too.

Suddenly everyone is home a lot, morning routines are very different (or non-existent), there is little respite from family activity, children are around a lot and full of life, and cabin fever is setting in throughout the household.
Even the outside world has changed considerably with few people in places that once were crowded and more people and activity in places that used to be quiet.

This sort of sudden change to things that greatly affect them, and their routine, really does blow canine minds.

And, things don’t seem to be going back to normal any time soon.


Creatures of Habit.

Dogs like routine. Predictability and controllability are the keys to animals feeling comfortable and to reducing stress.

Think about the sorts of behaviours we are seeing in our fellow humans right now, such as panic buying, hoarding essentials and even competing with one another for toilet roll. This is pretty much resource guarding and associated with high-stress. When we lose predictability and controlability, we try to control what we can.


Just like us at this time, when things are in a constant state of flux, with unexpected changes popping up regularly, dogs may become worried, displaying behaviour associated with stress and anxiety.

  • maintain some of your regular routine as much as possible such as your dog’s meal times, or chill out time in the evenings
  • bring your dog for regular toilet breaks – changes to routine can upset toileting, especially in young dogs
  • try to keep your dog’s bed-time routine the same
  • establish a safe resting place for your dog, where they will not be disturbed or approached
  • make sure your dog gets plenty of opportunity for rest, away from the action so that they can actually rest and switch off for a while

If you notice changes to your dog’s behaviour, even if you think those changes may be attributed to all this chaos, the first port of call is your vet. Contact your dog’s veterinary practice and ask them about procedures for attending for appointments, making enquiries and so on.
(You can read more on preparing your dog for stress-reduced vet visits here: Vet Ready!)

Get in touch with us to discuss your dog’s behaviour; we have lots of remote and in-person options available to you.

Home Alone.

Over the last week or so, more and more people are working from home, staying home to mind children, or sadly, losing their job (hopefully only temporarily). This means that, all of a sudden, lots of dogs’ nearest and dearest are available and accessible a lot of the time.

Maybe dogs are behind all this crazy stuff after all…


While in the short term that’s certainly a good thing and very beneficial to dogs, who are likely basking in your company, this might make going back to normal (whatever that will be) quite difficult.

Suddenly leaving them alone for extended periods in the weeks or months ahead will be another change that dogs might find difficult to handle.

  • as much as possible, try to leave your dog alone for even short periods most days, even if you just go out the front and sit in your car for twenty minutes
  • establish a leaving-routine that tells them they will be settled with something yummy to work on while you go briefly and return – how long you go is set by your dog’s comfort levels
  • set up a safe-place for your dog to settle in when you are there too

If your dog has difficulty with spending time separated from you or alone, get in touch and we can help you remotely or in-person.

Out and about

Since the lockdown, of effectively the entire country, was announced, public parks, beaches and many public spaces have suddenly become one of the few places people can go to for exercise, for a break from the house, to bring children and for entertainment.

And because normal routines have been turned on their heads, it’s busy at different times than usual, and it’s harder to predict when it might be quiet.


Lots of dogs are more comfortable when they can have some space from passers-by, joggers, kids, other dogs, traffic and other potential triggers. This may be more difficult right now.

Taking your dog for a relatively peaceful sniff is terribly difficult at the moment and that can further affect your dog’s stress levels, both out of the house and indoors.

  • do your best to choose quieter times and places for outings
  • give your dog as much space as possible from others
  • be a responsible dog walker and don’t allow your dog to approach, run up to, jump on others without their consent – that includes other dogs.
    With stress heightened at this time, other dogs might not be quite so tolerant of social faux pas.
    There is no reason for a dog to approach or engage with others, without solicitation, just as it would be poor etiquette for humans. Your dog is not just being friendly.
  • lots of joggers and lots of children running around may be difficult for many dogs who may exhibit behaviour associated with over-excitement, discomfort and distance increasing, all of which indicates the dog is experiencing a level of stress they are finding difficult to deal with
  • use a long line or extendable lead, appropriately, so that your dog can roam and sniff, but you can still safely control them when needed
  • get more value out of outings by introducing lots of sniffing tasks, engagement games and exploration

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  • always scoop the poop!

What do we do about puppies?

It is vitally important that puppies and young dogs have continuous and appropriate social exposure and environmental experience. During the first months of life, the brain of the young dog is more open to novel experiences and flexible in their ability to develop comfort.

If they don’t have this support, they may not be able to develop coping skills required in later life. It really is that crucial.

Our approach to puppy education, is holistic with us introducing all sorts of exercises to help prepare puppy for life in many ways. But here, we will just discuss providing puppy with appropriate social exposure, particularly in relation to other people, right now.

This is a tricky time as movement is so restricted and it’s important that we stick to the guidelines provided by the HSE and other government agencies.

That means visitors to your house, to help prepare puppy, are going to be very limited, if there will be any at all. It also may mean that you have fewer opportunities to visit others and their dogs, who may also help.

Because main streets in towns and shopping centres may be somewhat quieter, bringing puppies these places works out better as the dog gets a less overwhelming experience due to crowds and hustle.
Indeed, at this time, park land and forest walks may actually be too overwhelming while lots and lots of people flock there instead.

While this is often discussed in relation to puppies in their first four months of life, continued careful social and environmental exposure is important for young dogs in general. Even if a young puppy had wonderful experiential exposure early on, if this is interrupted or discontinued, they may still experience problems associated with poor early exposure when they are adults.

  • bring your young dog for a short car trip everyday
  • hang out in car parks, with the dog secured safely in the car, and let them sniff the air and watch the comings and goings

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  • working within the guidelines laid out, bring your young dog to quieter places and play engagement games

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  • play dress-up at home – wear wellies, hats, sunglasses, long coats; one at a time rather than all at once.

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  • play doorbell games

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It’s not a good idea to let your young dog be pet or handled by others as this may be a source of infection. Instead work on people watching (or dog watching).

“Socialisation” is NOT about your young dog getting to meet, interact or play with every person or dog that appears. This just leads to magnetisation, and problems later on. Instead, make good things available when other people and dogs show up so your dog learns that others are a positve and that YOU make the magic happen, so they are more interested in you than in everything else.

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The right time

It’s not all doom and gloom. With the right level of careful management and taking some proactive steps, this will go a long way to making sure your dog is OK through all this.



To help keep spirits up and to take advantage of this time at home with your pets, we have started another run of #100daysofenrichment

You can join at any time and this program will help you to provide tons of entertainment for your dog (and you). This is essentially a 100 day ‘training’ program, with hundreds of challenges all designed to help improve behavioural health. And it’s all free!

Doorbell Games

Because there will be a lull in people coming to the door, this is also a great time to play lots of Doorbell Games with your dog. This helps them learn more appropriate behaviour when the doorbell goes, meaning their response is easier to manage.
You will have better control of the doorbell sound as there are less likely to be random callers at this time.

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#100daysofenrichment presents so much of this and more including covering things like greetings, husbandry and grooming, recall, engagement, play, loose leash walking, puzzles, sniffing and much much more.

Kids & K9s

With parents up and down the country attempting to homeschool, while also work from home, keep everyone safe, run the house and provide children with lots of entertainment, this is certainly challenging.


Children being home a lot is not just a change to your dog’s routine, but also means that the dog doesn’t get to rest when the house is quiet and might not have the opportunity to take a break from interactions and activity.

The kids are probably experiencing serious cabin fever at this point, along with lots of the adults too, so they might be a little more rambunctious than usual. And being home most of the time, under one roof, might add a significant amount of stress to a dog’s day to day life.


Stressed dogs and rambunctious kids can be a recipe for disaster.

Now that everyone might be busier at home, dogs may not get quite as much exercise, entertainment or attention as usual, and that can be a further stressor, on top of everything else.

Stress has cumulative effects on behaviour; for example, changes in routine, on top of primary care givers being present all the time, lots of activity, possibly less rest, less space to escape the action, all adds up.
In dog training, we refer to this as trigger stacking and it can contribute to dogs showing unwanted or unsafe behaviour.

We have entire Kids & K9s programs to help with everything from baby prep to juggling children and dogs; more here.


Make sure to directly and actively supervise all child-dog interactions. I know it’s hard to monitor everything that’s going on in the house, especially right now. But, when you can’t supervise, separate.

Set up a quiet place for your dog, where he can rest, have all his stuff and where he won’t be disturbed. In a spot where the dog won’t be approached, where children can’t access and so that you can relax, just a little, too.

While supervision has become a mantra when it comes to dogs and kids, clarity is required. What does the adult need to do to supervise safely?


Talking dog

Supervision is only helpful if you have an understanding of how dogs communicate their discomfort, when they need help and want a break from the action.

To learn more on ‘talking dog’, check out these excellent resources:

And if you really want to learn more about canine communication: clip here and here.

The Ladder of Aggression shows the escalation in signalling a dog might demonstrate to request some time and space from an interaction, as their stress increases. If the dog’s more subtle and polite signals (green and yellow on the ladder) are not responded to appropriately, the dog’s discomfort will escalate and climb the ladder.


Children are very unlikely to read dogs accurately, and therefore might not respond appropriately when the dog is uncomfortable.

Teach your dog that you will always listen to his more polite signals, so he never feels the need to escalate.

Aside from these behaviours on the Ladder, other behaviours may be of concern if they are carried out in the presence of a child, in relation to a child’s belongings, and/or during and/or just after interaction with a child:

  • yawning, blinking, turning their head away
  • dog very still, deliberately not interacting with the child
  • licking the child, even just once
  • caching behaviour à attempting to hide or hoard belongings; directing this behaviour toward the child (the dog might try to push a child’s blanket with their nose, for example, and it’s often mistaken for ‘tucking the child in’)
  • sniffing nappies, intense interest in the child
  • taking food or toys from the child
  • urinating (marking) in the presence of the child, or on or near their belongings
  • changes in behaviour or behaviours seen in the presence of the child, and related goings on
  • the dog removing itself from the child
  • humping the child, or in the presence of the child
  • zoomies, bowing or pouncing toward child (often misinterpreted as play behaviour)
  • dog is chasing the child, or the dog is jumping up toward a child

These behaviours of concern are demonstrated, by the dog, because he needs space. This is functional behaviour – distance increasing or distance seeking behaviours.

If the dog cannot get distance, or time, from an interaction they will experience distress and many of these behaviours are associated with the dog seeking a way of dealing with that stress.

stress signals

Generally, normal baby and child behaviour is very exciting and often overwhelming to dogs.
The changes that are ongoing at the moment, on top of the presence of children for longer periods may be all too much for normal functioning.
This lowers dogs’ stress thresholds, making them more sensitive to triggers for stress, which may often include interactions with and the behaviour of children.


Management is important for dog-child safety:

  • to prevent adult mistakes, especially in relation to supervision (parents might be busy and have a million things on their minds so of course, may be distracted easily!)
  • to prevent the child practicing inappropriate behaviour toward and around the dog
  • to prevent the dog being put in a situation that causes him to feel uncomfortable around kids – every interaction the dog has is informing his attitude toward children…we must make sure we are building happy, calm, pleasant associations between the dog and children
  • to prevent the dog learning to behave inappropriately around children – if the dog isn’t happy, calm and loose, remove him from the interaction
  • to prevent inappropriate interaction between dog and child, especially where there is a risk posed to either or both – let’s keep it pleasant, for life-long friendships


Management might include:

  • separating dog and child, by a closed, locked door where necessary
  • take the dog with you so as not to leave the child and dog alone
  • have the dog drag a lead or houseline so that he can be easily restrained or removed – make sure he drags the lead only when supervised, otherwise they might chew it or become tangled
  • confine the dog safely
  • instruct children to play carefully around the dog – provide constant supervision and guidance to help children develop appropriate skills (it’s not enough just to tell them “no” or to tell them once) – tell the child what you would like them to do
  • give the dog plenty of downtime from the action, some place quiet and calm
  • extra care is required with children’s friends who may not know the rules
  • escape routes for the dog so he can access resources e.g. his food, bed, and so that he can get away from the interaction and activity – especially when the child is active
    Be aware of Grumble Zones!
  • teach children how to touch dogs gently and help dogs learn to enjoy this type of appropriate contact
  • never force contact between children and dogs
  • make sure good things happen when children are around dogs – so scolding or telling the dog off shouldn’t be happening around children
  • giving dogs plenty of space from the child, their toys and baby equipment, especially if it’s big, moving or noisy

Separation is a good thing and can give everyone a break – your dog can take a break away from children and you can have a break from supervision. Separation is especially important when children are being particularly active, running around, jumping or wrestling, or on the floor – that’s the time the dog can go settle in their quiet place for a break.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Interactions

appropriate interactions


Never allow children:

  • lean on the dog
  • climb on the dog
  • sit too close/crowd the dog
  • sit or lie on the dog
  • hug the dog
  • handle or manipulate the dog
  • tease or chase the dog
  • take things from the dog
  • scold the dog

2020-03-21 (1)Concerning situations:

  • the dog has food, a chew, toy or other possessions
  • the dog is active, especially if a larger dog
  • the child is on the floor and/or active
  • there is more than one child, or more than one dog
  • the dog is sleeping or resting
  • tight spaces
  • difficult for the dog to find an escape route
    (dogs may find it difficult to move away from a bonded person like an adult or parent)

 Rules of engagement

Teach and model appropriate interactions with dogs:

  • wait for the dog to approach you – don’t call or lure and don’t go to the dog, especially when they are resting, eating or chewing
  • when the dog comes over, reach to pet them on their shoulder, side or chest – not their head or neck
  • one hand on the dog at a time
  • pet or interact for a three count (1-2-3) and then withdraw hands to ask the dog if they would like more; repeat only if the dog wants more

Clip link

Teach children to Be A Tree:

This is especially important to prevent the dog jumping up and biting at clothes or feet.
This also helps prevent dogs learning to associate chasing and high excitement with children.
As soon as the dog approaches, be a tree!
be a tree

To help reduce jumping up, mouthing or chasing, teach kids and dogs to play follow me/freeze:

Clip link

 Activities for kids and dogs

The suitability of ideas will largely be related to the child’s age, developmental stage and interests so adjust accordingly.

Lots of the challenges set over #100daysofenrichment are kid-friendly and most of the instruction is in video form so kids can easily take part, with adult guidance and supervision.

  • teach kids to toss food rewards for dogs, rather than hand it to them to reduce the need for contact between small hands and teeth
  • flat palm delivery will need to be guided – children need help with developing the skills and coordination to deliver treats safely, and that’s why tossing is better
  • the same goes for toys so the adult takes the toy from the dog and gives to the child to toss or kick and playing games, where the dog is focused on the toy, are best
  • teach children how to prepare the dog’s food, fill their water bowl, get enrichment challenges and puzzles ready
  • there are simple training exercises that can be wonderful for children to work on like hand targeting, capturing polite behaviours in the kitchen and at the table

Clip link

Clip link

Clip link

  • draw up charts so that kids can monitor dog care tasks, behaviour or training exercises – kids love to keep an eye on the adults in the house and keep everyone on track!
    Children love to train the adults:

Clip link

  • if safe, children can accompany an adult and dog on walks and outings

Some great child-dog resources


Stay well!

AniEd wishes you all the best during this challenging time. Little refinements to your dog’s daily life can help with all these lifestyle changes that dogs are so likely to find distressing.

We are here to help with your dog’s behaviour through all this and are available for in-person and virtual help.