12 Step Guide to the perfect dog

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  1. Have you ever heard the expression Practice makes perfect? Well with dogs this isn't entirely true, in actual fact practice makes permanent!

    The more your dog practices a certain behaviour the better they will get at doing it and the more ingrained the behaviour will become.

    Lets look at some examples:

    Every day when I walk my dogs I go past a house where their collie races to the front window and throws himself at the window barking at my dogs walking past. It's quite a popular dog walking route so how many times a day is this dog practicing this barking and lunging at other dogs? The owner might be suprised when his dog starts barking and lunging at other dogs out on walks too. But I won't be, I would be more suprised if the dog doesn't develop this behaviour further.

    How about the dog that runs off with shoes, tea towels or other household objects?

    How about the dog that jumps up at visitors when they arrive?

    With problem behaviours, the more they get the oportunity to practice them the better they will get at them and the harder it will be to stop them.

    So what should we do I hear you ask?

    The first step in changing a dogs behaviour is the prevent them from practicing the behaviour we don't want them to do.

    So for the dog that barks when dogs/people walk past the house, block off access to the front window so they can't see the dogs walking past, for the dog that greets people by jumping up put them on the lead when visitors come round so they can't jump up. For the dog that runs off with household objects, tidy the house and put things out of your dogs reach.

    Now bear in mind this is not changing the dogs behaviour for the long term, this is a mangement tool. We are simply preventing the dog from practicing the behaviour we want to stop and as a result we prevent them getting better at the behaviour we don't like.

    If you stop at this step then they next time a visitor arrives and the dog is running free they will jump up, as we haven't trained them not to, we have simply stopped them practicing it for a time.

    Step 2 Settle on Bed Animation

    The next step is to teach the dog not to do the behaviour we don't like, the easiest way is to teach an incompatible behaviour to our dogs, which we will then ask them to do instead of the inappropriate behaviour.

    So for the dog that runs off with household objects, teach them to fetch at toy instead, if they are busy fetching a toy they can't be running off with the tea towel.

    For the dog that barks at dogs walking past the house, teach them to hold a toy whilst looking out of the window, with a toy in their mouth they can't bark.

    For a dog that jumps up at guests when they arrive, teach them to sit on their bed, if they are sitting on a bed they cant jump up.

    So we choose a behaviour that if they perform this instead they simply cannot engage in the problem behaviour. As a result we retrain a good behaviour in place of the once we don't want.

    Its not that easy......

    So some of you might now try to get your dog to go to his bed when visitors come round, he won't do it so we say the training doesnt work and stop. But what is happening is the situation of visitors coming round is far to exciting for your dog to concentrate.

    When teaching a new behaviour we never start training in the situation we want the dog to perform in, this is far too hard.

    Start easy, train your dog when no visitors are around, teach them to go to their bed when its quiet and all is calm. As your dog gets good at the new task, gradually build up the level of difficulty over time. Once your dog can handle lots of distractions then attempt the exercise when visitors come round, but only srat with one visitor and build up, again slowly over time.

    Author: Gill Williams, Senior Behaviour Counsellor


  2. Spring has started and it appears that the good weather has too. Everyone has their favourite pastimes; the light nights and warmer weather enables me and many others to enjoy one of mine - Dog Walking.

    Although daily dog walks are part of everyone's routine; to me there is a big difference from walking round the local streets and a trip to nearby woodland, beach or other rural setting.riggs and jess

    Personally, I enjoy the woods. I don’t know what it is specifically about the setting that I enjoy most but I do love the woodland smells, the shaded light and the overall feeling of being contained by the wood skyscrapers. In a previous life I could well have been one of Robin’s merry men!

    The walk is not just for me, as such it is important that the feeling of joy is reciprocated by my Dog Riggs.  As you can see him and Jess look fairly happy. (Excuse the alien eyes)


    Just last weekend I was able to take advantage of some spare time and Riggs and I walked Penyghent in the Yorkshire Dales. I love the slight challenge that goes with a walk like this; you actually feel as if you have achieved something at the end.

    riggs pg1


    On a personal note, I am delighted I can complete activities like this with Riggs, as he has already had two operations in his short life; the first of these left him paralysed for a number of days.

    I am very much of the opinion that a short exciting life would be far greater than a longer one with seldom enjoyment. I know that if Riggs could answer, he would also say the same. There is nothing he likes more than running around in the countryside, especially if his best friend Jess can be there too.


    Myself and Gill would love to know the walks that you suggest others should try. Peoples circumstances are all different. Some have more time than others, people all have different fitness levels and even our dogs  have different needs.


    It would be fantastic to hear some variety; where can you take a dog that is not fantastic with other dogs? What about a full day out with the family? How about a short walk that is convenient but has all the ingredients of a lovely rural ramble?

    In weeks and months to come, Oakwood will be running weekend social walks; aimed at people who have social dogs. You will be able to ask training questions on the move in a real life setting and also mix and mingle with like minded people.

    Hopefully we will have plenty of walks and routes with the help of you.


    All the best, Steve.


  3. When looking to rescue a dog; why is it some people expect one that is ready made, a perfect fit for their life? They are then happy to return them to the rescue centre when they don’t do what is expected of them. The worst thing is; dogs have been brought back after a few days, with the owner claiming to have tried everything to get the dog to understand. Tried everything, in a few days!??? Worse, the dog is brought back after a few months with the owner having tried nothing to help their behaviour improve.

    Why are our expectations of our dogs so high? 

    Spending a lot of time with many different dogs over a number of years, you will naturally develop an understanding of how they communicate and how to train them to do as you ask.... Or will you? It seems in relation to dogs, everyone is an expert. If you are having a problem with your dog, fellow dog owners will readily tell you how to deal with it – ‘shout at him, he needs to know he has done wrong’ or ‘get a rattle can and shake it at him every time he is naughty’ – They need to know who the boss is!

    The biggest problem is being a dog owner does not make you an expert! Being a car owner doesn’t give me the knowledge to be able to tell someone how to fix their car. For each skill we learn, we have to undergo learning in theory and practice to become an expert.  Understanding how to train dogs and how they learn is not easy and can be extremely difficult…. Just because it worked for one dog, doesn’t mean it will work for the next.

    A big problem?

    In 2013 it was recorded that 8.5 million dogs live in the UK and that 1 in 4 households have a dog. That is a lot of dogs and it only seems fair that these beloved animals, which we are responsible for breeding are given the time and understanding they deserve.

    If someone was to get a new hobby, they would expect to spend time learning the basics; developing their knowledge and understanding of how to do the activity. They would expect to seek guidance on how to do it correctly.

    As an example, let us consider an individual who is learning to play golf. A sensible way to approach this new pastime would be-

    • Having a lesson from a professional, someone who has studied the game and knows it inside out. They would be shown the fundamentals and encouraged to practice.
    • After the lesson the person returns to their local driving range and practices hitting balls into an open field
    • After more practice and a handful of lessons, the novice plays their first round on a golf course.
    • Once the individual has calmed down from their highly frustrating first attempt, of getting that little white ball into a hole the size of a tea cup, they return and repeat the process again.
    • Months go by and the frustration from their lack of ability reduces and the pleasure from improvement flourishes.

    The person has been through a cycle; a process which occurs every time someone sets upon a new task and sticks with it through the early, normally difficult stages.

    The point is, it would be unrealistic for anyone to turn their hand to something new and expect to be brilliant at it straight away. Things take time, patience, dedication and desire before the fruits of one's labour come to pass. So why does this rarely happen with dogs?

    They are real and need the guidance from humans to direct them and show them the right path. Would it be reasonable to expect a dog to understand what you require of it within a few weeks of bringing it home? It is incredible how many puppy owners tell their dog to do something and they have only had it for one week, how on earth can a puppy be expected to understand what the world requires of it within a week of bringing it home? Even up to 6 months of age, owners can be adamant that ‘they know how to do this’ ‘why are they ignoring me?’

    Are children expected to be able to read and write within a few weeks of starting to learn, no! So why have such high expectations for our canine companions?

    For dogs that have lived with people in the past, you are not their first home. They have already received learning experiences on what is acceptable and what isn’t. These may be different to what you expect from your dog. Some dogs will have had no training whatsoever and will be viewed by most as out of control. However they are simply lacking in guidance.

    Let’s gets specific: - A previous owner may not have taught the dog that weeing in the house was not ok, yet, the new dog is then immediately told off for weeing in the house. The dog has no idea this wasn’t ok!

    Dogs don’t have the same understanding of situations that humans do and to treat them as such is unfair. What if the previous owner of a dog thought jumping up was ok? The dog will do what he has always been allowed to do. If he is then shouted at, how confused will he be?

    jumping dog

    Taking on a new dog is a big responsibility; they need to be given time to learn the new rules. They need to be taught what is ok and what isn’t in a way they understand. Shouting at a dog is not an effective way to tell it what to do, for a start they don’t understand the English language, so have no idea what is being said. Taking on a dog from another person requires time, patience and understanding. An understanding that the dog will become what you make it….

    The reason for this post is the continued struggle we have rescuing and re-homing dogs. The importance of understanding the dog’s needs and the time and patience they require is stressed upon straight away at the first stage of the adoption process, which is the viewing.  The known problems of the dog are outlined and it is made clear we are there for support. The required training for the behaviour issues is explained and we will talk through the known history of the dog. It is made clear the process won’t be easy and the new dog will take months to settle into their new home.

    All this said; there are still too many occasions where adoptions fall through because the 'learning cycle' above (golf analogy) is not followed. One or more parts are neglected and as such the situation crumbles. Owners expect dogs to fit into their lifestyle straight away and give them no guidance on how to change their behaviour. As a result the dog gets brought back to the rescue centre, through no fault of its own. Simply because the expectations of the new owner were too high and little or no training was done.

    We would very much appreciate the thoughts of others on how this problem can be emphasised, made clearer and in turn improved upon.

  4. You and Your Dog

    Once you grasp the basics of dog behaviour you realise there is an extremely thin line between them and us. The most apparent trait that we share is: Motivation. In order for a human, or a dog, to do something, especially something we’re not overly eager to attempt we need to feel motivated. Humans tend to be motivated by peers, friends, family, and celebrity icons and more where as your dog, well he only has you! That’s a lot of responsibility. Your dog will rely on you for everything, they leave their mothers usually around 8-10 weeks old and from this time until their final day it is your job to teach, train, protect and nurture your canine friend. Motivation will play a huge part in this.

  5. Why puppies get nervous

    It is quite possible that a young dog will go through his early weeks and months in a state of high anxiety unless he is taught to trust unfamiliar humans.  Seeing people entering his territory or his personal space can cause a great deal of distress because he will see it as a threatening act.  Some people will treat this problem incorrectly by either doing nothing at all or by over-compensating. 

    It is easy to forget that a puppy has some similarities with a human toddler and needs guidance, love and attention in equal measures.  The last thing that a dog owner should do is just ignore the problem and hope he will grow out of it.anxious

    The consequences of doing nothing could be that the dog grows up with a long lasting fear of strangers.  His nervous beginnings will only increase as he gets older and can erupt at some point into displays of aggression.  A puppy needs just the right amount of human contact – too much and he will get spoilt like a toddler and think he can do what he likes.  Too little and he will retain feelings of nervousness and suspicion when strangers enter his space, and sometimes, even when his owner does. 

    Probably the most significant factor in making a dog feel nervous though is how a person physically approaches him.  An adult human, for example, is considerably larger than a young dog and the sight of this large “creature” bearing down on him, particularly if these massive hands go straight for the face, can be a source of great alarm.  Obviously then it is important not to frighten an already anxious puppy.  Household machinery and loud noises can be equally worrying for them. 

    Some puppies will be exuberant and even fearless and will react well to training.  Others will show nervous traits as explained above so will need careful nurturing.  Socialising with other pups of similar age or calm, sensible adult dogs will be a big help, provided yours is not overwhelmed by too many strange dogs at the same time.  It’s important to closely monitor your dog’s reactions to life going on around him.  If this is done properly there is every chance that your cute puppy will grow into a well-balanced dog.

    The most important point to note is that doing nothing with a nervous puppy will lead to increasing problems as the puppy grows up. These problems are much harder to deal with when your puppy is older.

    If you have a nervous puppy or know someone who does, then get in touch with Oakwood Canine Services on 01482 823555. You can get the help your puppy needs; getting them on the right track by building their confidence.


  6. Why Does My Dog Pee on My Bed?

    One annoying behaviour problem I hear often is a dog peeing on their owner’s bed or even the bed of another dog. As owners we find this distasteful and irritating. We have to keep washing the sheets and cleaning the mattress. So why do some dogs pee on a bed? I found a great article written by Valerie of Impawsible Pups and here’s what it says…..

    It Smells Like You…

    The number one reason dogs pee on your bed is the exact same reason they chew your dirty underwear and socks...it smells like you. In the wild, dogs and young dogs especially, encounter numerous different predators.

  7. How many times do we hear about children getting bitten by their own family dogs, it’s getting more and more common, but who is at fault, is it the dog or the child or even the parents?  It’s often a reason owners will contact me at Oakwood Dog Training Centre for advice. I’ve found a great article about ways to keep a child safe around dogs written by Rosie Barclay, here they are: