A leftover from the dark ages of dog training?

I have (another) bee in my bonnet (I get more as I get older).

Years ago, I was involved in the kind of dog training that was proud to use force, discipline and punishment in the name of Control.

Poor Pip – quick photo then it became a massage

Dogs and handlers walked in circles round village halls. There would be twenty or thirty dogs.

“Command your dog to Sit!”


Put your dog into A Sit!”

To make sense, the two words ‘A Sit’ (or indeed ‘A Down’ or ‘A Stand’) are preceded with the word ‘Put’.

Aren’t we today in the world of force-free, coercion-free choice training?

“Put that child into A Sit!” Really? Grab his arm and pushing him down onto a chair?

‘Putting’ the dog into A Sit used to mean pushing him until he sat. Putting a dog into A Down could mean physically leaning him against your leg and then removing your leg so he fell into ‘A Down’.

Why do we still use the word ‘A’ before Sit, Down, Stand, Stay and so on?

Why use a noun (a thing), ‘A Sit’, when we want an action, a verb (doing word). To sit.

So keen are we to keep that ‘A’ word, we may put a verb in first. ‘Do A Sit’ (soundslike something that needs to be picked up afterwards).

Why not simply ‘Ask your dog to sit’?

Clients proudly say to me, “My puppy will do A Sit and A Down”

Isn’t it time we dropped the ‘A’.

Let it be ‘Ask your dog to Sit’ or ‘Cue your dog to Sit’.  Or, simply capture the dog sitting, put on cue and reward.

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Old Owner, New Tricks?

There is a lot of information out there specifically about catering for the needs of our ageing and old dogs, from the first sign of slowing down to knowing just when is the right time to say goodbye.

The  Oldies Club, specialises in finding homes for older dogs.

Older people

We don’t read much about catering for the needs older people with dogs.

Because I myself am one of them, a lot older than other practising behaviourists that I know, I can hopefully get away with saying things about old people with dogs that a younger person can’t.

Due to my own age, I possibly attract more older people when clients are looking for someone who they feel may be on their wave length.

The benefits to older people of having a dog (or cat) are well documented.

There is, however, little information and advice that I can find to specifically help ageing and old people with their dogs.

The same goes for help in choosing a dog – or whether they should have one at all.

There are so many variables, too, where physical and mental circumstances are concerned. There can be no blanket advice. Individual support is needed.

The health benefits of a harmonious relationship with a dog are undisputed. From a quality of life point of view, living with a dog can be invaluable when all is going well but disastrous when it’s not.


Most of my older clients are those whose previous dog had died. Some have also lost their spouse or partner.

So, lonely, they get a new dog.

This is where most of the problems start. The new dog they chose isn’t suitable for them. They aren’t suitable for their dog. It’s not a good match.

Rescue dog or puppy?

The other big consideration is our own life span. If at 75 we get a puppy, it’s very likely he will outlive us. If we become ill, who will give the dog the care it needs?

Like most of us they will have chosen with their hearts and not their heads.

Many decide a puppy is less risky.

They may have had dogs all their lives, but I’m willing to bet they have forgotten just what hard work a puppy is. Probably they are now living alone and previous puppies had been part of a family. If we remember just what having a baby was like, few would choose to  have another, let alone to adopt one in old age.

They may always have had a certain breed – Border Collies, say. A brainy and active Border Collie is going to cause mayhem as well as being miserable unless exercised both mentally and physically.

In a hurry to get a dog

An elderly person may choose a rescue dog thinking it will be quick. After all, with less time ahead there is no time to lose.

I know many rescues who are very careful indeed about matching dog with new carer. This process can take time. If the person is in a hurry or if they have been turned down, they may look elsewhere.

I have been to older people with dogs from an uncertain past. I recently went to a retired couple who had adopted a dog that was so scared of bangs that she wouldn’t go out of the house.

I’ve been to newly adopted dogs that are rough. The skin of old people is thin so use of teeth either in play or otherwise isn’t good.

I went to a German Shepherd adopted by an elderly, disabled man from a so-called rescue. He had ‘had German Shepherds all his life’. By the third day it wouldn’t let anyone near him. The whole thing was a disaster resulting in the dog being put to sleep.

The man went back to the same ‘rescue’ a few days later and they let him take home another German Shepherd.

Trip hazard

Another ‘must’ for an older owner is to be able to walk the dog without being pulled over or tripped up.

Many rely on head halters in case the dog suddenly lunges. Although I hate them, I acknowledge in certain cases they are a necessary form of management . If the person is to walk their own dog, which is part of the point of having a dog, a priority is some concentrated loose-lead walking training from someone who only uses encouragement and reward (for both older human and dog).

Puppy teeth

Adorable Lucky

What finally prompted this Paws for Thought is a lady who phoned me a couple of weeks ago.

She told me she’s a pensioner, seventy years old (four years younger than myself).  She couldn’t cope with her puppy’s biting.

She has a 15-week-old Cavapoo puppy who was leaping about and grabbing her hands and her clothes.  When excited, Lucky flies at her. Outside, she plays tug with the lead or with her trousers.

Fortunately Lucky is tiny and light, but her teeth are very sharp. Old skin is thin and more fragile.

The lady doesn’t need to be young and as active as a younger person. She does, however, need to be on the ball. With a puppy one needs fast reactions. Constantly saying No is merely making Lucky jump, grab and bite more. It fires her up. It doesn’t teach her anything.

Management and training

Management is especially important. Lucky now has plenty on which to chew and vent her energy. There must be a safe place, a pen, where she can put Lucky at times.

Training Lucky to walk nicely is vital so she doesn’t trip the lady up by weaving about. With management, some training started and some simple cunning, the lady is now finding Lucky easier.

When she’s not just a puppy being a puppy, Lucky loves to be cuddled. She’s friendly and confident. A wonderful puppy. In this case everything will end well, I’m sure.

The lady had wisely already made sure her family would be ready to step in if there came a stage when she couldn’t cope or if she needs a break.

A sensible choice

One ideal dog for an older person, to my mind, would be a rescue greyhound from a good rescue who takes care in matching dog with new owner and then provides aftercare. The dog is no longer a puppy. He or she is normally loves lying about. He doesn’t need a lot of exercise. He’s tall so easier to reach for a fuss…….and just too many ex-racing greyhounds are in need of a good home.

Another great dog would be anything smaller with a known history, well-socialised and not too young or energetic.

We oldies can look after dogs just like anyone else. Our dog is unlikely to be left alone for hours on end. Without the demands of working life, we may have more time and possibly more patience. If we are short of physical energy, there are lots of brain games we can play with our dog. If we can’t walk far we can hire a dog walker.

Having a dog along with the exercise it gives us undoubtedly aids our mental and physical health and longevity. The Health Benefits of Pets for Older Adults.

I visited a Cavapoo in an old people’s care home a while ago. The dog belonged to the home, for the benefit of the residents. Unsurprisingly he ruled the roost! Here is Cavapoo Pip’s story.

Dogs cost money

Like anyone else taking on a dog, we must consider our finances. An older person may need to pay for a walker, vet bills, insurance, good food and training – all on a pension. If we can’t afford to give the dog what it needs, then it’s better not to have one.

Three of my four dogs

I still have four dogs and they are ageing with me. The oldest is now 13 and the youngest 7. In the mix I have an  8-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, who is still a doggie dynamo. Outwitting him can be fun. A sense of humour is vital.

I am able to have my four dogs because I have a suitable environment – with a field. I earn money so I can afford to buy good food for them and insure them against any sudden and unmanageable payouts for vet bills. I also have back-up should I want to go away for a couple of days.

I am very fortunate with my own health and mobility and have been known to do bursts of running if necessary. I’m lucky – so far. I’m sure in part I have my dogs to thank for this.

Hopefully in this ‘Paws’ I will get away with some of these ‘non-PC’ but honest points, being an oldie myself.

The last word can be about a wonderful old lady in her eighties I helped with her rescue greyhound. When he died, she got herself a house hen to love!

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Say Hello Nicely.

I have just read a really interesting and comprehensive blog by Karen B. London in TheBark.com: A Guide to Dog to Dog Greetings

To quote London: ‘Despite some variations, the basics tend to be the same. Dogs move toward each other in a calm and relaxed way, often approaching from the side or along an arc rather than head-on. Sniffing is a huge part of the process, and dogs may take an interest in any area with glands, pheromones or other scents. They might touch noses first, then move on to sniff the anogenital region, or they might start their investigation at the back end of the other dog.’

This paragraph particularly caught my eye: ‘According to John Bradshaw, PhD, males typically sniff the area under the tail right away, while most females initially go for the head. (You may be able to sex the dogs who greet your dog based on this behavior alone).’

Is this apply to all greetings, or meetings between less familiar or new dogs?

Is the behaviour the same when they encounter dogs of the same gender as themselves as when they greet those of the opposite sex?

Are dog crotch-sniffers of humans more likely to be male?

Step 1

I’m now watching my own dogs, two boys and two girls, to see what happens between very familiar dogs.

This inevitably brings me on to Pickle.

My Cocker Spaniel is a bum-sniffer! Anyone knowing Pickle would expect no different. Most particularly the bums of my two female dogs.

I can accurately predict what he will do straight afterwards, too.

Step 2

He will then inevitably either lift his leg as near to her as possible, on her if he can; usually nearby because she moves. (He even went through a thankfully short phase of doing this indoors too – Oh Pickle!).

PS. For those who may ask the question, yes, Pickle was castrated years ago – he’s eight.

Step 3




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I’ve Hidden the Ball Thrower. A Cautionary Tale

This is a story about my own dog, Cocker Spaniel Pickle, and the ball thrower.

I’ve hidden the ball thrower.

Pickle loves to chase the ball. He jumps to catch it and he would carry on till he dropped (though I can’t image Pickle ever dropping if the ball kept being thrown).

Although the dog loves it, the ball thrower really may not be a good thing unless used very sparingly. People with ball chuckers seldom use them sparingly, like five throws then put it away.Play with ball thrower

Why isn’t it a good thing? Dogs LOVE it.

Unfortunately they can become obsessed. Too much and they can even become adrenaline junkies. They are never happy unless a ball is being thrown for them.

A lovely walk can become nothing more than chasing a ball, fetching and dropping it to be thrown again. The richness of the countryside becomes lost to the dog. He should be using his wonderful nose to explore the environment and all the dogs, other animals and bugs that have passed his way before him.[divider type=”white”]


Would a dog, freely out in the environment alone without humans, be doing anything quite so relentlessly repetitive?

Anything repeated over and over can be addictive and causes stress of a kind, even if the dog does LOVE it.

It’s almost like the dog is a clockwork toy (remember clockwork?) and with a key we are winding him up until he is over-wound.


My Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, would chase a ball all day given the chance. However, if there is no ball, he is happily  ‘Pickling’. He does what instinctively comes to him which is running about, tail wagging, exploring with his nose. He may chase a pigeon or dig up a vole.

He’s a working dog, and needs to use his brain whilst exercising.

The day before yesterday someone took my dogs to the field with the ball thrower for Pickle. He threw the ball for him, over and over.

Over the past two days the fallout from that extended ball play on Pickle has been very evident. (I do myself play ball but it is for a few throws only then I stop. Adding some training and brain work goes a little way towards fulfilling his genetic needs).[divider type=”white”]

Pickle never stops.

He brings the ball back, drops it where it makes it easiest for the person to pick up. He runs off in anticipation of where it might land before it leaves the ball thrower.

The day before yesterday after the lengthy ball play, Pickle charged back into the house ahead of the other dogs. I was sitting at my computer. He leapt into the water bowl, digging out the water all over the sitting room floor. Dripping, he charged all over the furniture and then jumped into and knocked over the larger water bucket the dogs drink from.

Any self control was simply impossible.

For a good hour he paced and he panted. Each small noise set him off barking.

Isn’t ball play meant to tire him out and make him calm? Isn’t a tired, physically worn out dog a good dog? Fat chance! It’s the opposite.

Pickle was on alert for sounds for the rest of the day. The next morning he was still high, getting vocal and excited for his breakfast, perfectly illustrating how stress chemicals remain in the body.[divider type=”white”]

So, I have hidden the ball thrower.

No ball thrower yesterday and no ball thrower today.

Pickle has been out in the field with me several times, Pickling. No balls.

Afterwards he comes in, has a drink and settles.

Today the neighbours wheeled their wheelie bin down the passage. After just one token Woof Pickle settled again. No vocals before breakfast.

It’s taken three days to get him back to this.

This is such a classic example of trigger stacking and the importance of the right kind of exercise that I have written my story about Pickle this time.

If anyone reading this with a highly wired or stressy dog uses a ball thrower to chuck a ball repeatedly for their dog, just try something.

Try no ball throwing for a few days. Just allow freedom to explore and to sniff. Your dog may find ‘doing his own thing’ very hard to start with, but persist.

If the dog chooses to run, he can chase things he himself chooses to chase.

A less stressed dog will result in a dog being able to cope with all sorts of things life throws at him, whether it’s encountering other dogs on walks to being less destructive or waiting patiently for his dinner.

PS. Dangers to be aware of if your dog loves ball play. 

For Dog Behaviour help, please go to my Dog Lady site: www.dogidog.co.uk

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Your Choice – or is it?

A definition of Hobson’s Choice is: ‘an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative’: Take it, or leave it. (Merriam-Webster)

Freedom of choice ‘describes an individual’s opportunity and autonomy to perform an action selected from at least two available options, unconstrained by external parties’ (Wikipedia). This could be a hundred available options.

People using force-free methods like to feel we give dogs as much freedom of choice as we can

No choice would be, ‘obey my command’.

There is another kind of choice we use. It’s neither Hobson’s Choice though, nor is it quite Freedom of Choice.

It’s a ‘manipulated‘ choice – a way of getting the dog to do what we want whilst he feels he’s doing what he wants!

So, asking my dog ‘do you want to go outside?’ gives him some freedom of choice; he can decide yes or no – or later. Leaving the door open would give him more choice still.

Asking my dog ‘do you want to go outside by yourself or shall I come with you?’ is manipulated choice. I have already decided he’s going out, so the options are constrained by me. He probably feels he’s had choice whilst I have already chosen the outcome.

Win win!

If we are sufficiently creative we can find all sorts of ways of letting our dogs feel they have choice where actually they are doing what we want.

It’s a great thing for people who feel their dog is ‘stubborn’. If puppy has a sock, for instance, and doesn’t want to give it up, we can place in front of him half a dozen tempting alternatives from food to other toys.

Then the question is ‘which of these do you want the most?’ not ‘do you want to swap?’ (where the answer would probably be ‘no’).

Choice training gives dogs some autonomy.

Choice walks as in ‘follow the dog’ are fantastic. The dog can snuffle and explore as much as he wants. The dog feels he’s having choice but it’s only within certain boundaries (we must keep him safe and not have him annoying other people so he may be on a long line). The options are constrained by us.

Watch this fabulous video of the dog taking the lady for a walk with no constraints at all other than having to be on a longish lead and stopping at roads.  She set certain parameters by deciding to go for the walk in the first place – and letting him decide where to go. That’s all.

Three and a half hours later the dog leads her back home – by his own route!

I myself decide when my dogs go out. I decide where. When we get there they can do their own thing. I decide when it’s time to go home.

Manipulated choice is something I learned with my children years ago when I wanted them to go to bed. ‘Do you want to walk or shall I carry you?’. What wasn’t optional was going up to bed!

There are always constrains of some kind that have to be considered. Even street dogs’ choices are constrained by the environment.

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Cleanliness Next to Dogliness?

My eye was caught by this headline the other day:

Cleaning sprays ‘as harmful to your lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day’.

To quote: ‘Using everyday cleaning sprays can be as harmful to a woman’s lungs as smoking 20 a day, research has shown.

And a separate study found household products may account for half of air pollution in cities.

The first study, in Norway, found lung capacity fell 4.3mls a year faster in women who cleaned at home and 7.1mls a year faster if they worked as cleaners. Asthma was also more prevalent.

Prof Dr Cecile Svanes, of the University of Bergen says that cleaning chemicals are very likely cause rather substantial damage to the lungs.

“When you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all,” said Øistein Svanes , a doctoral student who led the study, as quoted in The Independent.

What about our dogs?

From Spruce.com: ‘There are many chemicals and caustic substances in and around most homes. These chemicals may be toxic to your dog. Most humans know better than to come into contact with the most dangerous chemicals. However, just like parents must protect their children from household toxins, so must we dog owners protect our dogs.

Many chemicals can be harmful to dogs if they are ingested, inhaled or come into contact with the skin.

In some cases, chemicals can enter the bloodstream and affect major organs. Certain chemicals may be considered safe for humans but can still harm dogs.

Be very mindful of the products you are using in your yard and home. Try to switch to products that are known to be safe for pets. If you treat your yard with chemicals, be sure your dog does not have access to the yard until it is dry (and that the chemical it is safe once dry). The same applies with carpet cleaners and cleaners used on other surfaces where your dog may walk’.

Then there are air fresheners.

I looked into whether air fresheners may be harming our dogs in one of my Paws a while ago.

It sounds to me like a very good argument for less housework ! (I actually use white vinegar, have done for years, and wax polish from a tin).

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We have just finished this year’s annual UK survival reality TV game show, I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’, where 12 celebrities live together in a jungle environment for a number of weeks.

The contestants have to endure ‘Bushtucker Trials’ to earn food.

A young woman was locked in a tank of snakes. She is terrified of snakes. A man who’s not a good swimmer was shut in a dark tunnel leading to a deep tank with scary water critters. Others are buried in a dark tomb with rats and insects dropping all around them. They scream and shout.

These people do this through choice.

Terrified of the outside world


They know exactly when the terror will start and when it will end. They have a get-out card. If the terrified contestant shouts “I’M A CELEBRITY – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” he or she will be rescued immediately. There is a team of medics on hand, just in case.

They know that however much they hate the ordeal, they are safe. It will come to an end.

Imagine how it must be for a dog that is terrified of the outside world, like Marco.

After some weeks in kennels he has a wonderful new home. But, as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the house and garden he is terrified.

The gate opens and a world of horror is beyond.

Vehicles – small, large, fast, slow, noisy, smelly – roar past. He lunges and barks, attack being the best form of defense.

In the open he is on high alert all the time. He barks at wind in the trees, at birds flying overhead and at distant lights. Bikes and joggers rush by without warning.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, poor Marco has no way of knowing that he is, in reality, safe.

It’s an educated guess that, in order for him to be like this, during the first three and a half years of his life he will have had little exposure, if any, to the world outside a house and garden.

All good dog owners need to give their dogs walks, right?

Like the conscientious dog owners they are, they wanted to do the very best for their gorgeous but troubled new dog. They had been taking him out for walks from the day they brought him home four weeks previously.

Outside the garden gate is, to him, hell. It’s one endless Bushtrucker Trial.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco doesn’t have choice. He can’t know that in reality he is safe. He can’t know that the ordeal will only last a set length of time and then it will end.

Marco has has no ‘I’M A TERRIFIED DOG – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” option.

See this: What fear does to the body – dog or human.

With a dog so obviously fearful of the outside world, it’s common for a rescue to suggest to new owners that the dog isn’t taken out at all for three weeks.

No walks.

People find this hard and often ignore the advice.

Just imagine the enormity of being trapped in a totally new world over which you have no control.

First a dog has his new immediate surroundings to get used to – house, garden and people. As if this isn’t enough, he’s then taken out into a world of what must seem like mayhem to a dog that hadn’t been walked.

No animal, or human, willingly goes somewhere he believes he could come to harm. Keeping fit and exercise is a complete irrelevance compared to feeling safe.

They will now work slowly, always keeping in mind Marco’s comfort threshold. He’s fine in the house. He’s fine in the garden. When the gate opens he panics.

He transforms into a lunging, pulling and barking beast.

The gate is where his panic starts, so that is where the work begins.

They then need to get him okay with the traffic on the busy road outside. He has to pass by this before going anywhere else.

Desensitising and counter-conditioning.

With Marco on a long, loose lead they will open the gate and find his threshold distance – where he is aware of the passing traffic but can cope; it could be right away down the garden. As the vehicles pass and Marco is watching them, they will rain chicken on him. If he won’t eat, he is still over threshold. He will have the freedom and choice to retreat further.

With lots of short sessions, with vehicles at a safe distances heralding food, over time his threshold will get closer to the road.

His humans will be winning back the trust they will have lost. They will gain his trust if they allow him to choose what he is ready for, and when.

If with his body language he shows uneasiness, they will make things better.

If by barking he shouts, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”, they will do just that.  They will get him out of there.

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