Education, Education, Education

While I was being interviewed by a radio station this morning about a child who had had his thumb bitten off by a Staffie, it got me thinking about the importance of educating people – both owners and children in general – about dogs. Educating owners how to look after them, to understand and respect them, how to train them to be acceptable citizens; educating everyone how to approach dogs.

Dog attacks have increased by over 70% in the last ten years. I can’t believe dogs are getting worse so it must be that we humans are failing them in some way.

educationAs there is, on average, at least one dog in every three to four households, dogs are everywhere. Love them or hate them, this is an inescapable part of our lives. Anything else that is all around us to this extent becomes part of the education system in schools.

Children learn about the Magna Carta, they learn about dinosaurs and butterflies.

They learn about animals living the other side of the world, but not those living on their own doorsteps.

Why aren’t children learning about dogs in school?

If Dog Awareness became a curriculum subject, not only would the current generation of children be safer but they would make better dog owners when they grow up.

They would go home and teach their parents through homework projects about dogs.

How else can we educate the adults – the existing dog owners (many of whom will also be parents)?

If things can be caught at grass root level they are much less likely to escalate into serious, out of control situations. It was the Mayor of New York, I believe, who clamped down hard on very petty crime and the overall serious crime figures dropped dramatically.

For offences like not picking up after the dog, having a dog off lead where not permitted, having a dog off lead and a nuisance or out of control, leaving a dog all day alone and barking in the garden and so on, why not, just as we do for speeding drivers, offer a choice between a (substantial) fine and a day doing an awareness course?

Education has to be a lot better than punishment. Education sticks. Education means that the wisdom is spread wider.

We need more dog wardens of course. For more dog wardens we need more money. I wonder how many people would object to paying another 10p (would that be enough?) a month on their local council tax to make the county cleaner and safer for everyone?

I certainly wouldn’t.

If neighbours of noisy or uncontrolled dogs knew that a complaint would lead to the owner being educated rather than prosecuted or even to the dog taken away, they could report someone without too much bad feeling.

The awareness courses could be held by local professionals like myself who belong to certain listed professional bodies. We wouldn’t need payment. Our reward would be publicity and business from the dog owners in the classes, the very people that may need help in order not to face a longer course or larger fine the second time.

The only way to resolve the situation in the end is for us, the humans, to change.  The dogs will always be….just dogs.


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Why Pick on the Pit Bull?

It’s because the dog doesn’t measure up.

The Pit Bull isn’t a breed anyway. A DNA test won’t prove ‘Pit Bull’. It’s a type based purely on physical measurements.

Why pick on the Pit Bull?

There are other breeds whose physique allows them to do as much or even more damage. If we use physique and strength as the rationale to ban a dog, then why not ban all dogs that could be capable, due to size, of causing serious injury or death!

If it’s breed not deed we are talking about, why not simply ban ALL LARGE DOGS to be on the safe side.

So far as aggression is concerned, a German Shepherd is much more likely to bite a human than a Pit Bull and can do more damage. Shall we make illegal the owning of German Shepherds (and all Mastiffs, Mastiff mixes, Labrador Staffie mixes, Great Danes, Newfies….)?

Many Pit Bull types are mostly Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Off the top of my head, of the thousands of dogs I have worked with, I can’t remember feeling threatened by one Staffie.


Hank – saved

Why pick on the Pit Bull?

What is a Pit Bull anyway?

It’s any dog at all that happens to fit, like a piece of jigsaw puzzle, into a predefined size and shape.

Here is some of it: Its height to weight ratio should be in proportion. Its coat should be short and bristled, (single coated). Its head should appear to be wedge shaped when viewed from the side and top but rounded when viewed from the front. The head should be around 2/3 width of shoulders and 25 per cent wider at cheeks than at the base of the skull (this is due to the cheek muscles). The distance from the back of the head to between the eyes should be about equal to the distance from between the eyes to the tip of its nose….and on it goes.

Back in 1993 the Queen’s Bench Divisional Court determined the legal definition of the word ‘type’. .. stated: “That a dog of the type known as a Pit Bull Terrier is an animal approximately amounting to, near to, having a substantial number of characteristics of the Pit Bull Terrier”.

If the dog is designated to be ‘of type’ it is effectively deemed to be dangerous and doomed to die, regardless of behaviour or deed. The burden of proof is on the owner to prove the dog is not ‘of type’.” How fair is that?

Imagine your female Bull Terrier of the Staffordshire variety mates with another dog – any other dog. The eight puppies are beautiful. But just one, when it grows bigger, fits the hole in that jigsaw.


Why pick on the Pit Bull?

Based on the UKs bite stats, German shepherds do more damage than any other breed when they bite. Mastiffs and Rotties have a harder bite than a pit bull (higher bite pressure and bigger jaws).

The three breeds most likely to bite are Daschunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russells. Quite obviously the potential for damage is a lot less but in fact they are a lot more ‘aggressive’ by nature than many of the larger dogs – especially Pit Bull types whose ancestors may have been bred to bait bulls. More recently they have been bred for dog fighting which is revolting, but the argument for BSL concerns aggression to people. In order to be useful Pit Bulls have to be particularly good with humans.

Why pick on the Pit Bull?

The law to ban Pit Bulls (and three more breeds) was rushed through in just one day twenty-five years ago in 1991 after a young girl was horribly injured by a Pit Bull.

Why then, since this law, has the number of Pit Bull types in mainland Britain escalated dramatically?

The aim of BSL was to reduce injury and death to humans caused by dogs.

Why then, since this law, are hospital admissions for injuries caused by dogs increasing yearly – up by 76% in the first ten years.

Why pick on the Pit Bull?

Human nature being what it is, banning something glamorises it and sets up an illegal production. For this reason alone a disproportionate percentage of Pit Bulls (types) are likely to owned by the less responsible dog owners.

Of the 30 dogs that have killed someone in this country since 1991, only 9 were killed by a banned breed. If the same people who specifically chose a Pit Bull were the same as might choose, say, a Labrador or Spaniel, would this number even be nine?

Lennox in his cell

Lennox in his cell

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) “Any dog can become dangerous if it is brought up in the wrong environment …..”

Battersea conducted a survey of 215 professional canine behaviourists and trainers – I was one of them.  The Battersea report concluded that BSL cannot be justified – ‘the vast majority of behaviourists (74%) agree that breed is not the  determining factor in dog attacks.

86% said that the way it is brought up by its owner, and 73% said its upbringing by the breeder before it is sold, are the most important reasons why some dogs are more aggressive towards people.’

Why pick on the Pit Bull?

Humans breed the dogs in this country (there are few street dogs over here). Humans are responsible for that dog entering the world.  Humans then ‘care for’ the puppy in the early weeks of its life. It should be the breeder’s responsibility to breed from stable stock and to nurture, and I mean nurture, the puppy until at least eight weeks old.

IBL: Irresponsible Breeder Legislation! Ban breeders who are not licenced and registered. We can dream.

Next in the chain will be the human who buys the puppy. They may deliberately choose a Pit Bull. Why? Then what? What do they know about rearing a puppy and providing for a dog’s needs? Do they even understand that their own behaviour towards the dog can cause it to be aggressive?

IOL: Irresponsible Owner Legislation!

I personally would like dog owners licenced or registered as well – maybe a crazy idea. A driver has to show he’s fit to drive a car irrespective of how many vehicles he or she owns. A dog owner should also prove he or she is fit to own dogs.  A fee could help fund educating of the public and dog welfare in general. In consequence, fewer people will be rushed to hospital because an irresponsible human has deprived their dog of the life it deserves in one way or another.

Why pick on the Pit Bull?

BSL brings suffering to thousands of dogs, pulled around, measured and tested which, for a shy dog, could almost amount to being goaded into aggression.

Humans suffer too.

It can be devastating for a responsible owner who happens to have a dog that is seized just for how it looks. It may have never put a foot wrong. If it fails these tests the only way it can get a reprieve is for the owner to go through expensive and lengthy court procedure. Many people just can’t afford it.

Pit Bull Frances

Frances – condemned

Until last year the dogs awaiting trial were incarcerated for months in kennels while the process ground on – visits by owners not permitted. (I believe since the changes to the dog law last year that in certain cases they can now go home ‘on bail’ until the hearing).

If the dog is deemed fit to live, there are strict rules. It must be muzzled and on lead at all times when in public, insured against injuring people plus either regular checks.

If the dog, a Pit Bull type, is a stray it’s exterminated. It’s simple as that.

To stay alive the dog needs an owner.

Why pick on Pit Bulls?

Pity, too, those poor people who have to implement the death sentence on these Pit Bulls, without an owner to claim them, who pass the temperament tests with flying colours.  91 had to be euthanised by Battersea last year.  65 of those would have made great household pets. Each time their hearts will break a little. They have no choice. It’s the law.


New Battersea research provides damning verdict on the Dangerous Dogs Act, 25 years on

Dangerous Dogs Act Watch is a useful resource.

Trevor Cooper, specialist in dog law



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Habituation and Desensitisation. The Difference?

This blog takes me back to my original reason for my Pawses, to mull over things that give me pause for thought.

A short while ago I described in a professional Facebook group about how I had stopped my dog Pickle barking when the doorbell rang and called it ‘desensitisation’.

Someone very rightly corrected me. What I had done wasn’t desensitisation, it was ‘habituation’.

Understanding is more than just learning definitions for acronyms like DS and CC (oh how I hate acronyms).

Habituation, DS and CC. Habituation, Desensitisation and Counter-conditioning.


Some dogs, just like people, are more talkative than others! My Working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, is one of those. Each time the doorbell rang he morphed instantaneously from a sleepy black floppy rag-dog to a wired-up noise machine. ACTION!

It may not only have been about the sudden sound itself but also about what the sound predicted. Much of the time it predicted nothing much. I would go to the front door and deal with it. Very occasionally it meant that someone was coming in. Exciting!

Because it was just a sudden sound followed by my rushing out of the room and perhaps something exciting happening afterwards rather than a predictor for anything scary, I chose habituation (without consciously using the word to myself).

I had bought two identical radio doorbells £9.99 each. I put the two sound boxes together in the sitting room. I put one bell push outside the front door and kept the other in my pocket.

Now I simply kept ringing the bell. I asked anyone walking into the hallway to open the front door and ring the bell. I would ring it when I was in the same room as Pickle and I would ring it from upstairs. I asked anyone entering the house with a key to ring the doorbell too.

After about three weeks Pickle was immune to the doorbell ringing. Just the same as our not noticing the trains thundering by every few minutes if we live beside a railway line.

Pickle when the doorbell rang defines habituation thus: Whenever a dog owner wants a dog to “get used to” something through simple exposure without any training or conditioning, they are really hoping for habituation.

There is a fine line between habituation and flooding. Flooding means exposing a dog to whatever he or she is afraid of with no means of escape until the dog no longer responds to it. The result can be learned helplessness. Cesar Millan relies heavily upon flooding.

To proceed with my little lesson to self, I am using an imaginary situation taking the matter of Pickle and the doorbell a bit further so that I have a simple, practical example. I find theory tough having all my life veered towards the practical rather than the academic.

Had the doorbell indeed predicted someone he could be scared of entering his house, I would have done it differently. I will now pretend that he’s scared of callers.

To desensitise him I would need to work on Pickle’s emotions. What could he have been feeling that makes him go into a frenzy of barking? Fear?

Eileen Anderson in her brilliant blog Successful Desensitization and Counterconditioning as always puts things so well. To quote her: ‘This is the technique where you start with the thing the animal is scared of (the stimulus) at a distance or intensity where the thing is not scary.  When the animal is OK with that, you gradually bring it closer or intensify it.’

Instead of immunising him through habituation which is merely repeating the same thing at the same level, I would have changed how he felt about the doorbell ringing by using desensitisation.

To desensitise Pickle to the bell alone (not to a possible caller) I would need to break the problem down – be systematic about it, one thing at a time. I would start with a muffled sound at a distance, maybe a different ringtone. I would need to remove the bell being a predictor of a scary person entering. It breaks down into many tiny steps.

Desensitising eventually removes the fearful emotion associated with hearing the doorbell but doesn’t replace it with anything particularly positive. That is the job of counter-conditioning. Desensitising just gets the dog feeling neutral about it.

To quote Eileen Anderson again, ‘OK, counterconditioning is the frosting on the cake. Counterconditioning is the technique that can actually replace fear or another undesirable response with a positive emotional response. This is done by associating the scary stimulus with something wonderful, while the animal is under threshold, consistently over time.’

If I add counter-conditioning Pickle should ultimately feel positively pleased when he hears the doorbell.

I can, through counter-conditioning, get Pickle to LOVE the doorbell.

So I build in to my systematic desensitisation timetable the things that Pickle loves (Pickle particularly loves cheese which he rarely gets, and Pickle loves his ball).

If I now save cheese for the doorbell work he will eventually love the doorbell ringing rather than just neutrally, as in habituation, ignoring it. He will soon be looking to me for the cheese when he hears it instead of thinking it may be the predictor of something scary.

So long as I don’t push him over threshold by moving ahead too fast which would set things back, he will start to feel happy when he hears the doorbell.

In time and by using the same process I could work on him feeling cool about people coming into the house too. Then the doorbell will not only be a predictor of cheese, but of a welcome person too who may now be associated with Pickle being thrown his ball.

All this is hypothetical as habituation was sufficient for Pickle and I haven’t done any of the rest with him. However, it puts it straight in my mind. DS and CC can simply be applied to anything a dog has negative feelings about.

This is how Pippa Mattinson describes counter-conditioning:  Counter-conditioning replaces the fear response entirely……Successful counter-conditioning will enable the dog to be happy and relaxed in the presence of the previously fearful stimulus.

My doorbell habituation didn’t stop Pickle barking at a neighbour’s front door slamming or at a car door shutting across the road, however. It was specific to the doorbell.

After a few weeks he began to bark at the doorbell again. He reverted. He was becoming unhabituated so I need to do a couple of days of refresher doorbell sessions from time to time. (We might start to notice those trains thundering past if the line had been closed for a month for track repairs).

For my main website and many stories of dogs I have been to, please go to

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A Second Fear Period?

Few dog owners I meet know that there is a first fear period. Even fewer know about a second one.

It’s easier to pinpoint the first ‘Fear Imprint Period’ – some say between eight and twelve weeks, others as small a gap as between 8 and 10 weeks.

The Second Fear Imprint Period or Fear of New Situations Period (also called Secondary Fear Phase) can be anywhere between six and eighteen months.

That’s not very helpful, is it.

How can people know when to be extra careful as their dog approaches a second fear period? How long will it last? Is it the same duration with big dogs and little dogs, working dogs, companion dogs and so on? I can’t find any real research on the subject.

As the second fear period seems to be associated with the dog’s maturing sexually, it will mean that in large breeds the fear period may develop later than with a smaller dog.montmag

It’s important to accept that if a dog becomes suddenly fearful a fear period is worth considering  but it may be to do with something else altogether. It goes without saying that any sudden change in behaviour warrants a trip to the vet to make sure there is nothing physically wrong. explains, …’During these distinct periods dogs may gradually become more and more fearful of situations they once appeared to be accepting of. The fear may be manifested by overly cautious behaviors, where the puppy or dog approaches people or items tentatively or defensive behaviors involving barking/lunging/growling. In some cases, dogs may act bold towards certain stimuli and uncertain with others…’

According to Meghan E. Herron, veterinarian and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, ‘…fear period is therefore a stage during which the puppy or dog may be more apt to perceive certain stimuli threatening. During this time, the puppy is very sensitive to traumatic experiences and a single scary event may be enough to traumatize the puppy and have life-long effects on his future behaviors.’

This is what I believe had happened with a dog I went to the other day and why I have been trying to find out more about it.

Herron continues, ‘It is a survival mechanism because, as explained by Patricia McConnell in her book ‘For the Love of a Dog’, lack of caution now they are fully mobile may cause them to easily get killed’  This also, unfortunately, also coincides with the time most puppies are separated from their litter mates and go to new homes.

Dogs may suddenly start to appear fearful of new things that they would have coped with easily previously including inanimate objects. It can result in barking and lunging and pulling on the leash so this fear period has a big impact, causing the owner to worry about the dog’s behavior.

Clarence Pfaffenberger, author of The New Knowledge Of Dog Behavior, suggests there is a third fear period taking place in early adulthood. During this time, the level of aggression may increase and the dog may appear more protective and territorial. Some believe there may even be a fourth period as the dog reaches early adulthood.

Nancy Frensley, behavior and training manager at the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society in California, gives four possible fear periods. ‘Fear periods in puppies generally occur during these ages: 7 to 9 weeks; 4 to 6 months; at about 1 year; 14 to 18 months’.

Gail T Fisher calls the second fear period ‘Fear of New Situations’ (FNS), when the dog is reluctant to approach something familiar, as if seeing it for the first time. She says it occurs between 6 and 18 months of age and may occur more than once. Her theory is that FNS is related to adolescent growth spurts.

second fear period‘During these periods, puppies may show fear of items, situations or people with whom they formerly felt safe,’ says Frensley. Submissive urination, crouching, shaking and other related behaviors might be evident.

Laura McAuliffe of DogComm explains the second fear period nicely. Suddenly spooked. The Secondary Fear Phase. ‘Your teenage puppy may suddenly show fear, backing away or perhaps even barking at things they coped well with before- people with hats, flapping carrier bags, people on ladders, bikes and scooters, black or flat faced dogs etc are all top ten triggers.’ Inanimate objects can suddenly become a source of terror!

McAuliffe says, ‘Secondary fear isn’t very well defined in the scientific research and there’s some debate about when it occurs (which is likely to influenced by breed and genetics) and if it actually occurs. It’s well reported though that dogs may suddenly (and hopefully temporarily) become more fearful about certain things…

‘Secondary fear is thought to occur anywhere between around 6 and 18 months old, during the period of social maturation where dogs change from puppyhood into adults. There are complex hormonal and neural changes that also occur around this time and sudden fear may well be linked to these physiological changes within the body. The primary fear centre in the brain, the amygdala, is enlarged at this time meaning that it reacts more sensitively to the environment and stress hormones are at their highest levels in adolescents.

In evolutionary terms, secondary fear also often corresponds with the time (around 8/9 months old) when older puppies of wild and semi feral dogs would have left their family group and ventured off alone into the big wide world. It is thought that a scaredy period at this time would protect puppies from venturing too close to things that could present a danger to them. Perhaps we still see throwback behaviour to this time.’

McAuliffe continues, ‘Not all dogs will have a secondary fear phase and some dogs may have more than one (if you are unlucky!) It typically lasts between 1 and 3 weeks and needs careful handling as there is a risk that dogs may become permanently fearful of certain thing if they are exposed to a very traumatic experience at this sensitive time.’

So, do we wait on tenterhooks for our teenage dog to develop ‘sudden spookiness’, to become territorial and maybe suddenly reactive to other dogs and people or refuse to go out of the house?

I hadn’t myself much considered the second fear period until recently, but it is really important. How many adolescent dogs are there in shelters? It speaks for itself.

I guess it can be comforting to know there may be a reason for sudden ‘out of the blue’ reactivity, that it’s to be expected and not something we ourselves have inadvertently caused.

To go to my main website and read case stories of many dogs I have been to and helped, please go to

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The ‘Uh-uh’ Tick

I was at a dog show last weekend, talking to a few people who had problems with their dogs.

There was a very friendly one-year-old Yorkie mix who nipped – and boy did he nip! He was excited, friendly – and nippy. Every time his owners saw him nip they went ‘Uh-uh’.

They went ‘Uh-uh’ even when he wasn’t actually nipping me, just to warn him in case he nipped me.

If ‘Uh-uh’ worked, why was he still nipping at a year old?

We had a chat about how to show him that keeping his teeth off human flesh was the way to go. I held my hand in a fist and endured the excited nipping until he stopped. I immediately said ‘good’ and fed him with my other hand. I did it several times. Even as I was demonstrating with their little dog there were stifled ‘Uh-uhs’ coming from the lady.

Then another person came over to talk to me about her Collie mix jumping up. This dog, too, was very friendly and, of course, she jumped up!


I’m not sure the dog even heard her. (Actually, I think ‘Uh-uh’ was more for my benefit than the dog’s).

Recently I went to a beautiful Portuguese Water Dog. When I arrived he sniffed mBelcherLexiy trousers, ‘Uh-uh’. He put his nose in my bag, ‘Uh-uh’.

(Just leave him, I said, I would like to see what he does).

He put his big foot on my lap.


I ask them to try to resist ‘Uh-uh’. People try – they really do. They catch themselves and smile – but it’s like the hiccups. They can’t help it.

What good does it do? It’s like constant nagging to a dog who will likely have switched off long ago.

Another possibility is that a dog is so used to hearing ‘Uh-uh’ when he does something unwanted that he never learns the wanted behaviours. He relies upon trial and error in the knowledge that he will get a warning if he’s doing something they don’t like.

In the course of training, ”Uh-uh’ might be used as a NRM (No Reward Marker) and there are debates about the ethics of this in training.

Melissa Alexander of Karen Prior Training says: ‘…”Uh-uh,” said quietly and calmly, is a common NRM. In a training session, the trainer would either click or use the NRM after each repetition to let the dog know whether his behavior was correct or not…..’

and, ‘….. Another problem with NRMs is that they’re habitual. Once you, as trainer, are in the habit of giving an NRM, you will do so nearly automatically. It can be very, very difficult to break that habit if you need to work with a dog who finds them punishing. NRMs are also habitual for the dogs. They learn to rely on them, expect them. If you get into a situation where you can’t give that expected feedback, the dog can become confused and anxious.’.

Bella Brinklow2So, ethics aside, ‘A NRM is to let the dog know whether his behavior was correct or not‘.

Having a sort of verbal ‘Uh-uh’ tick ignores entirely the ‘correct‘ bit. It’s all about the ‘not‘. It can’t be a No Reward Marker with no rewards involved.

What is it then? ‘Uh-uh’ is a warning. An interrupter. Another way of saying No. Stop.

‘Uh-uh’ may be hiccuped in order to show other people that they really are trying to control their dog, as a sort of face-saver.

I counted one lady I visited who said ‘Uh-uh’ to her dog thirteen times in about ten minutes.

Anyway, if it’s annoying to me and must be even more annoying to a dog!

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The Rucksack Walk

I am just back from the IMDT Conference. Some food for thought indeed, particularly (for me) with regard to what dogs naturally would choose to do if no pressure.

So, the Fifteen-Minute Rucksack Walk (or Backpack Walk).

No, it’s not some sort of dance! Steve Mann recently went to Cuzco in Peru and observed the many dogs wandering freely round the streets. They have homes but are turned out during the day. His two observations that stick in my mind are ‘Dogs don’t run in Peru’ and that the dogs actively seek out people just to be near them.


Steve gave us his Rucksack Walk which, though he had devised it previously, really makes use of how dogs just can ‘be’ if left to their own devices – and that they like to just ‘be’ – with us.

I foresee this really catching on, like Chirag Patel’s ‘Bucket Game‘. It’s a good catchy name that makes you curious to find out what it’s all about.

It is the answer to many dog owners’ three main problems: lack of space near to home in which to walk their dog away from roads, avoiding things that scare him and lack of time.

In fact, the Rucksack Walk is actually conditional upon these things: limited space, an environment in which the dog feels secure and a limited amount of time.

To me personally the beauty of it is that it gives legitimacy to what I suggest to many of my clients who feel guilty if the dog isn’t walked hard for an hour each day. It’s something positive they can do, and do successfully. It’s perfect for people finding walks with a reactive dog a nightmare. I go to couples where the dog engages a whole lot better with one person than the other. This could even things out.

The Rucksack Walk, as Steve says, would be especially good for dogs or whose owners are on restricted exercise, newly homed dogs, dogs in kennels, hyper dogs – and actually probably every dog from time to time.

All it needs a peaceful place or quiet corner in a park or field, an area no larger than the size of a tennis court. It’s possible even a neighbour’s garden could be used if large enough. The dog won’t be running free through the bedding plants.

It helps if you are a bit of an actor.

You need a long line and a treat pouch. You also need, unsurprisingly, a rucksack. In it should be two small Tupperware-type tubs – one containing a different novel scent each time and the other a novel food. In the bag is also a chew and a ‘thing’ – just anything.

Then you need just fifteen minutes.

There are seven things to fit into the fifteen minutes in a non-rushed fashion which could be a challenge perhaps. I don’t see the actual process as being set in stone – more of a concept.


So here it is:

Enter the space with the Rucksack on your back, dog on long line and treat bag around your waist. Preferably grass is best for smells and you will be sitting on the ground but I imagine an empty car park could do. Most importantly the environment should feel pressure-free and worry-free for both dog and human.

Mobile phones remain in the rucksack.

Any speaking is in a… w h i s p e r.

  1. Start with a MOOCH (mosey), dog on the long line. Follow. Ideally he will have a sniff about and maybe a pee. If he runs and it goes tight, slow down to a stop. Encourage checking in with a little sound then chuck the treat (slowly if you can chuck slowly) the other side of you.
  2. TRIANGLE RECALLS next. Dog near you – drop treat and jog or run backwards away from the dog to encourage connection and following – within the length of the line. Gently call if necessary, drop treat at your feet and back away again. Do this in a triangle so you retrace footsteps and avoid being in competition with ‘novel’ ground. How many you fit in depends upon the speed of the dog, how preoccupied he is and so on.
  3. Now sit down. Everything is done slowly. Remove the rucksack and open it deliberately. Act like there is the most exciting thing in the world in there. Take out the tub containing the SCENT. Hold it slowly and gently like a precious baby bird. Give it so much attention that if the dog wasn’t paying attention to you before, he will now. Allow him a sniff. Perhaps sniff yourself. Be tender with it. Return it slowly to the rucksack. Placing the tub containing the scent back in the rucksack is part of the ritual
  4. Now, in the same manner, get out the ‘THING’. Take it slowly out of the rucksack. Act like it’s a very big deal but calmly and quietly. Milk the moment! Allow the dog to lick/sniff/hold it. Return it to the rucksack.
  5. In the same manner, bring out the FOOD. Open the tub slowly and allow him to sniff. Sniff it yourself. Yummmmm. Feed in little bits. Make a real meal of it. Perhaps share it. Return tub to rucksack.
  6. Now introduce the CHEW. Again, get his interest. Chewing releases feel-good hormones. Sit close and touching one another. Stroke the dog gently as he chews – but only if he seems relaxed with that.
  7. Pack everything away, put the rucksack back on, stand up and MOOCH back to the car, covering the same ground as before.


I would be looking into what happens before and after the walk too. It would somewhat defeat the purpose if it was a half-hour walk there and back with a nervous dog, passing scary dogs barking behind gates and hissing pneumatic brakes on trucks. He would need to be taken there by car. By car also if the nearest suitable spot took more than a few minutes to walk to.

One definition of ‘mindfulness’ is: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Mindfulness is what the Rucksack Walk is all about. It doesn’t lead to anything. It is what it is.

NB. A message from Lyn Ridley  The scent object Steve used was a teabag but you could use a drop of an essential oil (just a single drop) on a piece of cloth. I would suggest that you don’t let him/her actually have it, just sniff it in your hand. Lavender for a first time might be good as it is quite calming. For an object Steve used a piece of hose but anything that they can explore the shape and feel of that is safe. Also a tuggy only becomes a tuggy if you tug it. Braided fleece could be interesting to be explored it doesn’t have to be pulled. Try and think of something that your dog might find interesting in terms of shape or texture.

Here is another lovely blog about the fifteen-minute Rucksack Walk from Lyn Ridley ‘Clickerpaws’  who was also at the IMDT conference.

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Control the Environment or Control the Puppy?

My baby granddaughter, Clara, has been staying with me for the past week. She’s just ten months old.

She is crawling top-speed, standing up and walking with support. She is into everything. She is like a little octopus. Everything goes into her mouth.

We constantly watch not to tread on her or to open a door on her. She gets anywhere that’s not blocked.

The high coffee table ended up on the sofa after she tried to pull herself up on it and it fell on top of her.

Coffee table on the sofa

Coffee table on the sofa

She loves to open a drawer with one had, put her other hand inside and then shut the drawer.


The desk drawers are stacked up in another room now.

We watch her constantly she’s awake; we lift her out of trouble’s way if she goes near danger. If she gets hold of the remote we gently take it off her and give her something else.

We don’t mind what our house is looking like because Clara is more important. It’s not forever.

All the time Clara was with me I couldn’t help comparing her life with the lives of some of the puppies and young dogs that I have been to.

There can be huge and unrealistic expectations made of puppies.

Many people are simply unwilling to put themselves out sufficiently. How many times do we hear people say that the puppy has to learn to fit in with their lives?

Drawers removed from desk

Dogs are expected to enter the world (our human world after all) knowing that chewing furniture and wrecking remotes is naughty. Any ‘accidents’ are naughty too.

Anyone knowing me will know that I have too many ‘things’ and am not particularly ‘house-proud’ – I have four dogs after all. However, I go to many houses that to me are unbelievably cluttered for having a dog in – with all sorts of things including boxes, papers, even cigarettes, pills and food, on the floor, on low tables, in open bags and so on – with hardly a space to stand or sit – irresistible temptation and probably dangerous to their young or bored dog.

Instead of tidying up a bit and creating a safe and controlled environment, they try to control the puppy.

At the other end of the spectrum are house-proud people with immaculate houses.

Instead of moving things about, blocking areas with unsightly gates and covering furniture or floor in a way that may not look so attractive – disarranging themselves a little by controlling the environment – they too try to control the puppy.

Intimidating warning sounds, being chased and cornered with a forbidden item and so on can result in people then wondering why, when they have tried so hard to control and discipline their puppy, they have an increasingly confused and badly-behaved dog that develops aggression problems.

Imagine if we smacked Clara for picking up the remote, got angry with her for chewing something we had left about or punished her for soiling on the floor? I guess this is the awful kind of start in life some children do get and I’m sure it totally wrecks their future.

Just as how we treat our babies and toddlers will have an immense impact on how they turn out later on, so it surely is with puppies.

Management is so simple.

Surely it’s easier to find somewhere other than the radiator to dry socks – out of puppy’s reach – and give him something better to chew, than chase and retrieve them? Surely it’s simpler to keep remotes and spectacles out of reach than the trouble and expense of replacing them? Surely it’s simpler to put shoes away than to be left with just one and to stop wearing the panda slippers with pompoms for a while than to have feet chased and nipped? Surely it’s simpler to block areas they don’t want puppy to go than to end up angry, frustrated and shouting?

Keeping my Pickle out of trouble when young

Keeping my Pickle out of trouble when young

In a carefully monitored environment the equivalent to that which my daughter ensures for Clara, savvy dog owners teach their puppies by using encouragement, rewards and distraction that doing certain things and not doing others makes them all happy .

Here is one case I went to with a very cluttered little room and a large seven-month-old pup. The dog gets the man’s socks and other items of his clothing. It would be ‘letting the dog win’ to change the places he put his clothes just for a dog.

Here is sad story of a young dog where the human toddler is well-understood and catered for but the pup’s needs aren’t seen in the same light at all.

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