Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Why I Don't Apologise For My 'Bad' Dog

This is my dog, Finn. He pops up frequently on my various blogs and social media accounts as a) he’s gorgeous, and b) he is the inspiration behind what I do. He is a fearful and anxious boy, who is reactive to other dogs, to people he doesn’t know, and to wildlife and livestock.

I have been told previously that he is ‘not a good advert for your business’ because of his insecurities and fears. That, as a canine professional, especially one who focuses largely on canine reactive behaviours, I should have ‘fixed’ my dog and his behaviour problems a long time ago.

I have issues with this. For a start, I am not looking to ‘fix’ my dog. I am not going to sling a prong collar or e-collar on him so that when he does something I don’t want him to do he gets an unpleasant or painful punishment. I am not going to counter his fear and anxiety by adding more fear and anxiety on top.

What I want is for him to find the world a less scary place. Which is happening – slowly but surely, he is able to cope with more of the world around him without feeling the need to shout at it all to go away. We have now progressed to the point where we can start getting closer to the things that have worried him so much in the past – which is the point of his spiffy new jacket from Yellow Dog UK. To allow us to get closer to others while letting them know that he’s not ready to be approached yet.

This can be a tricky time when working with a fearful dog. To help them feel more comfortable around their triggers, we need to take them to be around those things. Be it people, dogs, cars, whatever it is that the dog struggles with. But we need it to be at a level where our dog is not worried – which is why we often see posts from people upset that their progress has been set back by a loose dog running up to them, for example, and being told that if their dog is ‘nasty’ they shouldn’t have them in a public place. That they should take the dog away and ‘train it’.

We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place here – we need to be around these triggers for the training to happen, for the dog to feel safer and not need to shout at the world to go away, but equally we need those triggers to give us some space. Hence the jacket, to give us a chance of improving things out in the world.

The other issue I have with these statements is that he is not a good advert for me as a pro. Because he’s not perfect, he has issues.

I have, in the course of my time working with dogs, met some amazing dog people. What I’ve discovered is that so many of them found their way into the dog world because of a dog with ‘issues’, one who needed extra understanding. The dogs who aren’t the ‘go anywhere, do anything’ kind of dogs so many people imagine when contemplating getting a dog. And what we have found as we have learned what these dogs needs from us is that those easy-going dogs that we can take anywhere are not the norm (Disclaimer: I have had a dog who we could take anywhere and who loved being cuddled and fussed by kids, wasn’t bothered by other dogs approaching, etc. They do exist, but they are very rare).

These complex dogs have made us better dog people, because we have learned how forgiving our past dogs have been of the mistakes we have made, the assumptions we might have made about them. We have learned that every dog is an individual, just as unique as every human. They have their likes and preferences, their dislikes, and fears.

They need us to do our best to understand them, to help them feel safe and happy in their world. It may not be the world we want to inhabit, but when bringing a living, breathing creature into our homes, we must be ready to compromise, to make sure that the life we live is a good fit for all concerned.

This dog has taught me so much. He has come so far from where we were. He will never be that ‘perfect’ dog. But to me, he’s perfect as he is, because of the way he tries for me, he communicates with me, he trusts me to listen to him when he feels unsure and insecure, he trusts me to have his back and keep him safe.

Not 'the perfect dog' but my perfect boy all the same

No, I am not ‘fixing’ my dog. He is teaching me to be the best dog person that I can be.

I am now, over at Good Guardianship, offering reactive behaviour support packages, where I will help you and your dog on a 1-2-1 basis to become more comfortable together and help your dog to feel safer and more secure in their world. Have a look to see what I offer, and contact me to discuss whether this is the right programme for you!

Saturday, 10 September 2022

Aversive training: more consequences than you may realise

This is perhaps a slightly more technical article than many I post but it's an important one, considering as it does the connection between training methods and welfare.


Despite the efforts of many canine professionals and widening body of scientific evidence, aversive training techniques remain in use. Discussions surrounding the use of these tools are often acrimonious and highly divisive. Supporters insist some dogs need them, some breeds apparently too stubborn or high drive for management any other way. Reward-based training is denigrated as ‘cookie-pushing’ or permissiveness, allowing the dog to be in charge, when what dogs ‘need’ is to know their pack leader. This is despite the fact alpha theory is outdated, based on observations from the 1940s now recognised as flawed.


Using aversive techniques carries significant risks to the physical health and well-being of dogs, and the human-canine relationship. By definition, aversive methods are things dogs actively try to avoid. They find them unpleasant, painful, or scary, and want to reduce the likelihood of encountering that stimulus again. This raises serious ethical questions. In addition, if we are causing distress or pain to dogs, what effect will that have on their view of us?

Friday, 8 July 2022

Can We Sometimes Miss an Opportunity with Enrichment?

Enrichment is a word that is coming into ever wider usage in the dog world. Adding enrichment into the lives of our dogs means adding value and enjoyment to their days, letting them carry out normal and natural dog behaviours.

Friday, 17 June 2022

The Key to Effective Counterconditioning to Help Fearful Dogs

One of the most important techniques available to us, particularly when working with fearful and reactive dogs is counterconditioning. Doing it correctly means the dog’s response to the thing that is worrying them changes from a negative reaction to a positive one. Doing it incorrectly will either not improve the situation or could even make the situation more complicated.  

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

The Secret to Successful Socialisation

If you have added a puppy to your family at any point in the last few years, the chances are that you have seen something like a ‘socialisation checklist’. A whole collection of different objects and long lists of types of people guardians must introduce puppies to as soon as possible, beginning immediately on getting them home. However, does sticking to these types of lists guarantee that a puppy will grow up to be a well-adjusted and well ‘socialised’ adult dog? To consider this question we must start by asking another.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Pick Out Positives to See Your True Progress


I have never been a believer in sharing only the good when talking about life with my dogs, my complex and sensitive ‘reactive’ boy most of all. He has been doing really well in the last few months, and I probably shouldn’t be surprised that we ended up having one of ‘those’ walks last week.

‘Those’ walks can happen to all of us, no matter how knowledgeable and experienced we may be. We can do our best to avoid getting close to triggers but, in all honesty, as soon as we step out into the wider world, there are factors that are beyond our control. This happened to us the other day, and resulted in Finn having a mini meltdown.

Monday, 18 April 2022

Because We Always Have is Not a Valid Reason

I was reading a post the other day on empathy and consideration in dog training, following the growing movement towards recognising and acknowledging the emotional capacity and experience of dogs. I’ll admit it is something I have become passionate about myself, especially since encountering a dog who has such a need for the people around him to understand how he is feeling in any given situation. This particular dog’s needs have set me to learning how best to support and work with dogs, and discovering the ways that give dogs the best and kindest experience of life with us.