Category "Problem Behaviour"


Many dogs overreact to things out of fear.  Fear is an emotion, and is therefore not voluntary.  If you see something that scares you, your stomach might turn over, or you might turn in the opposite direction.  If a dog sees something that scares him, his reaction might be to bark, and if he’s on the lead, he doesn’t have the option to get away from it like you do.

In some humans loud noises can induce physical pain, and we’re not sure whether this is a possibility in dogs too.  Regardless, many fearful dogs are also noise phobic.

Let’s say that your dog is barking aggressively at another dog.  Your dog is likely to be telling that other dog to keep away as he’s afraid.  If you shake a can of coins next to your dog or throw something metallic on the ground, you’re likely to get the effect you want; you’ll startle your dog out of his reaction.  But what have you actually taught your dog?

  • You’ve taught your dog that he was right to be afraid; scary things happen when strange dogs are around. 

But is that all he’s learned?  Hopefully yes, but what if your dog now associates other things with that experience?  What if there was a child in the dog’s line of sight when it happened?  What has your dog learned from the experience?

  • You’ve taught your dog that he was right to be afraid; scary things happen when strange dogs are around. 
  • Strange dogs cause frightening noises.
  • Frightening noises happen around children so children are scary.
  • There are lots of children in a school playground, the school playground is very loud, so schools are scary.

So now not only have you got a dog that’s afraid of other dogs, you’ve also got a dog that is afraid of, and barks at, children and he’ll now no longer walk past a school.

Not is there only no point in punishing your dog for acting out of fear, as fear is an emotion and therefore not voluntary, but you’re actually doing more harm than good by punishing your dog.

Instead of punishing your dog for this behaviour, you need to look at why he’s behaving in this way, and what you can do to help your dog overcome his fear, which is not to force your dog to face his fears.

Let’s say that your dog isn’t barking at the other dog out of fear, that he has some other motivation.  If your intention is to startle the dog out of the reaction, that’s done by scaring the dog.  This is what your dog could learn from this situation:

  • Frightening noises happen around strange dogs so strange dogs are scary.

You’ve created a problem that wasn’t there before.

If you have a dog that overreacts to things in his environment, get in touch to see what you can do to help him cope.





I know, weird name!


A flirt pole is essentially a telescopic pole with a bungee on the end with a tug toy attached.


  • You can use it to teach your dog to drop items
  • It’s brilliant for helping dogs with their impulse control
  • It’s great for mental stimulation
  • It’s particularly good for exercising your dog in small spaces.


Make the tug toy on the end of the flirt pole act like a small furry animal by dragging it along the floor and encourage the dog to chase it.  Remember to keep the tug toy close to the floor for young dogs.  Allow the dog to catch it.  Say ‘drop’, with a treat under the dogs nose; if he wants the treat he’ll have to release the tug toy, so this is a great way to teach ‘drop’.  If your dog doesn’t drop the toy, don’t turn it into a wrestling game, this will only encourage the dog to hold onto the toy.  Instead, make the toy as boring as possible.  Your dog will learn quite quickly that the game can’t recommence if the tug toy is in his mouth.

Once the dog is engaged in the game, you can start on impulse control.  Each time your dog gets too close to the tug toy, flip the toy 180 degrees away from him.  Quite soon he should learn that by getting too close, he’s driving the toy away, and he’ll start to hesitate.  This is great, he’s demonstrating impulse control!  You can now put a command – ‘get it!’ to release him to play the game again.  To begin with, don’t make the game too hard; let the dog catch the tug toy quite quickly, but only if you’ve released him with ‘get it!’.  Once the dog is really enjoying the game you can make it progressively harder to catch the toy.

When you’ve finished the game, let your dog know by saying something like ‘over’ or ‘enough’.  You can use this with other games to let him know that play time is over for now.




Are dogs capable of feeling guilt?

Not according to a study done by Alexandra Horowitz in 2009.  In this study, dog owners left their dog in a room with a treat, after having told the dog not to eat the treat.  Some dogs ate the treat, researchers gave some dogs the treat, and with some dogs the researcher took the treat away.  Regardless of what actually happened, some owners were told that the dogs had behaved as the owner wished, that they had not eaten the treat, and some owners were told that their dog had eaten the treat.  All dogs who were told off by their owners showed signs of ‘guilt’ regardless of whether they were guilty of eating the treat or not.

Although research is ongoing, the current belief is that the part of the dog’s brain that does the thinking is too small to be able to process the effect his behaviour will have on others as well as knowing and caring what others are thinking and feeling, therefore dogs are not able to feel guilt.

So why do dogs look ‘guilty’?

We are seeing ‘human’ signs of guilt and are assuming that they mean the same in dogs as they do in humans; avoiding eye contact, deflection, anxiety, apologies.  In dogs, these are signs of ‘appeasement‘ and are used to deflect confrontation.  Rather than your dog trying to tell you that he’s sorry, he’s really trying to say ‘don’t hurt me, I mean you no harm’.

If you perceive the dog to be ‘guilty’ of something then your dog is reading your body language (or your actual !@#$% language) to be hostile and is trying to avoid reprimand or violence.

Dogs understand consequences (reward or punishment), but associate the consequence with the behaviour that was immediately prior to the reward or punishment.  For example; your dog sits, you give your dog a treat, your dog understands that he was rewarded for sitting.  If your dog rips a cushion up at lunch time and you come home at tea time and smack your dog, he’s not going to understand that he’s being punished for destroying the cushion, regardless of whether you’re gesticulating at the cushion or waving it in his face.  He’s going to associate the punishment with happened immediately before the punishment – you coming home.

Does your dog know what he did was wrong?

Probably not.

To him, ripping up the cushion probably alleviated his boredom.  Can you expect to be able to leave your dog at home for hours on end without some form of entertainment?  Take a look at some ideas for enriching your dog’s life.

If you come home to a smelly ‘present’, has your dog toileted on the carpet to spite you?  No, that’s not how a dog’s brain works.  You may have left him too long, he may have an upset stomach, or he may even be so stressed that he looses control of his bodily functions.

If your dog is chewing at doors and windows, he may be distressed at being left alone.

Is it funny?

No, dogs showing signs of guilt is not usually funny.  If you have a dog that looks guilty, I’d recommend looking at what you could be doing to repair your relationship with your dog.


Firstly, who says it’s bad behaviour?  Not your dog, he probably loves it, that’s why he’s doing it.

Let’s reword the question.  Ignore unwanted behaviour – yes or no?

Dog owner:  “I don’t like my dog chasing sheep, but my dog trainer told me to ignore unwanted behaviour.”

Is ignoring this behaviour going to make it go away?  No.

Should this unwanted behaviour be ignored?  No, this particular behaviour shouldn’t be ignored, it needs to be addressed.

Is the behaviour going to get worse?  Probably, yes.

Why is this behaviour likely to get worse?  The dog’s reward for chasing the sheep is that he’s enjoying it; the enjoyment is reinforcing the behaviour.  Reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour increasing, or happening more often.

Really, dog trainers should be advising dog owners not to reinforce unwanted behaviour.

So which unwanted behaviours should you ignore?  You need to look at what the dog finds rewarding about the behaviour.  Are you in control of the reward?  You’re not in control of the enjoyment a dog gets while he’s chasing sheep, but you are in control of the attention your dog gets when he jumps up at you, for example.  One of the definitions of ‘ignore’ is to refuse to take notice of or acknowledge, in other words not to give attention.  By giving the dog attention when he jumps up at you you are rewarding the dog and therefore reinforcing the behaviour.  Reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour increasing.

Where attention is what your dog finds rewarding and when you are in control of the attention the dog gets, then yes, you can ignore this behaviour.  This should stop the behaviour increasing or happening more often.  It won’t necessarily stop the behaviour though as reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour increasing.  

So how can you stop the behaviour?  In addition to ignoring the jumping to stop it increasing, you could reward the dog when he jumps off you and all four paws are on the floor, reinforcing that all four paws should be on the floor.  Reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour increasing.

If you can predict when the unwanted behaviour is likely to happen, you could also replace the unwanted behaviour with a different, more desirable behaviour, one that would make it difficult for the dog to perform the unwanted behaviour.  For example, you if know that your dog jumps up at people when they come to the house, you could ask him to sit when people come to the house and reward him for that, reinforcing that he should be sitting when greeting people.  Reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour increasing, so he’s more likely to sit when greeting people in future.  If he’s sitting then he can’t also be jumping up at people, so the jumping isn’t being reinforced.

You could also train him that a ring on the doorbell means to settle in his bed, as he can’t be jumping all over the guests if he’s chilling on his bed, but that’s a training challenge for another day.

So, what you need to do it stop the reinforcement that the dog is getting from the unwanted behaviour.  Get in touch if you need help.