Barking Mad!

Barking is a completely natural, normal and acceptable behaviour for dogs, but we humans often don’t tolerate it in our community. From your dog’s point of view, there are many good reasons to bark. Fido comes hard-wired with various instinctive survival and communication behaviours, which includes barking at intruders or competitors, and at sources of fear and excitement. Excessive barking is defined by it occurring at inappropriate times, or when it goes on for too long. Most large breeds of dogs rarely vocalise, but small breeds and working dogs are particularly prone to barking.

While it is unreasonable to completely inhibit this essential instinctive behaviour in our dogs, we certainly can train Fido to learn when, and for how long, it is acceptable to express himself. Firstly, we need to establish why Fido is barking, because this changes how we train.



Separation-related barking

If Fido is barking for hours at a time when he has been left home alone, we need to treat him for separation anxiety, which involves a completely different approach to territorial barking. (See our Separation Anxiety tip sheet).

Another form of annoying barking is an attention-seeking behaviour, which is closely lionked with separation related behaviours. Does your dog bark at you and/or jump up for attention? Don’t give him any! None at all – not even eye contact or voice control. Gruff reprimands count as attention in Fido’s mind, so yelling “quiet!” reinforces his behaviour and will make it worse – he’ll actually think you’re joining in the barking. If he is mugging you for attention because he is anxious, yelling at him will only increase his anxiety. Only reward your dog with your attention when he’s calm and distracted, never when he is demanding it, or even just asking for it. (See our Attention-seeking tip sheet).

Boredom and medical-related barking

If the dog appears to be barking at nothing, with a repetitive, chronic bark, he could be bored (especially in younger dogs) or experiencing pain or dementia (especially in older dogs). Boredom, due to lack of exercise and mental stimulation, is the most common reason for monotonous, incessant barking. Think honestly about whether your dog is getting enough physical and mental stimulation. How would you feel if you were locked up at home all day with no phone, iPad, companions or outings? Boredom and lack of stimulation is torture.

Our dogs crave exercise and attention. Thirty minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise or mental games are essential to keep him happy, help him settle down, become less reactive and more tranquil. Trick training is a brilliant way to stimulate your dog on rainy days or if you are unable to provide vigorous exercise. Ask neighbours to visit and play with your dog or to take him for extra walks. Being walked on a leash at a slow pace is better than nothing, but dogs need to run fast – hither and thither – to really get the beans out.

Make Fido work for his food through puzzle toys stuffed with treats or food. These are great entertainment for dogs and give Fido something fun to do while you are away or busy. Have several on hand so that he gets most of his meals this way. Scattering dry food throughout his territory is also a great way to satiate his natural instincts to ‘hunt’ for his food.

Territorial and defensive barking

Almost all other types of barking result from an innate defence mechanism, in response to a perceived threat to the dog’s personal safety, territory or precious resources (such as his pack, young, food, toys, sleeping place, mate etc). Most dogs are relaxed and rarely bark, but those prone to anxiety will bark at the proverbial drop of a hat! Dogs travelling on the road with their owners become hyper-vigilant and fiercely defend their caravan site. This is because their constantly changing environment increases anxiety in some individuals, so they bark at anything within cooee of their tiny territory. Some dogs find this overwhelming and are simply unsuited to life on the road, while others can learn to relax and absolutely revel in it!

Territorial barking is a common form of unwanted barking behaviour and usually involves sudden, acute bouts of hysterical barking at the first sight of something unusual. Fido sees something – usually approaching – and goes nuts, to alert his ‘pack’ of a perceived threat, and/or to create a tirade of defensive threats against the intruder, telling it to stay away. As the intruder walks past and away from Fido’s territory, he thinks that it was his hysterical, defensive barking that drove the threat away, so this behaviour becomes self-reinforcing.



What is ‘acceptable’ barking?

It is okay for Fido to give a few good barks to alert us to the presence of a ‘threat’… but it is not acceptable for him to on, and on, with it. If he barks at every movement and sound he sees and hears – from his bed, through the window, from the deck or campsite, in the yard or in public – it becomes irritating for all within earshot, especially if Fido carries it on long after the trigger has gone.

Dos and Don’ts

We need to help Fido learn new coping strategies to deal with his anxiety or arousal, by positively reinforcing calm, controlled and confident behaviour. (See our Tranquillity Training and Desensitisation tip sheets). He initially needs to learn to focus on us and remain in control, leaving us to thwart the threat. Later, his new-found confidence will allow him to remain calm on his own.

Yelling at the dog to stop barking can be perceived by him that you’re joining in, so stay calm, controlled and quiet. Simply remove Fido from the proximity of the perceived threat and work with him to get his focus on you rather than the intruder, to create a calm, confident response to the presence of the trigger.

The most effective method to reduce this frantic response to an approaching threat is to stay with Fido whenever he is exposed to potential triggers and watch for anything that he is likely to react to. We need to get in first – before he reacts – asking him for focus, and keeping him really busy with tasks – like sit, shake, drop, spin, etc. This will distract him from either noticing, or reacting to, the trigger. If he looks at the intruder but doesn’t bark, say “Yes!!” and immediately reward him with whatever he most loves – a game, a food treat, a cuddle, etc. If he looks and gives a couple of gruff woofs, do the same, because this is also absolutely acceptable. But if he barks in a way that is unwanted – hysterically, or going on with it beyond three or four woofs – immediately isolate him from your company and attention.

Never molly-coddle him! Don’t caress him, saying: “It’s okay, Fido, be a good boy, shhhh. Good boy, good boy. It’s okay, Fido…” etc. This does not help but only reinforces his behaviour – you are effectively saying “Good boy for going nuts, Fido, good boy. Be anxious, that’s right, go nuts” which is not the message we need to impart! Just ignore him and isolate him until he stops barking.



Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is the highly-researched scientific concept to which dogs are well known to positively respond. It simply involves providing consequences to actions. Through consistent and repetitive provision of good consequences for wanted behaviour, and mildly unpleasant consequences for unwanted behaviour, a pattern begins to form that the dog can recognise. Fido will eventually start to understand that certain behaviours work better for him.

Rewards of treats, affection and games provide positive consequences for the sort of behaviour we want him to repeat. Briefly isolating Fido from your companionship forms a very mild ‘punishment’ – a negative consequence to his unwanted behaviour. If he could think deductively (which he can’t) it would go something along the lines of: “If I alert my human to the scary man or dog approaching our house without going completely nuts, I get cheese and a cuddle… but if I go nuts, my human leaves me alone! I’m gonna try and win more cheese!”

Keep your training positive

Fido will learn much faster if training has a positive focus. Try to maintain the ratio of positive consequences to 99% and negative consequences to only 1% (or as close to this as possible) for the most effective results. This is especially important in the anxious individual. It takes a fair amount of vigilance and commitment to train a naturally vocal dog, but this process really does work if you follow the basic scientific principles of consequences for actions in a positive framework.

Repetition and consistency is the key, so if you leave Fido outside to bark at threats 90% of the day and spend only fifteen minutes trying to train it out of him, it won’t work. Fido must not be able to detrain himself by barking at triggers whenever you are not around, or if you are too busy to notice triggers approaching and have to resort to punishment methods to try to stop Fido’s barking. It’s not working for you now, and it won’t work for you in the future. You will need to restrict his ability to be reactive by reducing his exposure to the things that trigger his excessive barking until you can be with him and pre-empt his reactivity with focus and training exercises. This means you need to spend a lot of time with your dog.

Barking First Aid

As a stop-gap emergency measure for territorial reactive barking, and for the times when you are not able to be with him to train him to be more tranquil and less reactive, we need to reduce Fido’s sensitivity by blocking his view of passers-by. He won’t bark at what he cannot see or hear, so keep him indoors, close the shades, confine him to a part of the house or caravan that doesn’t have windows he can see through. If he stays outside in a yard or tethered to your campsite, reduce his view of his environment with covered fencing or portable pens. Play music or leave the radio on, loud enough to cover outside noises (but not enough to annoy your neighbours!). Crates are excellent and crate-trained dogs will be far less reactive if they have their own special little ‘den’ in which to feel more secure. (See our Crate Training tip sheet).


anti-barking training SUMMARY


  • Have some high-value treats ready – small and soft so they can be eaten quickly – such as pea-sized pieces of cheese, ham or bacon (not boring dry dog biscuits).
  • Stay alert and watch for triggers that are likely to make Fido bark.
  • Reward him lavishly if he does not react, or does so within the bounds of acceptable behaviour (a woof or two, or even three). Be a little generous with what you deem ‘acceptable’ in the early stages, to help him have as many wins as possible. You can become more selective later, as his anti-bark training progresses.
  • Pre-empt any potential reactivity by getting his focus off the trigger and onto you, before he even has a chance to start barking. Distract him with tasks such as obedience cues and give him tricks to complete, for which he can be lavishly rewarded. This makes him feel happier, and the resulting change in his emotional state – from being aroused or fearful to thinking about you and staying calm – is exactly what we are aiming for in this training.

But what if he barks anyway? – Timeout

  • If the dog starts barking, do not over-react – give him one ‘cease it’ cue such as Enough, Hush or Quiet, spoken firmly but without emotion
  • Lead him with as little contact as possible (eg. by a leash) to a timeout zone where he feels a little isolated. The toilet or a bare crate (not his favourite sleeping crate), where he has no comfort or companionship, is ideal.
  • Don’t leave him in isolation for more than a minute – less if the dog is naturally anxious – and only release him when he is calm and quiet.
  • It is important to wait for fifteen to twenty seconds after he stops barking before you release him, or he will associate his release with barking in the timeout zone.
  • (See our Timeout Training tip sheet)

Key points

  • Always try to focus on providing positive consequences for not barking, rather than relying on negative consequences through timeout.
  • Reward him repeatedly and lavishly for staying quiet and then gradually increase the time he must remain quiet before rewarding him, which is how we phase out the treats.
  • If he starts barking, go back a few steps and reduce the duration, or go back to distracting him with tasks, or use timeout to discourage it.
  • Once he begins to understand that you are rewarding him for not being reactive to whatever triggers him, add a cue word – hush, sshhhhh, or quiet – as soon as either of you sees triggers in the future.

Long term training

As with any behaviour problem or obedience skill, training must be ongoing. Many trainers make the mistake of forgetting to provide positive consequences for wanted behaviours when the behaviour is no longer a ‘problem’ so progress begins to slide away. If you constantly praise Fido long into the future for merely looking at – or maybe just giving a minor woof – at triggers without being overly reactive, he will continue to feel confident and calm and maintain his new skills.


If you only complete one training technique with your dog, make sure you conquer this ‘Calm Confidence’ training process, because it will be your best friend in many situations! If your dog can look to you for calm confidence in any situation, you will avoid many difficult behaviours.


Tranquility training – teaching your dog to be calm, quiet and confident, even in the face of distractions, fear and excitement – can be a wonderful training tool for all dogs, but is particularly beneficial in shaping the behaviour of naturally anxious or hyperactive dogs. It is sometimes called ‘Go to Place’ training, because we are teaching the dog to go to its place (a bed, mat or crate), and remain there in a calm, quiet and confident state, until released. The ‘focus’ element of this training is an essential skill when confronted with a situation creating fear or distraction, especially in public places.


Listed below are guidelines for a series of daily training exercises, which will take less than 10 minutes to complete. These tranquility exercises are the foundation of teaching ‘Calm Confidence’ behaviour (see separate sheet) and ‘Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning’ training (see separate sheet).


Depending on the dog, it may be more successful to start him on a leash (and head collar in the case of hyperactive dogs) even when training inside the home, then progress to off-leash training only in the final stages of each exercise. Always start the program inside the home, even if the dog’s problematic behaviors only occur outside the home. Once progression to outside training is achieved, maintain leash control until a 90+% success rate is achieved on leash, then complete each exercise with the dog on a long line, before finally removing the leash altogether.


One ten-minute session daily is essential, but two or three sessions daily is even better. If a dog routinely gets bored, distracted, agitated or anxious during these exercises, they can be broken down into two 5-minute sessions. The person with the most control over the pet should begin the training first, but all members in the household responsible for controlling the dog should complete the training program with the dog.


Some of the essential elements to ensure success include:


■ Find a quiet place in your home for initial training – a darkened, isolated room with no distractions. This way your dog will remain fully focused on you.


■ Ideally, use a small mat, bed or crate as a location guide to train your pet to settle and relax in a particular spot or ‘place’ (hence the term ‘place’ training).

  • Using a mat, bed or crate will allow you to take this item to other locations where your pet may need to be calm.
  • Having a reliable ‘go to place’ command is very helpful for a wide range of undesirable behaviors ranging, from obnoxious greeting behaviors, to anxiety and aggression situations.
  • This technique can also be used in cases of separation anxiety for independence training – teaching a safe place to remain when alone (this is where a small collapsible soft crate is particularly valuable, as it resembles the instinctive ‘den’ of the wild dog, therefore providing a place of safety and protection).


■ In all of the exercises, the dog has to do a simple command (go to the ‘place’, sit or drop/down) and then remain in that position – in a tranquil, calm state – to gain the reward.


■ You may want to add in a key phrase like a gentle “sssshhhh”, “relax” or “easy” to teach the dog to associate relaxation with sitting/dropping down and staying put

  • The goal is for the pet to be relaxed and calm.
  • Relaxation is measured by watching the facial expressions and body postures of your pet; ears and tail should be relaxed and the body soft, loose and low.
  • Relaxation is also indicated by slow breathing (not panting).


■ As you progress through the exercises, the handler will gradually start to engage in mild distractions during the command phase. The distractions will become greater only as the training progresses.


■ Remember that the handler throughout the exercise should give the dog verbal and visual direction – with voice and hand signals, remain calm and relaxed themselves (!!), and ensure the entire process is a good experience for the dog.


■ Remember to follow up every successful action with a timely “Yes!” to mark the desired behaviour, followed by a treat/reward to reinforce that behaviour. This is a critically important concept!


■ Do not attempt this training if the dog is already aroused (excitable or anxious/ aggressive). Wait until the dog is in a relatively normal (i.e. calm) state.


■ Non-compliance is ignored, not rewarded, and certainly not reprimanded or punished. Just turn away, take a breath, have a short (e.g. 30-second) break, and adjust the exercise to increase chances of success (make it easier), then try again. If the dog is too aroused, end the session and try again later or the next day.


■ Between each exercise, the dog should break the sit/drop by being releases and encouraged to get up and move away with some form of distraction, before being commanded to ‘go to place’ and sit/drop again. For example, the handler can release the dog and move to another spot in the room and call the dog to them, or lure the dog up and away from the ‘place’ with a toy or treat, ready for the next ‘go to place’ command.


■ The first round of these exercises should be done inside the house with minimal household distractions; children/other dogs should be confined elsewhere, it should be quiet, etc.


■ Do not progress to a higher level (an environment with a higher level of distractions) until a 90%+ success rate is achieved at the previous level. Level one should be in a very quiet, dark, familiar place. The second level should only be in slightly more distracting circumstances, such as in a busier room inside the home, and once quiet, calm compliance is achieved here, only then step up to a third level, (e.g. a secure yard), and a fourth level (e.g. the street), and a fifth level (e.g. dog park) etc. Rushing the process, or jumping levels, and expecting compliance will result in failure.


■ If the dog fails to be or remain calm and quiet, or even to ‘go to place’ in the first instance in the more difficult environment, you have proceeded too far/fast too soon, and the dog is probably confused. You need to take a big step back. Take more time at each level if this happens.


■ If you have begun this Calm Confidence training as a precursor to Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning, you must be particularly cautious not to proceed too fast. Once the dog has successfully completed these exercises in at least two, or preferably three different locations, you can progress to Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning the dog to the triggers/stimuli which are causing his anxiety or fear (see Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning sheet).



The following Calm Confidence training sessions are not intended as ‘one-session-to-be-completed-once-before-moving-onto-the-next-session’. They are stages of training, and may need to be attempted only in part if progress is not fast, or many times over, in some dogs – before progressing to the next session stage.


Be patient and read your dog carefully. Poor observation of your dog’s state of mind and putting too much pressure on him through a rushed training program will only exacerbate his anxiety and over-excitability, not resolve them.



Teaching Your Dog to be Calm and Confident  through ‘Place’ and ‘Focus’ Training


Session One – developing the action

  • Using a treat in front of the dog’s nose, lure him onto the mat/bed (or into the crate) with a treat, and, as soon as his front feet are on the mat, say “Yes!” and give a treat. Encourage or lead the dog back off the mat (or out of the crate) again.
  • Repeat luring the dog onto the mat several times, and gradually build up to require all four feet being on the bed/mat (or inside the crate) before you say “Yes!” and give a treat.


Session Two – adding the command ‘on your mat’

Revision: repeat the above steps a few times and, if the dog clearly remembers the previous exercise and is calm and compliant, progress to:

  • Lure the dog onto the mat and, if compliant, add the command “on your mat” (or “in your crate”) just as he is stepping onto the mat, say “Yes!” and give a treat.
  • Repeat luring the dog onto the mat several times with the command thrown in just as his feet go onto the mat, and again, build up to requiring all four feet being on the bed/mat (or inside the crate) before you say “Yes!” and give a treat.
  • Repeat the process, but start giving the command a little earlier in the process, until you are saying it just before you start luring the dog on the mat. Be sure to say “Yes!” and give a treat every time the dog successfully gets onto the mat.

Take a break for a few minutes, then quickly repeat the last step before proceeding with:

  • Start with the dog several feet from the bed. As you give the command – ‘on your mat’, throw a treat with a sweep of the arm onto the mat. As he goes to follow the treat and steps onto the mat, say “Yes!” and give him two additional treats.
  • Repeat the process many times and then try the command with the arm action, but without actually throwing the treat onto the mat. If the dog steps onto the mat (whether chasing the treat that wasn’t thrown or in compliance to the command) say “Yes!” and give him five of his favourite treats (a jackpot) one after another (not all at the same time) and further increase the reinforcement event with a quiet game or extra tummy rub treat.


This second session stage should be repeated many times until the dog is in no doubt as to what the command of “on your mat” (or “on your bed”, or “in your crate”) means.


Session Three – introducing the ‘sit’ and ‘release’

Revision: repeat the previous stages of sessions one and two for revision, to be sure the dog understands the process so far – of what ‘on your mat’ requires.

  • Send the dog onto his mat with the ‘on your mat’ command, say “Yes!” and reward him with a treat
  • When standing on the mat, command ‘sit’, and, when compliant, say “Yes!” and give a treat.
  • Note: if your dog already has a responsive drop/down command, try this session process with the drop, as this is likely to increase your rate of progression. It is easier for a dog to break from a sit, so placing the pet down into a drop will increase success on remaining in position on the mat. If your dog does not have a good drop/down response, just use the sit command.
  • Do not expect the dog to remain in the sit position. Within one to two seconds, say ‘Free!’ and allow him/encourage him to get up on his feet and off the mat again. [Important: do not allow the dog to get up of his own volition, before you have released him. You may need to gently hold him in the sit position until your release word “Free!’ is given (but only say ‘Free!’ and release him when he is calm and relaxed, not struggling against your hands)].
  • Repeat many times until the dog is immediately compliant to the ‘sit’ command once on the bed, and does not spring straight back up again. Release him within one second of being commanded to sit. Do not hold him in an extended sit-stay yet. This comes later!


If your dog begins to see a pattern – that he is asked to go to his mat and then to sit – and if he does both actions on the one command of ‘on your mat’ (not needing to be commanded to sit – jackpot him! Give him five of his favourite treats one after another. This is exactly what we are aiming for! Make him understand that we are really happy with this progress


The best way to do this is to jackpot him with treats and then: END OF LESSON!


Session Four – introduce the ‘sit-stay’, through a ‘focus’ command

Revision: Repeat the previous stage to be sure the dog remembers that he is to sit when sent to his mat and not get up again until released.

  • Command ‘on your bed’ (and ‘sit’ if necessary), then briefly hold a treat to your dog’s nose and, when he smells it, draw it slowly up to the bridge of your nose, so that his eyes follow it to your eyes. When he makes contact with your eyes say “Yes!’ and give him the treat
  • Repeat four to ten times (a couple of minutes, maximum) without releasing him, but then say ‘Free!’ and let him get up and move off the mat for a break, before continuing.
  • Repeat, and when he is definitely following the progression of the treat to your eyes, introduce the command ‘watch’ (or ‘look’) as you draw the treat up towards your face. Make sure your timing is accurate when you say ‘Yes!” and give him the treat – it must be the split second he makes contact with your eyes. Without releasing him (or letting him break from the sit position), repeat several times.
  • After a particularly good ‘watch’ response, say ‘Free!’ to release the dog from the sit position. Take a break and have a gentle play or cuddle with the dog. Remember this is a tranquility training exercise so rough and excitable play is NOT on the agenda!
  •  (Note: this ‘focus’ exercise can be completed everywhere – not just on his bed. Beside you at the dinner table, when watching TV, on your lap, in the laundry, in the garden, and, eventually, in the street. The more you do this, the faster it will become a great training tool).
  • Resume by repeating the whole process, but now prolong the ‘watch’ (or look) for two seconds – maintaining that eye contact – before saying “Yes!” and giving the treat. Get the dog up again for a break after a couple of minutes, and always only after a particularly good response to ‘look’.
  • Resume by repeating the whole process, but now prolong the ‘watch’ (or look) for four or five seconds – maintaining that eye contact – before saying “Yes!” and giving the treat. Get the dog up again for a break after a couple of minutes, and always only after a particularly good response to ‘look’.


Session Five – increasing the reliability of ‘place’, ‘sit-stay’, and ‘focus’ commands through introducing distractions

Revision: repeat the entire process from stage one to four, to be sure the dog understands the different commands so far introduced, including ‘on your mat’, ‘sit’, ‘watch,’ and ‘Free!”

We now increase the degree of difficulty by introducing variables.

  • When holding the focus for five seconds, try moving your free hand (not the one holding the treat) to your chest and back down again, then slowly waving it around in the air, to see if the dog breaks eye the contact or breaks from the sit. It is okay to break eye contact initially so long as you can get it back again before you release him, but it is not okay if he breaks from the sit position. If he does, withhold the treat, but be fair! Introduce movement gradually!
  • Increase movement in a variety of ways: stand up, step slightly sideways, step backwards half a step, move the treat slightly to the side and see if his eyes slide back to yours (we want him to focus on your eyes, not the treat). Always remember to say “Yes!” and reinforce his great efforts with a treat or even two if he succeeds on a particularly difficult step.
  • Ultimately, you should be able to hold eye contact if you were to get up and change position within the room. For this I would jackpot and end the lesson.
  • Remember, when introducing something new, do not expect the dog to hold eye contact for more than the basic level of one or two seconds. This is very important: when increasing the distractions, reduce your expectations of time to hold the contact/sit position
  • Vary the time the pet remains in place from 3 to 10 seconds; vary the direction of your movement; go left then back, swivel and turn away one step and return, turn in a circle, or march in place; vary the distraction by clapping your hands softly two to three times
  • Other distractions could include changing the room in which you are doing the training to one with a higher level of distractions – introduce another pet, a child, an adult moving around the room, play loud music, have the vacuum cleaner running…. Use your imagination to create a gradually increasing level of distractions.


Subsequent Sessions

  • Continue to vary the amount of time the pet remains stationary, on the mat, in each step.
  • Continue to vary the distractions, include jumping jacks (jump and land with legs apart while clapping hands overhead, then jump back again with legs together and arms by your sides), knock on furniture, jog in place, turn your back on the dog, etc.
  • Ramp it up with movement and noise:  walk away and go all wriggly and make silly, high pitched monster noises; or fall onto the floor and flap your limbs (this is a very difficult one for dogs to resist!)
  • A difficult increase in difficulty involves going out of sight: walk away to the door, stop, go back again to reward the dog; walk towards the door, stop, step out of sight and pop straight back in sight again, and go back and reward the dog for staying in place. Gradually increase the amount of time out of sight by a second or two, then five to ten seconds, then thirty seconds etc, until you can stay out of sight for several minutes. This is very good training for dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
  • After all of this has been completed in the original quiet, isolated training room, return to the very first session and repeat every stage in a different location. Progress will be achieved quickly, having been through the process previously, and you may be able to get right through all stages in the new location in just one session (but don’t have unrealistic expectations).
  • Repeat with different family members handling the pet, but be sure to start from the first stage – in a quiet isolated room.
  • All handlers conducting the training should gradually progress to busier, noisier rooms, then repeat the process in the quiet back yard, then progress to the noisy front yard, then to a quiet street or public place etc.
  • The process culminates when you can successfully complete this Calm Confidence training in a busy street with many distractions, or a shopping precinct, or the on-leash dog park, and finally, progress to the off-leash dog park or beach.


When your dog can offer a reliable sit-stay in a public place (or other highly-charged situation), and maintain eye contact with you on the ‘watch’ command, you can use this to keep him focused on you whenever he is getting over-excited, anxious or aggressive. This may apply when the dog exhibits over-excitability behaviour when visitors arrive, when anxious about a large threatening dog passing by in the street, when aggressive every time the postman whizzes past on his bike, when barking at the lawn mower or vacuum cleaner, to calm him in the car if he is over-active or anxious, to reduce his aggression if people visit your caravan site… and many, many other daily situations.


Congratulations! You and you dog should now be able to handle pretty much any normal situation in our frenetic human society, with a calm and confident attitude.


Finally, be patient, take small steps, reinforce good responses and keep lessons short and sweet, and always finish each lesson on a good note. Most of all, have fun! Enjoy all your dog training sessions. If you are not enjoying it, then almost certainly your dog isn’t either, and this is likely to produce a poor result. Make it fun for both of you!



If you ever have any questions about this training program, don’t hesitate to contact us and ask for clarification or advice.


What does this mean?


When a pet is showing an undesirable response (barking, lunging, growling, or jumping etc), that response is usually associated with an underlying emotional state that is also undesirable. Anxiety, fear, aggression, and uncontrolled excitement are common motivational emotions for unwanted pet responses. To help the pet respond in a different way, it is useful to change the animal’s association with the stimulus – the cause of the emotion – and hence, the underlying emotional state.


In other words, if a dog is frightened by a large dog, or becomes hysterical when the doorbell sounds or the postie arrives with the mail, or barks endlessly when travelling in the car, we need to change the dog’s perception of that stimulus from one of fear or over-excitement, to one of enjoyment and pleasure. We could do this by playing the dog’s favourite game whenever a big dog is in the vicinity, or by having the postman feed the dog treats, by asking visitors on arrival to feed the dog treats once calm etc. The goal is to change the meaning of the stimulus – the cause of the dog’s fear/anxiety/excitement – from one that predicts something unpleasant/over-stimulating to one that predicts something desirable/calming.


There are some important prerequisites to this training, so please complete the Calm Confidence Training program and read the Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning fact sheet before you proceed.


Counter Conditioning


■ The first step in changing an animal’s response to a fear stimulus is check how the pet responds to the stimulus according to its proximity, size, speed of approach, location, or other characteristics, such as sound volume. For example, a small dog may be fearful of a large dog that is less than ten metres away, but not if it is fifty metres away, or a dog may not be frightened of a stationary and silent vacuum cleaner, but barks and lunges when it is active.


■ The next step is to find a reward that the animal finds especially enticing (a primary reinforcer), usually human food, such as ham or tiny cheese cubes. It is important to have a gradient of reinforcers, from those that are extremely desirable to those that are less so (secondary reinforcers). In dogs (and cats) that are not food motivated, a game of tug or ‘chase the feather’ may be more rewarding that a piece of cheese or bacon, and a rub or a scratch may be appreciated more than a secondary reinforcer. Each animal is unique, so it is important to test various reinforcers and not just assume that your fussy eater will work hard for a boring dry biscuit.


This is an important process, because your pet will not work hard for the reward if it is not good enough – you must find something irresistible to make your pet want to try hard to win it from you. Your training will excel once you get the reinforcement gradient right!

Extremely desirable rewards – the primary reinforcers – should be saved for training and conditioning sessions, and should not be given routinely, otherwise they are not special!


■ Next, two simple tasks must be taught to the pet.

  • The first is a task to get the pet’s attention. This can be as simple as teaching the pet to look at you using a command such as “look”, “watch” or “focus.” The goal is for the animal to have eye contact for several minutes but remain neutral and relaxed. A leash and possibly a head collar should be used for additional control.
  • The second is a ‘follow me’ command that allows you to depart a difficult situation very quickly and with a minimum of fuss. The dog should learn to associate a phrase such as “let’s go” or “this way” with turning 180 degrees and briskly walking the other way. This should be performed quickly, but without anxiety or tension, especially without dragging on the leash. Keep the lead loose and use a happy high-pitched voice and pats on your thigh to entice the dog to follow you away from the potentially difficult situation.


Once the three objectives outlined above are established – the gradient of response to the stimuli, the gradient of rewards, and the ‘focus’ and ‘follow me’ on command responses – it is time to start the conditioning process.


Putting it all together – conditioning a different emotional response


Let’s use the example of conditioning a small dog that is fearful of large black dogs. First, enlist the assistance of a very friendly, well behaved large black dog, handled by an experienced understanding and patient handler (ask your local trainer or vet for help in sourcing a suitable pair to assist you). The handler of the target big black dog does not need to do anything but stand in one place with the dog for around ten to fifteen minutes, ideally every few days for a week or two.


Have plenty of primary reinforcer treats and a favourite ball or tug toy, and choose a training location that is not likely to bring any surprises or unwelcome distractions.


Begin with the stimulus (the large black dog and handler) at the predetermined distance at which little or no response is noted. In other words, if your small dog is fearful at 20 metres, start at least forty metres away. Ask the pet to “focus” and begin feeding the treats, regardless of what the pet does, as long as they are not lunging or barking. They can look at the stimulus, but if they lunge and bark, they do not receive the treat. (If they are lunging and barking, or even growling, clearly you are not far enough away from the stimulus).


Once you can maintain a reasonable level of ‘focus,’ reward the dog even more than by giving a treat, through giving the ‘follow me’ command of “let’s go” or “this way”, and take the small dog away from the direction of the big black dog for a brief time. This is the best reward of all for the small dog, being taken further from the source of fear, so is best used after a particularly good response to the ‘focus’ command. Take a moment to relax and play. Repeat the process by moving forward to the same place (no closer) several times.


When the small dog is more focused on the treats than the presence of the big black dog in the distance, it is time to move a little closer towards the stimulus. This should involve going a maximum of 10% of the distance closer (i.e. a tiny increment closer, not too close too soon!). Repeat the entire process, and be sure to give the follow me command and move away from the stimulus for regular breaks, before going closer again.


This process of moving forwards and back, forwards and back, should be like an incoming tide creeping up a beach with each incoming wave, receding back down the sand before washing a tiny amount further up the beach again. It is important to grasp this concept, because it is very effective in taking the pressure off and reducing any building anxiety that the small dog feels in seeing a big black dog in the vicinity, albeit far away. Even though it is not close enough to elicit the major fear responses of barking and lunging to occur, this does not mean there is not an unidentifiable level of anxiety building in the small dog. It is imperative to release this anxiety by moving well back away from the ‘danger zone’ before applying more pressure by going forward again, in tiny increments.


Keep heading closer and closer in tiny steps to the potential threat. Keep asking for focus and keep feeding treats for good responses, and keep moving well back away again. You may not need to move back as far away from the target after a while, so remain vigilant and observe the demeanour of your small dog, to be sure you do not place so much pressure on it so as to ruin the entire training session with too great a build-up of tension. If this happens, the little dog could erupt into the more characteristic defensive aggression behaviour of explosive lunging and barking. If this happens, you have failed! Count it as a loss, learn from your error of going too close too soon, and start the entire process all over again.


If you get it right, the repetitious lavishing of praise, treats and retreats on the dog – as you creep closer to the target – conditions it that being in the vicinity of the big black dog is not causing it any harm nor posing any direct threat, but, in fact, is quite a good experience. You are changing the emotional state from a negative one (anxiety and fear) into a very good one (anticipation, joy, happiness). If you get this process perfect, the dog will barely even notice that it is gradually getting closer and closer to the target, because your constant cycle of reinforcement completely distracts the little dog from everything but you!


If so, end the lesson! Always finish on a good note and never press on for so long that the little dog becomes tired and bored (or that your assistant with the big black dog becomes tired and impatient!). If you have not made contact – crept so close to the big black dog that they can almost touch, that is okay. Do not feel you need to make contact on the first occasion – this will depend on the level of anxiety the small dog feels in the first place, as well as a huge range of other contributing factors. Tee up your helper for another session in a few days’ time, and arrange to meet in the same location. After several more sessions, or after you have made contact, tee up to meet in varying locations. You may be able to move closer in larger increments as the small dog improves, and you may be able to spend more time close to the large black dog before retreating and ending each session.


Once the small dog becomes confident and calm around the big black dog, you should enlist the assistance of a new helper with a different large dog and begin the process all over again. You will find the small dog will progress much more rapidly the second and third and fourth times around, because it will start to ‘generalise’ that all big dogs mean treats and praise and rubs and games, rather than be a source of fear requiring the need for defensive-aggressive behaviours, such as barking and lunging, or fear behaviours such as pulling away or running off.


Applying this process to any behaviour problem


You can apply this process to any behaviour problem situation whatsoever – the treatment for anxiety, fear, over-excitement or aggression in a dog towards another dog, person or object is exactly the same! Just replace the concept of the ‘big black dog’ with whatever it is that elicits anxiety, fear, over-excitement or aggression in your dog, and apply the same process. Just aim to reward calm confident behaviour as you gradually increase the exposure to whatever it is that is causing the response. The stimulus may be a particular person, a vacuum cleaner, a motor bike, the lawn mower, a person carrying an umbrella, granny’s wheelchair, the grandchildren, the doorbell sounding – anything! The gradient may be to start from far away, to turn the volume down or switch something off, to start with something smaller or lower, to start with something in a stationary position, reduce the time of exposure, slow down the approach of something etc.


Even problems with riding in the car can be resolved using the same process – by working out how the stimulus triggers the fear, then breaking down the intensity of the stimulus – the level of exposure – into smaller increments. For example, start with the car stationary, without the motor running, all doors and windows open, someone the dog trusts sitting in the rear seat with the dog, feeding it treats for calm, confident behaviour. Gradually build up the dog’s association with the car until everything is closed up, the engine is running, the car starts moving a few metres at a time and the time in the car extends from a few seconds to many minutes. In other words, break down the intensity of the stimulus into tiny parts and gradually build the exposure as the dog improves. (See the Car Phobia fact sheet)


Similarly, building up confidence and calmness in the dog suffering from separation anxiety follows exactly the same process – rewarding calm, confident behaviour with very gradually increasing amount of separation in both distance and time. Start with the separation of distance within sight, then extend it to out of sight separation for a second or two, and build up the length of separation to many minutes or hours – all the while rewarding calm and confident behaviour. (See the Separation Anxiety fact sheet)


Avoid the following pitfalls, which will make progress more difficult


■ The process with the big black dog, described above, is an example of conducting this conditioning training in a very controlled environment, using a reliable handler and target stimulus. All other situations, especially those known to elicit undesirable responses must be avoided. If you were to experience a different large black dog in an uncontrolled environment, all your training so far could be ruined with one bad encounter.


Depending on what the problem behaviour is, this may mean curtailing walks, confining the dog when visitors come over, not allowing the dog outside in the yard unattended and off leash, not allowing aggressive displays at windows, doors, and fences, avoiding car travel, predicting when the postie will be biking by, not leaving the home dog alone etc. Every opportunity the dog is given to exhibit the undesirable behaviours in an uncontrolled situation, and allowing it to be exposed to the eliciting stimulus, is reinforcing those unwanted behaviours and is detraining the dog.


■ Do not attempt to train for longer than the dog can behave or remain attentive. If the dog becomes distracted, reactive or stressed, the stimulus was too close or too intense, and future sessions must ensure better control of the stimulus intensity. You may need to be quite a distance away for the dog to be calm and controlled. Remember, the dog learns best when calm.


■ Limit the number of exposures within a training session. You want the dog to be successful and end each session on a positive response. The goal is for the dog to learn to associate experiencing the stimulus with something pleasant. This treatment can often help decrease the arousal level so that the dog can be controlled during the situation.



For more information on this process, and for preliminary calm confidence training guidelines, see the ‘Tranquility Training for Calm Confidence’ tip sheet.



The goal of desensitisation and counter conditioning is to help your pet learn new coping strategies – new ways of dealing with situations, people or places that make them fearful, anxious, or exhibit undesirable behaviour such as over-excitement by jumping up or barking.


Desensitisation means making the dog less sensitive to a source of fear or over-excitement through regular and controlled exposure to that stimulus. Counter conditioning means to give the dog something else to focus on, to distract it from the source of fear or over-excitement, which will reduce or prevent undesired behaviours from occurring.


To do this, we are going to expose the dog to whatever it is that causes the anxiety or fear – the stimulus – but we are going to do in a very gentle and gradual manner. We are going to use positive reinforcement to reward the dog for facing the stimulus without resorting to anxiety, fear, over-excitement, or any other undesirable behaviours. We are also going to ask the dog to focus on us – the handler – instead of the source of fear, by asking it to look at us, or to perform actions such as sit or drop, or even tricks, such as spin or shake, to receive rewards


The first step is to help your pet to learn to relax and be calm on a verbal command. Animals cannot learn if they are emotionally aroused. For this reason, it is important to first teach your dog to be calm and confident, and to focus on you, the handler, instead of on whatever it is that is making the dog anxious, fearful or over-excited.


This is fully explained in our fact sheet on Calm Confidence Training. Please complete this training before you proceed further with desensitisation and counter conditioning.



The adult who has the most control over the pet should handle these training sessions, but all adult members of the household should know and use the same training methods. A leash is essential and, for additional safety, a head collar is advised. A crate may be necessary for extra control in severe cases of anxiety or aggression.


  1. Establish the stimulus gradient before you start. The ‘stimulus’ is whatever is causing the anxiety, fear, aggression, over-excitement or other undesired behaviour, so this means working out how the dog’s response varies depending on the nature of the stimulus. This may include the distance away from the feared object (e.g. an approaching dog), the speed of approach (e.g. runners, bicycles, skateboards, trucks), the size of the object (e.g. is the dog fearful of all sizes of children/dogs, or just toddlers/medium to large dogs, or just teenagers/giant breeds), the personal characteristics (sex or age of the person/dog, whether they’re carrying an umbrella, wearing a hat or beard, pushing a pram, riding a motorbike), or length of time of exposure to the feared object (e.g. does the dog appear to cope okay for a certain amount of time and then just ‘snap’). Once the above has been analysed, organize the stimuli from the least likely to cause a problematic response to the one most likely to elicit the problem behaviour. Always work on the easy one first.


  1. Establish a reward gradient – a range of things the pet wants – to be the rewards for the positive reinforcement of the dog’s successes. Find rewards that are extremely valuable (e.g. tiny pieces of bacon, chicken, cheese or devon), some of lesser value (e.g. dried liver treats), and finally lowest value treats (Shmackos or, in highly food-motivated dogs, dry dog food). Usually high value (jackpot) treats will be consumable human food, such as fresh chicken/red meat, and, in the really fussy eaters, this may be all you are able to use. Some dogs prefer rewards other than food, such as a rub on the tummy, or a game of tug. Your reward gradient may include all of these things. It is important to work out exactly what your dog MOST wants, because this is what it is going to work best on, and try hardest to win. (Note: dry dog food is rarely exciting enough for a dog to be bothered, so is not a good training reward item). Once you establish the order of these rewards, they should be reserved for treatment/training sessions and withheld at all other times, to ensure they remain really special.


  1. Engage in multiple daily training sessions lasting no more than10 minutes, using the following training guidelines:


  1. Expose the pet to the stimulus at a very low level, well below that which is likely to evoke the anxious/fearful/undesirable reaction. For example, if the stimulus is a large dog, start from a considerable distance away – even several hundred metres. If your dog can see the other dog but does not show any signs of anxiety or fear, you are probably far enough away. If your dog sees the ‘fear dog’ and shows any signs at all of anxiety, fear, over-excitement etc, you are too close.


  1. When exposed to this low level stimulus, the animal should be rewarded for

calm, relaxed, obedient behaviour. Rewards may include any combination of affection, praise, tasty food treats, a quiet game etc. Positive reinforcement is absolutely essential to the success of this behaviour shaping process, so be liberal with your rewards – lots of affection, encouragement and/or treats should be given whenever the dog successfully approaches, even by just one step closer, to the cause of fear or anxiety.


  • With each success, gradually increase the intensity of the stimulus (e.g. move slightly closer), maintaining a generous reward program for every achievement, until the stimulus is at full strength (e.g. right up close) without evoking a fearful/undesirable response. Depending on what the situation is, this may take one session, a few sessions, or it may take many, many sessions. Small increments are essential to ensure that exposure to the stimulus at any stage does not elicit anxiety, fear or undesirable behaviour.


  1. If the animal responds with anxiety, fear, aggression, or any undesirable behaviour, the stimulus intensity was too strong (i.e. you went too close, too soon). It is not the dogs’ fault you went too close and made it fearful – it is your responsibility to ensure this does not happen, so NEVER scold the pet (but nor should you reward it). All you can do is count it as a loss and reduce the exposure (e.g. turn around and go back well away again) until the pet is calm, then begin all over again. Get it right this time – take smaller steps towards the stimulus. Do not give up and end the session immediately after a failure (see the next point).


  1. It is important to end each session on a good note, and this does not necessarily mean that you have to achieve ‘contact’ – a successful exposure up close to the stimulus. You must finish on a good note, even if it is only a small win (e.g. remaining calm from a considerable distance), to ensure the dog has a positive association with the eliciting stimulus. This will make progress easier in the next session. For this reason, if a failure occurs (you went too close too soon) and the dog became anxious or fearful, it is even more important to end the session on a good note, so never just give up and stop the training session immediately after a failure. You must retreat and start again, and even if you only make it half way, or a quarter the distance back to where you were when you exposed the dog to too high an intensity of the stimulus (went too close), that’s okay! Finish the session there, on a good note, with lots of praise and treats to reinforce the dog’s success, which will ensure it remembers the controlled exposure to the eliciting stimulus as a good experience.



  1. Avoid the following pitfalls, which will make progress more difficult:


  1. Each time the pet has an opportunity to engage in the undesirable behaviour, the behaviour is strengthened. In other words, each time a dog is exposed to something that makes it anxious, fearful, over-excited etc, it makes the whole pattern of behaviour worse. So, for example, if a dog that is fearful of large black dogs has an uncontrolled encounter with a large black dog at the dog park and becomes anxious/fearful/aggressive, or exhibits undesirable behaviour such as avoidance barking, that response is actually strengthened, and so our training progress will suffer a severe setback. Therefore all situations known to elicit undesirable responses must be avoided, unless they are part of the controlled training exercise, until the situation improves. This may mean curtailing walks, confining the pet when visitors come over or when the children are nearby, not allowing the pet outside in the yard unattended and off leash, not allowing aggressive displays at windows, doors, and fences, not taking the dog to the shops or the park etc.


  1. Avoid long training sessions where the pet becomes distracted, agitated or

upset. This is also detrimental to training success and is a waste of time. Keep sessions short and end on a really good note, long before the pet (or the handler) becomes tired or agitated.


  • Take very small steps for each progression stage. If the pet becomes very reactive, the stimulus was too close or too intense, and the handler must ensure that future sessions involve better control of the stimulus intensity. In other words, you may need to be quite a distance away for the pet to remain calm and controlled, and you may only be able to approach in very small stages. Remember, the pet only learns new coping strategies when he is calm and feeling no anxiety or fear, so rushing this process achieves nothing.


  1. Progress slowly and be conservative in expectations. End each session on a positive response with a happy pet. Be prepared that it may take days, weeks or even months to achieve the desired result and may take dozens of small progressions.


As the situation improves, the dog should be encouraged to engage in alternative (desired) behaviours whenever the eliciting stimulus is present, such as sit/drop training, focus (‘watch’) training, and trick training, to occupy his attention. By occupying the dog’s attention, we are distracting him from focusing on the person/dog/object which is likely to cause undesired behaviours if the dog pays that stimulus close attention. We therefore teach the dog alternative, more desirable behaviours – new coping strategies. This is explained in detail in our Calm Confidence Training notes, where the dog is taught to focus on the handler through the ‘watch’ command.


This can be a long and potentially tedious process, so remember that all training must be fun and enjoyable for both the handler and the dog. Keep it short, keep it light and keep it fun, so that the dog can be trained to feel positive emotions, not negative ones, when faced by something that causes anxiety, fear or over-excitability.


DOG SQUAD PASSPORT APPLICATION (training enrollment form)

 Welcome to the DOG SQUAD!

Please complete and return this application for a Dog Squad passport to participate in our Introductory Lifestyle Obedience dog training program. The current course is underway, but the next course will run for five weeks from sometime in early September, at 3:00pm, at the Stanley Recreation Grounds. Your passport includes five 60–90 minute training classes and ten socialisation play sessions. Playtime begins at 2:30pm, before the Sunday class, and is also available on Tuesday mornings at 11:00am (for two or more). The passport reflects exceptional value at $150 (a saving of 35%). Payment can be made by cash, Paypal or bank transfer (see bottom of page 3 for bank details). Numbers are limited, so please enroll early to avoid disappointment! Please send a clear head shot photo of your dog by email or text for their passport!


Name: ………………………………………………………  Phone: ………………………….

Email: …………………………………………………….………………………………………

Are you a resident of: Stanley?  Y /  N   Smithton?  Y / N

Elsewhere? (where) ……………………………………………….…………….

How did you find out about The Dog Squad? (please be specific)


Do you have any physical/medical conditions we should know about? (privacy ensured)

e.g. sight /hearing impairment, health or mobility problems: …………………………………


How many handlers will accompany your dog to training? ………………………….

(Note: handlers must be 15 years and over, maximum of three people per dog. To avoid

excessive distractions, all children must be under the direct control of a responsible

adult who is not handling the dog in class).

Names of other/alternative handlers: …………………………….………………………………


Name: …..…………………………………………………………………..…………………

Age: ………………..…………… Breed/s: ……………………………………………………

Sex:  M   /  F     Desexed?   Y   /  N    Note: Conditions apply to undesexed dogs – bitches

in oestrus are unable to attend classes, and entire males over the age of six months may

not be able to attend classes. Please discuss this with us if your dog is not desexed.

Does your dog have any relevant physical/medical conditions?  Y / N   If yes, please

outline: …………………………………………………………………………………

Approximately how many times a week is your dog exercised outside the home/yard?

Circle: 14  / 10   /  7   /  5   /   2  /   1  /  0    For how long each time?  …………………………

What sort of exercise? Leashed walks:  Y / N  Off-leash runs: (e.g. beach)  Y /  N

Both:   Y  /  N    Neither (describe): …………………………………………………………………

What matches your dog’s demeanour when meeting new dogs?  Confident / Shy /

Boisterous / Calm / Nervous / Aggressive / Indifferent /  Excited / Dangerous /

Perfect / OK after greeting  / I never allow my dog to get close to others

Has your dog had any of the following training?  Please tick any which apply:

◊   Puppy school at the vet                        ◊   Puppy play group

◊   Formal home training                           ◊   Dog training classes

◊  One-on-one training                             ◊   Behavioural consultant


As part of the training program, a Q & A session is offered at the end of each class to

discuss behavioural problems our Squad members may be experiencing.

Please tick any of the inappropriate behaviours listed below that you would like covered:

  • Jumping up
  • Chewing
  • Aggression toward people/children/dogs/when leashed/other (please describe): …………………………………………………………………………………………………
  • Barking
  • Separation Anxiety (barking or shredding when left alone)
  • Toilet training
  • Car travel issues (motion sickness/stress) ………………………………………………
  • Fears: (e.g. vacuum cleaner, mower) please describe: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….
  • Hyperactivity
  • Noise Phobias (storms, fireworks) …………………………………………..
  • Pulling on the lead
  • Biting hands/clothing/mouthing
  • Digging

List any other behaviours you would like discussed (note: specific behaviour problems may require private consultations, as they cannot always be resolved in group settings): …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

What do you expect to gain from this course? …………………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….…


Please read and sign this indemnity agreement:

I am a responsible adult aged 18 years or over and I accept full responsibility for any behaviour my dog shows at Dog Squad play sessions, training classes, one-on-one lessons or elsewhere at Dog Squad events or demonstrations.  I understand I am responsible for controlling my dog at all times, and will remain vigilant of my dog’s behaviour when participating in or situated near dog training activities. I have/will advise the trainer/s of any aggressive tendencies my dog has ever displayed, or any other behaviour that may present a threat to the safety of others. I understand that participating in group or private dog training and play sessions is a hazardous activity, and I indemnify The Round Yard Pty Ltd, t/a Animal Behaviour and Training Solutions- ‘The Dog Squad’ – from any action arising from injury or damage to myself, my dog or a third party, as a result of my actions, those of the dog under my control, or the actions of a dog under any other person’s control.

Signed:  …………………………………………………………….  Date …………………………

Name: …………………………………………………………………………….


Payment information: full payment is required to secure a place on the course.

 Please put the dog’s name and your surname in the description of all bank transfer payments, and notify us of the transfer

Fifteen Secrets to Success in Dog Training

15 Secrets to Success in Dog Training


  1. Dog training is not about ‘dominance and obedience’. It is all about providing consequences and using positive reinforcement to shape behaviour. The principle role of an effective dog trainer is to encourage compliance through positive outcomes, as opposed to delivering punishment (negative consequences). For this reason, think of commands as cues to prompt desired behaviour, then reinforce compliance. Cues don’t drive behaviour, consequences do.


  1. Keep your dog calm and free of distractions so he remains focused and attentive. Get his attention first, then teach him what you want him to do, using small, progressive steps. Teaching him to be calm and to ‘settle’ is a fundamental step in early training. Only increase the level of distractions once he has got the basic idea.


  1. Dogs don’t speak English! Understand that you are communicating with a dog, so develop an effective ‘human to dog’ language using simple, consistent cues, both visual and verbal. Don’t expect immediate understanding and compliance until he learns the language – a process called ‘word association’ – through the positive reinforcement of desired behaviours (compliance).


  1. Establish a positive reinforcer word/sound, such as “Yes!” (or the click of a clicker), as your first step in training a puppy or young dog. Once this positive reinforcer is imprinted into the dog’s psyche, it is used to pinpoint the dog’s correct responses to your cues, at the split second he performs the desired action. This will dramatically improve his level of understanding and rate of progress. To imprint the positive reinforcer, it must initially be repeatedly sounded, then immediately followed by a reward. Do this ten times in a minute, then take a break for a minute. The dog does not need to be in any particular position for this exercise. Repeat this cycle six times, at least four times a day, for a week. Gradually increase the level of distractions and say “Yes!” when he is not paying attention. You should see his head snap around to face you as imprinting is achieved, looking for his treat, which must always follow the “Yes!”. This process establishes a positive association with the positive reinforcer sound – “Yes!” – so that a high level of anticipation is created in the dog. He will begin to perform – to strive – to hear the positive reinforcer sound, knowing that good things are about to follow. The importance of this process cannot be emphasised enough.


  1. Timing is everything in dog training! It is critical to provide split-second-accurate positive reinforcers and timely rewards when the dog performs an exercise correctly. This not only tells  him he’s got it right – but when he gets it right – which greatly improves the chance that he’ll perform the desired action again the next time you ask for it. Reward both effort and improvement initially, not just perfect results. Ideally, reinforcement should be within two seconds of the action/positive reinforcer, but can eventually become more intermittent.


  1. Establish a release word early in a dog’s training to indicate when he is allowed to move from a static position in which you have placed him (such as a sit, drop, heel or recall etc). The best release word is “Free!”, but “Okay!” works well, too. The release word is also used to indicate when he is allowed to approach his bowl, leave his mat, or that the training session has ended and playtime can begin. Establishing a release word is essential for effective training, and dramatically increases the dog’s understanding of the training process

  1. Ignore unwanted behaviour, but be quick to provide positive reinforcement for desired behaviour. Never punish the dog for undesirable behaviour or for doing it ‘incorrectly’ – there is no ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ behaviour – he simply doesn’t understand, and punishment will confuse him and create fear. He will learn much faster if you focus on rewarding him for doing what you want, not punishing him for doing it wrong, or for being ‘bad’.


  1. Increase the degree of difficulty very gradually. Training for each individual action must begin in a quiet environment and progression to a more difficult environment must not occur until the action has been ‘proofed’ (become reliably compliant) at the previous level. E.g. Train ‘sit’ in a quiet room, then move out to the hallway, then in the quiet lounge room, then a busier family room, then the quiet back yard, then the noisier front yard, then the street, then the park (on-lead) and finally, way down the track, train for ‘sit’ at the off-leash park. This process could take months of training. Jumping from the lounge room straight to the off-leash park will result in failure, yet most trainers think this is a reasonable expectation to make in a puppy or young dog!


  1. Have patience! If you lose your temper, you will do more harm than good, so put your training leash away until tomorrow if you become frustrated or if you are in a bad mood.


  1. Be consistent! Your dog will not easily learn what you want him to do if the rules change from one day (or one person) to the next. Make sure all trainers in the family use the same methods and cues, and that they have a solid understanding of how to reinforce desired behaviour.


  1. Be a benevolent leader: well-mannered dogs understand boundaries, so set parameters and teach him kindly, calmly, confidently and firmly. A dog will remain calm and understand better when he respects, rather than fears, his trainer. Always keep the dog’s best interests in mind


  1. “Fido, COME! BAD DOG!” Never, EVER punish or scold your dog after calling him to you, no matter what he has done to require the recall or make you angry. He will only remember that he was punished for coming to you, and this is the fastest way to teach a dog NOT to come! And we don’t want that! Remain calm, confident and in control at all times when interacting with your dog.


  1. Practice, practice, practice! Do your homework! A dog learns through repetition and consequences, so it is essential to practice what is being learned. It is essential to ensure you cannot fail by conducting all training sessions on a leash until a much more advanced level of training. Practice every day in many short lessons, rather than in one long session. Learning needs to be reinforced through daily lessons as a puppy, regular lessons as a young dog, and then occasional lessons as an adult – for the rest of his life. Success in dog training is 99% practice to help the dog learn that “good things happen if I do this, when my trainer says that”.


  1. Teach tricks! This is a great way to stimulate the dog’s brain. Fifteen minutes of mental gymnastics through trick training can be equivalent to an hour-long walk/run, so tricks are an extremely valuable training tool. Trick training provides opportunities for additional positive reinforcement and can be an excellent distraction when required. Best of all, teaching tricks is the best training for you, the handler, because they keep your reinforcement timing accurate, which is essential in a great trainer.


  1. Make it fun! Training should be the highlight of your day, for both you and your dog, not a chore or a fight. Obedience training should never be like “army drill”. Keep lessons short and make them fun and full of variety. Your dog will learn much more quickly if he remains tuned in and happy.


Preventing and Resolving Aggression

The Importance of Carefully Controlled Dog Play and How to Prevent Leash Aggression

Most dogs play nicely together, but this depends on their personality and socialisation history. If they were not sufficiently socialised, have previously had a bad experience in playtime, or are naturally anxious dogs, they may feel defensive when in close proximity to another dog.  The more dogs there are in the mix, the worse this anxiety can be, and the faster it can develop into aggressive ‘play’, and then full-blown aggression.

This is very common at off-leash dog parks and beaches. These places should be avoided, or visited only when there are very few, preferably known dogs there. This is because you have absolutely no control over what is likely to happen, nor over what sort of dogs (and people) you and your dog are interacting with. It is far safer to find a small circle of dog-friends – trusted people with well mannered, friendly and confident dogs – to have your own ‘play group’ sessions. This way you can stay in reasonable control of your dog’s environment and be more certain of good outcomes.

How Anxiety Becomes Aggression

Aggressive play occurs when normal play starts ramping up into over-excitement, and then becomes more physically rough, noisy and intimidating. When a more confident dog becomes over-excited and play becomes boisterous, a less confident dog is likely to feel anxious and threatened. This is unacceptable! It is unfair to inflict fear on a sensitive dog. His anxiety will manifest in defensive behaviour which can quickly develop into defensive aggression as he tries to protect himself from the onslaught of rough treatment. Sadly, these defensive-aggressive dogs are labelled the ‘culprits’, when it is actually the over-boisterous dog’s poor play skills that has triggered the nervous dog’s defensive behaviour.

With each subsequent interaction with another dog, the anxious dog will begin to react defensively earlier. His expectations of a bad experience, in response to increasing anxiety are demonstrated through barking and avoidance initially, and then begin to ramp up into snarling, growling, snapping and attacking behaviours – all in an attempt to send the approaching dog away. This behaviour usually works, because other owners will almost always avoid such dogs, but this means the defensive dog thinks it is his defensive, unsociable behaviour that is protecting him, so it becomes reinforced.

If he ever displays this defensive-aggressive behaviour to a highly dominant dog – such as an entire male – he will probably be attacked, so quite suddenly his defensive aggression becomes life-saving overt aggression in order to survive. His perceived fear suddenly becomes a reality. All future encounters with other dogs will be highly charged with both defensive and overt aggression. This cycle continues until the anxious dog cannot be allowed near any other dogs and he is declared a Dangerous Dog by the authorities and euthanased, or placed under severe social restrictions and kept imprisoned in his owner’s backyard.

In my extensive experience as a trainer, breeder, carer and vet nurse, having worked with thousands and thousands of dogs, I have only seen a handful of genuinely aggressive puppies, and they usually had some sort of congenital defect which caused it. The vast majority of puppies are not naturally aggressive, and in fact, the vast majority of dogs in general are not naturally aggressive. They become aggressive through poor socialisation, poor training and poor management. We are responsible for ensuring our dogs become confident as puppies, and remain confident as adults.

Prevention of Aggression through Controlled Socialisation

To prevent defensive aggression behaviours from developing, trainers (owners) have a duty to ensure young puppies are carefully socialised at a very young age. To do this we must control all interactions our young dogs have, to prevent any bad experiences with overly-boisterous or aggressive dogs. Less experienced and less confident, sensitive or anxious dogs MUST be given some space and a more controlled level of play.  Boisterous, excitable and aggressive dogs MUST be managed effectively to ensure their behaviour does not affect the development, confidence and safety of any other dog. Owners of aggressive dogs MUST take responsibility and face up to the fact that their dogs need assistance to behave in a more social manner, rather than pass of the aggression as something else.

Be vigilant for the signs of tension and aggression

Over-excitement must be calmly stopped, before it develops into an environment of aggression. Once a play environment ramps up into a noisy, rough and charged scene, another dog can become reactive, and then another… and the entire atmosphere becomes charged with tension and aggression. This can happen in extremely subtle ways that we humans – often busy chatting amongst ourselves – frequently miss. Suddenly there is a fight! The signs are there, so stay alert and look for them! And never simply blame the dog doing the most fearsome fighting – that dog is usually the anxious victim!

When allowing dogs to interact, each handlers’ full attention should be on their own dog, looking for subtle signs of abnormal behaviour. This may be avoidance (cringing, running away, showing their belly, barking), unusual vocalization, cringing behind your legs, climbing onto the back of another dog, or swinging one forearm over the other dog’s shoulder. At the same time, every owner should be constantly assessing the whole scene: looking for any problems that might be ramping up.

Keep the play quiet and calm. Sure, let puppies tumble and run, gargle and growl in a playful manner – but as soon vocalization becomes more noisy and sharp, or if there is boisterous play, defensive cringing or avoidance, and certainly if there is any snapping, yelping or snarling, calmly separate the dogs and soothe everything back down. Don’t put them back together unless they have settled and are relaxed.

End every interaction on a good note

It is very important, when a dog becomes over-excited or aggressive, to remove him and allow the aggressor/s to chill out for a while, right away from the other dogs. Give him some things to do which focuses him on you, to distract him from his aroused state of mind, and allow him to earn positive reinforcement and rewards. We need to change his emotional state! For example, ask him for a succession of sit and drop actions, or get him to perform some tricks. When he seems calm again, reintroduce him to the edge of the play area and select one very calm and confident dog to approach. Using positive reinforcement for confident, pleasant greetings and kind, gentle play, encourage him to relax at the edge of the play area with this single, pleasant dog. If his arousal starts ramping up again, take him straight away and start again.

It is extremely important to end any training/behaviour situation on a good note, so if your dog ever has a problem with play (or anything) be sure she has a chance to go back to the play area and either successfully interact with the other dog/s, or, at the very least, to be close to them without interacting, but remaining happy. She should receive lavish praise for good, calm, confident and pleasant play with, or proximity to, other dogs. If she is too aroused/aggressive, or simply lacks the confidence to interact pleasantly with the other/s, just approach the play area, but don’t let her interact with them.

Do this many times, on as many different occasions as possible, getting closer and closer to other playing dogs, until occasionally she may touch noses and then have a sniff and then a gentle play and finally, she may have developed enough confidence to have a little romp – but always under close observation and with prolific reinforcement of pleasant, confident, calm play.

Tiny Steps!

To break this down: take her towards the other dogs from a distance at which she is comfortable and showing no signs of stress or anxiety. This may be a few metres away, 20 metres away or 100 metres away. Ask her for compliance of as many different actions she is trained for (this is where trick training becomes an essential part of training), without interacting. If this goes well, go a little closer – say by a step or two if fairly close, or by five to ten metres if far away – and repeat your one-on-one interaction with your dog.

Do not take her so close as to develop fear, so watch very closely for signs of anxiety! If you do, retreat a considerable distance and start over. If she exhibits any signs of fear, anxiety or aggression, you have taken her too close too soon, so take smaller steps in your progress in future and observe more closely for the subtle signs of anxiety. Be sure to end every single training session on a really good note – NEVER after an aggressive interaction or when she has displayed signs of anxiety. This process can take weeks or even months, so, above all, be patient.

Inadvertent Reinforcement of Anxiety

This is another common problem: never molly-coddle anxious behaviours – this reinforces them! By trying to soothe and reassure the anxious dog with murmurs of encouragement and praise, you are effectively teaching the dog to be anxious, because she will interpret your gentle voice as saying: “Good dog, it’s okay – good girl… it’s good to be anxious, yes, good dog, that’s right, be anxious and aggressive and they will all just go away…” This is NOT the right message to be giving her.

By the same token, if she is showing any signs of aggression do not reprimand her! Your raised voice will only add to the emotion of the situation and the dog may misinterpret it as you joining in the melee. This INCREASE the anxiety and the aggression in both instances.

When she shows signs of anxiety or aggression, rather than inadvertently reinforcing these behaviours with reassurance, just calmly remove her from the interaction to a distance that significantly or completely reduces the behaviours, then distract her with tasks that can be rewarded. This will improve her frame of mind enormously. DO NOT TAKE THE DOG HOME! This will end her interaction on a very bad note, and this is all she will remember!

When she is calm again at a suitable distance, follow the steps outlined above and work at approaching the play area/other dog again and again, very gradually. Even if she is still at a considerable distance at the end of the session, this is okay, so long as she leaves the area on a good note, and not taken home remembering only the bad experience.

Once you have ended on a good note, even if you are still a fair way away from the other dog/s you have effected a positive training experience and should end the lesson. Take her home and call your behaviourist for an appointment!

Leash Aggression

The occurrence of increased aggression when a dog is on a leash is EXTREMELY common. The tension she feels through the leash to you triggers the dog’s ‘flight or fight’ survival instinct. She feels restricted in her ability to take flight because the tension of the leash is restraining her. If a dog is anxious about another dog, but knows they can’t run away – take flight, so the other hard-wired instinct kicks in – the need to fight. The tension she feels through the leash also charges up her level of arousal. A tight leash can exacerbate aggression in two ways – and both are very unhelpful.

If your dog is more aggressive on the leash, she needs to be very carefully trained in how to greet or play with calm, quiet confidence. Special one-on-one behavioural instruction is advised. If it is only mild, however, find yourself a friend with a ‘bombproof’ dog, and train your dog how to greet and, eventually, play nicely, even when there is occasional tension on a leash, but remember – always from a considerable distance.

Take the lead-aggressive dog closer in tiny increments – from a zone as far away from the other dog as necessary, where she feels confident and non-aggressive – and reward her for any calm, confident behaviour, especially if she looks up to you, seeking reassurance. When she has reacted calmly to the presence of the other dog from a distance, always take her back away again to ease the pressure, and then approach again to the same spot. If, after several repetitions of this, she is still calm and confident, next time approach a little closer. Depending on how big the distance of her comfort zone is between her and the other dog, each increment of progress may be ten metres, or one metre, or one foot, but a 10% increment gives a very rough idea. In other words, go forward and backwards then forward again, in tiny progressions, while watching at all times for any signs of fear or anxiety.

I liken this process to an incoming tide: imagine the waves on a beach moving in and out, in and out, but every now and again the waves move a little further up the beach. If you remember this analogy when working a dog towards a source of fear, you can’t really go wrong, so long as the dog is never allowed – or pushed – to go too fast and becomes anxious.

Keep the tension off the leash

When interacting up close, avoid putting any pressure on the leash: preferably drop it completely, and let the dogs meet or play in a small enclosed area. Keep the leash attached so that it’s there ready to be picked up for a quick extraction if necessary. In this case, always try to call the dog away with voice and patting the leg to encourage her, rather than pulling tension on the leash. Once she gains confidence playing with the ‘bombproof’ dog without any tension, gradually introduce gentle tension until she is happy to play on the end of the lead, which may occasionally get tight if stepped on in play, or while you untangle it, but otherwise is not a cause for anxiety. These dogs may always require very careful management of the leash – no tension in the presence of other dogs!

If you are walking in the street and meet an unknown dog, and there is immediate arousal /signs of aggression that are likely to be exacerbated by tension on the leash, do not drag the dog away by the leash. This will usually cause the lead-aggressive dog to explode with aggression of some sort. If safe to do so, put your arms around his chest and guide him away as gently as possible (again: be very careful not to create any further arousal by placing excessive contact or tension in your actions). If he is too close to the other dog and this is unwise, try small pops on the leash with lots of happy verbal encouragement to come “this way”, with lots of hand-pats on your thigh to encourage her to come with you. Quickly and firmly ask the other handler to please take their dog away a little and the increased distance may be enough to reduce the charged emotions.

Developing the verbal cue of: “This Way”

To avoid this situation, all dogs should be trained to be called away from an item, person or dog of interest without any pulling on the leash. We should only call him while patting your leg in encouragement, then lavishly rewarding with treats when he responds and comes to you. If you practice this every time he stops to sniff a bush or pole, or every time he greets a person or a friendly dog, you will have your best weapon of defense established when you really need to call him away from an aroused, aggressive dog – without pulling on the leash.

Gradually work this up to calling him away from strange dogs, initially from a distance – this could be when he locks on visually to the presence of another dog from 100 metres away. Stop, let him look, and then quickly step backward to the end of a loose leash and call him while patting your leg in encouragement: the command is usually: “This way, Fido, this way!” It must be said in a high, happy voice, with lots of other interesting encouragement. Have your treat ready, so that when he turns in response to your command, you can reward him with a great level of reinforcement. Gradually reduce the distance, in tiny increments, until you can call your dog away from another without tension on the leash, even when they are touching nose-nose.

As always, finish on a good note – watch for a particularly pleasant interaction or a particularly prompt and willing response to your “This way!” command, lavishly reward him and then ease him away without any pressure on the leash. Use treats to lure him away and be sure the dog doesn’t have any negative feelings about being taken away, or he may feel as though he is being punished by being ‘isolated’ from his new friend/s and all the fun of dog play.

DANGER! Death by chocolate is no joke for dogs


 Easter is upon us, and at this time of year vets are kept busy treating dogs suffering acute illnesses, caused something we love to enjoy. Chocolate! It’s critically important to ensure chocolate stays off the dog’s menu, and take extra precautions to keep chocolate treats well out of reach of your precious canine friends. Children eating Easter eggs unsupervised near dogs is a recipe for disaster… and a large vet bill.

We humans love our chocolate and can eat it without any problems, but chocolate is highly toxic to dogs. It’s full of a compound called theobromine, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and causes cardiac, kidney and neurological dysfunction in dogs. In sufficient quantities – such as a small dog eating a large Easter egg, or a large dog getting into a family block of dark chocolate – chocolate can kill your dog.

The concentration of Theobromine in dark chocolate means toxicity is up to four times more severe in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate! Be super vigilant that you don’t leave blocks of dark chocolate lying around within reach of Fido.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning

The consumption of chocolate causes symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and hyperactivity, usually within 4 to 24 hours. Other symptoms include a racing heartbeat, muscle twitching/tremors, panting, excessive urination, seizures, coma and death.

What to do if your dog eats chocolate

  • Induce vomiting (see below)
  • Contact your vet immediately and describe the type and quantity of chocolate eaten, and keep chocolate wrappers so that your vet can see the ingredients

Treatment for chocolate poisoning

Chocolate ingestion causes significant stress on your dog’s system, but prompt intervention and treatment can prevent death – even in cases where a large amount of chocolate has been ingested. The sooner the chocolate is out of the dog’s system the better, so you must induce vomiting immediately. Use syrup of Ipecac, or administer a small handful of plain washing soda crystals into the dog’s mouth and hold it closed while he swallows them down. He should vomit the contents of his tummy within a few minutes. Once this has been achieved, get him to the vet immediately.
There’s no antidote to theobromine, so your vets will induce vomiting and monitor Fido closely for symptoms. They may need to flush out your dog’s stomach and feed activated charcoal to absorb any residual toxins. In severe cases, intravenous fluids will be given along with medication to treat muscle, heart, blood pressure and seizure symptoms.

The DOG SQUAD has been deployed!

I am very excited to announce that my new training school – The DOG SQUAD – has just been launched in the beautiful Circular Head region of NW Tasmania. For those of you lucky enough to live here, join other canine-loving folk for the best fun, and the best exercise, you and your pooch can have on six legs!

Here are some details, or look at the Dog Squad page on this website for all the information you’ll need to be thoroughly hooked!

Business card (front)     Business card (rear)


Circular Head canine enthusiasts are invited to come and meet with other dog-loving people.
Our aim is to make friends and learn about canine communication in a relaxed, social setting. Our dogs gain confidence by meeting new people, and learn to interact together in a safe environment. They enjoy toys, games, playtime and agility challenges, under the watchful eye of an experienced behaviourist. The Dog Squad provides awesome physical and mental stimulation, and perfect socialisation opportunities.

After an initial settling-in playtime, those who want to improve their canine communication skills join a one-hour group training session with our qualified and experienced trainer. A variety of five-week training courses are offered in beginner, intermediate and advanced obedience, puppy school, complex skills, problem solving and agility.

Generally we aim to have lots of fun together and, following the class, we can take a walk on the beach, or let the dogs play while we enjoy a cuppa!

COST: Those who purchase a Dog Squad Passport receive ‘frequent flyer’ discounts. It includes a five-week training program and ten play sessions (valued at $230) for only $150. Casual participants can pay on the day, with play sessions costing $8 and training classes costing $30 (so you can see what a great deal the Dog Squad Passport is!).

Circular Head Council has provided a great venue in Stanley, and 2016 classes will begin very soon, so please register your interest. I am also looking at potential venues to run classes in Smithton, numbers permitting, so stay tuned!

Call me, Trina Morris, on 0402 486 460, to chat about The Dog Squad.


PS: How do you like my funky business card? Must have been feeling groovy when I designed those!


Canine Nutrition

Better nutrition for healthier dogs

During my time as a vet nurse and dog lover, I’ve observed balanced, raw, fresh-meat diets making huge improvements in everyday health, both in my patients and my own dogs. Apart from helping reduce and prevent long-term problems such as obesity, diabetes, arthritis, allergies and dental issues, dogs on raw food diets live longer, healthier lives… and this save a lot of money on vet bills!

With the mass consumption of dry and canned pet food over the past few decades, vets have seen an alarming increase in degenerative problems like skin disease, teeth issues, bowel problems, arthritis, diabetes, pancreatitis and some cancers. My own dog is the perfect example.

Drummer had an intolerance to the level of carbohydrates and preservatives in highly processed commercial foods – even the most expensive super-premium brands such as Royal Canin and Eukanuba could be problematic for him, albeit far less so than cheaper brands. He struggled from puppy hood with underlying metabolic problems which caused vomiting, skin allergies and low-grade pancreatitis flare-ups. When he was feeling ‘off’ he was agitated and irritable. It’s not a pleasant experience having such an unhappy dog, so I was at my wits end, having tried many conventional and alternative treatments to make him well.

About twenty years ago, Dr Bruce Syme, a highly respected holistic vet from Melbourne, developed his carefully researched range of Vets All Natural (VAN) pet foods – which follow the BARF principles of Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods. When I discovered his range a few years ago and tried them on Drummer, our problems were solved!

I gradually replaced Drummer’s highly processed Royal Canin diet with Vets All natural raw food, and he has been a different dog in every way. The raw diet has completely resolved his metabolic problems, so he no longer regurgitates his food or vomits frothy bile, his skin has cleared up, he is much more relaxed, and my vet gives him top marks at every health check. His energy levels are also better… which is not necessarily a good thing in a bouncy boxer! I am also saving hundreds of dollars a year because I no longer have to buy his expensive human pancreatic-support medicine.

You can’t put a price on such a fantastic improvement in the health of a treasured pet, so the small additional cost in using this brilliant feeding program is absolutely worth it!

The science behind raw food

Dr Syme’s theory behind his superb range of dog food – supported by international research – is that canines (and felines) evolved over millions of years to be the way they are today. They survived by hunting live herbivore prey, and they ate the entire beast, starting with the abdominal cavity, so their intake included vegetable matter as well as raw flesh, organs and bone. The metabolism of our pets hasn’t changed with domestication, so they still require a diet of mostly raw meat with a (very important) small proportion of vegetable matter, for optimal health.

It’s also very important to note their natural diet incorporated very little carbohydrate. The canine species did not evolve an ability to metabolise large quantities of carbohydrate – yet this is the very substance pet food manufacturers use to expand their highly processed dog foods to make them cheaper! You can be assured that the cheaper the dog food, the more carbohydrate ‘rubbish’ that has been processed into it.

As a vet nurse, I could tell as soon as a patient walked into the waiting room when it was being fed one of the low-cost processed dog foods, simply by looking at the condition of the animal’s skin and coat. The predisposition of these patients towards obesity, arthritis, allergies and diabetes was also a dead giveaway, and their resistance to infection and other immune-related disease was generally poor. What they saved on dog food was lost in vet bills!

Raw is cool!

The high-temperature cooking of dry and canned pet food during the manufacturing process creates deficiencies: it destroys natural enzymes, vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids, proteins and microbial content in food. Many pet food manufacturers have partially overcome this by adding synthetic vitamins, however many deficiencies still occur in cooked and highly processed pet foods. Vets All Natural uses a low temperature pasteurization method to ensure the enzyme, vitamin and mineral quality is maintained.

Similarly, some owners spend hours in their kitchen, lovingly preparing cooked meals for their pooches, using good quality human foods. This dedication is admirable, but, just as eating raw, unprocessed food is better for us, so it is for our dogs. Our metabolism is different to dogs: they tend to get fatter more quickly when fed cooked human food, and they are missing out on essential nutrients that are destroyed during the cooking process. Wild dogs did not cook their food, so, as our domesticated pets, dogs are healthier eating uncooked food. I recommend owners save themselves the trouble and time: feed raw foods instead, and use the time you save playing and exercising together!

Processed pet food exposed

It is extremely sad to think that we spend so much money on the contents of our own shopping trolley, only to buy the cheapest ‘junk food’ available to feed our treasured furry-friends. Processed foods consists of ground up cow and horse heads, hooves, scraps off the abattoir floor, offal, and other useless bits of the beast. There’s barely any muscle tissue – hence protein – in processed dog food. This awful concoction is then loaded up with unpalatable and useless carbohydrate-meal to bulk it out, before it’s slathered with fat and salt to make it palatable enough for our pets to want to eat such garbage! This mush is then dried into biscuits or a small amount is shoved into a can and filled with 90% water.

Don’t believe me? Sadly, I’ve seen it with my own eyes! As a uni student doing an economics unit for an agricultural science degree, I followed a beast through an abattoir – from the stock yard to the tin can. Not only was this a horrific experience for a naive 19-year-old animal lover, it taught me that we are paying an incredible amount of money for the dubious privilege of feeding ground up horse heads and floor scrapings to our pets.

There is very little nutrition in these foods, so the dog needs large quantities to exist on it. Their stools are correspondingly large, and they have a disgusting smell and consistency, because all that carbohydrate the dog eats but can’t metabolise, must end up somewhere… out the other end! It’s little wonder why many dogs on processed rations, particularly the low-cost options, look so poor and have large deposits of foul-smelling stools.

The solution

Please give your treasured pet a chance to enjoy a long, healthy life, free of unnecessary and avoidable diseases, by feeding them good quality raw food. There are other benefits: you won’t need to feed as much, because high-quality protein is nutrient-dense; also, what comes out the other end is smaller and ‘healthier’, because more of the food is taken up by the body. This makes the unpleasant task of picking up all your dog’s poop a much more bearable chore.

Making the transition to raw food

Ideally, dogs should be started on a raw diet right from the day puppy weaning begins, so all breeders should be feeding Vets All Natural raw diet. Any pet, even the elderly, can make the switch from a processed commercial diet to VAN, so long as you do it gradually – over a week or two is ideal. With a little time and perseverance your furry friend will be enjoying a nutrient-dense, balanced diet of fresh meat and vegetable matter in no time.

Gradual familiarisation is the key

If your pet is used to a diet of highly processed or cooked food, there could be some initial resistance and some intolerance if you switch to quickly. The artificial additives and flavours in the vast majority of commercial foods – such as fat, salt and chemical flavouring compounds – are what make highly processed foods palatable, because the food has been ‘bulked up’ with carbohydrate fillers and they are relatively tasteless and unappealing. Most dogs need a little time to be weaned off the addictive taste of fat and salt, and ‘fussy’ eaters may need time to be weaned off the familiar taste of their normal ration.

Dogs can find it hard to tolerate sudden changes in their diet, and may refuse or regurgitate unfamiliar rations. This can certainly be the case if the dog has never (or not regularly) been given meal-sized quantities of fresh raw meat in their diet. Many dogs on diets of processed food find it difficult to tolerate chewing on raw meaty bones – a sad state of affairs, since raw bones are an essential element of canine nutrition and dental health. Once they’ve made the change to the VAN diet, however, raw bones will be easy to tolerate and can become part of your dog’s nutritional program.

It’s best to start the transition to raw food by mixing a small amount of your prepared Vets All Natural raw diet into their usual commercial food. Slowly increase the amount of VAN and decrease the amount of the original diet with each meal until you’ve switched to 100% VAN. This should take at least a week, or two if necessary.

Frequency of feeding

Develop a healthy appetite in your pet by feeding them at a set time each day. Animals who are fed too often and with too much variety often become picky with their food. Always putt the food down and give them a maximum of 5-10 minutes to eat. What they don’t eat, put straight back in the fridge and offer it again in 12-24 hours’ time (no less), depending on whether you’re feeding the pet once or twice a day. Throw away any food that is more than 24 hours old to keep it fresh and tasty.

I recommend feeding twice a day, especially in large, deep-chested breeds, to avoid the risk of GDV. Gastric Dilation Volvolus is a condition involving the twisting and bloating of the stomach, which can be exacerbated by eating too much in one feed, and exercising too soon after eating.

Continue with this removal-of-leftovers process as long as you need to, and don’t pander to fussy behaviour by offering other foodstuffs. Chances are you are feeding too much! If you are a bit of a softie and find this difficult, remember the following mantra: There is no such thing as fussy eaters, just dogs who are not hungry enough to eat what is put down! They won’t starve themselves to death, so be firm and develop this psychologically healthy approach to eating.

A special note for cat lovers: while uneaten food-removal can be good way to encourage regular eating habits in your dog, it is important not to use this method with cats, as fasting can lead to liver problems. For our feline friends, a slow and steady transition to VAN is the key, so be prepared for it to take weeks, or even months, to fully transition cats to a raw food diet.

Brrrrr… Yuk!

Pets don’t dig cold food! Remember that they evolved from the wild where they killed live prey to survive. The meat from a fresh kill is at body temperature, so always serve your pet their new diet at room temperature or slightly warmer. Cold food straight from the fridge can be a big turn-off, especially for cats.

Where do I get it?

It’s easy to source Vets All Natural food, and there are several styles to choose from. Most leading pet suppliers either stock it, or will happily order it in for you. I live in a remote location, so I order my VAN products online, receiving my deliveries quickly, and often with free postage!

It comes in two main styles:
• The Vets All Natural Complete Mix range is a carefully balanced, preservative-free ‘muesli’ which is soaked and mixed with fresh meat. Formulated to meet all the daily nutritional requirements of your pet when combined with fresh meat, VAN Complete Mix contains the protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins and minerals for optimum health and longevity. A truly natural balanced diet consists of vegetable matter, raw muscle meat, organs and raw bones: VAN Complete Mix forms the essential vegetable matter portion of your dog’s healthy diet, by mimicking the gut content of a wild prey animal. Complete Mix products are available for adult dogs, puppies, weight loss, gluten free, sensitive skin and cats.

• The Vets All Natural HealthRolls range combine top quality, lean kangaroo meat pre-mixed with a balanced ratio of the key ingredients from VAN Complete Mix. This ready-to-feed diet includes all the macro and micro nutrients required for optimum health and mimics the protein (muscle and organ) content and vegetable (gut) content of a prey animal. The unique formula has no wheat, flour, expanders or fillers but provides a perfect balance of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

I buy the dry Complete Mix because it is so economical, lasts a long time, and is much easier for me to store (pantry versus the fridge). To feed it, I simply scoop out the required amount in a measuring cup and soak it overnight, or, if I forget, I pour near-boiling water onto it and leave it to ‘take up’ for half an hour or so before feed time. This is then mixed into fresh pet mince which I buy from my local butcher, at half the cost of mince in the big supermarkets. Be sure your butcher is responsible about his pet mince and does load it up with fat. If this is the case, spend the money on better quality mince, preferably kangaroo mince.

VAN’s HealthRolls are much easier to feed, since they do not require the soaking and mixing process, so if you are time-poor but have ready access to a supplier and a big fridge, this may be the better alternative.

Life-stage and target feeding

The growing needs of puppies require different ratio of nutrition to their elders, to account for their rapid cell reproduction, so be sure to order the Vets All Natural Puppy range for your babies. This includes any small breed dogs up to a year old, medium to large breeds up to eighteen months of age, and up to two years of age for giant breeds.

Older dogs are usually less active, so have fewer demands for quantity, but equal or higher demands on quality. This means we must feed our oldies less, but use top quality food. The VAN range is perfect to achieve this balance for optimum geriatric canine health. Many older dogs suffer from arthritis, however, so they are likely to benefit even more from the VAN Joint Support HealthRoll, to help with their creaky old bones. If your senior (or any dog) has lost their waistline and is looking a little overweight, use the HealthRoll Weight Loss range, and feed to the target weight, not the dog’s existing weight! Dogs with skin issues will benefit from the Sensitive Skin range available in both the Complete Mix and HealthRoll range.

Want more?

For further information, Dr Syme is a wealth of knowledge, so visit There are links to purchase your pet foods online and loads of great articles and tips on pet health and management. It’s brilliant!

If you would like to contact me for further info, don’t hesitate!