(See also Biting, Fighting, Jealousy, Phobias, Playbiting, Possessiveness and Vet Phobias)

The focus here is on aggression against humans. See Fighting for dog-dog aggression.

Owners of dogs that growl and snarl are often worried about having an aggressive dog. Growling isn't always serious. Dogs sometimes growl in play with each other, and may growl in play with humans. There are also conversational growls, like grumbling comments, such as 'do you really have to groom me?' which don't lead to anything. The dog isn't really spooked or angry, just grumbling. It's when dogs are spooked, very aroused, that growling starts to become a problem.

Growling and snarling are ways that some spooked dogs try to create distance. They want the human or dog they are growling at to go away. An aroused, growling dog shows fear, as well as anger. He may be afraid of losing his dinner, or losing a comfy place on the sofa, or being roughly handled to get him off the sofa, or being yanked out roughly from under a table. It's fear of losing something or having something done to him, or both. Sensitive dogs may also fear being shouted at, especially when they don't understand why. Growling here isn't just about fear, because a dog that's just fearful will cringe, or urinate submissively. It's fear mixed with anger, a sign that the dog will defend possession of something, or himself. This growling says the dog doesn't want to pick a fight, but may bite if you push it. Towering over a growling dog, and trying to touch his collar is pushing it, asking him to bite you, as is putting your hand under the table to try
to yank him out.

It can be upsetting to have your dog growl at you, but it is a useful signal. It's much better to be growled at than to be bitten without warning. You may be tempted to punish a dog for growling, but that could just confirm his fears. If you do succeed in teaching him not to growl, he may learn to bite without growling.

Some dogs can go through their lives without ever growling at a human. Either they feel very relaxed and trusting with their owner, or they just show fear when they are spooked, rather than fear and anger. Other dogs may start growling at humans as young as three months, and if this is not checked, can carry on all their lives. They find it works, in that the owner then leaves them in their preferred spot, or doesn't try to take away what they want, or do anything uncomfortable to them. The owner doesn't tackle the problem, but just lives with it. This is better than making the problem worse by handling the dog roughly and clumsily, which could lead to serious panic biting. However, there are ways of tackling the problem, and it's worth making an effort, especially in the case of pups.

Dogs that growl from a distance will often obey commands like recall, or 'off' furniture and stop growling - recall may even work with dogs guarding food at a distance, especially if the dog thinks you are about to do something interesting, like go out. If you are close to a dog that growls from the sofa or the bed, try tactfully pretending you haven't noticed the dog, and start doing something interesting, so that he comes off of his own accord. Try playing with a ball on your own, whatever is likely to attract his interest. This can also work to get spooked dogs out from under a table. Then, when he comes to see what's going on, you can give him a command that he will obey, which puts you back in control. If you are touching the dog and he growls, back off and work out what the problem is.

In the longer term, first, keep your bedroom door shut. It's safer to keep a dog that threatens you out of your sleeping space, and certainly sensible not to let him on the bed. If he growls from the sofa, first prevent access to it by putting something on it when you aren't in the room. Then teach him to obey commands to get on and off the sofa, until he does this with no hesitation. 'Up' and 'Off' are suitable words to use. He should only be allowed on it with your permission.

If your dog hides in his crate or under the table and growls, teach him to go in the crate or under the table, and come out on command, at a time when he is relaxed - just by throwing a toy or a titbit there, coupled with a command. You can't do this when he is spooked, because he is not in a frame of mind to learn anything. Dogs, like humans, have a 'fight or flight' response, and if you won't let him hide, he may feel he has no option but to bite. When a dog sometimes hides, ask yourself why he might want a safe place. Might he want rest from noisy children? Is he asked to come out and be sociable when he wants a rest?

Likewise, if he growls when you touch him, check he has no injury causing pain. Pain will make dogs tetchy, and dogs will often growl if you touch a sore spot. Has he been roughly handled? Is he often picked up to be cuddled, just because he's cute, regardless of his feelings about the matter? Is he often cuddled and played with even when he wants a rest? Is he ever woken from a snooze by being pushed or pulled off a sleeping space? Has he been yanked roughly by a hand on his collar? Is his collar on too tight? If so maybe his is a legitimate grumble 'Look, there are limits to what I can put up with.'

Children especially can be very demanding with dogs, especially small dogs, which can get tired of being treated like cuddly toys. Obviously dogs need protection from this. You want to be able to trust your dog, and you want your dog to trust you, and that means giving him protection and rest when he needs it, and handling him in a considerate way.

Dogs may growl and snap if you try to force them to go somewhere or do something which scares them. Generally, it's better to tackle the fear through training, rather than immediately forcing the dog to do what he is frightened of (see Phobias).

Dogs are more likely to be growly and snappy if they are alternatively pampered and shouted at, especially if they are allowed to do something one day, and scolded for it the next. Be consistent, make the rules clear, and stay even-tempered. This will help your dog learn to trust you.

Barking dogs are often seen as aggressive when they are just barking out of excitement, because they want to play, or as an alarm call. Dogs may also bark and pull their owner's sleeve if they are worried the owner is doing something dangerous, a common reaction to vacuum cleaners. This is 'protecting' the owner, so you need to let him know you don't need protection at that time (see Phobias). Generally, barking is a way that a dog communicates with you, rather than a threat against you, however it may represent a threat against a strange human.

Some dogs are especially wary of strangers, so much so that they may bite them, even dogs that are very trusting and well-behaved with people they live with. Wariness of strangers can be offset through early training, through meeting a lot of people who are strangers to the dog, and either learning to ignore them, or receiving a reward from them. Dogs also take their cues from you. If you give a brief 'good morning', or 'good afternoon' to passing strangers, and walk on, this tells wary dogs the strangers are safe. However, the trait can become a serious problem if the dog is allowed loose in public and annoys people, who retaliate, thereby reinforcing the dog's view that strangers are dangerous. If your dog has ever growled at or bitten strangers, you need to think safety first, use a muzzle where necessary, always supervise the dog when strangers are around, and in particular, make sure he doesn't hang around loose on a public space 'guarding' your
house. Protect delivery people and postmen, by making sure they don't come into contact with the dog. You need help from a very experienced trainer or a behaviourist if your dog has threatened strangers.

Wanting to chase cats or other animals is not so much aggression as a natural reaction. You can train a dog that some animals are prey, and others not prey, and this is much easier if done from puppyhood. Teaching your dog to respect livestock is essential if you live in the country, and advisable even if you don't.

It can be a big shock to have a dog that you have raised from a pup start to growl at you. You may lose confidence in yourself and the dog. You may feel angry, and want to 'show the dog who's boss'. Precisely, but what sort of boss do you want to be? Do you ever send mixed messages, for example pushing him away irritably one minute, then letting him jump on your lap uninvited the next? How do you as boss try to motivate your dog?

In general, if you have a dog that threatens you or others, try to avoid confrontations, and build up trust, which means working on two-way communication with the dog. Training games can be very helpful, because they involve the dog using self-control, and can relax both of you, so you learn to understand and trust each other better. They are a good way of motivating dogs, and teaching dogs to be more deferential. Obedience training also helps so long as you integrate it into everyday life with the dog. Keep a dog diary of your progress and setbacks, so you can see patterns better, and get help from a professional with a lot of experience of treating aggression problems, someone who both inspires confidence and helps you feel more confident.

Regular training classes with a very experienced trainer can help enormously. A trainer can develop a 'hands-on' programme, to teach your dog to accept being handled, if he is touchy about this. You can also see a behaviourist, and if so, you will have to go through your vet. If you see a trainer, get a vet check to ensure that there is no medical problem, such as a brain tumour, or thyroid problem, especially if the aggression is sudden and unexpected. Lastly, a dog with aggressive tendencies should not be bred from, even if it has won prizes in beauty contests.

See also Possessiveness for help with dogs trying to retain objects, Biting, Fighting for dog-dog aggression, Phobias, Playbiting and Vet phobias.

Appetite Loss

Do check with your vet in case this is due to illness. It's very common, however, for healthy young dogs to go through phases when they don't eat well, especially adolescent dogs, and all dogs when it's very hot. Entire lovesick males often go off their food. It usually does the dog no harm to miss a meal now and then. Obesity is a greater health risk than a dog being a bit underweight. Dogs also vary in terms of how much food they need, and yours may not conform to the advice printed on packs about how much a dog of his weight should eat. Go by your dog's condition and appearance, is he tired? Does he appear thin? Ask a vet if you aren't sure.

The timing of meals affects appetite, for example, feeding after rather than before a walk tends to mean dogs are hungrier at meal time. You can try leaving food down all day, noting when your dog eats, and then feeding at the times when his biorhythms tell him to eat. Dogs that don't want to eat at mealtimes may eat complete dried food presented to them as titbits when they are out on walks - good for reinforcing recall! Other tricks include boiling up a few leftover bones from your meals and pouring the flavoured water onto your dog's meal, and mashing it in. Try mixing in a little canned food, or boiled meat, if you normally use dry food. Don't give big meals if your dog won't eat them, so as to avoid waste. You can always give another small meal straight after if the first one is eaten.

Many dogs like to eat alone or they feel stressed, so it can be counter-productive to hover round a dog's bowl and fuss him. Some people become convinced the dog won't eat dog food and end up feeding him human food. Not all human food is good for dogs. Cook him special meals if you want to and have time. It's not really necessary just to get him to eat, though there are benefits to home-cooked food, if you research canine nutrition first. If there's nothing wrong with the dog, it's usually best just to relax and just try making the dog food more appetising. These phases usually only last a short while in healthy dogs.

Attention Seeking

(See also Destructiveness and Stealing)

Often dogs have a 'valid reason' for seeking our attention at inconvenient times, like an upset tummy, which means they need to go outside urgently, even if it's 3am. First thing in the morning, you want a pee, and so does your dog. There's no need to get properly dressed for a five minute 'comfort' walk, you can fling on whatever clothes are to hand. If you let him out, or walk him round the block first thing it means you can have a coffee in peace with a good conscience. Dogs may also have 'cabin fever' especially if they have been good and quiet for several hours while you have been ignoring them, or shut in while you were at work. Too much attention can make dogs pushy, but they do need their basic needs met.

Dogs that seek attention are in a way paying you a compliment, saying they want you to do something interesting with them. Structuring your dog's day tells your dog when something interesting is likely to happen. When dogs are walked at a regular time, they are more likely to settle if asked until it's walk time. Then they watch you for cues that you are going to take them out, and will remind you if you delay too long. Youngsters sometimes have a manic period in the evening, and if you have a youngster with manic moments, keep a diary and see if he has his 'internal clock'. Then, if you can, initiate an activity beforehand, so you can channel his energy. You could schedule his walk for his most active time, or play a ball game in the garden, or even indoors. Make him 'earn' the throws by sitting first, and if he is a keen retriever, build on that to sitting and staying, only fetching on command rather than straight after the ball is thrown.

Now attention seeking is a funny thing, it works both ways. Do you ever go up to your dog when he's asleep and stroke him because you 'love him to bits'? If so, that is attention seeking, as if your dog pawed you while you were asleep. If you love him, wake him gently by calling his name, give him a chance to work out where he is, then call him to you, and offer him what he wants, a chance to do something interesting with you. Petting sleeping dogs sends them confusing messages. It's begging dogs for affection. It's being so greedy for affection that dogs' needs for undisturbed rest are disregarded. If you want to give your dog affection, give him what he wants, which is direction, to be told 'this is what we're going to do together, and you'll love it'. He'll give you affection of his own accord when he can trust you as his leader.

Young dogs especially need to run off some energy, but all dogs like mental as well as physical exercise. 'Hunt the titbit' is a simple fun game for indoors or out. Get him to stay outside the room while you hide the titbits, which he has to sniff out.

When you are training your dog to behave well with visitors, remember that dogs tend to be much more relaxed and biddable after exercise. So if you know visitors are coming, take the dog out for a good run first, or a ball game, then it's easier to get him to settle. It also helps if he has his own place, like a basket, that you can send him to. Chew objects can help keep dogs occupied when you want your guests left in peace. Ask guests who adore dogs to help you train your dog to be polite by spending part of their visit ignoring the dog. Stress that you want your dog to be petted when he is well-behaved, and when all four paws are on the ground. Explain that he needs to learn that he can't always be the centre of attention. If your dog behaves well with visitors who like dogs, it's easier to control him if you have visitors who don't like dogs.

Where humans sit is important. Dogs usually take sitting on the floor as an invitation to come up to you, so they can be very pushy if you then ignore them. Teach an 'off' command to use if the dog tries to join guests on the sofa.

Some dogs can develop great curiosity about telephone calls, especially if they hear the voice of human or canine friends over the phone. They realise that you are somehow engaged in communication with those friends. This can trigger attention-seeking behaviour, including barking, and also 'stealing' objects from places they normally respect, like pens from tables, or potatoes from vegetable racks, and then chewing them in plain view, but just out of reach so you have to move to stop them. Leashing the dog during phone calls helps, if you can manage the logistics. Then the call can be treated as a normal conversation with friends in the flesh, where the dog is expected to hold a quiet down stay while the humans talk. The ingenuity of dogs can make you laugh, but they do need to learn to let humans talk for a while without interruption. The more train your dog to settle quietly while you talk to friends on walks, or to visitors, the better control you will have over his behaviour during phone calls.

Dogs, then, need to learn limits, they can't jump on guests uninvited, or monopolise the conversation when you talk to someone. If you realise you've spoilt the dog a bit, and he's become too pushy, teach him to wait a short while. When he paws or nuzzles you, greet him and ask him to settle, and then pay full attention to him after a few minutes. It's worth greeting him before asking him to settle, because that way you encourage communication, and if you try to ignore him, he may just paw you more insistently. You can also teach him to give you a paw on command, which gives you more control over pawing.

There are 'ball mad' dogs like collies, which ask you to play retrieve when you want to finish the game. Obsessive retrievers, as collies often are, will tend to carry on retrieving until they collapse, and may still plague you for more, even when they are obviously near exhaustion. Long before they get to this state, use an 'off' switch like 'All gone', at which point you pocket the ball and refuse to throw it. Having an 'off' switch helps a lot. Then you can give an 'at ease' command like 'OK', whereupon the dogs will behave like normal dogs, and do whatever they had forgotten to do before, like pee, or eat grass.

Old dogs like to snooze a lot, but young dogs need to run around off the lead, and benefit from walks, games and training with their owners. How much attention to give dogs, and when, is a question of balance. A trainer can help you to develop a timetable, to structure your day and achieve this balance, if you are unsure of how to do it on your own.

Babies and Children

It's sensible to socialise your pup with children, even if you don't have any yourself, so that he knows how to behave with them when he grows up. Children can be quite frightening and confusing for dogs, because they tend to move in erratic ways, make high-pitched noises, and even poke dogs in sensitive places, or pull their ears and tails. Children often get carried away when they are telling dogs what to do, and give several commands at once, or jumble up commands. Take your pup to a play area, so he can watch children, and make sure any children who approach him do so with quiet voices, and only give him long, calming strokes. Explain what dogs like, ie nice, calm people, and what they don't like, ie people who rush up to them screaming.

An adult dog who is child-phobic, and runs away or freezes when children approach needs the same sort of gentle treatment, to socialise him, but just let him watch children at first, don't let children approach until he has relaxed. Instead, they can carefully throw titbits in front of the dog, and say 'good dog'. Try letting him investigate older children first, and ask the child to talk quietly and make slow movements, or just sit and pretend to read, while appearing to ignore the dog. If your dog likes playing ball, ask the child to ignore the dog, and just throw a ball. Supervise all ball games with children, especially if your dog is very keen, and make sure the dog always sits before the ball is thrown. This should be automatic when you play ball, because it doesn't matter if the dog grazes your hand, but the same level of contact can do more damage to a child's hand.

Dogs should never be left unsupervised with young children, especially babies. You can get your dog used to a new baby by taking him to meet babies beforehand, and by associating babies with pleasant experiences. But dogs left alone with babies may lick them, investigate their nappies, or even panic when a baby cries, all of which may be misconstrued. The dog needs to learn to keep out of the baby's room, and it is better to do this before the baby arrives. Training the dog either to go downstairs or upstairs on command, or stay, is also useful, because you don't want him barging past if you have a baby in your arms. It's also helpful to teach the dog to move along corridors on command, and to move from anywhere where there's not much space. Training before the baby arrives makes training easier, because once the baby is in the house there is less time to spend on training the dog, and the dog is less likely to see the baby as the cause of his

Toddlers and young children sometimes wind up dogs by running and screaming at them, and pulling at their tails, paws and ears, which can make dogs overexcited and nippy. Most dogs will try to escape their tormentors, but dogs backed into corners, or those inclined to nip, may bite to defend themselves. If it's other people's children who are tormenting your dog, he needs protection! If you discover that your children are sometimes unkind to the dog, they can probably be trained. Children usually enjoy the company of dogs, so you can make being with the dog a privilege which the child is allowed so long as the child treats the dog with respect. Teach the child how to handle the dog, and what makes the dog calm. Children also tend to enjoy using power, so you can teach the child how to get the dog to obey some basic commands.

Older children can be very useful allies in training programmes. You can find out from fellow parents with dogs which local training classes are child-friendly. Smaller dogs are much easier for children to handle in a class, but children can still be taught how to give clear commands to larger dogs, and how to get them to behave well.


Some breeds hardly ever bark, while others bark a lot. Barking is a way for dogs to communicate with humans, and sometimes with other dogs. Wolves don't bark, and nor do strays, there's no-one to talk to. Barking is a common alarm call and a warning to intruders, but dogs also bark because they are happy to see you, want to go out, want attention, can see a friend across the street, or just 'because'. Barking at strangers isn't always a sign of aggression. Dogs may excitedly bark at visitors in the hope that something nice will happen. If your dog barks a lot, you will know that there are differences between the kinds of bark he makes, with the alarm barking deeper and more urgent.

Saying 'good dog' can be a very effective way to get dogs to shut up when they give alarm barks, or other barks aimed at getting your attention. It might seem odd, because you are rewarding the bark, but you are also telling the dog you have heard him, so there is no need for him to repeat himself. Then you can work out what he is trying to tell you, and respond accordingly. Ignoring him may mean that he carries on barking to get you to hear him.

The main problem with barking is that it often annoys the neighbours, especially if your dog barks most of the time you are out of the house at work, or at night when people are trying to sleep. You want him to sleep at those times, so he has to be ready to sleep. Older dogs can happily sleep for long periods, so they may just need a short walk, but a young dog needs a good run before being left alone for a long time, either a long walk with some off-leash time, or a shorter walk and a ball game. Then he should be ready for a rest.

Dogs also bark less if they are left in rooms where they can't see or hear passers-by, or other stimuli that might trigger barking, and if they have chews and other toys to occupy them. The same applies to bed-time - a good run will help your dog sleep. Supervise him and keep him busy when he is outside at night.

If you take your dog out for late-night walks, teach him that you won't open the front door and go out with him if he barks, only if he is sitting nicely and quietly. This front door etiquette especially applies if you have several dogs, which can set each other off - start opening the door slowly, and at the slightest attempt to bark, close it again! Likewise, if they bark when you are just outside the door, going back in and doing the procedure again can calm them. Whispering is often an effective way to quieten a dog. He has to shut up to hear you. This is very useful for late night walks when you don't want to wake your neighbours. Whisper 'shh' and stop preparations for the walk if the dog barks. If he gives an excited bark as you go out of the door, stop in your tracks with a 'shh', and go back indoors if he barks again. He should soon realise that he only gets to go out if he is quiet. Obviously it's better if you control barking in the day time

Dogs can frighten visitors by their barking. The goal is to have him calm before you open the door and let the visitor in. It may help to take the dog outside on a lead and introduce him to the visitor with no jumping up, before going back in with the visitor. You can also increase control by working hard on 'sit' and 'stay' commands so the dog will obey these even if there is an exciting visitor that he wants to jump on. If all else fails, the visitor is very nervous and the dog wild, just shut the dog out of the room with a chew toy, then work on his manners later, with a dog-friendly visitor.

Barking at the phone is a common problem, especially in multi-dog households. You can try getting someone to phone you several times at a pre-arranged time, and not pick up the phone. Say 'Good dogs' to the dogs for telling you the phone has rung, then tell them to lie down. When they have done so and are quiet, reward them. There is often a ringleader whom you can keep on the leash in a downstay while you talk.

Dogs are more likely to bark at passers-by, joggers, bicycles, and other stimuli on walks if they aren't used to them, or have been allowed to develop bad habits. Pups and young dogs benefit from training sessions with friends walking past in different outfits, or pushing bikes, riding bikes quite near, then closer, while you get the dog to focus on you. Gradually build up his ability to focus on you rather than on the passer by or the bike. The same applies to joggers. Dogs often bark more at a single jogger than at many people involved in sports events, and it may help to take your dog to somewhere where there are so many things happening, he can't possibly bark at them all, rewarding him for paying attention to you. Informal sports events, and squares in towns with a bench where you can sit with your dog are good places for teaching him to sit quietly. Friends with well-behaved older dogs can be very good allies on walks, because young dogs will often
follow the example of the older dog, who is setting a good example.

Lastly, it's better to supervise your dog if he barks at passers-by from the garden. Dogs can get very wound up barking at people going past, and if they do get out, can be so wound up that they rush up to passers by and jump on them, and even bite, especially if they have been teased. Training is important - getting your dog to focus on you while you are outside. It also helps to use fencing of a kind that provides a safe barrier. This means that the dog is less wound up by what is happening outside the garden, and children can't poke fingers through the fencing.


Not everyone worries about begging, but you need to exercise some control over this, or the dog may try to take food off your plate before you can eat it yourself. If you feed your dog titbits while you are eating, it may encourage him beg in a pushy way, especially if he is a naturally pushy dog. Feed him a titbit from your food at the end of your meal if you don't mind wistful eyes waiting until you finish. Remember though, any guests you have round for meals may not be as tolerant as you are, and may be unnerved by being stared at while they eat!

If you don't want any form of begging, just don't ever feed the dog while, or just after you eat, or you are training him to beg. There's just no point his begging, because it brings no results. Dogs often beg from one family member and not another, and this is almost invariably because the person they beg from has rewarded them. You may want to share your food with your best friend, if so, save any of your leftovers until his mealtime, and put them in his bowl then. Note: not all human food is good for dogs - see the article Dogs and Diet.

Bitches In Season

See also Lovesick Dogs

Bitches in season go through mood changes, and may be grumpy with other dogs for part of their season. They will often try to escape to find a mate when they are at their most fertile. This is not disobedience, or a behavioural problem, it's what they are programmed to do! They also need to wee more, and may dribble and mark, as well as bleed during part of their season. Never let a bitch in season off the leash in a public area (some people do). It's kinder to the local entire males to take bitches in season for walks to places where there aren't many dogs. It's safer to spay a bitch if you aren't sure you can prevent her from having unwanted pregnancies. There are also health benefits to spaying, such as less vulnerability to pyometra, which usually outweigh the disadvantages, such as the risks from the operation itself, and vulnerability to incontinence.


(See also Aggression, Possessiveness and Playbiting.)

Dogs should always be discouraged from using their teeth on humans, including mouthing and nipping. See Playbiting for suggestions for teaching bite inhibition to puppies. A dog that bites strangers may have to be put down, and dogs can and do hurt people by biting them.

Bites inflicted on strangers are more serious than those inflicted on you, after all, you chose to have a dog. Prevention is much better than cure - you may not get a chance to cure a dog if the police are involved. Socialize your dog with people of all kinds, including delivery people. Regular delivery people may be prepared to throw titbits at him from a safe distance, so he makes friends with them. Don't let pups run free and bark at strangers, or they may get kicked and start biting to defend themselves. Make sure your dog is always supervised when he is outside, or that the garden is secure and locked, so no stranger can enter, or poke their fingers in. Keep the dog secure, eg on the lead when strangers are about, if there is any risk of his biting.

Dogs may nip strange children who tease them, or just stress them out too much, or adults they see as threatening. Protect the dog from badly behaved children, and make sure he always has an escape route from them. Most dogs will back off from badly behaved children, and if they can't back off, they may feel they have no option but to defend themselves. Socialise your dog with adults, and protect both children and adults from him. A solid recall is also important, because you can call him out of trouble.

Dogs may try to bite their owners to retain a 'stolen' or found object. See Possessiveness on how to prevent confrontations and deal with possessiveness.

An adult dog that bites to prevent an owner from sitting on a couch or going past in a passage represents a serious threat. You can train 'off' or command the dog to move along the passage, but you also need help from a professional who can teach you how to do this.

Dogs may also bite simply because they are overexcited. Always to get your dog to sit before you throw a ball as they will often jump to get at the ball, and nip, and can even break the skin. This is especially important for children, since their skin damages easily.

Handling dogs can get them overexcited and mouthy. This is especially true if they have not been handled much, or have been handled in a way that winds them up. Long, firm strokes usually make dogs calmer. Many dogs like being stroked this way, but if dogs aren't used to it, they may start getting mouthy if you do it for too long. Keep sessions short, with a close eye on the dog's body language, and stop if the dog shows signs of being overexcited. Getting a dog used to being handled is best done when the dog is relaxed after a walk. If he gets overexcited while being handled, make sure that only sensible people handle him, and that they follow the rule of always stopping if he starts to get overexcited. If this is a persistent problem, or you have taken on an adult dog with little experience of being handled, and are not sure how to go about it, an experienced trainer can help.

Dogs may also bite out of fear, and panic bites tend to be more severe, because the dog has lost control. Very spooked dogs backed into a corner may well bite, so putting a hand near them is making the situation escalate. Dogs are less frightened if you squat at their level and talk to them gently, than if you tower over them, though a very spooked dog is best left in peace to recover some self-control. Over the long term, teach the dog to trust you.

Biting may be a reaction to pain, which may make the dog irritable, or there may be a sore spot that you unwittingly touch. A vet check is important if your dog suddenly starts to bite. Brain tumours and other medical conditions can change a dog's behaviour. Any dog that has bitten a human should be muzzled when being seen by a vet - see Vet Phobias for advice on muzzling.

You do need to have your dog assessed by a professional if he bites. Find someone you can trust who has a good track record in tackling this problem. At minor levels, such as persistent playbiting, threats using air snapping, or nipping of trouser legs, help early on can prevent the problem escalating. There is no guarantee that a dog will never bite again. Furthermore, some dogs, such as those which inflict unpredictable, severe bites on a human body or face, are not suitable as pets. However, many dogs can be taught to co-operate over giving up objects, or being subjected to intrusive handling, making it much less likely that they will bite in the future. This is best done with the help of a very experienced trainer who understands dog behaviour, or a behaviourist. A vet check is essential if you see a trainer, in case the problem is medical.

Chasing Cars, Bikes, Joggers, Cats etc.

This behaviour is common among young dogs, and may be difficult to extinguish, because dogs often enjoy it. Though cars may spook dogs, chasing them and having the car disappear may make the dog feel he controls the car. Some books recommend throwing buckets of water from moving cars, or other forms of punishment, but the desire to chase is so strong in many dogs that this may not be effective, and may make the problem worse. Punishment coming from the car may convince the dog that cars are dangerous and out to get him, so should be chased, and will tend to make him tense when they approach, whereas you want him to be calm.

Dogs that have been allowed out on their own may fear cars, cringing when they go past. Teaching pups that cars are predictable and that they are safe if they stay beside their owners, is part of their education. That's one reason why regular walks are so important. Confident, calm dogs just walk along the pavement without flinching, and have worked out that cars don't attack them if they are beside their owners.

Owners of dogs that are chasers need to anticipate trouble. Try to spot temptation before your dog does, and call him if he is off the lead, before he goes into a mad dash. Keep him on the lead if temptation is likely to be near. Train him to be able to handle as many triggers as possible when he is on the lead, and reward him for paying attention to you. As with barking at moving objects, this is a case of gradually building up his self-control. If a road is always busy, it may help to have short regular walks by traffic, building up the time as he develops more self control.

Some chasing is location or vehicle specific. Dogs may behave well by busy roads, but chase bicycles crossing playing fields, for example. Here, you could enlist help from friendly cyclists. Ask them to cycle past first at a distance, then when your dog can handle that and still focus on you, your ally can gradually get closer. Diesel cars and motor cycles often trigger lunges towards traffic, as do cars on wet roads at night. Again, get your dog used to these stimuli. These sounds may trigger lunging because dogs find them overwhelming and horrible, not just because the dogs want to chase, but you can get your dog used to them with a little regular effort.

Chasing cats is very rewarding for many dogs, after all, dogs have a built-in tendency to chase small animals. The best cats to train your dog are those that stand their ground, and hiss if the dog comes anywhere near. The dog should always be leashed, until you know he will behave. It's easier to get dogs used to cats when they are pups, and even so, you may find the dog respects cats he lives with, but sees ofthers as fair game.

Retrieving can help with some chasers, because you are developing self-control. The retrieve should include a sit-stay, with the dog only allowed to fetch once you have given a command. This means that the dog learns to control itself rather than running automatically after a moving object. A solid recall can bring your dog back to you before he starts chasing. You can also teach a 'stop right there' command. An experienced trainer can help you to develop a programme to improve your control of a chaser.

Chewing and Destructiveness

(See also Separation Anxiety.)

Pups and young dogs tend to be quite destructive, while they are at the chewing stage, and until they learn what they can and can't chew. This also applies to adult dogs which have never lived in a house. Make sure your dog doesn't have access to forbidden objects, and give him plenty of permissible objects to chew. Bitter apple, tabasco and other preparations are used by some owners to protect furniture. They sometimes work, but not always.

Pups and dogs need attractive permissible objects. You can make boring nylon bones and the like more attractive by smearing chicken fat on them, or something else that smells really good to the dog. Knotted cloth chew toys are also useful chew objects, so long as your dog doesn't eat them. Make the chew toys more fun by hiding them (with the nylon bones made to smell good), and getting the dog to find them. Play games with your dog using permissable chew toys, and swap them round every now and then. You want the dog to see them as super-interesting.

Pups and untrained dogs need to learn what they shouldn't chew, like furniture, CDs and books. They need to be supervised while they learn this, which means confining them in a safe area with no access to forbidden items while you are out. You can both make permissible items more attractive, and forbidden items less attractive. A gentle startle noise like 'chsst', when the dog approaches a 'forbidden' item can work with sensitive dogs, then offer an attractive permissible item. If 'chsst' doesn't work, try a louder noise, like coins in a can, but start with the gentlest sound first, so you don't turn the dog into a nervous wreck. It's also worth teaching 'leave', by walking the dog round the house and garden on a leash, with permissible and forbidden items strewn around. As he is on the leash, you can make sure he doesn't get hold of a forbidden item, while saying 'leave' and say 'take it' or something similar in a pleased tone of voice, as he picks up a
permissible item.

The classic pup game is to run around with socks, or something else fun they have found, and invite you to chase them. Don't let your little darling manipulate you this easily! Get something very high value and encourage the pup to come to you and trade what he has got. Smear chicken fat on many boring objects, and they become very high value. Then praise him for coming to you, and say 'drop' as he drops the sock or whatever to get the permissible item. You could also teach 'give up' if you want the item given up into your hand, though 'drop' may be easier at first. Then work on retrieving (see Possessiveness for how). It's much easier on your socks and your temper if the dog brings his prize to you and gives it up willingly. Your dog will then probably bring you objects for retrieve games, and if you encourage this, you can train a useful retriever. That is much better than chasing the dog round the house, getting very cross, and trying to force his
mouth open to get your sock out of it. Then possession becomes a battle of wills, - see possessiveness.

Older dogs may be destructive through boredom and/or separation anxiety. Dogs need exercise before they are left for a few hours. They are more likely to sleep after you leave, rather than chew up the house. They do need exercise to poo, and feeling uncomfortable because they need to 'go' means they can't relax and sleep, so are more likely to get up to mischief. Chew toys and hollow Kongs smeared with something tasty inside can give dogs something to do when they wake up. See also Separation Anxiety.

Dogs will sometimes 'steal' objects that they know are forbidden, and chew them - See also Stealing.

Some dogs have an abnormal desire to eat inedible objects, including whole socks, t-shirts, and even small stones. This can lead to very high vet bills. Get a vet check just in case there is a medical cause. Give the dog plenty of exercise and games, train what is permissible and not permissible in the normal way, and confine the dog somewhere where he can't eat 'forbidden objects' when you are out. There's anecdotal evidence that eating large inedible items is an inherited trait, and it's better not to breed from a dog that does this. Ex-strays may chew on clothing and other items, swallowing part of them, and that may simply be lack of training and boredom, so they need to be trained as though they were pups, and given more exercise and structured play.

Sometimes dogs bite window frames or other items near windows out of frustration, because they can see another dog or a cat outside. Try to organise the room so they don't have access to the window, and can't see out of it when you are out. Improve their recall, so if they move to the window to start to bark at an 'enemy' you can call them back fast.

Dogs may also become very destructive if they panic during a thunderstorm or firework display. If you are in the house, or know a storm or display is likely, confine the dog somewhere safe, where you can lessen the noise and light coming in from the outside as much as possible. Providing a bolt-hole, like a safe sapce in a corner behind a chair can also help. See Phobias for more help on sound-shyness. 


See Wandering Off

Coprophagia, otherwise known as 'poo eating'

It's not always understood why some dogs eat their own poo, and the reasons will vary. Some dogs, especially those confined in kennels where poo is often available, may pick up the habit out of boredom. There may also be a vitamin deficiency - vitamin B has been suggested. Get a vet check just in case there is a clear medical cause. It's worth asking about the correct dosage for your dog of yeast tablets and fish oil supplements, which some owners have found can help. Owners have also sucessfully reduced the attractiveness of poo by adding liver, carrots and green beans to the dog's diet; they seem to make the poo less attractive. There is no guarantee that supplements and diet changes will work, but they may work, and are unlikely to harm your dog, so long as you check with your vet on the correct dosage of supplements.

If the dog eats poo in your garden, the solution is simple: clean it up before the dog has a chance to eat it. Take the dog out to poo on a lead, so you have more chance of getting to the poo first, and pick up the poo immediately with a poo bag, rather than leaving the dog loose in the garden with access to poo. Keep the dog focused on you on walks, so he doesn't notice any poo on the ground. You need to be really on the ball, because some dogs will try to zip in there and eat their steamy fresh offering before you can blink an eye.

You can try training a dog to avoid poo by teaching 'leave', and by saying 'chsst' when a dog approaches poo, or using a can with coins if that doesn't work. You can set up a training field with a collection of offerings, at the same time, putting out edible offerings for the dog to focus on instead of the poo, so the dog learns that poo is not very attractive compared with alternatives.

Rabbit, horse and sheep poo is considered a treat by many dogs, and doesn't appear to harm them, though if they eat poo of any kind it is especially important not to forget their worming treatments.


See Phobias


Fighting occurs at different levels of seriousness, from playfights to serious fights which can result in injury and even death. Some people argue that playfights between pups should not be allowed, since it's a way that dogs learn to fight. However, they are learning far more than this. Playfights can be a useful way for pups to learn how to bite gently and not hurt each other. Pups can develop useful social skills through playfights, both learning to control their aggression and learning when and how to submit. Playfights mixed with chases are also a good way for pups and young dogs to run off steam. Social animals that are deprived of play when young don't learn necessary social skills.

This doesn't mean letting pups do anything they want to each other. The ages, temperaments and relative sizes of the pups, are important, as is your ability to recognise when fights are getting serious. Little pups don't usually do each other much damage, and can learn how to regulate their bites by the way that their playmates react. If they bite too hard, the playmate yelps and doesn't want to play any more, or bites back hard, which is usually enough to teach the biter that he or she has gone too far. Where you need to be more careful is when puppies of different sizes get together, and there is a danger of a pup getting bullied, or learning to be a bully. This can happen with unrelated pups, and pups of different sizes in cross-breed litters, especially big litters. Always stop playfights if one pup is unhappy about what is happening, and is trying to run away, rather than coming back for more, or if you just want some peace and quiet.

As a general rule, it's better only to allow playfighting out of doors, because it is more likely to get intense indoors. It's better to stop playfighting before either of the dogs shows signs of fatigue and consequent irritability, which could result in serious fighting. Playfights typically include chase games and playbows, and the dogs return again and again to each other, until they are exhausted. If they start to lose their tempers, the fighting and growls get more frenetic, while the playbows disappear. It's best to stop fights before they get to this stage, and certainly at the first sign that one dog can't cope.

Fights can get more serious as dogs get older. Some adult dogs are better than others at tussling playfully without it getting out of hand. There are dogs that get very uptight, and either can't playfight at all, or it deteriorates very fast. If you think of playfights as a bit like banter, it's clear that humans are like this too. Some people can tease other other, and it's friendly, but not everyone can do this.

Socialisation of pups is very important - ideally they should both have walks with well-behaved older dogs who set a good example, and have playmates they get on with. This mix teaches them different social skills, it socialises them. Unsocialised dogs forced into close contact with dogs they don't know will tend to fight out of fear. It's worth trying to socialise adult dogs, even if you may never trust them off the lead with other dogs. It means that they are less likely to bite any young dog that approaches them, or to lunge at dogs that pass by. You'll need to enlist the help of a trainer, or at least someone with a lot of experience of dogs, who can help by exposing your dog to calm adult dogs who don't react to barking and posturing. You can also take an unsocialised dog to watch outdoor training classes, leashed and at a safe distance, so long as all the owners taking part in the class know not to let their dogs approach you. Set up markers so
your dog has his 'comfort distance' respected.

Most fights between socialised adult dogs which meet on walks are brief, and result in no damage to either dog. Typically, they involve a younger dog being briefly scolded for taking liberties with an older dog, or two entire males reaching adulthood. Owners of entire males need to be especially careful on walks, since previously sociable male dogs may suddenly decide to take on other entire males. Neutering male dogs may not make them less aggressive, but does tend to reduce aggression against them.

Fights can occur when dogs don't understand each other's body language, which often happens when dogs of different breeds meet. Bull terriers and rottweilers send fewer signals to other dogs, who may not realise when it is wise to stop teasing 'poker face', and back off with an apology. Owners of pups need to make sure their pups do not plague older dogs, even if the dogs appear to be tolerating it. City dogs need very well developed social skills. For a country dog that comes to the city, the erect tail of a spitz may seem threatening, while bigger dogs may panic at the approach of smaller dogs, like Yorkies, which may rush under their legs. Smaller dogs may also find very big dogs too much to cope with. Dogs may also be 'trained' to show aggression against others of a certain breed if they have been attacked by one of that breed, for example, a male dog attacked by an entire male golden retriever may then make aggressive displays at other entire male
goldens, though not necessarily females or neutered dogs.

Selective socialisation can help tackle the problem of a dog that starts lunging and barking at others of a certain appearance. This involves finding a well-behaved, calm dog of the type that your dog can't cope with, and two people walking the dogs alongside each other on the leash, but at a safe distance. Parallel walks can calm dogs very rapidly.

Walking your dog in the same place at the same time every day helps you avoid fights, since you can get to know which dogs your dog likes, and which he doesn't. Even if your dog seems friendly, do check with other owners before letting your dog approach their dog. Some dogs just don't like being approached when they are on the lead, and may bite if they feel cornered. Dogs are often attacked if they barge into another dog's ball game. Fights are also more likely if dogs don't have much space, for example if they are hemmed in on a narrow pathway. If the initial meeting looks promising, the best place for your dog to get to know a new dog is off the lead in an open space, like the middle of a field.

Making new friends can be a wonderful experience for both you and your dog, but your dog does need to learn to pass strange dogs without getting overexcited. This means not trying to get to know every stranger. It also means only letting him approach a strange dog when he is calm. He's more likely to upset another dog if he is overexcited and so keen on contact that he can't read their signals. Make sure he doesn't pull on the lead, because this tends to make him more wound up, rather than calmer, and make sure he pays attention to you, rather than other dogs, when you ask him to.

If you have a dog who sometimes picks fights, or seems to get involved in a lot of fights, keep him on the lead unless you have a clear view ahead, and know that any dog approaching is one he gets on with. Anticipate trouble, and try to spot approaching dogs before he does, so you can call him if he is off leash, and avoid trouble.

Some dogs fight for fun, and will try to pick fights despite efforts to socialise and train them. Their body language is confident, and they charge at other dogs. Males usually target entire males, though there are also bitches who like fighting and they may attack both sexes. This tendency is usually clear before the dog is eight months old. If you are worried that your dog only really likes meeting other dogs to fight them, use a muzzle, reinforce recall, stay, and stop at a distance commands, and have the dog assessed.

Preventing fights is better than trying to stop them once they've started. People are often hurt trying to separate fighting dogs, so it's best not to expose yourself to this danger, and to use distractions and prevent contact if possible. If your dog is approached by another on a walk and you sense the other is not friendly, try throwing treats at the dog, or even small stones aiming to miss, but close enough to startle, backed by a lot of stomping and shouting. You can also take a walking stick to keep strange dogs at bay, using the point, or try body-blocking, putting yourself between the strange dog and yours. If you are not sure how to tell whether or not strange dogs are friendly, try walking with someone who has a lot of experience and can explain the signs, and watch your dog's body language. If he is wary of a strange dog, keep a comfortable distance.

Fighting can be more of a problem if it happens in your own home, rather than on walks where dogs can escape each other. There are people who think dogs should be allowed to 'fight it out' because otherwise you are interfering in their ranking system. Not a good idea, letting them fight it out can result in very large vet bills or even dead dogs. Most fights tend to be about resources you control, such as food, chews, and access to you, so most fights are triggered by, or can be prevented by owners. If you give out titbits, make sure it's clear who is meant to have what. Give each dog enough space to eat at meal times (which means not leaving food out). Bones can become a source of fights, so let each dog have a chew or a bone in a separate room if you want them to chew and they tend to squabble over chews and bones. Reward dogs on the basis of their good behaviour, ie being calm and doing what you say. That sets a good example in canine self-control.
You can sometimes see a dog watching another being rewarded, thinking 'ah, that is what I have to do' and copying the better behaved dog. Pay most attention to the best-behaved dog. Pushy dogs can turn into spoilt monsters if they are favoured, and may attack other dogs because they feel they have your backing.

Any fighting other than quick canine reprimands should be stamped on before it gets out of hand. You can tell all dogs involved to cut it out, without showing favour. If a fight does start, turn on a vacuum cleaner, blow a horn, use a water pistol, a hosepipe, a bucket of water, whatever is to hand, but keep out of it yourself, because you can be seriously bitten. Fights are usually brief, but soda water or aerosol sprays aimed at the mouth can prompt a dog to let go, if it hangs on. Some owners use a big wooden spoon inserted between jaws. Immediately after the dogs stop fighting, let them know that you are very, very annoyed. Scold absolutely everybody involved, no matter who started it, This can prevent further scraps if the message gets through to just one dog. It takes two to fight, so if one dog learns to ignore provocations and lets you sort it out, that dog is strong on self-control, has learnt to take you seriously.

Obedience training helps a lot, since you can more easily prevent fights, using down stay or recall commands. Train the dogs both as a group, and separately. You should be able to line them up and call them out one at a time.

Jostling at doorways can be a problem. Teach the dogs to leave in an orderly way. If one has to be left behind, and makes a fuss, shut that dog away from the door with something interesting, like a hollow rubber toy with treats inside. It's not much fun to be left out, and dogs have a sense of fairness.

Not all dogs can be left alone safely. While most dogs just sleep, dogs do sometimes fight. This is especially true of three or more dogs that are wound up by something happening outside. They can turn on each other if they can't get at their 'enemy'. This can also happen in fence fighting, with one dog turning on the one next to it. So it's worth separating dogs when you go out, if you have more than three, or if you know of any reason they may fight, and it's important to supervise them in the garden if they want to fence fight (see Designing a Dog Garden).

Rehoming may be necessary as a last resort if your dogs really don't get on. It may be heartbreaking, but it's better than coming home and finding a dead dog. It's far better to prevent problems by choosing dogs that do get on, and introducing them properly. There are some people you wouldn't want to share a house with, and the same goes for dogs. If you are choosing a shelter dog, see how the dog gets on with yours on neutral territory, before taking any decisions.

As a general rule it's safer not to keep two bitches of the same breed. The best combination is usually dog-bitch, then dog-dog, then two bitches. Littermates are generally more likely to fight. These are general tendencies, but two bitch littermates may get on well if one is easy-going, and two pushy dogs may be in conflict whether they are dogs or bitches. You really want easy-going dogs if you have more than two. Dogs with easy-going parents tend to be easy-going themselves, though if you buy from a breeder, ask which pups in the litter are likely to do well with other dogs.

When a new pup or dog is introduced, it helps to do this on neutral territory, with the owner in control of the resident dog on a leash, and a friend with the new dog. Then they can be walked together, pup in arms if necessary. This can help them bond, as can giving them at least some of the same food, with the older dog eating a little puppy food. They smell similar if their food is the same.

Older dogs often need protection from pushy canine newcomers - imagine having a noisy toddler come to stay with you. If the older dog tries to escape the newcomer's plaguey attentions, that's a clear message he wants some peace. If he often reprimands the youngster irritably, that's another clear sign. Have someone experienced watch the dogs if you are not sure what is going on. Some youngster newcomers and older resident dogs get on wonderfully from day one, but it may take time, and your older dog may need your help to learn to cope. You can help by socialising the pup with friends' older dogs who can cope, as well as finding the pup playmates. Once the youngster has more social skills, he should get on better with your older dog. In the mean time, let your older dog know his place is secure, and give him time on his own, as well as involving all the dogs in activities that help them learn self-control and work together as a group.

Fur pulling

It's not always known why some dogs pull out or lick off their fur. It may be a behavioural problem, or medical, or a mix of the two, when a dog starts licking or pulling fur because of an initial medical problem, and then develops an obsessive habit. Check with your vet to eliminate anal gland trouble, mange, and other possible causes of hair pulling and loss. Watch out for fleas, which some dogs are very sensitive to. Vacuum a lot, and wash bedding frequently using 'kind' products that aren't heavily perfumed. Try a diet suitable for dogs with allergies. If the dog does this in very hot weather, keep him out of the sun and find a cool place for him to stay in the hottest part of the day, and give him a paddling pool to bathe in.

Dogs also benefit from extra mental stimulation, even when there's a medical reason for an itch. It makes it less likely that they'll develop an obsessive habit once the medical cause has gone. There are many games you can play with your dog, like hide and seek, or tug, drop and fetch. A ten minute games session can relax a dog for a long time. Give the dog chew toys and plenty of exercise. If you are watching TV or are on your computer, and see the dog pulling fur, say 'chsst' to interrupt the behaviour, and call the dog for a five-minute massage session. You can also try dog-sitting exchanges, ie leave your dog with someone else on a regular basis while you are busy, and then look after their dog in exchange, so your dog has more stimulation and distractions, and is less likely to pull fur out of boredom.

Hyperactive dogs

'Hyperactivity' is a term that is often used to describe extremely active dogs which lack impulse control. They like doing new activities, exploring new territory, and want everything NOW rather than having to wait. They may also 'go deaf' when called, and have difficulty focusing on their owners. 'Hyperactive' is also a term used to describe dogs that are simply more active than is comfortable for their owners! Most young dogs are very active. Impulse control, and learning to focus on the owner, are usually skills that owners have to teach. Dogs from working lines tend to be particularly active, and need to have their energy channelled into acceptable behaviour, or they are likely to find interesting things to do, like chasing cars, that drive their owners to despair. If you are a novice owner, or have previously only owned sedate dogs, it's worth getting your active dog assessed by a very experienced trainer, someone who knows enough about teaching different canine skills to tell you what your dog might be good at. Training an active, enthusiastic dog can be much more fun than training a couch potato, so long as you have the time and energy to keep up.

Ball games and agility are often recommended as outlets for very active dogs. They can be useful, so long as you put some thought into what the dog is learning. The normal reaction for a keen retriever waiting for you to throw a ball is to jump up and try to grab it. This can be painful as teeth meet hand. The first rule of thumb is to teach the dog to sit and stay while you pick up and throw a ball. If the dog breaks the stay and moves towards the ball, you reinforce the stay, rather than picking up the ball. The dog also needs to learn to give up the ball nicely. This canine self-control is especially important if children play with the dog. Teaching self-control takes patience, but is well worth the effort, because it means that ball games both increase your control, and are good exercise for the dog. Many dogs love retrieving, and if you are lucky enough to have an active retriever, this opens a lot of fun activities, such as getting your dog to bring you objects by name.

Agility sessions can teach your dog confidence in tackling obstacles, and increase your control. The dog learns to handle scary situations, like being on a see-saw, and to tackle obstacles on command. However, while some agility classes are well-run, others have young dogs running around wildly, annoying the better-behaved dogs and setting a bad example. Choose the class carefully, and see how your dog's behaviour changes after a few sessions. Some dogs are calmer after agility, but there are others which find agility so easy-peasy that it gets them too wound up, so much so that they may snap at their owners. This is a clear warning sign that a more 'thinking' type of activity, like scent work, would be better for dog and owner.

Dogs are more likely to focus on you if you can offer them something interesting to do. A good daily physical and mental work-out also gives you much more control over the dog for the rest of the day. It's easier to put the dog in a long downstay when he or she is relaxed, rather than antsy and needing to let off steam. Massage can also relax dogs and help them to learn to accept being handled all over, and it's easier to settle a dog for a massage after exercise. A good trainer can show you how to massage your dog if you are unsure.

A very experienced trainer is an invaluable ally, and there is a lot you can do at home, both in terms of teaching impulse control (see Basic Training ) and playing training games. It's also worth checking to see if you can bring about an improvement through other means. Particular ingredients in dogs' diets have been linked to hyperactivity (see Dogs and Diet). Dogs labelled 'hyperactive' may have medical problems, for example a dog that pays no attention to spoken commands may well be deaf. Vet checks are always a good idea if your dog suddenly becomes wilder and more inattentive, or has 'out of character' episodes. Training is usually the best way to channel the energy of very active dogs, but if there is any reason to suspect a medical problem, the first port of call is your vet.


See Toilet Training.

See also Dogs and Health article summaries


Dogs often appear possessive of their owners. They may latch onto one person in a household, growling at the other humans. It's quite common for small, fluffy dogs, like Pomeranians, to decide they belong to the woman of the household, and growl at her partner. One way to tackle this is for all rewards to come from the partner - including walks, as well as meals and titbits. The woman can leash the dog, and then pass the leash on. This can work fast, because the only way the dog gets what he wants is by being nice to the partner. Not all men want to be seen out with small, fluffy dogs, but walking with the man of the house can make a big difference in bonding. The man not only becomes a source of pleasure, he also becomes the person who protects the dog in the big wide world outside.

There is often rivalry between dogs if one dog is especially favoured by the owner above the others, perhaps because it's small and cuddly. Too much attention paid to one dog can turn it into an obnoxious brat that says 'you can't touch me 'cos mummy (or daddy) will tell you off'. The same dog can learn to behave nicely if humans make sure they distribute rewards, including cuddles, fairly among all the dogs.

Dogs may sometimes attack 'strange' dogs they see with their owner. This may even happen if they see a strange dog with another friendly human they have come to regard as 'theirs', for example, if this friend has a new dog. That is why it's safer to introduce a new dog with someone else holding the new dog's lead, and to do this outside, with both dogs on the lead at first. Then walk them together for a while to help them to get to know each other, before taking them indoors. The initial reaction is often nothing to do with with personality of the new dog, just that it seems like a usurper, so the dogs can quickly get on well, even after badly managed introductions.

Some pushy dogs that especially value human company may try to monopolise the owner, or even someone providing day care who is looking after more than one dog, threatening any other dog that approaches the owner or carer. Obedience training helps, because you can more easily put the pushy dog into down stay while you pay attention to another dog. It also helps to make cuddles conditional on the pushy dog doing something for you first - showing that you aren't a pushover.

Jumping Up

Training dogs to greet without jumping up can begin in puppyhood, by teaching 'off', once the pup has jumped, 'sit' if the dog looks about to jump, and only rewarding with cuddles or whatever when the pup has all four paws on the ground. This is especially important for pups, since people often think pups are cute, and cuddle them whatever they do, but manners learnt by pups tend to stay with them as adults. The person the dog is greeting can take a step back and turn away from the dog, ignoring him until he is calm and has all four paws on the ground. Repeat if the dog jumps up again. 'Off' is easy to teach with a treat thrown on the ground. You say 'off' as the dog gets down to get the treat. This can be reinforced by stepping on the lead, so an attempt to jump up cannot succeed.

It's easier to control jumping up if you also train the dog only to jump on your lap if invited (with an 'up' command or similar). If the dog jumps up uninvited, use the 'off' command. This training again protects guests from unwanted doggy attention.

Be especially careful on walks, because passers-by, especially children, and people who are dog-phobic, may panic if your dog jumps on them. Keep him on the lead when there are people around if he's likely to jump up, and practise meeting people with him sitting nicely. Good recall is also important to retrieve your dog if he is off the leash and there is a risk he may jump up. You can practice 'off' at a distance, with dog-friendly friends, but prevention is better than cure.

Large Dogs

You need to work harder with large dogs, especially over jumping up, mounting, and stealing food. Puppies of giant breeds may frighten other dogs, so socialisation is also important. It helps to walk in the same place every day, so your pup can make friends who get used to his size.

Lovesick Dogs

Entire males that have had a whiff of a bitch in season may go off their food, howl, whimper, become deaf to commands, and oblivious to anything but the smell of bitches. This condition does not affect all entire males, some never get lovesick. You can often calm a lovesick dog by taking him out at a time and to places when there is no smell of a bitch. For some reason, a short walk with no bitch smells seems to turn an 'off' switch in the dog's head and stop him whimpering. It's very easy to tell when a dog is lovesick, and he should never be let off the lead when he is in this state, or allowed out unattended in the garden. Try to explain to owners of entire bitches what the problem is, especially if they are daft enough to allow their bitches out off the leash when they are in season. Be polite and friendly, they may be unaware of your dog's adoration, and the risks involved for their bitch. See if you can coordinate walks so that your dog does not follow in the bitch's tracks. Entire males are extremely sensitive to the whiff of a bitch, and can smell a bitch in season from half a field away, but the further away you are, the better.


Dogs mount for a number of reasons, not just because they want to mate. It is most common in entire males between one and two-years-old, but neutered males and bitches also mount. It may be a sign of wanting to dominate another dog, but not always, and may just be overexcitement, often coupled with being socially inept.

If your dog is a mounter, be considerate to others, and don't let him off the lead with people or dogs he could frighten, especially smaller dogs. Some dogs can handle mounters, and just issue a brief reprimand, other dogs find it scary. Explain your problem if another owner suggests letting your and their dogs off together, and be prepared to deal with any attempts to mount. Work on a solid recall, so you can call your dog from a distance. Watch your dog's body language when he meets another dog, to spot the signs that he is likely to mount. Call him and put him on the leash if he looks like he is about to. You can use a water pistol on a persistent mounter - it doesn't have to be very strong to be effective.

Dogs mount humans too. Treat this as an over-enthusiastic jumping up. Dogs that mount are also dogs that jump up, so deal with the jumping up, and the mounting takes care of itself. Again, a weak water pistol may be needed to reinforce the 'off' command if the dog is too engrossed to pay you attention. A dog that mounts people can seriously frighten children and frail older people, so don't let him do it, ever, even if it looks comic. Mounting inanimate objects is less of a problem, because many dogs do this and never mount other dogs or humans.

Dogs can get turned on by certain perfumes, and if they are in human shampoos, they may show an overaffectionate interest in the human head. When a dog has been shampood using perfumes that turn dogs on, the dog may also attract mounters. This effect is temporary, and disappears once the smell of the shampoo is dissipated. Choose your shampoos carefully!

Over attachment

See Separation Anxiety.


(See also Vet Phobias)

Dogs can develop phobias, or exaggerated fears, about all kinds of events, people, other animals, objects and sounds. This tendency is often an inherited trait, though dogs may also have a tendency to anxiety if they have suffered unpleasant experiences just after birth, or been separated from their mothers too young. Though many authors see six to eight weeks as a suitable age to take a pup home, it's usually safer to wait until eight weeks, because the extra two weeks spent with mum and littermates can give the pup more confidence in coping with life, as well as giving the pup time to learn more social skills.

Generally, it helps to try to get the dog to associate what he is afraid of with something nice. Take it gradually, and don't force the issue unless you really have to, or you may panic the dog and undo progress. If your dog is afraid of an object, for example, just leave the object on the floor next to his favourite titbit and move away, pretending to ignore the dog. If he doesn't approach the object, try again, with the titbit further away, and if he eats the titbit, try it again with the object nearer the titbit. The same applies to fear of cars, you can place titbits at a distance from the car, and gradually nearer, until the dog gets in the car. However, if your dog really doesn't like getting into cars, do check this isn't because of aches and pains. The same applies to fear of stairs - dogs may be unused to stairs, in which case teaching them to climb very short flights with titbits helps, but also check for medical problems.

Dogs may not be used to car journeys, or they may associate them with unpleasant events, like being put in kennels. Very short journeys going to somewhere fun, like a park where they can play, can change their expectations.

Sound phobias are difficult to deal with, and can arise suddenly when dogs are adult. If your dog is only a little afraid of gunshot, try walking him with a calm, older dog, and he should take his cue from his companion. It's best to try not to be out in thunderstorms, or when fireworks are being let off, as very loud unexpected bangs can spook many dogs. Use a harness if he pulls in a frantic bid to get to safety. A harness can calm dogs, whereas if they are throttling themselves by pulling very hard, this can intensify their panic and damage them.

Dogs often bark, or tremble and hide, when they hear loud bangs and thunderclaps and they are indoors. Close all windows, pull all curtains, and put on your dog's favourite music or the TV so that the flashes and sounds have less of an impact. Dogs vary in terms of how much they are comforted by the owner's presence, and by being touched. Very spooked dogs may just want a bolt hole near you. These are the dogs that show abject terror, and pant. Petting them is unlikely to help, their 'flight' survival instinct has kicked in and they just want a safe place. You can rig up a 'safe place' behind your favourite chair by placing an open dog cage, or crate there and covering it with blankets. This allows the dog to 'go to ground' until he feels it is safe to come out. Keep the door open when he is inside so he feels he is in control. The advantage of this is that you can leave it in place when you go out, giving the dog a way of coping in your absence.

Dogs that are less spooked can be calmed in other ways. You can call the dog, and reward him for coming and sitting beside you by giving him long, firm strokes and massage. Many dogs that are just a little spooked during storms or firework bangs can also benefit from playing games. Try playing with the dog's toys until you attract his interest, and then involve him in his favourite games. Generally it helps to encourage a dog to do something active as a way of learning to cope with his fears of stimuli that move or make noises. It's much easier for him to tune out the bangs or whatever he is afraid of, if he's doing something, rather than just sitting still, especially if he is confined. This also applies to fear of motorbikes, children, trucks, whatever moves and/or is noisy.

Fear of vacuum cleaners is very common, and may lead the dog to bite your legs or sleeve to get you away from the dangerous noisy moving object. One method of tackling this that often works is to get the dog used to the vacuum cleaner with a helper, first having the helper vacuum while you play training games with the dog nearby, then swapping with the helper playing with the dog and you vacuuming. This is better in a large room, so you can start out at a distance, and it's better if the helper is someone your dog really trusts. However some owners simply put the dog into a down stay, explaining that the vacuum cleaner is quite safe - which method is better depends on the dog, how spooked, and how obedient he is.


See also Biting and Fighting

Puppies should always be taught bite inhibition from their first interaction with you, it is so important for their future. Do not tolerate any playbiting, mouthing, or snapping. Never, ever, let anyone roughhouse your pup and encourage him to playbite. The result may be a dog that has to be euthanased for biting. Some people suggest saying 'Ow' and ignoring the pup, but this often does not work.

A method than has been extremely effective with many pups is simply blowing a raspberry when they are having a relaxed chew of your hand. Make sure you do this in a gentle, low key way. Have pup close while you are sitting, pup starts to chew, you blow a very gentle raspberry in the pup's face. The pup stops, tries again, you blow another raspberry. The pup will usually then lick you. Give long, firm, calming strokes to show you are friends with the pup, and to reward him for the licks. Licks are much better than bites, because they show deference. Don't try blowing loud farty raspberries with a manic pup, or you will probably just encourage more wild behaviour, do this when pup is relatively calm and just having a reflective chew of your person.

Pups do need to chew, so give him something more acceptable to chew than a human. They also like to engage in pretend chases and kills. Running will tend to encourage playbiting, because the pup may see your ankles, or shoelaces as prey, so move your hands and feet slowly if he is in this mood, or focus his attention on something else. A game with a permissible biting object, like a tug, that he can chase and 'kill', channels the same prey instincts. If you teach the pup to 'drop' the tug, then throw it as a reward for the drop, this teaches the pup some self-control, and if he brings it back to you for more, the game also teaches him to co-operate with you. Some pups have a manic, playbiting time at a particular time of the day, so anticipate this, and give your pup a tug game, a game of hide and seek, or a 'hunt the titbit' game.

Pups do need to learn not to bite hard, and to do this they need to be allowed to bite, but they can do this with other dogs, rather than with people.


Guarding food or objects by growling and snapping is very common in dogs. Training can make a lot of difference in terms of prevention and treatment. Ideally, you should be able to take anything away from a dog without him objecting. Pups can get used to people going near their bowls if they see this as a good thing. You can add tasty titbits to their meals while they are eating to convince them of this. Some people also take the bowl away, get the pup to sit, and then return it with something nice added, but this could confuse a pup and make him more possessive. Punishing a dog for growling to retain an object may also make him more possessive, by confirming his view that you are a threat. You don't want to be growled at in your own home, so help your dog to feel safe about essentials, like meals, and teach him how to give up objects.

Supervision of meal times is very important if you have more than one dog. Dogs that have to fight to eat will not only see other dogs as a threat, but also humans. They have been trained to bite in order to survive. Give each dog enough space to feel safe while eating, feeding in separate rooms if necessary.

Dogs are often relaxed about their food bowls, but growl to retain 'found objects' and forbidden objects. Make sure that your dog can't steal forbidden objects, by keeping them out of his reach or locked away, and teach a 'leave' command. You can do this on the lead, with forbidden and permitted objects on the floor, encouraging him to take what is permitted and saying 'leave' for forbidden objects, while moving him away from them. As he is on the lead, you can prevent him from picking up the forbidden objects. Try this with a reinforcing 'chsst' or shaking a can with coins in it, if he doesn't get the message at first. You can also put an object that is likely to interest your dog on the ground, and let him approach it. Then call 'leave' and call him, holding up something he finds much more attractive, like a stinky titbit.

It's also worth putting a lot of effort into teaching a 'drop' or 'let go' command. You can do this first with titbits as a reward for dropping, saying 'drop' or 'give' each time he gives up an object. Then you can use the command in ball games. First throw the ball, and make a big fuss of the dog every time he brings it back. Have several balls when you start teaching this, as he won't always bring it back. When he can do basic retrieves, hold his collar gently and say 'stay' while you throw the ball. Then release him and say 'fetch'. Tell him to 'drop' when he has brought the ball back. If there are lots of balls, he'll probably drop the one in his mouth to go after a new one. He may take a while to get the idea, so mix this with simple retrieves, and use lots of praise. If you want to be posh, you can also have the dog present you the ball in a nice sit, but for the purposes of reducing possessiveness, it's fine if he just gobs it out on the floor in
front of you.
Teaching retrieving is the best way to encourage a dog to bring something he finds to you and give it up willingly. Try it with socks, and anything your dog likes to 'find'.

Another way to reduce possessiveness is a modified game of tug of war. Get the dog to grab one end. Don't pull hard on the tug, just make a lot of pretend fierce noises and move your hand to get the dog to move around a lot. The dog will probably make pretend fierce noises back. Then say 'drop', and the tug has to be dropped instantly. Then get the dog to sit and stay, throw the tug, say 'fetch' to release the dog from his 'stay' and call the dog when he has picked it up. His reward for retrieving and giving up the tug is having you play and throw again. This is play, with give and take, and the dog using self-control, it is a lesson in co-operation.

You may need to take an object from a dog, because it could hurt him, but it's very high value for him, and he isn't yet trained enough to give it up. Taking it directly out of his mouth is not sensible. Some dogs may allow owners to do this without protest, but there's a high risk of being bitten. It's better to get him to drop whatever it is and come to you, if he won't do this on command, by offering him something more exciting (eg a handful of stinky titbits, or skin from a roast chicken). If your dog has something especially attractive, the whole of the chicken, for example, he is unlikely to want to give it up. Some owners use the 'one wolf stealing from another' method' they squat near the dog, talk softly to him, wear thick gloves, wait until he is drops the object and is distracted, then take it very quickly, before he has a chance to react. Then they give the dog a consolation prize of stinky titbits to occupy him, once the forbidden object is
removed. This is risky in that squatting makes you more vulnerable to attack, so should not be tried on a dog that has ever bitten. Dogs can bite through gloves, so don't try taking something a dog wants from in front of him unless you know your dog very well, and can read and predict him well enough to get the timing right. A safer alternative is to stay standing, get him to drop the object by throwing something very attractive near him, and move the forbidden object from him towards you while he is distracted, using a pole, stick, broom or whatever.

Always think of your safety first, and just leave the dog be if there is a risk to you and the object is not very important. It is of course much safer to teach 'leave' before the dog picks something up, and to teach a 'give' or 'drop' command, so work on these until he gives up anything you ask on command.

Giving up objects and co-operating is something that dogs need to be taught just like humans do. A five-year-old human doing a jigsaw puzzle with another child will often grab a handful of pieces and not want to share them. Both humans and dogs need to learn give and take!

Dogs can learn from watching other dogs and humans. If you have one very well trained dog, and a problem dog, it may help for you and the well-trained dog to give a demonstration of retrieving with co-operation, or of taking a ball and giving it up on command, with the problem dog watching. You can also try this with a human friend playing the role of the dog, using the same commands that you want the dog to learn. Humans may prefer to bring the ball back, or take it and give it up, using their hands, rather than their mouths, but the message still gets through to the dog 'this is how you co-operate'. It has to be a trusted human, not one who teases you by refusing to give up the ball, because 'naughty' human behaviour can affect dogs.


See Walking On The Lead.


See also Wandering Off

Scenthounds, ex-racing greyhounds, lovesick dogs and young dogs often terrify their owners by disappearing over the horizon. Some dogs will never be trustworthy, but most dogs respond well to training, after which they can be trusted most of the time.

Work on recall at home first, in different rooms in the house, calling his name, then a recall command, from different rooms, with different sorts of rewards. Then move out to the garden, calling the dog in the garden, indoors from the garden, and out into the garden from indoors. Try recall in as many safe, enclosed areas as you can, but keep him on a flexilead or a long line while he is in unfenced areas, until he is coming back every time. You can try run-back recalls in unfenced areas, using a long leash, getting him to sit and stay, running backwards, then calling him to you. Use gestures as well as your voice, so you are easier to understand and can communicate more at a distance when he can see you.

Find a very safe unfenced area to let him off for the first time, ie no roads, joggers, or screaming children nearby. The first time you let him off, let him have a little mad run around, then, when he is coming towards you, call him, and reward him. Vary the rewards, like cuddles, a throw toy or titbits, so he never knows what nice thing you are going to do next.

Try to call him only when you are sure he will come back, or he has no option because he is on a long lead. You may be tempted to run after him if he won't come back, but he will probably find that great fun, and keep on going. It's more effective to run away from him and shout 'bye bye'. If he is dancing around you and playing hard to get, sit down, ignore him, and squeak. Take a squeaky toy out with you if you feel an idiot squeaking yourself. Dogs like to investigate squeaks. You can also sit and play with one of his toys and ignore him, or hide. Sitting may work because dogs have little idea of perspective, ie they cannot tell the difference between cows that are small and cows that are far away. Whatever the reason, it works! Hiding often works with dogs that like to take their time, but also like to keep you in view. Do praise your dog when he does come back after a delay, even if you are fuming about the worry he has caused you. Then do some
run-back recalls to remind him that he is meant to obey you, and work harder on recall at home.

The more you practise recall at home, the stronger the recall on walks. Doing things with him on walks also both improves recall and lessens the chance of his wandering off. You can play hide and seek, for example, or ball games. Throw the ball in the direction you are walking if the dog doesn't always bring it back. It also helps to teach a 'lie down where you are' command. Then give a recall or release command, or catch up with the dog.

Special remote-control collars that deliver citronella smells can help remind a dog you exist. They are especially useful for dogs so engrossed in ground smells they just don't hear you. A whistle is also helpful for communicating at a distance. Don't trust a seriously lovesick dog to come back - just keep him on a lead. You can tell if he is lovesick, he will be deaf, sniffing constantly, and whining to go out when he is home. And don't ever let a bitch in season off the lead in public places!

Separation Anxiety

(See also Barking, Destructiveness and Toilet Training)

Separation anxiety is more common among ex-shelter dogs, maybe because they feel less trusting that an owner will come back. It also seems too be more common with dogs that are indulged a lot with titbits and cuddles, without having to do anything for them. Training games with built-in rewards for obeying, can help your dog to feel generally more relaxed about life, and more in control. Exercise also helps dogs cope with stress. Dogs will tend to sleep for quite a while when left alone if they have had a good run beforehand. Dogs have internal clocks, and soon get used to how you structure your day, so have someone check on the dog if you are going to be out for longer than usual. If you take on a new pup or dog and work full-time, it's sensible to take a holiday, or find a helper to see you through the transition period. There are also limits to how long dogs should be left alone, especially young dogs, so if your work and commuting time adds up, you
may need to arrange a regular lunchtime walker. The more people your dog knows and sees on a regular basis, the more relaxed he'll be if you aren't around.

Your dog will more easily cope with you being outside the house if he can relax about being in a different room from you when you are in the house. Try reading a book in a different room from the dog with a babygate up, so he can see you but can't be by your side. Gradually increase the amount of time that your dog spends alone, and get him used to being where he can't see you. In acute cases, you may have to start with very short periods like two minutes, at first standing the other side of the door, gradually building it up until you can sit in a nearby room, and he is relaxed. Then try going outside and just walking round the block, coming back after five minutes, again, building up the time you are out.

When a dog is learning to be alone, and starts to bark or howl, try going in and 'settling' him. Check his water, give him a little massage, then go out again. Some people teach a 'settle' command to their dogs, like 'go sleep'. It works if the dog has had enough exercise beforehand, and tells the dog what to expect.

When you have to go out, you can leave the dog with chews and other toys in a room where he can't see you getting ready to go. A special treat at this time can make the experience pleasant, a hollow rubber toy smeared with cheese, for example. It may also help to leave him something that smells of you - sleep in an old T-shirt, for instance, then leave it with the dog as a 'comfort blanket'. A radio tuned to a station with classical music can also help. No-one has yet produced 'Mozart for Dogs', but classical music is more calming than many types of music, and a radio helps to tune out noises from outside, so helps calm the dog. Make preparations to leave in a discrete way, varying your routine, so the dog doesn't pick up on cues and start to protest about your departure. Make goodbyes low-key, with perhaps a 'be good dog', rather than an effusive 'poor little thing I have to leave you'! It's also worth trying low-key hellos when you get back, to show it's no big deal if you go away for a while. Ignore the first mad rush when you come back, just say hello, and wait until the dog is calm before calling him and giving him a cuddle.

Small Dogs

Small dogs often get away with quite dreadful behaviour, but it's worth putting effort into training them as if they were big dogs. They won't bowl you over when they jump up, but they can still frighten small children, get run over, be kicked if they annoy passers by, and annoy big dogs by being brattish, and get bitten. They can be trained like any dog, and well-behaved small dogs are very impressive. Unfortunately humans are often tempted to treat small dogs like animated cuddly toys, which can turn them into little monsters. Small dogs need exercise, training, and games, just like any dog. They may be more fearful than larger dogs, but can be socialised in the same way. It's best to find them puppy playmates of their own size, so they aren't bullied, but they can be walked with calm, friendly dogs of any size as their first adult companions. Small dogs are often more worried about the temperament of their adult companions than their size, and may be
happier with a calm big dog than with a pushy and socially inept smaller dog. Small dogs are often more exciteable than bigger dogs, but their energy can be channeled into training games, so they learn self-control and how to co-operate with their owners.


(see also Attention Seeking, Destructiveness and Possessiveness)

Dogs soon learn what they are allowed to take, and what is forbidden, but they may 'steal' forbidden objects like food on kitchen work surfaces, or when they want your attention, or when they are just bored. Dogs often specifically target forbidden items to get your attention (see Attention Seeking). Try to keep all tempting forbidden objects out of reach. Teach 'leave' (see Possessiveness) and call him to you if he looks like he is about to steal something. If 'leave' doesn't work alone, you can reinforce this with a noise, like coins in a can.

Your dog may refrain from stealing when you are around, but steal when he thinks you can't see him. You can increase your control by setting up a camera and watching him from another room, saying 'leave' as you see him approaching a forbidden object. An alternative is to use a mirror which lets you watch the dog without him realising it.

Some people use booby traps to tackle persistent stealing. The booby trap makes a clatter if a dog tries to steal, say from a kitchen work surface, or a rubbish container. Tin cans, or empty plastic drinks bottles can be rigged up using string or even dental floss. If you do this, make sure there is nothing in the trap that could hurt the dog, and that it's not too scary a trap, or he may become fearful of the place where it happened and refuse to obey you if you call him there.

If your dog often steals, think of how you have structured his day. Does he have enough to do? Dogs do need to learn that they can't always have your attention, but on the other hand being with an owner who is often out, then is watching TV most of the time when they are home is very boring! Make sure he gets enough exercise, at least two good walks a day, and take time to play training games with him. A ten-minute game of hide-and seek, or 'hunt the titbit', both involving 'stay', can settle him before your favourite TV programme.

A variation on simply 'stealing' is for the dog to steal a dangerous or treasured object and start to chew it where you can obviously observe the 'crime'. If you instantly get up and chase the dog round the house, this is of course great fun for him, as in the classic pup game of 'I've got your sock'. Dogs are often very good at manipulating us, so you need to outsmart him. If you want him t drop it immediately rather than bringing it to you, try doing something very interesting, like making a meat sandwich, so he forgets and drops the object and comes to you. Again think about how his day is structured.


Stray dogs are unusual in the UK, and are at risk from traffic. The easiest way to catch a stray dog is to have him come to you. He may want to join you because he likes your dog, or you could sit down, ignore him, and do something interesting like playing with a ball or pretending to eat kibble, to arouse his curiosity and get him to come near. Strays of course vary according how to obedient they are, and how likely they are to bite you. You can just ask some to 'sit' or 'lie down', and they will do so, and let you approach. Some strays are obviously friendly and easy to put on a leash. Others are very wary and you may need to avoid all eye contact so as not to stress them, and be very patient. You may be able to lead a stray into an enclosed area, then call for help. Never back a strange dog into a corner and try to touch it, because the result could be a defensive bite. Just phone an animal welfare organisation if the stray is wary and there's any

risk you may be bitten.

Check for a collar tag with a phone number you can call, to contact the owner. Vets are a good place to take friendly strays with no identification tag. Vets are often not keen, but one reason UK vet bills are high is that they include the cost of taking in strays. The RSPCA also helps. However, in places with a stable dog population, the chances are good that you will meet a frantic owner, or someone who knows the dog, if you ask around for long enough.

If you take on an ex-stray dog, you may need help from a trainer to develop a training programme, especially if the dog has never lived in a house before. Bonding is not generally a problem. Learning to make eye contact with you, destructiveness and being touchy about being handled may be problems if the dog has previously lived outside and not been handled much. A dog that has lived as a stray for a while may also be used to taking the initiative, so may disappear for a long while during walks. Some strays turn out to be very easy dogs, but get the dog assessed if you are unsure. A stray needing a lot of work will teach you a lot about dogs, but does represent a commitment, and you either need to be dog-savvy, or learn fast. You also need a vet check, and to start worming and other anti-parasite treatments straight away.

Toilet Training

Bladder control is not fully developed until a dog is around eight-months-old, and smaller dogs have less control than larger dogs, so make sure he is going out enough. Never leave a pup for long in a crate, since he will end up having to wee in his den. Always leave the door open and fence off a safe area with a toilet for him, if you have to leave him for any length of time. Little pups need to go out when they wake, when they have eaten, after playing, and when they have sniffed the ground. Try gently carrying them out before they wake up, so they don't have a chance to wee on the way out. Always stay outside with the pup, or he will just want to come back in with you, and won't want to wee. Developing a routine and waking pup at a set time also helps him to learn to control his bladder. 'Paper training', or training pups to wee on paper indoors is training them that indoors, rather than outdoors is the place to wee. This can lead to problems when the

pups become adults. There is more on puppy toilet training in the article 'Bringing Up Your Puppy'.

Dogs that are nearly housetrained but still poo at night often just need longer walks last thing at night, until they poo. An emptied dog is less likely to leave you a little present on the floor overnight. A short walk is generally a much more effective way to get a dog to perform than just standing with the dog in the garden, though ball games in the garden can help trigger bowel motions.

Check with your vet if your dog is very slow at learning to perform outside, or suddenly regresses. There may be a medical problem, like a urine infection. Dogs can also regress after disruptions like moving house, and may need to be retrained as though they were pups. Spayed bitches may suffer from incontinence, which can usually be treated. There are special nappies for dogs, who develop incontinence for medical reasons, or you can use women's stick-on hygiene products, and make a Velcro-fastened belly band and nappy holder. Washable floors are essential if you often have to clean up after dogs, so confine incontinent dogs to rooms with easily washable floors, not carpets. Cleaners with deodorants tend to get rid of the smell better than vinegar.

Marking can be a problem with males, especially if a visiting male dog has weed in your house. Then your dog of course has to wee where the visitor has weed. Watch visiting male dogs, and check for any damp spots after they leave, because it is quite common for male dogs to wee in a strange house where there are other dogs.

Some dogs grovel or roll on their backs and wee, what's called 'submissive urination'. This can be in response to a stern tone of voice, or because the dog is afraid you are annoyed and doesn't know why. Check how you give commands to the dog, and make sure they are clear, and easily understood, and if your dog is soft, sensitive and very deferential, give commands with sensitivity. Dogs may also wee out of excitement, for example, when owners come home, and this often happens when they have had to hold it in for too long. Try greeting the dog outside, where the garden permits, and see if you can arrange a walker to take the dog out for a wee if you have to be away for a long time.

Vet Phobias

You can deal with vet phobias as with any other exaggerated fear, retraining the dog to associate the vet's with pleasant experiences, which may mean changing vets, and initially just going into the waiting room and being offered titbits by a vet nurse. However, prevention is better than cure. A good vet is worth his or her weight in gold. If you are lucky, you may find a practice with several good vets, where you know who the dog will see, and that they get on with your dog. You can find out from training classes and dog walking circles which vets are best at developing rapport with dogs.

A good vet takes the time to say hello to your dog, carries out procedures calmly and efficiently, and understands that it's important for your dog to enjoy being at the vet's as far as possible. Good vets aim to make procedures as quick and painless as possible, and see nothing extraordinary in giving your dog a titbit afterwards (providing your dog can be trusted not to bite him!). Most vets are good with dogs, but there are some who aren't. Some practices have locums, which means you can't tell who will see your dog. These practices are best avoided. Try changing your vet if you are unsure about the practice, and your dog becomes reluctant to go into the examination room there.

Most procedures at vets are intrusive, and may be uncomfortable, but are not actually painful. Get your dog used to being handled from puppyhood, and he'll be more relaxed about vet visits. If anything painful has to be done, anaesthetics are obviously preferable, though the effects of brief discomfort can be offset with some of the dog's favourite treats given immediately afterwards.

Be kind to your vet, and muzzle your dog if he has ever bitten a human, unless the vet is aware of the risk and is dog-savvy enough to size up your dog and treat him without a muzzle. Vets often become dog-phobic because owners are less than honest about whether their dogs might bite. You can put titbits in the muzzle, and get your dog to put his nose in it voluntarily, and then put it on without doing it up, followed by a reward. Then do it up, leave it on for a short while, and take it off again, followed by a reward. Muzzles are less confrontational if put on from behind, with your head and the dog's aligned, but if your dog trusts you and associates muzzles with treats, this is not necessary. Don't let your vet or anyone else muzzle your dog unless they have excellent dog handling skills, because if the dog gets away with threatening them and they don't manage to muzzle him, he is likely to use threats again, which will make veterinary treatment more difficult. Learn how to do put the muzzle on yourself, with the help of a very experienced trainer if necessary

Walking On The Lead

Practice walking nicely on the lead from puppyhood, with the first lessons in the garden, or in the house. The pup will initially find the lead exciting, and try to play with it. Encourage the pup to focus on you by using a ball, titbit or whatever to attract his attention. All the training of basic commands, like sit and stay can be taught in the garden or indoors, both off-leash and using a slack leash.

You can start walking with a slack leash with the pup or dog following something interesting in your hand, until he gets used to the leash and stops trying to eat it. Then teach him to walk on a slack leash, allowing him to dawdle and go to the side a bit if he wants, but not to pull. If he is never, ever allowed to pull he won't get into the habit. At the slightest hint of pulling, stop dead, call him, and do a run-back recall, or simply call him and walk in the opposite direction. Keep his attention by calling him and doing unexpected things. Once he has got the hang of loose leash walking, you can teach him greater focus, with no dawdling or moving to the side.

Leashes are best introduced after the pup has run off some energy and played a game that involves co-operating with you, so he is less likely to be overexcited and is more likely to focus on you. The same applies to walks - a pup or dog that has already spent a short while, even as little as ten minutes, playing a game with you is less likely to try to rush out of the door and pull, ignoring you completely. Walks for pups and untrained dogs initially demand a lot of self-control, and that is easier to achieve if the dog has already done something active first. Teaching the dog to wait at the door also helps give you more control once you open it. If the dog rushes through, repeat until you have an orderly exit.

Training is more effective than using choke chains. Dogs may continue to pull with choke chains, and can damage their windpipes. If you have to use any special equipment, make sure it is secure, ie won't come off in traffic, and won't damage the dog. Harnesses can be useful for dogs that don't normally pull, but do so when they panic at gunshot or other loud sounds. Flexileads should be used sparingly, because they can encourage pulling by setting up tension, unless they are on lock, which allows you to have a slack leash.

Dogs that walk on a slack leash are far easier to control than those that are straining to get to whatever exciting things they see or smell, and paying you little attention. Teaching slack leash walking can take self-control for both owner and dog, but both benefit enormously from the effort invested in learning this skill.

Wandering Off

Dogs are more likely to wander off if they don't have regular walks or games and are bored, or are seeking a mate. It's best not to leave your dog unattended in the garden unless you are very, very sure that it is secure. The most common way for dogs to escape is when they are left alone in a garden, so get a friendly builder to help dog-proof your garden if you don't have the handyman skills yourself. It's a good investment since it can last the lifetimes of more than one dog. Roaming dogs can cause traffic accidents as well as getting killed. Wandering off on walks is less likely if you give the dog something to do while you walk together. (see Recall for more on wandering off on walks.) Scolding the dog on his return won't help. Praise him for coming back, and spend more time training him.

Walking your dog can be fun. You meet all sorts of people and catch up on all the local gossip. Dogwalkers aren't usually bothered about what you wear, so long as your dog is friendly with theirs. Walkers belong to a special club, people prepared to go out in all weathers to make sure their dogs stay happy and fit. It keeps us fit too. You see wildlife, sunrises, sunsets, the moon and the stars. Whatever the pressures of work or life in general, dogwalking has a wonderful soothing effect, which means you and the dog can sleep well afterwards.



Thanks to Helle Haugenes for her comments on an earlier draft of this article. Thanks also to Berit Aherne, Janet Boss, Amy Dahl, Wendy Hanson, Sally Hennessey, Nancy Holmes, Heather Houlahan, Lynn Kosmakos and Sarah Whitehead, for informative discussions on dog training and behaviour. The views and solutions set out here do not necessarily reflect their views, but their insights have been valuable.

Further Reading

Steven Lindsay's Applied Dog Behaviour and Training is extremely useful. It is in three volumes, and pricey. The third volume is the one with solutions, but all three are worth reading. He can be a little idiosyncratic, and sometimes takes a long time to explain something simple, but he is thorough, and has dog-sense. He is American, but like Britain's John Fisher, had a background in dog training before becoming interested in dog behaviour. Lindsay strongly links behavioural issues to training in a wider sense, as well as looking at other causes. His pragmatic approach also fits with the British tradition. He is particularly good on ways to build up trust between owner and dog, and on training as a way to improve the dog's quality of life.

For studying dog behaviour out of interest, rather than to solve problems, Adam Miklosi's The Dog, Biology Behaviour and Cognition is fascinating. Miklosi fits well with Lindsay, because both are careful scientists in their own way. Together they give a rounded picture of dog behaviour. Scott and Fuller's classic Genetics and the Social Behaviour of the Dog gives insights into developmental stages, and some genetic differences between dogs. It is quoted by both Lindsay and Miklosi.

Many 'behavioural problems' can be tackled by training for manners see link below for books on this. There are also a number of books on training games for dogs, which are very useful for improving your dog's behaviour, and enjoying life with him.

See Books on Animals for reviews of books on dog behaviour and dog training