Milo's Dog Training

Dog training in Hampshire, Surrey & Berkshire


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Lead Aggression. Part 4: Triggers.

This is the last part of a series of posts on lead aggression. Please read parts 1, 2 & 3 first.

Think about a recent situation, which involved you seeing another owner walking towards you and your dog. What was your reaction? Did you hold your breath for a moment? Maybe you tightened your grip on the lead? Probably, you even pulled the lead a bit or started talking to your dog. Chances are, you did all three and something else, if you were walking a dog that is reactive on lead. The behaviours are not themselves a problem. The issues arise, when your dog learns to associate them with other dogs approaching him. After that you are trapped in a vicious cycle:

In addition to your behaviour and body language, there are other possible triggers for your dog. A common trigger is a certain type of dogs. For example, your dog has been attacked by a large white dog and will display aggression towards similar looking dogs. Another possible trigger is a certain place. For example, your dog may only react to other dogs on a narrow pathway or on a certain street corner.

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Rules for dogs and people

Too many dog behavioural issues are caused by inconsistency and spoiling. Often dogs just don’t know what is expected of them, because the rules constantly change. Today the dog is allowed on the sofa, while tomorrow he is not. No wonder he can snap at you, when you trying to move him off it. If you have a set of rules to which you stick with no exceptions, you will find that your dog feels more secure and behaves himself. Below is the set of rules that I recommend to follow. Print it and put it on your fridge or somewhere you’ll be able to see it often.

RULES for dogs and people

  • “NO FREE LUNCH” policy. The dog must earn his treats, playtime, hugs & kisses.
  • BE CONSISTENT! What’s not allowed is not allowed.
  • THE DOG WANTS TO BE GOOD.If he does something wrong, help him by explaining what is right. Always show him an appropriate behaviour to replace the inappropriate.
  • NO SHOUTING OR PHYSICAL FORCE.
  • IGNORE BAD BEHAVIOUR, don’t reinforce it with attention.
  • REPETITION = PERMANENT. Applies to both bad and good behaviour. If you can avoid bad behaviour, avoid it.


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The Most Versatile Dog Training Tool: the “Time-Out”.

If I could use just one dog training technique apart from clicker training, I would choose “time-out”. It can be used to correct so many behaviours: inappropriate barking, jumping, aggression… Although it clearly shows the dog that his behaviour is not acceptable, it is quite gentle and does not involve physical force. As my readers know, I will never recommend using physical force for correction, because it leads to aggression and damages the relationship between the dog and the owner.

“Time-out” is a very simple technique that even a child can use. It is a type of negative punishment, which means that you punish behaviour by removing something. In this case, you will remove one of the things your dog values most (besides food, of course!): your attention. You will need a light 5 ft. /1.5 m leash and a designated space. The designated space should be isolated from the rest of the house, and you should be able to physically prevent your dog from leaving it. Let’s try.

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My dog begs. What do I do?

Many dogs have this annoying habit. They would employ all the power of their large sad eyes to get a piece of that you’re eating. They would place their muzzles on your lap and look like they haven’t eaten for a week. They would make you feel ashamed of starving the poor animal. Dogs know how to get what they want. So, why are they begging so persistently? Even dogs that are not as crazy about food as Milo, sometimes beg. The answer is very simple. Dogs beg, because we taught them too. Remember: any behaviour that is reinforced will be repeated. Behaviours reinforced randomly are more likely to be repeated. If you give way to your dog’s begging even on rare occasions, he will continue begging.

How to stop your dog from begging?

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Not all treats are created equal: role of treats in dog training

Treats used in dog training can have different value for dogs. Of course, if your dog is like Milo, he or she will greatly appreciate even the tiniest bit of a rice cracker. Some dogs just love food, whereas some are completely indifferent to it. For instance, my parents’ dog, a border collie named Daisy, can easily pass by a bag of groceries. Milo, on the other hand, works as a full-time vacuum cleaner in our house.  To be honest, I am so used to him picking up crumbs that I never bother to pick up, when I drop something on the floor.  Anyway, all kinds of dogs, “foodies,” “picky eaters” and every type in between, can distinguish treats of different values.  Understanding value of treats adds another reinforcement instrument to our toolbox.

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How to stop a dog from pulling on his leash?

Earlier this week I wrote about common mistakes that owners make when using a leash.  Avoiding these mistakes will make your dog less likely to pull on his leash and will help to reduce existing leash pulling.  Puppies are especially prone to pulling, because of their high energy and curiosity.  Moreover, when a puppy is small and cannot pull hard enough to bother anyone, his leash pulling is more likely to be neglected.  Only later, when the dog becomes stronger and heavier, the owners usually ask for help.

So now that we know what not to do, let’s talk about teaching the dog not to pull the leash.  One of the best techniques is described in “My Dog Pulls, What Do I Do?” by Turid Rugaas.  I tend to stick to this method, because it can be modified for each individual case and works reliably.  The technique is built on the discovery approach.  I strongly suggest that you read this book, if your dog is pulling a lot.  I will outline my version of this technique.

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Leash pulling: common mistakes

Does your dog walk you? Leash pulling is one of the most frustrating dog behaviours. Unfortunately, our natural response only makes it worse. In fact, there are several mistakes that I often see:

1. Following the dog. Naturally, if the dog gets what he wants (e.g., to sniff that tree) when pulling on leash, the dog is extremely likely to do it again.

2. Pulling the leash in opposite direction. This may not make things worse, but can be a worthless waste of your energy. Dogs are very stubborn and can tolerate mild pain. The more you pull, the less your dog cares about it. You might be able to overpower the dog, but it won’t teach him anything.

3. Jerking the leash. This can definitely worsen your dog’s leash skills. In order to jerk the leash, you need to loosen it first. Therefore, your dog will receive negative experience right after it felt the leash  loosen. Naturally, the dog will avoid a loose leash after that.

4. Choke chains, pinch collars etc. This is the worst of all. I sincerely hope that none of my readers have ever used or considered them. Besides being cruel, these devices are useless to say the least, and often dangerous. These collars are useless for training for the same reason that pulling the leash: dogs are tolerant to pain. Choke chains and pinch collars can provoke aggression. Dogs often pull the leash, when they see other dogs,  and they can learn to associate the negative sensation from these collars with other dogs.

The least you can do is to stop making these four mistakes, and your dog’s leash skills may improve significantly.