Dogs: Care and behaviour

See also:

Choosing a Dog

Bringing Up Your Puppy

Basic Training

Finding a Good Training Class

Behavioural Problems

Helping Sound Shy Dogs

Dogs and Diet

Animal care and behaviour: Dogs

Designing and using a dog garden

dog garden


See also:

It is much more fun for your dog to have access to a garden then be cooped up indoors. Dogs tend to be calmer and better behaved if they can keep in touch with the outside world, checking out sounds and smells. Even apartment dogs like to watch the world from balconies. Here are some ideas of how to plan and make best use of a dog garden, whatever its size.


Some dogs live happily and safely with little or no fencing, while others escape from what might seem quite secure gardens, and get into trouble. There are no hard and fast rules about fencing, it depends how far you can trust your dog to stay within the boundaries of your garden, and how safe the world is beyond your garden. Dogs vary enormously in their desire and ability to escape. Puppies, bitches in season, and individuals from independent breeds that tend to roam, such as huskies, need secure gardens. What is also very important is how often the dog is walked. Dogs walked at least twice a day are more likely to stay in their gardens, even when they have the opportunity to escape, while dogs that are rarely walked are more likely to take themselves off for walks. But, however well-behaved a dog is, fencing is necessary near busy roads and in densely populated urban areas.

The safest fencing is a brick or stone wall with foundations so the dog cannot dig underneath, and high enough so the dog cannot scale it. How high depends on the dog. It's safer to add a couple of feet to the height you think your dog can scale, because dogs can be very athletic in pursuit of a cat or a squirrel. You can top a solid wall with see-through fencing that lets in light, for extra security. Remember that dogs use anything you provide by way of ladders, such as jutting out stones in stone walls, and the tops of brick walls where they meet wire fencing.

Sometimes it is too expensive to build brick walls. Solid wooden fences are another option. Their weak spot tends to be at ground level. You need to check the base of a wooden fence for rot, and install below-ground barriers using materials that do not rot, in order to deter digging dogs.

See-through fencing can work well for very large gardens, especially in rural areas, so long as the gaps are too small to allow pups and skinny dogs to pass through. If you use see-through or wooden fencing, it is especially useful to plant tough shrubs alongside the fence, to increase the buffer zone between your dog and the outside world.

Invisible fence (IF) devices are marketed in the US. They are not a good idea, whatever the salesmen tell you. They work by shocking the dog when it reaches a boundary. Firstly, owners often forget to switch them on. Secondly, they tend not to deter dogs crossing them in pursuit of squirrels or other prey, but do deter them from going back home. Rescue people say they often find dogs wandering around with their IF collars still in place. If regulations don't allow you to put up a fence, then there is no option supervision backed by training.

Solid fencing is especially useful in smaller urban and suburban gardens, partly because it creates a more peaceful environment. Dogs can get very wound up in small enclosed spaces with a lot going on around them, like heavy traffic, children running and shouting, and other dogs approaching their territory. It all adds up to sensory overload. Solid fences help cut down noise, as well as visual stimuli, especially if they have shrubs planted in front of them. Shrubs are also useful for creating a calmer environment if you have to use see-through fences.

It is said that good fences make good neighbours, and this is especially true for people with dogs. Lucky owners have dog-loving neighbours, and neighbouring dogs that get on with theirs. Solid fencing, and shrubs in front of fences help to keep the peace if you are less lucky. However, training your dog to get on with neighbours is also very important. Greeting your neighbour in a friendly way sends the right messages to your dog, ie 'I have seen this person you think is an intruder, and it is a friend'. Calling your dog to you at the first sign of a hostile move towards the fence helps to nip trouble in the bud, and reassures your neighbour.

Fence fighting can be very dangerous, especially if you have children, or more than one dog. Dogs can get so wound up barking at dogs and even humans behind a fence that they bite any human or dog next to them. A child can be injured trying to pull back a fence fighter, and weaker dogs can be attacked just because they are there. There is no animosity, the dogs just get so wound up that their aggression spills over onto whatever or whoever is next to them.

Solid brick and stone walls, and dense shrubbery alongside fences can greatly reduce the risk of fence fighting, but remedial training also helps enormously. You can take the dog into the garden and go through obedience routines using a long line to reinforce recall. Friendly neighbours can help by providing different levels of temptation, until your dog is well-trained enough to tolerate the neighbour or their dog right by the fence, and pay attention to you rather than to their old 'enemy'. Dogs can also learn to tolerate one another if they are walked together on leash away from their home territory, and may get on perfectly well after a few tantrums. Long-line training can also help you control your dog's predatory interest in your neighbour's livestock - even adult dogs can learn that some animals are 'not prey'.

Solid fences are important if you have a nippy dog which could bite fingers poked through see-through fencing. Children sometimes delight in winding up dogs. Of course, they shouldn't, but it is in the nature of children to do this, and solid fencing both helps protect children from your dog, and protects the dog from children. Solid fencing also helps to protect your dog from opportunistic thieves. Small, friendly pedigree dogs in particular look like money on four legs to some people.

Access to the garden is sometimes a weak spot. Gates have to be lockable from the inside to deter wandering children, delivery people, and anyone who might leave the gate open. Gates are also safer if they are solid rather than see-through, though you can improvise with wrought iron gates, and just cover them with board on the dog side.  Working out what you need in the way of fencing, then, depends on your dog and your circumstances. It involves using common sense, and thinking ahead, and the same applies to protecting dogs from plants.

Protecting dogs from plants

It is easy to find online lists of plants that are poisonous to dogs. When I checked these out, I disocovered that my dogs, and those of friends and gardening clients had been happily existing with poisonous plants for decades. Furthermore, many poisonous plants grow in the wild places where we let our dogs off the leash. So, while it makes sense to avoid choosing garden plants which are highly toxic, it is also worth thinking about when and why dogs might ingest toxic botanicals.

Puppies will try eating virtually any greenery. With luck they sick it up before it does them any harm. The first rule of safety is to ensure that pups only eat plants that you know are safe. This either means close supervision of all garden outings, or building a puppy run which only gives access to grass.

Adult dogs are generally more discriminating, and prefer grass, except when they are out of sorts and need an emetic. Then they will eat anything to hand, including geraniums, asparagus fern, whatever. Though they usually sick it up fast, there is some risk to the dog, and you may want your favourite plants unchomped. So a good safety precaution is to ensure that your dog has access to longish grass. This 'dog grass' preferably includes a clump near the back door, because desperate dogs may chomp on the first bit of greenery they encounter. Fortunately, it is very easy to grow grass in a pot, and if the area outside your back door is paved and decorated with plants in pots, it's easy to have a couple of pots of 'dog grass' among them.

Serious recreational chewers are also at risk. If your dog chews TV remote controls, socks, and other household items, there is more of a risk of indiscrimating plant-eating in the garden. Toxic berries may be a particular temptation, as are the woody stems of shrubs, which may contain toxic sap. It's safer to avoid plants with highly toxic berries, and to clear away prunings, just in case. Non-rotting chewing items, like nylabones can be left in the garden for chewers to have access to a safe alternative. Dogs vary in terms of how sensitive they are to certain toxins,  so checking out lists of what might be risky in your garden certainly helps, as well as knowing your dog and his or her habits.

Protecting plants from dogs

Many dogs are keen gardeners, and love to dig up your freshly planted bulbs, or carry out a little landscaping with their front paws. Raised beds are very attractive to certain dogs which like to lie on a high point and observe the world, sometimes after having dug themselves a nice, comfy lying-down place first. Dogs also like to dig to hide special treasures, or to unearth small rodents, or to explore under fences. So how can you protect plants from digging dogs?

Fencing off sensitive areas, such as raised beds, is one solution. It is also possible to train dogs that, just as indoors there are no-go areas, like table tops, so too there are places in the garden that you want them to steer clear of. The younger the dog, and the more time you have to supervise, the better chance you have of getting this message across. You can also build features just for the dog, such as a sandpit for canine digging, and a high vantage point where they are allowed to lie. Some breeds are particularly fond of digging shallow depressions to lie in, and this often does no harm. Again, dogs can be trained that a bed in one place is OK, while another is not, a message that you can reinforce by leaving attractions like bones in permitted areas, and by obstacles blocking no-lie areas.

Freshly moved earth is very attractive to most dogs, and many dogs will imitate you if they see you digging' Leaving a dog outside with freshly planted bulbs may be just too much temptation, and a little supervision may be needed.

Young, active dogs love to create racetracks round gardens. It can be great fun to watch two dogs playing a game of chase, though not if treasured plants are battered. Here, raised beds can help, as can barriers using canes and wire, to steer the racetrack away from tender plants. Canine-designed racetracks often take the form of figures of eight, and incorporating garden features in their design, so it's best if items in the middle of the garden are solid and dog-proof, like large shrubs, and very big pots. Shrubs, and tough plants like lavender, are generally quite dog-proof, and big pots are always a better bet than small pots, because they are more stable and are too high to be peed into. Young dogs preferably need off-leash exercise outside the garden. A good run every day helps to take pressure off your garden.

Preventing lawns from becoming barren patches, or mud baths!

Lawns can rapidly become muddy, rutted eyesores, especially in small gardens in winter. You can put together a moveable wooden frame topped with wire netting, to cover and so protect parts of the lawn in winter. This especially helps if you want to protect a lawn repair - usually best done with turf so it takes less time to be ready for use. It also helps to have a quite wide path, or paved area for retrieve games in winter - dogs tend to create ruts when they skid to a halt, or do neat about-turns. Yellow areas often appear in dog lawns during dry spells, especially if you have a bitch. Dog urine is a fertiliser, but lawns can have too much of a good thing! Rain dilutes urine, and in dry spells, you can use rain water collected in a container from the roof. The best way to protect small gardens, though, is frequent walks. Many frequently walked dogs refuse to pee in small gardens, apparently seeing them as an extension of the house, their 'den'.

Greenhouses, sheds and other potential hazards

Sheds, greenhouses and garages can contain many potential hazards, especially if your dog likes chewing. Many toxic chemicals come in nice, chewy containers, so high shelves are essential, to keep dangerous items out of harm's way. Dogs can raid shelves when they are bored, so the shelves do have to be high, and you may want to play even safer by using lockable cupboards.

Some sorts of mulch, such as cocoa mulch, can be toxic for dogs, especially when they are first put down. Dogs may also chew fence posts and other wood items impregnated with toxic preservatives, so it is safer to ensure they do not have access to them. 

Recreational features

Even small gardens can be turned into interesting recreational areas for dogs. Sandpits for digging, and high vantage points for watching the world, are appreciated by many dogs. Shrubs planted round the edges of gardens offer shade in summer, and somewhere for you to hide items, for games of find and retrieve.

You can fit part of an improvised agility course into a small garden. Weaving poles, or a jump take up little room. Dogs can also learn better balance by using a small see-saw, or by walking along a plank set on boxes. You need a big garden for a whole agility course, but can do a lot through improvising in a small garden. Agility can make a dog a better escape-artist, but dogs have less desire to escape if they are doing interesting things with their owners, and agility also gives your dog the confidence to negotiate obstacles like fences on walks.

Many dogs like paddling or lying in ponds in summer, and they relish drinking pond water. Shallow dog ponds can offer a lot of enjoyment, if you have the time and energy to build one. They need to be kept clean - check especially for mosquito larvae in summer, and remove dead leaves in the autumn so the pond does not become stagnant. Dog ponds may be used by hibernating frogs in winter, and breeding frogs in spring, during which times you can protect the frogs with wire netting.

Dogs and wildlife in your garden

Many of the strategies that you can use to make your garden safe and pleasant for dogs, such as using toxic chemicals sparingly, or not at all, can also help to make your garden safe and attractive for wildlife. Slug traps can be as efficient as poison. Keeping vulnerable plants, like hostas, in raised pots helps to protect them from snails. In any case, you can decimate your garden's snail population by collecting them on wet nights. An artist's paint brush is a handy tool for removing aphids from rose buds. Both dogs and wildlife prefer plants to concrete and gravel, and both like the shelter provided by large shrubs and trees. Dogs also like to watch other living creatures in the garden. Luckily, dogs are compatible with most forms of wildlife you are likely to want in your garden. Dogs do tend to deter rats, which can spread disease, and rabbits, which can damage young plants. Dogs are less of a threat to tree-dwelling wildlife, like birds and  squirrels, which are more at risk from cats. Likewise, cats are more likely to catch and kill amphibians and fish, which dogs tend to leave alone.

Hedgehogs are creatures that many gardeners are fond of, because they are entertaining, and provide natural pest control. They are also under threat from pesticides, and habitat destruction, and numbers of wild hedgehogs in the UK have been falling. Untrained dogs can injure and even kill young hedgehogs, but it is quite easy to train dogs that hedgehogs are not prey. Use every encounter with a hedgehog as a training opportunity, and keep the dog on a leash at first. Let your dog know that you don't want him or her to get too close to the hog by saying 'leave', or 'chsst', or 'tssk', and then you can give the dog something more interesting to do. Hog training is also a good way of 'proofing' stays - in other words, making sure your dog will hold a stay despite a temptation that makes him or her want to move. It helps to let the dog know that you are aware of the hog, or the response to a 'stay' command may be 'but you can't see that the strange creature  is uncurling and walking away'.

Helping disabled dogs in the garden

Some dogs have mobility problems, from traffic accidents, or the aches and pains of old age. The same sorts of measures that help humans can also improve the mobility of wobbly-legged dogs, for example, a dog ramp can help a dog negotiate steep steps.

Other dogs may have little sight, especially older dogs. Dogs which cannot see well get to know their gardens, and like the feeling of familiarity, of knowing where landmarks and obstacles are, so be careful of introducing changes. If you have to change the location of furniture, such as a garden bench, take the dog to the bench and let him or her investigate. Even so, an elderly blind dog may forget the bench is there, on the next outing, and it is kinder to keep the layout of a garden as stable as possible if your dog is blind.

Fencing is critical for deaf dogs, which cannot hear traffic. They also have to rely on their eyesight much more than most dogs, so an open field of vision within the garden, ie keeping internal fences and vegetation low, can help you to communicate with deaf dogs by using visual signals.

Dogs that need to wee frequently benefit from having the back door open in summer, and from dog doors which allow them access to the garden without having to ask you to open a door for them. There are electronic doors which allow your dog to come back in, but not neighbouring cats or human intruders. Some people build a roofed dog run from the back door, so the dog can go out for a wee at night in a safe area.

Protection for outdoor dogs

Outdoor dogs need shade in summer, and somewhere dry and well-insulated in winter, as well as access to water. Kennels can heat up fast if exposed to the sun in hot climates, while floors can get damp fast when the ground is soggy underneath, so kennel design has to take local weather into account. There are dogs which are specially designed for cold weather, such as huskies, but even they can suffer if suddenly moved from a centrally heated home to an unheated kennel in winter. If your dog has to move from indoors to outdoors, this is best done before it gets cold, so the dog has a chance to get used to the new conditions. 

Outdoor dogs are common in the US, and southern Europe. Dogs generally sleep indoors in most of the UK, partly because it is densely populated and outdoor dogs bark more at night, annoying neighbours. However, many Brits have moved to Spain, taking their dogs with them, or acquiring new dogs. There are good reasons for keeping your dog indoors at night in Spain, even during hot summers. Dog theft also very common in Spain, one reason for keeping your dog in at night. Furthermore, an incurable disease, leishmaniasis, is endemic in many parts of Spain. This is not an illness to take lightly, and it can affect humans too.  It is carried by nocturnal sand flies, which pass the infection on by biting dogs. The most vulnerable dogs seem to be thin-coated breeds, like greyhounds. Spanish hunting greyhounds are often left out at night with no more protection than a piece of corrugated iron leaning on a tree or a wall. At the very least, dogs in endemic areas need to be put to bed at dusk in a shed with a door. If the windows are left open, they should be covered with mosquito netting impregnated with insecticide. The same applies to dogs living in areas where heartworm is endemic. Heartworm is a serious problem in the US, especially in the south, and is spread by mosquitoes. 

As if this weren't enough to worry about, another parasite, lungworm can be picked up by dogs in the UK, usually if they eat snails when chomping on grass, or experimentally as pups. Good hygiene helps to prevent this disease, eg washing dog toys left outside, and keeping outside water bowls clean.  

Dog sheds and kennels have to be kept free of fleas and ticks, especially in areas where Lyme disease is common, true of some parts of the UK. It pays to check dogs for ticks after walks, as well as checking sleeping areas, and using preventive treatments. From observation, long-haired dogs collect ticks more than short-haired breeds, and need checks on and round their ears, eyes, and under their 'armpits'. Cleaning and disinfecting sheds is easier if they have concrete, rather than earth floors. Good hygiene and parasite control are critical for both canine and human health, and of course, clean dog quarters smell much nicer. 

Keeping outdoor dogs on chains is, thankfully, less common in the UK than in the US and southern Europe. It is unhygienic, because the dog has to eliminate near where it sleeps, dangerous for humans, because a chained dog cannot escape, so is more likely to attack any human approaching, there is a risk of strangulation or collar sores, and chained dogs often go mad, developing stereotypic behaviour, such as repeatedly yanking at the chain in an attemopt to get free. Think fencing, with deep foundations and a roof if the dog is an escape artist, rather than chains.

English people often think it wrong to keep dogs outdoors, while people in southern Europe often think it wrong to coop them up indoors. Dogs are very versatile, and can happily live indoors or outdoors, so long as some thought is given to the their health, comfort and sanity.

Walks and time with you are still important

Even dogs which are exercised by their owners in large, beautifully designed gardens still love to go on walks. Dogs may have space to run off steam in the garden, but they do like to explore the outside world. Yes, physical exercise is important, and so too is contact with the outside world, which gives dogs mental stimulation, even if it's just a sedate daily walk on a leash.

Dogs were also designed to be with humans. A dog can be happier in a small garden with regular games, like 'find the object', than in a large garden, always left to its own devices. What really counts for most dogs is to be able to share activities with their owners.

 Alison Lever
Thank you to Sue Axtell for her comments on this article

Further Reading

Bush, Karen (2012) Dog-friendly Gardening: Creating a safe haven for you and your dog, Hubble and Hattie (A basic guide to setting up a garden that you can enjoy with your dog)

Smith, Cheryl (2008) Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs, First Stone This book is most helpful before you set up the garden. There's help with design, choosing plants, maintenance, and teaching your dog how to respect the garden)

Botanicals on stamps:



(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

Animal care and behaviour: Dogs

Multi-dog households: Enjoying life with more than one dog

by Alison Lever and Wendy Hanson

See also:

Sometimes multi-dog households work very well, other times they leave owners feeling fraught and frazzled. Wendy is a dog behaviour consultant and dog trainer, and has lived with three dogs, now two. Alison lives with three dogs, and has a long-term interest in multi-dog households which arose from a research project. We have looked both at what makes them work, and at preventing and dealing with problems. Here is a summary of our guidelines to help you to enjoy living with more than one dog.

Why have more than one dog? (And why it may not be sensible.)

Owners may have two or more dogs for a number of reasons, for example, they may have found a companion for their first dog, inherited a dog, found a rescue they just couldn't resist, or kept back a pup or two from a litter. Dogs tend to enjoy one another's company, and can communicate with each other in ways that we can't, so finding a companion for an 'only dog' is often a good idea. However, life takes on a new dimension when you have more than one dog, so this is a decision that needs some thought. One plus one can add up to three, because dogs tend to take their cues from one another. So if you have a dogthat is a little on the wild side, it is well worth waiting and investing at least six months in a serious effort to civilise your first dog so that he or she can set a good example to the newcomer. It is wonderful to watch a well-trained dog teach good manners to a newcomer. It is less wonderful to watch a newcomer learn bad habits!

Spacing dogs is important. It's not just that youngsters need a lot of effort invested in their training, at the other end of the dogs' lives you may find that your vet bills get higher, and it is hard to cope with the loss of two dogs, one shortly after the other. Ideally the first dog should be past the wilder years of adolescence. When this happens depends a lot on the dog. Some dogs are quite calm and adult by the time they get to two, while others take much longer to mature. Training, is of course important, especially if you have an energetic dog. Training allows you to channel the dog's energy, and have a nice, calm dog at times when you need one, such as when you have visitors. Bringing in a newcomer may also create problems if your dog is frail and elderly, and finds youngsters very difficult to cope with. If you bring in a pup under these circumstances, the oldster is going to need a lot of consideration and pup-free space and time, and it may be better to wait.

You may have chosen a first dog because of how he or she behaved with humans rather than other dogs. Many dogs get on very well with humans, but are quarrelsome with their own kind for various reasons. Some dogs just like fighting other dogs. If you regularly meet other dogs, you will know whether yours likes to pick fights, in which case bringing in a new dog is asking for trouble. Get your dog assessed to see if there is how far training can improve this behaviour, and whether the dog should really stay as an only dog. An honest assessment can save you a lot of grief. Some dogs don't get on with others of their own kind simply because they have spent a long time on their own, and have forgotten how to communicate with other dogs. It is worth making an effort to socialise such dogs, to see what sorts of dogs they might get on with, or whether they really just don't like other dogs at all. Dogs can be very picky about who they want to talk to, just like people. If you acquired your dog as a tiny pup, and live in an isolated area where you hardly ever meet other dogs, you will need to take it gently. With luck you can find people with calm, well-behaved dogs, who can remind your dog of how to talk to his own species. Training classes can also help with socialising dogs. Outdoor classes are generally best for dogs that have spent a long time away from their own kind.

How many dogs is too many?

The advice that owners most often gave was 'know your limits'. However appealing a potential newcomer may be, ask yourself whether the quality of life of your existing dogs might suffer. What do people you live with feel about another dog? Ask yourself how you are going to cope if you have 'flu, or a twisted ankle. You can ask a friend to walk one or two dogs for you as a favour, but walking three or more dogs is more difficult. Vet bills get higher the more dogs you have, and there's the cost of dog food. You need enough space, because dogs are more likely to fight if they live in crowded conditions. People with four or more dogs are likely to say 'the dogs come first'. Now that's fine if that is what you want, but think ahead, if you also want to have children, you may find that you suddenly have too many dogs.

Two groups of people are especially vulnerable to the temptation of taking on too many dogs. Breeders may keep back pups from a litter for one reason or another, while people involved in rescue may take on more dogs than they can handle, because they feel they are the dogs' last chance. If you have more dogs than is comfortable, it is sensible to make a determined effort to rehome one or more of them. For most people, two dogs are enough, but this very much depends on what the dogs are like, especially whether they are easy-going or have prickly personalities, and it also depends on how much time, energy and other resources you have. Humans are very good at kidding ourselves that a not-sensible decision is a good one, with 'it'll be OK' ... but if you have a small voice that tells you that you shouldn't take on another dog, listen to that voice!

Choosing a second and subsequent dog

Spacing dogs sensibly means that littermates are generally not a good idea. We both actually have littermates, and have been lucky in that they have got on well and have brought us a great deal of pleasure. However, when they were little, we were run ragged trying to keep up with their needs. For a start, toilet training can be more difficult, because if one littermate pees indoors, the other is likely to do the same. Other people with littermates report the same problem, that the first few years involve a lot of work.

Sometimes dog books tell you that littermates don't bond with the owner. This in fact has not been a problem for us, nor for most people we have asked who have littermates. The big problem is the time and effort needed when the dogs are young, when their training has to be intensive. Dog books may also tell you that littermates will fight. This very much depends on the dogs. Ours have always got on well. Even same-sex littermates can get on well if at least one is easy-going, but yes, there is a higher risk of fights between littermates, especially if they are of the same sex.

In general, the best combinations for two-dog households are dog-bitch, then dog-dog, then bitch-bitch. Dogs and bitches tend not to fight each other, fights between dogs tend to be brief affairs, but owners report that enmity between bitches can be very deep. This means that if you have three dogs, two dogs and a bitch is generally a safer combination than two bitches and a dog. However, this very much depends on the personalities of the dogs, and following this formula is no guarantee that your dogs will get on, nor, for that matter that two bitches can't live together amicably.

So, how do you pick easy-going dogs? In terms of breeds, one breed stands out as exceptionally easy-going, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This is no guarantee that all individuals from the breed will be nice-natured, but many Cavvie owners have commented on how their dogs like to sleep in a heap, and get on exceptionally well with each other. Most popular breeds, like Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Cocker Spaniels have large gene pools, and a great variety in terms of individual personalities. There can be a big differences in the temperaments of individuals from these breeds, even if they are littermates. If you can find a pup with four grandparents with easy-going temperaments, that pup will probably also be easy-going. An alternative is to take on an easy-going adult rescue dog, which is, in some ways, safer, because it's not always possible to tell how pups will turn out, whereas adults have already developed their personalities.

If you are picking a second dog, it's also worth looking hard at your first dog, to work out the best type of companion. How well behaved is your dog on walks? If he or she gets involved in fights, is there a pattern? Sometimes small dogs find big dogs hard to cope with, and long-legged dogs might find small terriers that run under them a bit scary. Any patterns you see give you clues as to what type of newcomer to shortlist. Then it is well worth taking your dog to meet the possible candidates, preferably on neutral territory. If you choose a rescue adult, a key question is 'what effect would a newcomer have on my dog's behaviour?' Your dog may adore one potential candidate because they enjoy mad races together. However, do you want two dogs racing around your garden, or would you prefer a new dog that has a more calming influence on your first dog? Watch how your dog interacts with possible candidates, draw up your dog's shortlist and compare it with your own, and remember you will be living with the twosome. The newcomer should be a dog that your first dog gets on with, but sometimes it is wiser to go with your dog's second choice!

Introducing newcomers

There are people who argue that dogs don't get jealous. Maybe dogs don't get jealous in the same way as humans, but they can fight for the attention of owners, and can react badly if they suddenly see their owner with a new dog. The gentlest way to introduce a newcomer is for the dogs to meet on neutral territory, preferably out of doors, with a helper handling the new dog. Dogs tend to bond together if they are walked together, so a short, on-leash walk will help the dogs get to know each other. Once the dogs are relaxed, they can be allowed off leash together, and the owner and helper can later swap leads.

Some resident dogs instantly get on with newcomers, other times there may be some friction. You can ease the situation by letting your first dog know that his or her place is safe, for example, if you treat the dogs, treat the first dog first, and give the first dog some continued alone-time with you. New adult dogs are generally on their best behaviour for the first few weeks, and are more likely to start to take liberties once they have sized you up. If you initially make the newcomer earn all privileges, you have more room for manoeuvre than if you start out giving the newcomer lots of privileges and having to take them away. Once the dogs are on the same diet, they will start to smell the same, and that helps with bonding, as does walking the dogs together. In the short term, while everyone is getting to know each other, the newcomer is in second place. In the long term the best behaved dog can be rewarded first, and if you have trained your first dog well, your first dog is likely to get the first reward.

Dogs can react very differently to the arrival of a new pup. They may act like an ideal substitute parent, giving gentle corrections that are understood by the pup, or become irritable and tetchy, or flee the new pup, or want to play all day, like the pup's favourite fun uncle. It's the owner's decision to bring a new pup into the house. It's quite natural that some dogs say with their body language that they would rather have nothing to do with a pup until the owner has civilised the little brat! The older dog may not have the energy to keep up, or may not have spent time with young pups for a long time. Think of how you might feel if if somebody suddenly left a lively small child in your house without asking your opinion. Even if you enjoy the company of small children, you may want some peace and quiet now and then.

Watch the dog and pup together, and take your cue from them. If the dog finds the pup too much, or just wants to play wild games with the little one, that is your cue to find other adult dogs who can help teach your pup good manners. If you walk regularly with people who have well-mannered, calm, older dogs, ask if you can walk with them. Few people can refuse such a request, in fact pups tend to arouse a lot of interest in dog walking circles. It's also worthwhile finding playmates for the pup among people you meet on dog walks, so the little one can run off some energy, and learn how to socialise with other youngsters.

Older dogs do need to be able to escape the pup's attentions should they want to. This is true however well the two get on, and especially true if you have a very pushy youngster and an older dog who simply doesn't want to know. It's not just unfair on the older dog to trap him or her with the pup, it's teaching the pup to be rude to adults, which puts the pup at risk when you go out on walks. It also helps to give the pup nap time in a separate room. This both gives the older dog some alone-time with you, and helps the pup learn to spend time alone.

Whether the newcomer is an adult or a youngster, feeding the dogs together will initially involve giving each a lot of space, and ensuring that each dog respects the rule 'all dogs have a right to eat their dinner in peace'. This means supervision, and a firm reprimand if any dog breaks the rule. The lessons learnt in the early days tend to stick in the newcomer's mind, and help the dogs to feel safe and happy in each other's company.

Walking the dogs together is also important, initially with a helper walking the newcomer if there is any friction between the two dogs. It may be because it's a natural 'pack activity' for whatever reason, it works. After just ten minutes walking together, dogs seem to tune into each other, and work more as a group. Your first dog will know the walks better, and this will boost his or her confidence. You can ask both dogs to sit and stay, or do a downstay, and reward the first to comply. This gets them focusing on you, and doing the same thing. So long as your first dog is well trained, you are telling the newcomer 'look, if you are good like your companion, you get something nice'.


The effort you put into training your first dog pays enormous dividends when you bring in newcomers. Newcomers tend to defer to older dogs who are already in residence when they arrive, and they tend to follow their example. If your first dog comes when called, behaves well on walks, and greets visitors politely, this sets a good example for newcomers. It means that you have to put less effort into later training, because your first dog is doing a lot of the work for you. However, if you find that your first dog is teaching the newcomer some bad habits, that means number one dog needs some remedial education!

Training dogs that live together means both individual sessions and sessions together as a group. Each dog benefits from alone time with you, so you can focus on strengths and weaknesses, and from group sessions where they learn to co-operate together. When you have two or more dogs in the same place, they need to know whether commands are meant for just one dog, or for all the dogs. Some owners preface individual commands with the dog's name. The name means that you get the dog's attention, then you can give the command. If you use food rewards, the dog to reward first is the best behaved dog.

Training is basically getting dogs to understand and obey the rules they need to learn for life together to be enjoyable. So if they mob visitors, but are fine on walks, the first priority is individual and group training in greeting people politely. It helps both to look at specific situations, like walking alongside roads with heavy traffic, and at the training needs of each particular dog. A youngster newcomer may be pushy, and try to shove senior dogs out of the way to get to you, or get to the door when it is time to go out. Such a youngster will benefit from learning to wait until you give a signal for a cuddle or to have a lead put
on. Sits and stays can be built into 'sit and stay until it is your turn'. Alternatively, your first dog may be a bit wild, and you may have a diffident newcomer who is happy to wait his or her turn. In that case the first dog needs to learn some self control through sits and stays. If they are both a bit crazy, then surprise quicksits and downstays on walks can help them to focus on you.

Manners training is very important, but dogs also benefit from doing fun activities together, and even from just watching another dog have fun. You can play retrieve or tug and drop games with one dog as an observer, and a helper holding the spectator. You can also play 'find the titbit, lining the dogs up in a stay while you hide titbits which they find on a 'sniff' command. The more they can play together, the more likely they are to enjoy one another's company.

Preventing and dealing with fights.

What owners see as fights between dogs may be just play, simple reprimands, spats, or very serious fights. Playfights are generally not a problem so long as they don't get out of hand, in fact if your dogs can playfight, and through playing learn how to control their aggression and take turns, they are more likely to get on. You can tell the difference between playfights and real fights, because of the dogs' body language. There are playbows, and usually chases and even boxing. Sometimes one dog leads, sometimes the other, and each dog goes back for more fun. If one dog is trying to get away, rather than coming back for more, it's not play, but bullying!

Dogs can be like small children when they playfight, in that they can get overtired and start to fight seriously, so you need to stop them at the first sign this is happening, and preferably know them well enough to stop them well before they get to this stage. However involved they are in their play, they should take notice of you immediately, and if they don't, then rationing playfights is a good idea. It's also safer to have a 'no playfighting indoors' rule, especially if you have three or more dogs. There's less intensity to outdoor playfights, they allow the dogs to run off more energy, and playfights out of doors are less likely to escalate.

A simple reprimand usually happens when a young, socially inept dog breaks the rules, and is told off by a senior dog. There may be noise and flashing teeth, but no harm is done. The offender accepts the reprimand, and minds his manners. This is healthy. Socially inept means for example, a younger dog mounting an older one. If the youngster does not accept the reprimand, this is your cue to step in and scold the youngster, so that both dogs look to you for leadership, and the older dog does not feel obliged to fight to prove his point. There are people who claim that non-mating mounting is always a sign of dominance, but in fact it is often a sign of immaturity, bad manners and overexcitement. Dogs may also reprimand pups who take liberties with them. If you are worried that reprimands may be too harsh, have someone more experienced come and watch the dogs interact, and advise you.

The main way to prevent real fights is to choose your dogs carefully, picking easy-going dogs, rather than grumpy, cantankerous individuals! The more dogs you have, the greater the risk that fights can become serious, especially if they have too little space. You have less time to train each dog, and if they get involved in a group fight, it becomes more difficult to break up. Training gives you far more control, for example allowing you to deter a dog you see eyeing up another by calling the troublemaker to you. You also need a vet check if a dog is unusually irritable, otherwise this may escalate into serious attacks due to an undiagnosed medical problem.

Spats are common between males, and are usually brief and noisy. They are often over before you have a chance to work out what is going on. The dogs must understand that Fighting Is Not Allowed, so this is your cue to give any dog involved a severe scolding. It's a case of 'I don't care who started it', because dogs can injure each other, even in brief spats, and they can injure any human whose hands, feet, or even face get in the way, with serious consequences.

This leads to the vexed question of canine hierarchies, about which a lot has been written by people who see, or don't see dogs in a multi-dog household as forming a 'pack'. Some people argue that owners should respect hierarchies that the dogs themselves form. They argue that this reduces conflict, because it means that one dog knows it should defer to another. Bruce Fogle, in his very popular 'The Dog's Mind', even argues that if a bully attacks a 'submissive' dog, owners should not support the 'submissive' dog, because it can increase conflict, but should instead pet a 'dominant' dog first. He gives an example of this having 'worked'.

Now this view goes against the 'Fighting is Not Allowed' rule, in that it appears to condone an attack by a bully. Any sane owner wants a peaceful household, so if one dog threatens or attacks another, that dog should be reprimanded, and have some extra training in self-control.

Fogle also raises a lot of questions. Firstly, is a dog that threatens or attacks another 'dominant'? In our experience, no, the attacker isn't usually the 'top dog'. Furthermore, favouring a dog threatening or attacking, in our experience, has always increased conflict. Fogle wrote his book some twenty years ago. Today, the generally accepted view is that the wannabe is more likely to instigate an attack than is the top dog. It's also clear that owners can create 'brattish' dogs which pick fights, simply by favouring one dog over the rest, for example a small dog allowed to sleep in a bedroom, while other dogs are excluded. Dogs can feel bolder if they get special attention from owners, and become more obnoxious because they feel they have back-up. Dogs do have a sense of fairness, and the excluded dogs may feel disgruntled. So if you strongly favour one dog over the rest, you are making fights more likely.

Rewarding a bully effectively means rewarding bad behaviour, which is not really sensible. The most sensible rule is simply 'Fighting is Not Allowed', which means that any dog that attacks another is scolded. This rule may leave you with an obedient 'top dog' who refuses to respond to provocations, and a bully to whom you need to teach some manners. It is much, much easier for you to do this, through extra training than to leave the dogs to fight it out. Letting dogs work out their own hierarchy through fights means abdicating control. If you have a top dog who stands back and lets you sort out the brat who won't accept a reprimand, that gives you control.

What emerges from surveying owners is that not all groups of dogs show a clear hierarchy. Some dogs are happy to share resources, rather than saying " 'smine, you can't have it". Other dogs may be happy to give way to one another. When you bring together dogs with different personalities, they may each value different resources. One may especially like chew toys, for example, while another especially likes being near you. The dog that especially likes chew toys will tend to get the chews, with the others, not so bothered saying 'OK, if you really want it, have it'.

It's true, there are people who see their dogs as forming a pack with a clear hierarchy which helps reduce conflict. If this is how you view your dogs, and it is backed by observation, fine, if it works, don't fix it! But that doesn't mean that every group of dogs that owners choose to put together will get on in this way. People who see hierarchies as important for promoting peace tend to advise against keeping littermates, on the grounds that they that they are more likely to fight because neither is clearly dominant. Yes, it is true that littermates may squabble because each wants they same thing and neither wants to back down. However, in both our cases, our littermates have different personalities, so the problem has not arisen.

Dogs vary a lot in terms of how peaceful or quarrelsome they are. Some owners say that their dogs are peaceful with no clear hierarchy, while others say they tend to squabble despite having a clear hierarchy, and this means that owners have to intervene more to prevent fights. In general, the more quarrelsome your dogs, the more care you will need to prevent fights. A key difference between the dogs we choose to live with and dogs in a wolf pack is that our dogs haven't chosen one another's company and have less chance to escape from one another. That can make conflict potentially more serious if owners abdicate control.

The most common triggers for fighting are access to food, chew toys, the owner, and the front door when it is time to go out for a walk. Dogs need enough space to eat in peace. How much space they need depends on the dogs. Some dogs can eat happily around three feet away from each other, while others need to be in separate rooms. Mealtimes should always be supervised if dogs eat in the same room, because otherwise a fast eater may try to muscle in and scoff another dog's dinner. If you offer titbits, it needs to be clear to the dogs who gets what, or you can trigger squabbles. Rawhide chews are often triggers for fighting. Dogs seem to especially value ones that are freshly chewed and slimy! Peaceful, give-and-take dogs can share such chews, other dogs can't. Some owners simply don't give their dogs these chews, while other owners give the dogs chews in separate rooms.

Fights over access to the owner are common between 'velcro' dogs, dogs that like to be on the owner's lap, or by his or her feet. Training is the best way to keep order, for example, putting the dogs in a downstay if they tend to mob you in an overexcited way when you come through the door. You also have more control if you only allow dogs on your lap, or beside you on the sofa with permission. You may find that a 'velcro dog' growls at companions only when on your lap, in which case the solution is clear, ejection! Sometimes dogs squabble when they are about to go out, especially if one is left behind. Training helps, putting the dogs in a sit before you open the front door. It can also help to put any dog that has to be left behind in a separate room first, with a chew, or some other compensation for being excluded from the walk.

Dogs can get seriously overexcited if they are all barking at a strange dog. This can lead to one dog attacking another simply 'because', not because they dislike one another, but because they are too keyed up. This is more likely to happen if you have little or no front garden, and your dogs see strange dogs passing close by in the street, or if they don't get on with the dogs next door. Training again helps, as can arranging the furniture so your dogs don't have easy access to the window. (See the article 'Designing and Using a Dog Garden' for tips on garden design to prevent this.)

Your dogs are more likely to sleep peacefully if you give them a good run before you leave them, rather than just walking them round the block. Dogs used to a routine tend to sleep until it is time for their owner to come back, when they start to get restless, so a routine helps to give you a peaceful household.

While most fights seem to happen when owners are present, dogs do sometimes fight when they are left alone, especially if they get wound up seeing strange dogs close by, so block their view if they can see dogs from the street, and supervise them in the garden. Space is important. Each dog needs to be able to have his or her own space, whether on a chair or in a basket, and if you have small rooms, it may be better to leave them in separate rooms. Some owners always leave their dogs in the same room because otherwise they fret, while others always put the dogs in separate rooms. Which is better depends on the dogs. If you feel there is any risk that they may fight if left alone together, then go by your feeling - it's better to be safe than sorry. It's also important to listen to whoever sold or gave you the dogs. If they advise separating the dogs in your absence, then that is wise. There are a few dogs who get on fine with the owner present but who can get involved in serious fights if left unattended.

So what can you do if your dogs do fight? Take care not to put your hands, arms, or feet where they are likely to be bitten, and use whatever you can to bring the dogs to their senses. Outdoors, a hose trained on dogs can work fast, or a bucket of water. Indoors, you can pour a saucepan of water on the dogs, or use a squeegee bottle with water. Yes, you'll have to mop it up afterwards, but the shock effect of water tends to work better than shouting, which tends not to get through once a fight has started. Often fights are over before you can react, but sometimes a dog will get a grip on another and not want to let go. One owner mentioned using a kitchen wooden spoon pushed into the side of the mouth to persuade the dog to open up, and another mentioned squirting shaving cream into the mouth. In general, think of your own safety, and use whatever you can that doesn't put you at risk.

Once the dogs are calm, tell them immediately after a fight that you are very, very annoyed with them, so they think twice about making you cross again. A verbal scolding can be very effective. In the longer term, think hard about why the fight happened. A vet check is usually a good idea, just in case one of the dogs has a serious medical problem that affects control of aggression. Another possibility is that you may simply have two dogs that just don't get on, despite your best efforts. In that case it may be wiser to rehome one of them, perhaps with the help of breed rescue, if the dog is a pure-bred or a cross-bred that strongly resembles one of the breeds.

Most owners who choose their dogs wisely, train them well, and give them enough exercise enjoy peaceful households, with just very occasional spats, or none at all. Prevention is always better than cure, and this is especially true if you want to enjoy a peaceful household with more than one dog.

Saying goodbye

There comes a time when we have to say goodbye to canine companions. Knowing that your dog's time with you is limited can be very hard, but most dogs appreciate sweet talk and compliments, even when they are very frail.

Goodbyes can affect both humans and dogs in different ways. It is easier to accept the passing of a companion who has lived a full life and just faded away, and species can pine when we lose a companion in the fullness of life, a friend we have been actively involved with. Dogs may show no apparent reaction to the loss of a companion, or they may become subdued, and go off their food. It can help to go walking in places you have never been before, to explore new territory together. Dogs that are reluctant to eat may be more willing if you take kibble on walks.

Dogs' lives are short compared to ours, but they give us a great deal. In some ways a group of dogs living together with their owner can be more magical than a wild wolf pack.The dogs are free to play together and co-operate. Harmony is easier to achieve because they don't have to compete for food or a mate. You are the one who makes this magic possible, by bringing together the right dogs, and helping them learn to form a team with you as their leader.


Very many thanks to all the people who answered the questionnaires, and who have helped with this study in other ways. Special thanks to the Australian Cattle Dog owners, Berit Aherne, Sue Axtell, Diane Blackman, Janet Boss, John Burchard, Melanie Chang, Shelly Couvrette, Dorothy Dunning, Margie English, Sally Hennessey, George Hobson, Heather Houlahan, Bob Maida, Donald McCaig, Barry McDonald, Melinda Shore and Jenn Standring.

The ideas and suggestions here do not necessarily reflect their views, but we are very grateful for their help and insights.

© copyright Alison Lever and Wendy Hanson 2011

Advice on anmials: Dogs

Dogs: Helping dogs with sound phobias, and fear of fireworks

Sound phobias are an over-reaction to certain sounds, especially gunshots, fireworks, and thunder. Many dogs will bark at loud noises. This is not necessarily sound phobia, and may be a normal reaction to something scary.

Fear of fireworks is very common, and the term covers a range of reactions. If you can get the dog to come to you and lie down quietly by your side, despite the noises that worry him, then he is probably not sound-phobic. You may need very tasty food treats to reinforce the commands, but this is a less serious fear of fireworks than that shown by dogs that shake with fear, and show no interest in the tastiest treat. Seriously sound-phobic dogs often bolt for a place they consider safe. This can be a problem if you are walking a dog off the lead, and he bolts for home, on a route that crosses busy roads!

Border collies are particularly prone to sound phobias, which is not surprising when you consider that they are sensitive enough to sound to respond to a shepherd two fields away. Curiously, many collies can be impervious to loud noises while they are working sheep, but show fear once they stop working. This collie ability to focus on the task in hand and cut out extraneous sounds can be a great help for owners. It means that keeping a collie occupied during walks is one way of keeping him with you, and reducing the risk of his bolting at loud noises. Simply showing a collie a ball can be enough to dispel fear of bangs.

All dogs, not just collies, benefit from being kept busy during walks. It helps them to focus on their owners, rather than being distracted by screaming children, motorbikes, and other hazards, as well as bangs. Giving dogs tasks that involve them returning to you, helps to reinforce their recall. It is, of course, safer to keep the dog on a lead if his recall is not solid, and especially if he is also sound-phobic. You may also need to vary your dog-walking patterns at time when gunshot or fireworks are common, and walk the dog in places that are likely to be quieter.

Many dogs with sound phobias can be distracted from their fear by mention of something that interests them, as soon as they start to look worried at a possible bang. If you say the name of one of their canine or human friends, or mention an activity that they enjoy doing, the dog may look at you with interest, forgetting the worrisome bang in the distance. Obviously this is less likely to work when the dog has just heard a succession of earth-shattering bangs, but it can work to help ward off the onset of a session of sound-induced anxiety, when the dog has heard a fairly quiet worrisome noise.

Spooked dogs may stop dead and refuse to move when they are on the lead. Again, giving them something to do can help. A dog lying down and unwilling to budge is effectively doing a 'stay', so try commanding the dog to stay, which means that he is now obeying you, and then commanding him to come to you. This ploy can allow you to shift the dog's perceptions, and get him moving again.

Titbits can help in distracting dogs that are very mildly spooked, e.g. you can call the dog to you once he starts to look spooked, and reward him for coming with a titbit, but seriously spooked dogs tend to refuse food, and owners of less spooked dogs also need be be careful that they are not rewarding dogs for showing fear! The promise of very interesting activities can be a far more potent way of distracting the dog than food.

Sometimes dogs that get spooked on walks can be helped by walking with calm canine companions. This usually works best if the companion is a large, calm, well-behaved older dog which has never shown fear of fireworks or other loud noises. However, dogs can also pick up fears from each other, so it is important to pick a walking companion that your dog sees as a natural leader, rather than a young and impressionable companion that usually looks to your dog for leadership.

What can be done for dogs at home during storms and firework sessions? Closing doors and windows, and pulling curtains helps, by cutting out as much outside noise as possible. You may also want to turn on the TV or radio, or put on a music CD. Wildlife movies can distract some dogs from loud noises outside. Generally, it can help dogs upset by storms or fireworks to add sounds that the dogs are used to, in order to mask the scary sounds, though if there is a storm nearby it may be safer to keep your electrical equipment turned off.

Some dogs are content just to lie by your side for safety, so it may be enough to call your dog to you, and ask him to settle. Your being calm will help your dog, so just sitting and reading, with your dog by your side can be enough for many dogs. It may be tempting to make a big fuss of the dog, saying ‘there, there, poor little thing’, but that sends a message that there really is something scary in the bangs. A normal, ‘hello, nice to have you here by my side’ cuddle, as a reward for his coming when called, is more helpful than a big fuss.

Dogs benefit from a safe place to go to when they feel spooked, somewhere they can use whether or not you are around. Your dog may have already chosen his safe places in the house, behind a chair, or the sofa, for example. If it is a convenient place, and easy for him to get to, you could just make it more comfortable and secure. Crates can be useful as boltholes, and covering a crate with a blanket can make it feel safer for the dog. If your dog hasn't’t chosen a safe place, or the place he has chosen is not convenient, then it’s worth looking round your home for somewhere you would like your dog to go to when he is spooked. You can train him to go to his bolt hole on command by throwing titbits into it when he is relaxed, and giving a command, such as ‘go to bed’, or ‘in your place’, using the same words every time you want him to go to his place. He may automatically go to his bolt-hole when stressed by sound. On the other hand, he may rush round barking frantically when thunder or fireworks start, and you may need to use your ´go to bed´ command to remind him to go to his bolt-hole, and give him more training later, when he is relaxed.

Giving a dog a bolt-hole helps to reduce his stress level, so long as he is left alone. It is worth explaining to any children in the household that the dog needs to be left in peace when he is in his safe place, and that they should not try to drag him out! No-one likes to be dragged out of bed by force, and both dogs and humans may protest. And if the dog is in his safe place because he is stressed, then shouting at him to come out will increase his stress level. Trying to grab his collar to pull him out of his safe place may encourage him to bite as a way of defending himself. He can’t back off any further, so may growl and snap - fight or flight are natural animal responses to danger, and a dog that has fled to his safe place may well fight if flight is impossible.

So what can you do if a dog has found himself a bolt-hole that is inconvenient to you, or if you are trying to get him to go for a walk before you go to work, and he has gone to ground, and is deaf to your calls? Obviously, working hard on recall at home when he is relaxed is a good long-term strategy, as is making early morning walks fun, by interacting with him when you are out. There are also little ploys that often work in the short term, as a way of getting him to emerge, such as playing a game on your own that he normally likes playing with you, and ignoring him. Bouncing a ball and catching it where he can see you, may encourage him to emerge. Other ploys include telling him to stay, and then to come to you, as with dogs that lie down on walks. If all else fails it is usually better just to leave the dog be, until he has calmed down.

What kind of long-term treatment are available for tackling fear of fireworks and of other loud noises? Some owners have reported success with playing dogs sound recordings of bangs, gradually increasing the sound level each time, and at the same time as the sound is played, playing games with the dog with food treats. The dog becomes less sensitive to the sound through hearing it often, and at levels that the dog can handle. The associations of games and treats with the sound can also shift the dog´s perceptions of the sound, which the dog comes to see as linked to something good, rather than being worrisome.

This treatment can work with some dogs, though in real life, it is not always possible to control what the dog hears. If, after a lot of careful CD playing at controlled levels, the dog suddenly hears a succession of extremely loud bangs from fireworks that kids have let off outside your window, bangs loud enough to make the house shudder, it can undo a lot of progress! It is still worth persevering if your dog seems to be improving with CD training, even though the occasional setback is inevitable.

Fireworks are a particular problem in the UK, and many dogs that are unconcerned about bangs most of the year can become especially sensitive to any loud noise during the firework season. Owners have the advantage of knowing beforehand that the firework season is coming up, whereas for many dogs, the world seems to have become a much more scary place. If your dog tends to be sound-phobic, it is worth trying Dog Appeasing Pheromones, which are geared to calming dogs and making them feel more secure. They mimic pheromones given off by lactating bitches, that help puppies feel safe and contented. Dog Appeasing Pheromones can be useful in reducing stress from all sources, such as separation anxiety, and have been used successfully to reduce sound phobias in many dogs. Research reported in Veterinary Record, the UK veterinarians´ journal, found that both DAP and using CD recordings of noises could help dogs. Both DAP and CDs had some beneficial effect when used alone, but were more effective when used together.

There are, then, a number of ways to help dogs with sound phobias, and they tend to be more effective when used together. It is especially important to try to tackle this problem if you have more than one dog, or plan to take on another dog, because, while dogs can calm each other, they can also sometimes learn bad behaviour from each other, and if there is anything worse than one dog rushing round and barking at storms or fireworks, it is having a house full of them. Each dog in a multi-dog household may have a different reaction, so owners need to assess how serious the worry may be for each individual dog, and tackle it accordingly. One dog may benefit from treatment with DAP and CDs, as well as a bolt-hole for emergencies, while it may be possible to calm another with a simple command to come to you and lie by your side. And if you are worried by storms yourself, maybe sound recordings of storms could help you too, perhaps used together with chocolate treats!


D.S. Mills et al
Retrospective analysis of the treatment of firework fears in dogs

Veterinary Record vol 153 no 18, November 1 2003

Useful resources: Bach flower remedies, crates, D.A.P. diffusers, herbal supplements, scary noises cd and Serene-um calming tablets.

Do you want your pet dog to have puppies?

Biscuit, much loved'. But loving your dog isn't a good enough reason to breed from him or her. With German shepherds in particular, you need to carry out health tests on potential parents to make sure you don't create pups with health problems.'

Many owners love their pet dogs so much they would like them to have puppies. You may want to keep back a pup, and find good homes for the rest of the litter. Pups are cute, little roly-poly balls of fur, who can resist them? ...but before you get too sentimental, please do a little research.

Breeding for a good temperament

First, ask yourself 'What is so special about my dog'? We all think our own dogs are really special, but that doesn't mean they are all good breeding material. Little behavioural quirks that you can tolerate because you love your dog may get passed on, and whoever owns the pups may not be so tolerant. They may end up at the shelter, unwanted, when they are 18-months-old. So first get an honest assessment of your dog's temperament from someone who has a lot of experience of dogs, like a trainer. If your dog is a pedigree dog, find someone familiar with the breed to check him or her out.

Temperament is especially important if you plan the pups to be pets. People usually want pet dogs that are easy to house train, are tolerant of children and don't snap at them or nip them, are easy to take to the vets, will put up with being examined, and that come back when called. So if your dog is a bit deficient in any of these areas, think again about breeding from him or her. Yes, dogs can learn bad habits because they haven't been trained properly, but temperament is also partly inherited. A tendency to bark a lot is one characteristic that can be inherited. Most people want pet dogs that don't bark a lot, though some owners who live in the countryside may want a barky dog, to act as a watchdog.

Breeding healthy pups

People also want dogs that don't cost an arm and a leg in vets' bills. Has your dog always been healthy? Do you know anything about your dog's parents and grandparents? Have they always had good health until old age? How long did the grandparents live, if they are no longer alive? If you can't answer these questions, think again about breeding from your dog. There are many life-threatening and disabling inherited conditions that your dog could pass on, even if he or she looks healthy. Breed clubs can provide information on common inherited conditions like heart disease, deafness and canine hip dysplasia, that certain pedigree breeds are prone to. They can also tell you about health testing. You need to be very careful with breeds like King Charles Cavaliers that are especially prone to inherited problems. A knowledge of basic genetics is also essential if you want to match dogs well to produce healthy pups. 'Control of Canine Genetic Diseases' by George Padgett is well worth a read if you are thinking of breeding from your dog. Padgett explains genetics in a clear way, and gives help with analysing pedigrees.

But my dog's parents were champions...

That doesn't mean they were healthy dogs with nice temperaments. Dogs may win prizes because they look good, but still be quite horrible to live with, and develop crippling illnesses in middle age, after they were awarded their rosettes. Breeding dogs for looks alone will tend to mean that health and temperament are neglected. It's far more important for most owners that their pet is healthy and nice-natured than that he stands perfectly for a judge and looks like a book illustration of what the breed is meant to look like. Even if, and perhaps especially if your dog's parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were champion good lookers, check out how healthy his or her ancestors were, how long they lived, and what diseases they may have suffered from. And meet your dog's parents if you can, to see if they have nice natures.

You may want the pups to grow into dogs that have special abilities, like sheep herding, or agility. Breeders and others who specialise in the field you are interested in can advise you on what to look for in a breeding pair. Just getting a champion pedigree dog isn't enough if you want a litter of herders, and the championship has been awarded for standing on a table and looking cute!

But my dog is healthy because he is a mongrel...

Mongrels do tend to suffer less from inherited diseases, it's true, but they can still inherit health problems from either parent, or both. Some conditions can be found in different breeds, and if you are unlucky, your crossbreed or mongrel could have the same health problem passed on from both parents. Other conditions can be passed on if just one parent suffers from them. So you need to do the same sorts of checks with a mongrel as with a pedigree dog - find out what you can about the health of your dog's ancestors. And if you don't know who they were, it's safer not to take risks.

Breeding involves risks

There's a risk to the dam, the bitch who gives birth. She may fall ill and even die as a result of having pups. The pups could be still-born, and could turn out to have problems despite your very best efforts, so it's only worth taking the risk if you think your dog has very special genes that ought to be passed on.

And it takes time and effort

Pups need to be socialized. They need one-to-one attention, to get them used to being with people. They also have a better start in life if you can get them used to common household sights and sounds, children, and other pets. All this takes time. Can you afford to take time off work for a litter of pups? Will there be anyone to care for them if you can't?

Finding owners for the pups: think ahead

Pups need homes quickly. Big litters of six-month-old pups can take up a lot of space! So it helps to have prospective owners ready to take on your pups even before they are conceived. Breed clubs and training clubs are two useful routes for contacting would-be owners. Find out the average size of litter for the breed, and see if you can find more would-be owners than the average litter size. You can let the hopefuls know that they are on a waiting list, rather than making definite promises.

How would you feel if you heard that one of 'your' pups had come to a sad end because the owners didn't know what they were taking on, or just didn't care? Or because the pup developed a health problem which the owner couldn't cope with, but which you could handle? If you want your pups to go to good homes, don't be afraid to ask questions to see if the would-be owner has enough commitment to your pup. Emphasise that they are very special pups. You have put a lot of effort into trying to make sure they are healthy and friendly, and you want to make sure they are going to people who deserve them. It's worth coming to an agreement about what should happen if things go wrong. A contract is a good way to safeguard the pup's future. You can stipulate that the owners should contact you if the pup develops problems. Responsible breeders will take back pups that owners can't handle. They will also take back pups with inherited health problems and give a refund, or provide a replacement pup instead of a refund. Owners may not want to give up pups with health problems, and breeders may agree to give them a healthy pup and let the owner keep the problem pup as well, provided the problem pup is neutered to protect the breed.

Rules, regulations and responsibilities

There are, then a lot of issues to think about even if you just want to breed from your own pet dog, and produce a litter of nice pets. Pet owners who have just one or two dogs may be exempt from many of the rules and regulations that govern dog breeding, but it can save you a lot of heartache if you are aware of the. responsibilities involved that affect anyone whose dogs has pups.

If you still long to hold little puppies

And you decide that breeding involves too many potential problems, then spay any bitches you own so you don’t end up with accidental litters! Spayed bitches will also live longer, and are easier to manage. Then go to your local shelter. Look at the pups there in need of a home. Ask the shelter staff about what sort of inheritance the pups may have, and the sorts of 'challenges' they may present to owners. Think about whether they would fit into your home with your existing dog(s). And see if you can become part of the solution.

The three articles below deal with the problem of inherited disorders in dogs in general, with some mentions of inherited problems in specific breeds. If you're thinking of breeding from a pedigree dog, it's also well worthwhile joining an online breed forum for more information. Experienced and conscientious breeders can tell you about inherited disorders common in that particular breed, as well as what can be done to reduce the risks, for example, what health tests potential breeders should undertake.

Further Reading

Asher L, Diesel G, Summers JF, McGreevy PD, Collins LM. (2009). Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 1: disorders related to breed standards. Vet J. 2009 Dec;182(3):402-11.

Lindsay L Farrell*, Jeffrey J Schoenebeck, Pamela Wiener, Dylan N Clements and Kim M Summers The Challenges of Pedigree Dog Health: approaches to combating inherited disease, Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 2015, 2:3

Summers JF1, Diesel G, Asher L, McGreevy PD, Collins LM. Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 2: Disorders that are not related to breed standards. Vet J. 2010 Jan;183(1):39-45. doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.11.002. Epub 2009 Dec 5.

Dogs and diet

Diet is important

Diet is very important because it affects dogs' health and behaviour. It's also a vast area of study, with many fierce debates, such as what owners should look for in commercial foods, and whether home-prepared or processed foods are better. We offer some answers to common queries here, with suggestions for further reading, which will be especially helpful if you want to use home-cooked food - see References at the end of this article.

It's worth checking with your vet before making alterations to your dog's diet, especially if you want to give supplements, or if your dog has particular breed-related dietary needs, or special needs due to illness. You need to get the dosage right if you give supplements or you run the risk of giving your dog an overdose of some minerals or vitamins. Dogs may also have more than one medical condition, and you may need help to work out which takes precedence when making decisions on diet. Vets may not know a great deal about canine nutrition, unless they have developed a particular interest in the topic, but they do know about the common diet-related complaints that they see at their surgeries. The best vets are prepared to say when they can't answer your questions immediately, and will check out topics for owners, since they are better able to understand the relevant literature than non-specialist owners.

Sudden major changes in dogs' diets can cause digestive upsets, so make radical changes gradually, mixing some of the old food with the new. It's especially important to introduce new foods to puppies gradually. Pups can develop allergies if their diets change suddenly, so it's safer to try one food at a time and a little at a time.

What one should look for in a commercial dog food: Nutrients, ingredients and pet food labels

You're faced with an array of dog foods at the store. How can you decide what to feed your dog? First, check the labels and see what they tell you. You should find a list of both nutrients and ingredients, together with recommended servings. This won't tell you all you need to know, but it's a start!

Dogs need to have the right balance of nutrients, ie proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in line with ‘good practice’ in canine nutrition. However, the nutrients also have to be accessible to the dog. Dogs aren’t able to digest some foods well, for example, grain is not the best source of protein for dogs, and does not provide all the amino acids they need. Many dogs react to specific foods like maize and chicken, and of course they will be unable to benefit from nutrients in these foods if the foods make the dogs sick or squitty. So, the nutrients levels listed on pack and can labels don't tell you much on their own, you also need to check the ingredients.

Meat is a good source of protein for dogs, and it's a good idea to choose foods that have meat or fish as the main ingredient, which is listed first on pack and can labels. Other ingredients, such as cereals and vegetable derivatives may, however, add up to more than the meat and/or fish content, even if meat or fish head the list, and it's worth checking the actual proportions with manufacturers.

Is everything described as 'meat' in pet foods good for dogs? The ingredients lists on can and pack labels can be very vague, and may just describe meat as 'meat and animal derivatives', without saying which animal the meat came from. This can be a problem if your dog is allergic to certain types of meat. Other labels may give information on which animals or birds the meat comes from, but don't specify which body parts of animals are used. This could be, for example, beaks and feathers, or smooth intestine. The important issue should be what is good for dogs, rather than whether the source of food revolts you as a human. Wolves eat rabbits, skin, bone, stomach contents and all, and that is what they are designed to do, however revolting humans might find it. However, some things owners should worry about include drug residues in slaughtered animals used for pet food, or toxins resulting from E coli infections from long-dead animals. One concern about
 commercial foods is that pet owners have little way of knowing about the quality of ingredients used.

Fish is also a good source of protein for dogs, and there is some evidence that oily fish provides protection against cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and skin disease. However, again labels give little information on what types of fish, and parts of the fish are used in dog foods containing fish.

Pet food labels may give information on vitamins and minerals, but do not always say what form they are in, which is important because some forms are more bioavailable - accessible to the dog - than others. There are disagreements on what constitutes the correct levels of vitamins and minerals, but canine nutritionists agree that it is possible to give dogs an overdose. The ratios may also be important, eg ratios of calcium to phosphorous, or essential fatty acids to vitamin E, and these may be difficult to calculate from information given on labels.


Owners may also want to subject their dogs to as little in the way of preservatives, colourings, flavour enhancers and other 'additives' as possible. Additives aren't always bad, and ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean ‘good’. Deadly nightshade is ‘natural’ and can kill humans, but many preservatives and colourings have not been around for long, so their long-term effects are unknown. There are also additives which humans can tolerate but which dogs cannot, so it's not necessarily safe to feed dogs with human food scraps that contain additives, like bits of bacon, just because you can eat them and they don't seem to harm you.

Common sense says it's best to avoid highly coloured food. Your dog doesn't care what colour his food is, and is quite happy if it is sludge brown. Smell, taste and texture are more important for dogs, and colourings are put there for humans. Avoiding highly coloured food means that you don't expose your dog to unnecessary risk. Flavour enhancers should also be avoided, not only because they may be harmful in themselves, but they may also incline dogs towards obesity.

Preservatives tend to be used in dry rather than canned commercial food, since canning is itself a way of preserving food. Once canned food has been opened it should be used on the same day, and any food left over from one meal should be stored in a cool place or in the fridge with a cover. There is some disagreement on whether dog-owners should avoid preservatives. Some preservatives, such as BHA may be carcinogenic, but evidence is mixed. Foods without such preservatives may be safer, however, dry commercial food without preservatives will deteriorate fast, so if you use a 'preservative free' dry food, you need to take special care to store it properly, sealed and in a cool, dry place, and use it before the ‘consume by’ date. Some foods have vitamin E added as a preservative, and this may be safer than BHA, but is also less effective as a preservative, so you still need to be very careful about using the food before its 'consume by' date. Food with
 preservatives like BHA lasts longer - you have longer before the 'consume by' date expires - but you still need to be careful not to use the pack past this date, and check that the food you buy has some time to go before its 'consume by' date expires. Owners often buy in bulk, to save money, but it's no saving if you end up paying vet bills to deal with skin problems and other conditions from feeding your dog on dry food that has lost nutritional value.

Pet food manufacturers themselves may refrain from using additives, but it is unclear whether the ingredients they use already contain additives. The resulting product may thus contain additives, though none has been added in the final manufacturing process. A claim that a product is 'additive free' is then no guarantee of quality, and some additives may be harmless, or even beneficial, but it's a start, since it's more likely that there are no unnecessary colourings and the like. There may also be links between skin allergies and behavioural problems and certain additives, which is one reason why home-cooked foods can be superior.

Dry or wet food?

Dry food is cheaper and more convenient. However, it may also contain more grain and preservatives, because grain is easier to store dry than meat, and canning is a way of preserving food.

Dogs need to drink more water if they are fed dry food, and are more at risk from dehydration if they are fed dried food and do not have access to water. This is important since some pet owners remove water when they are out of the house or at night, in the belief that this will help with house training. Dogs are more likely to develop kidney and bladder problems if they are fed dried food and deprived of water. If you have to leave your dog very long periods, he will need water and someone to come in and let him out for a wee. If you can't get help with dog care, then at least give him access to water and a place where he can wee, eg a secure dog run with a roof, that he can get to through a dog door, and can't dig his way out of.

Some owners believe that crunching on dry food is better for dogs' teeth, but most dogs fed canned foods are also fed a crunchy mixer. There are better ways of protecting dogs teeth, such as giving them bones to chew on - see 'Does diet affect dogs' teeth and gums?' below.

What about extruded food?

Some dried extruded foods will swell up like a sponge if put in water - test your dog's food to see if it does this. Some owners fear that this type of food can cause problems by swelling up inside the dog. Diabetic dogs should not be fed extruded food, which may contain too high levels of simple carbohydrates.

Comparing pet foods: maths is important

You need to be able to do some basic maths if you are comparing wet and dry foods, to be able to compare like with like. First you need to remove moisture from the equation. You can do this by subtracting the moisture content from 100, which, for example, gives 25 for a food that is 75% moisture. Then divide the crude nutrient levels by 25 and multiply by 100 to give the dry-matter content percentage. So a food that has 8% protein levels and 75% moisture has a protein level of 32%, excluding moisture. It's also important to assess amounts per serving - a food may appear to have more of a vitamin if compared by dry weight, but if the servings are smaller, then the amount of the vitamin per serving will be reduced.

Obtaining information from pet food companies

Clearly, people whose dogs have special needs don't have enough information on pack and can labels on which to base an informed decision about which brand to buy. Even people whose dogs seem to thrive on just about any food may be worried about the lack of information on packs and cans. UK packs may, for example, may state that preservatives are used, but not specify which preservatives. It is worth asking the companies for more information. They may not answer your phone calls, letters and emails, but they will know that owners do care about what goes into their dogs' food. You will also be able to sort out which companies care about their reputations from the responses, or lack of responses you get. Some owners believe that expensive foods are better foods, but this is not necessarily the case. The cost of pet foods may just reflect the marketing budget, rather than the quality of ingredients, and the research carried out into selecting ingredients.
 However, company that takes the trouble to answer your queries will care more about consumers that those which ignore you. One question to ask is whether ingredients vary according to what is cheapest on the market, or whether the same ingredients are always used. This is especially important for dogs which cannot tolerate certain foods - you need to make sure that manufacturers can guarantee that their products will not contain those foods. You can also ask about feeding trials, and the breeds of dogs used, their ages, how long the trials took, and whether companies have information on the long-term effects of using their products.

Rotating pet foods

There is a strong case for feeding adult dogs without special needs a small range of commercial foods by rotation, rather than feeding any one commercial food exclusively throughout a dog's life. New discoveries are regularly being made about canine nutrition, and it is possible that a food may be complete according to current accepted wisdom, but still lack important nutrients. If you vary the commercial foods you feed your dog, there is more chance that the dog will be able to find whatever may be lacking elsewhere. Dogs are also creatures of habit, and may dislike novel foods, so if they only eat one brand, owners may have problems if that brand becomes unavailable. Puppies need to have new foods introduced gradually, but once they have got used to a food this can be included in the weekly menu.

Is home-cooked food best?

There's no simple answer to this question. Extreme supporters of pet food companies argue that only they are able to provide balanced diets for pets, and they stress risks of overdosing pets on supplements, or feeding dogs inappropriate human foods. Yet parents manage to feed children adequate diets, even though children's needs differ from those of adults. Children's diets may be varied throughout the week, so that any imbalance in one meal can be compensated for in the next meal. Dog owners can also vary their dog's diets, for similar reasons. Dog owners have an easier job than parents, since dogs are generally less fussy about food than children, and are less likely to demand food that they have seen on TV. Studies on homecooked food vs commercial food can be flawed if they group all homecooked food together. There's a world of difference between leftovers, given to a dog because they are cheap, and nutritionally balanced homecooked canine meals. The worst homecooked food may be worse than most processed food, which is at least designed for dogs, but the best homecooked food can be better because the food can be prepared freshly for each meal. You also have more control over what ingredients go into meals, which is especially important for dogs with food allergies and diabetes, and you have more control over the quality of the ingredients.

Extreme supporters of home-prepared foods argue that widespread usage of commercial food has led to a massive increase in a number of conditions, such as allergies and cancers. However, cancers may be more common these days simply because dogs live longer, or because people are more likely to keep pedigree breeds, and some breeds have particular vulnerabilities to cancer. Commercial foods also vary a great deal in terms of quality, and it's as unscientific to lump them all together as it is to lump all 'home-prepared' food together. The main difference between commercial and home prepared foods is that commercial foods are prepared in bulk to be stored and sold, whereas home-prepared foods are made in smaller amounts and tend to be eaten fresh. Many dog owners don't have a lot of choice, and have to use commercial foods due to lack of time. It's difficult to read up on dog nutrition and prepare tasty, well-balanced recipes if you also work full-time.

It's worthwhile doing some research on pet foods before making your choice of one or more brands, and sending emails to a few companies asking about their products doesn't take long. You do need to read widely on this topic if you want to feed your dog nothing but home-cooked food, so that you're aware of accepted practice and the debates in canine nutrition. You may not be able to do this, and may prefer to rely on commercial food for much of the time, and you can still prepare the occasional meal yourself without worrying about whether it is perfectly balanced in all aspects. There's nothing wrong with scraps so long as they fit into the dog's diet, eg large amounts of very fatty or salty food should be avoided, and meat alone does not provide enough calcium for dogs. Strombeck recommends microwaving and crushing eggshells, the amount depending on the size of the dog. Check out dog recipe books for ideas on how to use your scraps, and make sure you avoid foods known to be harmful to dogs.

What foods should dogs always avoid?

Dogs shouldn't eat all human foods, though being scavengers, they will often try to. There are some human foods that dogs' innards can't cope with, and others that are actually poisonous to dogs, though not to humans. Corn cobs can kill dogs. It's safer not to eat corn on the cob if you have dogs, unless you can be absolutely certain that everyone disposes of the cob where a dog cannot get at it. Chocolate designed for humans can overstimulate and even kill dogs. Grapes and raisins can also poison dogs, as can avocados, macadamia nuts, and castor oil seedcake or seed. Other foods to avoid include all products containing sugar, garlic, onions, tofu (which tends to produce gas), and anything with a lot of salt, including pub snacks designed for humans. This means that dogs shouldn't eat leftover human meals with a lot of onions, garlic, salt, or sugar.

Pub goers often like to settle their dog in a corner with his own bag of snacks. Bagged pub snacks often have a high salt content, may contain sugar, often include colouring or flavour enhancers, and stick to the teeth. All this is very bad for dogs' teeth, and is not much good for their health in general. Pub snacks probably don't do humans much good, but we have a choice. Dogs have less choice about what they eat, they are scavengers, designed to gobble whatever is offered them. Pub snacks should not be given to dogs, no matter how pleading their eyes are when they watch you eat. You can take a little bag of dog snacks to the pub, even a handful of complete dry dog food, rather than buying human snacks. You may find that well-meaning people want to give your dog treats in the pub. It's good for dogs to socialise with pub people, but give these well-wishers your own dog treats to feed your dog.

What foods should dogs only eat in moderation?

Any food with a high fat content, such as fat meat, may be gobbled very greedily, but can then lead to a bad case of the squits, or worse. Fatty meat has to be rationed, and continual feeding of fatty meat is likely to cause nutritional imbalance and can cause serious illness.

Likewise, continually feeding dogs on salted meat does not do them any good, though the occasional scrap of bacon is unlikely to do harm. Dogs with heart trouble are often prescribed low sodium diets. There is some debate as to how effective this is, but it's certainly best to avoid giving anything high in salt to a dog with heart problems, and best not to add salt to dog recipes, even for healthy dogs. Dogs with kidney trouble may benefit from diets low in phosphorous, though the calcium-phosphous ratio may be important rather than actual levels of phosphorous. Diabetic dogs should not be fed high levels of fat and simple carbohydrates - which are found in some commercial dog treats. You need to check with your vet which dried complete foods are safe for diabetic dogs.

There is some evidence that dogs that eat a lot of red meat, including beef and pork, are more likely to suffer from cancer, and possibly behavioural problems such as compulsive licking. Chicken is cheap, as are some oily fish, so it is quite easy to vary protein sources.

Dog treats may have a high fat content and a lot of colouring - check the ingredients. They are not designed for more than occasional use, so if you use titbits a lot, for example, for training, try replacing treats with dry complete food. You can also make your own treats, if you have the time - dog nutrition books provide treat recipes.

So what food is 'safe'?

Dogs can develop allergies to just about any food. You can feed the same diet to two dogs and find it leaves one with constipation and the other with loose bowels, so what to feed your dog on depends a lot on your dog. However, most dogs can thrive on a variety of foods, and it is good to vary their diet, because if they just eat one particular food, like tripe, for instance, and nothing else, this will leave them with a nutritional deficiency. Introduce new foods gradually, yes, but make sure they have a range of foods over the week. You could draw up a chart to make it easier to plan meals, with tripe twice a week, and oily fish at least once a week, for example. Offal, such as heart and liver, is also suitable ingredients for canine meals. Dogs do need calcium, and you can grind bones in a mincer, or buy packs of frozen minced meat and bones designed for pets. If you feed supermarket mince, your can add ground eggshells, using a coffee bean grinder to
 grind them. Minced meats are a useful standby, though they don't have teeth cleaning benefits of bones.

Dogs do benefit from vegetables added to their diet, and many vegetables from the marrow family are appreciated by dogs, like squashes and pumpkins, as well as root vegetables such as swede. Dogs often enjoy chomping on raw carrots, though they can also eat them cooked. Vegetables can be steamed lightly, then mashed in a food processor. Vegetables can  provide fibre, which helps to prevent constipation. A little olive oil also helps if you have a dog that cannot 'go'.

Should home-prepared dog food be raw or cooked?

Many people believe that dogs should only eat raw food. Whether to feed raw or cooked is an area of fierce debate, not least because the pet food industry is very strong in developed countries!  Dogs are natural scavengers, and can thrive on a wide range of foodstuffs. This perhaps not so much an 'either cooked or raw' question, as when it is advisable to cook, and when meat and other food is best served raw. Sometimes your dog will tell you what to do with certain foods, for example by refusing to eat liver unless it is cooked.

Some of the commonsense precautions we take with our own food are relevant here. Cooking supermarket meat is advisable, if you plan on keeping it longer than 24 hours and cannot freeze it. Intensive farming methods mean that meat is more likely to be contaminated by bacteria that could produce toxins, and harm both humans and dogs. Cooking won't get rid of the toxins, but it can kill the bacteria before they get a chance to multiply and create large amounts of toxin.

The same sorts of hygiene precautions that help keep you safe are relevant when you feed your dog. It's true that some dogs appear to have iron-clad stomachs, and eat rotten carcasses they find when on walks, then happily get rid of them by vomiting if the meal proves to be disagreeable. You still want your dog to keep down the meals that you lovingly prepare for him, and the fact that dogs will often vomit 'found' meat shows that rotten meat can harm them.

Your best bet if you want to feed raw meat is to make friends with a local butcher who cares about quality, buy meat there for yourself, and ask for scraps for your dog. Then both you and your dog benefit. A lot that is discarded by butchers is in fact fit for human consumption, but we have become more fussy, and often want no-waste meat, like steaks. Luckily, dogs benefit from eating our leftovers. A dog fed just on steaks may suffer both malnutrition and constipation. Raw cartilage, gristle and sinew provide bulk for the dog's intestine to work properly, and food that the dog does not digest provides a protective wrap round bones.

Wolves eat the skin and bones of rabbits, which give additional nutrients and fibre. Many rabbiting dogs will consume their catch raw, but not all dogs are designed as well as wolves for chewing up and digesting rabbits. Your dog may have a small jaw and small teeth, or have lost some teeth. Some owners mince raw food for older dogs with problem teeth, so the dog at least gets the benefits of nutrients that might otherwise be lost in cooking.

A great advantage of giving dogs raw bones to chew on is that it strengthens their teeth. This is the biggest obvious benefit reported by owners who have switched to raw feeding. It's also more convenient if you don't have to cook, and cheap, if you have a friendly butcher.

There are two possible behavioural downsides to raw feeding. One is that dogs often value raw bones very highly, and may try to defend them more strongly than they would a boring bowl of kibble. People with more than one dog need give each dog enough space to chew in peace, and make sure no 'ownerless' bones lie around to provoke squabbles.

Dogs can suffer from calcium and other deficiencies from eating meat alone. Calcium deficiency from meat-based diets has been linked to a higher risk of fracture in greyhounds. However, if you try giving your dog calcium tablets without expert advice, you could acidentally give your dog an overdose - excessive calcium supplementation has been linked to hip dysplasia. It's safer to grind bones in a mincer if your dog´s teeth mean that tackling bones is difficult, or you can buy packs of frozen minced meat and bones.

Owners who want to go the home-prepared route need to do some research on nutrition, whether or not they cook home-prepared food or serve it raw. Raw feeding has become very popular, and there are internet groups that you can join to learn more. There is also a reference list for further reading at the end of this article.

It's worth being cautious when you are deciding whether to feed raw food to pups or very old dogs, and being extra careful about hygiene. Dogs with optimum immune function are unlikely to suffer from germs like salmonella which can contaminate raw meat. Neosporosis cranium is another risk, though it is rare. It is a nasty disease which generally only affects puppies and is usually passed to the pups from their mother. Raw food can be a source of this infection, but it is destroyed by both cooking and freezing. Freezing and then thawing raw meat is one way to ensure that it is not contaminated (and as with human food, the food should be consumed or junked once it has been thawed, and should not be refrozen). The same need for caution applies to bones. Dogs that have been too aesthetically altered from the original blueprint (like Pekes, for example) may not be able to consume bones, especially if the dogs are elderly. If you feed bones, it's important  they are suitable bones and it's also important that they are raw, because cooked bones are dangerous. Please ask your vet for advice if you are unsure. 

Can dogs eat cat food?

Cats and dogs have different nutritional needs, so it's not a good idea to feed cat food to dogs. Dogs living with cats may steal the cat's food. Try putting the cat food where the dog can't reach it, or supervise feeding sessions and remove the bowls when the animals have stopped eating.

Should puppies be given cow's milk?

Some pups and dogs are intolerant of cows' milk, which can give them diarrhoea. If this happens stop feeding cow's milk. There are special formulations which you can buy for hand rearing pups, or for helping out their mum if she has a lot of pups and is showing signs of wear and tear. These formulations can be very expensive when bought from a vet in Britain, so try buying them online.

What about grass?

Grass is a natural emetic, and you may have noticed your dog eating grass to be sick. This is normal, though give your dog a chance to vomit outside if he eats a lot of grass, so he's not sick indoors. Some dogs seem to be especially fond of grass, and you may need to put your houseplants out of reach, because they are tempting if no grass is available. It's not fully understood why dogs eat grass, though one reason could be a need for roughage. If you can, keep a safe patch of longish 'dog grass' in your garden, so your dog doesn't resort to your precious plants. Some garden and house plants can also poison dogs, such as euphorbias and plants from the lily family. Growing ´dog grass´ also allows your dogs to eat grass that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides or urinated on by other dogs.

Are any foods good for sick dogs?

Yes, but it's worth checking with your vet before changing to your dog's diet. Boiled egg and rice is a classic remedy for squitty dogs. Let the dog fast for a while, then feed him small meals of egg and rice. Some dogs also tolerate boiled chicken and rice when they are squitty. These are not good permanent diets, since they are not nutritionally complete. Roughage is important for dogs with anal gland problems, because it helps them empty their anal sacs. This is one reason why meat with sinew, cartilage and other indigestible materials is better than steaks alone, though small amounts of bran or brown rice may do the trick. Roughage and having several small meals a day may also help dogs with diabetes. Complex carbohydrates are also better for diabetic dogs than simple carbohydrates.

Fish oil appears to be beneficial for dogs with a number of conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, skin problems and wound inflammations. Dogs with food allergies may benefit from a move to a diet based on lamb, rabbit, chicken and rice, which they are less likely to be allergic to, excluding beef, cow's milk and cereal, which they are more likely to be allergic to. Elimination diets are often used to assess whether certain foods might be causing problems. Dogs are started off on a small range of foods which are seen as least likely to trigger allergies, with more suspect foods gradually added, one by one, to see whether they trigger the complaint. You may need to change your dog's diet for as long as 10 weeks to see an improvement, though usually there's some improvement after six weeks or so.

Does diet affect dogs' teeth and gums?

Yes, a lot. Sugar is of course bad for teeth, both for humans' teeth, and for dogs'. Calcium deficiency, eg from an all-meat diet, weakens teeth and bones in general. Hard and chewy foods are better for gums and teeth. Dogs are less prone to tartar, stained teeth and gum disease if they have chews, though many owners prefer raw bones to keep their dogs' teeth clean. Dogs have been known to swallow chews, both of the hide and knotted type, which can cause serious problems.

Some foods, including special dog titbits, contain colourings that can stain teeth. Dogs constantly fed on titbits are more likely to have dirty mouths that bacteria can thrive in, so it you use titbits for training, try not to feed them throughout the day. Inflammation can be triggered by dogs having dirty mouths, but is also affected by stress and diet in general. Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids may help control gum disease by reducing inflammation. Tooth brushing also helps to keep teeth clean. However, it is more efficient to prevent dental problems by providing bones to chew on, giving the dog a balanced diet, restricting titbits, and not feeding human foods like sweet biscuits or pub snacks that stick to dogs' teeth. 

Will low-protein foods make my dog behave better?

The short answer is probably no, and certainly not on their own. Ten minutes formal training a day, and a good long walk, are likely to be beneficial whatever changes you make to your dog's diet. A bored dog who is rarely walked is likely to be difficult to handle whatever he eats.

One study suggests that low-protein diets do not affect 'dominance aggression', or 'hyperactivity', but can reduce territorial aggression linked to fear. Later research suggested that the effect of reducing protein levels might be be greater if tryptophan supplements were also used. However, putting a lot of effort into socialising your dog may be a better way of reducing territorial aggression. There are also risks involved in cutting back on protein. Pups need higher protein levels than adult dogs. Low protein diets have been cited as a risk factor for hip dysplasia. They have also been linked to anaemia in the case of working sled dogs, which need stamina for covering large distances, and which do better on a high protein diet, so check with your vet before making changes.

There are other aspects of diet that may affect behaviour, for example, the protein source may be important, rather than actual levels of protein. Certain colourants have also been linked to behavioural problems.

How much food should I feed my dog?

Again, there is no simple answer to this question. Dogs vary a lot in terms of how fast they burn up food. Very active dogs such as working dogs, need to eat more, as do pregnant and lactating bitches. Lactating bitches may need two to four times as much food as usual - this depends a lot on how many hungry pups they have to feed and on the breed. Young dogs may go through growth spurts and dormant phases, so their needs and appetites can vary a lot over a month. Older dogs need fewer calories, but more of some minerals and vitamins, which is why some manufacturers offer them special formulations. Sled dogs, which spend a long time in vigorous exercise, do well on high-fat, high protein diets, whereas greyhounds, which just run for short periods, do better on high-fat and moderate protein diets. Sled dogs eat more than sedentary dogs, and may need fewer vitamins and minerals per unit of energy intake (joule). Unfortunately, dog food packs and cans tend not to give information on calories per serving or per unit of weight.

Dog nutrition books provide tables for dogs of different weights and lifestyles, as well as recipes for homecooked meals. Go by manufacturers' recommendations, if you use processed foods, and try to select a formulation for your dog's type, age and lifestyle. The amounts recommended are just guidelines, though, not rigid rules, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they may be too generous for the average dog. The dog may also be fed titbits for training purposes, and these need to be included in calculations.

Adjust amounts if your dog leaves food in his bowl, or appears to be getting too skinny or too fat. Your dog should have a waist, and you should be able to feel the ribs. If not, the dog is probably too fat. If the backbone feels very bony and knobbly, the dog is probably underweight. Fur affects how dogs appear - dogs with thick underfur tend to appear fatter than they are. Owners should not worry greatly about dogs that are not eating, or are not eating as much as usual, so long as the dog is not underweight and seems otherwise fit. Gravy made from boiling a few bones with nothing else added, can help to stimulate a poor appetite, but owners should beware of creating a very finicky dog by trying to cook all sorts of tempting meals for dogs that just aren’t hungry because it is too hot, or they fancy the bitch down the road. A missed meal or two will not harm a healthy dog, and may even be beneficial.

Obesity is generally a more serious problem in Britain than underfed dogs. Obesity is linked to many health problems, like diabetes, arthritis, mammary cancer in unspayed bitches, and incontinence in bitches which were obese prior to being spayed. Rapid growth in giant dogs is linked to bone problems. Obese dogs suffer more wear and tear on their joints if they are arthritic. Obese dogs are often fed no more at mealtimes than normal dogs, but they also get lots of titbits. So, if your dog is a bit on the podgy side, give him or her ball games, cuddles, or anything else he or she likes that isn't food, as a reward, and of course more exercise. Spayed bitches can pile on the kilos, so go by the look of your dog, rather than worrying about how little she eats, and get a vet to check her if you worry she may be too fat.

How often should my dog eat?

Puppies need to eat several times a day, while adult dogs may eat once or twice a day. Some dogs seem happy on one meal a day, but twice a day is safer, especially in the cases of active and/or large-bred dogs. Dogs only fed once a day may be more at risk from digestive problems if they run around madly chasing balls shortly after their meal. GDV is a particular problem with large breeds, and can be fatal. Give your dog at least an hour to digest his food before taking him out for a run. Most dogs should have their main meal after exercise, rather than before, and should have some time to relax after they come in from exercise, rather than being fed as soon as they come in. Diabetic dogs may, however, benefit from exercise after a meal, and they need several short walks rather than one longer bout of exercise.

You can replace a meal with complete dry food, and use this as titbits for training a young dog out on walks, for example to reward him for coming back. If you do this, make it a small meal, so as not to overload his stomach while he's running about. Free-feeding is not a good idea for multi-dog households. It can encourage fights, and makes it difficult to assess how much individual dogs are eating. It's best to try to feed dogs at set times, which is especially important when you are trying to housetrain puppies.

Can I give my dog a vegetarian diet?

This is not advisable. Though it can be beneficial for dogs to eat some vegetables, they have more need for meat and fish than humans do, and it is very difficult to feed them properly without giving them at least fish and eggs. Working dogs on low protein vegetarian diets may be more vulnerable to anaemia than if they are fed animal-based low protein diets.

What can research on dogs and diet tell us?

It's very difficult to 'prove' anything in science. Research can tell us about possible links, say between red meat and cancer, but results can be affected by several factors. One is the sample size (eg how many dogs were involved, since small groups may be atypical), another is the categories used (eg if all 'home cooked' meals are lumped together this can be misleading, since they vary so much), a third is the amount given (some ingredients may be poisonous in excess, but necessary in small amounts), and a fourth is the length of time the study took (some effects may only become apparent after a very long time). There may also be variables you have not thought of that have affected the study, for example, it's difficult to separate the effect of diet on behaviour from other factors, like how owners treat and perceive their dogs. The breed may also be significant in studies of nutrition and health, since some breeds are more prone to certain illnesses
than others. Do talk to your vet about any research you have read, because you may gain some insights that weren't immediately apparent when you read the article. Your vet can also advise you on amounts, eg of roughage, or fish oil supplements.

Pet food companies fund research on canine nuturition. Check out some of the articles written by researchers in the industry and see for yourself. Pet food companies are trying to work out what to put in their products, and you can use their findings for your home-cooked recipes. Obviously pet food companies will tend to fund what's in their interests to research, for example they may not look at the long-term effects of feeding a particular foodstuff, just whether or not dogs seem OK with it for a few weeks or months. Use your common sense, and check out all claims, including those we make here!


Thank you to Diana Attwood, Shelly Couvrette, Amy Dahl and Wendy Hanson for informative discussions on dogs and diet, and to Diana for contributions to this article.

See 'Books on Animals: Dogs: Health and nutrition' for books on raw feeding and other aspects of dogs and diet.

Further Reading


Case, Linda P. (1999) The Dog: Its Behavior, Nutrition and Health, Iowa State University Press

Case, Linda P. Leighann Daristotle DVM PhD, Michael G. Hayek PhD, Melody Foess Raasch DVM  (2010) Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals, 3rd edition, Mosby

Everest, Elaine (2010) Cuisine: How to Cook Tasty Meals and Treats That Your Dog Will Enjoy, How To Books Ltd 

Fogle, Bruce (1999) Natural Dog Care, Dorling Kindersley

Lonsdale, Tom (2005) Work Wonders: Feed Your Dog Raw Meaty Bones, Rivetco Pty Ltd

Martin, Ann New (2008) Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food 3rd edition, Sage Press

Olson, Lew (2010) Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs: The Definitive Guide to Homemade Meals, North Atlantic Books,U.S. 

Strombeck, Donald R. (1999) Home Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, Iowa State University Press


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