You may have even used it before without realising it.
You might need to use counter conditioning if you’ve ever:
Felt embarrassed by your dog’s behaviour while out in public because they’re freaking out and you can’t get through to them
Wished you could just talk to your dog and explain that your neighbour’s possum shaped lawn ornament is not a demon
Felt like you’re being towed behind horse and you may as well be on grass skis every time your dog sees another dog
These are often fear based responses and they keep both you and your dog from being able to enjoy your time together to the fullest.
With counter conditioning, you can:
Change the way a dog feels about something that they’re fearful of
Turn a negative association into a positive one
Transform your dog’s behaviour in the presence of that originally scary thing.
As a trainer who uses counter conditioning often, I can help you break down the science into simple steps and achieve results like improved confidence in your dog.
A dog that actually looks forward to seeing things that previously triggered them.
A more enjoyable time together on walks and out in public.
Are you ready for this?
Work through step by step in Frantic To Focused, my signature course that helps owners with dogs who are reactive to triggers (including but not limited to other dogs). You can see all the details by clicking here.
The owners feel bad. Their dog has serious issues now.
They feel they should have socialised her more.
They tried though.
They took the advice of the vet to keep her home until the vaccinations were finished.
Then they were able to start puppy school.
They did everything the vet nurse said.
Their puppy was scared and hiding.
“You need to socialise her more,” was the standard advice.
For six weeks of puppy school she hid from the other puppies.
She fought off the vet staff and learned that biting keeps them away.
She went to dog school and only became harder to handle amongst all the other dogs.
Eventually the owners had enough and stopped going. It was clear no one was enjoying it.
Now their little scared puppy is all grown up and is not safe for dogs or people to be close to.
She knows exactly how to keep threats away.
She uses her teeth.
She learned it back in puppy school.
She learned it when she was being socialised.
This is not the owner’s fault. According to the experts they took advice from, they took all the right steps. They only listened to what they were advised.
They knew that when you get a puppy, you need to, “socialise it,” but no one told them what that really means.
People think it means get your puppy used to other dogs.
Really, if socialisation has 100 parts, getting used to other dogs is just one of them.
It’s so much more than that.
But we can still keep it simple.
Socialisation is getting your puppy used to all the things they will need to be able to cope with in their life such as environments, people, noises, objects, handling and other dogs.
Furthermore, the most critical time to do this is up to the age of 16 weeks. While vaccinations aren’t in full effect yet.
And the risk of a serious behaviour problem is much higher than the risk of disease. You just need to use some common sense and not take your puppy to areas highly trafficked by unknown dogs, especially not putting them on the ground in such areas.
But since other dogs is only a small part of correct socialisation, avoiding these areas isn’t a big deal.
And if you want to be paranoid about your pup picking up diseases, you better not go anywhere either, because you can bring home these diseases on your shoes.
Especially if you’ve been to any areas where sick dogs go – like the vet clinic.
Many people refer to this time of the year as puppy season. The best gift you can give yourself and your new puppy is helpful education which sets you up a more balanced dog and helps avoid serious behaviour issues.
See the free puppy section of the vault for a free puppy socialisation checklist that you can use to socialise your puppy safely. Access here.
The goal is to help your puppy to have either neutral or calm positive experiences with these things and environments, and avoid both negative experiences or a total lack of experience.
Above all, get out there and enjoy the big wide world with your puppy.
Woofs and wags Tenille
PS Like anything, there are good and not so good options. This post is not to say I am against vets or puppy schools, it’s about finding the right one and seeking behaviour and training advice from experts in that field rather than in a different field entirely.
If you know a someone who is getting a new puppy, or you are yourself and you would like to make sure you cover the important priorities so that your puppy develops into the best dog they can be, grab the Puppy Priorities short course here.
In it I cover all the puppy-hood essentials like correct socialisation – why and how to do it safely, toilet and crate training, stopping puppy biting and mouthing, prevent chewing and destruction, getting your puppy used to the leash and more. You can register here
If you want to continue to train up your pup or adult dog, you can join the full Dog Matters Academy and train your dog from any stage to a dream dog.
Inside, you can start with the puppy program and progress to, “Oh, Behave!”
Oh Behave is the full manners and obedience course for dogs of all ages. Not only will you learn the classic obedience commands but also learn how dogs learn, manners training, useful skills around the home, leash skills, socialisation skills are even tricks. It’s training that’s fun for both you and your dog and you’ll come away not only with a well behaved dog who listens to you, but a better understanding and way to communicate with any dog you ever own. Join here.
Woofs and wags
Tenille PS If you already have an account you can log in using your email as both username and password (unless you’ve already changed your password) at dogmatters.vipmembervault.com and start with our free content all at your fingertips.
For most people, their dogs seem like they’re always ready to eat – anything, anytime. If it’s food, the dog wants it.
But for others, they are constantly trying to convince their dog to eat like a parent with a toddler refusing to eat their broccoli.
For some people it has been a constant source of stress from day one with the new puppy. She didn’t eat on day one and the owners got worried and tried to make the food more appealing again and again until the point the dog won’t eat unless she’s in a highchair at the table being hand fed fresh roast chicken and gravy that must be precisely 48 degrees celsius and served on a ceramic plate.
So why are some dogs so fussy? And why should we care?
Why should you care if your dog is fussy?
It’s only natural that some dogs are more food motivated than others, so why should you care if you have a fussy dog? From a behaviour perspective, there’s two main reasons that I wouldn’t want a dog to be overly fussy. These are:
1. As the owner I get to choose what I’m feeding my dog. I will choose the healthiest option I can and then I want the dog to eat it. End of story. I don’t want my job to become a constant challenge of searching for food my dog will eat today.
2. Training with food is useful and I want to be able to use it. For this to work, the dog needs to be motivated for the food ie hungry for it.
Dogs That Are Taught To Be Fussy
(aka dogs that are teaching their owners to feed them tastier food)
Fussy eating is most often a learned behaviour. This is a common problem I see and this is how it usually happens:
The day the owner brings home their new puppy or recently adopted dog, the dog isn’t keen to eat what is presented to them. They turn their nose up at what is offered. The owner leaves the food out for them just in case they get hungry later.
Later, the dog still hasn’t eaten and the owner begins to worry. The dog must eat! Some owners are so concerned that the dog must be sick or that the dog is starving itself. As their concern takes over, they try to offer the dog something more appealing. Wet the food, put gravy on it, try chicken. Each time the dog refuses food, they try something tastier until the dog finally eats!
The dog has just learned a lasting lesson: if you refuse food, better food will come. I’ll hold out until I get something better. The dog has trained the owner!
Why did the puppy or dog not eat the first time then? Usually when a dog is settling into a new home they’ve gone through quite the change, they’re a bit stressed, or just too overwhelmed or distracted to worry about eating so much. Within a few days, they’ll settle into their normal eating patterns.
Are Some Dogs Born With Less Motivation For Food?
Some dogs just aren’t as food driven as other dogs – for example, a sighthound may be less food crazy than a labrador. This doesn’t mean that they need special diets or effort to get them to eat though. And it definitely doesn’t mean that you can’t increase their motivation for food or train them using treats.
While you may never expect your dog to be as food crazy as the neighbour’s Lab, you can improve the food drive of just about any dog if you so desire.
How to Increase A Dog’s Food Drive
When it comes down to it, all animals need to eat.
If you don’t eat, you don’t poop, and if you don’t poop, you die.
Increasing food drive may start with making the dog hungrier, aka feeding them less. The biggest struggle here is people feeling bad or worrying that feeding their dog less is going to instantly starve their dog to death.
I have yet to meet a dog that couldn’t be taught to have a stronger motivation for food if the owner complies. The ONLY time I have not been able to increase a dog’s food drive is when the owner just can’t bring themselves to stop giving the dog free treats and leaving food out for them just in case they get peckish.
But Won’t He Be Hungry??
Yes. That’s the point.
This is how you cure fussiness and stop having to bend over backwards trying to get your dog to eat.
Plus, being able to use food as a reward makes training easier. If all we have to do is make sure the dog isn’t being overfed or spoiled to achieve this, why wouldn’t we?
Most pet dogs are overfed and overweight too. It’s healthier for a dog to be lean and to work for their food. Your dog will actually live longer and be happier if they’re using their brains to work for food through training or enrichment activities.
How It Looks In Reality
If you need to make your dog hungrier (and therefore less fussy), how is that going to look? It depends how much food they’re currently eating, what kind of diet it is and whether your dog also needs to lose weight or not.
For some dogs the only thing that needs to be changed is to stop leaving food down for free feeding and only feed at set times. For other dogs, a reduction in quantity of meals is required, or switching from 2 meals per day to one.
If you’re training with food, you can train with the dog’s morning meal instead of giving it to the dog in a bowl and then give nothing else until the next meal. The quantity may be the same, but is fed through the dog working for it and learning at the same time.
As always, take into account the entire daily intake of food. Many people make the mistake of feeding meals in bowls and then adding in chews, treats and bones and thinking it doesn’t count towards the entire daily intake. Everything your dog ingests counts! This includes dental chews and pigs ears, in fact these common extras like pig ears are usually high in fat content and filling!
What To Do At Feeding Times
If you put down your dog’s meal and they turn their nose up at it or sniff it and walk away, immediately pick the food back up and put it away. Offer it again ten minutes later and do the same thing but this time, it’s put away until the next meal with no extras in between!
I once had someone tell me her dog was extremely fussy and I suggested this strategy. She said she’d tried it for days and it didn’t work, the dog didn’t eat for days! Well it turns out the dog did eat – it was being fed shortbread biscuits by another family member the entire time, but no one really thought that would count. They still got worried that the dog didn’t eat it’s dog food and gave in once again to offering more enticing foods.
As the dog’s owner, you can decide what the dog is fed and how much. If you need to make a switch from your dog being so fussy that you change to a more appealing food, to giving the dog whatever you decide, you need to be more persistent than the dog. You need to be firm with your decision! A dog can go three days without eating and then they will give in if you’re consistent.
If you need reassurance that your dog won’t die, think about this: dogs are descendant from wolves. All dog species can live in the wild and survive by scavenging and hunting (working for their food). They are adapted to only getting a meal here and there – no set times and sometimes days between food. Your dog is still living a lavish life in comparison and no healthy dog will let themselves starve.
Remember, making the change is healthier for your dog in the long run. A few days of being hungrier will be worth it long term and over time, your dog will learn to appreciate their food.
Disclaimer: Hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but if your dog suddenly goes off their food and it is unusual, take them to the vet.
These days, everyone is busy. This means that many dogs spend a lot of time at home in the house or yard with not a lot to do. Yet at the same time, our dogs have often been bred to work and use their amazing brains to do jobs for us. Like people, exercising the brain can help a dog to feel tired, even more than physical exercise. It’s important to leave your dog with things to do when you’re gone but also very important for a dog’s health and wellbeing to spend time exercising their brain when you’re home. This doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time – in fact dogs learn best with several short training sessions rather than one long one.
Brain Boosting Games For Your Dog
Wouldn’t it be great if your dog could find your keys or your mobile phone? This trick provides great mental stimulation and is useful for you around the house as well. When a dogs search for an item, they use their amazing power of scent. Having a dog use their sense of smell is a great way to exercise their brains and keep them tired and happy.
You don’t need to teach your dog to use their nose, they already know that. You just need to teach them the object you want them to find and show them that it’s worthwhile to find it.
Here are the steps:
▪ Show them the object you want them to find – you might want to give it a unique name for later when you expand to more items. Let’s say you’re teaching your dog to find the keys. Show them the keys and when they look at them, sniff them or touch them, say, “yes,” and give a treat (or any reward that motivates your dog)
▪ Place the keys on the ground and mark with, “yes,” and reward for the dog sniffing them on the floor
▪ Keep moving the keys around different places of the room and continue to reward for your desired outcome – this could be just sniffing them or picking them up. Reward for small steps towards your end goal
▪ At this point, put a command to the task like, “find keys!”
▪ When your dog is consistently giving you the reaction you want, start to hide the keys where they can’t be seen. This will encourage your dog to use it’s nose. ▪ Gradually increase the difficulty of the location as long as your dog is winning. If they are struggling, take a step back to where they were last successful and practice some more
If your dog knows how to fetch, you can start giving each individual object it’s own name. This is an impressive trick when you work your way up to several objects and is a great brain challenging game for your dog. You can combine this game with the Find It game to have your dog fetch different objects by name using their nose. But you should have each one going well separately first before tying it together.
Here’s the steps to name your objects for the dog to fetch:
▪ Choose the first object you want to name. Let’s say it’s a stuffed bear.
▪ Place the bear on the ground and say, “bear,” followed by your dog’s usual fetch command.
▪ Reward your dog for fetching the bear. Practice this several times and then try dropping the fetch command so you are just saying, “bear”
▪ Once your dog is fetching the bear on command, place the bear on the ground again as usual but this time, place a second object on the ground as well. Let’s say it’s a toy sheep.
▪ Test the bear command and only reward your dog if he sticks with the bear. If he gets it wrong, he won’t get his usual reward. If he gets it right, throw a party! Your dog can now fetch the “bear” item by name. Add more items around it to proof the “bear” command.
▪ Repeat this process with the sheep on it’s own and any other objects you want to name.
▪ The real test is when you have trained multiple items and you put them all down together. See if your dog can remember which one is which and only fetch that toy on command.
▪ Remember like all training, if your dog is stuck, take a step back to where he last succeeded.
Hide and Seek
Another task to encourage your dog to use her nose is hide and seek, where your dog has to find you! Make sure you have their favourite reward for them ready for when they do.
This trick uses the dog’s sense of smell, exercises their brain and gives them exercise as well. It can be easier with two people but you can do it alone if your dog can hold a reliable stay.
▪ Have your dog stay or have a friend hold your dog with them in another room
▪ Go and hide. Make the first few easy
▪ If you have a friend helping, they can say, “seek,” and let the dog go.
▪ The first few times, you may need to also call your dog once or twice to show them that they need to find you and give them a bit of help
▪ When they find you, give them a big reward!
▪ Make it slightly harder each time but always keep it fun. Ways to make it harder is to hide inside cupboards, behind doors or go outside and try it in a safe outdoor area.
Tidy Up Your Toys
Wouldn’t it be great if your dog tidied up all their toys when they were done playing? Combine this trick with the object discrimination trick for a super advanced version and blow your friend’s away with how smart your dog is. Your dog needs to know how to fetch for this trick. Be prepared for your dog to be nice and tired after a session of training this helpful trick.
▪ Start with just one of your dog’s toys on the ground and a basket to put the toys in
▪ Stand with the basket in front of you and give your dog the fetch command for that object
▪ Hold your open hand above the basket
▪ As your dog brings the object to your hand or goes to drop the object at your feet, hold a treat above the basket. As your dog goes to take the treat, the toy will fall into the basket. Mark (“yes”) and reward your dog when this happens and give lots of praise.
▪ Repeat multiple times until your dog is reliably dropping the item into the basket
▪ As your dog is successful, stand behind the basket and point to the basket as the dog approaches. Reward after the dog has dropped the toy inside.
▪ Now you can introduce a new cue to this task. To do this, say the new cue right before the old cue and then phase out the old cue. So say, “tidy up, fetch” and then reward as usual. After a few repetitions, try saying, “tidy up,” by itself and see if your dog understands.
▪ Gradually move further away and reward less often by asking for more toys to be tidied up before you give a treat.
Is it important to keep providing mental stimulation for dogs at any age?
It’s absolutely important to provide mental stimulation for a dog of any age, even an older dog. An older dog may tire faster but they will still enjoy it and appreciate you for it.
In fact, mental and environmental enrichment is important for all animals!
Consider: Do you have another pet that may be bored?
Young puppies need mental stimulation too and the younger you start, the faster your dog will learn things you want to teach them later on. Ins saying that, you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks! Like elderly dogs, pups may tire quicker so keep sessions short and fun.
Training these kind of challenging tricks not only helps your dog to get tired and satisfied, it also continues to make them smarter as they develop their skills and learn how to learn. And best of all, giving your dog mental stimulation through training increases the bond between you. So it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Looking for information online can be so confusing as there is so much conflicting advice. In Training Matters, we explain not just the how of dog training, but the why, so that you know what to do and why to do it this way.