Interested in Learning Dog Training with me?


I am inviting applications to mentor with me starting in 2019.

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I will be covering all aspects of learning, training, dog behaviour and running a successful dog training business.

Open to all levels of experience and to anywhere in the world.

THE most important thing you can ever do with your puppy

Proper socialisation is the most important thing you can do with your puppy until he is 16 weeks old. Inadequate or poor socialisation is something your dog may never recover from. Here are a couple of videos discussion what to do and what not to do.


Classical conditioning vs NILIF

Play with your dog
Play with your dog


Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF), Learn to Earn. You may be familiar with these terms. They were devised, probably by well intention people, to allow you to use what your dog routinely gets in his life as ways to train him. The other thing some NILIF advocates is that your dog is behaving in a poor manner because he has unlimited access to resources, is spoiled or thinks he’s the “boss” or you are not the “pack leader”.

Now, some of what I say in this blog may seem contradictory as you read it, but it’s the reason why we are doing it, and the scientific reasons for it’s success/effectiveness which are important.

Following on from last week’s blog, I’ll define a couple of terms again, in simple terms (very simple)

1. Classical conditioning – learning by association.

2. Operant conditioning – learning by trial and error

3. Reinforcement – anything which causes the increase in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour

4. Punishment – anything which causes the decrease in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour

5. Positive/negative – adding(+)/subtracting(-) something from the dog’s environment. In training/learning, it     doesn’t mean good or bad. We have positive and negative punishment and positve and negative reinforcement.

Proper understanding of the terms is important, because it allows us to have a greater understanding of what we are doing during training and why we are doing it.

So, to get back on topic. NILIF protocols advocate taking everything away from your dog if he isn’t behaving the way you want him to behave. The dog has no free access to food, toys or people for petting, playing etc. Further, every time your dog wants something, he has to earn it. You can’t just give your dog something, like a rub on the ear, just because he’s your pal and you want to. He has no access to toys he can play with himself, like chewing on a nylabone or kong, or playing with a squeaky plush toy to keep himself amused. Every morsel of food, every game you play with your dog, every time you want to pet her depends on her doing something you want her to do like sitting politely or coming when called.

The NILIF protocol says that when you decide you want to, you give the dog all the good things, and don’t when you don’t want to. What can happen here, is that if owners can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to interact with their dogs, they now have permission not to. It further recommends that if your dog approaches you for attention, ignore him, but when he walks away, then call him back and pet him then. That way, you are dictating access to you, not the other way around.

Now, if you haven’t already thought about this, this can lead to a very sad and frustrated dog. The day before you instigated this programme, your dog was fed regularly, had toys to play with, could come and say hi when he wanted to and you’d say hi back. Now his whole life has been changed, and as far as he’s concerned, not for the better and he can become depressed. The dog can also become demanding if this happens as he is trying desperately to get attention.

The other side of this, is that we can do very similar things to NILIF, but for different reasons and obtain hugely different results. These are all training programmes I’ve learned from the best trainers in the world such as Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Ken Ramirez and Kathy Sdao, among many others. Your dog has to eat. Hopefully, you like going out for walks, playing with your dog and giving them attention and petting. Your dog likes, and needs, these things too. So let’s use them for training. This is where it does become different.

1. Your dog’s food – food is a primary reinforcer. So let’s use it to train our dog. It reinforces behaviour, so when your dog sits, give him a piece of kibble so he’s more likely to do it again. Take your dog’s food out on a walk with you. Sit on a park bench and every time a person or dog walks past, give him a piece of food. This way he learns dogs and people means food comes out which makes him feel good and with enough practice, dog’s and people approaching makes him feel good with there being no food present (classical conditioning) and you are reinforcing him for paying attention to you when people or dogs are around (operant conditioning using positive reinforcement).

2. Your dog’s toys. Let him play with his own toys. He has his, I have mine. Mine are a couple of balls on ropes and a tug toy. He gets to play with his by chewing on them, maybe throwing them in the air and catching them. I let him play with mine, but only when I’m there and there are rules attached, but mine are more fun, beacsue I’m involved in the play. My toys move, I throw throw them and I tug on them. She gets to chase them and tug on them back. The rules are be careful with your teeth, and give them back when I ask you to. I don’t play with my dog’s toys but I do allow her to play with mine, because they are fun (for both of us) and because I can train her when playing.

Your dog enjoys playing tug or chasing a ball, you play tug or throw the ball, your dog will now enjoy playing with you (classical conditioning). You give your dog a game of tug or throw the ball when they come back to you you are now using positive reinforcement to train a recall.

There’s also loads you can do for free for your dog which is still training your dog and classically conditioning you to him in a beneficial way. Playing long games of tug in the garden with your dog, for no reason other than having fun, classically conditions your dog that you are a great, fun guy to be around, Further to that, now when you give your dog a short game of tug after a recall or a down stay, he has that long history of big tug games to refer to and it is much more powerful. Similarly, petting your dog for 40 minutes in the evening when you are sitting reading or watching TV means that clapping your dog when he does something you like now has more meaning.

One of the main differences between this approach and NILIF is that it doesn’t give you permission to do nothing. Your dog needs daily exercise and stimulation for a full life. The more we use our dogs food and play and attention for training, the better trained our dog will be. If you use a quarter of your dogs food for training, rather than all of it, you will only get a quarter of the benefit. That said, you don’t need to hand feed it all, put what you don’t use in a Kong or other stuffable toy and you are now teaching your dog to entertain herself, chew an appropriate item and be calm. The minimum we can do with this, if we’re motivated to is to give all daily food in toys or food puzzles so you are at least getting that benefit from it.

A programme like this leads to a well trained, sociable dog, and a truly deep relationship with you.

I don’t know how to fly a plane, but I can learn

Copper and Nero
Copper and Nero

I worked with a client recently who has a one year old Landseer Newfoundland called Nero and an eight year old collie cross called Copper. Copper is one of these “once in a lifetime” dog’s who everyone wishes they could own but very few of us, unfortunately, ever have the pleasure to. He is very confident, experienced, has great social skills with other dogs and people and is a true gentleman. This would appear to have come naturally to him. Nero, will be Copper in a few year’s time. He needs some more practice and guidance, but he has been reared in much the same way as Copper, with steadiness and consistency. He is naturally a little more inclined to do his own thing than Copper is, and doesn’t always respond the way Jeannine, his owner, wants him to.

Jeannine is an airline pilot, I’ll explain why that’s relevant in moment. The issues with Nero are that he tends not to settle when people come into the house, as he wants to say hello and he has a habit of running up to people in the park (he doesn’t jump up) also to say hello. I explained to Jeannine why he is doing this, and when we changed how he is being reinforced, when he is being reinforced and by whom, we very quickly changed his behaviour to something which was more acceptable for us.

During the first session in the park, I did the majority of the handling, as Jeannine had her delightful baby girl (who clapped every time I said “good boy!” to Nero), so she could have a clear picture in her mind of what we were looking for. I reinforced Nero for calmer behaviour with food, praise and the continued opportunity to play and explore every time he did something I liked, which was either waiting, recalling or sitting. As the session continued, Jeannine gave the cues and I reinforced the behaviour.

About 40 minutes in, Jeannine observed that Nero was responding to me much better than he usually responded to her. My response to Jeannine was ” But I would expect that, because I don’t know how to fly a plane”. This is a strategy I’ve adopted to make clients feel better, as often the remark is made by clients that their dog responds better to me than to them. Initially, and until recently, I’ve put it down to the fact that I have handled and trained dogs for years, my timing is better than novice dog handlers, and I am better at reading body language and predicting dogs’ behaviour. This is true, but it’s not the whole story.

When a dog lives with a novice handler/trainer (and I would put very many owners into that category, as it has to do with training experience rather than ownership experience) the reinforcement history can be very sketchy. The dog’s behaviour is sometimes reinforced, some times not, sometimes punished and sometimes not. The result of this is that the dog either consistently tries behaviour which works for him (very often the ones we don’t want) and doesn’t reliably perform others (very often the ones we do want).

On the other hand, when I meet a client for the first time with their dog, I am starting with a clean slate and I write my own history with the dog, with no reference to anything else. This leads very quickly to the dog trusting that when I act in a certain way, and he responds, his behaviour will either be reinforced or not. Because there is no history, the dog has not point of reference other than the limited experience with me, which is very clear (hopefully).

The point of this is that I can learn to fly a plane, given enough time, commitment and effort. We can all try to wipe the slate clean with ours dogs, and start building a new relationship built on consistency and trust.

In my next blog, I’ll talk more about how to build this trust and the things we can do, inadvertently, to damage this trust, which can lead to further frustration in both human and the dog and a further breakdown of trust.

Canine Social Superstars – part 1

Our lifestyles with ours dogs have changed over the last 40 years and subsequently, the way we breed, rear, train and live with our dogs has changed also. Much of what I’m posting here I’ve learned from the work of John Rogerson, Ian Dunbar and Stanley Coren as well as my own experience and interpretation.

Breeding – I grew up in a large new town outside of Glasgow. Living conditions were good and although we had housing estates they were not the same as the ones in the inner cities of Glasgow, London or Birmingham. As a child, I remember peoples’ pet dogs roaming around the streets. They were generally let out in the morning, would potter about and come home at dinner time to be fed. Of the dog’s I remember from my childhood, they were mainly collie-type mixed breeds. I do remember a few pedigree dogs, mostly terriers, a Dalamtian called Nick (who we knew better than to try to pet) and the Italian guy who owned the local chippie (fish and chip shop to non UK readers) who had a huge wolf sable German Shepherd called Lupo. The mixed breed dogs bred naturally as the bitches selected which dogs they wanted to mate with and, although I didn’t know it at the time, choose the big strapping lads with good bone structure and good temperament. Ian Dunbar’s PhD work investigated this among other things. He observed that a bitch would happily pal around with one or two dogs throughout the year but when she came into season, she wanted nothing to do with her pals and would seek the attention of the stronger, more stable dogs. She chose which dog to mate with. After her season ended, she would happily make up with her friends.

Breeding is now done by the breeders. Pedigree dogs are bred, not always for profit as the main goal but often so and professional show breeders often breed for looks which conform to a breed standard and not primarily for temperament. My opinion is that this is the wrong way round, as the majority of these dogs end up as pets and not show dogs. As a result, temperament suffers and we no longer the same amount of puppies which are suitable as family pets. The spaying and neutering programme which has been hugely encouraged has not stopped the flow of unwanted dogs into rescue centres and shelters. It’s just the dogs in there now are mainly pedigree dogs and have more training and behaviour issues due to poor temperament and owner lifestyle than they did before.

Rearing – 40 years ago couples got a dog after they were married and had a child or two. Dad would work, Mum stayed at home and looked after the kids. She would put the kids out to school (we used to walk to school then, in all weathers) and Mum would then walk the dog (which they had been given by the neighbour whose bitch had a litter) down to the local shopping centre where the dog would be left outside (not always tied up) while she did the shopping. As a result of this, the dog got used to being ignored in the house as other things were going on, got used to being outside walking, got used to being left on its own both inside and outside and got plenty of exercise and got used to greeting people (or not) off leash. Mum got back to the house and the dog was let out into the street where is romped around with other dogs so it learned to play with other dogs properly and with natural body language and communication. Dog fights were rare ( I never saw one) and bites were almost unheard of (I can vaguely remember Nick the Dalamation snapping at someone before we could tell them not to touch him).

So, because of the above, dogs were well exercised, had daily stimulation and play and were well socialised with people and dogs. It is different now. In many cases these days, couples move in together and buy a pedigree dog, perhaps simply because they like the look of it, perhaps because they have heard about certain breeds of dog being more adaptive to a modern lifestyle, and perhaps because they have not yet contemplated children. The dog now spends loads of time in doors by itself as they are both working. They come home from a day’s work, tired. If they do take the dog out, it’s either round the block on the leash while they talk on their mobile phone or their pedigree dog (insert breed but think Husky for the sake of this discussion) gets driven to the park where it is let off to play freely without any human interaction or intervention or structured play and training and then driven back home again, sufficiently energised to wing off the walls and torment the daylights out of them for the remainder of the evening.
Happy dogsNot every owner or every breeder behaves like this b in general terms, these things have changed the way our dogs behave.

In part two I’ll discuss how keeping our dogs on leash, how we heat our house and changing general attitudes in society have influenced our dogs’ behaviour.

BATting with Reggie

I attended Grisha Stewart’s Behaviour Adjustment Training (BAT) seminar last weekend. I have been using BAT both on it’s own and in conjunction with other behaviour modification methods since I read Pat Miller’s article on the subject in the Whole Dog Journal in 2010. Since I was first made aware of BAT, I’ve also used elements of it in working with clients and there dogs. The weekend was excellent, loads of new information and I got to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while and meet some new contacts too.

The basic premise of BAT is that it uses functional rewards. These are things which the environment offers rather than we offer such as the feeling of relief a scared dog experiences when a dog it is frightened of goes further away or the chance to play with another dog or sniff the grass. From Grisha’s website, Grisha defines BAT as

“Behavior Adjustment Training, or BAT, rehabilitates dog reactivity by looking at why the dog is reactive and helping him or her meet his needs in other ways. In a nutshell, BAT is a dog-friendly application of ‘functional analysis’ that gives the dogs a chance to learn to control their own comfort level through peaceful means. It’s very empowering to your dog, in a good way.”

Eager to put my new found knowledge into practice, I had a session with Reggie, the adolescent Boxer, the following week. Reggie is a great dog, very typical of a Boxer at his age. He is eager to please, super friendly with people but can lack manners in greeting other dogs. He is very keen to meet other dogs but pulls on the leash to get to them (and this isn’t always possible) so much so that he has ripped his pads a few times against the ground and is now starting to show signs of frustration when he doesn’t get to other dogs quick enough or he doesn’t get to greet them at all.

We met at a great park where I know loads of the owners and their dogs, so I was able to choose appropriate dogs for us to work with. We made some really good progress and it took us about 20 minutes until Reggie was able to approach the fenced in area where there was another dog playing (here in the UK we are extremely fortunate that we can let our dogs off leash in public parks and aren’t limited to using dog parks, but some parks do have fully enclosed dog parks also).

We were about 40 minutes into our session when we met Evan who is about a year old. On speaking to Evan’s owner, he told me that he had adopted Evan from the Dog’s Trust a couple of months earlier. Even is a mixed breed about the size of a Labrador. Evan was also a canine social superstar. His communication skills were among the best I’ve ever seen from a dog. Evan gave Reggie enough signals to convey to him that he needed to approach with a bit less energy than Reggie was accustomed to. It also helped that we had been “BATting” Reggie for about 40 minutes at this point.

Reggie greeted Evan from a side angle, they did their “butt sniffing” dance and then Evan invited Reggie to play by bowing and then skipping away, asking for Reggie to follow. Reggie duly obliged but at about 100mph and with as much restraint as a child in a sweet shop. Evan immediately told Reggie that this level of energy wasn’t acceptable by stopping running and sniffing the ground, which is a calming signal for both dogs.  You could almost hear Reggie thinking

“What happened there, I thought we were playing?”

Reggis started sniffing the ground too. As soon as he did this, Evan bowed again and skipped off, telling Reggie the game was back on. Reggie responded but went straight to 30,000ft and Evan responded by ending the game as before. Reggie calmed down after a few seconds and you could almost hear Evan thinking

“Will we try this again and see if you understand the rules this time?”

Reggie then played but with much less intensity as before. When dogs play chases, they usually take turns chasing and being chased. Some dogs like being chased but if they do, you can usually tell by relaxed body language and not a panicked look in it’s eyes. If you seen this from your dog when it is being chased or when your dog is chasing another, you need to intervene and stop the chase as it is no longer fun for the “chasee”.

At this point, Reggie stopped chasing Evan, bowed very slightly and then hopped off with Evan chasing him. Real progress. They then played for several minutes and I asked Bryan, Reggie’s owner to call him a couple of times during this time and then release him to go and play with Evan again, so Reggie was still paying attention to him. The whole exchange from initially seeing Evan and Reggie bowing to Evan took less than three minutes. It was a joy to watch, and I wish I had my video camera with me so I could have captured it.

It took us about 40 minutes for Reggie to begin to understand what the rules were when we were trying to teach him. Evan did it in about 3 minutes. We don’t always have superstars like Evan available, but we can use them when they appear. Other than that, the 40 minutes it took Reggie the first time will become 30 minutes before long and when he really understands the rules of what we are trying to teach him, will quickly take less than 10 minutes, then 5 and before we know it and with enough practice, will become his normal behaviour. It’s worth it for Reggie’s sake, for the sake of our own joints so we aren’t getting our shoulders and backs hurt and for other dogs and owners because we owe it to them to raise and teach a sociable dog.

Reggie enjoying his Kong after training
Reggie enjoying his Kong after training

When reinforcing growling is not only acceptable, but desirable

Yesterday, I had a consultation with Rosemary and her 4 year old terrier Jasper. Jasper has had significant health problems for his whole life. He has a spinal defect on the lower part of his back, which causes very stiff movement. He has developed cataracts in one of his eyes over the last few months and from what I saw yesterday, he doesn’t see too well from his good eye either. He’s also reactive to other dogs.

Rosemary is realistic about how much I was able to do for Jasper, and every now and then a dog like wee Jasper comes along and really tests my abilities and powers of lateral thinking. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “threshold”, it refers to the distance at which a reactive dog will react to the stimulus in the environment which she doesn’t like. For example, if your dog as reactive to other dogs, she might be non reactive if the dog is 30 feet away, and only react if the other dog comes within 25 feet. In this case, 25 feet would be the threshold distance.

In the case of Jasper, because his eyesight is so poor, the other dog is well within his threshold distance by the time he knows it’s there, which means in most cases, as soon as he can see or smell the other dog, it’s already far closer than he is comfortable with and he then barks and lunges at the other dog.

Usually when I’m working with reactive, I do my best to work sub-threshold, so the dog I’m working with can see the other dog but the distance is enough that he doesn’t react. We then reinforce (reward) more appropriate behaviours such as looking away, sniffing the ground, tongue flicking or looking back at us, all of which the dog uses to calm himself or try to displace what he is feeling.

Because I couldn’t do this with Jasper, I allowed him to approach the other dog and the instant he recognised the presence of the other dog and growled, I verbally praised him with a “Good boy” and walked away. Here, the sense of relief the dog is feeling from being away from the other dog is rewarding so we can use this relief to reinforce the growl. Why would I want to reinforce Jasper growling at the other dog? the answer is because it’s not a lunge, snap or bark. The growl is the first behaviour Jasper is offering me that lets me know he’s uncomfortable but it is considerably less intense that behaviours he usually offers.

If we do this time and again, Jasper is than far more likely to growl rather than lunge and snap. As his confidence increases, he will become less growly and we can then start reinforcing less intense growling with the ultimate aim being him not growling at all.

If your dog can’t do what you’re asking or wanting him to do, reinforce something he does which is in some way, even a tiny amount, more appropriate or more approximate to the behaviour you want. It’ll work wonders.

Dog whispering in the 21st century by Prescott Breeden

The following is an essay written by Prescott Breeden who is a certified dog trainer specialising in behaviour in Seattle. All the work is his and I have reproduced it here. Full credit for this essay goes to Mr Breeden. it is a well researched article which needs to be shared and read.

The original link is

Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” is undeniably popular and commercially successful, however his methods that rely on provocation and dominance have been controversial in the world of dog training and among dog owners. Conversation about his techniques is a very incendiary topic that brings out the strongest passions in both dog trainers and owners alike. Opinions are usually extremely polarized and often the conversation provokes individuals into a rage of character attacks—whether they are aimed at Millan, his supporters, or his critics. I am not here to talk about character; I am here to talk about the science of applied animal behavior and why there is such vast dissension on the topic.

Road Map

This is an atypical essay for the casual reader in so much as it is not really intended for casual reading. Due to the nature of this topic and the plethora of essays that have proceeded my own, I have decided to present the science in a little more unusual detail. I believe that one of the reasons for so much dissension regarding the topic of dominance and training methods is that they are typically dumbed-down to a level that is casual—the belief being that the average reader is not educated enough to be given the marrow of the subject. The issue with casual discussion is that it invites casual counterarguments that usually have no support in the academic literature, turning the conversation into a cartoon of “you’re wrong” “no you’re wrong.” Personally, I believe people are incredibly intelligent and if we hope to raise the understanding of dog behavior with dog owners then we need to spend more time teaching the complexities. The language in this article is no different than what you would find in the academic literature, thus in the hopes that I do not lose anybody, I want to give a brief overview of some terminology to come.

View slideshow: Darwin’s drawings

In the terminology section below, I have laid out six terms: five that may be new to many readers (agonistic behavior, intraspecific, dyad, phenotype, and phylogenetic), and one that is as sticky and overused as ‘dominance’ (aggression). I will get to dominance in a later section, however I want to take a moment to explain why I will be using the term “aggression” as minimally as possible.

I spent months looking for a definition of aggression in dogs, and as it turns out, it is essentially still undefined (Miklosi, 2008, p. 172). There is a great debate between the “lumpers” and the “splitters” and attempts to create a unification of one definition have not yet been successful (Houpt, 2006). One author categorized aggression into 12 different types (Beaver, 1983) but then later re-categorized those into 15 various types with as many as 21 different subtypes (Beaver, 2009, Box 4-1). It is impossible to have a general scientific discussion about an idea that requires so many various definitions depending on context.

John Paul Scott, a founding member of the Animal Behavior Society and prolific author, said this about aggression:

Aggression is a poor scientific term and chiefly functions as a convenient handle to relate phenomena described in more objective terms to practical human problems. What we are really concerned with is agonistic behavior, a behavioral system composed of behavior patterns having the common function of adaptation to situations involving physical conflict between members of the same species. We cannot analyze fighting behavior without also studying the alternate behavior patterns of escape, threat, “freezing”, defensive posture, dominance and subordination, etc. (Scott, 1966)


Agonistic Behavior: any behavior associated with conflict between two individuals

Aggression: a physical act* by one individual that reduces the freedom or genetic fitness of another (Wilson, E.O., 1975)

*As JP Scott said, aggression is generally a poor scientific term, so for the purposes of this essay I have limited the definition to try and avoid confusion. For more definitions, see references (Ramirez & Andreu, 2006; Houpt, 2006; Beaver, 2009).

Intraspecific: arising or occurring within a species; involving the members of one species

Dyad: pair; two individuals maintaining a socially significant relationship

Phenotype: set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment (i.e. traits such as morphology, development, physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior)

Phylogenetic: evolutionary development and diversification of a species or group of organisms, or of a particular feature of an organism.

Criticizing the “Dog Whisperer”: Getting Through the Polarization

The largest opposition to Millan’s techniques comes from animal behaviorists (individuals with PhDs typically in psychology, ethology, zoology, or biology) and positive trainers. These professionals employ methods that rely on avoiding confrontation, reinforcing desired behavior, and changing negative associations that are typically the cause of undesirable reactive and agonistic behaviors. Their criticisms of Millan’s methods are often dismissed as jealousy of his financial success. The problem with this argument is that anyone who works in animal welfare (which is the role of any dog trainer) is not in a financially lucrative field, and so professionals who choose a career with animals are not governed by financial motivation. It would be the same as arguing that a child welfare worker had an issue with a television show that demonstrated methods for intimidating children in school simply because they are jealous of their income. Ninety per cent of dog professionals earn less than fifty-six thousand dollars a year[1]. If financial success was a motivation for criticism among scientists and professionals, than we would see other individuals with highly lucrative incomes being attacked and criticized as well; however, the debate is always focused on these specific training techniques with no correlation to the money earned by the individual(s) utilizing the techniques. Millan earns significantly more money than the Monks of New Skete, however the techniques employed by both (which are very similar; involving provocative confrontation and dominance) are criticized equally. Millan comes up more as a topic because he has been popularized through media exposure.

Millan’s perception from his television show has placed a very unique spin on the issue of polarized opinion. There is no denying that he is selling products—books, collars, apparel, and pack leader training DVDs[2]—Millan has gained immense credibility by his presence on television, far more credibility than if he had only written books. Not only does television create publicity from a non-company source (in this case, National Geographic), but it biologically creates strong learning associations in the brain due to the neurological characteristics of the number of pathways in which the messages travel (Tavassoli, 1998; Stammerjohan et al., 2005). This combines with a very normal human phenomenon of dismissing new information that doesn’t conform to a pre-existing understanding (i.e. is contradictive) because it is threatening to their world-view (Nyhan & Reifler, 2011). Thus, criticizing Millan’s training techniques can cause an individual to react defensively or even aggressively towards the information, even though the criticism was neither directed at them nor was incriminating of their views and opinions. It is important for everyone to take a step back and realize that no one is born knowing the universe, and education is something that happens for a lifetime. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the life-long attempt to acquire it.” If we stop striving to understand the biological mechanisms of behavior beyond our current understanding, than our beliefs become cultism, not science.

This goes for both dominance trainers and positive trainers.

Holly and the “Showdown”

Recently, Nat Geo Wild released a trailer for the final season of The Dog Whisperer called “Showdown with Holly”[3]. In this video, Millan shows the owners of a yellow lab (Holly) how they should handle her resource guarding. In short, Millan instigates Holly to react defensively by intimidating her with hard eye contact (a threat signal to dogs) and crowding her physical space while she is trying to eat from her food bowl. After causing her to react defensively, Millan strikes her in the neck with what he calls “the claw” or a touch correction “designed to simulate the mouth and teeth of a mother dog or a more dominant dog” (Millan & Peltier, 2007, p. 48). He is always very clear that these are never hits; however, if you watch the video in slow motion, he clearly strikes her hard in the neck with the narrow side of his flat hand. You might not think much of this except that when force is a constant, pressure increases when you reduce surface area. Thus instead of dispersing the contact points across the diameter of this hand, he creates a focus point of contact approximately at his knuckle. This increases the sensation of the contact (which to a soft part of the neck is a fancy way to avoid saying increases the amount of pain).

Ethically, this is inexcusable to broadcast around the world. The general population is not educated enough in behavior science to understand the vast number of problems that can arise with trying to implement this training style which is nothing more than antiquated abuse (Jensen, 2007, p. 138). It does not matter how many times a disclaimer reads, “do not try this at home” because people do, and there are an estimated 4.5 to 4.7 million dog bites every year that are directly related to the approach people use to change major behavior problems (Sacks et al.,1996; Herron et al., 2009; Yin, 2011)—as demonstrated by Millan in the video, who was bitten very hard creating a puncture wound with significant bleeding.

Behaviorally, there are several concerns with the claw or a bite-mimic. Foremost, there are both qualitative and quantitative differences in how an inhibited bite is performed by mothers towards their pups. Some mothers are gentler in their approach and others seem more aggressive; however, mothers that use less aggressive corrective behavior with their pups appear to develop stronger social bonds with their offspring (Wilsson, 1984).

Ultimately, humans lack the morphological and hormonal traits required to reproduce maternal behavior towards a puppy and thus using occasionally observed maternal behavior as support for a highly confrontational technique on a broad scale is behaviorally flawed. Confrontational methods which involve pain, fear and intimidation increase the probability of owners being bitten by their dogs, damage the owner-dog relationship, and decrease a dog’s willingness and ability to obey commands (Weiss & Glazer, 1975; Reisner, 1994; Hiby et al., 2004; Schilder & van der Borg, 2004; Herron et al., 2009; Beaver, 2009; Arhant et al., 2010; Rooney & Cowan, 2011). Not only do we lack an understanding of which degree of corrective maternal behavior, in all of its wide variance, actually produces the best offspring but it is also impossible for us to physically replicate the jaws and teeth of an obligate carnivore and swift strikes with our fingers can teach dogs to be fearful of hands—another significant factor for dog bites (Rosado et al., 2009).

What most Millan supporters fail to appreciate is that these techniques have a significantly lower rate of success as opposed to systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning employed by Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists and positive trainers. Biting is just one behavioral outcome during agonistic behavior, and one of the primary reasons why well-socialized dogs bite people is that we do not respond to their other agonistic signals. If a dog is attempting to peacefully resolve a conflict with us and we ignore their attempt to ask us for space, they will be forced to respond defensively. Pushed to the limit, most animals will resort to aggression in a moment when withdrawal is not an option (e.g. attempting to force ‘submission’). Occasionally, the removal of withdrawal in a conflict will flood a dog into a state of learned helplessness and they will shut down—causing a state of severe emotional depression and psychological stress no different than PTSD-like symptoms in humans (Seligman, 1972); however, with other dogs, it simply suppresses warning signals creating dogs who bite without warning. It is difficult to predict which outcome will happen—which in any case, neither is good—so through research, behaviorists have learned alternate ways of addressing the same behavior while limiting the risk of escalating symptoms, suppressing warning signals, creating psychological trauma, or damaging the human-canine bond. Intraspecific agonistic behavior is adaptively significant behavior designed to prevent injury in social animals, however as owners, we frequently view signals intended to keep the peace as hostile acts. By doing so, we naturally escalate the behavior right at the point where it would be easiest to fix with systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning.

What is always shocking to me is that Millan gets bitten a lot. Regardless of methods, which can be argued until people are blue in the face, if Millan knew how to read the visual signals of canine body language he would not be bitten so frequently. Because pathological aggression is rare, a dog has usually been provoked in some fashion whenever he or she bites—typically inadvertently—and the most common response when this happens is, “I did not see that coming.”

The Problems with Error Cues and Contradictive Information

Positive trainers are not devoid of fault in failing to help dog owners understand the problems with colloquial dominance, frequently making statements to the effect of “dominance is a myth”[4] and trying to throw this messy, sticky, and complex concept out the window because of trainers who use a complete misapplication of dominance to support their abusive methods. First, this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater and goes against the terminology used in an unquantifiable amount of behavioral research on social behavior in animals. Second, the concept of dominance is not going to “go away” by pretending it is a myth when it is one of the oldest principles of ethology—even if it is rampantly misused by its colloquial misunderstanding. Third, dog trainers are teachers for both dogs and their owners, and being a good teacher requires building a student’s confidence (something Millan does extremely well). Telling people they are “wrong” (an error cue) when they mistakenly misapply the concept and believe “Muffy is biting the mailman because she thinks she is dominant,” is very punishing. Error cues damage self-confidence and produce weaker learning (Tzetzis et al., 2008), so modifying information is a more effective teaching tool in general than being dismissive and contradictive. Dominance is complicated; it is thoroughly discussed in the literature; and you cannot take 80 years of research and throw it out the window because you do not understand it.

What is Dominance?

When trying to find common ground to expand a concept, definitions are essential. We cannot go anywhere without accurately defining what we are talking about. Irwin Bernstein, a primatologist, wrote perhaps one of the most comprehensive and influential essays on dominance called “The Baby and the Bathwater.” In my research for this essay, which encompassed hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and various ethology textbooks over the course of several months, I have not found anything that defines it so eloquently.

The concept of dominance is used in the behavioral and biological sciences to describe outcomes in a variety of competitive interactions. In some groups, a history of agonistic encounters among individuals modifies the course of future agonistic encounters such that the existence of a certain type of relationship can be inferred. (Bernstein, 1981)

The Bathwater

  1. Dominance is not an inheritable trait, therefore an animal cannot be ‘dominant’ in the same way that you can say an animal has brown eyes (Bernstein, 1981).

No animal is born dominant. They are born with phenotypes that will produce teeth, coloration, size, strength, etc. The product of these traits and others (such as temperament), paired with another animal’s individual phenotypical characteristics, will promote an outcome during a dyadic agonistic interaction. Dominance is not an individual trait, rather a reflection of the agonistic relationship between two individuals that can vary over time depending on the context (Fatjo et al.,2007).

  1. Dominance relationships are not dependent on the presence of a social hierarchy (Hinde, 1978).

Because the nature of dominance is about a dyadic relationship, you can accept its existence without implying agonistic dominance rank hierarchies as well. There is tremendous variance in the way animals form both social hierarchies and agonistic relationships; so, to assume that they must be reflections of the same proximal, evolutionary, functional, and developmental causes is not supported in the literature. In wolves, social hierarchies are created largely due to ecological conditions (such as abundance of food, local competition, size of prey, etc.) whereas agonistic relationships are largely a product of temperament, learning, and proximity. Even if an animal has the phylogenetic capacity to develop a social hierarchy—which some dogs may not (Ha, 2011)—they still have to meet the correct environmental conditions for the behavior to emerge (Udell et al., 2010).

  1. Dominance is not a motivation (Bradshaw et al., 2009).

Agonistic behavior is highly dependent on the context of the resource. One dog might love bones but have no interest in toys while the other loves toys but has no interest in bones. The majority of the agonistic behavior seen between these dogs is dependent on both the perceived value of the item as well as phenotypical characteristics (e.g. size, strength, weaponry, etc.) to determine the motivation for fighting between both animals (Choi et al., 2011). The motivation is the perceived value of the resource, not achieving a rank.

Obligate carnivores are powerful and capable of killing and dismembering an animal with ease, including each other (Polis, 1981); therefore intraspecific aggression is not adaptively significant for survival and inappropriate aggression is usually selected out of wild populations due to adaptive pressures (Lorenz, 1966; Schaller, 1972; Brown, 1975). Survival among such potentially dangerous predators that prefer living in tightly knit groups is dependent on the ability to avoid conflict (Pierce & Bekoff, 2012). Dogs have evolved to utilize a host of agonistic behaviors that have this conflict avoiding purpose. Unfortunately, these go unrecognized by humans or are interpreted incorrectly as dominance (McConnell, 2002). The function of many agonistic behaviors (e.g. looking away, avoidance, play bow, etc.) is to terminate aggression from a social member (Bernstein, 1981). To mistake the desire in our dogs to peacefully resolve a conflict as an attempt to become dominant is extremely damaging to the trust that guides that relationship.


Short list of behaviors seen during agonistic encounters in dogs (Scott & Fuller, 1965, Table 3.1; McGreevy et al., 2012)

  • Avoidance
  • Bare teeth (snarling)
  • Biting*
  • Body shake
  • Chasing
  • Crouching
  • Ears back
  • Ears forward
  • Excitement bark
  • Frustration bark
  • Warning growl
  • Head and neck roll
  • Lick lips
  • Look away
  • Pawing
  • Pilo-erection (hackles up)
  • Play bow
  • Play growl
  • Prance
  • Relaxed gaze into face
  • Rolling on back
  • Running away
  • Sitting
  • Snapping teeth
  • Stalk
  • Stare
  • Submission grin
  • Tail wag
  • Tail high (flag tail)
  • Tail between legs
  • Whine
  • Yelping and showing teeth


*Note that biting is only one of 32 behaviors on this very short list; a comprehensive list would fill a thesis paper for a PhD candidate.

Visual Body Language: Dogs and Wolves

Unfortunately, understanding the complexity of any language is not as simple as memorizing a definition. Recognizing the context is imperative when it comes to reading body language correctly—without the right context it is easy to make mistakes. All of these behaviors are commonly seen during other types of interactions (such as play), however the context of the behavior is just as important as the inflection and tone we use with our voice when we try to discern meaning in a sentence. “Your son is special” vs “your son is special” vs “your son is, special” all mean slightly different things (and you might even be offended by the latter) even though the words are identical between them. We can turn a compliment into a sarcastic insult purely by modifying which word(s) we emphasize (i.e. the context of the sentence).

Analyzing the visual language of the domestic dog dates back to Charles Darwin, nearly 100 years before any biologists began studying wolf behavior in captivity. Darwin’s theory of antithesis was the beginning of our understanding of agonistic behavior; his theory was that animals in opposite states of mind perform movements directly opposite in nature (Darwin, 1872). A dog responding to a threat of an object approaching from a distance [Figure 1] in contrast to the behavior expressed as soon as it recognized it was their owner [Figure 2]. The original context of Darwin’s drawings is that they demonstrate how these signals readily change as the context changes—the motivation for the behaviors are not to ‘be’ dominant or ‘be’ subordinate rather they impart intention and the behavior in Figure 2 is a highly prosocial behavior that is key to building strong social bonds with companions.

[Figure 1]

(See Slideshow)

Hackles up, back arched, ears forward, tail up, head down

[Figure 2]

(See Slideshow)

Hackles down, back inverted, ears back, tail down, head up

Holly and her Appeasement

In the “Showdown,” Holly gives Millan about ten different signals to ask him for space and avoid conflict. If you watch it in slow motion you will notice all of the following agonistic behaviors: avoidance, crouching/hunkering, ears back, warning growl, snarling, lick lips, look away, relaxed gaze into face, sitting, and snapping teeth. She gives him an abundant amount of information saying, “please give me space,” until eventually, the pressure is built up to a point where she gives an eleventh agonistic behavior and bites him.

Previous to the bite, Millan says that he had never seen those behaviors before in her, that he was “seeing them for the first time.” His approach to her behavior problem—which mind you was nothing more than run of the mill resource guarding—was causing her symptoms to escalate. If you hired me to fix your gutter because you had a leak, but instead of fixing the gutter I put a hole in your roof, you would have me in civil court in a heartbeat.

After the bite, Millan says, “I didn’t see that coming.” To be fair, once in a while a professional will encounter a dog with very little warning signs and get caught off guard. This was not that case. Holly gave him more warnings than I have ever seen a dog give under such immense provocation; even after he strikes her in the neck she still displays more signals asking to be given space and terminate the conflict before resorting to a bite.

Aggression and Dominance

Psychological stress is far more potent than physical harm (albeit physical harm always has a negative psychological by-product), and methods involving confrontation are dangerous in the response they can evoke. Behaviors included in confrontational methods are: leash corrections, muzzling, choke and prong collars, forced released of items from a dog’s mouth, alpha rolling, force downs, kneeing dogs in chest for jumping, hitting or kicking dogs, grabbing jowls or scruffs, dominance downs, neck jabs, shock collars, bark-activated shock collars, rubbing a dog’s nose in house accidents, yelling, “tsst” or “schhhtt”, stare down, water pistol or spray bottle, forced exposure, and growling at a dog. These methods produce aggressive responses from dogs as much as 43% of the time that they are employed by pet owners (Herron et al., 2009). What is particularly frustrating is that aggressive behavior in response to these types of methods, typically due to pain or fear, is quickly labeled dominance-aggression and dogs are often euthanized as a result when attempting to instill ‘submission’ doesn’t work (Sherman et al., 1996). Millan says, “Powerful dogs in the red zone have caused severe bites and even deaths. Most of the time, these are dominant dogs whose owners can’t handle them” (Millan & Peltier, 2006, p. 147-148). When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like nails.

Status-seeking or Group-seeking?

The pervasive damage done by the ideology of dominance as a trait is often supported with the concept of dogs being status-seekers. As I mentioned earlier, dominance and rank are not synonymous. A dominant-subordinate relationship is capable of predicting the outcome of an agonistic interaction based on a history of observations between two individuals. Rank, however, is subject to other factors beyond a single dyad and is influenced heavily by group dynamics (such as intraspecific alliances—not many kids get beaten up at school when they have an alliance with the Rugby team).

Millan and other dominance-based trainers maintain the idea that not only are dogs born dominant or submissive, but also that they are naturally motivated to achieve a higher rank—especially if there is an ineffective leader (Millan & Peltier, 2006, p. 3, 27, 113, 139, 168, 230, 242, 247-248). The idea behind this is a misperception of evolutionary motivation.

Evolutionary selective pressures cannot select for relationships such as heavier than, taller than, smarter than, or more dominant than. Evolutionary selective pressures cannot operate on the relative contents of social contexts favoring one individual over another. Genes lie in the individual and not in the space between individuals. Genes influence the absolute and not the relative properties of attributes. Dominance, as a relationship between individuals, is not an absolute property of an individual, but an outcome influenced by multiple properties of individuals. (Bernstein, 1981)

The more we learn about social behavior in animals, the more we realize that social animals evolve away from conflict, not towards it. Prosocial behaviors like cooperation, fairness, reciprocity, empathy, trust, consolation, and altruism are a central driving force of evolution; not dominance (Pierce & Bekoff, 2012). It is—and has always been—a dangerous world, and species that are prosocial and cooperate for protection and food gathering are more successful. One of the most important factors in developing cooperation and reciprocity in a relationship is through a play atmosphere where animals learn the rights and wrongs (i.e. morals) of social interactions, motivated to keep play lasting longer by inhibiting their bites, playing nice, self-handicapping, etc. (Jensen, 2007).

Enlisting the Help of a Professional

It is absolutely imperative that if you have a dog with major behavioral issues that you seek aprofessional who is experienced with reading body language and understands the importance and science of positive methods. If you hire a person like Millan who cannot recognize the difference between threats and conciliation (or worse believes that the signals themselves have dominance characteristics) then you will be unable to gain the trust needed to build a better bond with your dog. Leadership is about communication, not dominance, and trust is the foundation of every sentient and gregarious being’s social relationship. It is the foundation of what dictates our ability to communicate and to share a life of cooperation instead of confrontation. You cannot build trust by striking, kicking, and intimidating: only fear.

Dog Bites

These are not safe tools, and with Cesar hitting mainstream media, dog bites are on the rise both in the U.S and other countries. Hospital admissions due to dog bites have risen 59% in some areas (Newman et al., 2010) since his episodes began airing. Television is consistently listed as the source of information where an owner learned to attempt a technique that resulted in their dog becoming aggressive towards them or biting them (Herron et al., 2009).

It is undeniable that Millan has created a highly appealing explanation and philosophy for understanding dog behavior. Before I began studying applied animal behavior, I was Millan’s biggest fan—read all of his books, watched his show, and could not understand why my uncle (a veterinarian) called him a quack. His pontifications are a call to arms, to step up, to be a leader. It is immensely empowering to listen to and read. He takes the romanticism behind the concept of the dog whisperer and tells the world that they can do it too; that as long as anyone steps up to be a leader, behavior problems disappear.

However, dogs do not read poetry, and Millan’s dangerous and abusive methods ignore 80 years of research in animal behavior. The references below are from more than a half-century of PhD-level research in psychology, behavioral neuroscience, applied animal behavior, ethology, and zoology. Cesar Millan is “self-taught.” The arithmetic is really pretty simple.

Recommended Reading and Viewing:

Marc Bekoff, PhD, an evolutionary biologist and a pioneer in the field of animal behavior, emotions and cognition, has written excellent blogs on the subject of dominance and on Millan after he strangled a husky on national television

James Ha, PhD, CAAB, a certified applied animal behaviorist and one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, wrote an excellent blog on Millan’s dangerous methodsand you can watch his interview on Komo4 news

Ian Dunbar, PhD, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, talks about the “Mickey Mouse” version of dominance in traditional dog training

Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB, a certified applied animal behaviorist and a brilliant writer. Her book “The Other End of the Leash, Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs” (McConnell, 2002) is an absolute must read for gaining insight to human and canine body language as well as understanding dominance in both primates and canines. Be sure to check out her excellent blogas well.


References (alphabetical)


Arhant, C., Bubna-Littitz, H., Bartels, A., Futschik, A., & Troxler, J. (2010). Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science123(3-4), 131–142. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2010.01.003

Beaver, B. V. (1983). Clinical classification of canine aggression. Applied animal ethology10(1), 35–43.

Beaver, B. V. G. (2009). Canine behavior: insights and answers. St. Louis, Mo.: Saunders/Elsevier.

Bernstein, I.S. (1981). Dominance: The baby and the bathwater. J Behav Brain Sci 4:419-57.

Brown, J. L. (1975). The evolution of behavior. New York: Norton.

Choi, D., Kim, K.-H., & Jang, Y. (2011). Agonistic interactions between nymphs of Lycorma delicatula (Hemiptera: Fulgoridae). Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology14(1), 21–25. doi:10.1016/j.aspen.2010.11.010

Darwin, C. R. 1872. The expression of the emotions in man and animals. London: John Murray. 1st edition.

Fatjó, J., Feddersen-Petersen, D., Ruiz de la Torre, J. L., Amat, M., Mets, M., Braus, B., & Manteca, X. (2007). Ambivalent signals during agonistic interactions in a captive wolf pack. Applied Animal Behaviour Science105(4), 274–283. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2006.11.009

Ha, Jim. (2011) Behavioral Genetics. DVD, TawzerDog. Retrieved October 6, 2012, from–Jim-Ha-.php

Houpt, K. A. (2006). Terminology Think Tank: Terminology of aggressive behavior. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research1(1), 39–41. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2006.04.006

Herron, M. E., Shofer, F. S., & Reisner, I. R. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science117(1-2), 47–54. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011

Hiby, E. F., Rooney, N. J., & Bradshaw, J. W. S. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare13(1), 63–70.

Hinde, R. A. (1978). Dominance and role—two concepts with dual meanings. Journal of Social and Biological Structures1(1), 27–38.

Jensen, P. (2007). The Behavioural Biology of Dogs: (First.). CABI.

Lorenz, K. (1966). On aggression. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

McConnell, P. (2002). The Other End of the Leash (1st ed.). Ballantine Books.

McGreevy, P. D., Starling, M., Branson, N. J., Cobb, M. L., & Calnon, D. (2012). An overview of the dog–human dyad and ethograms within it. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research7(2), 103–117. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2011.06.001

Miklósi, Á. (2008). Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition. Oxford University Press.

Millan, C., & Peltier, M. J. (2006). Cesar’s Way. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Millan, C., & Peltier, M. J. (2007). Be the pack leader: use Cesar’s way to transform your dog– and your life. New York: Harmony Books.

Newman J, Westgarth C, Pinchbeck G, Dawson S, Morgan K, & Christley R. (2010). Systematic review of human-directed dog aggression. The Veterinary record166(13).

Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2011). Opening the Political Mind. The effects of self-affirmation and graphical information on factual misperceptions. Retrieved from

Pierce, J., & Bekoff, M. (2012). Wild Justice Redux: What We Know About Social Justice in Animals and Why It Matters. Social Justice Research25(2), 122–139. doi:10.1007/s11211-012-0154-y

Polis, G. A. (1981). The Evolution and Dynamics of Intraspecific Predation. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics12, 225–251.

Ramírez, J. M., & Andreu, J. M. (2006). Aggression, and some related psychological constructs (anger, hostility, and impulsivity) Some comments from a research project. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews30(3), 276–291. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.04.015

Reisner, I. R. (1994). Risk factors for behavior-related euthanasia among dominant-aggressive dogs: 110 cases (1989-1992). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association205(6), 855–63.

Rooney, N. J., & Cowan, S. (2011). Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science132(3-4), 169–177. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.007

Rosado, B., García-Belenguer, S., León, M., & Palacio, J. (2009). A comprehensive study of dog bites in Spain, 1995–2004. The Veterinary Journal179(3), 383–391. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2008.02.002

Sacks, J. J., Kresnow, M., & Houston, B. (1996). Dog bites: how big a problem? Injury Prevention,2(1), 52–54.

Schaller, G. B., & Keane, R. (1972). The Serengeti lion; a study of predator-prey relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schilder, M. B., & van der Borg, J. A. (2004). Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Applied Animal Behaviour Science85(3-4), 319–334. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2003.10.004

Scott, J. P., & Fuller, J. L. (1965). Genetics and the social behavior of the dog, by John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Scott, J. P. (1966). Agonistic behavior of mice and rats: A review. American Zoologist6(4), 683–701.

Seligman, M. E. P. (1972). Learned helplessness. Annual review of medicine23(1), 407–412.

Sherman, C. K., Reisner, I. R., Taliaferro, L. A., & Houpt, K. A. (1996). Characteristics, treatment, and outcome of 99 cases of aggression between dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science47(1), 91–108.

Stammerjohan, C., Wood, C. M., Chang, Y., & Thorson, E. (2005). An empirical investigation of the interaction between publicity, advertising, and previous brand attitudes and knowledge. Journal of Advertising34(4), 55–67.

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Tzetzis, G., Votsis, E., Kourtessis, T., & others. (2008). The effect of different corrective feedback methods on the outcome and self confidence of young athletes. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine7(3), 371–378.

Udell, M. A. R., Dorey, N. R., & Wynne, C. D. L. (2010). What did domestication do to dogs? A new account of dogs’ sensitivity to human actions. Biological Reviews85(2), 327–345. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.2009.00104.x

Weiss, J. M., & Glazer, H. I. (1975). Effects of Acute Exposure to Stressors on Subsequent Avoidance-Escape Behavior. Psychosomatic Medicine37(6), 499–521.

Wilson, E. O. (2000). Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Wilsson, E. (1984). The social interaction between mother and offspring during weaning in german shepherd dogs: individual differences between mothers and their effects on offspring. Applied Animal Behaviour Science13, 101–112.

Yin, S. (2011, November 17). Experts Say Dominance-Based Dog Training Techniques Made Popular by Television Shows Can Contribute to Dog Bites. Huffington Post. Retrieved from





[4] Kelley, L. C. (2012, February 8). Deconstructing the Concept of Dominance. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from


Sessions with Serge

Serge is a 7 month old Dogue de Bordeaux who I have been working with recently. His problems stem from not enough socialisation during his puppyhood. If you follow my blog, you will know how important I feel proper socialisation, both at the right times and in the right way, is in the development of your dog.

Serge lives with his owner in a more rural area close to me. He has been brought up around horses and with two other dogs and is more confident when he is out with the bulldog he lives with who is great with other dogs. Serge can react aggressively with other dogs and to some other novel things he experiences but his reaction is fairly mild and he soon comes round.

We have done two session so far. In our first session, we worked on teaching Nikki his owner, proper handling skills so she could use correct distance from other dogs to keep Serge feeling safe and I also taught her how to time her reinforcements effectively.

The second session was a few weeks later and Serge had already started to make good progress. Nikki had been keeping Segre from a safe distance from other dogs and feeding him when he saw them so that Serge builds an association between seeing other dogs and being fed. We met at a local park, which I use often as it is large, and had very large open area so you can see the approaching dogs from a distance of up to 400 metres. The park is always busy with both dog owners and professional dog walkers, there are loads of dogs off leash and because I use it often, I know lots of the dogs and how social (or not) they are. There is also an enclosed dog park where Colin, one of the dog walkers, exercises his dogs.This enclosed dog park has an “air-lock” gate.

We moved round to the dog park and we approached from  a distance of about 25m away from the gate. There were about 15 dogs or so, including several large dark coloured dogs in the park who all ran up to the fence to see Serge. Serge stopped and looked at the dogs. His reaction was a bit too head on but not really “high” so we told him he was a good lad and rewarded him with food and then moved him away. We then approached again. By this time, the other dogs had moved off and were playing with each other again. Because they had moved away from the fence, Serge felt more comfortable approaching the gate. He then looked at the other dogs through the gate without reacting. One dog came over to say hello and then a few others joined this dog and soon there were several dogs at the fence and Serge was greeting them all appropriately.

At this point, I was watching for any adverse change in Serge’s body language. Any stiffening of his body, hard staring or snarling/growling. If he had done this, I would have immediately called him and moved away with him (he was wearing a long line which I was holding without tension). Colin’s dog came out to say hello. This dog has great social skills with other dogs. As Colin’s dog cam out, we called Serge and moved away with both dogs so Serge could say hello to him away from the fence. the reason for this was that Serge was no coping with greeting several big, calm dogs behind the fence and was fairly relaxed but he might not have been able to cope with the added stress of Colin’s dog being so close, so we moved away to reduce the pressure of the bigger dogs and Serge could say hello to Colin’s dog.

This went well. Colin called his dog back in and then a wee Cockerpoo came out to say hi. This also went well. The cocker was really gentle, inviting Serge to play with play bows. Serge was a bit reluctant at first but the cocker persevered and soon Serge was playing. What was interesting here was if Serge became too intense, the cocker stopped the play by lying down, then Serge stopped running. When Serge calmed down, the cockerpoo began to play again.

We ended the session here and called it a day. There is always a tendency to want to continue but I prefer to err on the side of caution in the early stages. A good session from Serge and Nikki and thanks to Colin and his own dog and also the cockerpoo.