Brain Gym for Dogs

Brain Gym for Dogs

We all know dogs need physical exercise to keep them fit and healthy, but did you know dogs thrive on mental exercise? Mental exercise stimulates the brain as well as the body and it is equally as important.

Organising a brain gym for your dog isn’t difficult, it can be as simple as taking your dog out to explore the world. Expanding his world and allowing him to experience different things will give his senses a work-out and will also allow you to practice your training techniques. The added bonus is your dog’s confidence will increase, he’ll be more capable of thinking for himself and it’s a great way to proof his behaviours.

Enrichment games are another great way to give your dog his daily mental push-ups. There are a heap of puzzle games for dogs available check your local pet store, jump online or if you’re local head down to our training school.

Muffin Tin Game for Dogs

One of my favourites is The Muffin Tin Game. Here’s how it works:

Grab an old muffin tin or mini muffin tin if you have a smaller pooch. Turn it upside down and place some treats between the bumps. To get at the treats, he’ll have to push the food around from different angles. This is a great puzzle for larger dogs as they can’t flip the tin over.

When he’s played this game a few times, you can change it up. This time keep the tin upright and place some treats randomly into half the cups. Cover each section with a tennis ball.

How do you mentally exercise your dog?
We’d love to her about the enrichment games you do with your dog. Let us know in the comments below.

Dog Etiquette in Off-leash Areas

Dog Etiquette in Off-leash Areas

As the weather warms and the holiday season approaches, people like to get active with their dogs. Every day more and more people flock to our off-leash beaches and parks.
In theory off-leash areas are a fantastic idea, unfortunately the reality isn’t all rainbows and lollipops. It’s important to remember that anyone and their dogs can use these areas (the only exception being registered/declared dangerous dogs).

What does this mean for you and your pooch?

At any given time there may be dogs of varying sizes, temperaments and training and a range of owners from the conscientious to the “I don’t give a damn”. You can’t control who’s using the area but you can be in control of how you approach the space and of course, in control of your dog.


I strongly recommend to my clients that BEFORE they decide to let their dog ‘loose’ in an off-leash area to enjoy an independent sniff and play experience, their dog must have these two basic behaviours.

1. A very reliable recall – this means your dog comes every time he is called

2. A strong stay command – he will stay ‘on the spot’ until given the ok to move


Please remember that even when off lead in an off-leash area, by law your dog needs to be under “effective control”. Hence why both a stay command and a recall are important.


A recall takes time and patience and incorporates these 5 steps.

  1. Eye contact – Your dog acknowledges you and gives eye contact when his name or other command is used.
  2. Comes towards you when his name or other command is used.
  3. Remains within your personal space for at least 10 seconds before you release him to be free again.
  4. Change direction – comes away, turns away from the direction he is heading in, that is heading towards another dog and then turns and comes to you.
  5. Sit or Down – you need to be able to get your dog to sit or down and remain in that position while you bend over and pick up a dog poo, for example.

These steps all need to be broken down into separate behaviours and taught in individual steps. Once they are reliable in a non-distracting environment then add distractions and then you are good to head to the beach or off-leash park.

A reliable recall is something that needs to be worked on throughout your dogs life. Many dogs begin their puppyhood and early teens with a reliable recall, however, sometimes they realise that life away from their owner can be more interesting. They start choosing their own behaviours and owners then can quickly lose control. Add a few other dogs with similar behaviour and the result can be chaos.

If your dog can’t do the above steps then it’s not ready to be off-lead. Take a long lead and practice the steps until your dog understands that he needs to give you connection and his attention, then he will be given some independent time.

Let’s all train good dog etiquette, that way we will all be able to enjoy our open spaces. I look forward to seeing you in the great outdoors.

More information about training ‘come’ aka ‘a reliable recall’ in Two Phases can be found in my new book Nose to Tail: A Holistic Guide to Training our Dream Dog Available for $24.95 from

Dog Tips: Please …….Don’t pat the guide dog

Dog Tips: Please …….Don’t pat the guide dog

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with a friend and her guide dog.  As a professional dog trainer working in the same community I have been aware for some time that there is an enormous amount of education regarding dog behaviour needed.

What I wasn’t aware of was the extent of the problem.

It has been a frequent occurrence while out with my friend to have her guide dog approached without permission, patted, praised, fed, talked to, stared at and generally interfered with by the public.  When politely asked to refrain because their behaviour is interfering with the dog doing his job, a common response is for them to say is “its okay” or “I know I shouldn’t but he’s such a good boy”

To be clear, it is never okay to distract a working guide dog.

I understand that people are drawn to animals, especially dogs, but it is important to recognise that whilst years of training are responsible for these dogs becoming the unique mobility aids that they are,  enhancing their owner’s lives in a way many of us will never fully comprehend.  They are not infallible, the effect of people interfering with the dog is cumulative.  By the end of one days outing there has often been so much interference that the dog’s ability to focus on his job is affected, putting both dog and his vision impaired owner at risk.

These dog/owner “units” deserve to be respected and allowed by the general population to navigate their way through our community with dignity and without interference.

It takes a great deal of concentration for a vision impaired person to work safely with a guide dog.  Here are some ways that you can help:

  • Difficult as it might seem, please try to ignore working guide dogs completely.  This means do not touch, feed, compliment, smile at, talk to, stare at or otherwise distract the dog.  Distractions can undo months of training and have the potential to affect the safety of the ‘unit”
  • If you know the handler and guide dog it is still important that you don’t pay any attention to the dog whilst he is working.
  •  If you see a guide dog in harness, please choose to engage with the human rather than the dog.
  1. You will not be distracting the dog and therefore putting the handler at risk.
  2. You will not be disrespecting the handler by ignoring their presence. Never distract a guide dog or his handler when they are about to cross a road, walk down a flight of steps, alight a bus etc.  It is dangerous to do so.  They need to concentrate on what they are doing.
  • Do not grab the handler or the dogs harness.  This is a common cause of distress.  If they need help they will ask.
  • This is a big one but it’s not that difficult.  However, it is a major problem in our local area.  Unless in an off leash space, please make sure your pet dog is on a leash and under effective control, which means with you. Do not allow your pet dog to wander.  Unfortunately many working guide dogs encounter unwanted, unasked for interactions with both supervised and unsupervised dogs.  This can cause the guide dog to become dog distracted which is a safety issue for both handler and guide dog.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for working guide dogs to be attacked.
  • People who use guide dogs have been extensively trained in the most effective way to control their dogs behaviour, so please only provide assistance if requested.

We also have a reasonable number of therapy assistance dogs working in our community.  If you’d like to interact with these dogs please just ask the owner first. Depending on their job the owner may be happy for you to interact with their dog, however it’s a good idea to use the same basic conduct as when meeting a guide dog unless the handler tells you otherwise.

Our greater community really needs to take a breath and look at our interactions with dogs we don’t know.  I have a team of dogs who I train to perform a variety of disciplines and my training is constantly being undermined by strangers approaching my dogs whenever we are out and about. It’s just plain rude and can be dangerous.  We are fortunate that our younger generation seem to be well educated and often it’s the younger generation reminding the older generation about appropriate interactions.

So, just take a second and ask permission first.  You wouldn’t grab someone’s handbag off their shoulder, examine it, and then hand back to the owner.  So, why touch, fondle, or greet a strange dog that way?

Puppy preschool – a good idea or not?

Puppy preschool – a good idea or not?

Often puppy preschool groups are socialisation only classes, where (hopefully) small groups of puppies are interacting together.  Often, for some, these classes can be stressful and chaotic for both pup and owner.  Because of their age and limited mental capabilities and lack of impulse control, they are often put into situations where they are set up to fail. Calling a single puppy away from a seething mass of squirming excitable moving puppies is no mean feat, even if you have a highly food motivated puppy.

My belief, is that initially a few weeks bonding and learning family/house rules can make all the difference.  Once you have these basics in place, depending on your puppy’s level of mental maturity start looking for recommended and experienced trainers who run their own courses.

Many of my clients who attend my six week course’s have previously attended a puppy preschool course run by a vet practice or pet store.  I am regularly told by these clients who attend early puppy training classes that they feel these classes were really a waste of time and that they don’t feel they benefited from the experience.

I believe the problem is that the organisers of these classes tend to forget about one very important step.  Building a bond and relationship between dog/owner while having a dog who is friendly with other dogs it’s important that it’s not at the expense of your dog completely ignoring you and trying to drag you across the road to greet another dog.

In my opinion it appears that most puppy owners are not getting their real needs met and I feel that some of the advice given is questionable.

How experienced is the trainer? I believe that these classes should be run by the most experienced trainers as during this period puppies are in one of the most crucial developmental periods.

Not all puppies are the same so it’s important that a trainer can and will balance the needs of the group but at the same time meet the needs of the individual puppy and analyse both their breed traits and individual personality.

If you do decide to attend early puppy training classes (puppy pre-school) have a clear understanding of your expectations from these classes and what the instructor can and will deliver.  If this is not your first experience with a dog it’s likely you may have more knowledge and experience that the person giving the advice.  So ….. If you want a deeper understanding of dog behaviour, relationship and communication I suggest you explore a few options.

Does your dog get car sick? Here are some tips to help.

Does your dog get car sick? Here are some tips to help.

As the weather improves and spring arrives – everyone wants to be out and about enjoying the sunshine – that means that we usually want our dogs to tag along – I’ve had a few phonecalls over the last few weeks asking about pets and travel sickness – here are a few pointers to help make travel with your pets less of a drama for all concerned.

Carsick Dogs

If your dog suffers from travel sickness, it is important to remember that dogs don’t get carsick from travel sickness but from stress and anxiety or excitement.

The first car ride that most dogs experience is often stressful; the puppy is leaving his litter with complete strangers in a vehicle. This is for some dogs a traumatising experience that they may then associate with travelling in a vehicle.

The best solution to prevent this type of carsick dog is to condition your dog that travelling in a vehicle is a process to be endured, in order to have an enjoyable time once arriving at the destination.

Stress and anxiety in dogs

Some steps to conditioning your dog that a car ride is a positive experience are the following:

  • Place your dog inside the vehicle and secure him, with the engine off, just sit with him. Don’t go anywhere and don’t start the engine. Just sit and listen to the radio for a few minutes.
  • When the dog realizes that this is not an unpleasant experience, reward with a food treat and remove the dog from the vehicle.
  • When you see that your dog is relaxed and comfortable with this process, then start the engine, however do not go anywhere.
  • Repeat the reward process.
  • When your dog is relaxed with the engine running, then begin to take very short trips, perhaps just around the block
  • Reward your dog every time with a treat and a game.
  • Then find a beach or park nearby (5-10mins) where you and your dog can have some quality fun time.
  • Then drive back home and give your dog as much attention as you did in the park.


If you have a carsick dog that gets very excited, barking, jumping around in the car, and then gets carsick, it is likely that the problem is that your dog has associated a car trip with too much excitement. In this case, you will need to teach your dog to calm down.

To modify this behaviour, follow the same steps as with a stressed or anxious dog.

  • Sit in the stationary vehicle, and wait for your dog to calm down
  • Praise him when you get out of the car
  • Repeat this process a number of times
  • When you are happy that your dog can be in a stationary vehicle and remain calm, take him on short drives around the block, that do not end up at the park, instead he arrives back home again.