Author Archives: FormalDogs

Loose Leash Walking

Loose Leash Walking

double leash dog training

dog leash

Everybody wants it.  Aside from contacting me for behavioural help, this is typically the first thing people tell me they want when they enquire about general dog training.  “I want my dog to walk nicely on a lead”

So, here are some of my thoughts on loose leash walking, I’ll try and keep it simple.

  • Your dog is not born knowing how to walk in a straight line on a leash, and unless it has been taught previously, you will need to teach your dog how.
  • Like any skill your dog needs to learn, walking appropriately on a lead is a quite advanced skill. If your furry companion is not willing to listen to you in the house, then I think it would be a fair guess to say that they won’t listen when you step out the front door.
  • Appropriate training equipment is essential.  Well made equipment is better for you and your dog. You can choose between training halters, flat collars, martingale collars and balance harnesses.  Talk to your trainer about what is best for you and your dog and the style of training you are doing.  I love Black Dog equipment – you can check them out here  An Australian company making high quality dog equipment.
  • Having clear expectations and boundaries for your walk before you leave the house is important.  Know what the rules are before you put the leash on your dog.  (ie: No weaving, no rushing other dogs, no dragging you across the road to say hi to the other dog).. It is hard to teach your dog what you expect if you do not know yourself.
  • Also, please don’t expect loose leash walking to happen all at once.  Remember when you taught your dog to sit?  Start small and with little to no distraction and build your way up to longer walks and higher distraction

Walking nicely on a lead is about mutual respect, this aspect reflects on the relationship between you and your dog.  If you ever feel like you are being walked by your dog, rather than going out for a walk together, a change in mindset can often help.  A walk is something that you and your dog can do together and is an opportunity to enhance the bond between you and your canine companion.

Another thing to consider; dogs have 4 legs.  They naturally walk faster than most humans, so of course they are probably going to move faster than us, this is where mutual respect is so important, your dog has to be willing to wait for us slow two legged creatures that they are attached to, and, we have to be willing to enrich their walks in other ways than increased pace.

And, thoughts are great, but practical is always better, so here are some tips.

  • Leash training starts in the home and as you walk out your door.
  • If your dog is dragging you out the front door STOP, and practise walking nicely to the front door, then progress to the front yard, and then when you have got that, progress a little further.
  • Be exciting. Think of why your dog is pulling. Is it because the world is WAY more exciting than you?
  • Talk and interact happily with your dog, praise and reward excitedly when your dog chooses to check in with you by making eye contact.(I believe that this should be something your dog chooses to do naturally, and not something that  should be taught to happen on command – yes, controversial, I know) You should be proud when your dog is making a choice to connect with you. Eye contact is important across the species divide.
  • Shorten your lead. If your pooch is pulling you down the street, you will be amazed what a difference a short lead can make.  As they start to walk calmly, let the lead get longer.  Out in front is not a problem in my opinion, but you will have more control if you start with a shorter lead.
  • Be consistent.  Understand what your goals are for your walks before you go on them. Your dog will understand much better if you have clear goals in mind and a training plan for the walk.
  • You may be walking your dog to help dispel some of their energy.  Active training requires mental and physical energy, so you may not get as far as usual on your walks, but if you are communicating clearly with your dog the whole time then your dog should be happily tired on your return home.


I hope these tips can be of some help to you all struggling with walking your dogs, and remember, if you need some 1:1 help, Formal Dogs trainers are available to come to you and show you some skills to get you and your canine companion walking together as a team.  You can get in touch by clicking here.

Happy Walkies!





Wedding Season!

Spring is around the corner and with that comes WEDDING SEASON!!!  All the wedding professionals are gearing up for the busy season, and that includes us.  We are looking forward to accompanying more dogs than ever to weddings this season and are still taking bookings for 2017 and 2018

If you or someone you know has been talking about having their dog at their wedding, why not get in touch with us to arrange a complimentary consultation.  Or give Ruth a call on 0438 423 230 for a friendly chat about how we can help.

We also offer gift certificates and are always thrilled when a couple’s friends and family get together to help the couple have their beloved pet as part of their wedding.

Do not call me BALANCED!

Sometime ago, I read an article by a Dr Haug entitled The truth about positive reinforcement” and to start with what she said made a lot of sense, positive reinforcement is an integral part of using operant conditioning to train and teach dogs, I was happily reading away, and then I got to the bit about balanced trainers –  “trainers who still use techniques that involve corrections, or, to give them their accurate scientific label – positive punishments “.

Personally, I don’t like labels, I’ve blogged about that before here.

So, here is what she wrote: (and I quote directly from the article)

“What Positive Reinforcement trainers do avoid is using positive punishment”  –

– I agree, mentally I went “yup, that’s what positive reinformement trainers do, cool”

and then she continued:

hitting, yelling, correcting the dog with a collar, holding the dog down on its back or side, or grabbing the dog by the scruff, etc.  Research over the past several years has shown that dogs trained with such punishment are more likely to misbehave and more likely to show aggression toward their owners.2-4 These interventions are unnecessary, detrimental, and dangerous”. Yup. – who wants to be physically aggressive towards their dog?

And then she goes on to say that balanced trainers should be avoided because of these training methods.  I just wanted to yell STOP (actually, the word I yelled started with F, and rhymes with “duck off”)

In 15 years of training dogs (12 professionally) these are not techniques that I use or condone.  Even as a ‘balanced’ trainer.  Which apparently is the current term for any professional using positive punishments (or corrections) these days.

Anyone who has worked with me will hear me say repeatedly, “don’t get mad at your dog, it is ineffective, and will probably only raise your blood pressure.”

Using all the areas of operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement and punishment) is not about being aggressive or violent or physically intimidating with your dog.  It is about using operant conditioning to help your dog learn right from wrong.

So here is what I do do, I apply a training system that has been used and developed for over 20 years here in Victoria, Australia, (The Alpha Canine Group) it has trainers all around the world using it as well as here in Australia, and is currently being used for animal assisted therapy programs. The founders of the system had decades of experience before they developed this system, so they know their stuff.

Personally, I use the system’s principles to work with people and their dogs in their home environment rather than through group or weekly classes.

The system teaches us to use praise and rewards to train our dogs using positive reinforcement (typically praise and pats and love), and condition them to a positive (good dog, followed by a pat, cuddle, play) and a negative (‘no’ and apply a known consequence) A consequence should never be given in anger and it should certainly not ever be violent.

If you are mad at your dog, please go and take a breather.

If you are frustrated or concerned by your dog’s behaviour, please call your dog behaviour specialist to discuss the issues and arrange a consultation.  You can contact me here.

Your dog is trying to live its life in our human world and we need to understand how difficult that must be as well as provide clear and consistent feedback.

Good dog trainers and behaviourists understand that without contrast you have nothing useful to work with.

The positive reinforcement is what does the hard work.  Without it, why would your dog want to work with you?

If you are going to use a training method that uses both positive and negative punishment and reinforcement, make sure there is not just a balance, but that the positives outweigh the negatives at about 5:1. Ensure you have clear and consistent rules and guidelines in your home and out and about, and if your dog is frustrating you with his or her behaviour, find a trainer/behaviourist who you feel understands you and your dog and their needs, and is willing to work with you both and provide support for during and after the initial learning process.

There are no quick fixes in dog training, but an effective learning environment should see change in a short period of time.

Now, back to this article where Dr  Haug goes on to say ˜More importantly, for a dog that is accustomed to being told when it does something right, the absence of feedback actually tells the dog when it has done something wrong!

This also got me a bit frustrated. I am pretty sure that dogs don’t like being ignored, ignoring a dog is often used as a negative punishment. (if you have turned your back and walked away from a dog that has jumped on you, you have used a negative punishment).

I’m sure no one, dogs included, like being ignored. Let’s take inappropriate digging behaviours for example, you are out in your garden and you see your dog digging a hole.

Instead of ignoring the behaviour and allowing it to continue, why not step in and show your dog what is right and wrong using your marker and known consequence and contrast it with  praise and rewards for appropriate behaviour. You and your dog can get back on with hanging out together in the back yard.

If you are teaching your dog effectively, the digging behaviours should decrease and eliminate.

If you are confused about the difference between reinforcement and punishment, you can youtube “operant conditioning”  and find many many explanations, but here is a basic:

A reinforcement is anything that is done with the intent of increasing a behaviour and a punishment is anything that is done with the intent of decreasing a behaviour.Positive means something that is applied to the dog and Negative means something that is taken away.

So, after all that, I think I will stick with calling myself an Independent Dog Trainer/Behaviourist.

Always train with kindness and unconditional positive regard, and if you need help, or have questions, please click here to send an email contact,  or call us on 0438 423 230



Stop the Victim Blaming

Stop the Victim Blaming

    Have you ever looked on social media at someone who is seeking help for reactivity (aka: aggression) with their dog to other people?

I have, and so often the comments come in hard and fast and they are often variations on “the person must have done something wrong to the dog” or “the person must have bad energy” and last week I thought to myself “why are we victim blaming the people who are getting growled/lunged/snapped at?” especially when the dog’s guardian states that no harm or risk was present for the dog and there was no obvious reason for it.

Before anyone gets bent out of shape, I am a big believer that all dog behaviour has a reason behind it and that dogs aren’t inherently bad or wrong, but it is possible that the dog (or even your dog) is just not behaving in accordance with human society’s rules. Which brings up the next thing “but it’s a dog” – my response to this is “yes, but we have made them a human responsibility, therefore it is our job to show them the way to appropriate behaviour” and the pounds/shelters/rescue organisations are full of dogs that aren’t compliant with our human society’s rules.

It usually a case of showing the dog’s family how to reteach the dog to behave appropriately while still having regard and respect for their ‘dog-ness’. This takes patience, time, effort and often guidance from a canine behaviour expert, I believe that in most instances, a dog’s behaviour can be managed appropriately or modified to better fit in with society’s expectations.

What should I do?

If a dog is being reactive or aggressive, how about instead of blaming the person or the dog, have your behavioural expert assess the behaviour to help identify the cause of the behaviour, and work to help you and your dog through his or her interactions appropriately, and work together with you to show you how to become part of the solution in creating a happy family dog.

Click here if you want help to problem solve dog reactivity issues.

What’s in a Name?

I have been thinking a lot recently about the term ‘dog trainer’. I mean technically I can train a dog to do pretty much anything, but am I and my fellow ‘trainers’ actually dog trainers. Or are we something else?


The phrase dog training and obedience training has been around for probably as long as there have been dogs in modern society, but as with many things in the dog world, we have moved on. We have moved on from thinking that it is ok to let our beloved dogs roam the streets unattended (anyone else remember the upturned bins and garbage strewn everywhere!) to it being expected that you collect up your dog’s poop out on walks.

In the dog behaviour world, things have moved on too. We no longer accept traditional dominance theory, and it is preferable to try and understand the reasoning behind the behaviour and work with that rather than just look at the undesired behaviour in isolation. Having said that, I do believe that it is ok to modify undesired behaviours such as aggression and nuisance barking as long as you address the matter holistically and work with the root cause of the behaviour if you can, but that is another blog.

Many families see their dog as part of the family, dog ownership seems a bit harsh – after all, can we really own another living creature? Domestic dogs are dependent on us to have their basic needs met, and this makes us their ‘parents’ or guardians. I have for years now referred to a dog’s humans as the dog’s guardians. This conveys the responsibility of caring for a dog and helping it adapt to our human world with kindness, respect and understanding.

So what do we call ourselves these days: Teachers? Educators? Canine Guardianship Coach? Behaviourists? Dog Psychologists? Canine Communication Expert? I suppose that at the end of the day it probably doesn’t matter too much what the person helping you with your dog is called as long as we help you understand your dog and his or her behaviour and how your relationship with your dog can compliment, enhance and enrich both your lives, and how you can help your dog have a calm and happy life with you.

Ruth xoxo

Formal Dogs in the News

Nothing like being woken up by a radio station wanting to interview you (when I get the audio I will link it in here) at 5.45am. Good thing I am a morning person!

Last week I got woken up by 3AW wanting to interview me about my services, naturally I said YES! It was only a two minute spot, but at that hour of the morning, at least I didn’t have time to be nervous, and yes Justin (the radio host), people DO put bow ties on their dogs. It’s very cute.

It turns out the presenters had seen the article that the Knox Leader (owned by the Herald Sun) had written about my growing business. It’s funny to turn up at school pick up and have people say “hey – you were in the paper!!”

you can read the article here

I would love my dog to be at my wedding, what now?

Congratulations!  You are getting married and you would love your dog(s) to be part of your wedding day, but what now?


Formal Dogs’ wedding service was created to make it easy for you to have your dog(s) as part of your wedding day.  So here’s how it works:


Step 1:

Get in touch with us to arrange your free (yup, FREE!) consultation.  We will meet with you and your dog(s) in your home so that we can do an assessment of your dog’s suitability to be part of your wedding day.  This takes about an hour and a half and we discuss how you want your dogs to be part of your wedding day (as professional trainers and behaviourists we are able to easily assess dogs in an initial consultation).  You can contact us easily by clicking here:  I want to arrange my free consultation!

Step 2:

After your initial meeting, if you decide to go ahead, we will arrange a quote or invoice for you.  To book your date, a $200 deposit is required, with the balance not due until the week before your wedding.  Once your deposit is paid, you are booked in!

If your dog requires general training or trick training or behaviour training we will advise costs and time schedules.

Here are some common questions:

Q:  What happens on my wedding day?

A:  A Formal Dogs trainer will attend at your home and collect your dog(s) prior to the wedding at an organised time, we will look after your dog and transport him/her to the wedding venue leaving time for a walk and play, provide drinks and toilet breaks until the ceremony is ready to start, and then we will help your dog to participate in your wedding as per your instructions.

Q:  What happens after the wedding?

A:  Usually at this point we will ensure your dog is in the photos that you want him/her in, and then we will transport your dog back to the pre arranged location and ensure he/she is secure and safe when we leave.   We will send you a message to let you know your dog has arrived safely at the destination.

Q:  I notice you recommend having dogs at the wedding rehearsal, why?

A:  A wedding day is a big deal for people and it can be a big deal for dogs too. They have loads of fun, but it is a big day for them.  Dogs are sensitive to change, and a lot is going on at home on a wedding day usually, then if they are taken to a new environment it can be a big thing, all those new and exciting smells to smell.  So, if we have your dog at your wedding rehearsal we can familiarise your dog with the environment, as well as run through the details of where your dog will sit, who will hold him/her during the ceremony.  In my experience (nearly 10 years now) the dogs who attend wedding rehearsals seem much more relaxed on the wedding day.  So, I will meet you at the wedding rehearsal, and take your dog from there.  You can concentrate on the wedding details and your dog can spend some bonding time with the trainer.

Q:  Will my dog have a good time?

A:  Yes!  Most dogs love new experiences and that is what the initial behavioural assessment is all about, for us to establish that your dog will have a great time with all the new experiences on your wedding day.  Sure, they will be tired, (all that sniffing requires energy!) but they will be happy tired and have had an awesome time.

Q:  What if my dog gets disruptive or upset?

A:  Your dog’s handler is also a trainer and expert in dog behaviour, if we notice your dog is getting distracted or disruptive, we will simply move your dog to somewhere it is more settled, we will have talked to you before hand about how we will minimise the chance of this happening and what we will do if your dog does become unsettled during the ceremony.  So far we have not had to take a dog away from a wedding ceremony.

Q:  But my dog jumps on everyone!

A: We are commonly complimented on how calm the dogs are at weddings, this is because your dog’s companion for the day is a dog trainer and behaviour expert, it is our job to keep your dog as calm and settled as we can.  If you are worried about your dog’s behaviour, we can provide advice at your initial consultation on how to manage it.


If you have any questions about your dog at your wedding feel free to ask. We are the premiere service, and happy to answer any questions for you. We also carry specific insurance to have your dog transported and be a part of your wedding day.


I look forward to meeting you and your dogs!


Ruth Elliott,

Formal Dogs

Get in touch here or call us on 0438 423 230


Dogs and Babies

Dogs and Babies

As a Mum with a young family, I know first hand what it is like to manage dogs and children, fortunately, with good training, walking dogs with young children and a pram, or letting the older children help with the walking are things that are part of our normal life. The kids can play in the backyard without being knocked over by an over exuberant dog, or jump on the trampoline without trouble. We also have our dogs in the home with the kids, however, supervision is always first and foremost, dogs and children can make mistakes.

If you need help with preparing your dog for a new baby, or already have children and dogs, here are some basic tips for you to follow.

Tips for helping your dog adjust to a new baby:

Preparation – think about any issues you have with your dog and get help to resolve them before baby arrives.

Labour/Birth – some women can labour for a long while (it’s ok – you can do it, you will be great!!). If you will be in hospital during your labour, or staying for a few days after birth, do you have someone who will help walk and feed your dog while you are away from home or do you need to organize this? If you are having a homebirth – is there another member of your household or a family member or friend who can help out?

Routines – quite often our dogs are used to a set routine. Babies and household routines don’t always go to plan and it can take time to settle or feed a baby. Start varying your dog’s routine in the lead up to baby and see how your dog adjusts to getting walked or fed at different times of day. If any issues arise from these changes to routine, you will have time to address them.

Training – A well trained dog is much easier to manage when out and about with your baby, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Start by teaching your dog a simple sit command and asking your dog to hold that command for a minute or two, and working your way up to a reliable drop and hold under distraction is great.

Manners – good manners in a dog are important. Start by teaching your dog to wait politely for an invitation before joining you on the couch, and also for your dog to be ok with sometimes not being invited onto the couch (or bed – which reminds me – of a 6th tip)

Sleeping arrangements – at some point, the studies tell us, most new parents will bring baby into bed with them. This is not safe if there is an animal in the bed. If your dog is sleeping in your bed you can help your dog to learn that it is ok to sleep on a special dog bed on the floor, or in another room, before your baby arrives. Only being allowed onto the bed when invited (or not at all) means that you won’t be trying to teach your dog this change while you are caring for a new baby.

If you already have children, it is never too late to implement training and behavioural modification for your dog and these tips are a great place to start.

Talk to us about how we can help you to help your dog be confident and happy at home!

Dogs at Weddings

If you are a dog owner and are getting married, chances are you have thought about having your dog at your wedding.  If you are, we have some tips for you.

  1. Venue – Have you told your venue that you plan to have your dog at your wedding? Do they have any special requirements?
  2. Grooming – Talk to your groomer about the best time to groom your dog before your wedding day. Leave it too late and your dog may shed at the wedding, leaving it too early may leave your dog not smelling as fresh as you would like.
  3. Planning – How will you get your dog to and from your wedding? Who will lo2015-03-15 17.43.29ok after him before, during and after the ceremony?
  4. Training – Address any training or behavioural issues early. It is much easier to walk your dog down the aisle if s/he is not trying to say hello to all your friends and family!  (as dog trainers we can advise you in relation to this).
  5. Food – it is a good idea not to give your dog a meal or snacks before the wedding, we don’t want special doggy smells as part of your guests’ memory of your wedding day!

Talk to us about how we can help you to have your dog as part of your wedding!  We are the experts in accompanying dogs to weddings and look forward to talking with you about your dog at your wedding.

All dogs are therapy dogs

I know several therapy dogs, in fact I know a psychologist and dog trainer who runs a brilliant course for health professionals (and others) to train therapy dogs.

Recently I had a friend in crisis. We got that friend some help, and now we are in the aftermath, the calm after the storm so to speak. It’s funny, because I can feel the space in the palm of my hands where I should have a dog. So I have gone to my greyhounds and patted and stroked them, and picked up and cuddled my Jack Russell Terrier, and even snuggled with the Sausage Dog (Dachshund) that is staying for a week. All the time, I noticed something, I felt calmer, my anxiety has decreased and I am able to focus more easily on my day to day tasks.

I usually have many techniques up my sleeve for calming myself after a stressful event, but dogs bring something unique to the situation and this experience has just recently reinforced that belief.

You can read anywhere on the internet about dogs assisting in therapy situations (animal assisted therapy) and how pets can help with lowering blood pressure amongst helping with other serious illnesses, and many people have dogs trained for specialty therapy or assistance situations, but if you have a dog you love that brings you joy and you feel stress, I highly recommend you go fill that space in your hand that can be filled by a  pat and cuddle and use your dog as a therapy dog.

Interestingly, my normally independent dogs are all hanging around extra close tonight. I am reassured by their presence.


PS: If you are interested in learning about having a therapy dog, I highly recommend Lead the Way

« Older Entries