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

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!

Don’t give up

I just had a phone call from a man with a very nervous little Jack Russell Terrier.  He is currently deciding whether to have the dog put to sleep or to try and rehabilitate it.  I am hoping they give the dog a chance and at least get me out for a consult so I can give a more in depth opinion on its chances.

First rule:  when someone says ‘do not pat my dog’.  You should always respect that – too often I have heard stories of dogs gone biting someone after the owner has requested the dog be left alone with the response from the other party “but I’m good with dogs”.  The interesting thing (and frustrating for all good trainers out there) is that these people took this dog to obedience school when they realised there was a problem with doggy not loving new people.  After asking the instructor not to pat the dog and the instructor ignoring the owners and patting the dog, they were asked not to come back (the dog bit the instructor) –   Incidentally, this is a fault of the school and training system, not the owners who were trying to get help.

So, they sought help from a local trainer who did in home visits. This trainer told them that the dog needed to go to the vet for medication and that it should wear a muzzle, but left them with no other training tips.  The vet decided the dog did not need medicating and told them to keep the dog at home, and on a lead in public and away from people.  That was 2 years ago.  We are now facing a situation where the dog has bitten a family member who was visiting over the Christmas period and the family is trying to work out whether to keep the dog, try and rehome it, or put it to sleep.

So the moral of this story is, if you are looking for help with your dog, and you have had a trainer out or go to a dog school, if you think it isn’t working – don’t give up!  Please.  Call the trainer, call the school, email them and ask for help.  If they give up, they either need to help you understand why they can’t help you, and then I encourage you to look around and call other trainers – it is very rare that a dog can’t be rehabilitated fully or to a point where the undesirable behaviour is controlled and manageable.