Author Archive

Trish Tip: Sit Happens (without a bribe!)   Leave a comment

This is a great tip from Trish’s Training, useful for weaning pups off visible food.  I wish I could figure out how to make the whole article appear on my blog, but clearly I am still learning.  Just click and voila it’ll appear…

Trish Tip: Sit Happens (without a bribe!).

Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote   Leave a comment

Merle’s Door was recommended to me a few years ago,  and although I took so long to follow-up, I saw it mentioned again somewherMerle and Tede recently and finally took the trouble to order it.  I’m so glad I finally did!  It has widened my ideas of what kind of relationship I’d like with my dogs and given me much food for thought.

Ted Kerasote published his first book at seventeen and has written a number of books focusing largely on the interrelationship of humans, animals and our environment.

In Merle’s Door he tells the story of Merle, translating dog to human in an entertaining and compelling way.  Merle finds him in the Utah desert and both their lives are changed. Through the book he weaves fascinating and at times controversial scientific and behavioural information into the narrative, sometimes challenging our traditional ‘dog and owner’ mindset.

It felt like I was reading a love story as young Merle learns life with humans, and how Ted’s ideas of ‘owning’ a dog are blown away by the intelligence and wit of Merle.  The particular circumstances of Ted’s life at the time meant Merle grew up in a small town where fences were unknown, cars were relatively few, neighbours knew each other and dogs could roam free.  By choosing to have Merle as a companion instead of an underling, Ted frees up their relationship and gains a world by doing so.  He makes a ‘dog door’ in their home so that Merle is free to come and go and he does!  Sometimes with hilarious results, sometimes with almost tragic results – as when a big daddy moose comes to visit.

You know how you read a book and love it yet when it’s done you can’t remember much?  Well this one is so jam-packed with mental images and conversations that it will need rereading several times but there are a few snippets that will stay with me.  One was Ted’s realisation that Merle didn’t often bark, and then realising that there were few barking dogs in his town.  He comes to the conclusion that as there were no visible plot boundaries, dogs had less need to be territorial and even within their homes they grew up used to humans just opening unlocked doors and popping in to visit so felt no need to be defensive.  This lack of boundaries meant that young dogs met other dogs early on in the crucial socialising period, quickly learning appropriate social skills and had an opportunity to choose their pals just as children do.  Merle becomes the unofficial ‘mayor’ of the town, known in many shops as he did his rounds three times a day, loved by many.

There were some parts that I cheered about – Ted’s unpacking of the ‘wolf = dog therefore dog is dominant’ fallacy for one; but there were a few things that will need further thought.  Merle’s death is obviously inevitable but I didn’t agree with Ted’s decision to not intervene and put him down.  The whole process of his dying and the memorial were beautiful and tearful, but drawn out to my possibly more down to earth South African mentality.  Merle’s freedom would be impossible in urban society but there is still much to learn about our attitudes and limitations.

Merle lived the life our dogs are dreaming about when they twitch in their sleep and how I wish more of them had even a tiny glimpse of that life.  How much we humans miss out on when we construct physical, emotional and psychological boundaries around this species we have created and yet understand so little of.  Thanks to Merle’s Door I have food for thought for myself and clients of Rose’s Puppy School for a long time to come.

Cover of "Merle's Door: Lessons from a Fr...

Cover via Amazon


Posted 08/11/2013 by Rose's Puppy School in Book Reviews

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Favorite Video Friday – Best Friends   Leave a comment

Oh my, you have to watch this video, it’s just perfect – will put a smile on your face and give you the warm fuzzies!

Although there is the odd moment when the German Shepherd demonstrates her/his inclination to resource guarding, these are mates, having fun.  Just what we want from our dogs.

Favorite Video Friday – Best Friends.

Why Everything You Know about Wolf Packs is Wrong   Leave a comment

Further to my previous posts about wolves and their relevance to dog training, have a look at:

Why Everything you know about wolf packs is wrong

Cycle of Violence   Leave a comment

In future when someone asks me about my job, I’m going to say ‘I help to interrupt the cycle of violence that develops when animals are abused” – or something to that effect – if you can suggest a shorter, catchier phrase, please let me know!

We all know that violence begets violence, in families, in society.

But just recently I’ve been                                    Max and family, Dec 2012                                    reminded that humans using violence against animals can lead to violence against fellow humans.  I’ve been reading Training the Best Dog Ever by the late Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and she quotes some alarming observations for the USA, and I’m sure the same can be said for other countries: American Humane (the organization that issues the ‘No Animals were Harmed’ disclaimer for movies and TV shows) reports that violent criminals were significantly more likely than nonviolent offenders to have “committed childhood acts of cruelty toward pets” and that abuse against animals occurs in an overwhelming majority of households where there is documented child abuse and neglect.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz makes the point that by using positive reinforcement methods to train our pets, we lay the foundation for peaceful interaction between humans.  Children who see animals abused by adults learn that that is the way we deal with behaviour or situations we don’t like.  Abuse, as we know, is often subtle and not necessarily overtly violent. It can be while a dog is being trained or just the random acts of unspeakable violence seen every day by animal welfare organizations the world over.

Children who learn to treat their pets with respect and consistency absorb a way of interacting that will stand them in good stead as adults.  It’s not a quantum leap to make the conclusion as the author does: “…positive dog training strengthens our families and communities.”

Sometimes when I say I’m a dog trainer, or run a puppy school, friends and new acquaintances smile and imply it’s a ‘sweet’ thing to do, ‘how cute’, and I could let it make me feel that my job is not an important one compared to some.  But knowing the link between animal violence and human violence and that at Rose’s Puppy School we train with positive reinforcement, respect and love and how that feeds into a stable society I’ll stand a little taller and know my job matters!


Pit Bull Terriers   Leave a comment

As a reader of Friends of the Dogs ( I enjoy their informative articles and profiles. The original article that FOTD used can be found via the link at the bottom of the page.  This Pit Bull profile offers a balanced reflection instead of a rose tinted one as most breed profiles are.  I’d like to emphasize that this breed needs an active strong owner with time for exercise and training, plus time for other activities like agility to burn off energy and keep that active brain occupied.  Not recommended for the faint at heart, but the Pit Bull puppies I’ve had in Rose’s Puppy School have been a lot of fun and generally well able to enjoy the company of other puppies.


It is a well known fact that the Pit Bull breed was bred for blood sports such as bull baiting, bear baiting and dog fighting.  What is not generally known is that in the days of organized dog fighting, the dog handlers were in the pit with their dogs while they fought. Pit Bull 3They had to pick up and separate the dogs while in full fight. Before a fight, the handlers had to wash each other’s dogs. After the fight, the badly injured dogs were often treated at ringside by strangers. Any dog that attacked or bit a handler (even if it was the other dog’s handler) or anyone else at any time was culled, often on the spot, and would never have been bred.[1] This little bit of history perhaps explains why the Pit Bull makes a loyal, affectionate family pet but can in certain instances display aggression toward other dogs or animals. . Pit Bull Terrier, during the lifetime of the breed, has been used not only for fights with animals, but also for protection, hunting and as a shepherd. A pit bull is therefore a versatile dog. So is this controversial breed the right dog for you?

1.       Personality

This is a breed that loves people, and has a reputation for being wonderful with children, tolerating their rough play. They are affectionate, loving companions that love to participate in activities with their families, be it a car ride or a walk in the park. Pit Bulls are often described as clowns and have a knack of making you laugh. The Pit Bull is not a guard dog for property as they need to be with their humans but should the need ever arise they will not think twice about sacrificing their life to save yours. An environment filled with love and attention is what makes a Pit Bull thrive.

Pit Bulls can be dog aggressive which is no surprise given their history and this trait often emerges near sexual maturity. A dog that seemed fine with other dogs suddenly becomes reactive toward other dogs of the same sex, housemates or any other dog for that matter.

Adult Pit Bulls should never be left unsupervised with other dogs. Pit Bulls may exhibit “prey drive”, leading them to “stalk” smaller animals such as cats, rats, chickens, livestock, or other pets.They are excellent escape artists and it is imperative that the owner be aware of this and take necessary precautions to prevent escape. These dogs are intelligent and enjoy training which makes them good candidates for activities such as agility, obedience and Frisbee.

2.  Is this the correct pup for you, which is the best home and why?
As an owner of the Pit Bull you will need to have strong leadership skills, be able to read your dog’s body language to help you recognize signs of tension between housemates. You have to be prepared to separate dogs if tension develops. You need to know what “pushes” your dog’s buttons and you need to have control of your dog under any circumstances. Does this sound daunting? The truth is that these skills are needed for most dog breeds but because of their unfortunate reputation you as a Pit Bull owner owe it to your dog to be the best ambassadors for the breed that you can be!

Like most puppies Pit Bulls love to chew and some enjoy digging. If they are bored, they will find a way to entertain themselves. A bored dog is a destructive dog so make sure that you have time to exercise your Pit Bull’s body and to stimulate his mind. Pit Bull 2

Early socialization and training–and lots of it–are non negotiable and should be ongoing throughout your Pit Bull’s life . Pit Bulls are very powerful, active animals who must be taught how to act around both people and other animals. Apartment living is not well suited to this breed as they will often personify the proverbial “bull in a chinashop.”

3.  Where do I get my pup from?
It is important to find a dedicated and ethical breeder who will only produce the most sound, stable puppies.
Avoid the well-intentioned, but uneducated  “backyard breeder” and pet shops. . You WON’T find ethical breeders in want-ads, or “Pit Bull Puppies For Sale” over the Internet sites .
Breed magazines, dog publications and national breed clubs are good resources to find a good breeder.

4.    Which other breeds are most compatible with the Pit Bull?
Although the Pit Bull is not generally recommended as a companion to other dogs, they can get along well with other animals with proper management and supervision

5.    Is it wise to have two or more of the same breed?
Same-sex aggression may present with two bitches and even between two males.
in general same-sex households are not a good idea and nor is getting two or more dogs from the same litter.

6.    Do they get on well with other animals?
As mentioned previously the Pit Bull may show dog-directed aggression, but sensitivity to other dogs will depend on each individual. A well socialized and trained Pit Bull should never initiate conflict but if they are challenged do not expect them to shy away. Pit Bulls can and do interact peacefully with other dogs and animals. Individual dog temperament, early training, socialisation and good management skills  play an important role in determining  whether or not a Pit Bull is capable of getting along with other animals. Many people successfully keep multiple Pit Bulls and other dogs in the same household.

Occasionally Pit Bull Terriers have difficulty distinguishing small pets from chew-toys. They are a very playful and energetic breed and love to chase, chew, and toss. If they are not taught that small animals such as chickens and rabbits are pets to be respected, they may kill them accidentally.

7.   Training requirements and grooming.
Grooming for the Pit Bull is relatively easy and fuss free.. They have a short, smooth coat and you will need to brush your dog about once a week to prevent excess shedding. You will also need to clean your dog’s ears regularly and trim his nails. In this regard they are very low maintenance dogs!

A recurring theme in this article is that of socialization. Ensure that you enrol your puppy in a reputable puppy socialisation class as soon as possible. Progress to domestic obedience and if you are adventurous enrol for a dog sport such as agility. Your dog will love you for it!

8.   Health concerns.
Pit Bull Terriers are generally quite a healthy breed.

Health concerns that have been recorded include hip dysplasia , patella (knee) problems, thyroid dysfunction and congenital heart defects. Pit Bull Terriers with lighter coat colours may have a higher occurrence of skin allergies. Good breeders are continually striving to eliminate these health issues.

9.       Life expectancy.
The average life expectancy of  Pit Bull Terrier is twelve to fourteen years.

In Closing I would like to share the results of a study conducted in America.

“According to rigorous testing by The National Canine Temperament Testing Association, the golden retriever, poodle, border collie, English setter, German pointer and numerous other breeds are considered more likely to become aggressive than Pit Bulls. The average score of the 122 breeds tested was a mere 77 percent, but Pit Bulls scored a 95.2 percent on these tests. (The best score possible was 100)

Not only have Pit Bulls scored extremely well on temperament tests, but they have been serving key roles in search and rescue efforts, excel in agility training and work nationwide as therapy and service dogs.  Being intelligent, athletic dogs, Pit Bulls excel in many dog sports, including dog agility, fly ball, lure coursing, and advanced obedience competition. Out of the 25 dogs who have earned UKC (United Kennel Club) “superdog” status (by gaining championship titles in conformation, obedience, agility, and weight pull), fourteen have been American Pit Bull Terriers.

The American Pit Bull Terrier is a working dog, and is suitable for a wide range of working disciplines due to their intelligence, high energy, and endurance. In the United States they have been used as search and rescue dogs that save lives, police dogs performing narcotics and explosives detection, Border Patrol dogs, hearing dogs to provide services to the deaf, as well as general service dogs.[1]
Source : y [2]

If you want a dog who…

  • Is medium to large, muscular and powerful
  • Looks imposing but is usually non-aggressive with people
  • Has a sleek, easy-groom coat that comes in many colours

A Pit Bull Terrier may be the breed for you!

If you are not keen on…

  • dealing with public perception,
  • An extremely careful search to be sure you’re acquiring a stable-tempered dog
  • investing time on extra socialization and training to make sure your dog turns out well
  • Possible Aggression toward other animalsPit Bull
  • Exuberant jumping, especially when young
  • Destructiveness when bored

…then a Pit Bull Terrier may not be for you.


If you need to remember how to smile, watch this!   Leave a comment

I’ve just watched this happy dog show with a broad smile on my face.  No matter what your opinion on dogs doing ‘tricks’ it’s clear these dogs are having a ball.

Key things I noticed:

  • between each little ‘act’ the dogs rush back to the handler for their treat;
  • the handler is full of exuberance and enthusiasm;
  • if the dogs had been maltreated or punished during the training they would not be giving such clear signs of having fun – dogs don’t lie;
  • not one sign of inter dog aggression or jealousy, it’s so satisfying to see a bunch of dogs working together;
  • I didn’t spot a single pedigree in the group.

Don’t underestimate what your dog can learn with the right attitude and patience on your part, plus a little imagination and a whole lot of time!

Dog Show.

So What’s the Fuss?   Leave a comment

Why does it matter if dogs aren’t really wolves in doggie clothing?

There was a subtle shift in my mind set when I began to take this on board a couple of years ago. What we think tends to inform our actions. So if I think my dog is really wolf, and wolves have such a bad rep, then I need to be on top of keeping my ‘wolf’ in check. So even though I love my dogs, I have to be a disciplinarian and strong authority figure. I cannot let my guard slip (especially with large German Shepherds who are way too smart!) and need to sit on any ‘signs’ of rebellion.

But once I understood that the information is flawed (see previous blog “Wolf?”), I did quite a bit of thinking over time about how that would change my relationship with my own dogs and how I would advise owners of the cute little pups who come to Rose’s Puppy School. It was important that my thinking led to responsible advice handed out to trusting humans. The wrong advice could lead to injury and heartbreak further down the line.

So yes, dogs need guidance and leadership from their humans, but they don’t need punishment. Behaviours we find unacceptable can be interrupted and made unsuccessful consistently for a puppy so that that behaviour falls off the possible options the dogs has to pick from in a given situation. Instead we can substitute behaviours that are more acceptable that we reinforce over and over until that option is the dog’s first choice.

I love hearing from owners about how the puppy is learning not to jump because they have made jumping boring by ignoring the bouncing baby and teaching them to sit and greet a hand instead.

A problem owners often come up against is when their otherwise loving pet decides that couches are made for him, and growls because they try and turf him off. He’s not actually telling them that he’s the boss and a higher ranking animal. He’s just saying he likes that spot and isn’t willing to share or move. You’ll need to entice him off the couch and onto his own bed (lots of yummy treats or a delicious stuffed hoof will make that change a much better option) – do NOT punish him for being on the couch or growling – that could rouse his resource guarding instinct and lead to an argument you may not win. For a while restrict access to the couch when you are not there to remind him he has his own bed. Keep reinforcing the correct sleeping spot and cue ‘on your bed’, ‘go settle’.

Jumping and sleeping quarters are just 2 of many areas of possible confusion when bringing up this different species. The more you read and listen and work with your dog, the more you’ll understand and learn about how to adapt her canine instincts to your human expectations.

Posted 20/10/2012 by Rose's Puppy School in Dog Behaviour, Rose's Reflections

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Wolf?   Leave a comment

So what’s the story with dogs and wolves?  We hear here there and everywhere that wolves live in a hierarchical society using strength and aggression to secure a higher place in the pack; that they are led by an alpha male and female that exert their authority by means of dominant displays.  We have also been told that dogs are closely related to wolves and therefore use the same social structure and that if we want to live with a dog we need to understand how to be the alpha somebody or other.

This is the theory that I’ve ‘grown up’ in the dog world hearing and to be honest using, without questioning it.  But one aspect that has always disturbed me with this model is that talking ‘dominance’ gives some humans the idea that they can use physical force to get their dogs to listen, often going too far in their anger with a ‘disobedient’ animal.  Once I learned about positive reinforcement and clicker training I was thrilled to have tools to work with my beloved GSDs without force, and from then on I did all I could to spread the word.  Ever since I started Rose’s Puppy School in 1998 I’ve preached PR as the way to go.

The next ‘aha’ understanding came when I read ‘Dogs’ by Ray Coppinger and attended a seminar he gave in Cape Town.  Here we learned about the differences between dogs and wolves and that the pack theory had been shown to be incorrect in the light of more recent research.  Yeah for DNA!

So point no 1 is that wolves are dogs closest living relatives.  However, point 2, dogs are not descended from wolves – rather modern wolves and dogs share a common ancestry that diverged 10 000+ years ago into 2 separate species.

Point 3: The wolves that were studied in the past were North American Timber wolves (less closely related to dogs than European wolves) in captivity.  Unrelated, in confined spaces, leaderless, competing for food, space, and mating privileges.  This is very different to the wolf in its natural habitat, now shown to live in family groups, usually mom, dad and the kids.  In other words, a family.  Successful families live co-operatively, with parents as leaders but the kids have roles to play too, especially the teenagers who help with the younger cubs.  Observers say that there is little overt aggression in the wolf family groups, that is reserved for intruders.  Not pussy cats no, but also not the dominance driven animal usually portrayed.

So wrong assumptions, wrong wolves, wrong situations have led us up the garden path and only in the last 10 years or so have biologists and scientists come to a better understanding through observation of wild wolves and DNA research.  This is a very simplified version but if you’re interested, check out John Bradshaw’s’ In Defence of Dogs’ and Coppinger’s ‘Dogs’. I’m sure we’ll learn more in the years to come.

I haven’t even begun on the differences between dogs and wolves, but for now, using the wolf as a possible model:  your dog needs you to be his ‘leader’ but not his boss, he needs your authority wielded with love, not aggression or dominance. You’re not the alpha, you’re the parent (if I can use that word without being accused of anthropomorphism).  Science has shown that dogs are not trying to take over your world, they just keep doing what works for them and it’s up to us to mold their behaviour to fit into our world successfully.

Posted 05/10/2012 by Rose's Puppy School in Dog Behaviour, Rose's Reflections

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It’s time to get the word out!   Leave a comment

  • I am not an animal behaviourist so cannot call myself an expert in this field.  I have had years of interacting with dogs as pets, working towards competitions and helping others achieve their goals, coupled with being interested, concerned and enthusiastic.
  • All this exposure to dogs and also to humans who are expert in behaviour or biology has led to a gradual change in my understanding of how dogs relate to each other and to humans.  Being a trainer and vet nurse I’ve had the opportunity to attend seminars, lectures and conferences; meet behaviourists, biologists, vets; read books; observe my own dogs and the 100s of puppies that’ve passed through Rose’s Puppy School.
  • These are a few books that I’ve read that have been influential on this journey of understanding dogs:

Ray Coppinger : Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour and Evolution

John Bradshaw: In Defence of Dogs (apparently now in paperback as “Dog Sense”)

Jean Donaldson: Culture Clash and Dogs are from Neptune

Pat Miller: Power of Positive Dog Training

Karin Pryor: Don’t Shoot the Dog 1985

  • Ray Coppinger’s seminar made me sit and up and really start to grapple with understanding the origin of dogs and how that should change what I do and how I view canine behaviour.
  • I am concerned that the changes in attitude and understanding are not filtering down to owners and breeders.  That’s one reason that I think puppy school can be of great benefit in that we do much more than just give pups an opportunity to interact with others in their species in a controlled environment.  In a well run puppy school there should be lots of sharing of information to owners and opportunity for them to ask questions and begin their own journey of understanding.
  • John Bradshaw said: “Owners and dogs have been at the mercy of poor quality trickled-down information used by traditional, militaristic training.” That is so true and I am determined to be part of the ongoing learning and conversation around understanding dogs that has begun over the last few years.
  • Next blog I’ll write more about these ‘new’ ideas  concerning the history of dogs and how they relate to humans.Wolf?