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.

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.

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?

Breed Focus: Maltese   Leave a comment

By Nicola van Ass – taken from ThinkingPets newsletter (see Websites I Recommend)
The Maltese Poodle is a small breed of dog that generally weighs between 1.8Kg and 5Kg. Their origin is largely unknown although they have been around as a breed since Aristotle mentioned them in 370BC. They are generally pure white, but some have either cream or a pale ivory colouring. Originally thought to have been bred for catching rats, they have become sought after companions for the new dog owner, experienced dog owner as well as elderly dog owners.

The Maltese is known for its love of company and affection. They do not have very high pain thresholds, so getting their ears pulled by children may make them reactive towards children in future. It is very important to socialize them to all ages of people from day one so that your Maltese puppy can grow up into a well-adjusted adult. When children are playing with them, it’s important to make sure the children are supervised at all times and taught a gentle way to handle dogs in general.

They have a lot of energy and even when they start to age they still tend to be curious and excited about most things. They enjoy playing with people and will keep you entertained constantly.

They have soft fur that, if left to grow, can have a similar look to that of a Yorkshire Terrier. However, most people tend to clip the breed into either a summer cut (in the warmer months) or the Teddy Bear cut throughout the year. They are known as a hypoallergenic breed, which means that if someone is allergic to dogs in general they tend not to be allergic to the Maltese or they will have a minimal allergic reaction. They do not have an undercoat, which means less shedding and because their fur is soft and silky it is perfect for those who do not want dog fur on their furniture and around their homes. Keep in mind though that they do need regular grooming to prevent matting of the fur and they also require a lot of care to their eyes as they tend to get tear stains under their eyes. This is caused by the eye watering and the liquid sits on the fur under the eyes. If left and not cleaned, this can cause a staining of the white fur and can also become infected, causing pain and discomfort for our furry friends. Wiping under the eyes every day or two with damp cotton wool can lessen the staining and possibility of infection.

With regards to their health, they are generally a healthy breed. Being a small breed a Maltese can live for up to 18 years! They tend to suffer from eye problems like cataracts as they age and they are known to have a problem called “reverse sneezing”. It sounds like they are wheezing and tends to happen when they are excited or if they have an allergy. It is not life threatening and is usually helped by calming the dog down and getting it to relax.

Because of their white fur, the Maltese needs extra protection against harmful UV rays. Spending long periods in the sun without shade can cause sun burn and skin problems. Always make sure that there is shade available for your dog, no matter the breed, and use pet-friendly sun screen when you are out and about.

A common issue with the breed is that they tend to bark quite a lot. While this is great for alerting people of danger, it can become quite a problem if not sorted out fairly early. Training and behaviourists are generally able to help with this problem.

As with all small breeds, the Maltese may take longer to house train than other puppies. It is extremely important to be consistent when house training your puppy. Do keep in mind that it is unpleasant for dogs that are close to the ground to go outside in cold and wet weather. You can start preparing your puppy for the rainy months by wetting the grass outside once in a while before taking him outside. This helps to familiarize your puppy with the feel of wet grass.

The Maltese is quite an easy dog to train – they are known for their keen intelligence. They enjoy the company of humans and tend to focus on their owner when being spoken to. They are generally happy in socialisation classes and tend to get on well with most new puppies in class. Keep in mind that they start out very small and care needs to be taken when introducing them to large dogs. Also, remember that each dog is an individual, so while they might be easy to train not every dog acts according to the guidelines. A well socialised and trained Maltese will be a wonderful addition to any home. As with all breeds, patience and consistency is required when training as well as at home.


Posted 01/09/2012 by Rose's Puppy School in Dog Breeds

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Breed Focus: Cocker Spaniel   Leave a comment

By Nicola van Ass – from ThinkingPets newsletter – see Websites I Recommend

Cocker Spaniel

There are two types of Cocker Spaniel: The American Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel. While their origin is unknown, this breed was bred for hunting in the UK and got its name “Cocker” from hunting a bird called the Eurasian Woodcock, and eventually the American Woodcock. Because of their hunting abilities, they are classified in the Gun Dog group. When dealing with Spaniels, it’s important to remember some key facts:

  1. They are very trainable, but when they catch sight of a bird their training normally goes out the window. They go into a “zone” and it’s nearly impossible to get them to focus until the bird has gone away. What works well here is to make sure that your recall is impeccable from an early age and also to have a key word or sound that is used when getting the attention of your Spaniel.
  2. They are quite an energetic breed. Being bred for hunting, they have good stamina and need to be exercised regularly. Walking every day is a must, although long walks are not necessary. Rather, short but frequent walks are great for this breed.
  3. Many Spaniels enjoy water. This can become a problem if they are not groomed regularly. They have a soft fur that grows quite long on the ears and because of this, if the ears get wet, it can cause ear infections very swiftly. This is because there are folds in the ears that sometimes do not allow air to get into the ear and this makes it nice and warm, as well as wet inside the ear. A breeding ground for bacteria. It is important to make sure that you dry them off well after they have been for a swim. Also, because the ears hang down, many people forget to check the ears because they are not immediately visible inside. It really makes a difference when you check their ears every couple of days to make sure there are no problems.

They are not large dogs, with the males growing up to 41cm and weighing up to 16 kg. According to the breed standard, they should be the same height from withers to floor, as their length from withers to root of the tail. Their lifespan is between 9 – 15 years, although some have been known to live for many more years than that!

They do not require heavy grooming, but it is recommended that you brush them every day or two to make sure that their coat doesn’t knot. Pay special attention to their ears, under their arms as well as their feet. These are the places where the fur knots very quickly and can become very painful if not sorted out as soon as possible. The Spaniel’s hair doesn’t grow back with the same silky texture if it has been shaved, although a lot of people shave their Spaniels during summer when they swim all the time.

As said before, this is a very trainable breed, but one needs to remember that patience and consistency are the keys to successful training. Start from as young an age as possible and keep going. There are so many things for your dog to learn that it is very beneficial to train throughout their lives. This is a very lovable breed that enjoys human interaction. They don’t do well outside on their own and need to be part of the family. The Spaniel has been known to snap at children, but remember this is also due to socialisation and experience throughout the dog’s life. Try to keep every experience as positive as possible and make sure that they are positively introduced to as many people and children as possible from a puppy, as well as meeting as many other dogs (or cats) as possible.

Air Kong Fetch Stick   Leave a comment

Super puppy toy


I discovered this toy years ago when I had German Shepherd pups.  Using positive reinforcement training methods I needed a dog toy that could replace food rewards in training, partly because food only works up to a point to keep a dog’s attention and also because training for Schutzhund (IPO working trials) we want high drive and energy.  So a toy on a rope was called for but young dogs struggle to catch a ball easily.  There are various other ‘sausage’ type toys on the market, but not many of them have the rope attached for playing ‘tug of peace’ as a reward for correct heeling or recalls.

The Air Kong Fetch Stick works really well and I recommend them to my puppy school clients as they make great park toys to get a good recall.  This toy fits into the interactive toy category and should not be left lying around for dogs to chew on by themselves, or play tug with each other. It’s meant for human-dog interaction and should be put away after play.  It should retail at under R100.00.



















































































































Walking with the Woofs – Your Story   Leave a comment

So what can I advise from my own experience to help you achieve a happy walk?

  • It’s about your close relationship with your dog as well as obedience.  You’re a team or family, walking together, having fun.  Chat to your dogs a little, let them know you’re happy to be there with them, don’t let them go more than a few meters away from you, teach them that staying near to you is where the good stuff happens. 
  • Teach ‘watch me’ or ‘look’ so when you speak your dog actually tunes in.
  • Teaching ‘recall’ is vital – never, ever let your dog off lead if you’re not sure he’ll come back to you.  Practise recall on lead, using the normal lead or a long line, with many repetitions in all possible situations.  Once you have some confidence in your pup, let him trail a long (5 –10m) lead that you can quickly reach to ensure his obedience.
  • Walk with a toy on a rope that you and your pup play with at home.  When you call him, wiggle the toy excitedly and play ‘tug of peace’ when he comes in – you need to be more exciting than the other dogs – well, at least try!!
  • In the early days, arm yourself with treats in a treat bag and clicker as well as the toy.
  • Keeping moving quite quickly, humans are sooo boring when they walk slowly. Vary the route and direction, keep them guessing a little.
  • When you’re near other dogs, call your pup in closer to you and try to distract him from rushing up to them.  Young dogs often get into trouble in their enthusiasm which is unappreciated by older dogs.  It takes can take ages for a happy youngster to learn this (or at least it took ages for Minka!) but keep working at it until you just have to use a warning tone for your dog to respond.
  • Keep your dog away from dogs on lead – sometimes it’s because the other dog is aggressive and it’s not fair for your pooch to wind them up, besides being dangerous.
  • Pick up after your dog – ‘Bags on Board’ is a roll of doggie doo bags to keep in your pocket or clipped to the lead. 
  • I seldom actually ‘recall’ my dogs, they just never move that far away that I need to.  I think this comes about because I’ve done lots of heel work with them so being close to mom is in itself rewarding now.  Teaching with positive reinforcement methods means your dog will be ever hopeful of goodies or a game. 
  • Practise in your garden: move away from your pup, call him to your side and when he arrives, click and treat.  Move away again, click and treat.  You can lure him in close if necessary but only reward him when he’s in close to you.  This teaches him to come to heel and to watch what you’re doing because you’re unpredictable. 
  • Begin when your pup is just 9-10 weeks old by going to a reputable puppy school (with just 4 – 6 pups per trainer) where the emphasis is on dog-human relationship building and successful, controlled interaction between dogs.  It is NOT about wild play with other pups, it’s about him learning sensible, polite doggie language so he can behave appropriately when meeting all kinds of dogs.  They learn a lot in play, but also on lead in class.

So, once your pup has had all his vaccinations, get out there and begin a lifetime of pleasure and exercise!  The more you do it the easier it will get.