Monday, 20 October 2014 11:05

When is it time to give up teaching a dog new tricks?

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I CONFESS to persevering longer than most people with dogs that have issues, and I admit it is more enjoyable working with a dog that shows ability from day one. Perhaps I should be more ruthless? When do you draw the line with a problem dog?


Virtually every problem with a pup or dog is the result of somebody doing something that they shouldn’t have done or somebody not doing what they should do.

An exception to that rule can be a pup’s birth nature: an abnormal fear of everything or an aggressive approach to life. If you know, without doubt, that nothing has happened to cause either fear or aggression then you know it is in the pup’s mind. I don’t waste my time with either of these.

As pups get older aggression may start to creep in and if dealt with correctly it rarely becomes a problem. Hormones may be to blame and sometimes it can be as simple as de-sexing.

Timid pups are different to soft pups. Timid pups hide; loud noises scare them; new people or animals have them scurrying for cover; they seem terrified of the world. There are too many outgoing happy pups around to bother with the timid. Put them down.

Soft pups, however, are somewhat standoffish with new people and dogs, they sit back observing rather than meeting everything boldly. I find these pups respond very well to kind gentle handling and they are often easy to train and easy to manage when working. I am naturally drawn to them.

Occasionally I have been training a young dog that takes offence at correction - a raised angry tone of voice, or something thrown near it to keep it back off sheep - and it will scarper back to the kennels.

Beating it at the kennels or putting it away will only worsen the problem; we go back to where we were training and I patiently resume. If it is about to happen again, I will give the stop command as it is beginning to slink off, it stops in its tracks and I praise the obedience and we end training for the day, on a good note.

Often, in time, you can patiently work through the pup’s insecurity. However, if you have done nothing wrong and everything right and the pup still can’t handle an angry voice, threats and correction, it isn’t going to cope with the noise and commotion that happens in working situations. Don’t waste your time with it.

Correct rearing of pups is vital and it is very easy to rear a pup well. But it’s also easy to make a mistake and ruin it for life. I can’t stress this enough.

When a pup first misbehaves, your actions will determine whether or not the bad behaviour is stopped, or it escalates into a bigger problem, or another problem altogether. It’s worth rereading that sentence: it is very important.

Most faults and problems with pups and young dogs can be nipped in the bud early, and I don’t see any, other than the ones I have described above, as insurmountable.

The only exception is ‘worrying’. Once a dog has mauled an animal or killed, it can never be trusted. I have no hesitation shooting a dog that has worried.

If you have a low success rate with pups and working dogs, take a long look at yourself and either get a makeover or find another job.

I am grateful to the dogs that tested my patience and to the dogs that didn’t respond to basic training techniques for they taught me new ways of doing things.  

• Anna Holland is teaching people dog training. For more information  or Ph  06) 212 4848 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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