Tag Archives: Diploma in Canine Psychology

Breed Specific Legislation – Part 3

Here is the conclusion of my Course Assessment for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology/Behaviour. This and my previous 2 posts, deal with Breed Specific Legislation in Australia:

The law as it stands makes it illegal in Australia to keep an unregistered pit bull terrier, or any of the other breeds on the list of restricted breeds. However, since 2012, it has not been possible for any owners of such dogs to actively register their dogs with their local Councils. The only way to register a restricted dog is through the Courts, and that only because there’s been an incident involving the dog already and the Court has ordered that the dog be registered. Not being able to register your dogs means the Rangers can come and confiscate them as they like, simply by “identifying” them by sight alone. And without proper guidelines specifying exactly what a pit bull terrier looks like, ANY dog is potentially in great danger of being removed and euthanised, simply because it LOOKS like a pit bull.

I personally don’t agree with breed specific legislation. ALL dogs have sharp teeth and the potential to bite anyone. For me, the solution lies in educating the public about how to read a dog’s body language, learning to respect a strange dog and keep your distance, teaching your children the correct way to interact with dogs, and punishing the deed not the breed. People should be encouraged to bring their puppies to socialisation and training classes, so their dogs grow up to be well-adjusted and familiar with humans. Dog-fighting should be the thing that’s banned, not certain breeds of dogs. Impose custodial sentences on persons found to be involved in dog-fighting rings, or of breeding dogs for such purposes; put them away so they can’t contribute further to the problem.

I find it ironic that most reports of dog attacks involve large, powerful dogs. It’s as if when a little Chihuahua bites you, it’s okay, but not if a Rottweiler bites you. The extent of your injury may be vastly different in size and severity between the two, but all dogs share the same body language of fight, flight or freeze. Most reported dog bites are about dogs at large; many dog owners don’t feel a need to report that their family pet has bitten them. A dog on the loose could be scared out of its wits and simply looking for its way home, and along come total strangers who want to corner it and put a noose around its neck – can you really blame that dog for displaying fear aggression?

We can blame Social Media and the newspapers and TV for scare-mongering, and proliferating misleading information to the public, for the sake of gaining more viewers and readers. Even politicians have been known to jump on the bandwagon. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/thousands-unhappy-with-dangerous-dog-warnings-in-meath-1.2640777

The problem is, most people who have never owned a dog or experienced the joys of living with one, simply believe what they see or read these days. Beware though, a little knowledge can be very dangerous. In November 2015 in Perth, Western Australia there was a loose Pit Bulll-Staffy type dog on the streets, and panicked residents rang the Rangers and Police. Video footage showed a Policeman aiming his gun at the dog. The dog was giving signals of appeasement – looking away, looking submissive, wagging its tail and sitting down. The policeman shot the dog dead.


One of my own dogs, Shelagh, is a Staffy-Mastiff who, at first glance, looks like a Pit Bull. She’s the biggest softy I’ve ever known, very affectionate, very intelligent and very loving. I’ve come across people, total strangers, who have told me with the utmost confidence that my dog will “turn vicious without warning”, that “Pit Bulls are very aggressive and dangerous dogs”, that I should only bring Shelagh out “always with a muzzle on and where there’s no one else around, so she doesn’t go around biting people”. I guess you could say I have a vested interest in making sure my own dog remains safe from such ignorant people in this country.

Useful web links relating to Breed Specific Legislation in Australia:




Unknown2(Image source: Google Images)


Breed Specific Legislation – Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post on Breed Specific Legislation in Australia, as part of my final Course Assessment for the ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology/Behaviour.

Breed-specific legislation

Breed-specific legislation generally refers to laws that target specific breeds of dogs. In Australia there are currently two types of breed-specific legislation:

  1.  Under the Commonwealth customs legislation there is a ban on the importation of several specific breeds of dogs; Japanese Tosa, fila Brasiliero, dogo Argentino, perrode presa Canario, and American Pit Bull Terrier. Importantly, this is a ban on importation and not a prohibition on ownership.
  2.  Most state and territory jurisdictions have placed restrictions upon the ownership of these breeds such as muzzling in public, desexing, and fence and enclosure requirements. Some states and even some local councils have taken the further step of banning the prescribed breeds of dogs completely.

Throughout history, there’s always been a breed of dog that gets demonized, a scapegoat for society to hang the blame on whenever someone gets bitten by a dog. Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermanns all had their turn. Now the short straw has been drawn by the Pit Bull Terrier. Which is ironic, because there isn’t a DNA test that can conclusively confirm if a dog is indeed a Pit Bull, because Pit Bulls are a mixture of one or more of these breeds – the English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier and the Bull Terrier. Which is good AND bad. Good, because the law cannot prove conclusively that your dog is indeed a Pit Bull and therefore subject it to restrictions reserved for Pit Bulls. Bad, because you cannot prove conclusively that your dog is NOT a Pit Bull.

Basically, any dog that bears a passing resemblance to a Pit Bull, or behaves like one, can be deemed to be a Pit Bull.

The ‘pit bulls’ you meet may be shelter dogs of indeterminate origin or they may have pedigree as American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers (APBT) or more recently, American Bullies – See more at: http://www.badrap.org/breed-history#sthash.9IAXCAAH.dpuf

What are the characteristics of a Pit Bull? Here’s a demonstration of how ridiculous the law can get:

The Queensland government (Australia) has a 22-point identification system that consists of 22 descriptions of a Pit Bull and a rating system of one to three. So, for example, Point Nine is The dog’s eyes are round. If you think the dog’s eyes are round you rate the dog at three and if not, you rate the dog at one. Endangered Dog Breeds Australia (EDBA) demonstrated the flaw in the ID system when they applied it to Pat the Chihuahua. Out of a possible score of 66, Pat scored a total of 50 and, according to Queensland Animal Control Officers, Pat the Chihuahua “substantially meets the description of an American Pit Bull Terrier type”.


The tide may be changing, however. Recently on 23rd March 2016, the Herald Sun in Victoria state, Australia reported:

CONTROVERSIAL dangerous dog laws forcing councils to confiscate and kill pit bulls could be overhauled in Victoria, according to a long-awaited Parliamentary report.

The inquiry into the legislative and regulatory framework relating to restricted-breed dogs made 31 recommendations including calling for the government to scrap 2012 legislation which resulted in scores of dogs being put on death row.

The recommendations included:

— Allowing pitbulls to be registered but place other restrictions on owners of restricted breeds.

— Greater penalties for owners of restricted-breed dogs who do not register their dogs.

— Ending the requirement for non-racing greyhounds to be muzzled in public.

— Improved data collection about dog attacks.

Committee chair Joshua Morris said the probe was thorough and urged changes to be implemented as soon as possible.

“What is clear is that a change is required to reduce the number of dog attacks and the injuries resulting from them,’’ he said.

“We heard differing and conflicting viewpoints and we have sought to be objective and balanced in our findings and recommendations.

“The Government should consider the changes recommended by the committee and look at implementing those changes as quickly as possible.”

More than 450 submissions spoke against the laws during the nine month investigation into the issue.

The Australian Veterinary Association told the parliamentary panel DNA profiling was difficult and said animals should be judges on behaviour.

“Assessing whether or not a dog is a restricted breed according to the standard is impossible,’’ said the submission.

“Dogs should be assessed by their behaviour in an incident in which they have been involved — deed not breed.’’

The legislation ordering the death of restricted breeds was rushed through Parliament in 2012 following the death of four-year-old Ayen Chol.

She died after a neighbour’s pit bull-mastiff mauled her as she clung to her mother’s leg at their St Albans home in 2011.

Scores of animals were rounded up by Melbourne councils following the changes.

However, dog owners fought to save their animals prompting three Supreme Court trials and 19 VCAT hearings, costing local councils hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.

(I’ve copied and pasted the contents of the webpage, as when you try to go to the above weblink a second time, it requests that you subscribe to the Herald Sun first instead).

Needless to say, this news has caused quite a backlash amongst the unenlightened public, who choose to believe whatever stories the media has fed them the last few years, since breed specific legislation was introduced in 2012.


Bully breeds(Image source: Google Images)

Breed Specific Legislation – Part 1

This is from the final Course Assessment of my ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology/Behaviour. I just have to complete my final Thesis, which by the time you read these posts, I will hopefully have completed and submitted. And who knows, I might have even passed and been awarded the Diploma?!

The Question:

Go to www.doglaw.co.uk or the relevant dog law websites in your country and read through the legal links. Write an essay of between 500 and 1,000 words on how these laws affect dog owners in your area. Conclude with your personal opinion on Breed Specific Legislation, and the reasons for your opinion.


My Answer:

For this question, I will answer in some places by quoting references from various websites. There is a plethora of information about breed specific legislation around the world, some more accurate than others. For this question, I shall concentrate only on UK and Australian law.

Here’s a breakdown on breed-specific legislation of each different state in Australia:


State Yes/No Details of conditions and any associated laws
NSW Yes Section 55 of the Companion Animals Act 1988 contains restrictions for the prescribed breeds (see above)

The owners of restricted dogs must comply with the following requirements:

  • The dog must be kept in a child proof enclosure.
  • The dog cannot be in the sole charge of a person under the age of 18 years.
  • One or more signs “ Warning Dangerous Dogs” must be displayed on the boundaries of the property
  • When the dog is away from its normal property it must be under the effective control of a competent person
  • The dog cannot be sold to a person less than 18 years of age
  • The dog owner must notify the Local Council of the following matters
    • That the dog has attacked or injured a person or animal (within 24 hours)
    • That the dog cannot be found (within 24 hours)
    • That the dog has died (as soon as possible)
    • That the dog’s ownership has changed (within 24 hours)
    • That the dog is no longer being ordinarily kept in the area of the council (as soon as possible)
    • That the dog is being ordinarily kept at a different location in the area of the council (as soon as possible)
QLD Yes Restrictions for the prescribed breeds (see above)
SA Yes Restrictions for the prescribed breeds (see above), must be desexed, muzzled in public, not allowed to be sold or given away
TAS No Restrictions for the prescribed breeds (see above) under Dog Control Act 2000
VIC Yes Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 of the Commonwealth – restricted breed dog

Domestic (Feral & Nuisance) Animals Act 1994: Section 7: Exemptions for Guide Dogs Section 27: Restraint of greyhounds. Section 41G/L: Restraint of restricted breed dogs when on owners premises

Also specific regulations (Catchment & Land Protection Act 1994) regarding keeping of dingoes

WA Yes Federal import ban – Dog Act for dangerous dogs

The following is from the Australian Veterinary Association’s website http://www.ava.com.au/policy/614-breed-specific-legislation


CONTINUED TOMORROW IN PART 2:  Breed-specific legislation


(Image Source: Google Images)



Woke up this morning to find this waiting for me.Yay, me! Happy dance! 🎓🎶🖒😄❤

I can’t believe I’ve finished this Diploma Course! It’s been such a pleasure to study, the topic of canine psychology and behaviour is really fascinating and dynamic. The Course itself, with The ISCP, is very well constructed – the Coursework Assessments really make you think. Many thanks to Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, founder and principal of The ISCP, for your friendship and words of encouragement, and to the fabulous people on the ISCP Facebook Group, you guys rock! 👍👍👍

There is a recommended booklist to go through, but you can also read other books too, and while I was doing this Course, the book “Decoding Your Dog” came out, which I highly recommend. Off the top of my head, 2 other books that stood out are “Inside of a dog” by Alexandra Horowitz and “Clever Dog” by Sarah Whitehead. Excellent reading!

When I’m more organised I’ll share the list of recommended reading with you here. For now, I’m going to celebrate becoming a qualified Canine Behaviour Practitioner, and start exploring job options. Who knows where this could lead me? I’m excited! Now to put into practice what I’ve learned.

Adopting A Rescue Dog (Part 2)

(Continued from yesterday’s post about Adopting A Rescue Dog):

I would also find out if Sandra’s property is gated and fenced, or is it wide open. Does she live in the city, in a suburb, or out in the country? If her property is fenced, will her fence be secure and high enough to deter would-be fence jumpers or escape artists? Some dogs, regardless of breed or size, are able to scale brick walls or chain-link fences and escape out into the street. Sandra may have to consider investing in a high fence with a return, or constructing a higher garden wall. Or, simply considering a small dog with short legs, such as a Corgi or Dachshund or a Pug. Having said that, how secure is her fencing under the ground? Sandra would also have to consider getting a breed that won’t dig its way out from under the fence…which means discounting certain breeds that were created to dig out or flush out prey from underground lairs, such as Jack Russell Terriers, Beagles, Dachshunds. Maybe the whole idea of having a dog that lives inside and outside is moot, maybe Sandra just wants a dog that will be happy enough living inside with her, and being taken out for a walk once or twice a day? And who will leave her precious garden alone completely? Sandra loves to read, perhaps a little dog that fits in her lap, or that’s quite happy and contented to snooze at her feet, might be just the ticket? A smaller dog may be ideal for Sandra’s arthritis, it would be easier to control while out walking, and could even be picked up when its little legs give out from tiredness, or to protect it from unwelcome advances from bigger dogs.

Sandra has never had a dog before. Getting a puppy and starting from scratch may seem a good idea, but she’ll need to consider whether in 10 years’ time, will she still be capable of walking and exercising her dog? It’s good that she’s retired so she will be home more often than not, as leaving a puppy at home to its own devices is never a good idea. Even if you ply it with a multitude of toys, more often than not the puppy will find your couch more entertaining for the stuffing that comes out of it with each rip. Or you may come home to find your precious heirloom dining room table now only has 3 remaining legs, amidst a pile of matchsticks. Puppies will need to be toilet-trained, taken outside to do their business every few hours, attend obedience classes, be taught to walk nicely on lead, learn basic commands, and be enriched both mentally and physically. Is Sandra up to committing herself to a couple of years of that, before her puppy grows up and becomes the perfect companion? If not, I would recommend discounting a puppy and looking for an adult or older dog. There are already too many dogs languishing in shelters because their owners realised they really did not want to commit, or could not commit, the time, patience and money to raise a dog from puppyhood. I would not want Sandra to contribute to that. If Sandra is in her 70s, crippled with arthritis, and wants a puppy that may outlive her, I would recommend against that for this very reason.

Adult dogs can be sourced from shelters, pounds, through local Buy&Sell ads, or even found abandoned in the streets (if the Ranger doesn’t get there first). Older dogs tend to get surrendered at shelters when their owners die or get too old to look after them, or move into aged care facilities. Both adult and older dogs may come with emotional baggage of their own, which Sandra needs to be aware of. Getting a dog from a shelter means being willing to work with any potential problems or behavioural issues the dog may have – be it separation anxiety, timidity, reactiveness to other dogs, having a high prey drive, being aloof, noisy barkers, extremely playful or completely introverted. Some dogs may develop a selective dislike towards men, women, children or other animals. Older or senior dogs, that are over 7 years of age, can come with health problems such as kidney failure, cancer, canine dementia, heart problems, cysts etc. Is Sandra prepared to take on these as and when they occur? Is she prepared to adopt an older dog that may have at the most 2-3 years of life left? Older dogs can be the most companionable, as their needs are fewer and they tend to sleep more and are content just being around their humans. How much exercise exactly does Sandra hope to get herself? Senior dogs could do with just a 30 minute walk a day, but Sandra also needs to consider whether, with her arthritis, she would be able to lift and carry her dog home, should it decide to sit down and refuse to walk because it’s gotten too tired.


Adopting A Rescue Dog (Part 1)

The following is part of my coursework for my ongoing Diploma in Canine Psychology course, with The ISCP. I’m 1 units and a final Thesis shy of getting my Diploma. Just need to find the time to sit down at my computer and type!

(My Answer is rather long, so this Post will be in 3 parts).

The Question:
Read my mini-book, Adopting a Rescue Dog. This is available as a free PDF file that you can download from http://dogwelfarealliance.com. After reading this, write between 1,000 and 3,000 words on what suggestions and recommendations you would offer to this woman who is thinking of adopting a rescue dog and is asking for your advice:

Sandra lives alone and is recently retired. She lives in a small house with a large garden. Sandra has never had a dog before, but gets on very well with the Golden Retriever and Jack Russell Terrier who live next door. Lately she has been thinking of adopting a dog for company and to motivate herself to take more exercise. She enjoys walking, though not for long distances as she is prone to arthritis. Her grandchildren, aged 7 and 9, visit at weekends. Sandra is a relaxed, easy-going person who likes a quiet life and intends to spend her retirement gardening and reading. She is rather proud of her beautiful garden.

In your essay, include:
. Which points do you feel are most relevant to Sandra’s temperament and plans for her retirement?
. Which breed or mix of breeds do you think could be a good match with Sandra’s lifestyle, personality, situation and interests?
. Would you recommend a puppy, adult or older dog?
. What advice would you give her about visiting a rescue shelter and preparing to adopt a dog?

(Artwork by Dean Russo, found on Google).

My Answer:

From the profile given, Sandra clearly takes great pride in her garden. It would not be suitable therefore to recommend to her a breed that’s large and energetic to boot, that will no doubt rip up her precious lawn and flowerbeds in no time at all. Also, as she suffers from arthritis, it would not be advisable for her to get a breed that’s too large to handle, or too energetic to rein in easily. Her house is small, although her garden is large. A big dog in a small house, especially if it’s rambunctious, could be akin to a bull in a china shop – a recipe for disaster. This would discount the larger, stronger breeds such as the Rottweiler, Bull Mastiff, Great Dane, Saint Bernard, Bernese Mountain Dog, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute.

Sandra’s temperament appears to match well with her neighbour’s Golden Retriever, who is a medium-large breed but not too energetic. Golden Retrievers are known for their even temperament, affable and easy-going nature, intelligence and trainability. As their name implies, they were bred to retrieve ducks and birds for hunters…so Sandra may have to consider taking up the practice of throwing balls and frisbees for her new dog, if she got a Golden Retriever. Is she prepared to do that within her property? Or is she happy to take the dog out for walks in the park, off-leash, and throw things for it to fetch? How will that affect her arthritis? If she’s unable to fulfil a Golden Retriever’s need to do what it was bred for, exercise-wise, is Sandra prepared to invest in enrichment toys to keep its brain active?  

Jack Russell Terriers tend to be active little dogs, but they can also be couch potatoes who like nothing better than to curl up in your lap – Sandra’s neighbour’s Jack Russell Terrier could well be one of those, or an older, more mature dog that has passed its juvenile/adolescent stage and has settled down. Seeing as Sandra already has a rapport with her neighbour’s Golden Retriever and Jack Russell Terrier, she would already have a good idea about their temperament, exercise requirements, life span, space requirements, mental agility etc. Jack Russell Terriers, by their very name, can be real diggers, and Sandra would have to take this into account if considering getting one for herself. Perhaps her precious garden could be blocked off from the dog, and only a certain part of it made accessible? Is she prepared to put up with her lawn being ripped up, holes in the ground and mounds of earth everywhere? Is Sandra a clean house fanatic, because any dog that digs and is allowed both inside and outside the house, is bound to traipse in muddy footprints, leaves, the occasional dead mouse or shrew, and grassy puke.

Certain small dogs do not appreciate being picked up and played with like a toy. I would find out more about Sandra’s grand-children, who, at age 7 and 9, are at the peak of their curiosity. A small, diminutive dog, such as a Chihuahua, would appeal to children who may even mistake it for a puppy. If it doesn’t like the way it’s been picked up and handled, it may nip, or burst into a tirade of ferocious barking and snarling…enough to scare small children away, and to make adults think it’s a dangerous dog. If Sandra is keen on a small dog, I would suggest some breeds that have been bred as lap-dogs, specifically for warming the laps of humans and keeping them company. These breeds haven’t the fiery temper that Chihuahuas are famous for. For example, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Tibetan Spaniel, Papillon, Miniature Poodle, Maltese Terrier, Shih Tzu, Bichon Frise. These breeds are cute and will appeal to both adults and children for their sweetness of temperament. Their exercise needs aren’t especially demanding – a 30 minute walk a day, or twice a day, is more than sufficient. They’re not inclined to go digging in the garden, but would rather just spend time curled up at your feet.

(Continued in tomorrow’s post)…

Behaviour Issues in Dogs: Scenario 2

This is the 2nd scenario I had to write about, for my ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology (see yesterday’s post), about behaviour issues of dogs and how I would set about modifying them.

BEHAVIOUR ISSUE #2: Complete withdrawal

Lilly was a pretty Neapolitan Mastiff who was only in the Refuge a brief time. She was a really pretty dog, with beautiful brindle markings and a sweet rounded head. I’d had no experience with Neapolitan Mastiffs before, and to me Lilly looked like any other Staffy or Pit Bull, breeds that I love. So naturally I wanted to go into her kennel and sit with her and get to know her.

But Lilly had come to the Refuge a timid and scared dog, for reasons unknown. When I first saw her in her kennel, she was standing at the far end, looking away from me. I called to her, and she barely turned her head. When she saw that I was standing at the other end of her kennel, she seemed to freeze, and then quickly darted into the cubby hole where her bed was, as if to hide from me. Of course, I realise then I was a total stranger to her.

I didn’t know much about Lilly’s history or background. She was another surrender at the Refuge. We get quite a few big dogs that get surrendered for various reasons. Perhaps it was because she had fear aggression? Or maybe she simply grew too big for her home? Or her previous family had a new human addition and felt Lilly was too unpredictable to be left alone around the baby?

One of the volunteers had taken Lilly out for a walk earlier that day, and had only good things to say about Lilly. She recommended that I tried walking Lilly, in order to get her to come out of her shell so we could get to know each other. I got another volunteer, my friend Pilot, to take Lilly out to one of the Refuge’s exercise yards. As we walked from the kennel to the yard, I noticed how Lilly startled at everything – the birds whistling in the trees, the sound of the wind through the trees, even the scrabbling noises our shoes made on the gravel pathway. She was such a frightened dog!

Poor Lilly! All she did was lie at the gate to the yard, panting and trembling. She was so terrified of us that her flanks would shiver every now and then. She had her head turned away from us, and facing the gate, as if to say “Let me out of here!” No matter what we did to call her to us, she wouldn’t budge. Pilot even confessed that he’d been a little apprehensive about clipping his lead onto Lilly’s collar back in her kennel, as she seemed so unsure of herself and her body language was just screaming “Stay away!”

After trying for nearly 15 minutes to get Lilly to come out of her shell for us, Pilot decided to try getting low down on the ground, in case Lilly was afraid of our height and of people towering over her. We both lay on the ground, and as I tried commando-crawling closer to Lilly, I saw what can only be described as a shower of doggy treats hurtle past my head towards Lilly. It looked for a moment like it was raining treats! But of course it was only Pilot emptying his pockets, hoping to entice Lilly to come closer and get the food.

But Lilly only lay where she was, not even looking at us, and made no attempt at all to even sniff at the treats on the ground, or to get up on her feet. So, in the end, Pilot very carefully approached her and clipped on her lead, and we proceeded to bring Lilly back to her kennel. Even then, she would stop and startle at every little sound or movement.

The very next day, I went back to the Refuge to try to make Lilly’s acquaintance again. What a changed dog she was! What a pleasant surprise! She was in her kennel and saw me approaching her door. Instead of backing away or trying to hide, she seemed curious. As I entered her kennel, Lilly jumped up onto the ledge above the cubby hole where her bed was, so she and I were eye to eye. I was a bit apprehensive myself about this sudden face-to-face courage, but I had nothing to fear.

Lilly looked at me with her head cocked to one side, as I talked softly to her. I felt like she was assessing me, and trying to decide whether I could be trusted or not. As I raised my hand slowly towards her neck and started stroking the side of her head, she suddenly turned her head and nuzzled me. She gave me a few licks on my face, and my heart just melted. I felt that we’d made a strong connection, a bond. She took the treats I held out to her, and I knew then that she’d be fine with me being there.

I went and got Lilly some new toys, one of them was a light blue soft toy in the shape of a puppy, with a squeaker in its head and tummy. That very quickly became her favourite toy, and she would carry it in her mouth all the time, dropping it only to take a treat or two, before picking it up again and carrying it. It may well have been that she’d had puppies before she came to the Refuge, and perhaps she was remembering them and/or yearning for them. In any case, for the next few days Lilly was at the Refuge, until the day she got adopted, she never went far without that blue toy in her mouth. I told the Staff at the Refuge that Lilly was bonded to that toy and it should not be taken away from her.

Lilly wasn’t at the Refuge very long at all. In fact, I never got to play with her again after that, as she got adopted that very weekend. I did get a couple of photos of Lilly’s adoption emailed to me by one of the Staff at the Refuge, and my heart warmed to see that in both photos, Lilly had her blue toy with her. I like to think that at least she went to her new home with one familiar thing that she loved and could not be parted from.

If I’d had more time to spend with Lilly, I’d have liked to find out the reasons for her startling so easily at strange noises, movements and people. Perhaps in her previous home she’d not been acclimatised to that? Maybe she lived in a backyard (Backyard breeder? Puppy mill?) and had not been socialised properly when she was younger?

Whatever the case, my brief but sweet sojourn with Lilly showed me that even the most timid or scared of dogs can come out of their shells given enough time. Some will take longer than others, but eventually they will all show their true character. Lilly’s transformation from frightened dog to loveable lapdog only took a day or two, which to me indicated that she was capable of learning and being desensitized to external stimuli quite readily.

I always maintain that there are only 4 main ingredients to training a dog: love, patience, time and repetition. The trick is finding out in what ratio or for how long. And luckily, in Lilly’s case, she came round in no time at all, and went home to her forever family a happy dog.


The following images were curated from Pinterest. Hope you find them helpful in understanding your dog’s behaviour better!



Behaviour Issues in Dogs: Scenario 1

From my ongoing (over 3/4 of the way through now, not much further to go!) ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology course.

Q: Write at least 1,000 words on each of two separate behaviour issues that you have observed. Your total word count for the combined case histories will be at least 2,000 words. Include any factors that you think may have contributed to the issues, and what methods you would use to help the dog and his/her carer.

A: BEHAVIOUR ISSUE #1: Resource guarding

Mojo was a sweet little chihuahua at the Refuge, who had the amusing but mildly obscene habit of humping his soft dog bed. He didn’t always do it. Most of the time he was just a cute little active chihuahua who loved jumping up into your lap for cuddles and belly rubs. He’d come to the Refuge as a surrender, and the dog bed and a few toys had come with him. The volunteer Canine Carers had been told that Mojo was a resource guarder of food and toys, and to watch themselves around him, but no one was expecting him to be so protective of his dog bed!

If anyone went near Mojo’s bed (when he was not busy humping it), they would be greeted with bared teeth and a low growl. Mojo would also roll his eyes to show the whites, and sometimes nip at the air as a warning. You wouldn’t want to get your fingers nipped by those flashing little razor blades! Once he’d warned you though, he’d act all sorry and submissive, offering his belly up to you as appeasement.

Once, another volunteer made the mistake of sitting on Mojo’s bed. Mojo was quite the whirlwind, zipping up to the volunteer and barking and growling his utter disgust at the invasion of his privacy! He literally danced circles around the poor volunteer, yipping and darting in and out around his feet, flashing his teeth, until the poor volunteer got off his bed apologetically. As soon as the volunteer was away from the bed, Mojo proceeded to have a good sniff of it, and then started humping it, as if to remove any traces of the volunteer from it, and to restore the status quo! I’d also seen Mojo get so engrossed in his little activity, that he completely ignored any visitors trying to coax him to the front of his kennel. He wasn’t interested even in tasty morsels of chicken. I’d also witnessed Mojo being so enthusiastic about the humping that he actually exhausted himself and fell asleep in mid-action!

No one was completely sure of Mojo’s background or history, or how he came to become a resource guarder. The times I spent in his kennel with him, he never demonstrated any other form of resource guarding (food or toys), apart from his beloved bed. It might have been possible that Mojo valued his bed more than his food or toys, so when push came to shove, he chose the item with the higher value in his eyes, to protect. He might have come from a home with more than one dog, and had to protect his precious bed from the other dogs in the household? Or, it might have been that food and toys were aplenty where Mojo had come from, but he’d had to share his bed with other dogs and, being small, kept getting pushed out?

Humping may be startling to watch, and also highly amusing, but it is actually quite normal behaviour for dogs. Dogs may dry hump each other to show who’s boss (or literally, “top dog”). Mojo’s humping of his bed could well have stemmed from him being so tiny that there was no way he could have physically humped any of the other dogs in his previous household … which probably means he could have been the smallest dog there, and the only thing he could use to demonstrate his authority or dominance was his poor dog bed.

Mojo wasn’t at the Refuge for long enough for me to try any behaviour modification techniques on. He was soon snapped up by a family who didn’t seem to mind his humping obsession. If I’d had the opportunity to, however, here’s what behaviour modification techniques I would have tried.

I would have first tested Mojo to see what his trigger points were. Was he food motivated? I find dogs who like their treats easier to distract and train, than dogs that either are not food motivated, or are not allowed treats for dietary reasons. If there’s nothing to motivate them to do something, why do it? If Mojo had been food motivated, I’d have tried “weaning” him off his beloved dog bed by distracting him with treats each time he went to hump the bed. Mojo would have learned to associate food treats as higher value items than his bed. In time, he would look towards his owner for treats, rather than pay attention to his bed.

If Mojo was motivated by play and toys instead of food, I’d have used those as weapons of distraction, for when he attempted to hump his bed. Each time he moved towards his bed and displayed body language indicating that he was about to start humping, I’d have tempted him with a new toy or a game of chase or tug. If his mind is off his bed and on something else, then he’s not going to treat his bed with as much importance as his new toy or game. With time and patience, he may loosen his strong association with the bed as his “security”.

Another thing I would have tried would be to remove Mojo’s bed when he’s not around, and replace it with a new bed. His old bed would no doubt be full of his own pheromones and scent, which he would have associated with a sense of safety, rather like a child’s security blanket. By removing the bed and starting with a new one, I could have observed to see if this was indeed Mojo’s Achilles’ Heel. And if it was, the fact that the bed was no longer there meant that Mojo no longer had that to rely on, and perhaps the behaviour might extinguish itself over time. Or if not, I would still have the opportunity to modify his behaviour and redirect it to something else.


The following images were found on Pinterest, you may find them useful as handy quick guides to understanding resource guarding in dogs.




Life Stages of a Dog – Part 3

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about Adolescence in dogs, here’s what Adulthood is like for dogs, and Old Age. From my Diploma in Canine Psychology course with The ISCP:

Adulthood in dogs is not measured strictly by months or years, but by the maturity of the dog’s mental capabilities. Smaller breeds reach maturity earlier than larger breeds. For example, a 1 year-old Papillon may have the same mental maturity as a 3 year-old Labrador. During this stage, the dog visibly calms down, becomes less rebellious and seems to settle down. Some people have described it as “She was a holy terror right up to the age of 18 months, and then suddenly overnight she turned into the Perfect Dog”. I have seen dogs surrendered to the Refuge at this stage, when with just a few more months of perseverance and patience, and if they had not given up so early, that Change could have happened and the owners would have had their Perfect Dog.

Old Age in dogs depends on their breed. Some breeds, especially the larger ones, have shorter lifespans than others. For example, Great Danes only live up to 8 or 9 years compared to Jack Russell Terriers that may live 18-20 years. Larger breeds have longer puppy and adolescent periods, so their Adulthood and Old Age are shorter. Smaller breeds mature faster, and remain as Adults for a longer time. Dog owners need to realise that not all dogs are the same, that some dogs mature faster than others, and that some dogs will die earlier than others, and some are more prone to certain illnesses than others.

With old age comes a plethora of medical problems. Some dogs develop kidney disease, or may need a special diet to maintain their ongoing health and vitality. Large breeds may suffer from heart failure. Some dogs get arthritis in their joints, which makes walking around painful. Sometimes the dog is in such pain that it cannot help but nip at its carer when it’s had enough. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are often used to help ease joint pain in dogs. Regular cod liver oil works too. There are also special foods available that claim to help older dogs maintain their health and possibly prolong their lives. Cancer and tumours can affect dogs at any stage of their lives, but the dog’s ability to fight this declines as it gets older and frailer.

Aside from physical aches and pains that come with old age, elderly dogs can also suffer from mental decline. Some dogs can suffer from dementia, obsessive compulsive behaviours, or a sudden marked change in temperament and behaviour. A previously sweet and affectionate dog may suddenly turn aggressive, or become afraid of certain things, people or stimuli. It may become forgetful, or have flashes of just “not being there” when called. Elderly dogs may also become incontinent, when their muscles lose their elasticity and tone. It is imperative that at this stage the owners do not panic or rush to put the dog to sleep, as with proper veterinary help and ongoing care the dog could still enjoy many years of living life to the full.

Elderly dogs deserve to be made as comfortable as possible, to be surrounded by familiar objects and people that they love, to be made to feel appreciated and needed as they were before they became old. Owners need to respect that the dog may simply want to sleep all day in her favourite spot in the sun. She may not want to go for walks as often. She may have days when she feels almost puppyish and wants to play, if so, go play! She may become choosy about her favourite foods, so indulge her rather than forcing her to eat what she doesn’t like anymore. If she’s in physical pain, she may not want to be touched too much, or may nip or growl if you go near her. All this is part and parcel of a dog’s life cycle, and the owner owes it to the dog to respect and honour that, right to the end.


Life Stages of a Dog – Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post about the various Life Stages of a Dog. Hope this makes it easier for anyone to better understand their beloved dogs and what they’re going through!

The Adolescent or Puberty stage in a dog is just like a human teenager’s years. This is the period from 6 months to around 18 months, when the puppy grows into an adult-sized dog, but its mind is still mischievously puppy-like. The dog will try to push the boundaries of your household, seeking more independence. It will test your patience, becoming seemingly more stubborn, with selective hearing and disobedience to your commands. In the wild, this is the time an adolescent dog would be preparing to leave his home. This doesn’t happen in a human home, however, but the behaviour is ingrained in the dog’s DNA and he will test your patience to the core during this period. In bigger breeds, the molars will just be coming out, so there may well be a second phase of chewing going on, where the dog may chew anything and everything he can get his teeth round.

At this stage, when dogs get returned or surrendered to the Refuge, I’ve noticed that their behaviour often goes completely downhill, and much training is then required to bring it back in line. For example, they may start barking at everything that moves, in a bid to gain attention. They may become obsessed with fetching balls, or resource-guard their toys or bed, or become reactive towards people, children or other dogs. Some will pace up and down mercilessly, or fence-chase other dogs, or even chew the wires of their kennel fence. In some breeds bitches may come into their first heat, which makes any male dogs kept with them, or in the vicinity, stir crazy.

These dogs are not necessarily ill, they may just be bored out of their heads due to lack of mental enrichment or physical activity. There are enrichment toys available on the market to keep these dogs happily occupied mentally, and for the more active dogs, agility yards with weaving poles, ramps, hurdles, etc can help burn off that adolescent energy. Again, as with human teenagers, all one can do is “ride it out” and reinforce positive behaviours with plenty of treats and praise. Luckily, in dogs, the adolescent or puberty period lasts only a short while, compared to many years in humans!