Guest blog: “Having a butt sniff is like reading someone’s drivers’ licence”

Thursday night saw a gathering of dog lovers and owners at the third in the Modern Pet Dog series on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Everyone came with an eagerness to learn more about getting the most out of their relationships with their pets through positive training techniques. Here’s the download on what was covered.

Louise Colombari – Pittwater Animal Hospital: Greetings!

Humans tend to greet dogs like we greet humans, generally face on, while dogs have an entirely different social convention for saying hello. They usually start with a nose sniff, which is followed by a butt sniff in a circle formation. They therefore greet side-to-side, not face-to-face.

Having a butt’s sniff is like reading your driver’s license – getting personal information to get to know each other better. Two scent glands situated in the bum give dogs vital information about each other.

It’s considered poor doggy manners or inappropriate to pin, stand over, hump or do a body slam when saying hello. This can turn into a disagreement really quickly as dogs who do this are seen as being bossy or rude. Don’t listen to a dog owner who says “my dog is friendly” when their dogs are displaying these behaviours.

Dogs have personal space requirements, just as we do. Many people will try to greet dogs face-to-face, which dogs often find scary or intimidating. It’s not necessary to do a butt sniff, but there is a better way of greeting a dog:

  • Always ask the owner if you can pat their dog
  • Approach slowly as sudden movements can be scary
  • Don’t force yourself on them. Respect their personal space as they might not want to interact with you. Don’t stick you hand out and put it in their face, they can smell you already.
  • Approach them side on and if they come to you and want to interact, squat down to avoid leaning over them.
  • Never stick your hand in their face. Pat them side on, stroke down the back of the neck down towards the back. Don’t pat the head.

Useful resources:

Barbara Hodel – Goodog Positive Dog Training: On leash reactivity

On leash reactivity is when a dog that barks, growls or lunges. There are various reasons – some dogs are scared, others don’t like head-on greetings and many haven’t been socialised to be relaxed when meeting other dogs on lead. That’s why Barbara is a firm believer that interactions should happen off leash as much as possible.

What to do if the dog is reactive:

  • Desensitisation – associate other dogs with good things (rather than being scared or anxious). E.g. meeting a new dog means BBQ chicken. You do not pay for being good, you pay for the appearance of the ‘scary’ stimulus. Keep the stress under threshold i.e. calm levels, as stressed dogs do not eat. It’s not about distracting the dog, but desensitizing the scary thing to being a predictor of something good.
  • Counter conditioning – teach an alternative. E.g. a “look at me” or touch a hand target. Teach it outside of the situation. Generalise it by training in different types of environments before using in the on-lead greeting situation as an altenative behavior.
  • Recognise signs of stress in your dog e.g. lip licks, looking away. Don’t ask for more than they can give you.
  • If all else fails then don’t do any greetings on leash. Welcome to the midnight walker club!

What not to do:

  • This is not a behaviour that has to be corrected, as it’s likely they are scared
  • Punishment will not work as it will suppress a behaviour but not change your dogs’ perception, they could make the fear worse and turn it into aggression
  • Don’t force them to approach, sit or lie down.
  • Don’t jerk on the leash.
  • Don’t shout or yell.

Maxine Fernandez – Canine Kindergarten: Environmental Enrichment

Dogs are highly social and when we aren’t with them need to make their environment more interesting to prevent them with destructive behaviour such as barking or chewing things they shouldn’t. Studies have shown that dogs who are given enrichment learn faster, have better emotional stability and higher resilience to stress.

It’s not just about exercise, but also the toys, sounds, different surfaces, space to move around freely in and opportunities to problem solve and learn.

You can start it at any age but it’s critical for puppies in the first 20 weeks of their life as this is their critical period of socialisation. Find a balance as more is not better and be aware of over-stimulation e.g. certain types of food dispensers, too much noise etc.

How to create a fun backyard:

  • Provide toys and more toys, and rotate these.
  • Ensure the size is appropriate for your dog but there’s a range of options available – Kongs, treat balls, stuffed plastic bottles, swinging toys, puzzle toys, balls and food dispensers.

Other ideas include wading pools – water for swimming or floating objects in, sand for digging or hiding ‘treasures’ in; treasure hunt; dog walker; dog friends for play dates; training; agility; doggy day care; playing radio or TV, meaty (raw) bones to chew on.

Jen Hassell – Kong – Enrichment Toys Kong stuffing demonstration

Kong-1Jen is a ‘Kongsultant’ who showed us how to get the best out of Kong toys and food dispensers with her Kongaholic demo dog, Australian Shepherd Shimmy (…luckily Zac doesn’t know what I do for a living because surely Shimmy has the best mom any dog can have).

Kongs are designed to use meal times to entertain your dog and give them mental enrichment. It gives them a job rather than eating the food out of their bowl in 30 seconds as it increases the amount of time it takes them to eat. It’s a behavioural enrichment and training tool, helps prevent stress or boredom, crate training, teething, recovery from injury or surgery and minimising separation environment. Think outside of just stuffing them with peanut butter!

Top tips for using these dog puzzles:

  • Kong Wobbler – dispenses dry treats when they bump it to get the food. Top tip for fast eaters – stuff it with crumpled piece of A4 paper so they have to work harder to get the treats to come out.
  • Kong Puppy, Classic, Extreme and Senior – choose the right sized Kong for your dog. Introduce early to the puppy and dogs of any age. Get them used to it by stuffing with things that can come out easily such as liver paste, liver pate, sausage and roast chicken so they get enjoyment and results immediately. Build the difficulty as their skills improve. Stuff with anything that is safe for dogs to eat. Be creative and mix it up.
  • Kong Quest – a dispenser that’s great for small dogs and puppies who aren’t big chewers. Can be frozen.

If you are interesting in finding out more or attending future events as more are planned for 2015, please get in touch with Barbara at or or follow Pedadoggy on Facebook.

When “come” means “run”! 3 ways to make your recall meaningful.

In the twilight of the last few evenings while taking Zac out to stretch his legs I’ve bumped into a lovely 12-month old Kelpie X, Flash, and his owner. I know the dog’s name is Flash because it gets called a lot across the oval. Everybody knows his name, except apparently for Flash himself.

The owner loves his dog, there’s no doubt about that, but is exasperated by the fact that he won’t come when called or bring the Frisbee back that has been thrown.

Personally, I think that two of the hardest things to teach your dog is to come when called or to walk on a loose lead. I say this not to make people give up teaching this – but to realise that these behaviours are a lot harder to teach than a sit or a down and therefore require a different approach.

When your dog is off lead your intrinsic value as their guardian, friend and feeder immediately diminishes. There’s interesting things to sniff, other dogs to meet up with and hey, the mere freedom of being able to run around acting a little bit silly just because they can. So the human standing there shouting their name or to come suddenly is as appealing as if you were to offer them a lemon to eat.

I’ve included some links to longer articles below, but my top 3 tips for making a recall (come when called) meaningful and which you dog responds to are:

  • Start without distraction. Start in your hallway our your house. Practice without distraction. Slowly graduate to busier areas (where you are able to safely – or get a long piece of rope if you are concerned about the dog running away) and only graduate to the dog park when they are ready to move to the next level by consistently coming back.
  • Make it rewarding. Really make it worth your dog’s while to come back to you. E.g. practice close to dinner time when the dog is more likely to be hungry and work for treats – high value treats and food that’s only received when training, not kibble – than sniff or play which could be far more rewarding.
  • Don’t punish / always reward. No matter how frustrated you are, do not shout or show any disappointment or anger in your body language. Even the smallest come should be rewarded initially. Let them know when they’re moving in the right direction. I’ve seen dogs checking in with their humans and this goes unnoticed and unrewarded. I’d run away too!

Here are some other articles, with more insights about teaching a reliable recall:

And remember, no matter how hard it gets, keep it positive people!