The Dog House Blues Tearoom, Howth -Dog Friendly Spots in Dublin



With the weather as it was (that is to say, unusually hot for Dublin!), we made a trip out to Howth this weekend. This presented me with the perfect opportunity to scope out the Dog House, a dog-friendly tea room and restaurant that I’d heard of from a friend.

Howth is a super place to bring your dog, with lots of great walking spots around- Deer Park, the cliff walks, walks along the pier for those who require flat surfaces, and of course, the beach. I usually bring my dogs to the Hole-in-the-Wall end of the beach, which is often a little less busy than the end closest to the Dart station. When the tide is out, you can walk right the way around from the hole in the wall to the Dart station.

The Dog House is situated just to the right of Howth Dart station if you take the main exit through the ticket office. It has both outdoor and indoor seating. Dogs are only permitted in the outdoor area but it is spacious, covered, well-sheltered and cosy, with the air of a trendy youth hostel!

There was background music (easy listening, nothing offensive!) and some general restaurant-related noise, but none of it uncomfortably loud for my own rather sensitive human ears. Although dogs’ hearing is better than ours, I suspect that the level of noise here was no greater than what you might find in a lot of houses.

There are couches and arm-


Penny, a canine visitor making herself at home on the couches!

chairs, many covered with throws. Dogs are allowed on the chairs and sofas, so no need to bring your own dog bed here!

The layout is quite good and even if there were a number of dogs in there, it would be easy to maintain a comfortable distance. A lot of the seating areas are in little hubs, so the furniture and other customers would form natural barriers for dogs who didn’t want to be too close to others.

Water bowls are provided, and when I asked our server about snacks for the dogs, he told me they have little bowls of chicken in the kitchen fridge, should they be required by the canine clientele.

I also enquired as to whether there’d been any issues with people complaining about the dogs. I was told that some people did grumble, and request that the dogs be asked to leave, but they were informed that the dogs were allowed, and would not be asked to leave. So nice to see the canines maintained equal standing in this fine establishment!

So, in short, paws out of 5:

Local walks: 5

Dog-friendly layout: 5

Creature comforts: 5

Doggy drinks and snacks: 4 (losing a paw only because it wasn’t apparent that doggy snacks were available, and it seems a travesty for any dog to miss out on a bowl of chicken!)

Noise: 3

Staff dog-friendly: 5

NOTE FOR NERVOUS DOGS: If you have a nervous dog, avoid the seats by the main thoroughfare. If you move to the back of the restaurant there are some seating areas back from this where your dog might be better able to relax.


We humans had to eat too… in the interests of research of course!

My new book ‘Office Dogs; The Manual’ is now available to pre-order on Amazon. Find it here!


Dublin’s Dog-Friendly Spots

I moved back to Dublin in May after nearly 10 years in the UK. With me, of course, came my two greyhounds. I was really delighted to find that Dublin is a lot more dog-friendly now than it was when I left 10 years ago! There are pubs and cafes that will welcome your pooch with open arms all over the city.

This is obviously a great development for our dogs and for us. Dogs are social creatures who like to get involved with what we’re doing. They are curious animals who like to see (and smell!) new places, taste new things and have new experiences. So visiting a dog friendly café can be a really nice experience for your dog, and a great form of mental stimulation.

But, as with any activity that we’re involving our dogs in, it’s really important to think about it from their perspective too… Just because somewhere allows dogs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all dogs will enjoy it. So I would always recommend visiting without your dog first.

With this in mind, here are some of my thoughts on some of the things you might wish to consider, some of the things you might want to bring with you, and how you can set your dog up for success in these situations.

Things to Consider

  • Noise- our dogs’ hearing is considered to be about 4 times better than ours. Bars and cafés can be noisy places, so this is something to consider when you’re thinking of bringing your dog. Is there loud music playing? Do the staff shout at each other a lot? Are there quieter spots available?
  • A suitable position- your dog will probably settle easier if he can be a bit away from the main thoroughfares. Lots of people passing too close to your dog could be
    stressful, and toes or tails could be trod upon.
  • img_2727-e1499972030685[1]

    Fia enjoying a cheese bread at our local dog-friendly cafe in London!

    Facilities- a lot of the dog friendly spots I’ve been to in London are ok with dogs on the furniture (very handy for spoilt greyhounds not accustomed to floors!). If this is not the case, you may want to bring along a bed or cushion for your dog.
  • Water- most dog friendly spots will have a nice big bowl of water for our furry friends. If not, you may want to bring your own, especially if you’ll be calling in after a walk.

Things to Bring

If your dog is not used to settling in strange places, you may want to consider taking some of the following along:

  • Somewhere comfortable to relax- bringing a cushion, bed, or mat that your dog is familiar with may help them settle;
  • Something to do- for instance, fleece-backed snuffle-mats (available from
    my shop). The idea with these is that you can hide treats in them, which the dog has to sniff around to find. Sniffing is a great activity for your dog to engage in; it’s a tiring activity, and a calming one (read more here). If you have a small or medium sized dog, these can also double-up as a spot to lie down. Making treat parcels is another way to engage your dog’s brain. 

  • Something to chew- chewing releases serotonin in the brain, helping your dog feel happy and relaxed. The only challenge may be finding something that is appealing but not too smelly!
  • If there’ll be nothing suitable for your dog to eat, you may want to bring along some snacks. I believe that variety is the spice of life however, and I find that even if they don’t have dog treats, most spots will have something your dog will enjoy. Our local café in London sold frozen yoghurt, which was much appreciated by Fia, as well as cheese bread. Now, these are not my recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet, but a little bit of what you like… (obviously avoid anything toxic for dogs such as chocolate, raisins, and the artificial sweetener xylitol!).


Something to teach

I’m not one for tricks or training doggy robots. But I do like to teach dogs useful life skills, and one such skill is learning to relax in a variety of situations – such as a café or pub! Turid Rugaas calls these calm sessions, and there’s really nothing to it.

You’ll want to start somewhere not too distracting. Your house or garden is fine. Pop your dog on his harness and a long lead. Have a few comfortable spots around for your dog to choose to relax in. Hold on to your lead. Sit down somewhere. Now, don’t look at your dog, don’t speak to your dog (especially don’t cue or command your dog to sit or lie), don’t touch your dog. And most importantly, DON’T MOVE an inch! Then just wait for your dog to lie down and relax… This can happen quite quickly, or can take a while. It will happen though. When your dog does relax, say nothing. As Turid says, the reward is the feeling of being relaxed. Your dog won’t need any other reinforcement. Stay with your dog for a while, and end the session while the dog is still very relaxed. You can practice for short periods of time in various places, and once your dog has the hang of it, try it in the dog-friendly spot of your choosing.

Don’t worry if it takes your dog a few attempts to learn to relax easily- a lot of dogs can struggle to relax initially. But having a dog who can sit down and relax with you when you go to your local café, is really nice for both human and dog!

Anyhow, watch this space! LovinDublin put together a list of some of the dog friendly spots in Dublin. I’ll be visiting some of these places (and others) over the coming weeks and months, and will report back on my findings!

The Great Crate Debate

‘Whether you’re beaten or pampered, fed the best foods or starved, kept in filth or kept clean, a cage is still a cage’

– Anne Bishop



When I decided to write this article, it was not without a degree of trepidation. I recalled the apprehension I feel whenever I tell clients that I don’t approve of crating. I feel apprehensive because I expect to be met with resistance and I don’t want to alienate my clients. Nevertheless, it is an issue that I feel is especially pertinent.

Currently, the practice of crating is ubiquitous. In an average puppy class, I expect that at least 3 out of the 4 puppies present will probably be ‘crate trained’ or undergoing ‘crate training’. I understand that people are not crating their dogs to be cruel. And I understand that there are a lot of people out there who think that dogs love their crates; that putting a dog in a crate helps them feel safe. However, I feel very strongly that confining a dog to a cage for hours is unnecessary, and unkind. And that no animal ever likes to be locked in a cage. There, I said it!

In our society, a rhetoric has built up around crates, which sanitises their use. We speak of ‘crates’ and ‘dens’ rather than ‘cages’. However, when we see any other animal confined to a cage, we don’t generally think of it as a den or a crate! We simply see an animal locked in a cage and deprived of freedom. Comparatively, in Sweden and Finland, legislation prohibits keeping dogs in crates, apart from for the purposes of travel. Even then, they must be walked every 2-3 hours. Most puppies I meet here in the UK (and a lot of adult dogs) are confined to cages for at least 8-10 hours overnight. People often tell me that they don’t crate their dogs… apart from overnight – this still represents nearly half their lives! A lot are also put in cages if their humans are going out during the day. For some, whose owners work, they are crated for another 8-10 hours a day, getting out for a walk with a dog walker somewhere in the middle.

The problems wth crates are manifold, but one of the issues is that they inhibit natural behaviour. The Animal Welfare Act recognises an animal’s need to be housed in a suitable environment, and to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. Caging a dog, by its very nature, deprives him of the opportunity to exhibit normal behaviour patterns such as elimination, free movement, and the opportunity to socialise with others.


One of the most common uses for a crate is to toilet train. In this situation, the crate is being used to deliberately prevent a dog from exhibiting the normal behaviour of eliminating. The idea is that a dog won’t eliminate in his sleeping area.

So you potentially have a dog desperately needing to go to the toilet, and being faced with the choice of holding it, without knowing how long for, or soiling their bed and lying in it. This is particularly cruel in the case of a puppy, who simply doesn’t have the physical control to ‘hold it’.

Furthermore, dogs who are forced by confinement to soil their sleeping area can eventually overwrite their instinct to be clean in their living quarters, causing long term toilet training issues!


Many crates (often to facilitate toilet-training) are just big enough for the dog to stand, turn around and lie down in.

Although in the UK there are no restrictions on caging a pet dog, there are guidelines surrounding the housing of lab animals. While I think it is horrendous to keep animals in labs, I think it forms an interesting comparison that the guidelines surrounding the housing of say, laboratory beagles, affords them greater space and freedom to exhibit normal behaviours than a typical crated dog.

The National Institutes of Health guide for the care and use of laboratory animals recommends that dogs have kennels, runs or pen, rather than cages. The space guidelines suggest 8ft2 per dog.

Inhibiting movement for long periods of time can also have detrimental consequences on the health of a dog. In humans, remaining sedentary for hours can cause variety of health problems: joint and muscular pains, depression and anxiety, and even premature death. I’m sure the same will apply to dogs.


Dogs are social creatures, and puppies especially have a developmental need for sustained social contact. From birth, puppies are programmed to gravitate towards the warmth of their mum and litter-mates. Often, when puppies are taken home for the first time, they spend their first night isolated and alone in a cage, away from family members. As dogs are a social species, the aforementioned National Institutes of Health guidelines for lab animals recommend that they be housed in pairs or groups. Isolating a dog in a cage is at odds with their need for social contact.

Dogs of all ages are also social sleepers and depriving them of the opportunity to sleep with their social group can be a contributing factor to dogs developing behaviour problems.

Additionally, dogs are polyphasic sleepers, so being forced to sleep in the one spot for 8-10 hours will go against their natural sleep behaviour. They cannot move around, stretch, or find a new spot to sleep like they might if they were afforded the freedom to do so. Read more about dogs and sleep here


Dogs do not perspire to regulate their body temperature as humans do. They reduce their temperature by panting, and by lying out on cool surfaces. Most crates I see have their floor covered with beddings and/or pee pads, leaving a dog no cool ground on which to stretch out on should they become too warm.


There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding crates. Many people who extol the use of crating claim that the crate is a ‘den’ for the dog. Dogs are not, in fact, den-dwelling creatures! And even if they were, they would never be locked in a den!

Crates are often used to deal with separation anxiety in dogs. However, a study found that contrary to popular belief, confining a dog does not reduce anxiety. Puppies that were restrained (ether alone or with a littermate) were three times more reactive than those that weren’t. Another study found that long-term or excessive confinement in a crate may have an adverse effect on the social behaviour of an otherwise well-socialised pup.

If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety and consequently exhibiting destructive behaviours, locking them in a cage may save your door frames from being chewed, or your floor from being soiled. What it won’t do is make your dog feel any better, or deal with the root cause of their anxiety.

All too often, crates become a means for controlling rather than treating behaviour problems. Crates are very convenient for the humans, as they can inhibit certain behaviours. A lot of people think that once locked in a crate a dog will ‘relax’. However, the fact that they are not actively fighting their confinement does not mean they feel any better- in zoos and circuses, animals are not routinely seen struggling to escape. In dogs, the process of ‘crate training’ can essentially create a state of learned helplessness, when, like animals in other forms of captivity, they cease trying to escape, as they have learned that struggling does not improve their situation.


A safe space means having choices. A safe place is only a safe place if the dog can choose when to go in and when to come out. Once locked in somewhere with no chance of escape, a dog is not safe, they’re trapped.


So, rather than locking your dog in a cage try the following:

  • Provide access to the garden or wherever you want your dog to go to toilet on a regular basis. Reward toileting successes, ignore failures! Toilet training can take a bit of time, but dogs are naturally clean creatures, and there is no need to lock them in a cage in order to train them;
  • Provide plenty of food-based chews for your dog. This can go a long way to deterring them from chewing less appropriate objects. It will also help reduce stress and keep them occupied;
  • Put away anything that you don’t want your dog to destroy;
  • Use a baby gate or other barrier to keep your dog out of areas of the house where there are dangers, or they can’t yet be trusted alone;
  • If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, locking him in a cage will only worsen the anxiety. Your dog may become shut down, and have fewer ways of exhibiting his anxiety, but he will still feel the same. Instead, enlist the help of a dog behaviourist to work on reducing his stress and teaching him to cope with being alone.

I hope this has been helpful. Ultimately, the crux of the matter lies in the question ‘What is best for my dog?’ rather than ‘What is best for me?’. Answering the first will lead you away from the crate, making for a happy dog and a happy human!

Collars Vs Harnesses

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending a fascinating  talk by Els Vidts about the anatomy of the neck and the negative impact collar use has. I also learned that despite my best intentions, my own dog’s harness didn’t actually fit her that well. I left with a great determination to make sure my own dogs wear better fitting harnesses, and that I’m clearer with clients about the sorts of harness they need. As Els pointed out, a lot of harnesses are actually just collars with extra bits of material- pressure from the dog pulling or being pulled still is still focused on the neck.

So my top tips for harnesses now are:

  • there should be no pressure on the dog’s neck- pressure should be distributed across the thorax;
  • There should be 5 cm clearance between the dog’s front legs and the rear strap of the harness;
  • Shoulders should still be free to move.

As well as saving the dog from physical damage, the right harness can also go a long way to helping with behaviour problems such as pulling and even reactivity.

Below is Els’s flyer. This can also be downloaded from her website in many different languages, so no excuse for not spreading the word far and wide! This is a really simple thing that we can get right for our dogs, so I’m hoping you’ll join me on the bandwagon!

Punishment in Dog Training

Punishment in Dog Training; Inadvisable, Ineffective and Unethical

From a personal standpoint, I feel that punishing dogs is a needlessly distressing and futile training method.  Devices reminiscent of medieval implements of torture, such as choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, (and I’m tempted to include crates here too! But more on that in my next post!), are still employed in dog training. When it comes down to it, many dog owners just want fast and effective solutions to their dog training problems, and these devices are often sold as just that. However, when you look at the scientific research, it becomes apparent that training with punishment may not be your best bet!


There are many issues with using punishment as a training tool.  It causes the dog pain and/or creates fear, it stifles their curiosity and desire to learn, it undermines our relationship with them, and can cause dogs to completely shut down and live in a state of learned helplessness.  However, one of the most alarming problems that can arise for owners using punishment in training is the increase in aggression that can stem from it, both as an immediate response, and as a more long-term effect.

In 2009, Dr Meghan Herron performed a study assessing the impact of various training methods, including physical corrections (e.g. hitting) on dogs’ behaviour.  Her findings were that dogs who were subjected to confrontational training methods very often reac-


Remember, punishment doesn’t have to be physical. Shouting at or behaving threateningly towards your dog also counts.

ted aggressively.  For example, 43% of dogs who were hit or kicked responded aggressively, 31% of dogs ‘alpha-rolled’ responded aggressively, 29% of dogs forced into a ‘dominance’ down and 26% of those grabbed by the scruff of the neck responded aggressively, as well as 15% of those who had ‘no’ shouted at them.

In contrast, it was found that reward-based training elicited aggression in very few dogs, regardless of the training issue.

Apart from the more immediate risk of an aggressive response to punitive training, there also appears to be a more long-term effect on the dog’s behaviour.  Another study (Hsu & Sun, 2010), found that dogs subjected to physical punishment were more aggressive than those who weren’t. They did point out that this could be related to the fact that dog owners had a higher tendency to physically punish aggressive dogs than dogs who weren’t aggressive.  However, the fact that they continued to behave aggressively implies that physical punishment is certainly not an effective means of reducing aggression.

Yet another study, by Blackwell et al. (2007), as well as reiterating the findings of the above studies, found a link between owner use of punishment and an increased level of reactivity towards dogs from outside the household.

This is just a sample of the studies out there implicating punitive training as a risk factor for aggressive behaviour.  So much so, that Ó Súilleabháin, in a 2015 letter to the editor of Zoonoses and Public Health, went so far as to say that in light of the evidence linking punishment-based training and aggression, ‘punishment-based dog training would appear to be a clear public health risk factor.’


As well as having a greater chance of inciting aggressive behaviour in your dog, punishment-based  training methods are less effective than their reward-based counterparts.

In their 2004 study on dog training methods, Hiby et al., found that:

  • dogs who were trained using reward-based methods had the lowest occurrence of over-excitement;
  • dogs who were trained using punishment-based methods (including verbal reprimands) had the highest occurrence of separation related problems
  • In none of the tasks trained were punishment-based methods more effective than reward-based methods;
  • dogs trained using exclusively reward-based methods were reported to be significantly more obedient than those trained using either punishment or a combination of reward and punishment.

They also found a correlation between the number of problematic behaviours reported and the number of times owners reported using punishment-based training methods.  And furthermore, those who trained their dogs using exclusively punishment-based training or a combination of punishment and reward, ‘reported significantly more problems than those using only reward-based or miscellaneous methods.’

Additionally, a study by Haverbeke et al. (2008), showed that military dogs trained using aversive stimuli showed reduced learning performance.


In 2006, the UK passed the Animal Welfare Act. This provides for five welfare needs, one of which is ‘the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease’. It places a duty of care on people to meet these welfare needs in their animals.

Punishment is generally used to cause fear or pain to the object of punishment.  Deliberately causing another creature ongoing fear or pain is a welfare issue. For a person responsible for the animal to do this is contrary to the duty of care we have to our animals.

Additionally, both fear and pain trigger the ‘fight or flight’ (stress) response in our bodies.  Occasional stress is something we can cope with, and can be necessary to our survival.  Chronic stress, on the other hand, is disruptive and harmful, and has physiological, mental, and behavioural affects. Subjecting our dogs to chronic stress is just another way of inflicting suffering.

Stress has a widespread effect on most of our organs, and when we are subjected to chronic stress (as a dog who is regularly punished would be), and the corresponding elevated levels of stress hormones, the immune system, gastrointestinal system, endocrine system,  cardiovascular system and thyroid are all negatively impacted.  Cortisol has a profound impact on the brain, affecting learning and memory, and increasing the risk of anxiety and depression, as well as compulsive behaviours.

So, if punishment-based training is less effective than reward-based methods, has an adverse effect on a dog’s health by causing them stress, and if it is a lot more likely to elicit an aggressive response, why do these methods remain in use?

Often, when we shout at a dog, or hit them, or jerk the leash, the behaviour is interrupted.  For instance, the dog is barking at another dog and we shout and he stops because he is startled and perhaps frightened.  But chances are, the next time a dog passes he will bark again.  In fact, there’s a good chance the behaviour will escalate, as the dog is likely to associate the other dog’s presence with the owner’s unpleasant behaviour.  However, the fact that the owner will probably feel better for having vented their anger, and the fact that the behaviour stops in the instant, make the act of punishing very rewarding for the punisher, if not an effective tool for long-term behaviour change.

I like to think that most people do not want to cause their dogs pain or fear, undermine the relationship they have with their dogs, or run the risk of their dog developing aggressive tendencies.  Rather, I think punishment is something people often resort to when they don’t know what else to do.  Now that research shows us a better, more compassionate way, surely it’s time to bin the choke chains and shock collars, stop jerking leads and shouting, and get out our treat bags instead!


Treats- much more effective than punishment.

Some Great Food News

Last week I met with Kev and Dave, who have set up a new business (along with Dave’s mum!) called Butternut box. They’re making proper, fresh, home-cooked food for dogs, which they deliver to you weekly, Abel and Cole style. They very kindly offered to send me a free box, which arrived today, and I was really rather impressed!

Those of you who know me will know I’m quite a big advocate of raw feeding, as it’s generally the least processed option commercially available. When I first had Alfie I home-cooked for him for a while, but I must say, it was labour intensive and I worried about him not getting the right nutrients. Raw ticked the boxes for us- not highly processed, locally available (important when you have two big dogs and limited fridge/freezer space!), balanced, and healthy.

But when I met with the Butternut Box guys it was clear that when it came to nutrition for our dogs we were definitely on the same page- mainly meat, natural ingredients, not highly processed. So I was very keen to give it a go, and I knew Alfie and Fia would happily get involved in some sampling!

When the box arrived, Fia clearly thought it was a great improvement on the box of veg that’s usually outside the hall door on a Tuesday morning!


Once it had been thoroughly sniffed, I brought it inside and opened it up. Sure enough, it was nicely packed with seven 1kg vacuum packed bags of food (and some extra goodies!). My first thought was that these would be a lot less messy than the bags of raw food, which invariably leak, and would also take up less space in the fridge.


There were three varieties in the box- Turkey, Chicken and Beef. Meat content is my main concern with dog food (the more the better!), and each of these meals contains 70% meat. The remainder is made up mainly of lentils and vegetables. There are a few extra bits added, which I presume are there to ensure the food is ‘complete’- calcium in the form of Calcium Carbonate and Dicalcium phosphate, magnesium (magnesium oxide), and minerals. The additives listed are again fairly identifiable vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, D3, E and zinc.


In short, nothing that would cause concern, such as the E numbers that often appear in commercial dog food. No wheat, which can inhibit digestion of nutrients in your dog. No grain, which usually just acts as a filler in dog food. No ‘meat and animal derivatives’ (the thought of what could be included there always makes me shudder!). No ‘meat meal’. In short, none of the things I avoid like the plague when choosing dog food!

As my two are used to eating a varied diet and don’t suffer from sensitive stomachs, I didn’t bother with a transitional period, and gave them the recommended amounts for their size. The amounts equated pretty much to the amounts of raw food I feed them- around 1kg/day for Alfie (who’s a hefty 35kg) and around 700g a day for 25kg Fia.

They started off with the beef, and the component parts were all easily identifiable. It didn’t look a bit fatty or gristly, and definitely looked like something you could eat yourself. Once I saw the food, the fact that the Butternut Box gang taste test the meals themselves didn’t come as such a surprise!


But they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating….

… and eat it they did! Both bowls were licked clean (Fia always licks her bowl clean, but poor old Alfie with his two remaining teeth often decides eating is too much effort half way through and has to be spoon-fed. No assistance was required with this!).

All in all, two very happy dogs!

I’m sure you’re wondering how it compares price-wise to other options. Well, it’s a bit more expensive than raw feeding, and with a combined 60kg of dog to feed, food costs add up in this house! The raw food that I currently feed comes in at about £40/week for the two dogs. This would come in at about £55.

The verdict? Well, it’s certainly going on my list of recommended dog food! My take on this is that it’s delivering most of the benefits of a raw diet, but with greater convenience for the human. No blood from leaky bags of raw food. Easier to fit in the fridge. Nicer smelling! The convenience of having it delivered- and the pleasure of finding a nice box of goodies on your doorstep once a week. I’ll definitely be recommending this to clients who don’t like the thought of raw, or whose dogs don’t like raw.

As for me? Well, I’m keeping a boot in both camps! I’ll be keeping Fia on raw. She’s not fussy, has done well on the raw, and it’s a bit more economical. But Alfie will be becoming a Butternut Box dog! He struggles to eat the raw with his 2 remaining teeth, and he definitely prefers the Butternut Box food.

You can find out more about Butternut Box on their website:

If you have any questions, the guys are lovely, and I’m confident you’ll find the customer service great!

If you try them out, do let me know what you think!

About the Snout

As sight-centred humans, it’s easy to forget how nose-centred our dogs’ existences are. I’m always encouraging clients to allow their dogs the opportunity to use their snouts more, and preaching the benefits of olfactory enrichment!

The human nose is actually much better than most people think it is, and humans can distinguish thousands of different smells even in minute quantities. But dogs’ noses are truly incredible, and our sense of smell almost pales to insignificance in comparison. To put the difference in context, we have 5-6 million odour receptors, while dogs have 220 million. The olfactory epithelium of humans is about 5cm², while in dogs, it’s up to 150cm². It is perhaps no surprise then, that dogs can detect substances at concentrations of up to a million times lower than humans can perceive them.

Here are a few interesting facts about a dog’s sense of smell:

  • When tracking, dogs can make 6 inhalations per second;
  • Sniffing leads to an increase of energy needed for inspiration and expiration, making it a tiring activity;
  • Despite having such an amazing sense of smell, dogs will default to their sense of sight or hearing first, as it uses less energy than scenting;
  • Dogs can sniff out cancer cells;
  • Dogs trained to find land mines can identify mines planted 10 years ago, 15 inches under the ground;
  • Dogs smell in stereo; that is, they can individually process information from each nostril, allowing them to determine the direction from whence a scent is coming.

Reasons to give your dog plenty of outlets for using their noses:

  • Doing 20 minutes of intense scent-work leaves a dog pretty exhausted- a 20 minute walk certainly won’t have this impact on most dogs!;
  • Sniffing causes a dog’s pulse rate to drop, making it a nice calming activity;
  • Sniffing provides great mental stimulation for dogs, something dogs I meet are often lacking;
  • Playing nose games with your dog is a great way to positively interact with your dog, and to increase your value on walks- who wants to go too far from the human who may at any moment toss a handful of treats into the grass for them to find!

Alfie and Fia having a nice old sniff!

Some ways to provide olfactory enrichment:

  • First and foremost, let your dog sniff on walks. Your dog’s walk is probably one of the highlights of their day. Frog-marching them on an hour-long trek, when they’re pulled along every time they try to stop and sniff is akin to somebody bringing you on a tour of a city blindfolded, or bringing you to a museum and covering your eyes every time you tried to look at something! The sniffing will tire them out as much as the walking will, so my advice is to worry less about space covered, and more about the quality of the walk;
  • Do a simple treat search- you can use the grass in your garden, a thick piled rug, or a specially made snuffle matt (I usually have some of these for sale- get in touch for more information);
  • Put treats/pate/fish paste on various objects on walks, and let your dog investigate- try trees, fallen logs, along low walls;
  • Blanket games- find a really useful video by another PDTE member illustrating this here.

Of course, you could also come along to some of my puppy classes or to the social walks I run with  Harriet, where we do some scent games most weeks! Combine nose work with sensible interaction with other dogs, and you’ll have one sleepy dog on your hands for the rest of the weekend!

If you’d like to read more about scenting, try Anne Lil Kvam’s book, The Canine Kingdom of Scent.

Dogs and Maslow Part 5

Love and belonging is the next need on Maslow’s list. This relates to the need that humans have for a feeling of acceptance and belonging within their social groups.

One great similarity shared by dogs and humans is that both are social species, and I believe this need for love and belonging is as strong in dogs as it is in humans. Dogs are often acquired to meet the human need for love and belonging, but how good are we at meeting that same need in them?

So, as part of this need for love and belonging, let’s look at the dog’s need for company, to be understood when they try to communicate with us, and their need for love and care, bestowed in a responsible and beneficial way.


Dogs derive a sense of safety from being around others. For pet dogs, ‘others’ are often their humans. For village dogs, feral dogs or wild dogs, ‘others’ will usually be other dogs. Feral dogs tend to live in groups of 2-6 dogs. Being in groups mean that dogs can relax more, and don’t feel solely responsible for being on alert for any danger.

Dogs are social sleepers, and social eaters, and being alone is one of the greatest challenges faced by pet dogs. A lot of dogs sleep in the kitchen or utility room, far away from their humans. Many people then go out to work, leaving their dogs alone for 10+ hours a day. For a dog in this situation, they are essentially in isolation for 18 hours of the day. This is a real challenge for animals that have spent most of their evolutionary history in groups.

It is no surprise that a lot of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. Unfortunately, common wisdom about teaching dogs to be alone has been that they ‘just have to get used to it’. For years, the wisdom was that when you did leave your puppy or dog alone, and they cried, or barked, or howled, that they should be left until they were quiet. However, when a puppy cries, their mother will always attend to them. In the wild, puppies stay with their mum for 9 months, so when we take home a puppy at 8 or 9 or 10 weeks, we really do need to step into the role of Mum. When a puppy is distressed they have a biological need and expectation that their mother will come. The most recent studies I have read on the matter suggest that contrary to common belief, dogs that are left to ‘cry it out’ are in fact more likely to suffer from separation anxiety.

So how can we manage this problem?

  • Consider whether you need to leave your dog in a different part of the house overnight- you can potentially half the amount of time your dog has to be alone if you let him/her choose where to sleep.
  • Don’t leave your dog in a state of distress. You need to teach your dog to handle being alone. Start leaving them for a few seconds with a really tasty bone or chew, and build the time slowly, at a level they can handle. If you do this, they shouldn’t reach a point where they need to cry or howl, but if they do, remember that they need you to be their parent, and ignoring their calls isn’t going to make them feel more secure.
  • We can also make sure that our dogs have opportunities to have a rich social life with canine friends outside of the home! Puppy classes and social walks are a great way to offer our dogs these opportunities.



Here, Leo looks away, licks his lips and lifts a paw- these are all calming signals that show that he’s finding my behaviour a little worrying! I didn’t notice at the time, but it’s clear as day in the photo!

Although so many of us share our lives and homes with dogs, we often don’t communicate very effectively with them. We sometimes interact in quite a verbal way with our dogs, despite the fact that our common language is body language. Dogs have quite a developed system of communicating through body language. They use this with other dogs, and try (often in vain) to use it with us. I see so many cases of humans missing or misinterpreting the signals that their dogs are giving out.

Turid Rugaas has written a book called ‘On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals’ which provides an invaluable guide to anyone who wants to better understand what their dogs are trying to communicate to them and to each other. Below is a loose overview of some of the most commonly used signals that you might see your dog use. Please bear in mind that these all need to be taken in context- a dog yawning while relaxed on the couch after a long walk is probably tired; a dog who is yawning as you stare at it or hug it, is more likely to be displaying a calming signal.

  • Head turn;
  • Turning away;
  • Lip licking;
  • Blinking;
  • Yawning.

These are all signs that the dog might use to diffuse a potentially aggressive situation by indicating their good intent, or to let us or another dog know that they’re not entirely comfortable. One of my dog’s suffers from corns, and whenever I try and put moisturiser on her paws or touch them to check on the corns, she will look away and lick her lips, to let me know that my interference with her painful foot is making her uncomfortable.

You may also notice your dog curving as they approach or pass other dogs. This is a non confrontational way of approaching, but we often deprive our dogs of this opportunity by holding them on a short lead or forcing them to pass other dogs on a narrow pathway. Dogs that have under-developed social skills or reactivity issues can be aided by your encouraging this curve as they approach other dogs.

Another oft-misunderstood part of the dog’s repertoire of communication is the ‘whale eye’ look that is often misinterpreted as guilt or shame, but is in fact a fear response to your anger.

This is just one part of the equation. We also commonly use body language in a way that dogs can find quite confusing and/or threatening, such as:

  • bending over them;
  • approaching with out-stretched hands;
  • head patting (a primate thing- dogs never pat each other on the head!);
  • hugging (another primate thing that dogs can find restrictive or frightening, especially if done by someone they don’t know and trust);
  • calling them forward while standing square on (a ‘stay away’ stance as far as they’re concerned);
  • approaching straight on (an intimidating approach);
  • putting our faces close to theirs and making straight-on eye contact (often perceived as acts of aggression).

This sort of thing will often be met by the dog using some of the calming signals mentioned above- looking away, turning away, lip licking etc to try and discourage you!

Keep an eye on how you’re interacting with your dog, watch how he or she reacts to you, and try to listen to what they’re telling you with their body language. Being better able to understand your dog will definitely improve your relationship and will contribute to your dog feeling safer.


I like to think that most people love their dogs. However… perhaps a better question to pose is do we love our dogs in a way that benefits them? When another living being is entirely dependant on you, loving them comes with a lot of responsibility.

In her book about her journey with a rescued street dog from Romania, Lisa Tenzin-Dolma sums up the responsibility of having a dog:

‘Taking care of another living creature, whether human or non-human, necessitates accepting responsibility for their wellbeing and safety. The very expression ‘take care of’ indicates of the process of caring for, looking after, concerning ourselves with, nurturing, and helping that soul reach full potential. It’s a term of selfless love; or rather it should be. Whether our care is extended to children, family members, friends in need, those we are employed to help professionally, or non-human charges, it has to be unconditional. Putting conditions on caring taints and ultimately undermines the relationship.

Choosing to take responsibility involves accepting the likelihood that there will be a degree of sacrifice. Because it involves doing what is best for the other party, this can result in making decisions that cause us inconvenience, wither minor or major…’

In the above extract, Lisa Tenzin- Dolma speaks of helping a soul to reach full potential. Training a dog to be a robot and to blindly follow commands does not allow that dog to reach full potential. To love them in a way that benefits them, we need to be parents to our dogs, to guide, to protect but also to allow them become their own person (if you will!), able to make their own decisions and to think for themselves. We need to give them the confidence to explore the world, to be curious and to enjoy life. We need to think about what they need from us, and not just what we’d like from them. We need to be reasonable in our expectations, and recognise and enjoy the differences between dogs and humans.

And if we’re going to love our dogs unconditionally, responsibly, and in a way that benefits them, I suppose a lot of people will want to know if they love us too, or if they just see us as food dispensing, shelter-providing, chauffeurs?

Science appears to be proving that they do. Darwin was of the opinion that animals experience the same emotions as humans, but to a lesser extent. For a long time, the scientific community believed that dogs were just pavlovian machines, learning that one thing was a consequence of another. Then it became generally accepted that they experienced primary emotions, and now it is becoming apparent that they most likely experience an entire range of emotions, and also have a theory of mind.

If their enthusiastic greetings, constant willingness to forgive, and endless displays of affection were not enough to convince us of dogs’ love of their humans, various studies have shown that dogs’ brains release oxytocin, the bonding chemical, when they look at their humans. Gregory Berns, in his studies on canine emotional responses, found that the caudate of the brain (the reward centre) lit up when dogs are presented with the smell of a human family member, to a much greater extent than when presented with the smells of non-family members or other dogs.

Because we are generally not entirely dependent on our dogs, their love of us may have less responsibility attached to it, but all the same they love us with an endurance and consistency that many people would struggle to match!

So, there you have it! Some reflections on what is involved in providing dogs with the love and sense of belonging they need and deserve, and the indicators that they love us too.

Dogs and Neutering

Neutering your dog

Much misinformation exists about neutering dogs and bitches. I am often asked if neutering will help with behavioural problems, particularly in relation to male dogs. Most notably, people want to know if it will calm their adolescent dog down. They want to know if it will stop the dog mounting other dogs/people/furniture. Will it make them less aggressive? Stop guarding behaviour? Most people expect it will, and common wisdom states that 6 months is the appropriate age to neuter.

Last year I attended an insightful talk by veterinary behaviourist Caroline Warnes, which examined in depth the effects of neutering on canine behaviour, as well as the health implications of deciding to neuter or not to neuter. The talk was really an eye-opener for me, and I’d love to share some of what I learned, in the hope that it will help inform your decision when the time comes to decide whether or not, and if so, when to neuter your dog.

Health considerations

One reason people neuter their dogs is to avoid potential health problems in the future. According to Warnes, castrating a male dog will reduce the risk of:

  • Testicular tumours (although there is a less than 1% risk of a non-neutered dog dying from testicular cancer) or torsions;
  • Peri-anal adenomas and fistulas;
  • Benign prostatic hypertrophy (a benign increase in the size of the prostate);
  • Perineal hernias;
  • Possibly diabetes.

However, it increases the risk of :

  • Obesity;
  • Orthopaedic problems (especially if the procedure is carried out before puberty);
  • Prostate and urinary tract tumours;
  • Osteosarcoma (and this risk is doubled if the dog is neutered before he is one year old);
  • Age-related Cognitive Dysfunction (canine Alzheimers);
  • Hypothyroidism;
  • Splenic and cardiac haemangiosarcoma (a fast-growing cancer arising from the lining of blood vessels).

In female dogs, the situation is a little more complex. Spaying will reduce the risks of:

  • Mammary tumours, the most common malignant tumours in female dogs, especially if done before 2.5 year of age;
  • Pyometra (spaying almost eliminates the risk of this uterine infection, which kills 1% of non-neutered dogs, and affects around 23% of non-neutered dogs);
  • Peri-anal fistulas;
  • Uterine, cervical and ovarian tumours.

On the other hand, it increases the risk of:

  • Obesity;
  • Orthopaedic problems;
  • Osteosarcoma (the risk is doubled if she is neutered before one year of age);
  • Hypothyroidism;
  • Splenic and cardiac hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumours (risk multiplied by 5);
  • Incontinence;
  • Urinary tract infection ( 3-4 times as common);
  • Recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis and vaginitis, especially if spayed before puberty;
  • Urinary tract tumours (risk is doubled).

As you can see from the above, the affects of neutering on health are not as straightforward as one may have thought, and in male dogs especially, the risk of adverse affects may outweigh the perceived benefits. The other thing which is apparent from the above is that the health-related risks of early neutering are greater than the risks of neutering post-puberty.

Behavioural considerations

Warnes mentioned a 2010 study by Parvene Farhoody and M. Christine Zink in which a 101 question survey was used to collect information on 7 behavioural characteristics for over 10,000 dogs. The results showed that the behaviour of neutered dogs was significantly different to that of intact dogs, but not in the way that supports the prevailing view…

Neutered dogs were found to be more aggressive, fearful, excitable and less trainable than intact dogs. Although there is some limitations in this study, it still presents some thought-provoking findings.

One reason that neutering is not always an effective way of eliminating sexually dimorphic behaviours (i.e. behaviours that differ between the sexes, usually part of the reproductive repertoire) is that the male brain is masculinised before birth. Furthermore, testosterone is produced by the brain and adrenal glands as well as the testes, so removing the testes will not eliminate testosterone completely. And we cannot forget that behaviour is complicated and is influenced by other hormones, neurotransmitters and of course, learning.

Looking more explicitly at the effects of neutering on male dogs, Warnes referenced a study by Hart & Eckstein (1997) who summarised the findings of several other studies looking at the effect of castration on problem behaviours in dogs. They found that neutering resulted in:

  • a 90% reduction in roaming,
  • a 65% reduction in mounting,
  • a 60% reduction in fighting,
  • a 50% reduction in urine marking
  • a 30% reduction in aggression directed at the owner

However, neutering showed no marked reduction in fear aggression or territorial behaviour. The former might well be due to the fact that one of the effects of testosterone is to increase self-confidence. A dog who is showing aggressive behaviour out of fear, and whose confidence is reduced by the reduction of testosterone which results from neutering, may be likely to show an increase in that aggression.

Warnes pointed out that neutering was unlikely to be beneficial to dogs showing unruly, over-excitable adolescent behaviour or inappropriate predatory, herding or hunting behaviours. Furthermore, she highlighted the fact that neutering may be detrimental to dogs who are fearful or under confident.

In bitches, spaying can prevent behavioural problems associated with hormonal changes during the bitch’s season, including increased reactivity and arousal, urine marking, roaming in search of males, and competitive aggression towards other bitches which occurs when one or both are in season. It can also prevent pseudo-pregnancy, especially if the bitch is spayed before puberty. However, spaying can conversely also increase reactivity and aggression in some bitches.

Another particularly interesting aspect of Warnes’s talk, was her discussion of the possible androgenisation of female pups in the uterus. Some female dogs display male-typical behaviour, such as cocking their leg to urinate, urine marking, and increased aggression. Warnes discussed the possibility that these changes were a result of a female pup being subjected to increased levels of testosterone in the uterus as a result of being positioned in between two male pups. In these masculinised bitches, there is the chance that spaying will, by virtue of the fact that it will reduce the levels of female hormones, increase any aggression that was fuelled by the androgenising effects of testosterone in the womb.

In short…

Neutering plays an important role in the population control of dogs, and may be beneficial in dealing with certain behavioural issues.

But remember, neutering is not a fix-all solution for problem behaviours. In male dogs, while unlikely to have an adverse effect on behaviours (apart from in the case of dogs displaying fearful or under confident behaviour), it will not improve behaviours that are not affected by testosterone. It can potentially make some behaviours worse, such as fearful aggression, and there is some suggestion that neutering dogs before puberty may lead to the retention of adolescent behavioural characteristics, including excitability, short attention span and low attention threshold. The health-related risks of neutering may also outweigh the benefits.

In bitches, the health-related benefits of spaying generally outweigh the risks (although there are clear benefits to waiting until after puberty where possible). Apart from in the case of androgenised bitches, it is unlikely to have an adverse effect on behaviour, although it may result in the retention of adolescent behaviour if performed before puberty.

So, on the basis of what I learned at this seminar, my advice to clients now is to hold off on any decision about neutering until after puberty, at which point a decision should be made on a case-by-case basis.


My new book ‘Office Dogs; The Manual’ is now available to pre-order on Amazon. Find it here!


Social Walks

photoI’m delighted to announce that myself and fellow dog trainer Harriet Alexander are joining forces to bring you social walks in Wandsworth Park on Sunday mornings!

Dogs, like ourselves, are social creatures, and having furry friends will enhance their lives. Social walks are the perfect opportunity for them to develop and maintain their inter dog skills, make friends, get involved in scent work, and work on skills such as loose lead walking and recall.

For more information, and to find out how to book your place, please check out the Social Walks section of the website!