False Friends of Canine Communication


Does anyone remember learning languages in school, and learning about ‘false friends’? Words in a foreign language that look like a word in your native language but mean something different? Like in French, ‘bras’ is nothing to do with undergarments, but rather means ‘arm’. Well, it’s not quite the same thing, but in canine body language there are a number of signs that humans often misread, or don’t read in context, and get wrong. Today, I want to look at some of these.

Tail wagging:dog-30704_1280

When trying to gauge how friendly a dog is, we humans have a tendency to read a wagging tail as a universal positive. However, like with most of the canine repertoire of body language, context is everything.

I’ve seen many dogs, who, when approached, will wag their tail, but also move away. People tend to have already clocked the wagging tail, and presume the dog is welcoming their advance, and determinedly continue with their greeting. The fact that the dog is simultaneously using signals of discomfort or avoidance (moving away) doesn’t register at all. 

If a dog is wagging their tail, but at the same time moving away, the greater indicator of the dog’s feelings, is to me, very clearly, the moving away! In these cases, the dog is using the tail wag to indicate politeness, and a desire to avoid conflict, not a desire to be touched or approached. We use a smile similarly. Has anyone ever approached you on the street to try and sell you something or ask for money? Many of us will smile politely and try to move away. Our smile is not an attempt to engage a person, but rather to politely avoid engaging without provoking any hostility. Often dogs in these situations are on lead, and simply don’t have the option to escape the attention. This is a really unfair situation to put a dog in.

By way of another example, I visited a client a number of years ago, with a dog who was barking at all of her guests. As she ran a B&B, this was quite an issue. When I went to her house, her dog was lying in her bed, in the corner, wagging her tail. But her head was low, her eyes were wide, and she was growling and periodically barking. Again, this was not a happy wag. This was a frightened wag. The context for the tail wag was provided by all of the other communication that was happening. Needless to say, I made no attempt to approach this dog!

When you wish to approach a dog, don’t rely on their tail- your safest bet is always to give the dog the option to freely approach you. Look at their other body language. A friendly, relaxed dog will have a relaxed body. If the dog is leaning away, trying to move away, or looking away, abandon all attempts at engagement, and move away! 

Rolling over:

Wants a belly rub, right? Not necessarily… Rolling over is another calming signal (part of a dog’s repertoire, often used to diffuse tension and avoid conflict), and is often a sign of a really frightened dog, who wants nothing more than for the ‘threat’ (you!) to go away. 

How to tell? Again, the amount of tension in the dog’s body can be a give-away. Look out for ‘whale-eye’, (when you can see the whites of the dog’s eyes), tension in the face, etc. These are indicators of fear.  A frightened dog can also be quite rigid whilst rolling over. Sometimes they will urinate. This sort of ‘submissive’ behaviour is the dog’s attempt to calm the threat down.

It can also be a self-calming technique. Some really interesting research done by my PDTE colleagues Aurelian and Cristina Budzinski in France on the dog’s pulse rate has shown that rolling on the ground reduces the dog’s pulse rate, in a similar way to a body shake. For those who’ve not come across this before, it’s been long observed that after a stressful encounter a dog will often ‘shake off’ the stress.

Of course, some dogs will roll over for a belly rub from a friend. If the dog willingly approaches you, and rolls over, and when you stop petting them, they paw your arm, that could well be a dog who wants a belly rub!

‘Silly’ behaviour

I had an interesting case a couple of years ago in London. I was told that the dog in question seemed really conflicted around other dogs. On the one had she seemed scared of other dogs- hung back, didn’t want to approach, and yet, once she got near them, got very playful.

When we went out with the dog, it became immediately clear what was happening.  Her state of mind wasn’t changing, her tactic was! You might be familiar with the 4 Fs and how we react to a threat: Flight, Fight, Freeze or Flirt/Fiddle about. 

This dog, whilst the other dogs were far enough away for it to be an option, attempted the Flight option (moving away/keeping her distance). But once she was in close proximity, and no longer felt that this was an option, she switched tactic and tried Flirt/Fiddle about. What the owners were reading as the dog being playful, was actually just an extension of the dog’s attempt to avoid any sort of conflict with other dogs, and came from a place of fear. 

Again, the key to reading this behaviour was to look at the context. If a dog is afraid of other dogs, it seems unlikely that this fear would suddenly evaporate as the object of the fear got closer! The context of your dog’s ‘normal’ behaviour is also relevant. If your dog usually greets strangers quite calmly, and then out of the blue acts very ‘silly’ when a stranger approaches them, this can be a warning sign that the dog is finding something about that person, the way they’re behaving, or the way they’re approaching, frightening.

Our job as our dogs’ guardians is to protect them. The best thing you can do if your dog is exhibiting any of these behaviours, and your suspicion is that they are feeling scared, is to remove them from the situation, or give them the choice as to whether to engage or not.


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



Bringing your Dog to Work

poppyToday was Bring Your Dog to Work Day. It’s a day that’s of particular interest to me, as I’ve written a book on the topic of office dogs. I’m very excited to say that this will be published in Norwegian a little later in the year by publishers Huldra, and in English in early 2019 by Hubble and Hattie. Keep an eye on this website and on Hubble and Hattie’s website for further information on the English version….

But not wanting the day to pass unmarked this year, I posted a video on my Facebook page with some hints and tips for bringing your dog to work (find it here!). Below you’ll find some more information on some of the things I mentioned in the video. If you’re working for one of the 8% of companies for whom every day is bring your dog to work day and you’re thinking about bringing your dog into work more frequently, this information may still be useful for you to consider in advance of doing so!

  1. If this is going to be your dog’s first time in the office, it may be worth trying to get them in for a ten minute visit over the next few days when the office is quiet. Dogs are curious creatures who spend a lot of time investigating their environment. Giving them the opportunity to do this ahead of bringing them in for a longer period of time will help them feel more secure and make it easier for them to settle.
  2. If you’re worried about accidents, when you bring the dog in for the reccy, or if you beat the rest of your colleagues in in the morning, it’s a good idea to scatter some food for them. Dog’s don’t tend to want to go to the toilet where they eat, so if their first association with your office floor is that it’s a place for eating, you reduce the chance of them peeing there!
  3. To quote veterinary behaviourist Amber Batson, ‘calmness is a way of life, not a trained behaviour’. If you want your dog to be calm in the office, promoting calm behaviour the rest of the time will make this much more likely! It’s not uncommon for people who bring their dogs to the office to try and tire them out by engaging them in fast exercise like ball chasing or other fast play before work or on their lunch break. While this might give you a quick win because the dog will initially be physically tired, their system will remain full of adrenaline and other glucocorticoids for hours after. These stress hormones make your dog more likely to engage in undesirable behaviours like barking/ reacting to other dogs or people/ or being hyperactive. Activities that use the brain like slow sniffy walks, puzzles or nose work are a better way to tire your dog out in a calmer way.
  4. Think about your journey into work. No matter how you’re getting there, allow extra time! If you need to travel to work by public transport bear in mind that there can be restrictions on dogs on public transport. Dogs can often ride buses at the bus driver’s discretion. Public transport can be really unpleasant for dogs at peak times too- being in crowded spaces with people who may stand on their paws or tails, or insist upon petting them can be stressful. Travelling off-peak can make this a more enjoyable experience for your dog. If you’re walking, allow plenty of time for your dog to sniff- trying to drag them along at your pace will be frustrating for you both, and your dog will miss out on all the mental stimulation that comes with sniffing! If you’re travelling by car, make sure you factor in time for a short walk between the car ride and getting to the office so your dog can go to the toilet if they need to.
  5. Create as calm and quiet a space as possible for your dog in the office. It’s going to be a long and tiring day for your dog, so allowing them as much down time as possible is important! It’s likely that many of your colleagues are going to want to greet your dog. Watch your dog’s body language for signs of stress- your dog may lick their lips, look away, move away, or yawn. These are what we call calming signals, and dogs use them when they’re feeling worried or threatened or are trying to diffuse a situation or communicate peaceful intent. You can find more information on calming signal in Turid Rugaas’s book ‘Calming Signals; On Talking Terms with Dogs’. Encouraging your colleagues to allow the dog approach them rather than vice versa, and making sure your dog can move away when they want to can make these interactions as pleasant as possible. If your dog is looking uncomfortable, help them out!


Things to bring:

  1. Food and water; dogs need access to fresh water at all times. Depending on your dog’s food routine, you may or may not want to bring food. Having treats on hand may be useful, especially if there are going to be coffee breaks. Dogs always like to be included in any eating that’s happening!
  2. Clean up stuff- accidents happen! It might go without saying, but I would recommend bringing a roll of kitchen paper to soak up any accidents, some carpet cleaner if you have carpet and some disinfectant spray if you have hard floors. And don’t forget the poo bags! Dogs need to pee when they get excited or stressed, so don’t be surprised if there are accidents, and be sure that they have plenty of toilet breaks.
  3. Things to chew: chewing a really nice way to keep your dog entertained and to relax them. Chewing releases happy, stress busting hormones in the brain, and providing appropriate things to chew can reduce the chances of them finding their own things to chew. In my experiences dogs in need of things to chew in offices often go for wires! In my house, natural chews are always popular- pizzles, ears, dried tendons, moon bars etc. Some are smellier than others, so worth trialling these before bringing them to work if you don’t want to alienate your colleagues! My go-to webshop for good quality chews is woofs to kittys.
  4. Interactive games- my personal favourite is a snuffle mat! I use (and sell!) these ones from Knauder’s best. The idea is to hide food in them which the

imagedog can sniff out. This is a tiring, calming activity, and once done, the dog will often use the mat as a bed! If you don’t have a snuffle mat, scattering treats in long grass is just as good. Or I’m going to link you below to a video by one of my PDTE colleagues showing how you can use a towel or blanket to play similar games.

5. bed and comfort things. Dogs do about 40% of their sleeping during the day. Bringing a cosy bed to work, and putting it in a quiet spot by/under your desk will set them up for success on this front. Cushions, soft toys etc can also be added for extra comfort. And don’t let your colleagues disturb your dog if they’re sleeping! Tired dogs can be hyperactive and restless, something I’m betting you don’t want in the office.

I’ve recently started offering lunchtime talks to dog-friendly workplaces in Dublin on topics such as creating a calm dog, canine communication and suitable lunch time activities for dogs. If your workplace is dog friendly, I would be delighted to come and speak to your staff about doggy topics of your choice, or to run some dog-friendly lunchtime activities.

If you’re thinking about turning ‘dog-friendly’ why not arrange a consultation to discuss the pros and cons, the things to consider, and what you can do to create a workplace that is truly dog-friendly, rather than one that just allows dogs!

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



*This article was written back in April, but only getting around to posting it now! The cold snap may feel like a distant memory, but we all know the weather in this part of the world can be very changeable, so I haven’t counted on summer’s arrival yet!*

fia in the snowHere in Ireland, we’ve recently survived a cold-snap, where bread supplies were threatened, work places closed, and the country generally ground to a halt. Fia, my 8 year old greyhound, hadn’t seen a proper snow since she joined the family five years ago, so I was eager to see what she thought of it. Thankfully, it was a real hit! She loved tearing around in the snow, but despite her rather fetching jumper, she didn’t like staying out in the cold too long (unsurprising, for a greyhound!).

Anyway, it got me thinking that most of us don’t give that much thought to our dogs’ temperature, particularly in the winter time. Thermoregulation is most commonly discussed in the hot weather, but for many dogs, it should be a consideration in the colder weather too.

So today, I’m going to take a look at some of the science behind thermoregulation!


Your dog’s temperature should be 38.3-39.2 celsius (it’s 37 for humans). Whilst most of us are happy to leave the task of taking a dog’s temperature rectally to the vet, in a recent blog post on pain in dogs I mentioned how good dogs are at hiding pain, so a thermometer can be a really useful tool for providing vital information about your dog’s health. If you suspect your dog isn’t feeling well, being able to take his temperature could help you decide whether or not he needs urgent input from the vet.

You can buy a pet thermometer from the likes of Amazon or viovet for about a tenner, and I think it’s a really good thing to have in your tool kit.

How dogs regulate their temperature

Maintaining an optimal temperature for the body to function is a feature of physiological homeostasis and is crucial to survival. Different species have various methods for regulating their temperature but animals can be largely categorised as either endotherms or ectotherms. Most mammals, humans and dogs included, are endotherms, which means they generate the heat they need to regulate their temperature internally (ectotherms, on the other hand, maintain their body temperature using external sources, for example, a lizard who lies on a hot rock to heat up).

Thermoregulatory strategies can be behavioural, physiological or anatomical. Behavioural strategies could include seeking shade in warm weather or getting close to another dog or human in cold weather, physiological strategies include shivering, panting or vasodilation (bringing blood from the core of the body to the skin where it can be cooled)/vasoconstriction (when blood vessels near the surface of the skin narrow to direct blood back to the core), whilst anatomical strategies include having fur or body fat.

Interesting Fact:

Countercurrant heat exchange occurs when heat from the hot blood in the arteries is transferred to the colder blood in the veins. Dogs have such a system in their paws, whereby the arteries and veins in the footpad are very close together, allowing warm blood in the artery to heat the blood in the veins which has been cooled by contact with the cold air or ground. This means that the blood is warmed up before returning to the body, allowing the body to be protected from any cooling effect and to keep the paws at a constant temperature.

This system can also be used for cooling. The brain is the organ most at risk from over-heating, so dogs have another counter currant heat exchanger between the carotid arteries and vessels to the brain, this time the heat from the arterial blood is cooled by the venous blood returning from the nose and mouth.

What affects thermoregulation in dogs

There are a number of factors that will affect how well your dog can regulate their temperature, including age, breed, size, weight, health, coat type, and even colour.


Both puppies and older dogs are more susceptible to the effects of heat and cold, and less able to regulate their temperature, so extra care is required.


Certain breeds of dogs are better suited to hotter or colder climates. Huskies, with their thick double-layered coats for instance, will be much better at managing in colder weather than Staffordshire bull terriers, with their shorter coats. Greyhounds, who have both a thin, single coat, and a low percentage of body fat, will cope less well with extremes of temperature on either end of the spectrum.

Brachycephalic breeds (pugs, bulldogs, etc) tend to struggle in the heat as their inefficient panting effects their ability to cool down.


Bergmann’s rule tells us that bigger body size allows for greater conservation of heat. Small dogs have a higher percentage of skin surface in relation to their overall mass, and so lose heat quicker.


Fat is an excellent insulator, so while dogs who have a high percentage of body fat are less likely to suffer from the effects of cold weather, they are more likely to suffer in hot weather.


Dogs who are in less than optimal health will struggle to regulate their temperature.

Coat types

There are many different types of coat, each with different features. Some dogs are double coated- they have a shorter fluffy layer as an undercoat, and a hairier overcoat. These coats are very warm and insulating. On the other end of the spectrum you can find hairless dogs, such as the Chinese crested dog. In between, you’ll find curly poodle coats, corded Kommodor coats, single greyhound coats, all with varying abilities to insulate. As well as keeping dogs warm in cold weather, their coats can also function as a barrier to sun and heat, actually cooling them in the summer, so beware of having your dogs shaved for the summer months!


Dogs with dark coats will absorb heat from the sun, and suffer more from the effects of hot weather.

alfie cooling down

A cool, damp towel helps Alfie regulate his temperature in the hot weather.


Ensuring your dog is comfortable in the heat or the cold


Dogs spend a lot of time sleeping, so it’s really important that their sleeping area facilitates thermoregulation. Choice is paramount in this regard. Make sure that wherever your dog is sleeping, they have access to the floor in case they want to stretch out and cool down. Providing pillows and blankets can make their beds warm and cosy. Beds with comfortable high backs can help keep drafts off your dogs while they sleep and provide something to snuggle into. In particularly cold weather, offering a hot water bottle wrapped in towel may be welcome. If you’ve got a dog who feels the cold, think about how cold your house gets overnight. Pyjamas may be required, or you may wish to have the heat come on for a couple of hours at the time when the house would otherwise be at its coldest. You can also get beds which have a sleeping bag effect, so that the dog can burrow under the cover if they need shelter. When the weather is very hot, your dog may appreciate a damp towel on the ground that they can lie on if they get too hot.

If your dog is too cold or too warm they may have problems sleeping and move about, bark or ask to go out to the toilet overnight.


In extremes of temperature, you may wish to re-evaluate your dog’s exercise routine. In hot weather, the pavements can become burning hot, making any outdoor walking during the day very painful for your dog. Check the pavement by putting your hand on it for 5 seconds. Walking first thing in the morning or late at night can be better. During the day, you can do some nosework with your dog if they seem bored. Read more here!

alfie paddling

In the hot weather, a paddle in the sea will be a lot more pleasant than walking on hot concrete.

In cold weather, your dog may need a coat or jumper, depending on how cold it is, what age they are and what sort of natural coat they have. Avoid going out for long periods of time in the cold weather with your dog, and avoid putting them in situations where they have to stay still for too long. In the snow, be sure to pay extra attention to their paws- make sure that snow and ice don’t stick to the hair between their toes, and rinse their feet after walks if roads have been salted. You can also get special paw wax that can help protect their pads.


Doggy clothes have never been more popular. However, many of the clothes produced are more for fashion than practicality. Clothes have the potential to make your dog uncomfortable and to hamper their movement, so it is important to choose wisely. I have found this to be particularly true with older dogs- my senior lad Alfie who was arthritic needed clothes that required no stepping into or wrestling legs in and out of.

My PDTE colleague Sonja has put together a great guide on coats for dogs, which you can read here.

I’ve mentioned pyjamas and for dogs who feel the cold, these can make a real difference.

alfie pjs

Fleece pyjamas kept Alfie warm in his old age.

The disadvantage of pyjamas is that the dog cannot remove them themselves, so I always feel these are best used under supervision so you can tell if your dog wants them taken off. Whilst indoors, I find the following useful indicators of my dog’s temperature:

  • Ears (cold ears alert me to a need for central heating or a layer of clothing/a blanket);
  • Curling up tight, or trying to get uncharacteristically close can be a sign of coldness;
  • Restlessness overnight- can occur when the dog is too hot or too cold;
  • Panting or lying stretched out in the coolest part of the room can indicate that your dog is too hot

In hot weather, cool coats which can reflect the light off dark coloured dogs can also be helpful whilst on walks. But again, try and get something that is going to be comfortable for your dog and not hamper their movement.

So, as we meander through the rather confused weather that spring can spring on us, it’s worth remembering these little things we can do to help our dogs feel more comfortable!

Let sleeping dogs lie… but never let puppy dogs cry!


Image pinched from here

In the wild, a puppy would stay with their mum for about 9 months. So when we take them home at 8 or 9 weeks, they really are still infants in need of a mother. Our job is to become that mother- to care for them emotionally and physically and to create an environment that allows them to grow and flourish, and most importantly, to feel safe.

This is a big commitment, requires compromise and sacrifices, and there are going to be times when it is difficult. But the benefits you will reap from making sure your puppy’s needs are met and that they grow up feeling happy and safe make it so worthwhile.

Don’t let them cry it out

For many years, the advice doled out to new puppy parents was to bring their puppy home, put them to bed that night (often in a cage in another part of the house), and then to ignore their cries. This, we were told, would avoid ‘rewarding’ their ‘attention seeking’ behaviour and lead to a puppy who could cope with being left alone.  The same advice was given to parents of human children for many years, and today many people still adhere to it, for both canine and human babies.

But guess what?

It has been shown that the effects of not responding to infants (human or canine) does the reverse of teaching independence- allowing a baby to repeatedly become distressed in this way is damaging to their ability to establish secure attachments in the long term, and is more likely to lead to clingy, demanding children, with a deep sense of insecurity which can stay with them for the rest of their lives.

In my capacity as a dog trainer, babies are of limited interest to me! But science has taught us that mammalian brains all work pretty similarly. A lot of research done on mammalian brains has been done on rats (sorry rats!), and we know from this research that there is a period in the ‘infant’ stage of life where the caregiving that an animal receives has a life-long impact on how prone they are to being anxious. Rats whose mothers were nurturing and caring in their early days (which translates to longer periods in larger mammals who develop more slowly) had the genes for controlling anxiety turned on, whereas those who had ‘low-nurturing’ mothers never had these genes turned on, and suffered from anxiety for the rest of their lives. This is something which seems to be true across the board.

We also know that when an animal becomes excessively stressed, the body’s response becomes destructive, negatively impacting the brain, emotions, the digestive system, the immune system. Excessive stress is simply not good for us.

And, we know that when a puppy cries, their mum always responds. This all makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Crying young alert predators to the presence of vulnerable, tasty youngsters! Dogs always do a very good job of rearing puppies, so we could do a lot worse than following their example.

So what should we do?

Dogs are social sleepers- they find safety in company, and without it, struggle to get the deep sleep they need. The ideal situation is to have your puppy sleep with a member of the family. Most puppies sleep longer and sounder when they are with you, so you might find the night is not as broken as you’d expect.

If you have a carpeted room and are worried about your puppy sneaking off to the corner for a wee (or worse!) during the night, a simple solution is to block off the parts of your room that you can, and cover the rest with a waterproof bedsheet- these usually have non-slippery cotton on top and a waterproof backing.

If you don’t want your dog in your room forever, as the puppy gets older you can gradually move their bed further and further from yours. Having their bed just outside your door with a dog gate rather than a shut door can be a good interim arrangement.

If they can’t be in the bedroom, camping downstairs with them for the first while can be helpful. You can then work on gradually increasing the time they are left downstairs.

Know when they’re tired

Puppies need a lot of sleep- upwards on 20 hours a day! But dogs are polyphasic sleepers- they sleep in multiple blocks throughout the day and night.

People often worry about their puppies sleeping too much during the day, and wonder how this will affect their sleep at night. But they need so much sleep that this is highly unlikely to be the case. In fact, depriving your puppy of sleep can have the reverse effect! Puppies who are over-tired can become hyperactive and restless and find it difficult to go to sleep at night. So if they’re resting during the day, don’t worry- it might help you get a better night’s sleep.

Here are some signs that your puppy may be tired or over-tired:

  • Yawning;
  • Eyes closing whilst sitting up;
  • Red eyes (I once had a pom-chi in puppy class whose eyes used to actually get puffy when he was tired);
  • Hyper-activity;
  • Excessive nipping;
  • Restlessness or not knowing what to do with themselves;
  • Vocalisations (barking, whining)
  • Grumpiness (snappiness).

If it’s too early for you to go to bed, if everyone just sits down calmly and leaves the puppy be, they will probably lie down and go to sleep. Offering them a food-based chew can help relax them.

Early starts

Dogs are naturally crepuscular, which means their most active times of the day can be dawn or dusk (many people report their puppies having a mad half hour morning and evening, and this is the reason). Over time, they adjust to our rhythm of life, but this is something they learn over time, not immediately. Be patient if your puppy is rising at 5.30 and ready to face the day!

Letting them out for a wee, and then encouraging them back to bed with a food-based chew can gain you an extra half hour of sleep!

Alternatively, scattering some of their breakfast in the garden can serve the dual purpose of tiring them out in a calm way by engaging their brains as they sniff around for the treats, and filling their tummies! Sniffing also lowers the pulse-rate and as such is a calming activity. You might well find they’re ready for another nap after the exertion. This is also a good exercise to do in the evening before bed.

Getting ready for bed

  • Keep everything calm and quiet before bedtime so your puppy is getting into the right frame of mind to sleep. Remember that adrenaline can stay in the system for 6 hours, so keeping them calm as much of the time as possible is actually a good idea!
  • Let them out for a toilet trip before bed.
  • Don’t withhold water- puppies can become easily dehydrated and need access to water at all times. If you are concerned about toilet training, offering them a wet food can mean that they get most of their required fluids with their meals and are less likely to graze on water throughout the day and night, making it easier to predict when they need to go.
  • If your puppy is struggling to settle, a calm nose game in the evening can help them get into a calmer frame of mind. Read more here.

Get the night time routine right, and you can rest assured that you’re increasing your odds of raising a happy, stress-free puppy with a secure attachment, and hopefully getting a better night’s sleep yourself in the process!


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


Fags and Fido- Another Reason to Quit?

As New Year’s Resolutions abound, many people are attempting to quit smoking. That’s obviously great news for them, their family and friends, but also for their dog. We don’t often consider the impact that smoking can have on our pets, but understanding the serious implications the habit can have on furry family members can serve as an extra push to kick the habit.


Passive Smoking

The detrimental effects of smoking on the smoker, as well as on their family, have been widely publicised, and it is well known that smoking, as well as passive smoking, can cause serious health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease.

We also know that 85% of cigarette smoke is invisible and that toxic particles accumulate on the surfaces of our homes, including furniture and carpets as well as clinging to our clothes and hair, long after the smoking has stopped. These surface accumulations are known as third hand smoke, and are thought to be even more carcinogenic than second hand smoke. The particles are released from the surfaces they cling to and react with other indoor pollutants, creating a further toxic mix. Airing does not remove these particles, clothes and surfaces must be thoroughly cleaned to get rid of them.

And, we also know that it’s not just people who are effected by second and third hand smoke. Our pets are even more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of the by-products of smoking. This is because:

  • They can absorb the toxins clinging to carpets and floors through their paws;
  • The toxins will transfer to their coats, which they may then lick (particularly problematic in cats, who are fastidious groomers!);
  • They are lower down and closer to the carpets and furniture and the particles they will be releasing;
  • They often do not have the opportunity to remove themselves from the smoky environment.

Research into the effect of passive smoking on dogs has shown that living with a smoker leads to:

  • an increased risk of nasal and lung cancer;
  • cell damage;
  • increased weight gain after neutering;
  • an increased risk of corneal ulceration (ouch!).

Although there are limited amounts of research into the effects of passive smoking on dogs specifically, I think it is safe to assume that they will also be subject to the myriad of problems experienced by humans who are subjected to second and third hand smoke. I also can’t help but think how much more unpleasant it must be for dogs to be around cigarette smoke with their far superior sense of smell.


The other risk to dogs from smoking comes by way of nicotine poisoning, and ironically, this can be more common whilst owners are attempting to quit, owing to the presence of nicotine replacement patches, gums etc. in the home. The toxic level of nicotine in dogs is 0.5-1.0mg per pound (approx. 500g) of body weight. 10mg/kg of body weight can be enough to have fatal consequences. The effects of nicotine poisoning can be seen within an hour and include:

  • Vomiting;
  • Abnormal heart rate;
  • Drooling;
  • Incoordination;
  • Hallucination;
  • Tremors;
  • Weakness;
  • Collapse.

If you think your dog has ingested nicotine containing products, do contact your vet.

Mitigating the Risk

If you are a smoker, you can reduce the risk to your dog by not smoking in the house. Remember, however, that the toxic particles will still be present on your clothes and hair, so this does not eliminate the risk to your pet.

If you are quitting, the great news is that your pet will be living in a much less toxic environment soon. In the meantime, be sure to keep all nicotine containing items out of your dog’s reach, including cigarette butts, which puppies particularly will often pick up to investigate, and which contain high levels of nasty toxins.


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


Christmas Puppies


When I was working in London, January through to March was always one of my busiest times for puppy classes. These first few months of the year nearly always saw me more than double the number of classes I ran to cope with demand.

The reason? Christmas puppies!

Every year, the dog world appeals to people not to buy puppies for Christmas. And we’re not being curmudgeonly, I swear! We’ve just heard too many heart-breaking stories about the fate of Christmas puppies, and the older dogs who are often abandoned to make space for a newer, cuter replacement. Yet the demand for puppy classes in the New Year shows that Christmas is still a really popular time to buy puppies.

So, what sort of thing should you consider if you are thinking about a Christmas puppy?

Where will your puppy come from?

As a dog trainer, I know about the Christmas puppy rush. Guess who else knows? Puppy farmers. They try to cash in on the demand, and if people are in a rush to buy a puppy in time for Christmas, the risks of them falling foul of an unscrupulous puppy farmer are higher. There are lots of really good guides out there to avoiding puppies from puppy farms (like this one). Ending up with a puppy from a puppy farm increases demand for puppies bred in deplorable conditions and sentences female dogs to a lifetime of having litter after litter, each one taken away from them. Additionally, your chances of having a sickly puppy or one with behavioural problems rises exponentially. You can read more about puppy farming here.

Who’ll do all of the hard work?

Puppies take a lot of work. Who’s going to spend the Christmas period taking puppy out every 30-60 minutes, cleaning up the accidents, making 4 meals a day for puppy, picking things up off the floor that your puppy will chew, and comforting children who don’t understand why the puppy is nipping them or chewing the new toys that Santa brought them? It’s not many people’s idea of a perfect Christmas!

Puppies are not puppies for long!

Christmas puppies, as with all puppies, don’t waste much time growing up. By 6-8 months of age (just 4 months after you bring your puppy home), you’ll have a dog who has the size and appearance of an adult dog, and who acts like an adolescent. According to figures from the RSPCA over 600 pets were abandoned over the festive period in 2015. But the real peak in animal neglect occurred 6 months later. By then the Christmas puppies had become summer adolescents. Adolescent dogs can be really hard work. But many Christmas puppies don’t even make it to the summer- the reality of having a peeing, pooing, barking, nipping puppy often hits home a lot sooner, and shelters always report an increase in puppies being handed in the weeks following the festive period.

Are you prepared for a significant ongoing financial commitment?

Who else finds it depressing looking at their bank account figures in January? Now imagine you’ll have to shell out for vaccines (I haven’t priced these but I’m guessing you’ll be paying E80-E100 each vaccine visit), puppy classes (E100-E150), dog food, leads, harnesses. Does everyone in the household go to school or work? Add dog walkers or daycare arrangements to that too. I read recently that over an average lifespan of 15 years, a dog will cost you £10,000-£20,000.

It’s a gift with a lot of responsibility attached!

Christmas puppies are usually gifts. Does the recipient definitely want a puppy? Are they prepared for all of the responsibilities that come with a puppy? I had a client once whose husband had surprised her with a puppy. They also had an 18 month child and the husband worked away. She needed the added responsibility of a puppy like a hole in the head!

And please, please don’t buy puppies for children. Children cannot be expected to be responsible for another living being. It’s not fair on the child, and it’s not fair on the dog. An adult in the house needs to be willing to take responsibility for the dog (for the next 12-15 years) long after the kids may have lost interest of moved out. Of course it’s fine if the children want to help out in a supervised capacity. You can read more on dogs and children here.

Is it really the best time?

Christmas is chaotic for most of us. Do you know what a baby dog, who’s just been taken away from his mother and siblings and placed in a new and potentially frightening environment definitely doesn’t need in their first couple of weeks??? The excitement of Christmas. They do not need to have a multitude of (perhaps tipsy) visitors cooing over them and handling them. They do not need new owners who have to keep leaving the house for their next festive engagement. They do not need excitable children running around. Rather, they need calmness, stability and time (and up to 20 hours sleep a day) to slowly get used to their new life in a way they can cope with.

What about a Christmas rescue dog?

Thinking of adopting an older dog instead? Always commendable to choose a dog in need, but unless you’re a Christmas recluse, I’d still recommend holding out until a calmer time. As with puppies, settling into a new home can be difficult for a rescue dog. Rescue dogs are often really exhausted from the stress they’ve had to deal with, and some need weeks of just sleeping. They need their new owners to have time to just be with them. As with puppies, they need calmness and stability and time! Expecting them to deal with the excitement of Christmas as soon as they arrive is a big ask.

So if you really want a puppy, why not clear some time in your calendar during spring (as an added bonus, spring/summer puppies are often easier to toilet train than winter ones as they tend to find going out in the warmer weather less objectionable), take your time to find a reputable breeder and to research the breed of dog that will be most suited to your lifestyle. If you’re thinking of getting the dog for someone else, why not tell them of your intentions, and get them this wonderful DVD about caring for a puppy as a stocking filler, and enjoy Christmas without the added worry of a new furry arrival!


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



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 http://www.freedogz.be 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!