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Puppy looking sad

By the age of three, your dog is a mature adult. At seven years old he or she is in middle age and by the age of 10 he or she is heading towards the twilight years. During the puppy years, dogs can be like children: lovely to play with for 10 minutes, but unrelenting in their demands on your time and attention. It is sometimes tempting to hand them back to their owner, until you remember that that’s you.

What many dog owners also forget is that all puppies turn into teenagers at some point. The better trained they are during the puppy years, the less terrible the teenaged years are likely to be.


Before any new owner brings home their bundle of fun and mischief, they have to puppy-proof their home. This means blocking up holes in garden fences, putting wire baskets around the letter box to protect postmen’s fingers, concealing extension leads and loose electrical wires, and getting rid of houseplants that are poisonous (African violets, rubber plants, poinsettias and, perhaps unsurprisingly, mother-in-law’s tongue). For many, this is an inconvenience, however the more astute owner will see it as a brilliant opportunity to dispose of a few unwanted wedding gifts. There are so many vases, lamps, statues and other decorative knick-knacks at convenient tail-wagging height that just happen to get knocked over and smashed beyond repair. Owners can blame as much as they like on the dog, and yet the dog will continue to love them unconditionally. One of the great advantages of noble hounds is that they don’t understand the concept of buck-passing.


You would do well to remember that there is no such thing as a badly behaved dog, only bad owners. Owners must be in control of their dogs at all times. When a dog is chasing and worrying sheep, the farmer has the legal right to shoot the dog. Yet, ironically, it is not the dog that is at fault here. Very few natural herding dogs can control their instincts without proper training, and it is the human owner who is responsible for not being in control of his or her hound. You wouldn’t be the first to think that perhaps the farmer should have the right to shoot the owner instead.

A good bluffer will state solemnly that it is a dog owner’s responsibility to ensure that they train their dog to the best of their ability. Those who take this responsibility seriously will seek out extra help in the form of The Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Scheme. (The American Kennel Club has a similar Canine Good Citizen test.) This is where the dog owners are trained in how to train their dogs. The trainers themselves have training on how to train owners to train their dogs, but it isn’t entirely clear who trains the trainers who train the trainers who train the owners to train their dogs. (It’s probably a pack of timber wolves in Nova Scotia.)

House Training

House training is all about teaching dogs to go outside the house when they need to do their ‘business’. As someone who purports to know about dogs you will also know not to shilly-shally about the precise terminology to use in describing this particular act. Going outside for a ‘wee’or a ‘poo’ is perfectly acceptable. Lazy humans, reluctant to clean up every morning after their puppy, might be tempted to invest in puppy ‘training pads’ or nappies. Don’t. It’s not going to be a workable long-term solution, and is likely only to delay the training process.

You will learn to accept that puppies need to empty their bladder:

• as soon as they wake up;
• at least every two hours during the day;
• after eating and drinking;
• after playing and excitement; and
• before going to bed.

In other words, all the time.

A good owner should always heap praise on a puppy when it has a bowel or bladder movement in the appropriate place. You might think a celebratory dance and song in the garden is a little over the top, but if you’ve spent the last six weeks cleaning out the seagrass in the sitting room with cotton buds, even the most minor of tiddles outside is a major breakthrough.

Lure and Reward

Let’s face it, the best way to get anyone to do something they don’t want to do is to bribe them. The lure and reward training system rewards the dog for doing what their owner wants them to do. Typical rewards include verbal praise, petting and stroking, playing games and food. Rewards should be varied, but cat chasing is not one that is officially recognised by trainers and behaviour experts. While rewarding with treats is perfectly acceptable, these should be used sparingly. If you find yourself running out on a regular basis, and your dog is no longer able to wriggle under the stile, then you’ve almost certainly overdone it. You’ll know for sure when fellow dog owners start speaking in ‘fattist’ euphemisms (as in: ‘He’s looking well fed these days,’ ‘Is she pregnant,’ and ‘So still got the winter coat on then?’ Ignore them. Nobody’s dog is perfect (except yours, obviously – even if he/she has put on a little weight).

When training goes well, humans introduce hand signals as a way of issuing commands. If you see any of the following, it means that a human is communicating with their dog (or others):

• An upturned hand, held out in front, is brought up towards the shoulder: sit.
• An outstretched arm, with a pointed finger, moves downwards to point at the floor: down.
• A palmed hand held out to face the dog: stay.
• Two fingers stuck up (probably at someone for speculating about your dog’s weight): sod off.

Clicker Training

Clicker training began in marine parks to teach dolphins to perform tricks and backflips for an audience. The click was used to indicate that a rewarding fishy treat would be heading their way soon. Someone realised that this would work for dogs, too.

The sound of the click tells the dog that they’ve done something right immediately, and that a reward will follow. One click is enough. Any more than that and the dog might think you’re a dolphin.

Dog Whispering

A dog whisperer is often a smarmy snake-oil-salesman type who is capable of getting your dog to do something you couldn’t imagine getting him to do – often without uttering a word. These people are the ultimate dog bluffers and must therefore be respected, admired and even emulated. You need know nothing at all about dogs, but if you can persuade one to to do something for you that it won’t do for its owner then you will earn the undying respect and admiration of both.

How it is done is a mystery, but it probably has something to do with a previously negotiated deal between dog and whisperer to perform apparent miracles. Large quantities of black-market liver pâté and strong cheese have been known to change hands to lend credence to the illusion.

Whisperers generally work on the principle that 93% of all communication is through body language, with oral communication taking up the remaining 7%. During an hour’s training session a dog whisperer will only utter four words, usually at the end: ‘That’ll be £300, please.’

Still need training? Let The Bluffer’s Guide to Dogs lead the way.