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Are you setting you and your dog up for failure?

When I start working with a reactive dog and their owner, training and behaviour modification is not the first thing on the list of priorities.

You may think this odd. Surely the purpose of employing a professional like myself is to "fix the dog". How can that be done without training or behaviour modification?

Hear me out!

First off myself and my colleagues do not 'fix' your dog. This is a common misconception showcased by well edited and unrealistic dog TV series. Our job is to give you the tools, understanding and support to help your dog cope better in situations he finds challenging, if through the work the behaviour dissipates completely then great! However, the reality is that in the majority of cases we can significantly reduce the behaviour, but can never promise that a part of it won't remain for as long as your dog lives. Take aggression as an example. If there have been bite incidents we can put management, safety, training and behaviour mod in place and we may significantly reduce the chance of bite risk, reduce the dogs stress build-up, and make living with the dog more harmonious and safe for everyone involved, but can we ever say that that dog won't try to bite again? That's a promise that neither me, the owner, or the dog can make.

Now, when I say that training and behaviour modification are not the first priorities on the list when I start working with a reactive dog and their owner, I am not saying that we do not do this at all, of course we do, and it makes up a huge chunk of what we do. What I mean is that the place we need to start is not teaching the dog something new, but instead looking at what is currently going on for the dog and the owner, and finding ways to immediately irradicate or reduce elements which may be contributing to the behaviour.

I have discovered over the years that there are many factors that have a significant and negative impact on the success rate for the owner and their dog.

Let's have a look at what some of those might be.

1) Comparison demon

2) Mindset

3) Unrealistic goal setting

4) Listening to too much info, from too many resources.

Comparison Demon

If you have owned a dog before or currently live in a multi dog household, you might have found yourself falling victim to the comparison demon. This is when you keep coming back to the good memories of how easy your last dog was or your other dog is. Remember, you could take him anywhere, he didn't react to dogs or people. You did nothing different with him, yet he was fine.

Maybe you haven't owned a dog before, and this is your first dog. You may have fallen victim to the comparison demon too. Your comparison comes from other dogs you see at the park, garden centre, on a walk. You know, those dogs that don't appear to have any issues, that are running free off lead, bouncing around with other dogs. Oh, wouldn't it be nice if your dog could be like that, what has that owner done differently to you?

The problem with the comparison demon is it is extremely damaging and prevents you from moving forward in a positive direction with your dog. The truth is we are setting ourselves and our dogs up for failure.

Every dog is different and there are many factors which affect their behaviour and personality type. Environment, early social experiences, health, diet, training history, breed traits, silent pain and much more. No one pup from the same litre is the same. so why do we think our current dog should be like our last dog which is not only from the same litter but may also be a different breed entirely?

You may have done everything by the book, you may be a very experienced dog owner, you've done everything right, and yet still, for whatever reason your dog is reactive. You cannot compare your current dog to your previous one, they are all individuals.

If you find yourself comparing your dog against others you see when you are out you are creating a fantasy story. I remember a conversation I had with a dog owner once. I was walking Nessa who is my own sensitive, and sometimes reactive girl. I had seen the other dog wlaker coming and so got Nessa into the side, and had her sit and wait. The other dog walker had a smaller dog on lead which was happily plodding alongside her. At that moment I thought to myself what a brilliant little dog, that woman is so lucky to have such an "easy dog". What follows made me think completely differently and has helped many of my reactive dog owners to stop comparing. She stopped a distance away from me and Nessa and said "Wow, what a beautiful dog, and so well-behaved, this one's a nightmare, I wish he was more like yours". At first, I was taken aback by her comment. Her dog looked the picture of perfection. We started speaking (I scatter-fed Nessa while we were) and she proceeded to tell me that she could not leave this dog, not for a moment, even if she tried to go to the bathroom the dog had a panic attack, and so she has to take him with her. The woman carried on explaining how it is ruining her life, and how everything she does has to be scheduled around the dog, and that it has made her world extremely small.

The lesson here is, if you see what looks like a perfect dog, that may not be the reality for that dog and their owner, they may have other challenges different to reactivity on walks, but still as detrimental to their relationship and quality of life.


I cannot stress how detrimental the effects of the wrong mindset are. I didn't discover this until about six years ago when I was reading an amazing book by Janet Finlay called 'Your End of the Lead'. It is the must-have dog bible for anyone who owns a reactive dog. Janet does not only address ways in which to help support the dog, but the main focus is the human end of the lead. Mindset is one of the things she goes into detail about, she talks about the negative bias and how it can affect us moving forward in a positive direction. We as humans are programmed to focus on the negative. For example, if I asked you to tell me about the last thing your dog did that was negative, I guarantee you something would fall off your tongue in seconds. However, if I then asked you to tell me about the last thing your dog did that was positive, there would be a pause, and you would have to think hard about what that might be. This isn't because it has been so long since your dog did anything positive that you just can't remember, they possibly did a small positive thing minutes ago like coming in from the garden when called, or showing you love by asking for a belly rub. But because we focus on the negative, we forget and find it hard to see those positives. This then hinders progress, because you simply feel like you aren't making any. If you do simple things like record your day with your dog or do something like 'worse case scenario' which is a game from Janet's book, you suddenly see the small steps of progress you are making, this then helps to keep you driving forward on the positive train.

For reference: Your End of the Lead, By Janet Finlay, available on Amazon

Unrealistic goal setting

When I start working with a client we first have to carry out a full in-depth behvaiour consultation. This is where I gather various bits of information about the dog, the behaviour, and observations including functional assessments. Near the end, I discuss with the client what or where they want to be at the end of our work together. Some owners are very sensible and realistic about their goal, others may have more ambitious and not-so-realistic goals. I will then weigh up, going on the evidence and information gathered, what I feel is realistic for the dog in question. If it matches the owner's goal then great, however probably 80% of the time it does not match. It is then my job to discuss alternatives and to also make it clear to the owner why that cannot be the case, instead, we set a new realistic goal. The reason for this is because if we set unrealistic goals we will beat ourselves up when we don't get their, or blame the dog, which then affects your relationship with your dog.

Take the following as an example.

Owner dreams of taking her very reactive dog to the garden centre, to sit and have coffee with her friends in the summer. Her dog is scared of almost everything in the environment. Strangers, dogs, noises etc. When the dog is placed in these situations he is highly reactive, this causes the dog and the owner high amounts of stress. The dog does not enjoy the outing, and because of the dog's behaviour neither does the owner. The owner often comes home resenting the dog and feeling ashamed and embarrassed by the dog's behvaiour. So I ask "Is the dog happy to be left at home" The answer is yes. Then I ask "Why do you feel the need to take the dog with you to the garden centre" The owner responds "Because I feel guilty if I leave him at home". What we have here is the owner's own feelings and perspectives getting in the way of what is best for the dog. The fact of the matter is, that in this example the dog would be much happier at home, and isn't going to think ill feelings of his owner for doing so. The owner will be able to go and enjoy a peaceful, stress-free couple of hours with thier friend at the garden centre. What we had to work on was small steps to leaving the dog at home, and the owner becoming more relaxed and happy with leaving the dog. Once the owner was able to see that going to the garden centre was what they wanted and not their dog, and that it was making their dog's behaviour worse, the game completely changed for them in a positive way.

Remember your ideal is not always your dog's.

Listening to too much info, from too many resources.

By the time people come to me they have usually exhausted other options. They have tried techniques they saw on the telly or the internet, they took the advice of that dog walker they bump into every day, they listened to family and friends, they even read a book. However, none of it worked and they are left feeling more confused than ever.

The world of dog training and behvaiour is not regulated. This means there is a whole universe of dog training and behaviour advice out there in the world. Some of it is good, and some of it is bloody awful and dangerous.

The source from which you are getting your information does not know your dog, does not know your situation, and it is likely does not have the qualifications to give the advice. The book you read can be helpful, but it is generic information and not tailored to your dog. The book can't see what else is in your dog's life which may be contributing to his behaviour.

The very friendly dog walker who has had years of experience with dogs may find that she has successfully trained her dogs and that her way works, but that does not mean it will work for you and your dog.

What happens then is you end up trying lots of different techniques without knowing what the underlying cause of your dog's behaviour is, and therefore not addressing the driving force behind it. By chucking lots of different styles of training at your dog, and often not carrying it through long enough, both you and your dog become confused, exhausted and eventually, give up.

When working with my clients I make sure that we not only work on the dog, but we also work on them. The more knowledge and understanding they have of thier dogs' behvaiour the better they can support them. Working on various elements of mindset, management, planning, emergency strategies and recovery protocols we can ensure we keep moving in a positive direction long term.

All of my clients get ongoing support, so in between their weekly coaching sessions, I am thier at the end of the phone or email should they need assistance. This is hugely important, as sometimes it is a case of trial and error, things may or may not work, and that's ok, we make changes and adaptations to find what does. This cannot be done if I were to simply give you a list of instructions and tell you to go and get on with it on your own, you will just feel lost again.

If you would like help then there are various ways you can get in touch.

You can book a FREE discovery call:

Contact me via email:

Or call me on: 07508765210

Thank you for reading!



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