Behaviour & Training

Training your new puppy can be a frustrating, expensive and messy process.

To help you out we’ve provided some great tips on obedience training, toilet training and basic commands for puppies. In this section you will also find information on swimming with your puppy or dog, as well as making sure that they are traffic aware.


Expert Q&A

Our expert vet team regularly takes questions from PawClub members and posts answers to the more common ones online.

Some questions you may be interested in are:

  • Your dog could have thunderstorm or noise phobia, a fairly common condition. The first thing you need to understand is that your dog is actually scared of these noises. To help him feel more secure, try creating a dark, sound-proof enclosure for your dog inside the house. This could be a dog crate wrapped in egg-carton-type mattress foam to make it sound proof. You will probably need to train your dog to accept this new confinement area by throwing food treats inside and giving him rewards for going inside. Also, give your dog long massaging pats to try and sooth him. 

    Alternatively, make sure your dog is in a room that is as dark and as sound proof as possible whenever there is thunder or fireworks. Play a radio or music to disguise or drown-out the noise. Even 'white noise' (TV or radio static) can assist. Sometimes a CD of thunderstorm noises can assist some dogs in getting used to these strange sounds. Do something fun with your dog whilst thunderstorm noises so you desensitize them, so by associating thunderstorms with a fun and exciting and non-threatening activity.

    If your dog still seems to need help there are medications and pheromones that can assist. Some are short-term medications and some work for longer. These are only available from your vet or a veterinary behaviourist.

  • Getting your dog to come when called is an essential part of obedience training and is important to keeping him safe. Start inside the house by running away from him and calling him with a high-pitched voice. When he chases after you, give him a tasty treat as reward and praise him with your voice and by patting. Do this as many times as you can throughout the day. Soon he will learn that coming to you means getting a reward. When your puppy is consistently coming when called, move the training to the backyard or frontyard where there are more distractions.

    As a next step, take him to a quiet (on-lead) park. Put him on a long length of rope so he can’t stray far and continue teaching him the same way. When you are happy with his progress, you can move on to taking him off-lead. Remember, whenever you call your dog to come, always reward him when he does (eventually) come. Never punish your dog for taking a long time as this may reinforce disobedience.

    Also, if you are about to go home and you call your dog, always give him something fun to do before you leave the park or he may associate coming to you with “the time that the fun ends”.

  • You need to find the 'incentive' that works for your dog. Some dogs prefer a pat or to play with a toy as their reward (e.g custom or police dogs and their wrapped up towel/tug toy). The other option is to actually restrict her food or only feed her food from your hand and never from the bowl. This means she must perform a behaviour or 'trick' before getting her meal. 

  • Generally dogs do this because they know they will get attention e.g. pats, pushed away or sometimes some dogs see yelling as attention or a reward. You need to be training her to do a different behaviour e.g. sit for a food when greeting people. Linked to this you need to start totally ignoring her when she greets you in the groin. This means turning away from her and giving her not attention for it and then asking her to sit at the same time.

  • Some dogs can be anxious of car travel. This can be a combination of the car motion, sound and sights. Even though your dog is not vomiting it can also just be caused by the nausea of the travel. Treatment that can assist is to very gradually get your dog used to travelling in the car. This means you need to take the process back many steps and take it VERY slowly for your dog. Start at a distance from the parked car. Reward your dog with food rewards for sitting as you get closer to the car. Do this several times daily for about 5 minutes for one week. Then move to opening the car door and rewarding your dog in the same manner for another week. Then move to placing your dog in the car (no engine running) and reward them with food rewards, pats etc for correct relaxed behaviour in the car. Then start the car and don't go anywhere. Do this for several weeks. Then move the car just down the driveway and that is it. Over a couple of weeks gradually increase the length of your trips. If at any time your dog shows anxiety then your need to take it back several steps and move through the steps more slowly the next time. It is not a short process.

    Many dogs become aggressively protective of the car, and show this by barking. You can discourage this behaviour by ensuring your dog cannot see out of the windows of the car. Distract your dog by giving her a food reward in the footwell e.g. a bone. Or simply restrain your dog in the footwell so they cannot see.

    Some dogs like to be in a carry crate in the car with all sides but one covered with a thick dark sheet. While they are in her give them a chew toy or a Kong lined with peanut butter etc to give them a positive association of going in the car.

  • Separation anxiety is a difficult problem to treat and very hard for us to give you simple advice. Separation anxiety is anxiety of being separated from the owner i.e you. Some simple suggestions that may assist for mild separation anxiety are:  Try changing to feeding your dog with food release devices (e.g. Kongs stuffed with food, Buster Food Cube, Busy Buddies etc). Give these as you are getting ready to leave (before they get anxious) and when departing. Some people even 'feed the chooks' by scattering the food in the backyard. The idea is that no longer is your dog fed from the bowl but rather from the food release devices. Give your dog a raw meaty bone daily to keep them occupied. Ensure your dog is getting adequate exercise. Teach your dog to sit and stay while you gradually get further and further away from it. This needs to be gradual over several weeks/months until you can be in another room and your dog sits waiting for you. Unfortunately, separation anxiety is a problem that, without treatment, worsens over time. Luckily, there is much more that can be done to assist a dog with this problem. There are even medications that can assist! 

  • Poo eating is called coprophagia. In puppies it is a normal behaviour and is thought to be copying the mother who often 'cleans up' after the puppies. Most dogs grow out this but unfortunately some dogs do not. Some dogs start eating their own poo if they are bored and lack stimulation in their back yard. It is not due to a deficiency in your dogs diet. Generally it will not make your dog unwell either - just ensure that they are regularly wormed. There is no treatment that consistently fixes this problem. You can try to train your dog to come for a food reward as soon as the they defecate enabling you to clean it up. If it is caused by boredom or a lack of stimulation. Try changing to feeding your dog with food release devices (e.g. Kongs stuffed with food, Buster Food Cube, Busy Buddies etc). Ensure your dog is getting adequate exercise. If possible some of this should be off-leash to provide both physical exercise but also lots of sniffing and socialising (as long as you and your dog are comfortable with being off-lead!). Rotate their dog toys daily to provide novelty.  

  • The best way is to gradually introduce him to being left outside for short periods of time and then lengthening this over time. Make sure that when you let him back inside that house that he is not barking or scratching at the door as this will teach him that this behaviour gets rewarded! Also when putting him outside, give him something very yummy to eat e.g. a rawhide, pigs ear, bone or Kong lined with peanut butter. This way he will learn to enjoy going outside as 'good things' happen there.

  • The answer to your questions is simply that your dog likes the smell and taste of certain foot odours, which is why you will find your dog will be more attracted to some feet over others!

  • Creating a sound proof enclosure for your dog inside the house can assist. This can be a dog crate wrapped in egg carton type mattress foam to make it sound proof. You need to train your dog to accept confinement in this area. This involves throwing food treats in here and giving your dog food rewards. This is likely to be required to be used long term.

    Make sure the room they are in is dark and as sound proof as possible. Play a radio or similar to disguise the sound. Even 'white noise' can assist.

    Give your dog long massaging pats to try and sooth them.

    Sometimes a CD of thunderstorm noises can assist some dogs. A good resource is: Dr Cam Day’s “Frightful Noises” CD.

    There is also medication and pheromones that can assist dogs greatly. Some of these are short term mediactions and some are longer term medications. These are only available from your vet or a veterinary behaviourist.

  • When dogs are deep in sleep they can look like they are dreaming. They often move their eyes, grunt, softly bark, move their legs and move their whiskers and lips. Some people get scared by this and think their dog is seizuring. The difference is that a dog can be roused from sleep but not from a seizure. Science is unsure as to whether dogs dream or not. They certainly appear to and if Hollywood has anything to say about it then they certainly dream just like us!

  • Dogs, like people, can suffer from anxiety. Anxiety isn't always a logical thing and can be difficult to understand in your dog. Many dogs who are rehomed once or more often develop some form of anxiety, especially when there has been some neglect or abuse involved. The most common form of anxiety in dogs is called Separation Anxiety (SA). SA can sometimes look like bad behaviour or illness such as excessive barking, destructive behaviour, house soiling, escaping, loss of appetite, excessive coat licking etc. The difference is that for SA the behaviours happen when the owner is not around or is out of reach, such as behind a closed door. SA can often be a hard condition to treat but much success has been gained through using a behaviourist who comes into the home, assesses the situation and offers tips to lessen the anxiety. Sometimes medication is also used. Your local vet is the person to ask if you require this type of intervention.

  • You're expecting a baby! Congratulations! Many people worry about introducing a baby to the family dog and how the dog will handle it. The majority of the time this is a smooth happy transition and with a little preparation everyone will be ready. Start teaching your dog before the baby arrives which areas are restricted. Spend time with your dog and even do an obedience refresher course to reinforce rules and boundaries. When baby arrives don't leave the dog out so that jealousy isn't a problem that grows. Never leave the two alone even if you are convinced it's safe and remember that your dog is part of the family too and will become an important part of your new arrival's life in time.

  • The best rewards for your dog are ones that are palatable, low fat and calorie and can be broken into small pieces. Some dogs can be sensitive or allergic to certain foods so this needs to be taken into consideration. Some common rewards that are appropriate are: dried liver treats, single kibble pieces from their regular food, vegetable pieces such as carrots or even small pieces of chicken, no skin). Rewards are an important part of a dog's training as they reinforce what you have taught them and they learn faster. But remember the best reward is usually a cuddle and praise straight from the one they love the most-YOU!

  • In short, you don't. Dogs can be hard to read and little things can change the dynamics between 2 dogs who don't know each other. Generally though, good signs are tails wags, relaxed bodies, smiley faces and no growling. Always try and ask the owner of the other dog how they interact with strange dogs before allowing close play. Walking with leads, meeting dogs you know and watching for problems in advance can really help reduce unwanted interactions. Also, well socialised puppies generally become well socialised adult dogs, so get the training in early. Puppy preschool is a great group to attend at your local vet.

  • Puppies love to nip a lot in play and their young sharp teeth often hurt and scratch very easily. Aside from the pain factor, a nipping puppy that does not learn to curb this behaviour will often grow into a dog that uses his mouth for rough play. Dogs love to play tug of war and our natural instinct to pull away during nipping emphasises this type of play. By starting young, you can easily teach your puppy or young adult that mouthing is just not acceptable. Here are a couple of techniques to try:
    1. Try and reverse the instinct to pull away from your puppies mouthing and gently pushing into the mouth a little. This isn't designed to hurt your puppy just confuse his play. While the puppy is expecting the usual ‘tug' away, instead the game is broken and they learn that that type of play isn't rewarding.
    2. Simply get up and remove yourself from the puppy and cease interaction. Your puppy longs to get attention from you and if a behaviour removes this attention swiftly then they soon learn not to do this again.

  • Halter-type collars will give you the best control over your dog and are the most comfortable to wear. They give you control of your dog's head and when you have control of the dog's head, you have control of the dog. These collars work on the same principle as a horse halter. Even a smaller person can have good control over a large strong dog without hurting them. When you pull on the leash, the dog's head will either be pulled down or to the side - this makes it virtually impossible for the dog to move ahead or pull you forward. This also means you can control who your dog listens to by enabling you to make eye contact with your dog and draw their attention from distractions around them.

  • Rightaway! Dogs are never too young or too old to train!
    Effective training methods are taught by dog trainers at many dog obedience schools and puppy preschools at veterinary clinics. Lessons range from basic commands such as sit, stay, drop etc. to more advanced classes involving agility training and fun tricks.
    Harsh punishments such as hitting and rubbing noses into their poo and urine is often very ineffective and counter-productive; it makes training in the future even more difficult. Positive reinforcement, using treats and praise, is the cornerstone behind successful puppy training. Please ask your veterinarian or dog schools for more details on training classes.
    A successful training program will not only help you train your puppy quickly and effectively, but it will also enormously improve and develop the bond between you and your puppy!

  • Getting angry doesn't usually solve anything. You will get better results and bigger changes using positive reinforcement.

  • The most common reason is separation anxiety (SA). This simply means they are scared of being apart from their owner and alone. It can also be a result of pure boredom. So keep your dog entertained by placing some of their favourite toys around.

  • Most dogs are scared of unfamiliar objects/beings (including other species of animals) and loud sounds. Thorough socialisation when they are young can minimise this.

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