Celia Haddon - Cat Expert

Understanding animals through their behaviour


Humans are cleverer than dogs. So in a human-dog family, it is wrong if dogs are the boss. Letting a dog rule you is rather like letting a toddler do so. It’s not fair on the dog. Dogs are part of the family and they need the security of good clear family rules.

Ignore all that stuff about humans being wolf pack leaders. Dogs are a different species from wolves. Avoid dog trainers, breeders, books and famous TV stars that propagate this nonsense! Most are ignorant and out of date: some are cruel. Those who go on about dominance often suggest training methods that can lead to severe problems.  They clearly don’t understand training theory and are not experts.

If dogs are part of the family and our best friends, we humans have to be good parents and good mentors to our dogs. This means setting clear rules of right and wrong. These rules are there so give the dog security and safety. Without them, a dog can get very anxious and confused.

Never be afraid to get help from a dog trainer. Being shown how to do it is much easier than reading a website on how to do it!


Dogs do not speak English but they recognise words of command. Everyone in the family should try to use the same words of command and should try to use them in the right context. Dog training classes with everyone in the family attending will help with this one.


It’s not fair on dogs (or children) to be inconsistent and give mixed messages. If you decide on certain rules, then these must be kept. Dogs aren’t clever enough to understand exceptions to the rule.


Most humans wouldn’t go to work unless there was a pay packet. Dogs too work best when they are rewarded either with food or with a toy. Teach your dog good behaviour with rewards not punishments (which can be counter productive). A good dog trainer will help you learn how to do this most effectively. Sometimes (by mistake or misunderstanding) we reward bad behaviour, which isn’t fair on the dog. The rule is to reward good behaviour and IGNORE bad.


Dogs need to learn proper manners just like toddlers. There are lots of old fashioned ideas around with this one. But the best way to make sure a dog has proper meal time manners, is just to make him earn his meal by showing good manners. Get him to do a “Sit” on command every time, before giving the meal. Then let him eat it in peace. Don’t ever take the food off him while he is eating. This is a bit of ancient dog lore that can cause problems. For digestive purposes, two meals a day are better than one. Elderly dogs will appreciate three. If you have a dog that guards its food and growls at you when you come near, get help from an expert.


Dogs that feel they have the right to sleep on your bed or your chair are being bad mannered. Sometimes this leads to a dog not letting a human on to the bed or chair! You, not the dog, must control beds and furniture. So if you don’t want a dog on beds, then don’t start letting the dog up on them in the first place. One simple way of keeping dogs off beds is to install pet gates to stop a dog going upstairs in the first place.

But many people like to have a dog on chairs and the bed. Why not? Make sure that the dog waits till he is invited on the bed and gets off when he is told to. With chairs and sofas, make sure that the dog obeys you, when you tell him to get off. Food reward will help him get off!  If you can’t get him to do this, get help from an expert.


All the best games have rules, and one major rule must be that nobody gets threatened or hurt. Rough and tumble games with humans may end up with a hurt human, so do not let them happen EVER. Your dog might seriously hurt a child, if he hasn’t been taught to be gentle and then the dog would be put down. Puppy training classes teach this well.

Dogs mustn’t be allowed to growl or threaten over tugs or balls. To make games more exciting, change the toys daily and make sure you (not the dog) start and stop all games. It’s more fun for the dog if the toys are a bit of a surprise.


Some dogs pester their owners all the time, nudging you, whining, barking for attention. Like difficult children, they interrupt cooking, household tasks or just TV watching. Every time you give in and give them a cuddle, they are more likely to do it again because you have rewarded them. Even if you shout at them, they continue to do it for negative attention is better than nothing (ask a child care expert about this one!).

Take a look at your relationship with him, and if the dog is the one that always starts a cuddle session, think again. Make sure you give him praise and love when he is not asking for it so he is rewarded for quiet behaviour, not for pestering. Read Teaching Your Dog to Settle Down on this website.


A dog that pushes past you at doorways can make you lose your footing. If they do it to an old person visiting you, it can be really dangerous. So in normal circumstances (it may be different at the front door) teach your dog to wait for you to go first. Put on a house lead, if need be, to make sure you can enforce this.


If you can’t handle your dog’s body, you may miss signs of illness. This is a must for a good mannered dog. Get some help from a good dog trainer if you are having difficulties.


Some dogs guard their toys, or household items. Retrieving breeds need to carry things to you and, if they are punished for doing so, may start to growl if you take something off them. You need to teach the dog to give items up willingly. Don’t just pull the toy away. Do a swap. Give the dog something nicer like a treat. If you do ten treats for toy swaps a day, you will find your dog soon gives up toys willingly. If not, get help from an expert.


These notes are my copyright. I am also usually happy to have the exact words reproduced on websites, in return for a link, my name, and if permission is asked beforehand. I like to check the websites where it might be used. Email me via this website for permission which will usually be given. Organisations wishing to use them in print should contact me via this website. Copyright © 2007 Celia Haddon. All Rights Reserved.

Safety notice.

All normal safety precautions should be taken when dealing with animals. The advice in this section should be taken only at the owner’s own risk. All sick animals should be seen by a vet.

General advice of the kind found in this website is no substitute for an individual consultation with a vet or qualified behaviourist working on a vet’s referral.

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