Electric Shock Collars to be Banned in England

A nation of pet lovers allows the use of electric shock collars: The headline designed to make dog owners wince has certainly hit a nerve. Is it long overdue or another example of our “nanny state” society?

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary said that “punitive” collars “cause harm and suffering to our pets”. They have been banned in Wales and Scotland for some time. The use of these collars is to modify certain behaviours in animals, for example, aggression towards dogs and people, not coming back when called or straying beyond the boundaries of a property. These collars are activated when a remote control unit activates a receiver worn around then neck of a dog (or other animal). A warning sound usually precedes the electric shock, the level of which can be controlled generally on a scale from mild to strong.

Mr Gove goes on to say: “This ban will improve the welfare of animals and I urge pet owners to instead use positive reward training methods”. Note the use of the word “pet”.

Naturally, when anything is banned there are pros and cons; people in favour and those against. A good example of this is the ban on smoking in public places, even when scientific evidence confirms that smoking kills. The proposed ban on electric shock collars has evoked a similar, if less dramatic, response. Several well known charities have backed the ban, whereas other groups have said that the ban is a mistake and Mr Gove is ignoring counter evidence.

Let’s put this into perspective. Generally speaking, people who own pets would do them no harm, but there are exceptions to any rule. The ban on using electric shock collars will make it difficult to acquire one and is intended to keep them out of the hands of people who wish to train puppies and dogs to obey commands with a shock. There are trainers in America who do this in their classes, which causes the puppy or dog distress and pain. So, the ban is “a good thing” in such circumstances.

Now think of a dog that constantly escapes from its garden and finds whatever is across the road irresistible. Very few vehicles pass by during the day or night, but it only takes one to injure of kill the escapee on a mission. Example: A beautiful black Labrador was fatally injured on one such occasion, despite his owners fortifying their boundaries to keep him in. It could be that if he had been taught that the fence would deliver a warning shock such that it deterred the dog from straying he would still be alive.

Now take another scenario: the services use dogs for many different purposes, particularly security. Their dogs are trained to attack and withdraw on command. They are generally aggressive dogs by nature – you could say they have “attitude”, which is a necessary character trait for them to be able to do the job for which they are trained. In such circumstances, in the hands of professional service and security personnel who train these working dogs, the use of electric shock collars may have a use. They are not training pet dogs. The dogs are used by prison officers, the police, army, RAF, etc., in riot, crowd control or war situations. They have to respond to commands immediately or the prisoner, rioter, terrorist could be fatally injured.

So taking an objective view, the ban on using these shock collars to train pet dogs is to be largely welcomed. It may keep owners who do not have the best interests of their pets at heart from administering pain to achieve a level of obedience or response, but it may also remove a valuable training aid from professional dog trainers whose work includes training dogs to attack people on command and withdrawing immediately on command, too, which is a highly skilled job when dealing with animals in the red zone.

In my view the ban on electric shock collars being legal to use is good. They should not be on sale to the general public in pet stores or on line, although this will be virtually impossible to police since they are available in other countries so could be purchased by UK residents and used clandestinely. Train your dog to respond positively to you and you will not even think about other alternatives.




Are Dogs Wolves in Designer Fur Coats?

Our dogs are, by scientific standards and evolutionary history, domesticated descendants of the wolf. Their DNA is still 99 per cent wolf, despite the different breeding trends that man has imposed over recent centuries. In the scheme of evolution, dogs are a relatively new sub-species given that wolves have been around for 30,000 years or so. This suggests that, given their carnivorous anatomy, the food that they eat needs to be appropriate to their digestive system.

Dog’s internal physiology is the same as wolves, so it would follow that their physiological and nutritional needs would be similar if not the same. Wild animals generally require different levels of nutritional intake, i.e. more food, in comparison to domestic dogs, given that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, hence they gorge on their prey, nor do they know when they will have food to eat. The energy they expend whilst hunting is relevant to the difficulty of the hunt as well as what they are hunting. For example, if a pack of wolves is hunting down a large deer it is likely to be more of a challenge than, say, a rabbit or other small creature. Smaller prey would, of course, not feed a pack of hungry wolves so they would need to hunt again sooner than if they felled a deer or larger mammal.

Contrast this with our domestic pet dogs. They know that they will get two or three meals a day when living in a home where they are cared for and loved. The food they are given will be the best quality their owners can provide – or is it?

Domesticated dogs are quite capable of eating the same diet as wolves, their predator cousins, which consists of fats and proteins almost exclusively. When did you last see a pack of wolves grazing in a wheat or rice field?

Despite the changes in their physical appearance – there are now hundreds of breeds – the changes in the physiology of domestic dogs are relatively insignificant. The size of a chihuahua’s stomach is about the size of a walnut, significantly smaller than that of a mastiff or great Dane. One significant factor that differentiates domestic dogs from wolves is the need to hunt, but pet dogs still have the genes of a predator, whether they are expressed or not depends on their latent prey drive. Some dogs enjoy chasing a ball, rabbit or anything else that moves; some dogs can’t be bothered; some dogs know that they are too slow or weak to be successful so show no interest in using energy to hunt. 

Whatever the characteristics or breed of our pet dogs, they deserve to be fed a diet that suits their physiology and their energy requirements to maintain optimum health. 

Next blog: dietary requirements

Hot Dogs

Headline News: Two Dogs Die in Police Vehicle

Two dogs were baked alive in a police dog handler’s vehicle – the second time that this particular officer has left his dogs in a secure car without ventilation in very hot weather. It cannot be emphasized enough that if dogs are left in vehicles without adequate ventilation, a supply of water, shade and also the ability to move around to avoid direct sunlight, the consequences are unthinkable.

Perhaps this is blindingly obvious to us as responsible dog owners, but, following a brief question and answer session with several puppy and dog owners recently, some thought it was OK to leave them in the car unattended whilst they went into a supermarket, or whilst mum waited to collect the children from school or other activities, provided that it was for only a short time.  Think again.

The police dogs mentioned above, one a puppy German Shepherd, perished within a comparatively short period and that was before midday when the summer heat would obviously intensify.

Try this:  when you next reach your destination, turn the air conditioning off and wait in your car for one minute with the windows closed in full sunshine.  You will stifle, but just imagine being powerless to open the door and get out, or even open a window and you will know what I mean. I now have a brief chat about dogs in hot weather during all my classes and on all behavioural visits, because what I think is basic dog care (and common sense) may well not cross some owners’ minds….

PLEASE think of and for your dog: keep them cool. They wear fur coats 24/7!

*Let your dog lie in shade under trees on cool ground or on a tiled floor indoors.

*Hose him off and let him cool or soak in a paddling pool filled with cold water (it will heat up if it’s in the sun, of course).

*Put ice cubes in the water bowl or give one or two to chew on.

*Make sure that he has a constant supply of fresh water available at all times.

*Walk your dog early morning or late evening in the coolest part of the day.

*Pavements can get hot enough to burn your dog’s pads, which is very painful and can leave them permanently damaged.


Dogs and Horses: eating horse dung

Q            I live in an area where there are lots of horses. The roads and footpaths where we walk are strewn with horse dung, which is particularly attractive to my dog. He makes a beeline for it when off-lead and even when on-lead he shows an intense interest, especially if it’s fresh! I want to stop this unpleasant habit, so would appreciate your advice.


A            We may find this habit offensive, but dogs obviously enjoy the addition to their diet and it is quite a normal canine habit. Some dogs also eat their own faeces. I have to say that my dogs used to do it, too, but not any more. Many horses, cattle and sheep nowadays receive regular medication that would not be prescribed for dogs. Some of this is expressed in the droppings, along with parasites, etc., so dogs that eat it are potentially at risk.

When you are walking off road, attach a long line, say 6-9m long, to the collar to enable you to give a sharp jerk when your dog attempts to eat the dung, at the same time say “No!” firmly; when he comes back to you praise him and encourage him to switch his attention to you by playing with his favourite toy or ball. Throw it for him to fetch when he shows signs of interest in any dung and when he brings the toy back to you make it fun, praise him and get his attention. This preferred behaviour has to be more rewarding for your dog than eating the droppings. Effectively you are using play to interrupt the unwanted behaviour. After a while, this should become ingrained in your dog’s behaviour and he will be focused on your game together, rather than eating the forbidden dung.

The same technique of distracting your dog applies when you are walking along a road together when he shows interest in horse dung, but perhaps you can hold a ball on a rope. The behaviour needs correcting, so a prompt with the lead to get his attention, a verbal correction or better still get your dog’s attention – this is where the “watch!” command comes in handy to distract him, if he is determined to reach the dung.

Receiving a repetitive reward reinforces a habit, so it may be necessary to stop this process altogether by fitting a basket style muzzle. It is an effective method of stopping the unwanted behaviour, so try it for a month or so before allowing your dog to play on the end of the line again, correcting him when necessary. You need to be diligent and persistent when tackling this problem, but remember that it is natural for dogs to eat animal droppings, which are tasty to them, but repulsive to us.

The Missing Links – Respect, Leadership, Communication

Q            I give my dog everything she needs: love, care, the best food, exercise – she lacks for nothing, yet I feel there’s a missing link. It’s as if she decides not to hear what I tell her and she sometimes chews things like my shoes or chair legs! I just don’t know what more I can do.


A            Sorry to say so, but it sounds like your dog doesn’t respect you, despite being the provider of everything she needs. Dogs test our limits, treating us as equals and sometimes they are totally perplexed as to what we want of them. We need to be the decision-makers; be decisive and correct unwanted behaviour to enable the dog to have clear guidance. Many dogs are confused by our actions and body language; when they do things we don’t want them to we are often afraid of hurting their feelings, which perpetuates the confusion. We get frustrated, we may shout or get angry, but all this serves to do is perhaps stop the behaviour at the time, not solve the problem. This is the route to long term bad behaviour and the breakdown of communication between us and our dogs.


For a dog to adopt good behaviour, manners and respect for us, we must show sound leadership, just like a good manager does in the workplace. Making calm, measured decisions is essential for any company to function at its optimum level; similarly so, we must be calm and confident so that what we do radiates to our dogs. Assertiveness illustrates that we are in control and your dog will thank you for it. Very few dogs want to be leaders, in fact most prefer to follow, similar to the number of employees in relation to employers. There has to be a decision maker in families, companies, government, schools and of course amongst dogs.


So as well as providing all your dog’s physical needs, go one step further and provide the missing link, that is, make the decisions so that your dog will feel protected and show that you are trustworthy. Set down some rules and boundaries within your home and relationship. Take the grey areas out of your relationship and I am sure that when she knows exactly what you want she’ll give you the respect that she wants to give you and you deserve. She may love you even more!

Do Dogs have a Sixth Sense?

Q            I think my dog has a “sixth sense”, because he seems to know what I am going to do before I do it. Is this possible?

A            It’s probably fair to say that dogs are acutely aware of our movements and that they learn to predict what we are going to do before we even realise that we have given any indications or signals of our intentions. Dogs as mind-readers? It’s unlikely.

Take, for instance, deciding to take the dog out for a walk. What preparations do you make before you actually tell him that it’s time to go out? We might shut the windows, get our boots out, pick up our keys and mobile phone, etc., all of which is indicative of preparing to leave the house and that’s before we even put our coats on and pick up the dog’s lead. Each action is part of a jigsaw that our sensitive dogs piece together; they are great at observing our behaviour and even before we announce that it’s time for a walk he seems to know!

It’s not that dogs have a psychic ability to read our minds, but their innate sense that enables them to be so in tune with what’s going on around them gives them what we may interpret as such. There are many historical accounts of dogs acting strangely or fleeing areas in advance of earthquakes or tsunamis and from my own experience, my dogs know when it’s going rain soon. The barometric pressure drops along with the temperature as the weather changes; they generally come indoors a few minutes before the rain starts, which is really helpful when I’ve left the washing out!

So why not observe your dog a little more closely, just as he watches you and learn a little more about his behaviour? It will give you more of an insight into how dogs think, which in turn will develop a mutual understanding and a closer bond between you and your dog.


Dogs in Cars

Dogs in Cars

Most dogs are happy to jump into cars knowing that journey’s end will bring excitement, new terrain and the chance to explore.

Laws have been enacted to safeguard children when travelling in cars, however, no such provision is made for dogs, so here are a few suggestions that may just make your dog’s – and your – journey a little happier and safer.

  • Secure your dog into the car with a safety harness, to ensure that he doesn’t become a missile: Sharp braking can project a dog forward, towards or through the windscreen. It will also stabilise him and help to prevent travel sickness.
  • A travel cage/kennel is useful to help your dog feel comfortable during transit.   An added benefit is that a dog is less likely to bark at other dogs, cyclists or passersby.
  • When going on a long journey, plan to stop regularly to ensure that your dog can be given water and the chance to make himself comfortable. Avoid feeding him before the journey – remember it can take several hours to digest food, more if he’s excited.
  • Always allow plenty of ventilation during the journey and also when you stop. Never leave your dog in an unventilated car, even in cold weather – winter sun heats up cars just the same as solar panels.
  • Keep the volume of your car radio or music to a modest level – remember your dog’s hearing is much more acute than yours.
  • Plan ahead and the journey for you and your dog will be a good experience for you both.






What Dogs and Bears have in common

A recent finding of research into nutrition for zoo animals revealed that giving bears larger enclosures with added distractions (activities) helped to reduce the focus on food so that the bears were healthier and fitter.
This is also an excellent tip for pet owners with a dog that seems to be constantly hungry. Environmental enrichment, including plenty of exercise and social interaction, is a great cure for boredom and stress-related behaviour problems. It also helps in weight management, which appears to be an increasingly common problem in pet dogs.

Dog Dental Care

Dentists – love them or fear them – are as essential as doctors to our healthcare, but dental care for dogs is not as high on our priority list as perhaps it should be. Dogs rely on their teeth for eating, chewing, playing and picking up things, so it’s essential that their oral hygiene is our priority. Plaque and tartar build-up offers the ideal environment for bacteria to populate a dog’s mouth leading to bad breath, gum infection, toothache, root abscesses and serious infection to internal organs.

Chewing and biting on raw bones or strong rubber toys (Kongs) stimulates enzyme production in the dog’s mouth, which strengthens the teeth and promotes good oral health. When we humans visit the dental hygienist once or twice a year, the plaque is removed and we are advised how to care for our teeth: daily brushing, flossing, etc., is recommended, so why should we assume that our dogs’ teeth will be OK without regular daily oral care and oral hygiene checks? 

As devoted owners we want the best for our best friends, so a few minutes spent in brushing their teeth can ensure that they are kept in tip-top condition. All you need is a toothbrush and some toothpaste specially formulated for dogs, which contains enzymes that break down bacteria and tastes good to dogs. Our toothpaste is not suitable for dogs: it foams, tastes awful to dogs and has chemicals in that may cause them to run a mile from you on sight of the toothpaste tube!

The latest research proves that manual brushing is best and whilst initially your dog may be a real fidget and make life difficult for you, with persistence she will soon enjoy the extra attention and taste of the toothpaste, too.

Here’s how to do it:

Start by gently stroking your dog’s cheeks for a minute or so and let her lick the toothpaste from your finger. When she accepts this, gently rub a small amount of toothpaste onto the gums and along the teeth. It may take a few days for your dog to accept this, but persist! Using a soft brush to start with, gently apply some toothpaste either on the brush or continue applying it with your finger, then with the brush. Just a point, if your dog tends to snap or will not calm, keep yourself safe and go back to stage one, stroking the cheeks until eventually she will trust you to apply the toothpaste etc. If using a brush to too difficult, try using a rubber pimpled finger tooth cleaner, which are available at pet stores.

A trip to the vet can be avoided by regular brushing, but in the event that your dog will not tolerate  it, you may need to have her teeth scaled and polished for a more thorough cleaning. She will have to be sedated, which generally means a day’s stay at the veterinary surgery.

Tripe sticks and similar natural dried chews also help keep dogs’ teeth healthy, but avoid commercially produced dental sticks that contain additives and sugar.

Just a couple of minutes a day can make the difference and keep your dog away from the dog dentist!


Spring in the Garden

It’s Springtime and dogs love to be in the garden, so here are some tips to keep them safe:

Slugs and snails can carry parasites, especially lungworm. Check with your vet that your dog’s monthly or quarterly medication includes protection for lungworm (not all do). Control slugs and snails by using pet-safe organic slug pellets or traps.

Fences and boundaries: dogs spend more time outdoors in spring and summer, so check that they are safely enclosed in the garden. The height of the fence or wall needs to be adequate to contain dogs that jump and if necessary, install a trellis structure to low walls to raise the height. Fence off areas of the garden that should be kept dog-free. There is nothing worse for a gardener to find her prize flowers have been trampled!

Lawns and grassy areas are prone to become bald and muddy, so reduce wear and tear by choosing grass that is similar to that in public parks – generally a mixture of grass seed varieties, based on rye.

Gardeners are encouraged to compost waste vegetables and fruit, as well as dead plants, etc. Dogs love to explore the compost heap, so fence it off to stop them foraging for scraps and never put cooked food on the heap to keep foxes and vermin at bay. The core of sweetcorn should never be put on the compost heap – when swallowed by dogs, it cannot be passed through the intestines and out of the bowel, causing a potentially fatal blockage.

Plants and trees: some are toxic to dogs, especially bulbs, grapevines, ornamental grasses and lilies. Check that your garden contains dog-safe plants. Many herbs are good for dogs, but not all, so check before sowing/planting.

Wooden decking, paving slabs and sharp gravel surfaces can be hazardous for dogs. Check paws regularly for abrasions and consider using rounded pebbles for drives and paths.

The main point of all this is to keep your dog safe, your flowers blooming in safety and to enjoy your time playing and relaxing with your best friend whilst enjoying the warm weather.