Archive for August, 2012

Merle in Cape Town (SA) sent me the following message.

Hi Bruno
Thank you so much for all your advice. I really enjoy reading your emails.
I have to admit that we have not actually tried hard enough to train our
little dogs.
The BIG problem that we have is with our little rescue dog who we have had
with us since February this year.
She is absolutely crazy about tennis balls. When we brought her home for the
first time she very quiet sniffed around the house and then just lay
looking at everyone. Suddenly she found a tennis ball amongst the hooves and
chewed bones. She immediately cheered up and brought the ball to us showing
us how to kick it, Obviously we kicked it for her and she was as happy as
could be. In fact she really made herself at home after that and she is a
lively active happy dog.
She will play with the ball by herself – burying it in her bed or pushing it
under the furniture and then retrieving it.
The problem comes when she decides that she needs someone to throw or kick
the ball for her. She puts the ball in front of you and stares at it. If you
don’t oblige she starts whining and no amount of ignoring stops her.
Eventually we put the ball away but she will stare at the hiding place and
whine or bark. This can go on indefinitely. At night we put the ball away
and she has accepted that but the minute that we wake up she starts nagging
for that ball.
We need to break this habit! Please can you help?
Thank you – I know that you will say that we are not the pack leaders but
how do we do this when it comes to this particular problem.
Kind regards

Here comes my answer:

Dear Merle,

It is obvious that you love your dog very much but it is also obvious that you can still learn a lot about correct communication between yourself and your dog. I quote from your message:

“I know that you will say that we are not the pack leaders but
how do we do this when it comes to this particular problem.”

First I want to TRANSLATE this the following way:

1. You know that you are not behaving like pack leaders for your dog.
2. Nevertheless you want me to send to you the remedy for one symptom which makes it very clear to me that you are not behaving like pack leaders.

Offering you a remedy for the symptom while ignoring the cause of the dog’s behaviour is not what I prefer to do.
I also want you to know that I cannot offer you a quick fix for your dog as I am not a plumber you call whenever you have
a leaking tap.
I am a teacher and I teach people who want to learn how to behave correctly with their pets.
Learning takes time and is exactly the opposite of a quick fix.

I assume there are many things like tennis balls, hooves and chewed bones lying on the floor of your home.

What does this mean for your dog?
What is her interpretation of this situation?

Whenever I enter a home where I see lots of toys and chewing bones on the floor I immediately recognize a clear symptom of a problematic relationship between humans and canines.

On the one hand I see dog-loving humans who spoil their dog with lots of toys and chewing bones, hoping that their pet will be happy with it. These persons might think they love their dog but they do not correctly understand her.

On the other hand we have the dog who considers the presence of these toys and chewing bones to be the very clear proof of the fact that the humans want her to be in charge of the pack.

Why is that so?

Because toys do not exist in nature.

What humans call toys are preys for dogs.
As there are lots of preys lying on the floor of your home (and these preys are dead, as they do not move anymore), the dog thinks you want her to be in charge of the pack.
You do not touch the preys unless given permission by your dog to do so.
If a canine has killed a prey and the other members of the pack do not touch this prey, they show a lot of respect for this canine.
If humans allow to have many toys and chewing bones on the floors of their homes, the dog thinks that her dominant behaviour is being accepted by the humans. For the dog it is obvious that the humans are behaving like her subordinate puppies.
This is a very common but also very unfortunate misunderstanding. First the humans are unknowingly causing the problem and then they start blaming the dog for the problem they have caused themselves.

What is the remedy?

You write how you enjoy reading my emails.
Well, the remedy is to not only read my emails but to implement them.
How can you do that with your little dog?

Buy a big plastic box and put all the toys and chewing bones in it.
Hide the box somewhere in the house.
Accept that your little dog is bored stiff.
Little dogs are usually much more active and energetic than lovely giants like New Foundlanders or Saint Bernard dogs.
Dogs that are bored stiff have to get rid of their energy one way or another.
The compulsive behaviour of your little dog is her solution for releasing her energy.
Now that you have hidden the box with toys you are going to spend some quality time with her.
You are going to teach her to retrieve and to seek.


Any dog shows respect for a pack leader when she pays attention for the pack leader and when she sits when the pack leader wants it.
Thus you will have to teach her to come to you and sit in front of you.

Do this inside your home, only when you are full of calm assertive energy.
If need be, you will have to put her on the leash.
Then you will teach her to take the toy you offer her and to give it back to you when you ask for it.
As soon as she is releasing the toy when you ask for it, you can throw the toy one meter away, ask her to go and fetch it and bring it back to you.
When this is working perfectly, you can let her off the leash and increase the distance you throw the toy/prey from one meter to two, three,etc..
When your dog has brought back the toy several times and released it each time into your hand, you will then stop the exercise, put the toy in your pocket and ignore your dog.

In doggy language the exercise means the following:

1. You have taken the decision to start hunting(not playing) and you hunt with a prey (not a toy) that is yours.
2. You are organizing the chase (the retrieving) and in the end you stop chasing and you eat the prey (i.e. you hide the toy).
Repeat the exercise each time you feel calm and full of assertive energy.

Remember that commands are given only once and that you will never loose your patience.


Here is what I do with my dogs in the morning, after the early morning walk in the woods.
Having fed them I will call them to heel, make them sit and walk away.
I will then hide a small chewing bone, each time in a different spot, call them by name followed by the command “Seek”. The first dog will sniff and look for the “prey” I have hidden, while the other dog is waiting. As soon as the first dog has found its prey, I will hide the second chewing bone and call the second dog with the same command “Seek”.
Both dogs will eat their prey and nowhere will there be toys or chewing bones on the floor of my home.
I spend quality time with my dogs because that is also quality time for me. Each morning and evening I walk them in a different area, even if I have to take the car and drive a certain distance. It is good for my brain and for theirs.

Retrieve and Seek will NOT work for any dog loving person if that person is not behaving like a pack leader. In my weekly letters numbers 27 and 28 I have described how I behave with my dogs. Never in my life have I had any problems with the abandoned dogs that agreed to live with me.

Thanks for inspiring me.

Kindest regards from Brunothedoglistener.

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