We have had a number of heated discussions on our social media over the last couple of years about responsible dog ownership… so we are very pleased to introduce our newest guest writer – Emily Birch, an expert in this field.


Over the next few months, I shall be writing a number of articles for the dog owners among you about, well, dogs. You may have seen that last year Brackenhurst partnered up with The Kennel Club to help create a place for dogs and owners from all walks of life. We do have a website (www.ntucaninecentre.org) and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ntucaninecentre) so do follow us if you’re interested in knowing more about what we are doing. In this article I’m going to discuss how you can be a responsible dog owner and love doing it (sometimes it may feel like all we do is get nagged!).

So first let us imagine two scenarios…


Scenario One

There are two lovely owners on a walk with their own dog. One owner has a nervous dog, the other a very friendly dog. The two owners meet along a footpath and it goes something like this. Nervous dog owner holds their dog’s collar and tries to get it out of the way. Friendly dog owner tries to call their dog back but it’s seen a potential new friend and is off. Nervous dog owner panics and tries to move their dog out of the way more. Friendly dog rushes up to say hi, nervous dog has no way to escape and so snaps aggressively at the friendly dog. Friendly dog leaves and both owners carry on their walk. Fast-forward 6 months of this sort of situation. Nervous dog will now actively bite dogs who come and say hi and they will defend their space aggressively. Friendly dog is now conflicted about meeting dogs (wants to say hi but doesn’t want to get told off) so becomes frustrated and stressed and ultimately aggressive. Both owners are now scared to let their dogs off the lead. This becomes a vicious circle.


Scenario Two

There are two lovely owners on a walk with their own dog. One owner has a nervous dog, the other a very friendly dog. The two owners meet along a footpath and it goes something like this. Nervous owner recalls their dog, pops them on a lead and asks them to sit. They have moved off the pathway to increase the space that their dog has. Friendly dog owner recalls their dog and gives them a brilliant reward for coming back. Both walk past calmly and owners say hello (and possibly even chat), whilst both feeding their dogs treats for paying attention to them. Fast-forward 6 months. Nervous dog doesn’t worry at all about other dogs on a walk as they know their owner helps them find space and listens to them. Friendly dog owner has a friendly dog who loves saying hi but knows how to do so appropriately and only when suitable. In this situation, both owners could start walking together having created situations where dogs don’t feel the need to show aggression.


Out of these two scenarios which would you prefer? I’m pretty sure its scenario two… but the question is how to we get to that point? Well below are a few pointers to start with.

  • Teach your dog a reliable recall – it leads to a great amount of trust between you and your dog and ultimately more freedom for both of you. We do run specific recall workshops over the year (like our Facebook page to keep updated) that teaches your dog lots of games to create a brilliant recall. However, the main aim is to make sure you’re more fun than whatever else it is they like to do. Be exciting and fun and run off in the opposite direction whilst calling – when they catch you having a big game of tug of war or some great high value treats, then let them go off again.
  • Teach your dog you’ll look after them – if you listen to their whispers they won’t need to shout. Give them a choice about who/what they interact with and space when they don’t want too. If they tell you politely they don’t want to say hi, listen to them move out the way with them. It means they never need to climb up the ladder of aggression. If you are interested in understanding what your dog is trying to tell you, we hold canine communication seminars that teach you what those subtle signals are.
  • Take treats or a toy with you – it’s not about bribing them, it’s about paying them for their actions. If an action has a positive consequence, they are more likely to do it again. If it has a negative one, they are less likely to repeat the action. When you’re angry and can’t get your dog back think about what your dog sees… Currently, they are having fun sniffing things and running around, why would they return to an angry, shouting human?
  • Lead by example – the dog owning public can, at times, come under bad press due to some not so responsible dog owners. Rather than worrying about things we can’t control (because we can’t control how other people behave) instead let’s lead by example. If you see some people coming and you know your dog is friendly, call them back, pop them on a lead and walk past, rewarding your dog for ignoring the walkers. Pick up after your dog – every time someone walks in dog poo, every dog owner is tarred with the same brush. And please don’t be tempted to sling said poo bag into a bush! If we lead by example, these behaviours become the normal thing to do and others will start to follow suit.

We would love to know – What do you think makes a responsible dog owner ?- share in the comments below

For more tips to help with dog training, follow our Facebook page where every Monday we give a new tip for dog owners. If you would like to know more about the canine developments at Brackenhurst, book on to a course, or indeed come along to one of social walks, have a look at our website (www.ntucaninecentre.org) or email Emily (emily.birch@ntu.ac.uk).

We look forward to meeting you and of course your dog(s)!

Emily Birch

Emily Birch

Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Emily and the team at ntucanine offer a number of training workshops and events throughout the year.

For more info visit : www.ntucaninecentre.org
FB : www.facebook.com/ntucaninecentre
Email Emilyemily.birch@ntu.ac.uk