dog behaviour




Covid-19’s stay at home message and the closing of non-essential retail means that more people are getting shopping delivered to their homes than ever before. This means more delivery people coming to the door, knocking or ringing a bell, and sending dogs into a fury of barking. Barking at the Postie has always been a common problem, but with more people at home all day to hear the barking it may now be more of a problem than ever.


Dogs may bark when the door is knocked or the doorbell rung because they excited at the thought of a visitor, or, more often, because they are worried about a stranger entering their home. Despite barking at the door being a big ‘pet peeve’ for many owners, it is a behaviour that humans admired in early dogs. One of the first jobs which dogs had was barking to alert people to threats.

So, the dog barks to alert people to the potential intruder. If people are at home, they often shout at the dog. But the dogs may see this as joining in, rather than a reprimand. If there is nobody at home the dog barks and the delivery person leaves. In both cases the dog gets a reward! The people join in the barking reinforcing the dog’s opinion that barking is the right thing to do, and then the ‘threat’ goes away! The dog feels better and that behaviour becomes more likely next time.



It is possible to teach the dog an alternative behaviour when the door knocks. First, teach your dog to ‘go to bed’. Next have someone knock the door or ring the bell (or record the noise on your phone) before asking the dog to ‘go to bed’. Reward when he does. Over time the door knock/bell will replace you saying ‘go to bed’ and will cue the dog trotting off to his bed. This works really well for dogs that get over the top with visitors.

It is also possible to keep some of the barking by putting that on cue. Say ‘speak’ then trigger your dog to bark, join in and be very excited! Then stop and wait for your dog to stop too. As he does, say ‘quiet’ and give a food reward. If you train this well it is possible to start and stop your dog barking which is great for security, if you feel unsafe just ask your dog to speak!

The trouble with these approached is that if you aren’t there for a door knock the dog may not choose the ‘bed’ behaviour or controlled barking, and won’t be rewarded for it. It may be hard to avoid deliveries during the time you are retraining your dog.


Move to the Falkland Islands as they do not have a postal delivery service. If that isn’t practical, remove the delivery people from your doorstep. Instead of having a letterbox on your front door, place a mailbox on your property, but as far from your door as possible. For parcels, you can buy lockboxes which also reduce the risk of theft.

For specific problem behaviours please contact us by email to arrange an appointment. Be aware that until June 2021 we are not able to undertake home visits.



Christmas is one of the rare times when there is enough time for a busy veterinary herbalist and behaviourist to sit down and watch a film. And one of my favourites is ‘Fred Claus’. If you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil the whole film, but it all comes down to whether Fred deems the children ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’. Fred realises that the ‘naughty’ children aren’t naughty at all… they are scared, lonely, bullied, acting up because of their circumstances. And I feel the same about dogs.


When assessing a dog with a problem behaviour I have a lot of questions.

Where was he born? How was he brought up? Fred in the movie feels overshadowed by his saintly older brother. Puppies don’t come as blank slates, their behaviour can be influenced by their breed, their parents’ temperament, and their early life experiences. Sometimes people just expect too much; a retriever puppy is going to retriever, just like a four year old kid is going to sit up watching for Santa.

Could he have a medical problem? Over 70% of dogs at a top behaviour center have pain making their behaviour worse! Arthritis, gut problems, ear infections, sight issues are amongst the things I will be ruling out. Sometimes if we fix the health problem, the behaviour returns to normal.

What’s going on at home? In the film, poor Slam ends up at the top of the naughty list for fighting in the children’s home. But poor kid, he doesn’t have the love and structure he needs. The same goes for dogs, many have struggled to cope with the changes that Covid-19 has brought to their lives, and have had added stress at times like fireworks season and Christmas. A stable routine and a safe space to retire to when it all gets too much could be just what your dog needs.


Does the film have a happy ending? Of course. Everyone learns the true meaning of Christmas and Slam gets his Christmas wish (a puppy! I know, don’t get me started on that one). So how do we make sure the ‘problem dogs’ get a fairytail ending?

Choose the right dog: explore your chosen breed or types history, exercise requirements, temperament, and grooming needs. Gundogs are going to retrieve everything, terriers like to rip stuff up, toy dogs want human company, ‘doodles’ need professional grooming every 6 weeks…

Choose the right breeder or rescue: expect to be asked a lot of questions and don’t be upset if it is decided you aren’t right for a particular dog or puppy. Never be rushed into a decision and make sure you have support after you take your new friend home.

Train! Your new dog needs to have clear rules from day 1 and you need to teach him what’s allowed and when. There are many great trainers offering on-line courses when physical courses aren’t possible. Training is not a 6weeks and done thing, it is an everyday all of life thing, and it should be great fun!

Vets: your dogs should visit the vets once or twice a year for a health check even if he is well. Catching health problems early reduces the chance of problem behaviours starting.

Never forget your dog is a dog. It can be hard to be a dog in a human world, so if they are heading for your ‘naughty list’ take a step back and you might just find they need a bit of understanding.

That’s Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care signing off for 2020. We’ll be back on 5th January ready for whatever challenged 2021 brings. But first, A Muppet Christmas Carol, mulled wine, and a mince pie!

May your Christmas be safe and peaceful.



This is a story about me, my dog, and the first rule of recall.

We went to the beach, me and my five dogs. The beach at low tide is fun time. There is no real training, there are very few rules. The dogs can run, play, swim. They need to come back when I ask so that they don’t scare kids, annoy dogs on leads, or chase sea gulls.

When the senior dog chose scavenging on the stone instead of paddling I was cool with that, we could see each other and the beach was pretty empty. As we approached a busier but of beach I called him, he looked at me, then chose to keep mooching up the beach. I called again, and whistled. He moved away. I tried a stop whistle…he moved further away. He looked concerned. I ran up the beach, not to chase him but to try and cut him off. He looked very worried. I am now calling him like some demented banshee, not an experienced dog trainer and behaviourist. I wave the treat bag…nothing.

I now tell him to “go and love himself” (or word to that effect!) and head off down the beach to give the rest of the crew some snacks. This has the desired effect and down comes senior spaniel in that crabby posture that means ‘don’t beat me’. He doesn’t get beaten, but all spaniels know this pose.

I am fuming. This is not the relaxed beach walk I wanted and my reliable old boy is being an idiot. So what do I do? I take a deep breath and do ‘The First Rule of Recall’ I pop him on the lead and I tell him he’s a good boy, and he gets some treats. We walk a while with him on the lead, then do some short freedom and recall and reward practises. But what went wrong?


I can guess what happened. Senior dog has been allowed to run free on walks with my other half. Sometimes he goes on a spaniel mission and chases a duck, eats some bits a hawk has left behind. Sometimes he doesn’t listen when he’s called. After all, why would he come back? Mr Owner doesn’t have a ball, doesn’t have treats, puts him on the lead and takes him home. Senior dog is having a much better time making his own games with the ducks and his own snacks of bits of dead rabbit. Senior spaniel can hear Mr Owner getting cross (Mr Owner is going to be late for work now) and eventually he goes back. Mr Owner tells senior spaniel off and route marches him home. Fun? No.

What has senior spaniel learned? To avoid going back because it ends the fun and gets you shouted at.


The First Rule of Recall

No matter how cross you are, how later you are, how embarrassed you are, when your dog comes back pop their lead on and then reward them. If they have ignored multiple recall cues, this can be low key. A ‘good boy’ and a low value treat. But NEVER punish them. If you shout, or worse, you are only punishing your dog for coming back. He can’t understand you are punishing him for ignoring you. Punishing the dog when he is back with you makes a good recall next time LESS likely.

As you walk along with your ‘naughty’ dog on his lead, think about why this happened.

Have you regularly made coming back more rewarding than not coming back? If you only call your dog up to stop him saying hello to another dog, leaping into a stinky bog, or to go home… you are the fun police. Spice up the recall reward, even with older dogs. Sometimes recall for a game, sometimes for a treat, sometimes for a bit of lead walking before getting let off to run again. Try to recall your dog before they are self rewarding with a game of chase the squirrel and make sure what you have on offer is just as much fun. Occasionally add a jackpot recall reward like a big juicy sausage! Think about adding a clear cue such as a whistle that can never sounds cross and will carry a long way.


The rest of our walk was better. Senior dog got fishy snacks for staying with me and Mr Owner will be given some rules on what to do when he walks senior dog! Training is never over…


If your dog has a recall problem there are lots of exercises that can help improve things. We offer one-to-one training sessions for minor training issues like this (but places are limited in the winter months) at £50 for 45minutes in our field. Please email for information and booking.


The return to lockdown means that all the bookings Vet Vicky had to work and compete her dogs have been cancelled until at least December. This means our diary is suddenly a bit empty.

We are not as restricted in the services we can offer during this lockdown so we would love to see some new patients for acupuncture, behavioural assessment, and holistic consultations. We are happy to offer phone or WhatsApp consultations for some behavioural issues, holistic consultations, and puppy support.

Email for information.

Use us or lose us!



Urgh, it’s that time of year again. Firework petition season. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have serious reservations about people with no pyrotechnical training being able to buy industrial fireworks to let off in their backyard, but I think the focus of pet owner’s energy is in the wrong place.

I fully support calls for fireworks to be restricted to organised displays. The event can be advertised in advance, animal owners (and those with babies, PTSD, or who just hate fireworks) can make arrangements, and let’s be honest the displays are just a whole lot better and safer. But this still leaves a problem; what to do with the pets who are scared of fireworks.


It might seem tardy to post this after Bonfire Night…but 5th November is just the start of the fireworks season (unless you live in East Sussex where we have a big display somewhere every weekend from September to December in normal years!). Fireworks are an important part of Diwali, Christmas, and New Year events. And this year, with organised displays likely to be banned, there will be more unpredictable home displays.


Walk dogs in the daylight and get cast indoors before dusk. Move outdoor caged pets inside.

Use curtains to muffle sounds and light and keep indoors well lit.

Mask noises with music or the TV.

Make your pet a secure snuggly den to hide in.

If your pet wants to snuggle up for a cuddle, let them. If they need to roam the house, let them do that instead.

Distract your pet with a game, tasty treats, or some training.

Contact your vet for calming pheremones, supplements, or medications.


This is where I get frustrated. Every November there are hundreds of posts about pets being scared of fireworks. Yet how many of these pets get help from a behaviourist? I have only worked with one noise phobia case this year (he’s doing really well with a combination of more interesting walks, medication when required, and a new surround sound TV!). Whilst I don’t promise your dog will react like my spaniels (bang = where is the thing to fetch) it is possible to reduce the fear felt by most dogs through counter conditioning and desensitisation, and to come up with medication protocols for those who remain distressed.


Look for a breeder who habituates their puppies or kittens to noise from an early age. I play my puppies CDs of fireworks, gunshot, traffic, babies….everything! This continues most days until they are at least 6 months old. I often play noises when they are eating or doing some training. As my pups get older I play the noise CDs less often, but often enough that they stay unconcerned. If they show any anxiety the volume goes down and I pair the noise with play or food. If a bang means sausage is coming it is much harder to stay worried about bangs!

Due to Covid-19 restrictions cancelling all our planned gundog work for November we now have extra appointments available. We are happy to do phone and WhatsApp consultations for noise phobias now which can be followed up with home visits next year.

Contact us at for a referral form and prices.



There are few things that make our vet happier than meeting clients with a new puppy.

There are few things that worry her more than meeting new clients with two new puppies!

We know how it happens…the family visit the breeder to chose their pup…there are two left that they just can’t pick between…and they’ll be great company for each other…and you can train one each…BUT…


There is no doubt that two puppies will entertain each other while you are busy at work, cooking dinner or rounding up the kids.

Unfortunately this is where problems can start. The pups have so much fun together they don’t need you at all! In order to train a puppy you need to build a bond with it. This is easily done if you are the source of all food, play and cuddles but less so if the puppy can get play and physical contact from another puppy. It’s almost like twins who invent a secret language!

Added to that you’ll have double bills for vaccines, neutering, insurance, training classes, kennels…..


Dogs aren’t really pack animals. They are social individuals, much like humans and they have evolved to live alongside humans. Dogs have developed body language and vocal gestures which they only use with humans and, unlike most other domestic pets, can get along without doggy companionship as long as they get plenty of stimulation from their humans and get to meet and play with friendly dogs on a regular basis.

All of this said it is wonderful when you do own more than one dog. Our vet Vicky never thought her first dog missed out, until she got a second…and a third! “It’s lovely to watch them play with each other in a different way than they do with me.” But it’s not always easy, “They do need to be separated at mealtimes, especially when they have bones. And sometimes, if they need different exercise levels I can do three or four walks a day!” Vicky recommends waiting until your first puppy is fully trained and mature, or until your rescue dog is totally settled, before looking for a new dog. This could mean leaving 18months to 2 years between puppies or a year between rescue dogs.

Our Vet Vicky is currently working on her level 5 COAPE Diploma in Companion Animal Training and Behaviour to add to the range of services she offers.




Most owners will answer, “I know him better than anyone!” but do you really know what is normal for your pet and would you spot early signs of illness?

Some symptoms such as coughing, limping or vomiting are easy to spot but what about more subtle changes?


A good pet owner will notice how their pet normally eats and drinks, and how much. Eating more slowly or becoming more hungry can be symptoms of illness. Chewing on one side of the mouth could indicate dental pain as could dribbling in small herbivores. With small pets such as hamsters check they aren’t simply storing the food and not returning to eat it. A good pet owner will also know how much their pet normally drinks. If drinking increases think about causes such as hot weather, drier food or a leaky water bottle for small pets. A great pet owner will measure water intake if they think it has increased and this information can give the vet a lot of information.

Good pet owners also monitor what comes out, taking note of how often and how much their pet urinates and noticing any changes in smell or colour. Some changes can be normal, for instance rabbit urine can turn bright orange with some foods! Good owners also observe their pets poop as consistency, frequency and even the shape can change in some illnesses. Seeing soft faeces in the rabbit hutch is a particular worry as this in uneaten caecotroph which can be a symptom of serious dental or gut disease.

Toiletting in diferent or innapropriate places can also be a sign of physical as well as behavioural problems.


Changes in behaviour can be the most subtle indicators of illness and wellness, especially in herbivores and cats (who can behave like a prey animal as well as being a predator).

Some behaviour changes may be very obvious, such as a dog not wanting to go for a walk or a rabbit becoming aggressive when handled but others such as a cat changing their sleeping place from the window ledge to the rug could easily be missed. Behaviour can change with medical problems as well as ‘behavioural’ problems so a check-up from your vet is advisable before embarking on any behavioural treatment or training.

Become a great pet owner and take the time to REALLY know your pet inside out!