Southfields Vets

Crate Training
Tilly’s Top Ten Tips for Training

 Fireworks and Dogs

Fireworks and Dogs

Some dogs show varying degrees of anxiety in response to fireworks, thunder and other noises. Their responses include panting, barking, salivating, defaecating, pacing, hiding and seeking the owner. If left untreated, your dog’s anxiety and stress will increase with each episode and their behaviour will usually become worse and worse over the years. Therefore, it is highly recommended to seek help in desensitising your dog and reducing his or her anxiety levels.


Desensitisation programmes need to be performed during a firework-free period. Special CD’s are available, which need to be accompanied by a behaviour modification programme, so that it is advisable to seek professional advice at the time that you would like to begin your programme. Claire and the team at Southfields will be happy to help you with this.

Most owners seek help for firework phobias during the period between October and New Year. However, since you need a firework-free period, we recommend to pursue a desensitisation programme during the spring – if you would like us to send you a reminder some time during February-March, please sign up at reception.

In the meantime, it is important to follow a de-stressing programme during the critical times.

Late October / 1-2 weeks before the fireworks begin:

Make a safe haven:

  • Decide on a ‘refuge’ space for your dog. This should be a room near the middle of the house, with thick curtains or blinds so that the windows can be blacked out. It should be a room that your dog is familiar with, and comfortable in, and where you are happy to spend the evening with your dog on Bonfire Night itself. There should be a TV or radio in the room, so that there will be ‘normal’ background noise to help disguise the fireworks.
  • In the corner of this room, build a den for the dog. Ideally this should be a covered bed like a crate with a blanket over it, or a cardboard box. Place a warm bed and something that smells of you, e.g. an old jumper. Make it comfortable and do not shut the dog in it.
  • In the run-up to the fireworks, make sure your dog is happy to go into the safe haven, by giving their favourite treats in there – Kongs, or chew sticks, and using the room to relax in during the evening. Encourage the dog to use the bed and make sure he finds it comfy and reassuring. When he is not looking, hide some specially tasty food, like bits of sausage, in his bed, so that he is always rewarded when he chooses to go into it.

Adaptil diffuser and/or collar:

  • Adaptil diffusers and collars release calming pheromones either into the room (diffuser) or around the dog (collar), helping the dog to feel more safe and secure. The pheromones are the same ones released by their nursing mothers, and even adult dogs find them very reassuring.
  • If your dog only reacts to fireworks when he is at home, then use an Adaptil plug-in diffuser in the room that you will use as his safe-haven. It lasts for 4 weeks, so plug it in during late October, so that the safe haven will be reinforced as a safe place in your dog’s mind.
  • Some dogs get so stressed during the firework season that they will also be upset, or at least highly aroused and reactive, when they go out for walks. For these dogs an Adaptil collar will be most helpful, providing a feeling of security wherever the dog goes. Again, the collar lasts for 4 weeks, so fit it in plenty of time to provide a full effect. (Adaptil collars are also great for dogs that get a bit stressed when they go to kennels or when the owner goes on holiday.)

On the days that fireworks are expected:

Your daily routine:

  • Take your dog for a long, tiring walk, during daylight hours. Make sure you are home before dark.
  • Feed a large, carbohydrate-rich, meal during the late afternoon. You can do this just by feeding pasta, potatoes or rice, instead of, or in addition to, her normal food. This will help your dog to feel more tired and settled.
  • Make sure your dog has been to the toilet before the fireworks start.
  • If you have been given any medications, make sure your dog takes these with plenty of time before you think the fireworks are due.

During the fireworks:

  • Take your dog into the room with the safe haven. Ensure that the curtains are closed and the dog cannot see any of the flashing light.
  • Place some tasty treats in the bed and have a bowl of water available.
  • Put on some music or the television, a little louder than usual, to disguise some of the noise.
  • Some dogs will allow you to place little cotton wool ear-plugs into their ears. If you do this, make sure you take them out again afterwards!
  • Remain calm yourself, and do not reinforce your dog if he acts scared or upset, by getting upset yourself.
  • Try and be soothing and calming, and definitely do not tell off your dog if he is anxious, even if he is barking and noisy. Instead, just encourage him back into his bed and provide him with a chew or a toy to distract and occupy him, or get him to do some training with treats.


Many dogs will cope with fireworks if you can use all of the above suggestions and you can provide them with a sheltered safe-haven where the noise is diminished and where the dog can feel safe.

However, some dogs will still need a little extra help. There are a huge number of medications available to help to support your dog during stressful times. Speak to a member of the veterinary team to see if any of these might be suitable or necessary.

  • Nutracalm – L-tryptophan, GABA, L-theanine, passion-flower
  • Calmex – L-tryptophan, L-theanine, piper methisticum
  • Adaptil tablets – L-tryptophan, GABA, L-theanine
  • Zylkene – alpha casozepine
  • Royal Canin Calm food – alpha casozepine, L-tryptophan
  • Diazepam – prescription only, anti-anxiety medication

 Crate Training

Crates are increasingly being used for young puppies to help with training and settling the puppy into their new home.

A training crate is traditionally a metal crate with a door that is big enough for the puppy to have a bed and a water bowl and usually a training pad when the puppy is very young. Any kind of pen can be used for a training crate, but it is useful if the pen can be covered to make a ‘den’ where the puppy can completely relax and feel safe.

It is really important that the training crate is used as a ‘den’ or ‘safe place’. It should not be a place the puppy goes to as a punishment when he is naughty. It must be a positive place for your dog, where he can feel secure and happy.

crate1The most important features of the ‘den’ are:

Location – make sure the den is somewhere that the puppy can get to whenever he chooses to, but ideally somewhere fairly quiet, where he can properly rest.
Security – the den must be safe when it is closed, so that the puppy cannot escape and cannot cause himself any injury if he tries to.
Comfort – the puppy must feel comfortable when he is in his den – so provide a nice comfy bed and cover the crate with a blanket to keep it sound-proofed and cosy.
Privacy – it is important that the puppy is able to choose to go into his crate if he wants to be alone. Don’t force him to come out if he doesn’t want to. The puppy must feel that he is in control of what happens to him when he is in his den.

How to train your puppy to use his ‘den’:

To begin with, allow the puppy to go in and out of the den when you are in the same room with him. Place interesting treats and toys in the den, so it becomes associated with positive experiences right from the start. Don’t shut the door on the puppy when he is going in there to explore.
When he is looking tired and settled, place him in the crate, with a stuffed Kong or a nice chew toy and encourage him to settle down and maybe go to sleep.
In the beginning, leave him for only a short period of time, and don’t go too far away. If he does whine or bark, wait until he settles down, and only then allow him to rejoin you but without making a fuss of him.
Gradually build up the length of time that you leave him, and start to actually leave the house for short periods too.

Crates and dens, if used correctly, can help to teach your dog that it is okay to be alone, and can help your dog to learn to cope with the frustration associated with having a barrier between himself and something he wants.

If only positive things happen in the crate, then he will also have an automatic ‘safe place’ to retire to if he is worried by something.

Ideally, place additional beds in different rooms, e.g. the lounge or kitchen, so that he can choose to relax with the family too.


Keeping your dog entertained is a huge responsibility. All dogs need physical exercise, mental stimulation and social contact. Different breeds and individuals will need different amounts of each, but it is important to discover how much is important for your particular puppy.

For example, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel may not need several hours of exercise a day, but does need plenty of social contact and cuddles. Likewise, a Border Collie needs mental stimulation and a Springer Spaniel needs lots of physical exercise. Each individual will also have their own requirements – I have two Cocker Spaniels, one of whom will happily sit on my knee all day long, while the other is happiest chasing seagulls on an endless beach.

So let’s look at each heading in turn, but remember that some activities will fall under more than one, e.g. a training session can provide both mental stimulation and social contact.

Mental Stimulation – From an early age it is easy to see that some puppies will work harder and concentrate for longer than others. Teaching your puppy to focus and concentrate on a task will provide mental stimulation and also help them to learn vital self-control.

Mental tasks can be divided into those that are performed when the dog is on their own, including food toys like Kongs, and those that are performed together with the owner, such as training or puzzles.

game1Food toys are a great way to keep your dog happy when you have to leave her alone. There are now a huge range of these available. Kongs are probably the best known, with their recognisable tough red rubber shapes, which can be stuffed with food treats, Kong paste, squeezy cheese, or whatever else your dog likes best. Premier and Pets at Home also make a range of these toys.

Stuffed food toys should be durable, cleanable and safe to leave with your dog when she is on her own. Choose one that also suits the age and size of your dog – don’t leave a miniature Yorkie with a toy it could get its head stuck in, and don’t leave a Great Dane with a toy he could swallow or that he can’t get the treats out of.

Top tip: Stuff the Kong with training treats and squeezy cheese and leave it in the freezer overnight before giving it to your puppy. Great for making the Kong last longer and also really soothing when your puppy is teething.

Food toys can also be stuffed with scrummy, smelly food and hidden in different places around the puppy’s room, so that she can find them during the day. Don’t hide them in places that you don’t want her to learn to explore, e.g. the back of the sofa might make a good hiding place but do you really want to teach her to rummage behind your cushions?

Puzzle feeders include ‘dispenser’ toys, like the Kong Wobbler, which the puppy has to knock over or push around the floor, to make the food come out. These can be used for some puppies to feed their whole meal, providing mental stimulation and teaching frustration tolerance as it can take them a long time to get all the food out.

Puzzle games can also be interactive toys, like the Nina Ottosson range. For these toys, the dog has to work out how to get the treats out, by removing a piece of the puzzle, or moving a component with their nose or paw. These are best played together with the owner, as some dogs can get frustrated by them, or can lose interest if they find them too difficult. Nina Ottosson has a huge range of these toys on her website, with a wide variety of styles and difficulty levels. Similar toys are also available in some pet shops.

Don’t forget your training! A lot of dogs love to train and to learn new tricks. It is important to continue to work on the training we have covered in puppy class, but there are also loads of follow-on classes that you can try – obedience classes, dancing, agility, fly-ball, scent-training, gundog training – what would your dog like to do next?

Physical Exercise – All dogs need to exercise, some much more than others. Young puppies should not be over-exercised, particularly large or giant breeds.

Teaching a recall is the most important thing you will ever do for your puppy, as allowing them to exercise off-lead is something they should be able to enjoy for the rest of their lives.

Games that you can play in the park are also hugely useful for keeping your dog focussed on you during walks, and helping her to see you as somebody interesting that she wants to hang out with.

Fetch is the most frequently played park-game. The rules for fetch are simple but ignored by lots of dogs (and owners). You throw the ball and the dog brings it back and gives it to you, or drops it at your feet. It might seem really obvious, but dogs do need to be taught to bring things back to you. We have already covered leave it, take it and drop it – fetch follows the same principles. Start by only throwing the ball a short distance and ask your puppy to bring it to you and then exchange it for a treat. It is the exchange that will motivate your dog to bring you things.

Top tip: Some dogs will get obsessed with playing fetch on walks and will drive you crackers asking you to throw things. Try and give a clear cue that the game has come to an end – say ‘enough’ or ‘end’ or ‘finished’, as you put the ball away and give an extra tasty treat to try and take her mind off it. Don’t get the ball back out if she pesters you after you have said your ‘finish’ cue.

Tug-of-war is also a great park game. A lot of dogs really enjoy it, and it is a great way of engaging your dog in a physical ‘rough and tumble’ style game that they can play at home or outdoors.

Again, this game has rules, and you must teach your dog (and all family members) the rules, and then stick to them.

The rules are quite simple:

Only take the toy when I ask you take it.
Let go of the toy when I ask you to let go of it.
Don’t let your teeth touch my skin.

Teach these rules by applying them consistently. We’ve covered ‘drop it’ and ‘take it’. Add in a consistent rule that if you feel the dog making contact with you or your clothing, instead of the toy, then you take the toy away and the game ends.

There has been a lot said about whether the dog should be allowed to ‘win’ the toy or not. Previously we thought that tug games were used by dogs to determine who was the strongest, and so letting the dog win would teach them to be ‘dominant’. The whole dominance theory has now been widely discredited, and we now think it is okay for you to let your dog ‘win’ the toy during tug games. In fact, this will make it a lot more fun for your dog, and improve her motivation to play with you.

Top tip: A good tug-toy can also be used to distract your dog if you want to keep her focussed on you rather than chasing after bikes or joggers or other dogs.

Social Contact – Not all dogs like to be cuddled. The best way to tell is to see what happens when you stop – does the dog snuggle into you for more cuddles, or does it look away or move off? Try and find out what kind of contact your dog likes best. Does she like being stroked behind the ears or rubbed on her tummy? Does she prefer to sit on your knee without being stroked, or to sit next to you but just touching you somehow? Or does she like being in the sitting room with you but would choose her own bed if it was in the room? It is really important to understand and to respect your dog’s personal preferences. It’s so much nicer if they can enjoy being with us, rather than just tolerate whatever we choose to do to them.

Handling – equally, it is really important to help your dog to like being touched all over. A lot of dogs don’t really like being touched in certain places, such as their ears, feet or mouths. This can cause difficulties in situations where you might really need to touch or look at them closely, for example at the vets if your dog has an ear infection. Gently handling all areas while keeping the puppy relaxed and feeding tasty treats should be practiced on a regular basis.

Grooming is also something that should be practiced several times a week. Use short sessions of just a few minutes at a time. Choose a time when the puppy is relaxed and give rewards for keeping calm. Don’t allow the puppy to turn grooming into a game, for example mouthing the brush or wriggling around, as this arousal can easily turn into frustration.

Grooming and handling are both examples of context specific learning. Lots of dogs are fine to be handled at home but will then panic if touched in the park or at the vets. Do remember to practice grooming and handling in a variety of situations as well as at home, so that your dog will learn to accept handling by different people and in different places.

Social Group – it is really good for puppies and dogs to have a ‘social group’ of other dogs that she knows well and can play with regularly. Friends and family with dogs would be the obvious choice, but if you walk in the same place at a regular time, your dog may get to know the other dogs on the walks. If you can meet up with these dogs on a regular basis, this will help your puppy to practice her social skills, and can provide a buffer to help her to rebuild her confidence if she has a bad experience with an unknown dog.

Tilly’s Top Ten Tips for Training

One – Set Clear Goals
For every task you teach me, make sure you set a clear goal – exactly what do you want me to do? When you say ‘Bed’, do you mean mine or yours?

Two – Give me a Cue!
How will I know when you want me to do it? Decide what cue you will use to signal for me to perform the task. Make the cue clear and consistent. Perhaps speak a little bit louder than usual, so that I know you are talking to me. Hand signals help me as well.

Three – Be Consistent
Make sure everyone in the family knows what the task will look like, and how they will ask me to do it. There’s nothing worse than Mum teaching me to ‘Lie flat’ but then when Dad says ‘Down’ I don’t know what he means.

training1Four – How Will I Learn?
Decide how you will teach me the task – will you move me into a position or just wait until I do it by myself? Can you make it easy for me please? Take away any other distractions and limit the number of things I can choose to do, so that I am more likely to get it right.

Five – Keep it Positive
Try and give me something to do – it’s much easier for me to learn how to do something than just not to do something – e.g. teach me to ‘go to my bed’ rather than ‘stay off the sofa’.

Six – Keep my Attention
You’ll need to make sure you have my attention before you start, so that I am listening to you and watching you. Maybe this could be the first thing you teach me – to look up at you when you call my name, or ask me to ‘watch’ you.

Seven – Give me Rewards
How will you motivate me? Find out what I like best, so that you can reward me with something that will make me want to perform well for you. I’ll do anything for sausages but my friend Kim prefers a good game of fetch. Making the rewards different each time might make me work a bit harder and stop me getting bored.

Eight – Make it fun!
Please don’t do training with me when you are not in the mood. I don’t like it when you shout at me – it makes it hard for me to concentrate.

Nine – Great Expectations
Choose which bit of the task is most important to start with, then we can work on the finer points in the next few sessions. It probably doesn’t matter which paw I first learn to shake hands with – we can learn left, right, high-five, down-low and too-slow later!

Ten – Bite-Sized Lessons
Training can be really hard work. I learn better in small bites, so keep our training sessions short, about 5 to10 minutes at a time is enough while I am a beginner.


What can we use to reward our dogs?

  • Commercial Treats
  • Small bits of meat
  • Hot dog sausages
  • Cheese
  • Their usual food

  • Happy / excited
  • Soothing / calm
  • Reassuring

  • Eye contact
  • Cuddles
  • Patting
  • Stroking

  • Tug-toy
  • Ball game
  • Rough and tumble play

Something the dog wants
  • To have his lead on to go for a walk
  • To go through the door to outside
  • To move forward when on the lead
  • To jump up on the sofa
  • To be left alone to rest

It is important to recognise what it is that motivates your dog. Individual dogs have their own preferences. Some dogs don’t really like being cuddled or petted, and would prefer just for you to make eye contact with them and say ‘good girl’. Other dogs (e.g. most spaniels and all labradors) love food and will do almost anything for their favourite morsel.

Can you name your dog’s favourite things?
Here’s an example for my dog Tilly:

Top 3 foods:
  • Sausages
  • Schmackos
  • Whatever I’m having

Top 3 games:
  • Walks in the woods
  • Going for walks
  • Training with treats

When should I reward my dog?

When he is learning something new – reward every time he gets it right. Positive feedback when he is doing what you want will show him that he is right and make him more likely to try the same thing again the next time that you ask.

If he isn’t able to do it right yet, then reward as he gets closer to the goal. For example, while you are teaching your puppy to lie down, you might have to go through a stage where you reward for keeping the bottom on the ground and bringing the nose to the floor. The next step would then be to reward only when he lies all the way down with elbows, chest and bottom on the floor all at once.

treat1Once he knows what to do – make rewards a bit less predictable.
Once he is able to respond to your cue word about 8 times out of 10, stop rewarding every time, or ask him to do more than one thing before he gets the reward.

Remember the vending machine versus the slot machine – which one do we get addicted to? Dogs, like us, will work harder when they don’t know exactly what reward is coming. If sometimes they get a bit of kibble but sometimes a hot dog, then they are more likely to do the action we are asking for.

In order to improve performance, you can start to reward only the best examples of his responses. If you only reward the fastest recalls or the sit-stays with the least fidgeting, then your dog will also start to pick up on what it is about his response that gets him the best treats.

So for a lovely sit at the front door, he gets a ‘good dog’ and ‘off we go’, but for a super-speedy recall in the park when there are three other dogs around that he wants to play with, then he gets something delicious like half a hot dog and is also allowed to go off again and have another play.

Should some activities always be rewarded?
Absolutely. A positive recall should always be rewarded so that your dog always wants to come to you. You can reward differently according to performance, however. Even coming to you after having a sniff around and ignoring you the first ten times, is still a response, but should maybe only get a grudging ‘good dog’.

What about Punishments?

This is a little trickier. A punishment is defined as something that makes your dog less likely to do whatever it was he was doing. Punishment can mean something nasty, like a smack, shout or water pistol squirt, but it can also mean not getting something nice.

Do we ever use punishments?
Yes, we probably do. Pulling your hands away when your puppy is mouthing them, is a form of punishment. So is saying ‘no’ when your puppy jumps up at you, or leaps around with excitement when you are trying to put her lead on.

For attention seeking behaviour, you will often be advised to ignore your dog when it is howling, stealing, begging and so on. Clearly, this is a lot better than physically punishing your dog with a smack, or shouting at your puppy so that she becomes scared of you. But is there something better we could try?

Should we ever use punishments?
Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of just saying ‘no’ or ignoring the naughty behaviour, we just teach our dogs what we do want them to do. So instead of shouting ‘get off’ when they are jumping up at you, simply ask for a polite sit, and bend down to say hello to them on their level.

When your puppy is mouthing you, give them a toy that they are allowed to chew on, and show them how to play with that instead. If you want your puppy to stop howling when she is left alone, then make her feel safe and comfortable, and give her something interesting to do.

Substituting a correct behaviour will make it a lot nicer for our dogs to learn, and then instead of shouting at them for doing something wrong we can say ‘good dog’ for getting something right.