Collars vs harnesses – Cambridge Puppy Training

collars vs harnesses

There is SO much choice out there with regards to what ‘tools’ to put on our dogs. Essentially, whatever we put on our dog is a tool of some sort, be it a collar, a harness or a head collar. However we NEED these tools to live in our society, our dogs have to be under control. A collar is, traditionally, our first go to piece of equipment. We normally buy our pup a collar before anything else in fact! Largely, this is for identification purposes, for the ID tag. However what is the best ‘tool’ to use once you start taking your pup out? Collar? Harness? Here, we will have a look at the pros and cons of each.

If you go into a pet shop you will surely be spoilt for choice with regards to collars. SO much variety. We have flat collars, half-check collars, choke chains, martingale collars, padded collars, oh my goodness so many. Obviously, when you bring your pup home he is not going on walks, so largely we buy a regular flat nylon collar and this suits us just fine. But, what when we start going out with our pups? Not ALL puppies pull on the lead, but pulling is something many owners do struggle with during those early months.

Dogs actually have incredibly sensitive necks. It really is one of the most vulnerable areas on a dogs body, so it is essential that it is treated with care. If a puppy/dog is pulling into a collar on a regular basis this can, long term, cause issues such as eye problems (caused by Intraocular eye pressure), or tracheal damage (ie. collapsed trachea). It could possibly worsen thyroid issues or cause problems for sensitive throats (such as after Kennel Cough for example). If your pup or dog is coughing when walking or starting to ‘huff and puff’ due to the strain on the neck, it’s pretty much certain you need to address this. I am not suggesting ALL dogs who pull on the lead will suffer ill effects later on, however, we want to be as sure as we can that we DON’T cause problems, don’t we?

A dogs neck contains the trachea, oesophagus, lymph nodes, thyroid glands, spinal column and more! It is hugely vulnerable to injury. Imagine, when your dog pulls suddenly to the end of the lead, that sudden ‘jolt’ they make, if that was on OUR necks we would usually get checked for whiplash wouldn’t we?? And likely will take such good care of ourselves that we ensure it doesn’t happen again. But, with our dogs, we allow this to happen again and again and again. A study including 400 dogs showed that “91% of dogs with neck injuries had been exposed to pulling hard on a lead for long periods”, also “there was a clear correlation between cervical (neck) damage and ‘jerk and pull’” (Hallgren, 1992). Additionally, it has been stated that “ear/eye issues are often related to pulling on the lead when in a collar, the collar restricts the blood and lymphatic flow to and from the head” (Dobias). There are MORE studies like this out there, if you are interested feel free to look some up.

Of the 400 dogs studied by Hallgren:

  • 79% of aggressive dogs had back problems
  • 21% had none
  • Of the more shy dogs, 69% had back problems
  • 31% had none


So, collars, perfect if you don’t have a lunger or puller, not so perfect and can cause damage if you do. I won’t discuss slip leads (only should be used for gundog work where a lead needs to be whipped on and off in seconds), choke chains (if they worked, you should only need to use them once, and people don’t, so clearly they don’t work), prong collars (are they even still legal?!), none of which should be used on a puppy.

It is commonly said that walking a dog in a harness will somehow make your dog pull more. This is a myth you may well have heard. A harness may well make it easier for a dog to pull, he can put more weight INTO a harness, and indeed make it harder for you to pull him back, but certainly YOU allowing your dog to pull, will make your dog pull. No equipment is responsible for a pulling dog. Harnesses, like collars, are a HUGE market and there are so many different types out there. A harness which sits high on the chest, with a back clip, will likely still elicit the same ‘coughing’ or ‘chocking’ from a dog that pulling into a collar will. Often back clip harnesses are not the optimal design. A ‘front clip harness’ often works the best. You can far more easily guide a dogs attention back to you in a front clip harness, rather than a back clip one. A harness will help to evenly distribute weight, and can be far kinder as long as it is a well fitting one.

Of course, for adult dogs, there is head collars, yet another tool! So many tools out there. I won’t discuss these too much as I am focusing on puppy training, and there should really be no need to consider a head collar for a puppy. However, if you have a large breed, you may want to consider habituating your pup to a head collar early on, in case it is needed at some point later down the line.

So, does your pup pull, lunge, or is it a breed prone to health issues related to the neck ie. tiny breeds or brachycephalics? Train it to walk well on a lead, or consider a harness until you have. Remember when training your pup, any pulling at all, anywhere, ever, is being reinforced, so it WILL be repeated. A flat collar and lead is perfectly sufficient if you don’t have a ‘puller’.

I honestly do believe, whatever ‘tool’ you choose, it will not ‘cure’ your pups pulling on the lead. There is no 100% humane tool out there which will ‘solve’ your dogs pulling in a flash. Many tools may ‘claim’ to do this, but be cautious. There is only one thing that will show your dog how to walk next to you, and that is you. Whether you have a collar, a harness, or something else, it is essential to know the things that can go wrong with the tools you use, but also remember that whatever your dog is wearing it is down to YOU to show him how to walk well.

If you would like more information about the 1-2-1’s I offer, just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining


Fear stages in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

fear stages in puppies

I have been asked many a time by owners why their seemingly confident little pup has suddenly become fearful. This can manifest itself as a fear of anything in the environment, from people to dogs to dustbins! Your once relaxed little pup who would stride by anything and everything with ease, suddenly seems to have a minor meltdown at the mere sight of an outstretched hand or a dustbin in front of your home. But why does this occur? What is going on?? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to remember our pups go through quite a few developmental stages during the course of their first 2 years. It may seem quite clear cut, we get our puppy at 8 weeks, we bring them home and as long as we socialise them adequately then our job is done and we should have a confident and fulfilled dog at the end, right?? Well, maybe. There are however stages that it is important to be aware of along the way.

One of these stages is termed the ‘fear period’ or ‘fear imprint stage’. This is a stage in which your pup will seemingly out of the blue develop a fear or anxiety about something which has likely previously held no meaning. Something very normal like a person in the street, or something a bit more obvious like traffic or other dogs. This may display itself via avoidance behaviours ie. hiding behind you or pulling back away from the object, you may see a change in body posture from a relaxed tail carriage to a ‘tucked under’ tail and a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression.

Fear periods can occur twice in a pups development, the first is around 8-10 weeks old, and the second between 6-14 months (nicely coinciding with the adolescent stage which brings a whole new set of behaviours in itself!). The puppy will respond in a more fearful way to anything which it may deem ‘traumatic’. Something which is likely not traumatic, will be perceived by your pup as pretty scary and something to be avoided. It is also at this stage that events will have more of an impact than at any other time, so in short, it’s a pretty important period of time all round! The fear stage is not limited to NEW experiences or stimuli which is important to remember, it may be something that your pup has seen every day since being with you and something he has paid no attention to at all, or even enjoyed, up until now. So, to define, a fear period is a stage in which a puppy may perceive new or familiar stimuli as a threat.

We can see, biologically, why this stage may occur. A puppy at this age is just starting to ‘fly the nest’ and any wrong move or misjudgement about what is/isn’t ‘safe’ will effect survival chances. Also, the first fear stage will coincide with when a pup is leaving his mum and siblings and going off to a brand new unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people and stimuli.

So, what can we do to help our pups if we feel they are going through a fear stage??

There’s a few things to consider:

  • Bond – bond with your puppy! Via training, communication, and patience. Gain your pups trust and engage with him daily. Encourage focus behaviours ie. eye contact, practice engagement training (look back at my blog articles if you’re unsure how), and work on handling techniques to gain a solid level of trust between you both.
  • Make it FUN – use treats/favourite toy to help build positive associations with every new experience your pup has! Take things at your pups pace, don’t force interactions, let your pup make a choice as to how far he wants to engage with the environment around him. Encourage, praise progress, and keep a light-hearted tone in your voice. There is actually no evidence to suggest you can reinforce an emotion (fear is an emotional response to an event/object), however there is no need to go overboard with your ‘cuddling’ if your pup is fearful! Reassurance yes, panic-stricken cuddling, probably best not.
  • Use calming aids – I have said before that the scientific evidence behind such tools ie. Adaptil plug-ins and collars is far from conclusive, but, I can tell you some people swear by them so they are worth consideration I feel!
  • Use a set up – set up ‘pretend’ situations! Your pup is worried about people going by when walking? Ask a friend to help with gradual desensitisation. Your pup is scared of dustbins? Spend some time every day building positive associations with the dustbins! Pup is scared of the vets table? Ask your vet if you could have a ‘social visit’ with just treats/cuddles and fun! They will not mind!
  • Sleep – ensure your pup is getting enough sleep! Inadequate sleep leaves a pup unable to learn, process information and will likely be more sensitive to situations.
  • Stay calm!!! – the first thing we do when our pup is worried is worry ourselves! Stop yourself, think clearly, what can I do to improve this? How can I change my pups emotional response to this object? There will be a way, so just calmly work through it.
  • Ask for advice – if you are unsure, don’t go through it alone, ask a professional for advice!

Although it may seem like a worrying time, your once confident little pup is suddenly worrying about something entirely meaningless and inconsequential, try to stay calm. Don’t build it into more of an issue than it needs to be, stay relaxed and simply work out a plan to try and change your pups view of the ‘scary thing’. It’s perfectly do-able.

There is, as stated above, a second ‘fear stage’, however I am a puppy trainer and try to limit topics as much as possible to puppyhood so I will refrain from delving into it too much! If you need more information regarding this second stage just get in touch.

I do cover the developmental stages our pups go through during my 1-2-1’s so if you feel you are struggling with anything mentioned just get in touch!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Jumping up in puppies! – Cambridge Puppy Training

jumping up

Jumping up is a normal and common behaviour puppies display. It certainly isn’t unusual to be greeted by a puppy with paws all over your legs. Largely, this occurs because it has been reinforced from the very beginning. The first time your pup does this, he will likely be extremely young and extremely small!! The recipient of the ‘jump’ will likely put their hands down, stroke, and say how cute your puppy is. This isn’t unusual, I think we are all guilty of a little bit of ‘over-tolerance’ when it comes to puppy jumping, however this serves to reinforce the behaviour. So, what can we do about it? And how can we teach our pups NOT to jump up?

I have briefly touched on jumping up before, but not in too much depth and if we’re honest I think most puppy owners will face this issue at some point. I do offer advice regarding jumping up, beyond what is covered here, in my 1-2-1’s so if you ARE struggling just get in touch.

Firstly, it is important to say that as mentioned above, this is not an unusual behaviour. Not only does a behaviour such as jumping up get reinforced from the beginning, it is also a natural behaviour for puppies to perform. Their first inclination is to get nearer to either our hands, our faces, or our treats!! All of which are out of reach if ‘all 4 are on the floor’. If you watch puppy play, it is largely unregulated in those early weeks and manners are often somewhat lacking! Pups will leap, jump, bundle, bat, and mouth……all in the name of play. So it is of little surprise they see fit to treat us in much the same way until shown different. As stated above, jumping up works, it results in a rewarding response (our attention), so we can see how it then develops into a behaviour which is performed whenever a person approaches.

It is important to mention not ALL dogs are ‘jumpers’, breed differences, personality, genetic predisposition and reinforcement history will all play a part. However I would hazard a guess that at some stage, most pups due to their opportunistic tendencies, will have a go at jumping up. This may seem all very sweet when we have a tiny little puppy, and indeed if you have a small breed again it may not seem like a big issue. However, if you have a larger breed of dog, or quite simply would like to instil some self control into your puppy regardless of breed, it needs to be under control from as early an age as possible. I should also add, some people don’t actually mind their dogs jumping up at people they know. As long as they are not causing distress, concern or worry in any way to the public (ie. jumping at strangers etc) then I am a firm believer in each to their own. What works for you and your dog is what is best.

So, what can we do about jumping up??

We have a few things we can do, ideally all in conjunction with one another.

Firstly, before our pup even starts to jump up or display the behaviour, we’re going to show our pups what we WANT them to do. This isn’t something we start doing AFTER our pup has started leaping at every person it passes in the street, this is something to be doing from the very beginning. If, each time your pup jumps up at you, you say ‘off’ or ‘down’, your pup may well comply and he may put all 4 feet on the floor. HOWEVER, be mindful of just how clever our pups are. They will very quickly learn that when they jump up, you say ‘off’, they then get off and get a reward. They ARE that clever. So, when you come home, or when you walk into the room etc, as your pup starts running towards you (or the second you get in the door) immediately mark (ie. YES, or clicker) and put a treat on the floor for your pup, before his feet even leave the ground. Your pup will then look up at you again as you’re walking through, immediately mark and put a treat on the floor. Keep repeating every single time you come through the door. We are not ‘asking’ our pup to do anything, but we are marking and rewarding an offered behaviour of ‘all 4 on the floor’. If you find you weren’t quick enough, and your pup has leapt at you, step to the side to get the paws off and completely ignore. Try and remember that interaction isn’t simply ‘talking’ to our pups, it’s touching, it’s eye contact, it’s verbal (even a firm voice!). If you are not quick enough with your marker and reward, walk away.

Secondly, we’re going to start working on our ‘settle’. Encouraging our pup to ‘settle’ is hugely beneficial, not only will this be incredibly useful throughout your pups life in varying situations, it will really help to improve your pups ‘self-calming’ skills.

Thirdly, we are going to work on impulse control and general self control exercises. Leaving food/toys of high value when asked, offering eye contact, stay exercises, and proofing these. Practicing and proofing a solid sit/stay or down/stay will be very helpful, it can be used as an incompatible behaviour to jumping up. I would be cautious of attempting this with visitors when your pup is very small, it’s highly unlikely a young pup will have the patience or reserve to perform a stay when a guest arrives! A stay is a ‘passive’ behaviour and whilst we aim to encourage these, we need to be realistic in our training goals and possibly think of an ‘active behaviour’ for our pups early on. However, start practicing these, it will pay dividends in the long run and serve to keep arousal levels low generally. Try practicing ‘fast movements’ and click and put a treat on the floor when your pup keeps ‘all 4 on the floor’. Rush about, run up and down, jump around, WATCH your puppy, you will see when they are about to jump, get in before they take any feet off the floor, click and drop a treat down. Use a high rate of reinforcement to start off with, make slight movements at first, and build it up. Remember this isn’t something we are ‘correcting’ once it has started, it’s something we are showing prior to any jumping starting.

Fourthly, use reward stations! I wrote a blog post about reward stations the other day, have a look back! Maybe your front door would be an ideal place for a reward station?

Lastly, ask people to ignore your pup until you have done what you need to do. People WILL understand. I know I certainly would and I would be pleased someone has the good sense to ask me to wait before approaching their pup. Interestingly, nobody ever has, and I have met a LOT of puppies. Also, if somebody is keen to cuddle your pup (as most people will be!) try asking them to help you, ask them to approach slowly whilst you ‘click and drop treats’ etc. If your pup gets too excited ask them to take a step back and work up slowly again. People will like helping a little puppy in their training! I know we are all guilty of cuddling puppies when they approach but there are a few ways we can stop a pup jumping on us even if they don’t belong to us. Whilst we are saying hello we can put a finger in the collar to limit any feet coming off the floor. We can also get a treat out (if we have one!) and immediately throw it on the floor, or lastly ask for a sit when we approach a pup or they approach us. We can also completely ignore/turn our backs if any feet come off the floor. Or, quite simply, we can ask the owner if it’s OK to say hello! Something I am sure we could all do more of.

So, whilst jumping up is a normal behaviour for a puppy to display, it is one that continues because it is reinforced. Show our pups how to behave upon greeting before jumping even STARTS to become the ‘norm’ and we may set our pups up for success. Teach incompatible behaviours, teach self-calming behaviours and focus exercises and teach our pups to control their impulses!

This is a normal and common behaviour as I said, and I do cover this in my 1-2-1’s so do get in touch if you need more information.

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Puppy barking! – Cambridge Puppy Training

puppy barking

Barking is a very normal and useful part of canine communication, it serves many purposes for a dog and is one of the key ways in which a dog will express their emotions about any given situation. However, as normal as it is, it can become a problem, quickly. Dogs may bark when someone rings the door bell, or due to excitement in play, these may not be such a problem to us however when a dog incessantly barks, it can cause big issues for us their owners, and for our neighbours!

Dogs vocalise for a multitude of reasons, there is no ONE reason why a dog will bark, however we can generalise slightly by saying that largely they are communicating something to either us, or each other. Barking can become a ‘self-soothing’ behaviour, for example in shelter situations this can occur, however for the purposes of this article and puppy behaviour, we can assume that your pups are not isolated for most of the day therefore not barking in this way!

So why do dogs bark? Here’s a few possibilities:

  • alert/guard barking – door bell rings, someone unfamiliar approaching the house etc
  • excitement barking – upon seeing/playing with friends, when you arrive home etc
  • fear/anxiety – other dogs, people, anything seen as a PERCEIVED threat
  • reactivity barking – often seen in on-lead reactivity, at anything within the environment ie. dogs, people, bikes etc
  • boredom – as simple as it sounds! Not enough activity, physical or mental will result in a bored dog!
  • demand barking – as simple as it sounds again! Vocalising to gain something, ie. food, walk, game, or simply attention

There are more, but this is just a small list of the common reasons behind vocalising of any sort. The one we are looking at today is demand barking. It is MUCH more common than you may realise and will often present itself during those early juvenile months.

Demand barking is SO easily developed because to begin with, it ISN’T demand barking, it’s simply a small amount of vocalising. Our little pup barks, we either pick him up or put our hands down saying ‘shhhhh calm down’ etc, and suddenly we have reinforced that barking. We have shown our pups that if you make that sound, you get lots of attention from me. Or, we try to work out what it is they are demanding and offer a plethora of goodies! Oh is he hungry? Let’s offer some food. Oh is he bored? Let’s play a game. Oh is he tired? I’ll give him a cuddle. And thus demand barking is born. It’s SO so easy for this behaviour to develop.

Demand barking is difficult to tackle, because largely we simply can’t ignore it. Shouting at your pup will not work as at best he will think you are joining in and thus find it reinforcing, and at worst you will cause distress and ruin the bond you are aiming to build at this young age. So, how CAN we deal with demand barking?

I offer advice regarding barking in many contexts during my 1-2-1’s, however let’s go over some general advice regarding demand barking and ways to tackle it:

1. Why is the dog barking – first and foremost, look at the context in which the vocalising occurs. If you can not pinpoint WHY and WHEN the barking occurs you can not tackle it.
2. What kind of barking is it – what we may see as demand barking may not be so, again look at the context of the bark, dogs do bark and it’s not always a bad thing!
3. If you find it IS demand barking – can you ignore it? Are you in a position to be able to ignore it? If yes, make sure above all else you do not ignore for 20 mins, and then cave and interact with your pup. Next time, your pup will bark for 25 mins! If you’re going to use extinction (removal of reinforcement until the behaviour ceases) then be sure you 100% stick to it at ALL times (this is not easy to do!).

Now we come to the tricky bit, most of us can’t use extinction because we have neighbours! And probably a headache by this point. What a lovely world we would live in if we could ignore barking, however it’s just not the case. So what can we do?

Here’s some tips:

  • Ensure adequate mental and physical exercise is provided – a tired, fulfilled dog is less likely to display this behaviour. Ensure exercise requirements are met, and ensure the brain is being used to it’s full capacity every day! (Be mindful of exercise limitations with puppies).
  • Remove yourself – take yourself out of the situation, removal of YOU is in itself a negative consequence, return/interact only when your pup is quiet.
  • Teach a ‘quiet’ cue – some teach their dog to ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’ on cue, believing the ‘quiet’ can then be used when needed.
  • Scent work – try some scatter feeding every day, or some interactive games where they need to sniff out treats, scent work can be tiring, fun and hugely fulfilling for a dog!
  • Ask for an incompatible behaviour – if you ask for a ‘sit’, or a ‘down’, you may gain attention and focus and the dog may stop barking, however a dog can still sit and bark! If possible, try to ask for an incompatible behaviour BEFORE the barking starts. For example ‘touch’, ‘hold’ a toy, a dog can not bark and perform these behaviours at the same time.
  • Teach a ‘settle’ cue – encouraging calm passive behaviours from an early age will help in keeping a pups excitement level low, limiting over-stimulating activities is a good idea!
  • Teach a ‘bed’ cue – asking your pup to DO something is beneficial, we may ask for a ‘quiet’ and that may work well, but if we just then ignore our pup they will likely continue afterwards!
  • Sleep – ensure your pup is getting enough sleep!
  • Capture good behaviour! – we leap on our pups when they do something we don’t like, and ignore them when they are polite and performing well! If your pup is settled, relaxed and laying down, reward that.

The main thing is to NOT reinforce it, ever. It’s difficult, very difficult. Prevention is always better than cure so set your pup up to succeed, make sure you are left with something to reinforce. Try to work out approximate times of day your pup is more likely to demand bark, it will usually be at a certain time so prepare for these time! Prepare a stuffed kong for your pup in his crate, cut up some tiny treats to scatter, prepare some interactive toys, go on a nice walk, plan ahead and don’t wait for the barking to begin before deciding how to tackle it.

It is essential with any demand barking that it is dealt with consistently. If one day we ignore, the next day ask for a ‘quiet’, the next we pick the dog up, we have NO consistency and the barking will continue. The dog will keep seeking reinforcement from barking due to it’s sporadic success! Try and remember interaction isn’t just touching your puppy, it’s eye contact, it’s talking. So, if you are ignoring the barking simply stand up and walk into another room and completely ignore your puppy, don’t look at him and don’t say a word.

Try and remember if a behaviour is reinforced it will likely be repeated, remove reinforcement or ask for a different behaviour that you DO want and you set yourself up for success. Try to prevent it even starting, and if the behaviour does develop set your pup up in situations where he is LEAST likely to perform it, thus giving you something to reward. If dealt with EARLY, it will never become habit. If left, it will progress and be harder reverse later down the line.

For more information just get in touch!