Flatcoat Retriever


The information in this leaflet has been compiled to help you to make the most of your puppy and has been built up over the years from books, lectures and practical experience.

The first year of your puppy’s life is the most important, it is the time when physical and mental growth and development occurs, and also the time that your puppy learns it’s standing in life and develops its personality.

It is during this first year that you as the puppy’s pack leader and “parent” need to make sure that you continue to feed correctly, exercise, socialize and train to provide the best possible environment from the first day you get your puppy.  This will ensure that you get the best out of your dog in future years, and prevent problems from starting in the first place.  The aim for most dog lovers is to have a healthy and well-adjusted dog that they can take anywhere and do anything with, a true member of the family.



  • Introduction and Index
  • Worming and Vaccination
  • Insurance and grooming
  • Training
  • Toilet training
  • Exercise and Hip Dysplasia
  • Hip and Eye screening
  • Neutering and Spaying
  • Books
  • Flatcoat Societies
  • Lifestages
  • Wolf Pack
  • Crate Training
  • Biting
  • Toilet training


If you want to give your dog a bone to chew, which is a great way of keeping your dogs teeth clean they should always be given raw (Caution always make sure you can take a bone off a puppy as an adult dog that

guards a bone is dangerous, if you have problems with this phone me 07803902509  and do not give a bone until you have sorted it out). I never ever give my dogs hide chews as they cannot digest these and will swallow huge lumps which may block up their intestines.



It is advisable to avoid high levels of protein and chemical additives, which are present in many dog foods (preservatives and colourings) have been linked to allergies, hyperactivity and some behavioral problems.  If your puppy starts to get hyperactive or uncontrollable then feed a diet that is lower in protein and does not contain chemical preservatives and colours, I will be pleased to advise you.

Do not fuss too much with his/her diet, when your puppy comes to his new home things are bound to be exciting and a bit upsetting so he may not eat all his food at first.  Feed him in a quiet place with no disturbances, take away any uneaten food after about 20 minutes so that he will be hungry at the next meal.  Feeding the diet warm increases the palatability of the diet.  Appetite of puppies varies a lot and he may well not eat as much as you think he should.

Your puppy should be fed on puppy food until he is 6 months old and then he can be changed onto an adult food.  Most puppies have done the majority of their height growing in this time and if you continue to feed a puppy food they will start to pile the weight on and may start to get very active on the rich food.  Don’t hesitate to phone 01625860017 or 07803902509 if you want any advice about feeding your dog.


I have wormed your puppy three times with Drontal puppy suspension each time.  Worming must be repeated at 8/9 weeks, 10/11 weeks, 12/13 weeks 14/15 weeks, 16/17 weeks, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months.  It is then advisable to worm your dog four times a year or more frequently if you think your dog has worms.  I would recommend that you use Panacur or Drontal plus on your puppy and adult dog as it is more effective and kills the larval forms of toxacara. Always purchase worm treatments from your vet as the ones that you can purchase from pet shops are ineffective.

Signs of worms may include any of the following:  pot-bellied, weight loss, occasional bouts of diarrhea.  He/she may have erratic appetite, cough or pass worms in vomit or faeces.

Roundworms are common in the young dog so it is essential that you follow the regime of regular worming, for the health of the puppy and also the health of the family.  Always wash your hands after handling the dog and train your dog to defecate in one area of the garden.

There are other types of worm such as tapeworm, which are not so common but need specific treatment.  If your dog gets fleas you should treat him for tapeworm as fleas can transmit tapeworm to dogs.

Dogs can also pick up protozoa’s i.e giardia. Your dog would need a fecael sample to determine if he/she has protozoa’s and then your vet will treat with an appropriate treatment i.e. metranidazole for giardia etc.Ordinary worming treatments are not sufficient to treat protozoas.

Garlic tablets added to your dog’s food would help deter fleas and worms.

Ask your vet if you have any questions about worming.



Vaccinations are normally done at nine and twelve weeks of age so the puppy has good immunity by fourteen weeks. However, most vets now vaccinate earlier so check with your vet what regime of vaccination he uses.  I personally never vaccinate my pups until they are at least 10 weeks of age. Your puppy will also require vaccination against kennel cough and this is mandatory at most boarding kennels. It is advisable to keep up to date with this also just in case in emergency you need to board your dog.  I do not inoculate pups before they leave me as there are several manufacturer’s of vaccine and some are not compatible with each other. Do not worm your pup at the same time as vaccination as if there is a reaction to either you won’t know which has affected him. Always leave 7 days between worming and vaccination.

There is a lot of debate about frequency that vaccination is required and that some health problems may be caused or aggravated by vaccine.  If you are worried then discuss this with your vet. Also there is a lot of information on the internet.



Your puppy comes with 4 weeks free insurance.  A reminder will be sent by whichever company I decided to use in a few weeks.  Vets fees can mount up if your puppy is injured or becomes sick and I strongly advise you to make sure that you have insurance that covers both vets fees and liability as you are responsible if your dog causes an accident.   Don’t be too quick to search for a cheaper insurance as the cheaper ones normally only cover each condition for 12 months.  Some policies cover for every condition for the life of your dog.  I recommend either the Kennel Club or Pet Plan Insurance or the one I use Vets Medicover.  Don’t leave sorting out insurance until the 4 weeks free insurance has run out or you may find yourself with vets fees that you cannot claim back.


The flatcoated retriever needs regular grooming to keep him clean and free from tangles and keep the house clean, the grooming process also gives you a change to examine your dog.  Groom your puppy DAILY for the first few months with a soft brush.  This is important to make sure that he stands still and does not turn the session into a game, as time goes on he will learn to enjoy this attention and the time will be very beneficial to both of you, this helps to build a relationship with your puppy and also trains him to accept grooming. When his coat has grown you can use a slicker or harder bristle brush and a comb.  Always check his feathering for knots especially if he has been swimming.

Adults should be groomed twice a week, more regular grooming is required when he is moulting.  Adult flatcoats will need a wire “slicker” and a steel comb to get through the coat when it is mature.

While you are grooming your puppy examine his teeth, ears,paws,claws and bottom so that in future he will not object to being examined and also if you need to clean his ears or cut his claws he will be used to you handling him.  A general examination of your dog is advisable at least once a week.

Claws will need cutting from time to time especially the dewclaw on the front leg.

If your dog is a good chewer he will not normally need any dental care but as dogs get older they often get a build up of tartar which will need cleaning off.  It is advisable to be able to brush your dog’s teeth with a toothbrush and special dog toothpaste.  Practice with your puppy using a soft toothbrush (with no toothpaste).   Hard tartar in the adult dog will need to be cleaned off by your vet under anaesthetic.

Flatcoats sometimes need their ears cleaning, this should be done with a liquid ear cleaner and cotton wool if necessary. Do not use cotton buds.

If your dog gets fleas you will need to treat him with a good preparation from your vet, I would recommend Front Line.  Treat the house with a good spray, which stops the eggs and lava of fleas developing.


Flatcoated Retrievers make superb pets but they are dogs and do need discipline and rearing properly.  It is up to you to teach your puppy what is acceptable behaviour and how he is to behave.  Gail Fisher(International dog behaviourist) states that inheritance has an impact of 20-25% while the environment can have an impact of up to 75% on adult temperament.  Many problems with dogs behaviour stems from incorrect handling as a puppy.  Dogs do not think like humans and work mainly on a system of dominance.  A puppy works out where it stands in a pack very quickly so it is important to establish it’s status right from the beginning i.e. bottom of the pack after all humans.   You must be the leader and your dog must have confidence in you.  I recommend that you read the Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey, keep it to hand and re-read sections to remind you and all the family members what you should be doing.  Your puppy must listen to you and you must have command over him before he is 16 weeks old as this is the end of the socialisation period and it will be harder to develop this relationship after this time.

Training works best when the dog does something right, he is praised and made a fuss of.  You cannot scold a dog for something that he has done unless you actually catch him in the act, otherwise he will not know what he has done wrong.  If he is doing something very wrong a short sharp shock is the most effective, it is not good to go on and on at him as he will not understand.  The best way of “Rattling” a puppy is to pick him up by the scruff of the neck, stare the puppy in the eyes, tell him in a fearsome voice that you are the boss, shake him gently and tip him on his back telling him what he has done wrong. The use of your voice is very effective.   Find out what makes your dog tick and devise a plan that makes him want to please you.  You must be able to take anything off your puppy, if he growls at you put him in his place immediately.  Basic training must start straight away.

I would recommend that you read some of the recommended books to gain a greater understanding of dog behaviour and training. Many of these books will be available at the library.

I would also recommend that you take your puppy to puppy training classes from 8 weeks and follow the course with a basic pet obedience class as they are a good way to socialise the puppy and you will learn a lot about how to train him.  Locally: Gill Farrell 0161 428 3546   Pam Johnson  0161 474 0271.  If you live in another area contact The Association Of Pet Dog Trainers 01428 707620 and they will give you numbers of trainers who use humane and modern approach to training, your vet may also know of local training classes.  Also find out which training clubs do the Kennel Club Good Citizen training.  You will start out with bronze then silver then gold.  Once you have achieved this you will have a very well behaved dog.

Although your puppy is not fully protected and cannot go out and about until his vaccination has taken effect it is advisable to get him used to lots of situations and noises otherwise he may become frightened of lots of things when he is older.  You can carry your puppy in the street, he can go in the car and play in friends gardens and meet dogs that you know are vaccinated and friendly.  Try to make each new experience enjoyable for the puppy and this will build his confidence and make him easier to handle later on.  A well-socialized and well-behaved dog is a joy to own. Firm but kind handling in the beginning will pay dividends later on.

How to House Train your Puppy

The best way of house training is to reward your puppy for doing its business in the right place.  If you find a puddle or a poo you just have to clean it up and act as if nothing has happened.

Take the puppy out when he wakes up, when he has eaten, and regularly during the day, take him to the place where you want him to go and wait until he does something.  Praise him like mad while he is doing his business and use a word for this action like “do your doos” or “be clean” or whatever command you choose.  Eventually your puppy will know what you want of him.  Watch your puppy in the house and in the garden, you can usually tell when they want to go to the loo, take him to the designated place in the garden and wait around until he does something.  It is not reasonable to just put him out and expect him to know what you want and also you will end up with a ruined garden.  Clean up any mess straight away and dispose of it in a responsible manner.

If you catch your puppy in the act you can scoop him up and shout NO, take him to the designated place and wait until he does something.  Your puppy is not deliberately doing something wrong and if you become angry with him it will take a long time to train him.  It will take until he is a lest 16 weeks before he has any real control and may be longer before he is clean at night.  The use of an indoor kennel or restricted area will help immensely with training during the night.

How to train your puppy never to pull on the Lead

You need to identify somewhere you can tie your puppy’s lead to, ensure that the collar is tight enough that it will not pull over the puppy’s head but not too tight around it’s neck, put the collar on the puppy and tie the lead firmly, your puppy may create and try to pull away, just stand or sit out of reach and say nothing, be completely motionless and keep a blank expression, do not look directly at the puppy.   The exact second that the puppy releases the pulling pressure on the lead look at the puppy and use a very kind voice say “that’s a good puppy” and smile at the puppy, praise the puppy all the time the lead is slack, when the puppy pulls again on the lead stand motionless and keep a blank expression, don’t look directly at the puppy.  Do this exercise for 5 minutes a day until you can restrain the puppy without him pulling at all.  The next step is to take the lead in your hand and encourage the puppy to take a few steps with you, if he pulls stand motionless and expressionless holding the lead firmly, do this until your puppy will walk with you.  If when they are more confident they start to run ahead, turn briskly around encouraging the puppy to follow, give praise only when the puppy is walking next to you.

If you follow this regime your puppy will not learn to pull on the lead and will realize that the lead means that he has to stay with you or where he is put.

At the end of this booklet is some extract from a training manual by Gail Fisher.  It think that this information will give you greater understanding about how to train your dog and have a lot of sensible information.  Read the pages carefully.   Along with other books like the Perfect Puppy by Gwen bailey and regular puppy classes and home training and socialization you will end up with a well behaved dog who is a joy to own.



As soon as his vaccinations have had time to be effective take your puppy for short walks of about 5 minutes, he can go out as many times a day as you like, the purpose of this is not really to exercise him but to get him used to all situations and to train him to walk on the lead and come back when called.  Base his exercise on   “1 minute exercise per week of life”    and you will not go far wrong. Obviously this is not appropriate when he has finished developing. Proper exercise should not be started until 6 months of age when you can gradually increase the lengths of the walks until at about 12 months he is having two walks a day of at least half an hour each.   This should consist of some lead walking and some running free.  An indication of increasing exercise as your puppy grows is to use the regime of 1 minute per week of life.    Because of joint problems flatcoated retrievers can experience it is not advisable to take them for long walks or encourage them to jump or run up and down stairs until their joints are finished developing at over a year of age.

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia can occasionally be a problem in the flatcoated retriever.  In a dog with hip dysplasia the hip joint is loose and there may be deformities of the bones of the hip, because of the looseness the hip rolls around in the hip socket and causes excessive wear of the hip joint .  This will result in arthritis of the hip and can be a very painful condition and may affect young dogs.

Hip dysplasia in the flatcoated retriever is stated by the geneticist Malcolm Willis to be about 23% hereditary and around 77% environmental.  X-rays are taken of a dog at over 12 months of age and submitted to the B.V.A. who have a specialist panel who then mark several anatomical points of the hip joint and come up with a score.  The score range in total from 0 which is no hip dysplasia to 106 which would be terrible.  The average score of the flatcoated retriever is around 10 in total.  The hip scores of your pup’s parents are recorded on the kennel club registration certificate.   These are breed average or better.

Points to remember about the rearing of your puppy and it’s joints are:

a)    Don’t have them overweight.

b)    Avoid very high protein diet.

c)    Don’t add additives of any sort to his diet.

d)    Don’t let them jump (this includes jumping up to you and in and out of the car.

e)    Avoid letting them go up and down stairs.

We are now screening our breeding stock for patella luxation, through the flatcoated retriever society and all my dogs have been screened and I have the certificates for your inspection.

Also, although the test is proving inconclusive we are screening for J.R.D. (Juvenile Renal Dysplasia).  All my dogs have been screened for this and have certificates but at the moment we are not sure that the test is accurate enough to believe the results. Hopefully over the next few months the test will be perfected so we as breeders know what we are dealing with.

Eye certificates

Also recorded on your pup’s kennel club registration certificate are the results and date of the eye examination for the parent’s eye test called a gonioscopy.  This tells us if either of the parent’s have a predisposition to glaucoma.  Obviously neither parents have this predisposition or they would not have been bred from.  This is a one off test.  I also have my dogs eyes checked annually but this one is not recorded on the pups kc registration certificate as the bva have not yet recognised any problems in flatcoats.   I have the certificates for your inspection.  They are particularly looking for Hereditary cataract(HC)  and  Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy (CPRA), Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Multifocal Retinal Dysplasia (MRD). I feel it is better to be aware of any potential problems before breeding. These conditions are thought to be transmitted genetically.  The vet often notes down other aspects on the eye certificate.  We only breed from dogs with clear certificates and many generations on the pedigree have been checked, however it is still possible for genes to be transmitted undetected.  I organize an annual eye testing day at my kennels in August so if you are considering breeding from your flatcoat then you can bring him/her along to my eye clinic.  Ian Mason who is an eye specialist comes every year from Southampton to test the dogs.  A gonioscopy test can be given to very young pups as long as they sit still!! And their eye is big enough to take the lens which is required to complete the test.

Health problems in flatcoats

Unfortunately there is a high incidence of cancer  in flatcoats. The flatcoat society together with the animal health trust at Cambridge are doing lots of research trying to find the gene responsible but up to now have not succeeded.  If your dog develops a tumour please get your get to do a biopsy and send the results to Cambridge. Details are on the flatcoat website or ring me for advice.

Unless a malignant tumour is in the bone I would recommend referral for chemo.  My 8 year old Magic was diagnosed with a hystiocitic sarcoma last September and since having chemo the tumour has shrunk to half its original size so in my case it was definitely worth going down the chemo route. Once in the bone it is not normally an option. I definitely do not recommend amputation as that is only prolonging the dog’s life by a very few months.

Neutering And Spaying

If you are thinking of breeding from your dog please contact me, it is important for the breed that you have all the relevant health checks done using the BVA/KC schemes and that you choose a suitable stud dog (just because a dog is a Champion or has a full red pedigree does not mean he will not produce problems).  I have endorsed your pup’s kc registration certificate “progeny cannot be registered” and I am the only person who can lift this endorsement. I will do this once all health screening is undertaken with a satisfactory result and provided you have proved that your dog/bitch is a good representative of a flatcoat and has been either shown or worked to the gun with satisfactory results.

If you are not going to breed from your bitch it may be better for her long term health to have her spayed, this will prevent her from having problems in middle or later life when it could be a problem to have her spayed then.  If you do decide to have your bitch spayed ask your vet if he will leave the ovaries intact so that she does not lose her beautiful coat condition.  (Having said that, my own vet won’t do that, he will only spay by removing uterus and ovaries.)   It also means that she will not have to be prevented from having her normal routine and walks when she is in season twice a year. Also when she comes into season she will drip blood on the floor and carpets.  Consult your vet regarding the best time to spay, the first season normally occurs between 6 and 14 months of age and I recommend to let your bitch have one season before spaying. There is a lot of controversy about the benefits of spaying, separate leaflet enclosed with this puppy info pack. Don’t believe everything your vet tells you about the benefits!

Flatcoat retriever males are not normally a problem but if your male is over-sexed, keeps running off after bitches or being dominant and training is not stopping him it is probably a good idea to have him castrated, although it is important to keep on with the training as castration alone will not solve every problem. Males should not be castrated until they are fully mature.

I hope you have many happy years with your dog.  If your circumstances change and you ever have to look for a home for your dog please contact me first as I will be able to help you.

There are two books available on the care of the flatcoated retriever and it would be advisable to read one of them. Flatcoated Retrievers by Brenda Phillips published by Kingdom and Flatcoated Retrievers Today by Joan Mason published by Ringpress.

It would be lovely to hear of your puppy’s progress and triumphs.  A photograph from time to time would be greatly appreciated and if you ever have time to call I would love to see you and your dog.

Do not hesitate to phone me if you have any queries at all.

                                   Useful Phone Numbers


Dorothy Brooks                                                             01625 860017

Mobile       07803 902509


Association of Pet Dog Trainers                                     01428 707620

Peacock Farm

North Chapple

West Sussex

GU28 9JB



The Ark Veterinary Surgery, Mobberley                         01565 872035


Pam Johnson                                                                     0161 474 0271

(Puppy classes, adult dog trainer and dog groomer

also will give a free grooming lesson to pups.


Gill Farell                                                                           0161 428 3546

(Adult dog training)

Suggested Reading

The Perfect puppy                       Gwen Bailey                         Hamlyn (essential)

Your dog it’s Development,

Behaviour and training                 John Rogerson                      Popular Dogs

Training your dog                        Volhard and Fisher

The step by step manual

In tune with your dog                   John Rogerson

The Dog’s Mind                             Fogal

Flatcoated  Retrievers                  Brenda Phillips                    Kingdom

Flatcoated Retrievers Today         Joan Mason                        Ringpress

Dog World and Our Dogs weekly newspapers, mainly about the show world.

Your Dog and Dogs Today are both excellent  monthly magazines.

I also recommend you joining the Flatcoated Retriever Society and for owners in the North/North West to also join NEFRA (Northern England Flatcoated Retriever Association.  You will receive annual year book and newsletters which are very informative and also tells you where different functions i.e. shows, working tests, fundays etc.  Flatcoat members are all very nice people and very helpful.

The secretary of the Flatcoated Retriever Society is Mrs Jenny Bird and her telephone number is 01162 793203.

The secretary of NEFRA is Mr Les Geoghegan and his telephone number is 01772 812709

If you ring the secretary’s, ask for an application form to join the society as a new owner of a flatcoated retriever puppy. You will need proposing and seconding but I can sort that for you once you have the forms.


All puppies and dogs go through stages in their lives, called critical periods, when the environment has a profound effect on their later behaviour.   During a critical period, an otherwise insignificant event will have a greater impact on your dog than that same event occurring at another time.   The following brief description of some of the critical periods of your dog’s life will give you information on how to handle him during these times.  If your dog is beyond these periods, this knowledge may give you some insight into his behaviour.


This is the most common age for most of us to get a puppy.  Prior to this time the pup was living with his mother and litter mates, learning to use all the instinctive behaviors, body language and vocalizations that make him a dog.  That was important knowledge for him, and now he is learning to live with us.

Puppies of this age are curious, exploring everything and using their mouths to investigate much the way human babies do.  When he mouths your hand you can teach your puppy “bite inhibition” – or not to bite too hard  (see “ Let’s Look at Some Different Behaviors).          

During the socialization period it is important for your puppy to have lots of new experiences.  Take him to visit friends and have people over to visit him.  Take care not to let him become over-tired or frightened and be careful not to allow children to hurt him.  A broad range of positive experiences at this age will help your pup grow up to be a well-adjusted stable dog.  Lack of socialisation now can create a dog who is afraid of people or new places when he is older.


A puppy views his family much the way a wolf will view his pack or a child will view his family (see What’s All This Wolf Pack Stuff, Anyway?)

The adults or leaders are in charge.  It is their wishes that are obeyed.  The age during which the puppy learns who is leader is the Seniority Classification period), between three and four months.  Leadership is established by the subordinate (puppy) testing the dominant (leader) to see who passes the tests.

For example, before this time, biting was exploratory.  Now biting is testing behaviour.  Let’s say your puppy bites your fingers too hard and you pull your hand away, shaking your hand and hopping up and down in pain.  Then because he has hurt your, the next time he starts to play you yank your hand back showing what he interprets to be fear.  The puppy notes your behaviour and the message the puppy gets is that he can control you through pain.  This is not a lesson anyone wants their puppy to learn. (To avoid this, see Lets Look at Some Different Behaviours).

We often play games that pit a puppy’s strength against ours such as tug o’ war.  The game begins innocently.  You encourage your puppy to grab a tug toy and he pulls and pulls, and maybe even growls.  He looks so cute that everyone is laughing, having a wonderful time, which encourages him.  The game lasts a minute or two and then your arm gets tired, or maybe the phone rings and it’s for you.  So You stop playing and the game ends.

How? Most likely by you letting go of your end of the toy and walking away.  How does your puppy view this game?  He was in a contest with the leader.  The leader was pulling and pulling and he, the puppy, persevered and won!! (To send the proper message, see (What’s all this Wolf Pack Stuff, Anyway?)

If your puppy is in training during the Seniority Classification period, the class lessons will go a long way toward teaching him who’s “ Top Dog” in your pack.  If you’ve missed training him during this period, don’t despair.  It’s never too late.

FLIGHT INSTINCT – Sometime between 4 & 8 months (usually lasts 2

weeks or so)


Gail Fisher dog Training Manual

This period generally occurs earlier in smaller dogs, and later in larger ones.  It represents the first time the adolescent dog is willing, and even eager to explore the great big world.  Significant because it is often the first time your dog does not come when you call, how you handle your dog during this period may mean the difference between a dog who runs away, and one who learns to come on command.

If flight instinct occurs while you are attending class, simply keep your dog on leash for several weeks, following the instructions for teaching him to come when called.  Anytime he is not safely fenced, keep him on a leash or a long line until you are certain he will come when you call.  For further information, or if you already have a problem that started during this period, see Let’s Look at Some Different Behaviors for how to handle a dog who runs away.

FEAR IMPACT PERIOD – Between 6 and 14 months (of varying duration)

Also known as “Fear of New and Familiar Situations” period, this time frame is not absolute, and this period may occur more than once.  The Fear Period is recognizable because of your dog’s behavior.  Your now adolescent dog may exhibit a fear of approaching something new, or develop a fear of something familiar.  How you behave when this happens can make a difference between your dog becoming shy or aggressive, or getting through this time unscathed.

When your dog acts frightened, do not pet him and talk soothingly.  Doing so reinforces the fear, encouraging the frightened behaviour.  Your dog thinks “when I am frightened I get petted and praised. Mom/Dad likes it when I act this way. They are even saying it’s ok to feel this way”

When your dog acts frightened, do not force him to confront the object of his fear.  Doing this will reinforce the fear and may cause panic.  Would you cure a child’s fear of monsters by throwing the child in a dark room to deal with them?  Of course not. The mere thought sounds heartless and abusive.  Don’t force your dog to deal with something frightening to him either.

So that’s what not to do.  How about what to do.  OK, here it is: laugh.  Yes that’s right laugh. Not at your dog, that would be insulting.  Laugh at the object of his fear regardless of what it is.  Perhaps it’s a statue (we once had a dog who became frightened of an antique dog doorstop), or a tree (Christmas trees are common), or a household item (rotating fans, floor lamps and the like—we even had a dog bark hysterically at a toilet), or a person.   Talk in an animated fashion, laughing and having a good time and your dog will likely overcome his fear and approach the object.  In so doing he will discover that it is not something frightening.


This fear period is often related to stress due to growth.  I have found that nutritional supplements often help overcome this stressful time.  If your dog’s behavior suddenly changes and he is afraid of familiar or new situations, in addition to controlling your behavior talk to your instructor or call Gail about nutritional support to help him through this time.          


MATURITY – Between 1 and 4 years


The average dog reaches maturity between 1 and 3 years of age.  Maturity marks the end of the critical developmental periods.  Maturity is  not always accompanied by behaviour changes.  In many dogs, however, maturation may signal an increase or awakening of territorial protection,

or aggressive behaviour between two dogs who previously got along fine, or by testing and challenging behavior toward you.

Testing behaviour may include slower responses such as a sluggish recall or a reluctance to get off the bed when told;  game playing, such as not bringing a ball back, or playing keep away;  outright refusal such as not giving something up on command, or guarding possessions.

The answer to renewed testing for leadership is for you to remain leader through training and firm handling.  Following our training course puts you in a positive position of leadership without confrontation.  If you have a problem related to a challenge for leadership please speak to your instructor or call Gail.

If a problem occurs after you have completed your training please call Gail for advice on how to handle it.  We may recommend a behavioural consultation to deal with the issues specific to your dog.




Your dog’s temperament will influence the speed of his learning.  We define temperament as a dog’s suitability for the chosen task.  Your dog’s task is most likely that of pet and companion.  Within that job category are the specific duties that you want him to do.  Imagine writing a want ad for your dog.  Our ad might read:


Wanted – DOG.  Must lie quietly when I read or watch TV, but eagerly accompany me on walks;  but sometimes be invisible; must be friendly to friends but scare off intruders; must put up with indignities from children including being dressed up, and having ears and tail pulled; must be sympathetic when I am sad, happy when I am happy.

and disappear when I am in a bad mood.

Pretty difficult job to fill, wouldn’t you say?  Yet most of us have dogs who fit the bill pretty well, and through training can usually achieve the rest.

There are attributes of temperament that make training toward your ideal job description easier or more difficult.  Recognizing your dog’s temperament characteristics will help you understand him and be patient.  If you have questions or concerns about your dog’s temperament, please discuss it with your instructor, or call Gail.  The following are some characteristics that affect our dogs and how they view training, life and us.


Gail Fisher Dog Training Manual

DOMINANCE Vs SUBMISSIVENESS – Dominance, the opposite being submissiveness, refers to the degree to which the dog wants to be pack leader, or is willing to follow leadership.  The more dominant the dog, the less he is willing for someone to be in control of him.  A submissive dog has no interest in having control.  Since training involves control, dominant dogs generally require more repetitions before they stop trying to lead.  Additionally, dominant dogs test your resolve more than submissive dogs.  For further information on how to deal with a dominant dogs see “What’s all this Wolf Pack Stuff, Anyway”?


WILLINGNESS  – Willingness refers to the dog’s inherent interest in working for you – his work ethic – ranging from highly willing to unwilling.  A highly willing dog needs only to be shown what will please you and will turn inside out to do it.  Most dogs are medium willing, i.e. they are willing as long as there’s some reward for them.  Some dogs have no interest in pleasing you.  If you throw a ball for them and ask them to go get it, they’ll look at you as if to say “You threw it, you go get it”.  Willingness often relates to the dog’s view of his status within the pack and his level of dominance (see What’s all this Wolf Pack Stuff Anyway?)


INDEPENDENCE  –  An independent dog has little or no need for attention, affection, companionship and praise.  The opposite, a dependent dog craves companionship and attention.  Many breeds are selectively bred to be independent, to perform tasks detached from people – such as sled dogs pulling a sled, hounds hunting in packs, herd guarding breeds left alone for days with only the sheep for company and the like.  Independent dogs are not motivated by pleasing you.  Therefore, while you praise them for responding you also must motivate them with some other reward that is important to them.


MENTAL SENSITIVITY – Mental sensitivity is the degree to which human emotions affect your dog.  Dogs don’t understand expressions of anger, frustration, disappointment or sadness and a mentally sensitive dog becomes anxious and upset by them.  An insensitive dog may be unaffected by our moods but most dogs have some degree of mental sensitivity.  Consequently you should avoid training if you are angry, tense or depressed.  Worse still making your dog the object of your frustration or anger.  Such treatment adversely affects your relationship with your dog and may make him view you as frightening and arbitrary rather than fair and trustworthy.



All this and much more is covered in Gail Fisher’s Dog Training Manual.





It seems to be the “in thing” to talk about now – everyone is bandying about terminology about pack behaviour and pack leadership.  What does it all mean?  Is it important to understand?  Yes it is.  So, here’s our briefest explanation of the importance of understanding how your dog, a very social animal, views the society in which he finds himself – your family.

Dogs are descended from wolves.  You knew that.  But, you might ask, aren’t dogs sufficiently removed by selective breeding and domestication that we can forget all this wolf stuff?  Yes and No.  You don’t need to worry about your dog suddenly reverting to the wild state (although before he’s trained it may seem that way).  However, to understand how your dog views life, it is important to understand his behavioural roots.

Wolves are social animals, living, playing and working together in packs. Each pack has a hierarchy, headed by the leader, called the “alpha”, with the rest of the pack members working out their status below him.  There is an alpha male and an alpha female.  Each has different responsibilities, but generally the alpha male is the ultimate leader (sorry about that, we don’t make the rules). Through the pack hierarchy social order is established and maintained.  The rules of the pack are followed by all pack members.

Your family constitutes a pack to your dog.  Regardless of how many people are in the family, ranging from one person and one dog, to a large family with more than one dog, your dog sees this as his pack.  Which family member is the leader is less important to your dog than the fact that someone has to be in charge.  In the absence of a clear-cut leader many dogs will take over the role and enforce the rules.

Some people don’t want to be the pack leader; however, it is important to your dog that you are. Some students tell us that because their dog is their friend they don’t want to be boss to their buddy. While we sympathize with this point of view, your dog doesn’t.   Dogs require leadership – it’s the rule of the pack. We didn’t make it up; they didn’t make it up; Nature did.  In any case, leadership is not negative and doesn’t mean you can’t be friends.  Leadership, the way we enforce it, is positive and pleasant.  What’s more, leadership enables you to have a dog who comes when you call, who listens when you tell him to do something, and who brings you the ball rather than playing keep-away.

Leadership is easily established with a submissive or subordinate dog and you can relax the rules with this type.  The more dominant your dog the more important it is that you are a consistent clear-cut leader.  Through our training program you will establish leadership in a non-confrontational, non-abusive manner.  Our experience and knowledge of

dog behaviour enable us to select training techniques and approaches that will establish your leadership without harsh training or confrontation.

In order to convince your dog that you are the leader, you have to know the rules of the pack.  Pack rules are straight forward:  the pack leader leads.  The pack leader enjoys privileges, among which are: leading; going first; the choicest sleeping location; free movement throughout the territory; eating on demand; attention on demand; being greeted; ownership of pack possessions; and winning.    Pack leaders lead.  This means they are listened to and obeyed.  Obedience training puts your dog in a position of listening to you and following your lead by obeying your commands.  Something as simple as sit on command helps create this leadership role.  All the commands we teach you help to establish your leadership.  Some exercises may not be important to you.  For example, you might not care about heeling, but you do want your dog to come when you call.  To be successful you must teach your dog reliable responses to all the commands you learn in class.  Following our program establishes your leadership.


Pack leaders go first;  for example, through doorways or up and down stairs.  Part of your training in our classes is to teach your dog to wait while you go through doors and up/down stairs.  We call these “Safety Exercises” because they can save your dog’s life or prevent injury;  plus they have the added bonus of sending the message to your dog that you are the leader.


Pack leaders sleep wherever they prefer, usually on the most comfortable spot.  It’s OK to allow your dog on the furniture if you like, but pack leaders can make other pack members move off the choicest spot on demand.  Will your dog get off if you tell him to?  If he refuses to move, he is telling you he’s the leader.  For many people, having their dog on the bed is not a problem; however, if you are having problems in training, one issue may be that you dog doesn't view you as the leader.  If so, it is helpful to have him sleep in a crate rather than on the bed.  If you are unsure, discuss it with your instructor or Gail.


Pack leaders demand and receive attention, food and play.  Pack leaders take food (or try), or ask for treats and get them.  They nudge an arm to be petted or give us a toy when they want to play.  We’re not telling you that you can never give your dog treats, or pet him when he nudges you, or throw the ball when he drops it in your lap, but make him earn it.  You can send a subtle yet powerful message to your dog to require him to earn attention by having him sit before you pet him, or lie down before you give him a treat etc.


Pack leaders own the pack possessions. If your dog guards objects, or growls if you try to take things from him, he is establishing his rights of ownership.  In class, we will show you how to teach your dog to give, and how to make taking things from him a positive experience.  If you have a problem in this area, please talk to your instructor, or call Gail.


Pack leaders are greeted by other pack members. When subordinates greet the leader, he remains passive, simply standing there.  Ignoring sends a powerful message.  We don’t expect you not to greet your dog when you come home, but if you feel you have a leadership problem, or other issues around greeting behavior, please speak with your instructor or Gail about how to handle them.


Pack leaders win. We recommend that our students not play games involving physical strength such as wrestling, which encourage the dog to use his body and mouth to win.  Further, because we don’t use body language as dogs do, we often send incorrect messages.  If you play tug o’war, you win.  Teach your dog to release the toy on command, rather than you letting go.  Once the game is over, you can drop the toy, but always end with your dog giving the toy to you.


To establish your leadership over your dog, lead.  Obedience training gives you the perfect environment to do so.




Crate training is a strategy to prevent and cure several behavior problems.  Crating a dog makes house training easier, eliminates destructive chewing and is a safe way for a dog to travel.  Crate trained dogs stress less if they have to stay at the vet’s where they will be in a crate.

A crate, also called a cage or kennel, is a small enclosure made of wire or solid material such as wood or fiberglass, large enough for the dog to lie down, stand up, turn around, period.  This represents to the dog what the den represents to his ancestor the wolf – a small, safe enclosure where he can rest, undisturbed. Once accustomed to it, dogs often seek out their crates and don’t mind getting into them.

We remember the first time someone suggested crating our dog, a destructive chewer.  We were horrified, thinking it cruel to cage her.  We didn’t consider how cruel it was to be angry with her about the destruction-of-the-day, causing her anxiety and distress.  Once she got used to her crate, it was not only not cruel, she sought it out as her room, her bed, the place she went when she wanted to rest.  She didn’t mind


but we minded at first.  Once we got used to it we recognized the value of the crate and of crating a dog.

To train your dog to a crate, regardless of age, follow the steps below:



1)     Always give your dog a treat for getting in the crate when you are getting him used to it. Once trained, give him a treat occasionally.

2)    Don’t show apprehension or act apologetic for putting the dog in the crate. You wouldn’t want to be in it, but you’re not a dog.  Don’t identify with how you think he feels. Act as if it’s no big deal and he will too.

3)    Don’t use the crate for punishment.  Avoid putting him in it angrily, or while you are chastising him. He will associate your anger with the crate. Always praise him for getting in.

4)    If he’s barking in the crate, make him be quiet before letting him out. (See Barking)

5)    If your dog urinates or defecates in the crate, don’t chastise him.  He has suffered enough by merely being unable to get away from the mess.  Simply take him out, and clean the crate.

Crate training:

1)     Set up the crate in an area you use frequently, such as the kitchen or family room, and allow time for your dog to explore it on his own, inside and out.  Encourage him to investigate it, talking to him in a happy voice, even laughing.  Rattle it, to show him that it may make a noise. Talk happily and laugh, showing no concern.

2)    Armed with treats, take your dog over to the crate and give him a command such as “kennel” or “go to bed”, entice him into the crate, praise and immediately give him a treat. If he chooses to get right out again, let him. If he is reluctant to get in, put a treat just inside the door, then a little further in, and a little further etc. until he gets in on his own.  If necessary, put him in a few times, giving him a treat each time.   Repeat this step until he is getting in the crate on his own.

3)    Command him in, give him a treat, and close the door.  Scratch him through the bars, praising and telling him how terrific he is.  Open the door and let him out. Don’t make a big fuss over his coming out.  Freedom is its own reward. Make a bigger fuss about his being in the crate at this point.

4)    Command him in, give him a treat, close the door and leave the room for 5 seconds. Return, praise him for being quiet, open the door and let him out.

5)    Command him in, give him a treat, close the door and leave the house. Don’t make a big issue out of it. Act as you did when you left the room Don’t make leave taking an emotional scene, telling your dog how guilty you feel for leaving him caged. It’s no big deal to him unless you make it one. Don’t.

6)    (Optional) Feed your dog in the crate. Prepare his meal, take it to the crate, command him in, put the dish in, close the door and walk away. When he’s done eating, let him out.

7)    (Optional – more important with puppies than older dogs) Have the crate by your bed and put your puppy in it to sleep.  When a young puppy wakes during the night, carry him out, wait until he urinates or defecates, take him back to the crate and both of you go back to sleep.



PUPPY BITING: Puppies bite – they chew fingers, grab ankles, and use their mouths on everything.  If handled correctly, this behavior will be limited to a period of several weeks of learning how to use their mouths in a socially acceptable manner. If handled incorrectly during specific critical periods (see Critical Periods) training is required to teach the dog that this is not acceptable behaviour.

Prior to 12 weeks of age, allow the puppy to bite your fingers and hands, chewing on them to learn bite inhibition, or not to bite too hard.  A young puppy learns bite inhibition by mouthing your hand. When he is chewing gently, say nothing.  When he starts to apply more pressure so it begins to hurt, let him know by yelping “OUCH” in a startled voice.  Do not pull your hand away.  He will move his mouth away from your hand.  Then repeat the process.  As long as he is mouthing gently he is fine, but as soon as he starts to hurt you let him know. In this way he will learn bite inhibition.

After 13 weeks of age, the puppy is in the Seniority Classification period (see Critical periods) and all biting behaviour must be discouraged.  When the puppy starts to open his mouth to bite, say “AH AH!” in a negative harsh tone.  This is a short sharp staccato sound that interrupts your puppy.  Timing is important.  Don’t wait until the puppy’s mouth is on your hand.  You want him to learn that thinking about biting is a no-no.

If the verbal reprimand doesn’t stop the behaviour of the 13+ week old puppy, do the following:-

1)     Slow down. Even stop moving. Many puppies bite because they get a wonderful response. They snap at you and you begin flailing about, shaking your finger, swatting at them, jerking away and performing all manner of entertaining movements. Stop all those random motions you are making. They encourage aggression like a red flag in front of a bull.


2)    Slowly reach for the puppy, take him by the scruff – the loose skin on the back of his neck, and tremble him. This is not a shake to rattle his brains, but more like a gentle earthquake and should be accompanied by a low growl and a stern direct look. When the puppy looks away let go and slowly remove your hand.


3)    That didn’t work?  Are you sure you did it correctly? Read it again and make sure.


4)    OK, nest step – Using two hands, slowly grasp the puppy by his cheeks – that’s the skin directly under his ears. Lift his front end slightly to elevate his front feet off the ground, make direct eye contact with a stern expression and growl “knock it off” or the like. Slowly put him down and remove your hands.


5)    Still no success? You’re certain you’ve done it correctly? There is more you can do, but your instructor must show you what and how. Please call him/her to arrange a session before/after class. Or call Gail.


A PUPPY BITING THE CHILDREN:  Young puppies have recently come from a litter where they had litter mates – other puppies to play with. They learned how to play being physical – using their mouths, wrestling, playing tug o’war with various body parts, jumping and roughhousing. Children are peers or litter mates to a young puppy. He will play with a 4 year old or 7 year old or even an 11 year old as he did with his litter mates – roughly, physically and using his mouth. Can he learn not to play that way? Sure, he’ll outgrow it as long as you don’t allow it to continue. Otherwise rough play becomes habitual and then you have to treat it as a behavior problem. How can I stop it in the meantime? By not allowing the children to play roughly with the puppy.  Supervise their time together. When the children are petting him and the puppy starts to play roughly, remove the children from his range.  Have them stop petting him and sit in a chair.  Additionally, supervise his behavior to prevent the biting as recommended above in “Puppy Biting”.  Isn’t there another way to stop him? How about yelling at him?  No! Yelling won’t stop him but it will frustrate and anger you, and make your puppy’s life unpleasant.  Punishment doesn’t work either. Supervision will prevent children developing a fear of the puppy because he has hurt them.  Supervision is just for a short time.  In a few months, children can play fetch games with the puppy, or take him for walks, and maybe even run around and play chase games, but not with a young puppy who is still practicing using his mouth.


Please don’t keep the puppy separated from the children  at all times. Puppies and children should learn to be together, with supervision of both the children’s behavior toward the puppy, and the puppy’s toward the children.  If either starts to get too rough, stop their interaction immediately.


ADOLESCENT OR ADULT DOG BITING:  After the age of 5 months or so, biting behavior begins to take on a different perspective.  Depending on how long it has persisted, biting may require a one-to-one behavioral counseling session to teach you how to deal with it. We hesitate to give blanket advice on aggression, because causes and contributing factors are numerous and varied.  Dogs bite for a variety of reasons, and the solution is linked to the reason.  The following are some general guidelines, but please speak to your instructor or call Gail if you have a biting dog.  We can help you, but you must let us know you need help.  If you have a dog that is showing aggression:

1)     Tell your instructor or call Gail.

2)    Avoid confrontation.  During the training process, which includes class sessions, training at home and behavior modification, avoid situations that cause aggression.  If your dog does become aggressive, do not fuel his behavior by yelling, hitting, reaching for him, and the like.  We will give you specific advice about how to deal with your dog.

3)    Train your dog regularly.  Our approach to training is positive and non-confrontational. It does not create aggression and can be used to gain control of dogs with a tendency to bite.  Follow the class lessons, being fir, fair and consistent, praising when your dog responds.

4)    Pay particular attention to Long Downs and Safety Exercises, which are designed to give you leadership – Do 5 Long Downs each week and don’t ever allow your dog to go through doorways and up/downstairs ahead of you.

5)    No “on demand” rewards, either petting or food.  Insist that your dog responds to a command before you pet him, and then pet for only 5 seconds.  After that, stop, say “no more”, fold your arms and ignore your dog.  Also, food treats must be earned.

6)    Play is initiated by you, not your dog, and involves retrieving only.  If your dog doesn’t readily come back to yu, keep him on a long line.  End the game while your dog is still eager to play.  Do not wrestle or play tug o’war.

7)    Give your dog one toy and only one toy that is his to chew.  All other pack possessions are yours. You can bring out other toys for specific play, such as a ball for retrieving, but when the game ends, put the toy away.

8)    Walk through the territory making your dog get out of your way. Your instructor will talk about this in class.  Follow his/her instructions. Never ever step over your dog if he is in your way, always make him move.

9)    At homecomings, greet your dog unemotionally and briefly.  Don’t make a fuss over him.

10) Do not allow your dog to sleep on your bed.  If you allow him on the furniture, tell him “off” before you sit down next to him.  Don’t allow him to sit or lie down in your lap or with any part of his body over yours.




We recommend using a crate to ease house training (see crate training). Most dogs won’t soil their sleeping quarters if they can help it so a crate teaches them control!  Puppies under 3-4 months of age do not have a great deal of capacity or sphincter! Bladder control and need to go out frequently.  Many people believe that because a puppy can make it through the night without going to the bathroom, he can hold it for 8 hours during the day. This is not so. Bodily functions slow down at night, thereby enabling dogs (and people) to go for longer periods without having to go the bathroom.  Not true during the day.

The key to successful house training is awareness.  Be aware of the most common times puppies relieve themselves – upon waking, after eating, after drinking, during play or excitement, after play or excitement, during or after chewing and just because it’s been a while since the last time.  Be aware of your puppy’s pre-elimination behavior.  Sniffing, circling with head down, running in small circles and the like are all precursors to squatting – not always, but sometimes.  Your awareness of these behaviors will enable you to take him out at the first sign that he has to go.  Follow the program below, and your puppy’s house training will be painless and relatively quick:



1)     Never  drag your puppy to a mess. Don’t point to it, or rub his nose in it, or yell and scold him.  Such actions will only serve to make him frightened of you, and won’t help the house training effort. If anything, negative behavior on your part will prolong house training.

2)    Clean messes with a cleaner that does not contain ammonia. Ammonia draws the dog back to the same spot.

3)    When you cannot supervise the puppy, confine him in his crate. When you let him out of the crate, take him outside first, (follow  below), and once he has relieved himself outside he can be loose in the house.

4)    Withhold water for 3 hours or so before bed, and take him out last thing before bed.

5)    Don’t use newspapers for house training. Paper training teaches a dog that it is permissible to go to the bathroom in the house. It isn’t. House training is simplified by teaching the puppy where you want him to go. And anyway, much of the time a puppy has his feet on the paper but his rear is over the floor.  His senses tell him he’s on the paper, but you still have a mess to clean up.



1)     Follow a regular feeding schedule. Feed at set times, holding to it even on weekends until your puppy is house trained.

2)    Feed one, high quality diet and do not vary it. Avoid table scraps during the house training period.

3)    Watch your puppy’s stools as an indicator of health, proper diet, and proper amounts of food.  If his stools are loose, take a sample to your vet for a worm check. Loose stools re also an indicator of overfeeding.

4)    Have a stool check done for worms, even if his stools aren’t loose.

5)    When taking him out, say “Do you want to go out”? in a happy voice, pick him up and carry him to the spot you want him to go.  Take him out rather than letting him out, stand with him and wait for him to go.  When he starts to squat, praise him. As he gets larger and starts to have some control, it will not be necessary to carry him to the spot.  Carrying is for young puppies, who will likely eliminate en route to their spot, even if they’re not even out of the house yet.

6)    If he starts to relieve himself in the house, say “stop!”, pick him up, carry him to his spot and follow 5.

7)    When he has an accident in the house and you didn’t see him, simply clean it up. Don’t clean it up in front of him. Put him in another room. Don’t show it to him; don’t talk to him about how disappointed you are; don’t even sigh and act upset. Your puppy will not associate negatives with the act of going to the bathroom.  They will only confuse and upset him.


Elimination on command: Select a command you won’t mind using in public. We use “hurry up” or “be quick”. To teach your puppy to squat on command you must teach him the association between your command and his action.  Take him to the area you have chosen as his bathroom and as soon as he starts to squat say “hurry up”…good…hurry up…good…etc. Use the command each time he starts to go to the bathroom and follow it with praise.  After 1 week, begin saying “hurry up” as soon as you get to the spot, and praise as soon as he starts to squat.  It’s as simple as that.



All the above can be found in Gail Fishers Dog Training manual


Last but not least, I hope you enjoy your dog as much as I enjoy mine.


Dorothy Brooks

Castlerock Flatcoated Retrievers