This is an archive

I’m not currently practising as a behaviourist although I retain my SABCAP membership and try to support the organisation wherever possible.  This is thus a static archive of my original blog site.

Thank you

Thank you for your donation.  It helps us write and keep free content available on the site and give free advice in cases which form interesting case studies.

Welcome to the Dog Zone

Welcome to the Dog Zone, the site for dogs and their people. The Dog Zone is a dog behaviour and training consultancy based near Cape Town in South Africa.  We focus on helping owners solve dog behaviour problems, do some dog training (on a workshop basis with limited numbers), and put a lot of effort into developing this site as an educational resource based on the science of animal behaviour.  At Dog Zone, we endeavour to stay abreast of the latest developments in dog behaviour and to ensure that that information is presented to you in a simple and easy-to-apply way, so that working with your dog’s behavioural peculiarities becomes fun!


We cover a lot of the branch of psychology known as Learning Theory (which includes Behaviourism, i.e. classical and operant conditioning, which has been popularised as clicker training), but also look at ethology, neurology and behavioural genetics.  The site is intended to be a resource for owners who want to educate themselves or find help with specific problems, and we also have a professional section in the works, where dog behaviour pros can meet and exchange ideas and knowledge.

It’s the sort of site that will never be finished, because every dog is different and we discover new knowledge in the field every day, but we’d like to add sections on nutrition, breeding, protection work and various other training disciplines, and also some extensive case histories.

And some stuff will be just for fun – we all need a little light relief now and then!

The Clicker Primer

Clicker Training is a large and complex subject – it’s an advanced technique, and really good clicker trainers have often done a great deal of reading and studying in addition to practising, and more often than not have a Psychology degree up their sleeves.

But for a quick and simple overview of the technique, visit the clicker primer at our sister site,, and see for yourself how it works.

We don’t sell dogs!

Please note: the Dog Zone does not sell dogs. We are a behavioural consultancy and educational resource.  The best place to obtain dogs is from an animal shelter like the SPCA, or from a KUSA-registered breeder if you are looking for a purebred. 

Why the announcement?  Well, I’ve had several emails about buying dogs from people who insisted that they had bought dogs from the Dog Zone in the past, and on doing some investigating, it seems that the previous owner of the domain did indeed sell a wide variety of dogs.

I have no way of knowing how the previous business was run, but I’ve been asked for breeds including Great Danes, Rottweilers and Bulldogs, and asked to send price lists for breeding animals via the internet. So my suspicion is that the previous owner was quite possibly the worst kind of puppy farmer.

So for anyone looking for a dog, here is my advice:

Unless you particularly want a registered purebred, the best place to get a dog is an animal shelter.  Dogs are increasingly treated like throwaway commodities in our very fast-paced and materialistic society, and there are many lovely animals needing a home and up for adoption.  The shelters will inoculate, interrogate you to ensure that you are a suitable owner, and insist that the animal you adopt is neutered.  If you adopt a puppy, you will generally have to pay for neutering before you are allowed to take the pup home.

If you want a dog of a particular breed, you can approach the Breed Rescue Scheme for that breed.  In South Africa, the way to do this is contact KUSA (the Kennel Union of South Africa) and obtain contact details for the nearest breed club, who will be able to tell you whether or not they operate a rescue scheme.  Be aware that some of the dogs on the scheme may have been surrendered because of behavioural problems.  Also be aware that you will probably have to undergo a home check and interview.

If you want a purebred puppy but don’t need a show or competition quality dog, watch the newspapers for ads and contact the breed club for news about less expensive litters.  If you buy a pup via a newspaper ad, you have to do your own homework. Some "backyard breeders" breed their own pets once or twice and often produce wonderful dogs – my first Dobermann was an unregistered dog from a backyard breeder, and had the best working temperament I’ve ever encountered.

Others may be less scrupulous or simply less careful.  You should insist on meeting both parents and they should be friendly and approachable (within reason – some bitches remain protective of their pups for several weeks.) The dogs should be clean and healthy, and their living quarters should be comfortable and hygienic (again, the bitch might be looking a bit scruffy after six to eight weeks of puppy-rearing.)  The pups should be clean, friendly and playful, and reasonably well-covered with flesh.  Beware of lots of fleas and flies, as these usually indicate worms and possible other parasitic disorders.

If you really want show or working quality registered stock, go through the breed club.  You will be interviewed by the breeder and probably asked to sign a contract (if the breeder is indifferent, don’t take a pup from them).  You can also expect to shell out several thousand rand.  Breeding is not cheap, and with the health checks, stud fees and registration fees required at the high end, it becomes a very expensive operation indeed. You may well be shocked by the asking price for puppies from winning lines, but the chances are the the breeder is making next to nothing.

Good breeders will know a great deal about the bloodlines they use and will be able to give you a lot of insight into the characteristics your pup may inherit.  They will also, in my opinion, be honest about the problems with lack of genetic diversity and hereditary disease in purebreds.  A breeder who tells you that it is possible to breed away from congenital disease while hampered by a closed studbook is either dishonest or extremely ignorant about genetics.  Neither characteristic is desirable in a breeder.

For my money the best breeders around at the moment are those who have gone outside the kennel registries (and it’s a disgrace that they should have to!), and are running experimental breeding programs aimed at greater diversity, health and working ability.  One of the most well-known of these is the Seppala Sled Dog program in Canada, and another interesting site is the Canine Diversity Project.  Apart from a couple of breeding programs involving indigenous stock, I’m not aware of any programs like this in South Africa, where the Show Ring is God.  If you know of one or are involved in one, please let me know!

And please, for the sake of dogs, don’t ever buy animals from puppy farmers.

Housetraining Basics

(In Progress) Housetraining is a big enough (and difficult enough!) topic for a section on its own.  It’s usually easy to housetrain a puppy, but when housetraining goes wrong, it’s one of the most difficult and distressing problems to solve.

We’ll start with how to housetrain correctly, try to understand how pups learn elimination behaviour, and then look at solving common elimination problems.

The most important thing to understand about elimination is that it is self-reinforcing.

That means simply that an animal feels the same relief you do at being able to let loose, urinate or defecate, and relieve bladder or bowel pressure.  Unlike you, though, an animal has not been potty trained and is not forced to cart about all sorts of Freudian hangups about appropriate and inappropriate toilet behaviour!

The second most important thing to understand about elimination is what triggers it, apart from the obvious internal trigger of needing to go.

In the beginning

Newborn puppies cannot relieve themselves.  Until they are three weeks old, mother has to stimulate urination and defecation by licking the peri-anal area.  She also cleans up after the pup, licking up and eating whatever he or she produces, probably as a defence against predators finding the litter by smell.

By the time the pups are 3 weeks old, their ears and eyes are open and they are moving around quite a lot, although their hind legs are still a bit wobbly. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has collected up a litter of 3-week-old puppies and put them down outside the whelping box for their evening exercise, only to have all eight of them (or 10, or 15!) squat simultaneously and wee on the floor for the very first time!

This is where a knowledgeable breeder can make your life as a puppy owner much easier.  At this stage, pups learn very quickly to move away from their sleeping area (in fact this seems to be an instinctive behaviour).  They won’t move far, however, and what will usually trigger elimination is a change of substrate, or whatever they can feel under their feet. Assuming the weather and the whelping room arrangements allow it, this is the time to get the pups onto grass as much as possible. The substrate near the whelping box rapidly becomes a cue, or trigger, for eliminating, and if this is tile or carpet, the breeder is (usually unwittingly) setting you up for a difficult housetraining exercise.  First prize is grass, and the next best thing is newspaper.

So one of the things to do when collecting your pup is to find out where the pups were kept, how much time they spent outside, and what the floor surface near their sleeping area was.

Breeders generally do the best they can, and that best includes a great deal of cleaning up, so don’t blame the breeder or go elsewhere if the pups have been allowed to mess on lino, concrete or carpet.  Just be aware that your housetraining exercise will be much simpler if you can prevent the pup from having access to the same types of flooring for his first couple of weeks in his new home.


Sad News

It is with great sadness that the companion animal community learned today of the death of Professor Johannes Odendaal at 63.

Johannes, or Prof as he was known to students past and present, was a distinguished ethologist and natural ‘dog person’, who introduced certificate courses in Companion Animal Behaviour while still a Professor at Onderstepoort, the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Pretoria. He later formed a private company called Ethology Academy and used this to broaden the scope of the courses he offered. He was instrumental in the founding of SABCAP, the South African Board of Companion Animal Professionals.

He will be greatly missed for his generosity, enthusiasm and support of budding animal professionals. Our hearts go out to his wife Hanna and family.

Dog or Breed?

It is pretty much axiomatic in the dog world that there are no dangerous breeds, only dangerous dogs.  And it is also increasingly understood that aggression is not abnormal behaviour for dogs, and that dogs who aggress are not ‘vicious’ or ‘bad’ in comparison to some mythical ‘normal’ dog. 

Having said that, though, the issue of dog bites is a huge one and one which cannot be ignored or minimised.  This document is work in progress, but will attempt to address some of the issues around this very difficult area. 

A Commmunity Barking Protocol

Since barking has been the most emotive issue around the bylaw so far, one of the things we will be attempting to develop is a barking protocol which communities can adopt.  Dogs do not necessarily understand suburbia or human manners, and a willingness to ‘think  dog’ a bit is vital for successful control of nuisance barking, whether you are a dog lover or not! 

Topics will include:

  • reasons for barking,  including boredom and separation distress
  • teaching ‘quiet’
  • how to make your neighbour’s dog worse 
  • implications of dogs being a crepuscular species (most active at dawn and dusk)
  • anti-barking devices (a contentious topic)
  • surgical de-barking (an even more contentious topic!)

…and many others.

If you have an article you would like to contribute, please either register and then email the webmaster and request author permission, or send me the article directly, preferably in plain text, together with your details so we can attribute it correctly.

Me at 6 weeks

I’ve been too busy to write much – I’ve learned Doggy Zen, Watch Me and Puttle, which means look at motherperson and ignore distractions (you can see how I learned this here).  And I’m playing tug and learning Out, which Dudley is going to help teach me when he can be distracted from Great Danes for long enough.  (Motherperson should teach Dudley the Puttle word too!)

But motherperson thought I should post some baby videos, to show what a shy, gentle little creature I was.

Here I am at 6 weeks old with all the other dogs in the household.


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