Providing advice on training a new puppy can be a minefield, especially during the pandemic

If a neighbor’s dog makes you nervous with persistent barking or upsetting the way a new owner is raising their pet, you are not alone.

But is it ever okay to tell someone how to take care of their dog, especially in a closed world?

“This is such a burdened question,” says Dr. Mia Cobb.

The University of Melbourne animal welfare scientist says deciding whether to offer counseling depends heavily on the relationship and context.

She compares it to advice on raising children.

Dr. Mia Cobb says that a person’s behavior can have a huge impact on the animal that lives with them. (

Photographer: Melanie Fox

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Dr. Cobb specializes in looking after dogs.

Some dogs she has worked with are motivated by the food. Others “can’t care less” and are more motivated to play with a toy to encourage good behavior.

“If we reward the behaviors that we want to see more of with our attention to things like food, we will reinforce that,” she says.

But it works both ways.

“If we ignore the calm and peaceful behavior but concentrate on the dog jumping and biting, guess what we’re going to encourage more? More jumping and biting, ”she adds.

“Because even… if it’s negative attention, some dogs may find it more rewarding than being ignored.

Avoid “bad advice”

Dr. Kate Mornement, a Melbourne-based applied animal behaviorist, says that advice from well-meaning friends and family can often be out of date.

A middle-aged woman with long blonde hair is sitting next to a dog with her tongue out on a green lawn.
Dr. Kate Mornement helps people and pets live better together by helping owners understand animal behavior.(

Scope of delivery: What about Charlie?

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“This includes rubbing your puppy’s nose in a toilet accident, ‘alpha rolling,’ which involves forcing your puppy or dog on the floor to submit, and slapping or kneeling down on your dog for misbehavior when they jump up on you, “she explains.

She says it is now widely accepted that positive reinforcement training is much more effective and also more comfortable for the animal.

“As long as you are familiar with the latest science on pet behavior and training, it’s okay to offer advice, though [generally] I would suggest leaving that advice to the experts, “says Dr. Mornement.

A woman smiles as she plays with a pet toy with a dog
According to Dr. Kate Mornement, some of the general advice people offer about pets may be out of date.(

Scope of delivery: What about Charlie?

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Research has shown that people tend to have different styles of attachment to pets.

Just like with parenting – where there are four attachment styles such as authoritarian, authoritarian, permissive, and indifferent – these different styles can be applied to pets as well, adds Dr. Cobb added.

“Maybe you have… an introverted person who takes care of their dogs, which we call permissive. That’s more in line with the fact that you have an overweight dog, ”she says.

The authoritative style, where someone has high expectations but is also very supportive, is good to go for, she adds.

But again, she says it is better to leave that type of advice to the experts.

It’s also not uncommon for a pet owner to have an illusory bias. That means you may not know as much as you think you know about dog training.

Dr. Cobb was involved in a study that asked over 2,000 people to rate the welfare of dogs in different contexts.

The study Guide dogs, police dogs, racing greyhounds and even their own dog.

“So it’s unlikely I’ve had only the best 2,000 people as dog sitters to answer my survey. But it’s the first evidence that we may have this positive illusory bias in how we care for dogs.”

Pets in a locked world

As more people spend time at home during lockdown, the number of pet adoptions has increased recently.

However, this irregular lifestyle can later lead to behavior problems in pets – and potentially unwanted advice.

Man sitting on the couch with laptop in front of him.  His sausage dog looks at him on the couch.
Without training, animals adopted during lockdown can experience anxiety when their owners return to the office. (

Getty: Capuski

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“The most common behavioral problems I have noticed with pandemic pets are separation anxiety and anxiety and anxiety issues related to impaired socialization,” says Dr. Mornement.

“Many puppies were unable to attend puppy school and training during their socialization periods, which in some cases has had a negative impact.”

She has been inundated with calls and bookings from pets in recent months, suffering from separation anxiety after their owners return to work.

“It is so confusing going in and out for pets who get used to being home all the time. Then suddenly we start again for the day, ”she says.

“Common signs of separation anxiety include barking and howling, house pollution, destructive behavior, and not eating when the owner is away.”

She says those who are considering getting a pet during the pandemic should consider it very carefully.

And those with advice to share should consider whether or not it is worth it.

In conclusion, Dr. Cobb, it is important to realize that, as with any advice, there are more effective ways of making suggestions than others.

“I think if I say, ‘You’re doing the wrong thing if you walk your dog this way,’ it is unlikely to get anyone to learn more about my ideas,” she says.

“But if I can say, ‘Oh, it looks like you are having a hard time, want some tips, or want the number of someone who can help you with this,’ it may be more effective.”

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