Secrets and Lies – common myths and misconceptions about dogs

As a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton I hear lots of old wives tales regarding dogs and their training; many are harmless but some can cause real damage.

These are some of the myths:

  1. A dog “knows” when he has done wrong.  This one, like so many other misconceptions is an anthropomorphism – applying your beliefs about humans to another species.  In this case we think dogs “know” something is wrong because we think it is wrong.  In reality dogs are amoral, i.e. they have no conception of right and wrong.  They may show submissive body language when they do something we think is wrong, which we perceive as looking guilty, but this is just done to appease us.
  2. You should rub your dog’s nose in it if he goes to the toilet inside.  This is also based on the idea that the dog knows he has done wrong.  In reality he either does not understand where you want him to go to the toilet or he just couldn’t hold it.
  3. You should always go through the door before your dog.  This one is just plain silly.  It is based on the myth that if a dog goes through the door before you then he is trying to dominate you but in reality he is just excited to see what is other the other side of the door.
  4. My dog loves it when little Johnny rides on his back.  This seems to be based on the idea that because the dog has not bitten little Johnny then he must be having a great time.  In reality he is probably just suffering little Johnny and his breaking point is not far off at which point he will bite.
  5. Dogs that wag their tails are happy.  A dog wagging its tail is aroused i.e. adrenaline is running through his body.  This could mean he is happy or ready to fight.  A wagging tail should always be read alongside the rest of his body language.
  6. Dogs that chase their tail are having fun.  In reality they are stressed and performing an OCD behaviour.  They often catch they tail resulting in the need for a partial amputation.
  7. One dog year = seven human years.  Yes, we live longer than dogs.  However dogs often live to be 15 years – you do the math!  Smaller dogs have a lot greater life expectancy that the largest breeds; almost twice as long.  The 1:7 ratio is therefore a very rough figure.
  8. Dogs just need to eat meat because that’s what wolves eat.  This one might appear to make sense but the meat that we feed it likely to be “leans cuts” as opposed to what the wolf would eat which also includes the bones, hair, internal organs, and stomach contents i.e. vegetable matter.
  9. Dogs need regular baths.  Dogs only need occasional baths, if for example they roll in fox poo.  Frequent bathing can dry out your dog’s coat causing skin problems.
  10. Dogs only see in black and white.  This used to be the understanding of dogs’ vision.  Your dog’s visual perception is different to yours but he can in fact see a limited range of colour. 
  11. Bitches need to have at least one litter in order to feel content.  A bit more anthropomorphism here.  She will not reminisce about when she had puppies and will not sit and contemplate about what it will be like to have puppies.  Dogs just live in the here and now. 
  12. My dog must be hungry since he will eat as much as I will feed him.  Dog obesity closely mirrors human obesity and it is going in the wrong direction.  You are putting pressure on a dog’s joints and internal organs when he is overweight and therefore potentially taking years off his life.
  13. I’m sure the last time I had a puppy it was not this much hard work?  This is what’s known as selective memory.  The last time you had a puppy was 15 years ago giving you plenty of time to try to block out the memory of all that chewing, mouthing, weeing and pooing!
  14. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  This is another silly one.  Dogs can in fact learn all through their lives.

Moral of the story

The moral of the story is that if your vet, breeder, trainer, or behaviourist tells you something about your dog then ask them to explain it. If they can’t then they are probably just repeating an old wives tale.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.

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Top tips for surviving Christmas with your dog

If you asked people what happens at Christmas many would tell you that they eat too much and they get stressed out by visiting family.

That’s a good starting point for what to consider for your dog.


We tend to overeat at Christmas and also eat lots of rich food.  Giving your dog a few extra treats will not do him any harm but obviously don’t go crazy. He may be a canine dustbin and therefore be okay with most foods or may be a little more sensitive. Remember what goes in must come out so don’t forget to give him lots of toilet breaks.

Some food is positively dangerous for your dog.  Most people now know chocolate is poisonous but dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is particularly toxic.  You may think about sharing a little Christmas pudding or mince pies but did you know that grapes in the form of currents, raisins and sultanas are also poisonous to dogs?

You may enjoy working your way through your turkey but don’t be tempted to give your dog the bones since cooked bones can easily splinter inside of his digestive system.

Be careful of what the kids may be feeding your dog and of what may be just within his reach.


Your dog may be the life and soul of the party or a little more sensitive. Either way there is a good chance he will want the option to get away from the action and retire to his bed or crate. Let your visitors know that they should leave him alone when he goes to his bed. This is especially important for children who may not read the signs that he has had enough and so need adult supervision to keep everyone safe and happy.

Gifts for your dog

There is no reason for your dog to miss out on all the fun.  You may choose to give him a new bone, chew, or toy but don’t expect it to still be under the tree if you leave it there or for the tree to still be standing!  

Perhaps you could buy small gift for a local rescue dog so he can also enjoy a Christmas treat. Check out these Wish Lists:

Behaviour problems

Your dog may have specific problems around people, food, or toys in which case it may be best to just let him chill out and have a quite Christmas at home. Your new year’s resolution could be to consult qualified and experienced behaviourist to help you both work through these problems.

Buying a puppy

Are you thinking of buying a puppy as a Christmas present? Giving a home to a puppy should be a planned and well-informed decision with thought given to the next 15+ years of the puppy’s life. This might be the right decision for you in which case wait until the commotion of Christmas is over and give him the best start in life.

Merry Christmas from Mike Garner of Rainbow Dogs, Brighton!

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My dog pulls! What should I do?

Train your dog to walk to heel and not pull on lead.

Where to start

If you go to your local pet shop or search online you will find a hundred different types of special collars, harnesses and head collars which can make choosing the right one really difficult.

The first question I ask someone is:

Why is your dog wearing that equipment?

Common answers are:

  • Because he pulls
  • Because I thought they were supposed to wear it
  • Because my trainer sold me it

I will let you into a trade secret… the best piece of equipment to walk a dog can often just be a regular collar and lead! Okay I appreciate that does not help me sell you equipment but there is a qualification to my statement, which is your dog needs to be trained to walk nicely on lead first.

The time spent training your new puppy to walk nicely on lead is a good investment unless you want 15 years of being pulled down the street. Dogs that are already established pullers may need greater time and dedication on your part to learn to not pull. You may be helped in this process by using specific training equipment.

Let’s look at the equipment options for walking you dog:

  • Simple flat collar and lead – made of fabric or leather. This is the perfect solution for a trained dog who does not pull.
  • Choke chains. These do what they say, they choke your dog! This will be uncomfortable for your dog however he will eventually learn to ignore the pain. Unfortunately long term this can cause damage to his throat, neck, and spine.
  • Check chains. A marketing company realised that choke chains sound horrible so re-branded them as check chains.
  • Half-choke / half-check chains. These only half choke your dog. They are limited to stop choking him to the point of turning blue!
  • Prong collars and spike collars. These are more common in the USA that the UK but still used by some. They look like chock chains but have prongs or spikes that cut into the dog’s neck. These are nothing short of barbaric!
  • Harnesses with a back clip. These on the surface seem like the perfect humane solution to a pulling dog. The dog will no longer choke but will often pull more due to the reflex (opposition reflex) to pull against things.
  • Harnesses with a front clip / chest clip (e.g. Perfect Fit Harness harnesses). These are humane and remove the incentive to pull against something.
  • Head collars. These are also humane yet discourage your dog from pulling since they turn his head towards you. These may be the only option if your dog is very strong and other options do not give you enough control. These can be fiddly to put on and some designs can ride up the dog’s face into his eyes. I have found the Gencon to be not only easy to put on but also much less likely to ride up into the dog’s eyes. They can also clip back onto his regular collar for added security. Head collars can take time to get used to for some dogs.


There is no one piece of equipment that is suitable for every dog. The best solution for a dog that does not pull is just use a regular collar and lead and to train your dog to walk nicely. I recommend Perfect Fit Harness for dogs that pull since they offer control for you and comfort for your dog.

Perfect Fit Harness

Rainbow Dogs are based in Brighton, Sussex. Contact us for specific advice on training your dog to walk nicely on lead.

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Follow me!

Your may have noticed some pictures on our Facebook page of our Groundwork training walks in various Brighton and Hove parks in which we appear to be walking around in circles?

If you tracked a typical dog walk you would see the owner walking around the path of their local park in straight lines, probably entering the park by the same gate each day and leaving by the same gate. A lucky dog may get to play a little with the owner en route.

I always tell owners that a walk in the park for a well-mannered dog should be his time. He should get to run around, sniff things, play with other dogs, and generally explore and interact with his environment. However your role should not just be to clip his lead off at the start of the walk and clip it back on at the end. You can be part of his fun too!

A lot of dogs quickly learn to disengage from their owners in the park since we are simply too boring and predictable.  They may give an occasional glance back just to make sure you are still following but apart from that you may hold little interest for them. Will your dog quickly come running back to you when called? Perhaps he will plod back if nothing better is going on? Does he see you as just too boring?

The first step of making yourself more interesting in the park is to get off that path around the parameter of the park and change direction. What happens if you turn around and go the other way, will your dog even notice? Try it! Don’t call him, just change direction. When he comes bounding back to you give him lavish praise, a treat, a toy game and let him go again quickly. This will encourage your dog to tune into you and follow you around since you have now become a little more interesting and rewarding.

Rainbow Dogs offers Groundwork training in Brighton and Hove parks for disengaged dogs. This is designed to provide your dog with a stimulating walk in which the owner is central to the fun. We then perform a handover session in which we share with you the new skills that your dog has learnt.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.

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Top house training tips

A common question people ask is how do I house train my puppy or new rescue dog?

The answer is simple:

  • Set your puppy or new dog up for success.  Take him outside often.
  • Reward the behaviour you want.  When he is in the middle of “going” give him gentle praise “good boy, good boy”; when he has finished give him lavish praise and a treat.

What about the rest of the tips?!? No honest it really is that simple!

It comes down to the simple fact that your dog should naturally want to keep the area that he sleep and eats in clean. But… and there is always a but, if he needs to go then he needs to go. If you don’t give him enough chances to go outside then you will force him to go inside.

Don’t I need to show him that I’m in charge and punish him when he does it wrong? No! Punishment will never help with house training but is very likely to make the problem worse. Your dog only goes to the toilet in the house because you have not trained him to go outside yet.

Everyone knows you should tell a puppy off by rubbing his nose in it if he goes to the toilet inside, don’t they? Would you follow this advice with a young child that has not learnt “potty training” yet. Do you realise how ridiculous that old wives tale sounds now?

What about training pads? Why oh why would you want to train your dog to go to the toilet inside your home? Throw the training pads away and take your dog outside.

What if your dog pees when he is nervous or when someone comes to visit? This is not a housetraining issue; you need professional advice from an experienced behaviourist.

What if your dog goes to the toilet when left alone? This is also not a housetraining issue but a separation anxiety issues; again you need advice from a qualified behaviourist.

Should I use a create? Yes and no! It may be helpful for some dogs if used in the correct way but if used badly can make the problem worse.

So the simple advice is follow our two top tips; if your situation is more complicated then please contact us and we will be please to help.

Our regular dog training tips can be found on Facebook.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.

Fireworks top tips

Dogs can find it hard to deal with the stress and anxiety of fireworks. Follow our simple top tips to help your dog cope.

How to help you dog cope with fireworks on the day

  • Take your dog out for a walk in the light before the fireworks start.
  • Don’t try to get him used to fireworks or over his fear of fireworks by walking him during the fireworks since this is likely to heighten his fear.
  • Don’t leave him alone whilst you go out to watch a firework display, he will find it harder to cope without you there.
  • Rescue centres fill up with lost dogs after firework night so be prepared for the worst, make sure his microchip details are up to date and he is wearing his ID tag.
  • Provide your dog with a safe den area in the living room.  This could be his create, covered by a blanket with the door open or a space under a table; covered to give him a feeling of security.
  • Get a DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) plug-in to help your dog cope. They give out a scent that can be comforting to your dog but undetectable to people.
  • Dogs can have a heightened awareness of sight, sounds and smell during fireworks so try to mask these.  Keep all windows closed, curtains drawn and the TV or radio volume up.
  • Give your dog something to do to distract himself: a favourite toy, Nylabone, stag antler, Kong, or Kong Wobbler.
  • Don’t try to reassure your dog since if you are feeling anxious he will pick up on your anxiety.  Don’t ignore him either; let him stay close if he chooses to.  Model the behaviour you want by staying calm and ignoring the fireworks.

Prepare your dog for fireworks night

You should also actively work to desensitise your dog to fireworks if he has any problems. Please contact us for an appointment to start work on this in time for the New Years fireworks.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.

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The adventures of Alfie #1

The adventures of Alfie is the fictitious story of a Jack Russell Terrier.

There was lots going on at home today with a couple more visitors to the house. The first lady picked up my sister “Bella” and clutched her to her face and made strange baby noises, neither of us had any idea why?!? Mum sat there also looking a bit confused but not alarmed, I guess she has met lots of odd humans over her long (2 year) lifetime. We then had a young couple arrive who came into the kitchen where we were all sleeping. Mum gave another resigned look as the couple eyed us all up. Again they seemed to be looking at Bella which given all the attention she got before seemed a little unfair. I therefore marched up over to them with a confident swagger and gave my biggest bark; they both laughed – how rude! The guy then produced a fluffy toy from his pocket and started moving it around. It looked a bit like a mouse, perhaps it was a mouse? Before I knew what was happening I had hold of one end and he the other, both of us having lots of fun. The humans started laughing again but this time I didn’t mind. “That’s the one” announced the guy; I opened my mouth to bark “what?” letting the toy fall out which mysteriously disappeared back into his pocket. The woman then put out her hand so I mooched over to explore, she was very gentle with me and gave me a kind smile. They had a chat to mum’s human and then they were off again; a quick glance back at me as they went, was that a tear in her eye?

About the author: Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton. 


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Happy Anniversary!

Have you ever forgotten a birthday or anniversary? I think we have all done it at some point but I forgot Rainbow Dogs 10 year anniversary!

It all started in London in 2004. A dog owning friend got chatting to another dog owner in the park who had a boisterous young Labrador. My friend knew I worked with dogs at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home so suggested I had a chat with her. It turned out the dog had a few training needs but we soon had him off lead running around in the park, walking nicely on the lead, and travelling in the car without getting frantic. The owner was delighted and Rainbow Dogs was born!

That story came to me the other day and then I realised our 10 year anniversary must be coming up soon. That first training session was on 7th September 2004, so thank you Toby the Lab for being my first client. I have worked with 1000’s of dogs since then but you never forget your first!

Happy Anniversary Rainbow Dogs… only a few days late!

Read more about Rainbow Dogs story here.

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What to do if your dog is lost?

In the UK dogs have unrestricted access to a large number of public spaces with lots of opportunities to get lost.  Prevention should be your fist course of action but hindsight is a wonderful thing so you also need an action plan if the worst happens.


Dog disk

Get an old fashioned engraved disk for your dog’s collar.  Have your mobile number on it since if you are out looking for your dog that’s the number you want people to call.  An identification disk is a legal requirement in the UK.


Get your dog microchipped.  Dogs that find their way into rescue centres, local authorities dog wardens, vets surgeries etc will be scanned straight away.  Just make sure that the microchip company has your up-to-date mobile number.  It will be a legal requirement in the UK to have your dog microchipped from 6/4/2016.

Mug shot

Have an up-to-date photo of your dog in case the worst happens.




A dog that does not come back when called is most likely to get lost!  Recall training is one of the most common behaviour problems Rainbow Dogs deal with so please contact us if you need help with recall training in Brighton, Worthing or further afield in Sussex.


You should not trust your fencing to be secure enough to leave a dog outside unsupervised.  Dogs can jump, climb or dig under fencing to get free.


Rescue centres fill up with lost dogs after Guy Fawkes Night due to fireworks so be extra vigilant.


Looking for Your Dog

First stay put

Dogs will use their sense of smell to try to find you so stay close to where you lost your dog initially and call him, whistle or squeak his toy.

Enlist help

Search further afield enlisting the help of friends and family to check the local area.

Act fast!

Local authorities have a legal responsibility to keep your dog for only 7 days, after which time he can be put to sleep!

Make that call

Contact your local authority dog warden to report the time and place he was lost along with as detailed a description as possible.

Your dog may travel a great distance; they have been known to hop on trains before, so also contact dog wardens in neighbouring areas.

Contact local rescue centres e.g. Dogs Trust in Shoreham, RSPCA in Brighton.

Contact other rescue centres further afield e.g. Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Contact local vet surgeries.

The web

Search online for lost dog websites. Register on as many websites as possible. Uploading a picture will increase your chances of finding your dog.

Get social

Post on social media with a picture of your dog. Facebook and Twitter have different groups for lost dogs.

Walk the walk

Print posters with a picture of your dog and your contact details.  Start in the location where you lost him and then fan out from there.

Visit rescue centres

Visit your local rescue centre if they take in strays to check if they have your dog. Give then one of your posters.

Don’t give up!

Lost dogs are sometimes found months after becoming lost!

UPDATE 26/11/2018

Brighton Dog Watch is a great resource for lost dogs in and around the Brighton area.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.

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Welcome to Rainbow Dogs

Rainbow Dogs … where every dog is an individual.

Mike Garner of Rainbow Dogs will be blogging with free dog training tips and general advice about dog training & welfare.

Please email me with your dog training questions and I will do my best to answer them on this blog.

Looking for specific help with training your dog in Brighton & Hove or further afield in Sussex?  Contact me now!