SDOS Episode 10 – How To Spot the Recipe for Dog Aggression with Sue McCabe

Episode 10

Dom is joined by amazing dog trainer Sue McCabe. They talk about why Sue became a dog trainer, why Dom attended one of Sue’s classes, why there is so much dog aggression these days and some easy things you can do to condition your dog to look at YOU when you take him to the park.

[.59] Meet Sidney Cocker[ 1.22] Todays guest is Sue McCabe [2.48] The Greyhound round [4.22] Sue’s embarrassing dog training moment [5.38] What inspired Sue to work with dogs [6.41] The best advice Sue has ever been given [7.35] Why you shouldn’t rush your dog training [11.55] Why is there so much dog to dog aggression [15.00] Why you need to mix up your dog walks [16.30] Counter conditioning your dog [17.40] Contact Sue [18.15] How does Sue chill out and relax [18.26] What are working trails? [19.47] Why you need to be more interesting to your dog [20.43] Buy Dom’s book!

Mentioned in the episode

Sue on social media

Twitter: @muttamorphosis

Sue’s Facebook page

Buy Dom’s book here

Dom’s Superhero Dog Owners Inner Circle –

Full Transcript

Drive-thru:          Hi there, can I take your order?

Dominic:              Hi there. Can I have a double cheeseburger, some large fries, and two large vanilla milkshakes, please?

Drive-thru:          Yeah.

Dominic:              That’s all, thanks.

Drive-thru:          If the items correct on the screen, your total’s pay window, thanks.

Dominic:              Okay. Sorry, did you want anything, Alex?

Drive-thru:          Sorry about your wait

Dominic:              Yeah, no bother, why aye.

Dominic:              Yeah. Thank you buddy. Hello me bonny bairns, and welcome to episode 10 of the Superhero Dog Owners Show. This week I’m joined by my good friend Alex the video guy.

Alex:      Hello.

Dominic:              Also, this is Sidney Cocker. We saw Rosie a couple of weeks ago. This is Sydney, Sidney’s my dog. Sidney, AKA Jon Bon Jovi. Sydney is joining me today because we’re going to go and do an interview today. Yeah, we’re going to go and see a good dog trainer friend of mine called Sue McCabe. Sue runs Muttamorphosis Dog Training in New Castle. It was at Muttamorphosis Dog Training puppy class, puppy foundation class, where I took Sidney when I first got him 4 years ago, Alex. There’s a bit of information for you, so this all ties in nicely.

Sidney went down with me and this follows on really nicely from last week’s episode where we were talking about socialization, and what I think socialization is. Because at Sue’s puppy class, we did all of the things that I think people should be doing at puppy class, which is about getting the owner mind … the dog mind interested in the owner, and the puppies aren’t just arsing around on the floor and having a great time. That’s the only thing that they’re going to remember from the class. Also, Sue did a fantastic class, and I think people will learn from the interview that we did this week when we went over to see her. Alex, roll the tape.

Today, I’m with a very good friend, dog friend of mine, Sue McCabe. Sue comes from Whitlow in …

Sue:       Southern Ireland.

Dominic:              Southern Ireland. Yeah, she runs a dog training school in New Castle called Muttamorphosis. You’ve been doing that for about 10 years, Sue?

Sue:       10 years, yeah.

Dominic:              Yeah. I know how good Sue is as a dog trainer, because I actually attended one of her puppy classes with my own puppy, Sydney, a few years ago as well. It was fantastic. I’m delighted to have you on as a guest in the show, Sue, so welcome.

Sue:       Thank you very much, Dom.

Dominic:              No problem, no problem. We’re going to get straight in with it with the greyhound round. This is a quick fire round for anybody who doesn’t know you.

Sue:       Okay.

Dominic:              So we can find out a little bit more about you.

Sue:       Okay.

Dominic:              All right, so what’s your favorite animal other than a dog?

Sue:       Cat.

Dominic:              That was a quick answer, I didn’t even finish the question! Favorite super hero.

Sue:       Oh god, this was one of the ones I struggled with. Gosh, I don’t … I have no idea.

Dominic:              You’re going to fail on that one. That’s your problem.

Sue:       Yeah, I fail on that one already.

Dominic:              Okay, easier one.

Sue:       Yeah.

Dominic:              Let me have your favourite dog cartoon character.

Sue:       Scrappy Doo.

Dominic:              That’s a good one.

Sue:       Yeah.

Dominic:              Puppy power.

Sue:       I liked his attitude, yeah. Yeah, Scooby was a bit tame for me.

Dominic:              Do you prefer Italian or Chinese food?

Sue:       Italian.

Dominic:              Nice. Would you prefer to walk a Pomeranian in the park or a Bulldog at the beach?

Sue:       Can I walk a Pom at the beach?

Dominic:              No, no. The choice is very strict.

Sue:       Beach over park then.

Dominic:              Beach, then.

Sue:       Yeah.

Dominic:              So you’re choosing location over the dog then, yeah?

Sue:       Yeah.

Dominic:              Yeah. All right, yeah. Very good.

Sue:       Parks would restrain me too much, and I’d have to be calling the dogs back too often.

Dominic:              Yeah, we like the beach as well.

Sue:       Yeah, beach is better for everyone, I think.

Dominic:              All right, good answer, Sue. Good answers. We like to … Obviously we have a lot of pet dog owners who watch the show, … and sometimes it’s hard when you’re a pet dog, and it’s hard when you’re a trainer as well. It’s not all butterflies and puppy smells is it, and stuff. Can you, just to show people how hard it is as a dog trainer, can you share with us one of your worst experiences that you’ve had as a dog trainer?

Sue:       Can you see him in the background with his ball?

Dominic:              Yes.

Sue:       When he was about 14 weeks old, we were in [Gossford 00:04:26] Park. I was feeling very smug, because he was a very easy puppy. He was really not particularly challenging boy at all as a youngster, but it was during the summer holidays, and there a toddler’s football match on. I was sitting. It was a lovely day like this. I was sitting with my coffee, and my handbag, and my little puppy who I was madly in love with. Suddenly, he took off across the park and joined in this toddler football game, picked up the football, and ran off with it. All these little toddlers are running after him. Because I was more worried about what my dog was doing, I remember just throwing my coffee on the ground and leaving my handbag with my car keys, and my wallet, and everything in it, and just racing across the park and apologizing to everybody. Anyone could have nicked my bag, but thankfully they didn’t. We got him back. You can see, he still loves his football to this day. Five years later, he is.

Dominic:              That’s not the same ball, is it?

Sue:       It’s not the same ball. We gave the ball back.

Dominic:              Good story. No, that’s a really good story. We all do that, and fall into that kind of mistake, don’t we? With the puppies, where we get too relaxed, and-

Sue:       Absolutely, and they lull us into this wonderful false sense of security.

Dominic:              Yeah, yeah. Then they do something puppy-ish.

Sue:       Yeah, which they should. That’s part of being a puppy.

Dominic:              Yeah, yeah.

Sue:       Isn’t it?

Dominic:              Before you were Sue the dog trainer, and you were just Sue growing up in Ireland, what was it that … Was there a person, or was there an experience that you had that inspired you to want to work with animals, and dogs, particularly?

Sue:       I never had animals as a child.

Dominic:              Right.

Sue:       Well, I had a cat. I remember it. There was a family meeting about a cat. You’d think we were bringing a crocodile into the house, it was such a serious decision to make, as it should be. But, I do remember that. I was never allowed to have a dog, but I spent a lot of time on my uncle’s farm, and he always had dogs. He has a very gentle demeanor with his animals. He’s a cattle farmer, and I guess you have to be reasonably quiet, and composed. Before people spoke about positive reinforcement, or reward-based training, he used to bring the cattle in with buckets of nuts, and shake the buckets of nuts. I always thought it was the way to do things at the time. I know not everybody does it that way, but I think the farm was a big influence, particularly the way he managed his animals. They all adored him. All his dogs worshiped him completely.

Dominic:              Yeah. I would find that quite inspiring as well, I think. Yeah.

Sue:       Absolutely, yeah.

Dominic:              What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given in your life, dog-related or anything else?

Sue:       I was thinking about this. The same person gave me the 2 things that sprung to mind when you asked me this question. It’s to do with working a dog, rather than pet dog training.

Dominic:              Okay.

Sue:       I think it’s probably still reasonably relevant in dog training terms. The first is that if your dog looks like they’re working out something, don’t interrupt them. If my dog is performing a job reasonably well, rather than chattering away to them and redirecting them, and constantly telling them this, that, and the other, shush. That’s hard for me, because I’m a bit of a chatterbox, but that was a really good piece of advice. In other words, give your dog the opportunity to work stuff out. As long as they’re not getting them self into trouble while they’re working it out, obviously.


Dominic:              Yeah.

Sue:       The second piece of advice that the same lady gave me … I’ll tell you her name in a second, because she’s still around. She’d probably be surprised I still remember her words of wisdom all these years later. The second piece of advice was if you start using a method and it seems to be working, don’t keep chopping and changing, because it confuses the dog. It’s really unfair on them, and it means you never break through the stage where they no longer do the thing, because you’ve swapped and changed your methods so often. Again, as long as your method isn’t dangerous or horrible, and the dog isn’t miserable.

Dominic:              Yeah, yeah.

Sue:       But I thought that was really a point that … I love clients I see. By the time I see them, they’ll say, “Well, we tried this. We tried this, and we tried that, and we tried this, and we tried … and nothing seemed to work!” Actually, they haven’t tried anything long enough for it to work, or consistently enough for it to work.

Dominic:              Yeah.

Sue:       I thought that was really quite a good one as well.

Dominic:              Yeah, I think that’s excellent advice, that. Yeah, I could see how that would apply to how you’d learn to do anything, really, wouldn’t it?

Sue:       Yeah.

Dominic:              How you run a business, or how you do anything. You’ve got to give these things …

Sue:       Yeah, give it a chance.

Dominic:              Yeah, give it a go. The first bit of advice as well, about letting the dog work something out. I’m guilty of that as well. You’re trying to help out, I suppose, but you’re best off just shutting up and just observing, and let them do it.

Sue:       Yeah. I think there’s element to trying to help. There’s also an element if you know what the finished product is, it’s very easy to rush the dog to the finished product.

Dominic:              Yeah.

Sue:       I’m guilty of that. “This is what I want you to be do … This is the way I want it to look.” Actually, there’s a brilliant concept in dog training, and I guess in human training as well, called latent learning. Which is if you show your … This has happened to me quite a lot of times. You show your dog something new, and you think, “Are they getting it? I’m not sure if they’re getting it.” Then, you leave it there, and you go away.

The next time you come back to it, the dog goes, “Oh yeah, I remember this.”

You think, ‘Wow, they did get it.’

Dominic:              Yeah.

Sue:       But I was trying to rush them so much the first time to the finished product, that I didn’t give them the chance to go away and mentally break it down, and mentally let it settled in.

Dominic:              Yeah, yeah. Again, I can think of a few instances in my life where that, the latent learning is proved beneficial. You know when you’ve learned something, but you haven’t quite understood it. Then a couple of days later, you’ve got it, haven’t it?

Sue:       Yeah, absolutely.

Dominic:              Dogs are really similar. As I already said, you run Muttamorphosis in New Castle. Tell us a little bit about some of the classes that you do there.

Sue:       I do baby puppy class, so from just after vaccinations. I do the Kennel Club Good Citizen award right up to gold level. I also do behaviour work during the day, so my private cases would be during the day. Classes are in the evenings and on Saturdays, and my private cases would be during the day.

Dominic:              Right, cool. You book up fast, I know, because I tried to get on the first puppy one, but I couldn’t, so I had to go in the next one. This was a couple of years ago. You have your work during the day where you’re obviously going to see a range of different dog owners, and a range of different dogs, that have different kinds of problems. What are some of the most common things that you would see, you’d come across with pet dog owners?

Sue:       I think the most common one, sadly now, is dog to dog aggression. No question about that. That tops my books over anything else. I’d much rather be dealing with other stuff, but it sadly is one of the more common problems. After that is recall, plain old simple “I can’t get my dog back in the park.”

Third on the list is probably possessive aggression, which would be ‘resource guarding,’ is the behavioural term. In other words, the dog is saying “Get away from my …” and then you can fill in the blank with anything from bone, to tail, to beds, to humans.

Dominic:              Anything, yeah. Let’s take the first one, then. Let’s take dog-to-dog aggression. Obviously I’m always a bit wary about … I would always recommend anybody, if they’re even the slightest bit worried about the safety of themselves, or any of the kids, or the general public. They should see a behaviourist. They shouldn’t really try and get aggression advice from a book or something. It’s too risky.

Sue:       It’s too complex, yeah.

Dominic:              Is there some things that people can do if they recognize that their dog may have an aggression issue? Is there some really simple things that they can do?

Sue:       I don’t think there’s ever a simple answer where aggression is concerned, because it’s just so complex and there’s so many different forms of aggression. I think more importantly, if I could direct owners to recognize how not to put the ingredients for the recipe together in the first place, if that’s okay.

Dominic:              Yeah.

Sue:       I think the reason, and I’m not the first person to say this, that you and I, Dom, have talked about the fact that there really isn’t anything original in dog training. I certainly would agree with the concept that the reason there’s a huge increase in dog-to-dog aggression is because people tend to take the word ‘socialization’ as meaning a free-for-all.

Dominic:              Yeah.

Sue:       They’ve become so obsessed with their dogs having doggy buddies that they don’t recognize that as they’re raising their dog with lots of play dates, and lots of dog interaction, and unbridled, uncontrolled playing, and particularly rough physical play, the 2 camps that dogs fall into … Not every dog, because there are some dogs who can do all of that, and it never causes a problem.

Dominic:              Yeah.

Sue:       The 2 camps that behaviour problem dogs would fall into would be either learning to be a bully, or learning to be bullied. Both of those camps will lean towards dog aggression as they get older, or could lean towards dog aggression as they get older. Owners want their dogs to be little humans, and they love the idea of daycare, and play dates.

Dominic:              And social life.

Sue:       And social life. Actually, it’s great to socialize your dog, but socializing your dog does not mean that your dog runs across the park to greet every single dog he sees. Your child doesn’t do that with every strange child they see, so it’s a little bit strange that people have become that way inclined. I do think it’s contributing definitely towards the dog aggression rate.

Dominic:              Yeah, I would agree with that totally. We talk about that a lot on this show, all the time. You can be your dog’s best friend, and your life is going to be so much easier, isn’t it? You’re going to be able to give your dog so much freedom. Yeah, that’s been a common theme as well, from talking to other behaviourists all around the world, especially in the UK.

Sue:       Yeah, the other thing to say, of course, is that if your dog has 3 or 4 dog buddies that they get on with. I’ll often get calls from people saying “Well, he has 3 or 4 dogs that he knows and he’s fine with, but he doesn’t like other dogs.”

“You know what? That’s fine. He doesn’t need other dogs!” If you’ve got a dog who is genuinely dog aggressive, yes, it’s very debilitating. Yes, it makes your walks and the dog’s walks more difficult, but simply staying away from other dogs will make your life the other dog’s life much easier, and he never needs to meet another dog as long as he lives. He probably …

If you put a microphone on the dog, he’d probably “Stop trying to get me to say hello to dogs!”

Dominic:              Yeah, definitely.

Sue:       That’s fine, too. That’s fine, too.

Dominic:              Yeah, yeah. The dog’s going to be happy, and the owner’s going to be happy. They’re going to be able enjoy the time with their dog.

Sue:       The only difficult thing where that one is concerned, and I would give quite a few of my clients credit on this front is that they’re doing a really brilliant job of keeping their dog on leash and under control, and other people are allowing their dogs to run up to their dog, reactive dog, which of course, is incredibly unfair, incredibly unfair.

Dominic:              Yeah, definitely. Following up with that, Sue, with people … To someone’s recognizing that their dog has a … maybe not an aggression issue, but they’ve got an issue where their dog’s getting stressed out, or he’s feeling uncomfortable around other dogs.

Sue:       Yeah.

Dominic:              They want to stay away from other dogs, but they still want to … Obviously the dog still needs to get some exercise, doesn’t he?

Sue:       Sure.

Dominic:              What would be some simple things that they could do with their dogs to interact with them.

Sue:       I think that the first thing that I would recommend is we’re all creatures of habit. Dogs are and humans are, and a lot of humans do the same walks every single day. More often than not, they leave the house, they walk somewhere, and they walk back to the house. If you have, as I said, aggression is complex … but if there is an inkling that your dog’s dog reactivity is because of territory, every day you leave the house, go for a walk and come back to the house, you’re patrolling with your dog. From the dog’s perspective, you’re saying, “This is our territory, now patrol.”

One piece of advice that I give people is as much as possible, change your walk. As much as possible, get into the car, drive somewhere they’ve never been before. I realize that’s tough with working lives, but do it more than you think you need to.

Dominic:              You’re going to enjoy the walk a lot more.

Sue:       You’re going to enjoy your walk a lot more. That can be somewhere you’re only going to see dogs at a distance, even better, even better. … The thing not to do with a reactive dog is take them to Tynemouth beach, where there’s dogs everywhere, and hope that they’re going to be better by being surrounded by the things that they’re worried about, or scared of. Another really simple thing, if it’s possible to do it, is to sit somewhere with your dog, where they’re going to see dogs at a distance … Now, every dog has a threshold that’s slightly different. Some dogs cope with dogs nearer, and some dogs cope with dogs further away.

Dominic:              So they should start far away, obviously.

Sue:       Be really conservative, start really far away. Even if it’s the boot of your car, or your dog is watching with the boot up as dogs pass through the park, every single time a dog turns up, the ATM machine from your pocket should spew really high value treats. No matter how many times I say ‘high value treats,’ people think that means packet dog food, packet dog treats. It doesn’t. It means ‘sell your granny’ kind of food, roast chicken. To be honest, mostly meat. [Chocolate 00:16:43] drops are not going to wash it with most dogs. Mostly meat, roast chicken, steak, hot dog.

Dominic:              Smelly stuff.

Sue:       Stinky stuff. But the delivery of the food is not contingent on your dog’s behaviour, it’s contingent on the arrival of the other dog. While that dog is within view, the food keeps flowing, and the bank of food closes when that dog goes out of sight. You can, believe it or not, counter-condition your dog really quickly with that one, where your dog, instead of seeing other dogs and expecting bad things to happen, will start to say, “There’s the dog, where’s the chicken? There’s a dog over there. Where’s the chicken, mum?” That’s a really, really good thing.

Dominic:              Once you’ve got that eye contact, then you …

Sue:       Then you’re away anyway, because you’ve broken the staring, and the eyeballing. Absolutely, it’s a super, super thing to do

Dominic:              That’s fantastic advice, yeah. I would highly recommend you rewind the podcast, and write that down, and try that with your dog, yeah. That’s brilliant. Thanks very much, Sue. How can people go to find out more about you, Sue? More about what you do?

Sue:       The dog training classes are at Denton Burn Community Centre, on Slatyford Lane. That’s the West end of New Castle. Most of my private cases and behaviour cases would be within the dog’s own environment. If the problem is happening in your home, I would generally do it in your home. If the problem is happening on a walk, then we would do the sessions during on the walk.

Dominic:              You’ve got a website or something as well?

Sue:       Yes, I do. It’s

Dominic:              Brilliant, I’ll put that in the show notes as well, so people, they can check that out.

Sue:       Excellent.

Dominic:              So when you’re not … helping dog owners and running classes, and having interviews with me, how does Sue McCabe like to chill out and relax?

Sue:       I train my own dogs. I do work in trials with my younger boy, who’s behind. It’s a dog sport that actually not very many people are into, which is sad because it’s a wonderful dog sport. I suspect the reason it’s not as popular is you actually have to do quite a bit of training with your dog. There’s an element of agility, an element of nose work, and an element of obedience, which is why I like it because you get all 3. It’s not fast-paced, shall we say? I think people do like fast-paced stuff. If you want something that will train a smart dog to use up their mental energy, it’s one of the best sports out there. Very outdoorsy, though, so if you don’t like outdoor stuff … If you’re not prepared to stand in a field for 6 hours, [working trials 00:19:07] is not the sport for you.

Dominic:              Brilliant, brilliant. Well, thanks very much for your time today, Sue. I really appreciate it. I got a lot of value from it. I’m sure the people that are watching got a lot of value from it as well. I look forward to coming back again, maybe we’ll talk a little bit about puppies next time-

Sue:       Great.

Dominic:              -and what people can do to have a bit more success with their puppies.

Sue:       Excellent. Thanks, Dom.

Dominic:              Thank you, Sue.

Sue:       Thank you.

Dominic:              So how awesome was that, yeah? Thank you to Sue for sharing all those dog training tricks. I could only echo was Sue said in the interview, which was that the most common problem that a lot of my dog training friends, and what I deal with, is dog reactivity. The dog’s being too interested, too reactive to other dogs. The best way that you can stop your dog from being like that is to be more interesting to the dog, use something that the dog likes … Yeah, take it. Good boy. Like a tennis ball, or if your dog likes food, then use food, or if he likes tuggy toys, use tuggy toys; but by using these things, then you’re going to be able to have much more influence over your dog, and he’s going to look to you like you’re his own super hero

Me and Alex the video guy, and Sidney are leaving the drive-thru now. We’ll not tell you which one it is, other drive-thrus are available. We’re off to do a bit more filming for our next project, which is the Super Hero Dog Owners Inner Circle. Next week, I’m going to be telling you a little bit more about that, but it’s going to be a fantastic resource for you to join a community and you’ll … It’s specifically for pet dog owners to help them have more fun with their pet dogs

If you enjoy the podcast, if you’ve read my book, and you enjoyed the book and you want to learn more about how you can become your dog’s super hero, then tune in next week, because I’m going to be telling you all about it in this Superhero Dog Owners Inner Circle. That’s a wrap from me, from Sydney, and from Alex. Thanks again to Sue McCabe. We’ll see you next week. If we don’t see you through the week, we’ll see you through the window, won’t we, Sidney?

Meet the Author

Dom Hodgson