Calming down a mischievous dog: Barney’s story

Joanne de la Chapelle is the owner of Barney, an excitable 21-month-old Shih Tzu. After turning to behaviourist Emma for help with his unruly ways, she discovered the surprising benefits of dog behaviour training.

When it came to choosing a dog, Joanne de la Chapelle from Oxford knew exactly what she had in mind: ‘I wanted a dog with character, that was good with children, as I have a 10-year-old daughter, and not too big. A Shih Tzu fitted the bill.’


Barney was eight weeks old when he arrived at Joanne’s – and already came with a reputation for mischief. ‘The breeder had nicknamed him Beethoven, after the naughty Saint Bernard from the films,’ says Joanne. ‘He had a cheeky way about him, which I love. In my eyes, he could do no wrong. Big mistake!’

The signs were there early on: ‘Barney stole things; I’d find chewed pairs of glasses – annoying when it’s your expensive sunnies, but more serious when it’s your mum’s prescription pair. I thought he’d grow out of it.’

He was also fearless. ‘When I began letting Barney off his lead in the park, he was off and away, and all over people,’ recalls Joanne. ‘Last summer he headed towards a picnicking family with a baby. As I ran over to grab hold of him, I could see they were upset. His boisterous, super-friendly nature was clearly a problem.’

Joanne and Barney together

Partners in crime

Barney loved jumping into the arms of Joanne and her 10-year-old daughter Charlotte. ‘She was a partner in crime, encouraging him because it was fun,’ says Joanne. ‘But with strangers, it wasn’t so good. If I said, “Barney, down!” it only made him jump up more. And when he jumped, he would often scratch.’

Joanne’s well-meaning parents also inadvertently fed Barney’s naughty ways by giving him scraps from the table, which led to him begging and getting over-excited. ‘I was a bit lazy with training Barney, but I’d also never met a dog with so many issues,’ says Joanne. ‘He developed an embarrassing habit of trying to hump other dogs, male or female. Taking him for a walk was stressful – I avoided the park or places where there were too many people. I loved him, but he was exasperating.’

Last year, behaviourist Emma of Le Chien et Moi in Oxford came into Barney and Joanne’s lives. ‘It was the start of the new Barney,’ says Joanne. ‘The first discussion was about his food. I’d never given it any thought, but Emma said I was feeding him the equivalent of Smarties at every meal – no wonder he was hyperactive!’ Switching to a good quality wet food and kibble made Barney noticeably calmer, as did neutering him.

Barney chewing up the blinds

Teaching recall to a stubborn dog

With Barney already more chilled, Joanne tackled his recall next, with Emma’s help. ‘Chasing after him was the exact opposite of what you should do,’ she says. ‘I started using a harness on him, which reduced his pulling, and Emma suggested putting him on a long line. I’d say, “Barney, come” – and even if he just looked round at me, I’d reward him with some chicken or sausage. Eye contact is really important for obedience.’

Barney needed the treats for a few months, but now comes back without them. ‘He will even bring back a ball for me to throw,’ adds Joanne.

Dog behaviour training in action

To stop the jumping up, Emma instructed Joanne to turn her back on Barney and not speak to him. ‘The silence or ignoring can’t be half-hearted,’ says Joanne. ‘There was an instant change – I was amazed. Now when he meets someone, I don’t have to worry: there’s no fuss. He stays where he is and waits for them to come down to his level.’

Joanne has also introduced brain games: ‘I didn’t have a clue that dogs need mental stimulation as much as walks,’ she says. ‘Now Barney has lots of puzzles where he has to use his sense of smell to find hidden treats. He’s learned to swim, too; another activity to keep his mind active.’

Even the way Joanne speaks to Barney is different: ‘He knows I’m the boss and he can’t run rings round me anymore!’ Their relationship has improved massively, as has that with her family, friends, and Emma – ‘who is now my wife, thanks in part to Barney,’ smiles Joanne. ‘I trust him and he’s a loyal, happy fella who can socialise with other dogs. When I see him playing, I feel so proud. He makes my heart melt.’

Barney is now much better around other dogs

What have you successfully trained your pooch to do? Let us know on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #PethoodStories

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