Australian puppy owners are putting their pets at risk by failing to train them properly, one of the country’s top dog trainer has warned.

Here, TV dog expert Heidi Mackay reveals her 10 hacks for stress-free training. All you need are bells, a coconut and REO Speedwagon’s Greatest Hits!

Nowhere near enough of Australia’s five million dogs have been trained properly, the country’s top dog trainer has revealed, a situation that is putting both owners and the dogs themselves in danger.

Leading movie and TV animal handler Heidi Mackay is calling for puppy owners to ensure their pets are obedient from an early age, but says that too often it doesn’t happen.

“Puppies are desperate to learn new commands or tricks and are much happier when they clearly understand the rules,” Heidi says. “If you buy a puppy, you need to take training it seriously. It should be a wonderful bonding experience for you both.”

Even when they are taught basic commands, Heidi says that owners sometimes use outdated methods based on punishments rather than rewards that can make dogs more aggressive, a view echoed by the Pet Professionals Guild of Australia.

Heidi, who has trained dogs for dozens of TV shows, films and commercials, including Inspector Gadget and The X-Files, is responsible for the doggie performers in the famous Outback Spectacular live show on The Gold Coast.

Here are her 10 favourite hacks for stress-free puppy training…

1.     Only 5 minutes a day

You can start training a puppy from the day it comes home with you. It’s never too soon! But they have very short attention spans so only spend five minutes on it or else they’ll get bored and restless.

2.     Praise them 50 times

The best way to teach is through lots and lots of praise. It’s far more effective than getting cross when they get it wrong. A puppy needs at least 50 positive affirmations to learn that it’s done the right thing.

“When it obeys, I always use the same ‘bridge word’ to show my approval. If I used a load of different ones like ‘yes’, ‘good girl’, ‘well done’ and ‘excellent’ it’d get very confused!”

If you do need to reprimand it, always do it straight after it has misbehaved. There’s no point in angrily sending a pup to its bed for ripping up a shoe in the house while you were out as it won’t understand what it’s done wrong.

3.     Beat bath time jitters

Puppies love getting filthy, so they need regular baths, but the experience can be scary for them. Use warm water and a specialist shampoo like WAHL’s Puppy Shampoo, which contains no harsh detergents or chemicals. I find most pups soon get used to bath time and enjoy a good soaping.

If it becomes a battle, however, then you can get a waterless shampoo where you don’t even need to rinse them afterwards.

4.     Make darkness your old friend

A newborn pup is just like a newborn baby – it needs to be taught that night time is for sleeping! If possible, put them to bed in a dark room so they associate a lack of light with getting some shut eye.  Studies have shown that dogs find the smell of coconut calming, so that’s worth a try too.

5.     Crate them up

Sticking your fur baby in a small cage may sound cruel, but crates are very effective for toilet training and sleep. Dogs like a safe, warm place and they won’t want to wee over it. Leave them inside it overnight and then let them outside first thing and they’ll quickly learn to go to the toilet outside.

6.     Canine calming tunes

Researchers at the University of Glasgow found that soft rock from bands like Air Supply, REO Speedwagon and Fleetwood Mac relaxes dogs more than other music. If your pup barks or cries when you leave the house, try leaving the radio tuned to an easy listening station.

7.     Brush up on grooming

Puppies need regular grooming, but make sure you have the right brush for their coat. For my long-haired puppies, I use a de-shedder brush, while for others I find a de-shedding glove works a treat.
Getting puppies used to and comfortable with the sound and vibration of Clippers and Trimmers is important too, it would help to enlist the help of a partner or friend to hold and pat the dog – this will ensure a more enjoyable experience for you and your pet in the future.  Using a quiet clipper can also help with this.  There’s a great free guide to grooming here.

8.     A doggie door bell

It can be frustrating for a young dog when it wants to go outside to relieve itself, but can’t make you understand. One trick I’ve seen work really well is to attach a bell to the back door and train the dog to ring it if it needs a wee.

It sounds hard, but if you get it to knock the bell with its paw before it’s allowed out, it’ll soon get the idea.

9.     Nailing it

A lot of puppies hate having their nails clipped, so attempting to cut all of them in one go will be an ordeal for you both.  I never clip more than one claw a day, and give a little reward afterwards so my dogs trust that nothing bad will happen.  Another great solution is ‘grind & smooth’ nail grinder.

10.  Training on the go

It’s a good idea to do the training in as many different places as possible, so the dog becomes confident wherever they are and understands that the same rules need to be followed. Begin in your home, but then do some sessions at the dog park, a friend’s house or a local reserve. It’s important they learn to be obedient even when there are other dogs to distract them.

About Heidi Mackay

Heidi developed a passion for animal training from an early age and over the last 25 years has become one of Australia’s most respected horse and dog trainer, working on numerous TV shows, commercials and movies. She oversees the day-to-day care and training of the 25 ‘cast members’ at the world famous Outback Spectacular live show in The Gold Coast

She has worked on many major films including Inspector Gadget, Little Rascals, The X-Files and 2022’s Christmas hit Mistletoe Ranch. Heidi recently worked with her talented dogs on the latest WAHL Dirty Dog commercials.