Have you seen the new John Lewis advert with the little dragon who can’t control his fire?

Cute isn’t it?

If you haven’t seen it yet you can watch Excitable Edgar who loved Christmas a little too much below.

Edgar reminds me of a lot of the dogs I work with. Dogs that are doing completely natural behaviours but perhaps at the wrong time, in the wrong circumstances or with a little too much enthusiasm. 

In the advert we see Edgar in a number of scenarios where the little girl “knows” he’s going to have difficulty containing himself, he’s completely overfaced without the necessary behavioural repertoire he needs for there to be any success.

Bless him, he tries really hard but the situations are just too difficult for him to handle. 

Until the little girl has the bright idea of teaching Edgar a new behaviour. A new behaviour based on something he can already do too – more on why that’s important another time. I’m willing to bet there was some practise behind the scenes that we don’t see, because Edgar seems to have a little more control over his nostril flames in the last scene.

What we also see in that last scene is that the environment is a little less intense. People are sitting, there’s no big overly exciting event going on. The little girl has helped Edgar add to his behaviour skill set and then takes him to just the right environment for him to show them off. Everyone is happy and Edgar gets to take part in Christmas after all.

It seems to me that we need to do exactly the same with our dogs. If you know your dog doesn’t have the skills to navigate certain situations right now then you do have some choices. You can avoid the scenarios that are going to be too hard, either by not taking your dog to those places, or managing him another way like with gates or crates at home. You could do that forever if there’s just a few places that your dog will find a struggle – we avoid walking near the location of pheasant pens for instance –  but for some dogs that means that their world gets just a little too small.

So if you want to eventually be able to enjoy having your dog accompany you to those places and events then you need to help him develop the necessary skills for success. Starting in easy environments (like at home, where Edgar and his friend started) and then building in difficulty step by step. 

This applies whether your dog struggles around people or other dogs, has trouble paying attention to you on walks when there are deer or pheasant around, or you just need to damp down the flames of enthusiasm around all things Christmas.