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Training a rescue terrier with Sue McCabe – Part 3

When we adopted gorgeous Patch I decided I wanted to learn more about doggy behaviour and what drives our pups

If you read parts one and two of Patch’s training diary you will see that the main areas we need to work on are him being excited around other dogs and recall.

We’ve been working with behaviourist Sue McCabe from Muttamorphosis in Newcastle.

I decided to write about his progress as I know some readers are terrier parents too – so hopefully this will be helpful.

And the brilliant news is that Patch is doing so well and coming on in leaps and bounds – I’m so proud of him!

This is how we got on during our third session with Sue.

Walking to heel on a ‘smiling lead’

This is one of the things you don’t really notice, but we hadn’t seen Sue for over a month when we had our third session so she really saw a difference. 

Imagine if your dog is pulling on the lead, the lead is tight and in a straight line. But if they’re walking along beside you, it dips in the middle, like a smile.

When Sue talked about this and the fact that it was already happening, it twigged that Patch was – most of the time unless cats or squirrels were around – walking to heel.

To ensure this happens, she suggests we walk calmly and if he starts to pull, I stop and give him a good reason to be beside me, like a piece of high value food.

This should improve his focus as we walk on, feeding him by my side after a few steps while on a loose leash. I can then build the steps up before feeding. 

Sue explains: “With the lead, aim to have a ‘smile’ where it dips down in the middle, so your dog isn’t pulling at all. 

“The simple idea is that a tight leash results in a stop, while a loose leash results in you moving forward.

“Patch will work out the only way to get what he wants is to hold back, not pull forward.

“Sometimes what your dogs wants is to move towards a good smell and this is fine, so long as he’s not pulling towards it.” 

You can watch Sue’s video on loose leash walking here and one finger walking (that’s when you hold the leash with one finger so you’re more sensitive to pulling) here.

training tips for terriers from Sue McCabe
A ‘smiling’ lead – see how it dips in the middle?

Impulse control in the ‘squirrel zone’

Like many dogs, Patch has a high prey drive and gets very excited around the dreaded ‘squirrel zone’ in our local park.

If your dog does too, you might enjoy reading Why does my dog chase squirrels and how can I stop him?

I’ve been working on getting him to focus on me in this super high distraction environment and not dragging me all over the place – and it’s working!

Sue recommends playing with a toy just outside of the ‘zone’ so he comes to expect to have fun with me rather than the squirrels.

I’ve been practicing this with a tug toy which I keep in his walking bag, so I stop, get the toy out, play with him for a few minutes on his lead, then we carry on our walk.

Sue suggests: “You can decrease your distance to the excitement (squirrel zone) over time as he gets better at expecting a different outcome.  

“You can also play with his favourite toy on the periphery of this zone, building a new habit of expectation that involves fun from you, rather than from the environment.”

Why dogs love chasing squirrels and how to stop them
Squirrels can be challenging while trying to train your pup!

Practice recall in a safe environment

At our local park we have a brilliant dog exercise area that is fenced off where I regularly take Patch to play off lead – he loves it!

I usually take his favourite tennis balls and I’ve been practicing using his recall cue when he comes running towards me with his ball.

The more he associates the sound with running towards me, the more chance I have of calling him back when the day comes when he’s allowed off lead!

With Sue, rather than playing with his toys, we walked around and let Patch have some ‘free time’ to sniff and run around.

Occasionally, I would call him back using my recall cue and give him a reward, and he came back which is huge progress!

Sue said: “You can use the dog park to start to put a little bit of responsibility on Patch so he understands that he needs to keep an eye on you, or he may lose you.”

Patch waiting for his ball in the exercise area

Scatter feeding on a long line

Patch loves meeting other dogs and at first he would drag me over to greet them, but we have worked on this and it’s improved considerably.

He does greet dogs but far more calmly, and when a dog approaches, he no longer pulls me towards them and instead holds steady and waits for me to let him say ‘hi.’

So the next step was seeing how Patch reacted on his long line in an area with other dogs so we chose a large grassy space in the park for a scatter feeding session.

I let go of his long line and scattered high value food for him to eat. Use something your dog REALLY loves, chopped up small.

We use a mix of chicken, cocktail sausage, cheese and Guru pet food and you simply let your dog sniff out and eat the food.

Other dogs were playing in the distance but instead of running off to see them, Patch focused on finding the food and on me scattering more treats.

This is described as desensitising at a distance, so the distraction (the other dogs) becomes peripheral or on the edge rather than the main focus.

Sue said: “Patch is learning well. To progress, get closer to the distractions while playing on the long line so if he does decide to run over you are able to control him.

“It’s a learning curve for him, and will take time, and what you’re looking for is for him to see another dog, ignore it and return to the game with you.”

Patch enjoying a sniff around on his long line


This was absolutely my favourite session so far with Sue because we saw that Patch has made real progress. 

She was really pleased with his focus, him walking to heel and said she recognised how much work we have been putting in.

When you’re living with a dog every day, you don’t see the changes as they are gradual, but I was absolutely over the moon seeing how much he has learned.

The main thing for me is to always be prepared, so I never leave for a walk without the Patch bag filled with toys and treats.

We’ve been getting to the park really early in the morning most days to play and work on his recall and it’s really making a difference.

It takes time, but learning together is helping strengthen the bond I have with him and that is so rewarding to see!

To find out more about Sue, visit her website, 

If you enjoyed this post or if you have a dog with similar characteristics as Patch, you might like Training a rescue terrier with Sue McCabe Part 1 or Training a rescue terrier with Sue McCabe Part 2.

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