3 concepts Lacking in 90% of Reactive Dogs

The Naughty But Nice struggle 

Everyday living can be tough when you are a Naughty But Nice dog owner. You cast an envious eye at those walking their dogs casually down the street without a care in the world. You see your friends post pictures of their dogs doing their favourite dog sports and quietly mourn the dream you had of competing. You look at your dog after they’ve kicked off and wonder just how you are ever going to get you both through this. 


It can be a very bleak place to be in.

Then you see a blog post or video or post on social media extolling the virtues of games based training and you think, “yeah, right. All very well for others with ‘normal’ dogs, but won’t work for us.” Your problems are just too serious to be resolved by playing games. 

We hear you. We really do. Because we’ve been there. We’ve felt the despair, and the darkness, and the struggle. We’ve wondered how it could ever be possible to transform our Naughty But Nice dogs through games. 

But we are here to tell you that it can be done. We’ve done it ourselves and we’ve trained many owners in a similar position to yours to do it too. And we are here to show you that it can work for you too.

A real life example

Nicola’s story

“Before I came to our Naughty But Nice camp at Devon Dogs, I thought there was something seriously wrong with my border terrier, Baxter. He was super reactive, to the extent that I had to walk him at odd times of day to avoid meeting any other dogs. Things were really bleak and our relationship was at such a low point. 

I was quite apprehensive about Tom the Vet Behaviourist seeing Baxter on the camp. No one wants to hear that their dog is broken, and that was what I suspected. But in three words, Tom transformed my whole relationship with Baxter. 

‘He’s just scared,’ he said. 

Tom explained that Baxter over processed everything and his pessimism was making him perceive almost everything as a threat. My whole outlook changed in that instant. He was just frightened. Not broken. Not crazy. Just scared. 

And the best bit was, there was plenty we could do about it. Games based concept training has massively boosted Baxter’s confidence, taught him to be optimistic and helped him to deal with whatever comes up. My confidence as Baxter’s owner and teacher has massively improved. I know how to communicate with him now, how to teach him, how to help him get the best out of life. Our life together is fun now, thanks to games based concept training.”

Can games really make that much of a difference? 

In a word, YES! 

Games teach your dog:

  • that novelty isn’t scary
  • how to deal with new things in the environment or new events occurring
  • problem solving skills
  • that different and challenging situations are fun
  • to look on the bright side, transforming a pessimist to an optimist
  • confidence
  • self control 

Concepts for life

The three concepts we generally find are lacking in 90% of Naughty But Nice dogs are:

  1. calmness
  2. self control 
  3. optimism

Building these concepts in your dog is key to transforming your dog from one who reacts to everything to one who can easily cope with anything life brings their way.

And how do we do that? We play games! 

Games based concept training: the future for Naughty But Nice dogs 

1. Calmness

NBN dogs tend to over process everything. Their brains are switched to alert at all times and switching off tends to be something that they find extremely difficult, with some not managing it at all. You can appreciate that this is a pretty exhausting way to live. The tap above your Naughty But Nice dog’s stress bucket is constantly stuck ON - dripping or frankly flowing into the bucket all the time. 

Teaching calmness helps your dog to both turn off the tap and to empty the bucket. Calmness games will give you the ability to dial down your dog’s arousal level and will help your dog to find the value in kicking back and relaxing, rather than kicking off. 

Try these games to help create calmness:

Scatter feeding

Sniffing is massively calming for dogs. Scatter feeding is a great game to create calmness by getting your dog using their nose. Ditch the bowl and let your dog hunt for their breakfast using a snuffle mat. Or take the game into the garden and let your dog hunt for their breakfast in the grass. You’ll both have fun, and you’ll have a dog that is calm and ready to rock the day. Win-win! 

Rest for Success

Remember that dogs need time to rest and recharge, just like we do. This is especially the case if your dog finds the activities of daily living a challenge. Remember that things we don’t even notice, like the sound of the dishwasher clicking on, or doors opening and closing, can be triggers for your NBN dog. 

Your task for this game is to go all out to make sure your dog has a calm, quiet space (crates or raised beds are great), situated out of the way of the hustle, bustle and everyday household noises, where they can go to relax, recharge and drain that stress bucket. 

2. Self control

The world can be a really scary place for NBN dogs. When everything that happens to your NBN dog - good or bad - triggers their system into overdrive, their brain goes into survival mode and thinking rationally just isn’t possible. The key here is to teach your dog to think, rather than react - bring on the self control games! 

Self control games teach your dog that good things happen if they exercise self control and make good choices. Delayed gratification, if we are getting fancy 😉, is not something that comes naturally to most dogs, never mind NBN dogs, but it is a life skill they can definitely learn and one that will set them up for success!

Mouse game

Place a pile of treats on the floor, make a cage with your hand over the food. Don’t let your dog get to the food (so no cheeky licking the food through your fingers!) When your dog backs off your hand/takes their attention off of your hand, flick out a piece of food for them. Reset your hand and the game begins again. 

Our Boundary Games DVD is jam packed full of games to teach your dog self control.

3. Optimism

NBN dogs are often pessimists and when your dog is in that headspace anything new, different, or challenging will trigger feelings of fear and uncertainty. The deepest, oldest parts of your dog’s brain doesn’t like these feelings as it interprets them as a threat to survival and so BOOM your dog is melting down at the end of the lead because a plastic bag blew across the path. 

Is it the case of once a pessimist, always a pessimist? Not at all. Your dog’s outlook is very much something you can work on, develop, and ultimately change. You can teach your dog to be an optimism through the power of games. 

Noise Box

This is our favourite game for boosting your dog’s optimism and being cool with novelty. Fill a box with items that crunch, rattle, move and shake, like empty bottles, cardboard packets, balls, etc. Scatter your dog’s breakfast in the box and let them hunt for it among the items. Your dog will learn that things that move are not so scary and that being cool gets great rewards! 

Reward Anything 

Nothing boosts a dog’s confidence and optimism like the Reward Anything game.

To play the game, sit with your dog and reward anything they do, especially anything that is particularly bold, confident or inquisitive. It doesn’t have to be massive action, just a small head move if your dog is particularly under confident is a great place to start. 

As your dog enjoys the rewards of their behaviour, their confidence will build and they will offer more and more. This game makes your dog feel like a hero.  

Real life results for you and your Naughty But Nice dog

Life with a Naughty But Nice dog can be tough going at times. Seeing your dog so unhappy is distressing, and the smallest things can trigger kickoffs that make huge withdrawals from your Relationship Bank Account. But by playing games and using concept based training, you can change your NBN’s dog’s life and transform the life you live together. 

Games really do get real life results for real life struggles - so go PLAY! 


  • Is there a way to buy an e-copy of the dvd’s or book?

  • We rescued a Border Terrier in this past February. He’s only 3, but has had a terrible life. He’s been on the streets,a shelter and abused. Our Scottie wants to play with him, but he doesn’t trust him. He’s always on the defense growling and barking. He’s never had a stable home until now. Any suggestions??

    Beth Albone
  • Baxter in the story above sounds exactly like Dusty – my 140 lb Pyrenees cross who reacts to everything. I have always said he was scared. I hope to find out how to solve these problems for him and me.

    Char WIlson
  • Ok ok. So you think your NBN isn’t able to change because if all the excuses you come up with. Let me tell you, i have had and currently still have NBN dogs. Not all 5, but 2 out of the 5 are. They needed redirection and me, i needed reflection of what i was or wasnt including in my daily training with my dogs.
    I stumbled upon training academy by fluke a few years ago and you’d think i would have enough information to do it alone regards to moving my NBNs to optimistic dogs who are works in progress. Sure, i could stop and do it alone, but i dont want to. I enjoy being able to surround myself with positive people who are all about moving forward in thier dogs emotional experiences.
    I can attest to the training academy and NBN program success. My youngest dog was scared of novelty and he showed me every day what hes able to handle and those people, places or things he’s not so sure of. I trained him inside the house to prepare him for those novelities he was worried about. Then took him back out and practiced what he learned inside, now out in the real world.
    He has done Amazingly well at his confidence and now i am confident he is able to be off leash in areas we stayed away from for months.
    I have been a reactive dog guardian for decades and it has been the past 4 yrs that has been my most growth as a trainer and guardian. Sure, ive had some great dogs, trained and obedient, sport dogs etc. But not like this. Where the whole dog is being treated.
    I am empowered, i enjoy encouraging others and most of all i enjoy being better than the day before.

    Sherry Knechtel
  • I have a small staffie girl who came to us when she was one and a half. If a dog looked at her for a second she would bark and lunge at them. She is five now and I do agility with her. I bought the NBN dvd which helped me to know how to help her. I found that keeping a bit of a diary of achievements helped a lot so that when it felt as if we were getting nowhere I could look back and realise how far we had come. I also had to remind myself to be an optimist and enjoy the journey. XXX

    Shirley Robinson

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