Dog listening FAQ


How was this method of living and working with dogs developed?

This method was developed by Jan Fennell the world famous Dog Listener and author of the internationally bestselling books – The Dog Listener and The Practical Dog Listener.

After becoming dissatisfied with traditional training methods and the increased use of gadgets, Jan went on to study behaviourism – which told her why dogs do what they do, but not what she could do to influence their behaviour in a kind and positive way. Jan then became aware of a ‘Cowboy from the States’ that the Queen had brought over to work with her horses.

The Cowboy was Monty Roberts, The Horse Whisperer or – as he calls himself – The Man Who Listens to Horses.

Jan was inspired by Monty’s natural, kind and force-free approach to working with horses and went on to use the same philosophy in the development of Amichien® Bonding, her revolutional approach to living and working with dogs.

Both of these enlightened individuals realised that it was only by learning the language of the animal and truly understanding the world from their perspective, that we could ever hope to influence their behaviour in a kind and positive way.

What is this method based on?

This method is based on studies of the wolf pack and other wild living canines. The domestic dog is a direct descendant of the wolf and shares the same basic programming and almost identical DNA.

Wolves and other wild-living canines understand about safety in numbers and live in a group called the pack. This pack has a strict hierarchy, at the top of which are the Alpha pair who literally dominate and dictate pack life completely. The Alpha pair are the most competetent members of the pack and therefore the most suitable to be the Pack Leaders.

The Alpha pair are the decision-makers, the ones to be trusted. The rest of the pack have complete respect for them and form a team below the Alpha pair, with everyone content to know that they are fulfilling a vital role within that team.

Problem behaviour in the domestic dog occurs when there is confusion about leadership, particularly if your dog believes that it is his job to be the leader of your pack!

Why would my dog think he is Pack Leader?

It is innate for your dog to look for a Pack Leader; they know that the pack must have a leader in order to survive. They also know that the leader must be the most competent member of the pack in canine terms.

Without realising we are doing so, we elect our dogs to the role of leader. We do this by – in their eyes – raising their status and therefore their position within the hierarchy, and also by not behaving like a canine leader ourselves.

Under these circumstances the dog truly believes that he must take on the role of leader, there is no choice in the matter. This is irrespective of whether or not he is suitable to the role, or – as is most often the case – not!

How do I show my dog that I am Pack Leader?

The kind and positive way to let your dog know that you are Pack Leader is by showing him, through your behaviour on a daily basis, that you are at the top of the pack hierarchy.

By calmly, confidently and consistently behaving like a canine leader, you let your dog know that you will take care of things and reassure him that he can trust you and your decision making.

What kind of problem behaviour does this method help with?

Problem behaviour occurs as the dog – believing he has been elected Pack Leader – attempts to carry out this role of responsibility in an environment that he is ill equiped to understand; the human world!

Pulling on the lead, excessive barking, jumping up at visitors, problems in the car, destructiveness, separation anxiety, aggression towards other dogs and people, chasing cyclists, barking at cars, fear of noise, toileting in the house…the list goes on.

All of these things and many more can be traced back to the dog’s belief that he is Pack Leader and that it is therefore his job to take care of you!

How does becoming Pack Leader help with problem behaviour?

It is innate for your dog to look for a leader of the pack. Once your dog has elected you as that leader you become the decision maker and the one to be trusted. You will inspire self control in your dog – the very best kind – as it makes complete sense to them, to cooperate with the leader.

Any problem behaviour that doesn’t naturally disappear over time can be calmly and gently resolved by presenting your dog with consequences to actions that make sense to him.

Coming from the leader of the pack, these consequences are far more effective than if the dog believes that this is his role and sees you as the one who needs taking care of!

Why does my dog pull on the lead?

If your dog believes he is Pack Leader, he will believe it is his job to lead what he sees as the hunt! A dog has no understanding of ‘going for a walk’ that’s a human thing. That’s why you see so many people being taken for a walk by their dog. In the dogs mind he’s leading the hunt and the owner just needs to keep up!

Why does my dog pull on the way out but walk beside me on the way home?

On the way out your dog is focused on the hunt, on the way home his only job is to keep you safe. Some dogs pull both ways and some dogs really don’t want to go out there at all and will sit down in the road, drag their heels or run home at the first opportunity.

It can be a scarey world out there for your dog. With other predators – canine and human – all around, loud and fast moving traffic passing close by, skateboarders and cyclists whizzing by, people pushing prams, excited children playing – the list goes on, all of these things and more can be perceived as a threat and therefore a cause for concern to your dog!

Why is my dog aggressive to other dogs?

If your dog sees herself as Pack Leader then it’s her job to keep you safe. Other dogs can be seen as – at best – a cause for concern and – at worst – as a direct threat to survival! Very often the dogs you meet out on the walk will also see themselves as Pack Leaders and therefore responsible for the safety of their packs!

When dogs meet they use body language, eye contact and posture to communicate and reassure each other that they are not a threat. Lots of dogs manage these interactions without resorting to aggression but for many the stress of leadership – often combined with one of the contributing factors listed below – will lead to an aggressive reaction.

It is often a pre-emptive strike with some dogs literally crossing fields to attack other dogs a fair distance away!

Contributing factors that can cause your dog to react aggressively towards another dog:

  1. Your dog has previously been attacked by another dog. This can leave your dog wary of all dogs that she doesn’t know. Until she has established that an unknown dog is definitely not a threat, she will treat them as a threat and potentially get in there first with a warning bark, growl or – attack!
  2. Your dog is – or has previosly been – injured or ill and is therefore feeling vulnerable. This can also be the case as the dog grows older.
  3. Your dog is on the lead and therefore can’t run away if she is worried by another dog. Her options are flight, freeze or fight. If she can’t run away (if she is pack leader she would expect you to follow her) and freeze isn’t working because the other dog keeps coming, then she is only left with one option – fight!
  4. When another dog approaches, you start to panic and tighten up the lead,whilst verbally trying to reassure your dog. Your dog picks up that you are worried (they can tell when your pulse rate goes up) and blames the approaching dog. All the more reason to see it off!

These are some of the contributing factors that can cause your dog to use aggression towards other dogs. Whatever the cause, by taking leadership and becoming the decision maker you can calmly and confidently reassure your dog – in the correct manner – and guide her away from conflict.

Sadly there is not much that we can do about other people and their dog aggressive dogs, other than to avoid them and manage our own dogs responsibly.

How long does it take to convince my dog that I am Pack Leader?

This varies from dog to dog, just like us they are individuals with unique personalities. It does take time and patience and it is not a quick fix – you are asking your dog to trust you with his life!

However, we often see positive changes in the dog’s behaviour by the end of the 4 hour consultation. Things should then continue to improve as you consistently show your dog that you are – without doubt – the most suitable member of your pack to be leader.

There will be days when progress feels slow and your patience is tested and others when you forge ahead in leaps and bounds!

Becoming fluent in your dogs language is essential and this takes you time, so it’s best not to set time limits which put pressure on the situation.

Taking your time and keeping stress and pressure out of the equation is essential. Your dog is highly attuned to how you are feeling and as a competent leader you must remain calm and keep your head at all times!

Is there any force or use of gadgets involved?

The very simple answer to this question is NO!

This method is a kind and positive approach to living and working with dogs.

There is no place for the use of force or gadgets.

We are looking to gain the trust and therefore the cooperation of the dog and we do this by showing them that we are kind and benevolent leaders, who have their very best interests at heart.

The consequences to actions that we use to show our dogs when their behaviour is undesirable, involve no force and no gadgets and are based on understanding the world from the dog’s perspective.

The use of force creates fear and blocks learning.

Ask yourself what kind of leader you would like to be?

The kind of leader who inspires trust, respect and devotion and therefore cooperation through choice OR the kind that uses force, fear and domination to make others do their will?

Can Dog Listening be used alongside traditional dog training and obedience?

Once you have achieved the position of Pack Leader, you will find that you have very little need for traditional dog training and obedience.

By gaining trust, respect and therefore cooperation from your dog, you inspire self control – the very best form – and no longer need to continually issue commands in a language your dog doesn’t actually understand!

Dogs can learn to make associations with certain words but they do not understand verbal communication. They have their own language which involves the use of eye contact, body language and ritualised behaviour.

By understanding this language, you can communicate with your dog and gain cooperation, rather than having to continually control your dog through dog training and obedience.

If once you have achieved leadership you feel you would still like to do some traditional dog training and obedience then, as long as there is no use of force or gadgets and your dog is happy to do so, you could work with your dog in this way.

Dog Listening can, in fact, form the very best of foundations for many of the most popular dog activities – such as agility, flyball and showing. In all of these events a calm, cooperative dog who trusts and respects you as Pack Leader, will increase your chances of success and enjoyment – for both of you!

What area do you cover?

If you are having dog training or dog behaviour problems in Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire, I would be happy to visit you in your home.

I can also recommend other qualified Dog Listeners for the rest of the UK and the world.

You can verify the qualifications of all registered Dog Listeners by visiting Jan Fennell International Dog Listeners Ltd.

Is this method the same as the one used by Cesar Millan – The Dog Whisperer?

This method is similar to the one used by Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer in that it is based on understanding the canine need for a Pack Leader.

However, the processes used to achieve this differ considerably and there is no place for the use of force in Dog Listening.

For your dog to choose you as Pack Leader – of his own free will – he must see you as a calm, kind and benevolent leader, whom he can trust.

Dog behaviour questions