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What is “Ruff Love” Really?

Posted on 04/18/11 108 Comments

So I have a very naughty 11 week old puppy. Below is the video evidence to prove it.  I thought this would be an ideal time to talk about my Ruff Love program.

When Ruff Love was first released more than 10 years ago it received some pretty harsh criticism from many so called “gurus” in the clicker training or positive dog training circles.

Unfortunately I may have given the reader credit for too much common sense and left, what I felt was the obvious, out of the book.

For some reason people equated “Ruff Love” with keeping a dog hostage. I know some performance dog people do believe to create a drive to work you should completely isolate the dog and the only time he is free is when he gets to his intended “work” for you.

Where is the joy in THAT?

If you know anything about me, you know that was never the intention of the Ruff Love program. As a matter of fact it says so in the book. The point of the program is for you to “supervise” the dog 100% of the time. If you can’t have your focus on the dog then he needs to be crated. If you have time to kill and can watch and monitor where you dog finds his reinforcement in life less crate time will be needed.

Having said all of that, I would caution anyone against allowing behaviours you will see in this video be repeated by your dog or puppy. I am happy to allow a puppy to have his joy and you notice I am there supervising, but don’t allow these rehearsals to happen over and over.

I allowed some of the behaviours to occur; one, because it made for good television and two, I am a professional dog trainer who is pretty confident in my ability to turn this puppy’s focus around although I will admit I have never trained one quite like Swagger. He totally lives up to his name!

Today after looking at this lovely video, I want you to tell me what does “Ruff Love” mean to you? Have you tried the program? How did it go and what were the results.
For those of you that can not view the video I have also posted it to my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/SusanGarrettDogAgility

Today I am grateful for Swagger who is already has me re-writing my puppy training journal.


  1. Robin Morgan says:
    Thursday, December 14, 2017 at 7:49am

    I have purchased and given this book away more times than I can count!

    I had a student about 14 years ago come to me with a dog he had gotten from a shelter. She was a pitbull/shepherd cross. His vet recommended he come see me. He was dying for help with his dog

    Lucy had Zero relationship skills, was aggressive towards other dogs-downright wicked and out for the kill without provocation. I’m sure you know the type. Resource guarding, wouldn’t come, etc. My student Rob, spent hours and hours just trying to get her back after she would take off on the trail after a deer.

    I wasn’t sure I had the skill set to Really help him but I was willing to try and his commitment was what every instructor/trainer dreams of! He was and still is the best student I have ever had.

    We started with what I called Bar Open, Bar Closed. When other dogs were around, we played from a good distance and gradually made progress closer and closer. When they left, we stopped. I didn’t have nearly the skills that I do now but I had a book called Ruff Love, that I knew was written for just this type of dog. We got on it!

    Before long with daily work and commitment, Lucy got socialized with all 4 of my BC’s, she was able to come to my classes, working from a distance on behaviors we taught her. We had many failures during this time and also MANY successes. She finally had value for Rob, her human and me, her trainer. We saw love bloom for her. Before we knew it, she was engaging with Rob in a group class, not only participating but became an example for some of the lessons we covered!

    Although, we had some very serious setbacks at times, eventually we learned to trust her and she us. Ruff Love was and still is, in my opinion the best “dog bible” I know. If you keep things in context and follow the instructions, there’s no doubt in my mind that you WILL Succeed!

    The funniest thing about this story is that I still do not own my own copy of the book…I keep giving it away hoping I can help just one more dog from being chained in a back yard, abused or put down for behavior issues. Hopefully, I have been successful!


  2. Dani says:
    Friday, January 20, 2017 at 9:47pm

    I have a 2 year old Jack Russell Terrier who has recently started to exhibit signs of aggression towards my husband and me. He’s always been an alpha dog, but I worked diligently to establish that I am in control of him. Do you think it’s too late to correct these behaviors? Will Ruff Love teach us how combat aggression? I love this dog but have never had to deal with aggressive behavior. Please respond Thank you.


  3. Sky says:
    Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 1:50am

    i was a terrible awful mean harsh owner of a 10 month old rescue Chi mix that was untrained. I used pulling her on her leash, and yelling and putting her nose in it-I was so STUPID AND MEAN. But she changed me, now I only feel guilty that I missed the first few months of having her with love. I wanted to take her to the pound, she was bad, but then i started to understand what had happened to her-her abuse before i got her,, he she was depressed having been thru four homes and underfed nd that all she needed was LOVE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. She then became a perfectly mannered little girl and i am a com[petely chnged person. I was afraid to love and had only been shown harsh training before. thank you to online programs that helped me to be a good owner and better person.She is my best friend , a service dog (alerts me to a medical condition needing meds)and is doing agility for fun.
    Dogs are our gurus , and angels. Us humans need to know alternatives to th mean and harsh training of the past.


  4. kit darwin says:
    Monday, July 20, 2015 at 8:53am

    the price for the Recalls project is way to much for me. do you give discounts to veterans or seniors?


    • susan says:
      Friday, September 22, 2017 at 3:15am

      did you ever get an answer to this question?


  5. Denice says:
    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 2:49pm

    I was ready to take my puppy back to the breeders because she was so naughty. I cried the first few weeks I had her and thought I made the biggest mistake of my life. I failed as a mom. “Ruff Love” turned it all around and now I’m proud to say I have the perfect little girlie that I adore! thank you.


  6. zendog says:
    Monday, January 2, 2012 at 1:31pm

    I m starting ruff love program but after 24h my dog doesn’t go anymore in his crate. I have good success with crate game, but my dog start to understant it’s not anymore a game. How can i manage this ?


  7. Corne says:
    Saturday, October 29, 2011 at 6:58pm

    I have 2 rescue dogs that i want to follow the ruff love program with. And i work full time. And one dog absolutely hates his crate. So, crate training first, that part i have figured out but how to deal with working full time with nobody home during the day. Has anyone been successful as a working mother with the program ? Anyone done the program with 2 dogs at the same time ? Or is it a 1 dog at a time program ?


  8. sharon empson says:
    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 5:31pm

    I have read “ruff Love” and am now home from vacation and am going to implement it with my three rescue terriers. They are not puppies but are very high energy. I am praying this is the answer to help my pups. All are great dogs and desire to be with me more than each other. They love their crates and I am excited about playing the crate games and helping them achieve self control. I wish I would have had this book and video three years ago when I got these dogs. I want to be a better trainer and handler and mom. Thanks for sharing your life with dogs with me. sharon empson


  9. Danielle says:
    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 12:07pm

    I got a sheltie for the first time in my life. She was wild crazy fast and I did not know what to do. She ran over me mentally. Then, a friend of mine gave me Ruff Love. It saved me. My girl has rules that we follow. Stucture, simple structure has helped me so much. Living with structure in every day life showed up in the ring. I do not know what I would have done without Ruff Love. I did not take it to the exact letter, but used it as my guide.
    My dog is 7 now and I hate to write this because it may “jinx” me, but she has never broken her start line.
    Thanks for Ruff Love.


  10. sharon empson says:
    Friday, August 5, 2011 at 12:22am

    Swagger reminds me of my jack russel mix, cody, always busy, always on the move, always running and investigating, always.
    Cody has been the most challenging dog I ever had, and even today at 4 years old, he keeps me on my toes. But he is the most wonderful dog I have ever had. He has the biggest heart and loves, loves, to play (that is what we call training)
    Tires me out, but wouldn’t change it for the world. thanks for the video, it made me smile. Sharon empson


  11. Trisha says:
    Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 11:27pm

    About 3 years ago I brought home a border collie puppy to join my household that already consisted of 4 border collies and one golden retriever. I was shocked to see that once he saw all the other dogs, he couldn’t care less about me and only wanted to be with the other dogs. I had never experienced this with any of my other dogs when I had brought them home as puppies. My new puppy seemed to become depressed when I put the other dogs away and it was just him and I. A friend suggested your book Ruff Love, and I am extremely grateful for that! I did find that overall it was too strict of a program for me to follow 100% but I modified it to something I could follow and the book was a life saver. Every day I made sure I had plenty of one on one time to bond with him and took up other suggestions in the book as well, but still gave him access to play with the other dogs too as it brought him so much joy and I did want everyone else to bond with him too. Nothing happened overnight, and I’m sure because of my “modified” program it took even longer. However after several months the end result was a puppy that loved to work and train with me, and would hands down pick me over playing with the other dogs. Definitely not the puppy I started out with!


  12. Jenny Yasi says:
    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 8:50am

    Hey there, wondering, I don’t think it says in Ruff Love how Susan teaches “drop it” (or “outs”). I am assuming its a two toy game thing? Can anyone reference for me that puppy game, where I can see how Susan does it? I know the spank the baby game, but how’s it end? I am thinking I don’t want Bee to just give up and drop it, but I was teaching drop it as a trade ya sort of game, for food, and wondering if two toys have enough difference of value for her to want to trade one for the other. I also know the “dead toy” thing, but I need toy refresher. I’m coming in June, and I bet that will be part of the curriculum, but I don’t want to do the wrong thing til June!


  13. Ria says:
    Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 8:21am

    I was also planning on getting a pup, and I was so lucky I get to see this blog..it’s great and is very helpful…


  14. kelly says:
    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 9:16pm

    I have been recently reading Ruff Love in anticipation of getting a puppy in about three weeks. I would like to do the program but had a few questions. One has to do with socialization when doing the program with a young puppy. I guess I am wondering how it fits in? Also I already have two other three year old dogs that have NOT been through the program if you know what I mean 😉 and I am trying to visualize the new pups unavoidable interactions with them and how I will/should handle them. I wish I could put them all through the program at once but I don’t think I have enough time in one day-which leads to another question: if you have multiple dogs is it best to do the program all at once or one at a time? If anybody has any thoughts or opinions on any of this it would be appreciated!


    • Katarina says:
      Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 7:20pm

      Susan will do a course about raising Swagger. This would be amazing opportunity for you and your puppy, you can really see HOW to play with puppy and create value for you, while training some awesome behaviors.
      It’s great if your adult dogs can be verbally controlled, if not, you will have to separate them, especially when training the little one. Of course you do socialization, but the puppy is learning all the time, so it has to be supervised. Puppy will be learning that he gets awesome treats and games with YOU while other dogs are around.


  15. Marla says:
    Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 9:29pm

    WHen I read Ruff Love, I realized we’d been instinctively applying most of the ideas, such as crating whenever we are unable to supervise, and otherwise attempting to remove freely available reinforcers. This does not entail complete isolation by any means, and when we are able to supervise our puppy she ejoys more interesting experiences than many human beings.
    The Ruff Love program still stumps me on one front, however. I live in an apartment with a very high energetic dog. So I HAVE to take her outside for runs and play. But it is unfortunately impossible for me to remove all stimulus from the environment. We live in an urban area, and I had never noticed how much trash litters the street until I started walking our puppy through them. It seems that every five steps there is a styrofoam plate, a bottle, newspaper, leftover food scrap, interesting plastic thingamajig…you name it. No matter how much attention you pay, at some point, she will find a reward on her own. Like chicken bones in the plot of grass I told her to “go pee” in which, even after an inspection, I failed to see.
    How does one compete? And how does one recover from those situations?
    We’re working on it. But it seems that Ruff Love works best when you can actually control your environment, which is not always the case. Am I missing something?


    • Laura says:
      Friday, May 6, 2011 at 7:54am

      Part of the answer is the head halter. If they are on a head halter, then you can control whether or not they get reinforced by things on the ground. When they do, you gently pull their head up next to your leg, then release and see what choice they make – do they pay attention to you or do they go back to the distraction? At first, even a microsecond of attention on you can be rewarded with something yummy.
      While it might not be something Susan chooses to do, I’ve chosen to put a cue on the behaviour “we’re walking without sniffing now”, but if I give her release word, it means she can now sniff (but still not pull if she’s still on the leash). I found that by doing this, and alternating between ‘with me’ (my cue) and ‘okay’ (i.e. go sniff) on a walk, it has made it easier for her to understand the difference (I feel it’s made it more black and white for her) and be more accepting of not being able to sniff, knowing at any time I might allow her to sniff. And by alternating between these two walking styles, it has also shown me that she fully understands what ‘with me’ means.


  16. Pat says:
    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 8:56pm

    When I first read Ruff Love I just could not come to terms with crating my dog 24/7 for seven weeks or more. Years have gone by, I am now taking the Recallers course and now I see the wisdom of not allowing the dog to rehearse unwanted behaviors. I now supervise these behaviours, perhaps they would not have occurred if I had followed Ruff Love. I will say this, back then, my understanding of how Ruff Love should be implemented was flawed. I’m glad I did not do it. I knew nothing of how to create Joy for the dog. I did not understand anything about the necessity of providing a Balance with everything I do with the dog. I think I could have easily misunderstood and focused too much on work with no balance of play.


  17. Claire says:
    Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 3:56pm

    I can’t find the video on the facebook page ??


    • Claire says:
      Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 4:13pm

      Oops – sorry, never mind – I just needed to scroll further down….



  18. Emily S says:
    Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 10:40am

    I was introduced to the “Ruff Love” program after Heist came into my life. Heist as a puppy was Swagger on crack. Being a Beardie/Border Collie mix, he literally had the intensity and focus of a Border Collie to be as silly and trouble-making as possible (Beardie). We share living space with parents and a sibling who do not follow any sort of structure. It made it hard to work through.

    In a few months, I will be adding a new puppy to my life while moving into a very TINY apartment. What could be better? I’m setting myself up for success 🙂 Follow our journey, I’d love to welcome you all into our adventure.


  19. Renata says:
    Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 4:06am

    Ruff Love…great program thanks for sharing!


  20. Teri says:
    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 1:53pm

    I followed Ruff Love religiously with my dog Finley when he was around three years old. At that time, he was very reactive with other dogs and even worse… he was a serious SUV-chaser… He was fond of hunting down dark SUVs and closely escaped being struck by one. He is currently 11 years young and the best dog on the planet 🙂 I attribute this to the fact that he was put through the Ruff Love program and our relationship strengthened beyond what I thought was possible. He did have a brief career in agility and earthdog until he had a career-ending shoulder injury.


  21. Liz says:
    Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 2:09am

    Ruff Love is a Bible I recommend to all people with new dogs, or new rescue dogs especially. It’s an easy read, a great relationship builder and best of all, IT WORKS. I have bought many copies due to me lending it out to those ‘in need’. I just wish someone would publish a child care book similar…my dogs are better behaved than most kids!


  22. Jenny Yasi says:
    Monday, April 25, 2011 at 1:03pm

    I’m trying to remember when Ruff Love was written.

    I write a lot, and I have belonged to writers groups, and one shocking thing to me is how if you have ten people sitting around in a circle discussing a book, you’ll have ten different interpretations of what was said.


    • Manda says:
      Monday, April 25, 2011 at 1:06pm

      So true…! I write novels for a living and I *never* cease to be amazed at the extent to which the book that I write is not at all the book that people read… Makes me wonder how English Literature courses ever survive, tho’ they clearly do…

      I am reminded of “The Four Agreements:
      1. I will be impeccable with my words (in this case, using impeccable in the Casteneda sense)

      2. I will take nothing personally

      3. I will make no assumptions

      4. I will always do my best (knowing that today’s ‘best’ will be entirely different to tomorrow’s ‘best’, but I will still be trying my hardest)


  23. Claire says:
    Monday, April 25, 2011 at 12:14pm

    I can’t see the video because of copyright music.
    I have the book, and I never felt the program was keeping the dog hostage, or isolating it completely.
    Maybe the entire program is a bit extreme, but it should probably be adapted to each particular dog.
    I don’t apply everything 100%, I use parts of it.


  24. Manda says:
    Monday, April 25, 2011 at 11:33am

    This is such an interesting one… when I first read ‘Ruff Love’, I thought – ‘no way, now how’ and put it away. No way am I going to crate my dog 24/7 when I work from home and now way at all am I going to stick on a Gentle Leader for 3 days in a row in the beginning – I’d just read Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ and this seemed to me like Shock Doctrine for dogs – maximum disorientation, maximum breaking of spirit. Not for me.
    And I went to trainers who said “You *could* get your dog to give you full focus, but you’d probably have to go down the Ruff Love route and for me, that’s abuse. I wouldn’t go there.”

    And I agreed that I wouldn’t either. One of the trainers for whom I still have utmost respect (we’re in the UK, not the US or Canada) said, ‘If you want your dogs to behave like Susan Garrett’s on an agility course, you’ll have to treat them like she does and frankly, I have serious ethical issues with that.” And, yet again, I agreed.

    But now, if it is the case that a lot of assumptions were made, and that this isn’t ‘Shock Doctrine for dogs’, then I’ll have to rethink – which is no bad thing.

    Certainly nothing I’ve met on the recallers course has seemed SD-ish – quite the reverse. I may not be able to implement it all yet – we may be making veeeery baby steps at the foot of Mount Everest, but it’s all achievable, sane and sorted. SO heading off to keep playing- and when the pups arrive and we keep one, I’ll re-read Ruff Love – but will also hope that a Puppy DVD/book is out by then. You’ve got 9 weeks, less 3 days!


  25. BJ Walker says:
    Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 12:15pm

    This isn’t about Ruff Love, although I did just buy it. It’s about the Good Student Series #10 comment:
    Bob Bailey suggests you ask yourself this question after every training session; Am I better of now than I was before my training session? If the answer is “no” change what didn’t work. If the answer is “I am not sure” go back and repeat what you just did until you are sure. If the answer is yes and it is always yes then you are not challenging your dog enough and are wasting valuable training time and reinforcements.
    I don’t understand the last sentence. I thought the goal would be to be better off after each and every training session. It seems I’d be wasting time, etc., if the answer was always No.


    • Laura says:
      Monday, April 25, 2011 at 8:58am

      This is just a guess, but if you are not challenging your dog enough, then it means you are progressing slower in your training than you otherwise might be able to. Your dog might be performing 100% in every session, but if they are doing that, as Bob says, you are not challenging them enough and will take longer to get to your final behaviour that you are teaching. Bob trains (trained? I don’t know if he still has his business) animals for a living for other people and needs to get them ready for short deadlines quite a lot. I’m guessing time is money to him, so if his training sessions are going *too* well, it means he’s wasting time dwelling on things the animal already knows well and giving the animal too many reinforcers for things it knows all too well.


  26. Amy says:
    Friday, April 22, 2011 at 11:34am

    Impeccable timing! You seem to deliver the message precisely when we need it (or I need it in this case)
    Thank you so much for showing us your “Bad Boy!” After watching perfect video after perfect video, I wondered when my bad boy perfection rate is still in the low digits—I wonder what is going on. It is one thing telling us failure is normal-but some of us need to be shown. It is comforting to know that you get the “buzz bys” and the “please get down from there” behaviors also. It helps me learn to laugh at the buzz bys (as frustrating as they can be) in my life, which helps center back on why we train—to have fun—laugh and enjoy life. How much laughter does perfection bring? It is the buzz bys that bring the tears and emotions out—which gives life the warm fuzzies!
    Thank you again Susan! Your timing was perfect for me this week! (Bad Boy Biko thanks you also!)


  27. Barb says:
    Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 3:02pm

    THANK YOU for this post! I have a 17-week-old puppy. All I wanted was the perfect puppy from the perfect litter that I would continue to raise in the perfect way. Not putting too much pressure on myself! Needless to say, it hasn’t gone perfectly. It is truly wonderful to see that Swagger isn’t perfect either. This blog, along with the criteria blog has readjusted my thinking on training and convince me to cut myself a great big hunk of slack. Thanks for the great timing!


  28. Rose says:
    Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 10:31am

    I read “Ruff Love” and immediately recognized that my dog really needed it. So, I followed the instructions for about a week. We had a horrible time with the gentle leader and that is when things began to breakdown. Now when my dog sees me take it out he runs the other way. After watching the video of Swagger and then turning to my 5 year old dog and see him still perform the same “naughty” behavior (while I laugh) I realize that we need to go back and do Ruff Love again. I am going to try it again. I think I’ve learned a lot about the system through the recall course and the blog, so I suspect I will be more successful. My only wish is that there were moral support and a place to ask questions. It may be ruff on the dog, but it is ruff on the human as well, especially having patience and creativity to find solutions.


  29. Linda says:
    Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 11:19pm

    Last month I was doing some work out of town and was staying at my in laws’ overnight. I had my two young border collies with me and took them to the park to play. This isn’t their neighborhood but I trust both off leash and have no recall issues at all with either of them, so I let them enjoy a little supervised run around time. A man walked his two little dogs into the fenced in tennis court, closed the gate and let them off leash. They immediately barked and lunged at the fence towards us. When my dogs ignored them and continued doing their own thing, he asked me if they were border collies. when I said yes, he couldn’t believe it and said he thought all BC’s were totally out of control.
    “Your dogs are so well behaved compared to mine! I have to keep them behind the fence and they still go crazy. What’s your secret?” he asked.
    That’s easy. “Ruff Love!”

    To me Ruff Love is all about building a relationship with your puppy and being pro active about their learning process.
    I wouldn’t leave a baby unsupervised in the next room or alone in the house, I wouldn’t let a child drive a car or refuse to go to school. In the wild most cubs and pups will stay with their mothers for a year or more before they have developed life skills to forge out on their own.
    Puppies need us to help them develop good judgment and teach them to make good decisions. The world is their oyster after that.

    Anyway, that man’s compliment stuck with me and made me feel proud of my dogs especially since I know how silly and funny they both really are; and because I’m confident in their abilities to make smart healthy choices I can completely enjoy the moments of naughtiness 🙂


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 8:33pm

      @Linda great story thanks for sharing!


  30. Kari says:
    Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 9:15pm

    I posted my last comment before reading all of the other posts. I was meaning it jokingly. When I watched the video of Swagger, it reminded me so much of my boy at 11 mos. He was (is) also full of life and not afraid of anything. He found so many environmental rewards and never wanted the fun to end. I remember coming home from work to let him out for a potty break and he decided it was a great time to play keep away and get me to chase him. 45 minutes later, I finally caught him through trickery and got him back in the house. I had no idea at the time what to do. Now he is 3 and we still have much to work through, but I have been lucky to find great trainers and to have been introduced to this blog and to the recallers course. Now both of us can have joy a lot more often.


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  1. By Focus and teamwork on January 24, 2014 at 1:59 AM

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