Clicker Training – Reinforcement Strategies

Clicker training – Reinforcement strategies

In the first clip, Nero the Rottweiler at 17 weeks, is working with Pamela on being with her in the presence of things which would ordinarily compete for his attention i.e. other dogs, people, squirrels etc. We are looking to develop engagement and connection between Nero and Pamela. In this environment, we limit his options of what behaviour to offer next, once the reinforcement is delivered. The food reinforce is delivered to him in front of Pamela; this way, he has a limited number of options, he is more likely to be successful at re-connection earning him his click and treat – very reinforcing.

In the second clip, we are working with Stanley, the 1 year old Dachshund. We are working with Stanley to build confidence and have started by reinforcing the decision to connect and come towards Yvonne. Clicker training is very effective for dogs that lack confidence.

We are looking to reinforce the decision, and as such we want to adjust our reinforcement strategy to allow some more variety in his behaviour. To this end, we place the reinforcement (food treat) away from Stanley after each click. Stanley then has more options. He can sniff around, go for a wander, come back to mum etc. If Stanley chooses not to reconnect, this gives us valuable information. Perhaps there is something in the environment he needs to pay attention too or maybe we need to change our behaviour e.g reinforcement strategy, body position

Different reinforcement strategies for different dogs, in different situations, teaching different skills and behaviours with different goals in mind.

Follow us and we will do our best to keep you up to date with Nero and Stanley’s progress and for more information on this style of training.

We have an introduction to clicker training workshop coming up this weekend

We’d love to see you there.

Some advice for dog trainers from Steve Mann – part 3 – group classes

Steve is the founder of the Institue of Modern Dog Trainers which I am honoured to be a member of. I joined the IMDT 4 years ago and am now in the very fortunate position for help with training the new trainers who attned courses and assist with assessing prospective new members. It’s one of the highlights of my year working with the IMDT team.


Start of the Group Class

…On arrival, each owner/dog gets a 7-10 metre long line and goes for a ‘mooch’
A Mooch.
It makes no sense to try and ‘hit the ground running’ as soon as the dogs/owners come into the class environment. It’s not fair, it’s unnecessary pressure, and it’s just plain silly!
Regardless of standard, I’ll normally start a class with a good 5-10 minute mooch.
Long line on the dog, have a wander, say nothing to the dog.
If your dog needs to sniff, cool, let ‘em.
If they need to look around so they can settle into the environment, good for them, it’s what they need to do, don’t get in the way. (comfort beats obedience, every time)
We tell the owners to say nothing to the dog for a minute or two. Too many classes start with opposing motivations as:-
 a) the dog has to acclimatise to the environment but
 b) the Trainer tells the owner to try and get the dog’s attention.
This can only result in:-
a)    Conflict
b)    Frustration ( for all 3 parties; dog, owner, Trainer)
c)     A lesser standard being reinforced because the owner just becomes grateful for ‘anything’ from the dog.
d)    The dog learning to ignore the constant repetition of her name or cues.
Imagine walking into a buzzing nightclub with lasers, dancers, jugglers, the opposite sex, THE OPPOSITE SEX!….and the second you walk through the doors your friend Ryan is immediately asking you the same questions you’ve already answered in the car, or trying to get you to do ‘that-funky-new-handshake-you’ve-previously-been-working-on-together-at-home”, don’t let your owners in class be like Ryan. He’s weird.
Chill out.
We ask the owners to say nothing to the dog for the first 2 -3 minutes, then when they DO say something out of the blue eg: “COME!” they immediately feed the dog then say ‘off you go’ and continue to say nothing to the dog.
Then we have:-
a)    No frustration for any of the 3 parties
b)    Success to build upon
c)     No conflict for the dog. It’s a win/win. Allowed to investigate the environment AND get food from the monkey!
d)    The dog is learning that 100% of the time a cue comes from the owner’s mouth, it’s 100% good news (not 99% Charlie Brown’s Teacher yadda yada )
After a few reps of – nothing —–“come!”= food —– nothing —– “come!’= food—–nothing…
We find the dog’s are not so interested in wandering away from mum/dad, (they’ve settled into the environment now) but tend to hang around their owners, looking up at them as if to say “go on, go on, ask me to do something, go on..!” NOW you’re ready to crack on, your instruments are tuned up and ready to go.
A mooch is similar to hearing the orchestra pit tuning up, it often doesn’t start pretty, but is essential if you’re planning to deliver the best product you can.
A mooch is also a nice way to start as it gives you a chance to wander around and catch up with each individual owner, if only to say “Hi” or “You’ve brought your cat by mistake” that kinda thing.
If you’re a control freak (and you are, you’re a Dog Trainer!), you can have a few ‘mooch rules’ but my advice is to try and not make it too prescriptive as then you’re in danger of setting the owner (and therefore the dog) for a success/fail, good/bad start to the class, no need.
Potential mooch rules:-
-Keep a nice slack lead
-As long as it’s safe, follow the dog (unless you’ve just said ‘come!’)
-only stop/stand still if the dog starts to run or you’ve got to the end of your long line (slow the dog by ‘padding’ the lead, no need for abrupt halts)
-only say ‘come!’ every 2-3 minutes, nothing else.
Once you’ve done a few reps of ‘come!’/feed,  and you can see the dog’s voluntarily ‘checking-in’ with their owners, now you can change it up…
Suggest to the owners, “carry on with your mooch, but rather then saying ‘come!’ wait, see if your dog checks- in with you. If they do, say “good!” jog backwards a little and treat the dog when they get to you. (you’re ‘jogging backwards’ to add a little animation and therefore focus to the exercise. Another layer of interest can be rather than putting the food into the dog’s mouth, as the dog runs towards the owner, have the owner toss the food behind them* (or between their own legs (funky!) to keep the dog’s acceleration nice and high )
*be careful though, we once had a guy tied up with the long line like a rodeo calf by his exuberant Dogue De Bordeaux and as far as we know, he’s still there now
Now everyone’s in, everyone’s settled, everyone’s mooched and everyone’s happy.
We can begin ……

Some advice for dog trainers from Steve Mann – part 2 – Bad Owners

Steve is the founder of the Institue of Modern Dog Trainers which I am honoured to be a member of. I joined the IMDT 4 years ago and am now in the very fortunate position for help with training the new trainers who attned courses and assist with assessing prospective new members. It’s one of the highlights of my year working with the IMDT

Bad Owners

Everyone is doing their best with what they’ve got: –
Don’t label an owner as ‘bad’ when you could attribute the issue to any other possible explanation.
When an owner seems ‘bad’ or a ‘nightmare’, they very rarely are. They’re usually anxious, desperate, tired, ill informed, stressed or worried.
Help them.
It’s your job.
To the owner that feels the need to dominate.
Don’t go head to head with then. Neither of you will win and the dog will lose.
Simply ask – ‘what behaviour would you like to see that may change your mind?’
Then simply do your job.

Some advice from Steve Mann, IMDT

Steve is the founder of the Institue of Modern Dog Trainers which I am honoured to be a member of. I joined the IMDT 4 years ago and am now in the very fortunate position for help with training the new trainers who attned courses and assist with assessing prospective new members. It’s one of the highlights of my year working with the IMDT team.


Steve recently offered some advice to dog trainers and I’ve posted it here with permission.

‘Head down, bum up, get on with it!’ – Buddha.

Realise that the criticism is often from people less informed than you
Every, EVERY Dog Trainer that has ever existed started out as a rubbish Dog Trainer
Every good Dog Trainer knows they need to improve
They don’t build statues of critics
Don’t beat yourself up for caring
Smell the roses.
How do you celebrate what you do well?
(it’s not always about ‘next’)
‘wash the dishes to wash the dishes’ – Venerable Master Thich Nhat Hanh
(basically means be in the moment and give 100% concentration and appreciation to what you are doing now. Don’t race ahead in your mind to the next job or concern yourself with what others might think or do in the future)
If you can do something about it, do it, then you have nothing to stress about.
If you can’t do anything about it, why is that stress on your ‘to do’ list?
Do you genuinely have endless *quality time to worry?
(*ALL time is ‘quality’!)
(the answer is “no”!)
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else
What does successful actually mean to you?
Look at the stars, where would your problem sit in the universe?
Make a list of who’s proud of you
Avoid Emotional / Physical Burnout
If you only had 5 hours per day for work, what would your work-day look like?
How would you break-down the other 19 hours?
Each night write a list of 3 jobs (max) to do tomorrow.
Confirm that if the top job is completed (whether it’s 5 mins or 3 hours), then you are in credit for the day.
Make the ‘top job to do’ the one that’s presently creating the most stress
End of day: write down 2 things from work that were good today and 2 things you’re grateful for. (one big, one small. Eg: Family, seeing a kestrel*)
*seeing a kestrel is a gift!
Have one day a week offline.
Deal with emails twice a day, 8am and 3pm. That’s it.
( you don’t do your laundry one sock at a time! )
Look at social media once a day if you can justify how it’s adding nourishment to your day
Have a muse.
Talk to someone about your day. 5 minutes.
(if you have no-one, email me
Do your work in blocks of critical mass to create space for ‘creating’ or ‘generating’.
If you need “more hours in your day’ (and you don’t!), then you need to create the slack elsewhere for yourself. What can/should you live without?
Work effectively. Go 1 metre in one direction rather than 1 cm in 100 directions.
‘Busy’ can sometimes mean ‘Lazy’ or ‘Avoiding’. (soz!)
Do lots of what you like doing.
Do lots of what you’re good at.
If, at any time you’re struggling with ‘yourself’, wish the very best for someone else, even if it’s in your head
(see a stranger and spend 60 seconds hoping they have an amazing day…)
pass it on, buy a coffee for the person in line behind you
What does it mean to you to ‘appreciate’ your opportunity to work with dogs?


Teaching your dog skills as well as behaviours

This is the type of exercise we do at Positively Excellent Dog Trainers workshops. Please watch the video carefully. You may need to watch it several times.

1. Identify the types of activities the dog is doing, how many are there?

2. What skills does the dog need to have acquired to be able to do the types of activities in the video?

If you’d like to take part, please comment below. I’ll ask more questions as the thread develops.
Please keep all comments civil and no comments on comments please, as it makes it too difficult to moderate.

If you have attended one fo our workshops and have done this assignment, please don’t comment but do read as you’ll learn from what others observe.

If you are interested in this style of learning about dogs, subscribe below. We will be offering online training this year.…


The activities I’ve identified are

1. Chasing
2. Retrieving
3. Listening
4. Responding to cues
5. Tugging
6. Waiting
7. Searching
8 Settling

The skill set I am testing for here is that she is able to switch from one activity to another, then another. When I started training Watson to be able to do this skill, I used two activities shes knows how to do well, chasing and tuggin for example, then asked herto switch between the two. Then I would do two other activities, ask her to switch between the two and then mix more in.

What this teaches your dog is the ability to settle after activity, e.g. a visitor comes in, your dog is active, now ask them to settle again onece they’ve said hello.

Leo’s Tale


Lindsay is one of the Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant team and Leo is her awesome wee dog.

Leo turned 5 last week meaning that we have had him for 4 years.

How we met has a bit of a fairy-tale vibe to it!

We got Millie in the summer of 2010 and knew from the start that we would like to have a second dog.

As first time dog owners with a high energy dog we decided to wait for a while before introducing a second dog to the family.

After Millie’s accident and her resulting behaviour issues we had put the idea on the back burner but some things just seem to happen at the right time.

Before I started out on my dog training adventure I worked as a photographer and we were exhibiting at the Girls Day Out event at the SECC in Glasgow in 2012.

On the second day I happened to spot this small brown dog with a curly tale as it disappeared into the crowd.

Telling the other girls that I was “off to find that dog” I headed for the SSPCA stall.

There he was, a wee staffie cross saying hello to passers by. I knelt down and let him come to me, as he stood on his back legs to get a better face licking position I knew he was the dog for us!

We took Millie to meet him on the Monday and by Friday he was home. (a bit of a record apparently. Think they were fed up of my daily phone calls asking how the rehoming process was coming along!)

We were all prepared. Toys and food put away. No dogs on the furniture. Feed them separately. All the usual protocols. Prepared for squabbles and upset.

It couldn’t have gone any better.

We definitely found Millie’s perfect match.

They are completely different in so many ways but are totally compatible.

He’s the ying to her yang.

Over the past 4 years we have learned so much about our boy.

In regards to training he isn’t the most confident so we do a lot of activities to help build on this. Searching for the catnip mouse is one of his favourite games.

Leo is pretty sensitive to noises in certain environments so we have been working a lot on his assessment skills lately and building on investigating noises rather than running away. He’s coming on great.

His favourite activity is snuggling on the sofa and I wonder if he would ever want to leave it at all if it wasn’t for his big sister dog demanding daily adventures!

Taking on a new dog is a life-changing event and should have had a lot of consideration put into it.

Leo has enriched all of our lives since the day we brought him home and we wouldn’t change him for the world!

2016 Review – Glasgow Dog Trainer

A good year for us here. Bruce and Lindsay have been doing well as part of our training team and Gillian has come on learning with us.

Clare Russell and John started Positively Excellent Dog Trainers this year. Initially it was started as a means to develop our own team but soon morphed into something which we hadn’t expected and was very welcome. The students now range from established trainers, new trainers, dog walkers and owners who are enthusiastic about learning more about dog training. We have even had a one of our students embark on a career change due to attending PEDT workshops. The PEDT year culminated with us hosting Kay Laurence, one of the most respected dog training speakers in the world, in Dunblane in November with over 60 people attending each day over the thee days.

John taught on two IMDT 4 day practical instructors course this year. March was in Hertfordshire and September was in Dalkeith.
John will be continuing to work with the IMDT in the coming year.

We also were able to provide proprioception workshops run by Sam Turner from Holland twice this year. This will also be continuing next year.

On to 2017. We have online training in the planning and will be ready to launch in the new year. More big seminars are planned this year and we have two big names who we are hoping to host. Details to come. John is planning his first international teaching engagements also.

This year, as always, we were committed to offering excellent one to one training within our local community. Bruce and Linday’s appointment schedule has increased as well as John’s and this shows that there is a high demand for the excellent training we provide. This is where our business started, and offering the best possible, up to date, ethical training we can will always be the back bone of our business.

We thank you sincerely for all your continued support. We recognise that this year has been extremely hard for many both locally and globally and we will continue to be a positive influence in our dog training, and wider, communitiy where we can.

All the best for 2017.

John McGuigan and the GDT team