A well trained dog for behaviour modification

I’ve been working with a Cattle dog named Mungin recently. Mungin is a little bit reactive to a few things in the environment, mainly some dogs and children.

Mungin’s owners have had a few sessions with me at we are progressing well. The most obvious thing about Mungin is that he is well trained. He has an excellent recall, does sit stays and down stays well and has a good “look at that” and “watch me” response.

Often when I am working with clients whose dogs are reactive to other dogs or people, the client hasn’t trained the dog before hand. This can be for a variety of reasons and lots of pet dog owners don’t train their dogs to a high standard because they don’t require it for their relationship with their dogs which is absolutely fine in a lot of circumstances.

However, when it comes to behaviour modification, for example, retraining your dog so that it isn’t reactive, which takes a shift in how the dog sees and thinks about the stimulus which causes it to react, a well trained dog makes things so much easier and faster because the dog is able to respond to your verbal cues because you’ve trained it to. Mungin is the first dog I’ve worked with who is reactive but well trained. The benefit of this are that if he goes to react or is in the process of reacting, his owner is able to ask that he stops what he is doing and come back to her, sit, down, look at me etc.

We were working with Mungin recently and there were a variety of things going on around him. This was well into the session and we were making progress and he was doing really well. We stopped in an area of the park, it was a busy Sunday morning and my good lady who was out running while I was training, stopped by to say hello. This added stressor pushed Mungin over threshold due to building stressors (which I’ll cover later) and he parked and lunged at H. H backed off to give Mungin more space and I asked Stephanie, Mungin’s Mum to put him in a down stay which he willingly did. Mungin was then able to concentrate only on Stephanie as opposed to constantly scanning and pacing around which he had been doing. This had the effect of relaxing him and allowing him to focus on someone familiar. Stephanie continued to feed him which then classically conditions him to the busy environment. We did this for a few minutes and then gave the wee fella a break and took him to a quieter area of the park to play with his ball and clear his head.

So, if you train your dog basic commands, it makes it easier and faster for your dog to recover from future issues which may arise. Hopefully they won’t, and you’ll have the bonus of having a dog who willingly does what you are asking him to do because you have trained him to do it.

The Tales of Wag

Many who discount the power of positive training often frown upon the use of food in training and claim that it is tantamount to bribery.  Having heard this argument from traditional trainers ad nauseum, I have finally determined that it is usually motivated by one of two things (or maybe both):

1.   A desire to have the dog ‘work’ for his food simply because it’s what we want, and given that we’re smarter, stronger and in charge, that should be enough,
2.   An unnecessary and unfounded fear that once the food stops flowing, the unwanted behaviors will return.

As for the first point, there’s not much we can do with someone who feels the need to dominate such an eager-to-please species, so we’ll leave that one for their human psychologists.  And while the second point above is a more understandable concern, this frequently-repeated myth not only completely disregards…

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How much exercise does your dog need?

Every dog needs to run

“He doesn’t need so much exercise, he’s only a (insert dog breed in here).”

Dogs who are very small or are very large, like some of the giant breeds, are often promoted as not requiring much exercise. The question is, though, compared to what?

I did Discover Dogs at Crufts with our big girl, Kitty, for five years during her life. For any of you who don’t know, Discover Dogs is run twice a year by the Kennel Club in the UK, once in March as part of Crufts, and again in November at Earl’s Court. It is an opportunity for breed clubs to educate the public about their individual breeds. I often heard from people attending that Neapolitan’s didn’t need much exercise. I would counter that by saying that they don’t compared to border collies and springer spaniels but they still need to get out for their run and walk. A fellow who was manning the Dogue de Bordeaux stand one year told me that you can’t exercise young Dogue’s at all until they are 18-24 months old. His dogs would potter around the garden all day and get out for short walks a few times a week. You shouldn’t over exercise them to protect their joints but an young dog who isn’t getting the necessary amount of daily exercise out of the house will go stir crazy making it difficult to live with.

I’m working with a young man, Steven, just now who has a Shiba Inu. Shiba’s are a Japanese breed which were used to hunt small game.Steven called me because his dog, Xande, was stealing his things, running away with them and growling when Stephen tried to get them back. Steven had been told by the breeder that the dog’s don’t need much exercise. The breeder didn’t tell Steven how much “not much” is so Steven thought that taking his dog out for two twenty minute walks a day would be enough. After taking a short history, I recommended that Xande should be taken out for a walk in the morning to do the toilet and that his evening walk should be at least 45 minutes, consisting of on lead walking and off leash running and playing interspersed with training opportunities throughout. 45 minutes was my minimum recommendation, but an hour or an hour and a fifteen minutes would be better.

Small dogs like the toy breeds need out for their daily walk as much as the larger breed do and the giant breeds like mastiffs and St Bernards need at least 40 minutes of continuous exercise daily. This can be at a slow pace, and doesn’t need to be 40 minutes of marching or running around the park. If you have a large breed, keep him very light until he/she is at least 2-3 years old to minimise impact on forming bones so they can get the amount of exercise they need.  Freedom of movement around the house and garden isn’t the same as exercise. Dogs need out to explore the world, sniff where other dogs have been and peed and for their own physical and mental health and social development.

If your dog has the required amount of daily exercise, she will be happier and more content in the house and easier to train.

Be like the tide in dog training

When the tide comes in it advances and then retreats, advances a little more and retreats again. We can use this principle for a wide variety of dog training applications.

1. When training a sit or down stay. Ask the dog to sit for one second, then two then three. When we think the dog is about to break the stay, release him and give him a break. The next “wave” might start at two seconds and advance until five seconds this time. Give a reward after every increment. The next wave starts at four seconds and we manage to get to 7 seconds. We have short breaks between waves and, during the first set of waves, we always aim to start and finish each one a little better than the one before. We then take a break and the dog is either done for the day or for a good while to let him recover and clear his head.

If we started the first wave at one second and manged to start the last wave at 15 seconds, we would start the  our next session at between five and ten seconds and hopefully advance to 30 seconds.

2. When training our reactive dog to be able to move closer to another dog. If, for instance we are working with a reactive dog and she reacts at 50 paces but not at 55 paces, we would start our first wave at 55 paces and reward her for non reactive behaviours around the other dog at this distance with the aim of getting a bit closer. Our aim on the first wave is to get to or just very slightly closer than the 50 paces our dog reacts at. We then back off and start again from 54 paces this time and work to get to 48-45 paces. We back off and repeat the process.

Again, we only push the dog very slightly in this first session, and if she offers any non reactive behaviour however short, we heavily reinforce it. We then call it a day and give our girl a break for that session.

If we started the last wave on day one at 51 feet, and ended at 42 feet, we start our first wave on day two at 48 feet and repeat the process. We push our dog very slightly and the back off, push her a little more and back off again. When we are making good progress, we back all the way off and give her a break with play or sniffing and start the process again.

3. If we are trying to desensitise our dog to having his nails clipped. We start by touching the clippers against his neck and reward. Then onto his shoulder, then reward. Then just below his shoulder and reward and slightly lower again and reward. Then we back off and start again. with this wave hopefully getting to just abouve his shoulder. Start again and repeat. you get the idea.

When we finally get to touching his nails with the clippers, we touch and then back off, put a little pressure on the nail and treat, a little more and treat, repeat and back off.

Eventually we get to the stage where we can clip his nails without reacting. It is a time intensive protocol but it means that in the long run the dog will look forward to having his nails clipped or an a minimum be neutral about it

These are just three examples of how to apply this principal to training or behaviour modification. if we continue to push the dog without backing off, the dog will eventually stop working as we are asking for more and more work for the same or reducing rewards. I use this often when working with clients and their dogs and found it to be easy to understand and apply.

As Bruce Lee said “Be like water”



16 Things You Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Happy With Your Dog

A great no nonsense post by Roger Abrantes

Roger Abrantes

Here is a list of 16 things you should stop doing in order to make life with your dog happier and your relationship stronger. Difficult? Not at all. You just need to want to do it and then simply do it. You can begin as soon as you finish reading this.

1. Stop being fussy—don’t worry, be happy

Like most things in life, being a perfectionist has its advantages and disadvantages. When you own a dog, you tend to live by Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. There are so many variables that things seldom go 100% the way you expect. You can and should plan and train, but be prepared to accept all kinds of variations, improvisations and minor mishaps along the way as long as no one is injured, of course. After all, in most situations less than perfect is better than good, so…

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Proper socialisation of young dogs – Part 2

MIxed age/sex dog walking group

Many young dogs and puppies need to be taught how to interact properly with older dogs. Young dogs, who are bold, can have a tendency to run up to older dogs and greet them head on. This is considered rude among dogs, with more social dogs greeting each other by circling and doing the “butt-sniffing” dance.

Older, social dogs, can teach young upstarts how to behave more appropriately by disengaging, giving hard stares, baring teeth or snapping/lunging at younger dogs who are disrespectful. If this is done normally and socially, it’s all part of the puppy learning how to interact with other dogs.

Unfortunately, the first time another dog has choice words with your puppy/young dog, socialisation often stops for a lot of puppies. Owners, wanting to protect their pup from other adult dogs, keep their pup on the lead, usually a tight lead, around other dogs or don’t let the pup interact with other dogs at all. In the first instance this can cause their dog to become frustrated and then reactive towards the other dog over time. In the latter case, it leads to complete under-socialisation of your pup. Both are not good.

A way to compensate for this, is to engage your dog throughout the walk. Ask for calm behaviour before your pup goes to greet another dog. Train your dog to turn away from the other dog when he approaches. This can be done by asking the dog to hold a high value toy in it’s mouth with her back to the other dog, trade the toy for treats, let the dog greet the other dog, always either off leash or on a loose leash, and after the interaction has occurred, play a really exciting game with the toy and your puppy. This classically conditions your pup that approaching dogs mean load of fun stuff with mum/dad and that there’s a great game on the go when the other dog leaves. You also have the benefit of training your dog to come away from the other dog when called.

Give your dog constant or near constant verbal feedback. Tell him he’s good when he’s being good around other dogs, if he starts getting a bit pushy or “starey” tell him to cut it out, and immediately give him proper feedback when he stops his nonsense by telling him he’s a good dog and giving him a treat.

If your pup does get involved in a spat with another dog, the order of the day is a shed load of kibble (again classical conditioning) after the bad event. Do this even if he started it. You are not rewarding him for fighting or rewarding his fearful response if he was the victim, you are telling him that regardless of the event, kibble and play with you is always on the go and it’s not the end of the world. Walking in a group of mixed sex/mixed age dogs is a great way to do this. Plus it gives loads of opportunity for training under distraction.

I worked with a nervous toy breed a few weeks ago. The girl who owned her was also nervous because of Fifi’s small size and didn’t like bull breeds due to their unfortunate reputation. Fifi was shy around other dogs, especially big balck dogs and would tend to scream and run away. We had a great session, working at appropriate distances around other dogs and Fifi was becoming more confident. We went into an enclosed area of the park where a young woman was exercising her young, black collie cross. All was going well and Fifi was actually playing with the young black dog when she ran away, chased by the other dog. Her owner panicked and stood on the long line causing Fifi to be snapped on the end of the line. This could have been pretty disastrous as Fifi could have associated the trauma of the line becoming taut with the other dog and it could have made matters far worse. Fif was screaming at the fright and the other dog was a social superstar and immediately stopped the chase. I asked Fifi’s owner to ply her with high value treats so that she learned that this wasn’t something which was seriously bad. Fifi gladly took the hotdogs, indicating she wasn’t too stressed and after a few minutes fully relaxed and started to play with the other dog again. After that, we met two great, friendly, boisterous white Staffordshire Bull Terriers who were off leash without incident, which also gave Fifi’s owner a confidence boast around these types of dogs. This shows that even after a potentially traumatic event, your dog often has the capacity to recover faster than you do and has forgotten about it by the time it meets another dog if the event is handled properly.

Until next time



Proper socialisation of young dogs – part 1

With many of the dogs I work with, their problems stem from inadequate socialisation when they were at the critical age of 5-16 weeks. This lack of socialisation doesn’t become apparent until your dog is around 5-8 months old which is when your pup enters the second fear phase of it’s life. Your previously friendly, devil-may-care pup can then become a shivering shell of his puppy self.

Some dogs, such as the more robust breeds such as Labradors and Staffordshire Bull Terrier can socialise themselves. I say can, and not do, because while some individuals within these breed can, many can’t, so our socialisation should be deliberate, active and ongoing well into the dog’s adolescence and early adulthood. For some of the smaller breeds, this means at least until the dog is 2 years old and for the larger breeds such as Rottweillers, Dobermanns, Mastiff breeds and German Shepherds, this should continue until the dog is at least 3 years old. For breeds like Basenjis, Akitas and the livestock guardians, we need to be even more deliberate as these types of breeds can have a tendency to be a little more standoffish than others. Of course, I am talking in broad, general terms here and there are always exceptions to these statements.

Your pup needs to be used to being handled in a positive way by many people during the weeks 5-12 after birth. Your breeder should have done their part in this process with the pup having met at least 100 people from 5-8 weeks old. People attend the breeders home, remove there outdoor shoes and wash their hands to reduce the risk of parvo and distemper. The pup is handed round the visitors with his dinner and kibble is given each time her paws, mouth, ears, tail and genitals are handled. Men give a few more pieces of kibble and kids give liver treats. That way, the dog learns that being handled is a good thing, women are good, men give better treats than women and kids give the best treat of all.

The pup should be used to all household noises. This should start by the breeder from birth so that when the pup opens her eyes and ears, household noises such as vacuum cleaners, electric drills, TVs music etc are the norm.

When the pup goes to her home, the new owners continue this. The figure to aim for is 100 different people by the breeder from 5-8 weeks old, 100 different people by the new owner from 8-12 weeks old and 25 new people per week until the dog is 2 or 3 years old. The goal is that every new person gives the dog a piece of kibble or two.

In part 2, I’ll outline the necessary steps to take to ensure your dog is friendly with other dogs.