Logan – part 8


One of the activities we do both inside and out is searching. When we are outside, as I’ve mentioned before, he’s a different dog, all about the work. I am fortunate to have two areas of grass near to me which is allowed to overgrow and I use the long grass to hide the toys. As with most of the activities we do, we are working on sets of skills which can then be transferred to other activities. When we are doing search work, we are working on discrimination of cues, reinforcement, delayed reinforcement and that we can play calmer games with toys, it’s not all about chasing and killing them.

It’s been 10 days or so since we did any search work and we also changed location to a new place which he’s never worked before. I was loose with how I expected him to perform. I put 6 extra large classic Kongs into the grass by throwing them. I can guage his perfomance over time to see how much he is improving by  the following

  1. Do I need to use the lead to hold him when I throw the Kongs? And if so how tightly do I need to hold the lead, is it just a light touch or not at all? Will he do this off lead?
  2. How many verbal cues of “wait” do I need to give him. One for each Kong toss or can I get more than one Kong our per verbal cue?
  3. I wait for him to give me eye contact before I release him to search. How quickly does he give me eye contact (he’s toy driven so it’s hard for him to look away from where toys are)? How long can he give me eye contact? I’ll shape this to the duration I want. Can he do another cued behaviour before release?
  4. How much verbal cuing does he need to commence each search? Will a “find it” be enough or does he need physical prompts such as hand signals or me moving into the search area with him each time and then moving back to my marker? The more prompts and cues he needs the less he understands which gives me information about how he is feeling.
  5. How much barking am I getting? He barks for the Kong so I take barking as a sign he doesn’t understand what he is being asked.
  6. Will he search and retrieve one or will he find one and then go looking for another before he brings the first one back to me? I use the biggest Kongs deliberately so he can only retrieve one at a time?
  7. How many Kongs will he find and retrieve before he needs a game? The reinforcement we use, other than the success of finding the toy is that I toss the kong for him to catch. How many kong tosses does he need per retreive? Can he search and retrieve more than one before the game to catch?

Another point to note is that the game becomes harder as the set round goes one. At the start, he has 6 toys to find, then 5 then 4 etc. This is all within the same area each time.

We play three rounds of this game which equates to 18 retrieves. I can measure his progress, understanding or mood by looking at all these variables. Ultimately, I am aiming for one verbal cue to “wait” per set of 6, one verbal cue to commence searching and retrieving, one one big game at the end of the three sets as the big reinforcer for the whole game. We are a ways away but we have made massive inroads so far as he wouldn’t even give the up when I first brought him home.

I don’t expect improvements each time but if I am careful with what I am doing we will improve over time.

Baby steps. Have a great weekend.

John and Logan “Relentless” McGuigan

Logan – part 7

John & Logan Lo Res-9

Following my brain fart yesterday, we had a really good session this evening. He has been resting well today following his weekend in the kennels. I took him to the dog run to get some sprinting and jumping with him, he still needs his conditioning. We played tug indoors and outdoors (you’d think he was two different animals if you saw him) and then on to out “formal” training.

Yesterday he struggled a bit but on review I think it was mainly due to him being tired. This evening he brought his toy to me, looking for a carry on so I took this opportunity to do some work. Left and right spins, looking good. Sitting on cue, first time, one verbal cue, looking good. He even managed a short sequence of them together. Nice work on his platform training, looking good also, and I have some ideas where to develop it.  Then some games after which he was looking for.

He is now lying snoring at my feet after a potter round the block. Relaxed dog, happy trainer. Tension release courtesy of Steve Mann, changing the way I look at things.

A good day.

Logan – part 6 – train the dog in front of you.

John & Logan Lo Res-35

I was away this past weekend at a conference and I boarded Logan when I was away. Yesterday when I came home, we had a relaxing day, played a little, I let him sleep a lot. I mentioned previously that he does not cope with stress particularly well (like his Dad).

We have started a couple of new behaviours, turning left and right in circles following a target stick and standing on to a platform. The turning behaviours are still in their infancy (we have done literally hundreds of repetitions of both) and he is very slowly getting the hang of it.  The platform training is even younger in it’s evolution with only a couple of sessions behind us. With this dog, I have to be incredibly careful not going too fast or expecting too much of him. I am the first to admit I don’t always succeed.

We did some platform work this afternoon, I gave him a big break and then we tried the target stick work. Not a great success. As we were doing it, I found myself becoming exasperated with him as he seemed to have regressed loads since our last session. I took a breath and a break and then took stock. I remembered the following; he had been in kennels over the weekend, he needs time to process new things, we are working on one new behaviour and then I asked him to work on a behaviour which is still in the learning stages. My internal conversation “Too much pressure on your dog, dummy, give him a break. Train the dog in front of you!” As Kay Laurence says, the best dog training tool is a cup of tea.

What I should have done; worked on something which he had loads of previous history with (I have 4 behaviours which fit this category), lots of relaxed play with no expectations, or worked on one of the new behaviours not both in the same day.

In my eagerness to move forward, stoked by the lift to my enthusiasm after the IMDT Conference at the weekend, I forgot the needs of my dog and assumed too much. I’m just glad I caught myself when I did.

So this week, it’s foot off the gas, loads of reinforcement with behaviours with long training history and a gradual increase towards the weekend.

This dog and what he’s teaching me. Deep breaths Johnny, deep breaths.

Humility in Dog Training – Who does the work?


Some of you who follow my blog may not know I was a Police Officer for 23 years. 5 years part time while I was at University and 18 years full time after I graduated. During that time I was fortunate to do some really cool stuff which most of the population is not even aware goes on. Regardless of my experience, there was always someone who had done more than me and this always kept my ego in check. I performed various overt and covert roles in the Police. Of my best friends in the world has about 100 times more experience in one particular role that we both did. A close friend of his had operational military experience and had performed for many years in an advanced role which we had done the foundation version of. There is always someone who has done more and knows more. Be humble.

How does this apply to dog trainers? We are in the amazing position to change our clients’ lives (both human and canine) for the better. If we don’t keep our egos in check, this can affect us into thinking that we are bigger and more knowledgeble than we are. We must remain humble. Yes, our clients rely on us to show us what to do, but even if we have two one hour sessions a week with a client, that is still 6 days and 22 hours where we are not there. Good teachers acknowledge the work their students do and allow the student to enjoy the success of their toil. We take pride in being instrumental in those successes but a good teacher never thinks that it was him or her who put in the hours of effort.

Recently, one of my former students, and now friend, Innes passed his BH in IPO with his Dobermann, Kuro. Innes trains postitively in a sport which has a long history and culture of harsh training. I see Innes several times a week putting in the hours training his amzing dog, His effort is admirable. The results are his, not mine and not the other trainers he now works with, to enjoy. Yes, we can enjoy them with him but they are his efforts, not ours. We would never think that a gold medal at the Olympics belonged tot he coach (not unless you are the husband of a gold medallist swimmer but that’s for another time).  A great coach knows the efforts belong to the athlete, a great athlete acknowledges the coach’s tuition.

I have a woman and her Collie I am working with just now. We have been working together for several months now and we are seeing great changes in this little dog’s behaviour. She has gone from being confused in many environments to being really confident. It is a wonder to behold. Fiona and Breagha did this, I just helped put them on the right path.

I was at The IMDT conference at the weekend outside London. I caught up with some people I haven’t seen in ages, one of whom was my friend Mus, who is one of the best human beings I have had the pleasure of knowing. I posted a picture of us on social media and a trainer we both know and have taught commented saying that we were two of the people who have been intrumental in his learning. Mus replied saying “It’s all you mate”. This made me like him even more. Humility. At the conference I heard some information presented which was either new or presented in a way I hadn;t heard before. Steve Mann spoke of releasing tension in dogs, a concept I had never thought of consciously. I thanked him for it, this keeps us grounded.

Yes, we do change our clients’ and dogs’ lives. Yes, it’s very likely they couldn’t do it without us or certainly not in that way. But be humble, stay grounded, none of us know everything and there is always more to learn and different ways to look at things. Have what martial artists call a white belt mentality, it keeps you hungry and humble.

Be well and happy training.

Too cute to Teenwolf – what happened to my dog?! Part III



Writing this has felt organic and super reinforcing. I had the idea that maybe I could use my experiences to provide some people with a little help when struggling with their dogs; I hadn’t anticipated the warmth, support and surge of human relief that came back or the international community of animal lovers and trainers going through the same things, all represented in the blog responses.

In this chapter – having previously covered some of Quillan’s adolescent behaviour and what I’ve been doing to address it, I’d like to write about the stage we are at currently; how to gently steer through management, to improvement and having the balance of good days far outweigh the bad.

From trainer Tess Erngren I heard the phrase “play dates with play mates” and I have used its implied strategy with success. Observing my own mentor, John McGuigan, employ BAT style technique with hundreds of dogs and seeing significant improvement inside of hour long client sessions has invaluably augmented my own approach.

Thoughtfully, set yourself up with the right equipment and environment. If you can access a decent facility, a private garden, local secure field or dog run try to organise supervised, controlled meetings with “safe dogs” where you can reinforce calm behaviour, gradually reducing distance in approximations depending on their responses. I always start with Quillan on a line. Depending on the other dog, they can be leashed or free and always able to self determine the level of interaction they are comfortable with. This has the benefit not only of, ethically, not subjecting the ‘stooge dog” to unacceptable behaviour but establishes in Quillan’s experience that softer body language and polite greetings yield a greater choice of interaction. He learns “rudeness” will result in the removal of his particular reinforcer here.

Repetitions of this will lead to interactions where you can freely allow appropriate behaviour (even play) and interrupt/block anything else.

Be prepared to take your time here. First meetings may need to be less than a few minutes long and each subsequent interaction kept short enough to allow you success without it wearing thin or letting it “go bad”. My own journey with my friend and colleague, Bruce Whitelaw and his Shiba, Oshi, has entailed many months of careful, thoughtful, small interactions and I learned the hard way not to not rush the process in my enthusiasm. Plan for the long term and as always, be grateful for the thin slices; the little markers of progress in the dog that you know so well make the bigger picture.

Regarding the vital matter of community and support – as well as the obvious benefit of engaging a (well researched) professional Trainer or Behaviourist – online communities and forums can be a fantastic resource. The positive, ones which promote non-aversive training I am part of are supportive, informative and engaging. For the many introverts out there, they offer the added bonus of choice in when and how you interact. “Naughty but Nice”, Caitlin Coberly’s “Dog Training 101”, and Laura Spackman’s wonderful “Canine Principles” page are to name a few groups I have found particularly useful. Remember as you gather resources how important it is to assess your personal code of ethics and how their stances align with your own in terms of advice being traded and protocols you are preparing to implement.

The overall feeling I had been hoping to leave you with in this chapter was that your perseverance, patience, kindess and sense of humour at times will lead you and your dog both back to a place you can enjoy life together again.

Unexpectedly and unlooked for I have been gifted much more in return; messages from people who had been having a bad day/week/month or more felt bolstered to continue training kindly with their animal, empowered by the simple but beautiful connection from other people going through similar times and seeing the other side of it in their results and relationships.

This confirmed for me the belief I am amongst good people, who are looking to do the best they can each day for their dogs. Thank you all very much.



Logan – part 5 – baby steps


  1. 1.
    the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
    “the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”
  2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
    “nylon is excellent in wearability, abrasion resistance and resilience”

Dr Susan Freidman talks about resilience being built by the number of good experiences divided by the number of bad experiences. Unfortunately, bad experiences stay with us longer than good ones (due to evolution), so we need to stock our bunker with loads of good times to counter the few bad ones. When working with a dog like Logan, who in my assessment hasn’t had enough good, healthy behavioural and training experiences, we are already in the red even before we even start.

I’ll cover how we build that resilience in future installments but for now I’ll share where we are with him. At the start of the year, I had to carefully plan the timing of every session and what I tried to teach. To many new things within too short a period of time lead to old, aberrant behaviours popping out which weren’t good for either of us. If I taught him something new one day, I would have to wait at least a day before I revisited training which we had already started. Two steps forward and two steps back at this stage but at least we we moving.

As the weeks progressed, we could then try something new on Monday and work on advancing something he had previously learned on Tuesday. We would then to something super easy and fun on Wednesday. We are now getting to the stage where his capacity for work has increased and the volume of work he can do per session has increased. This afternoon we were working on him following the target stick for clockwise and counter-clockwise turns, something which has taken many sessions to make any progress with.

Traditional clicker training says we should aim to increase criteria within a session and make successive approximations towards the end goal. I apply this with him but am far more flexible in that criteria. Within one ten rep session, he will perform well for 5 of the and not great for the others. I take and reinforce all of these to keep giving him those successes. With this appraoch have been able to get a dog who stared blankly at a target stick to one who will follow it most times. This has taken hundreds and hundreds or repetitions. We did 80 this afternoon broken down into two sessions. Session one was 5 sets of 10 reps. Session three was 3 sets of 10 reps. I am confident he will still have capacity for a little more this evening and will be ready to go again tomorrow. If he doesn’t I’ll look at all the factors over the weekend and tweak them for next time.

Baby steps, but we are getting there.

What is possible?

What is possible?
In this picture, Molly and Bailey, who are working Patterdales, have spied a squirrel which is on the ground just behind the pedestrian on the left. Notice that the leads are both loose. They focused on the squirrel for 30-40s and then Julie asked them to come with her which they did.
There was no pulling on the lead, no corrections, no shouting, just careful monitoring of the dogs, their body language and the environment. No need for an e-collar or a prong collar.
Some trainers say you can’t do this without using aversive training. You can. Start on the lead, then on the long line, training using cues and reinforcement principles along the way. Then graduate to being off lead in some circumstances then in all circumstances. Realise you will make mistakes. Learn from them, regroup and move on, improving all the time.
Dogs can learn when they can chase, when they can’t and a whole bunch of other stuff. This is all done by forging a deep relationship built on a long history of positive reinforcement and giving your dogs an outlet for their needs.