Logan – part 16 – putting the pieces together


If you have been following this blog, you will have been reading that I am teaching (or doing my best to teach) Logan the necessary skills for his life with me. So often with these types of dogs, people awake their natural arousal without teaching the dog how to control it and when to use it.

Loads has happened in the last week. One of the things he we have found difficult is being able to get him back into the car at the end of a play session with toys if he doesn’t have the toy in his mouth. The reason why I want this from him is that he then fixates on the toy and cannot calm himself down or relax after the play session. Think of it with ourselves or with our young kids. If we have been doing a physically activity which is highly charged, we need to come down at the end and relax. This gets our bodies back into a physiologally normal condition and allows us to get the benefits of the cortisol produced during that activity. We are teaching our bodies and minds how to respond in a positve way to stress so that we are able to more readily handle stressful situations when they occur.

In order to work on this, we have been doing some high energy work such as tug, or chasing the ball or kong and then working on settling after this. We throw the kong a few times, then take a little bit of time to calm down. This is a real balancing act as not enough of the tug or chase doesn’t satisfy him, which means he then gets frustrated and wound up during the cool down period. The alternative to that is we play more tug and chase which satisfies him, then it takes longer to cool down. When we first started working on this he was so wound up that he actually couldn’t switch off afterwards. This has taking a lot of observation from me, loads of getting to know him learning his body language and infinite patience from Logan of my mistakes. 7 months in the making with practice 3 or 4 times a week.

Like anything in training, we required a plan. We went to the rugby fields where he has only been a few times ( no string association with play at that location) and I threw out his 6 kongs into the grass. I decided to do some searching activity the first time rather than tug or chase as this causes less arousal. We did three round of 6 and I put the kongs back in the car. I then gave him a few treats (there was a time where he have refused food under these conditions) and I did a little engagement work with his using food as the reinforcer. After 10 minutes of this, I lead him back to the car, tossed a treat in the crate and he jumped in behind it. Much success.

At the weekend, we took part in Craig Ogilvie’s interactive play workshop which is all about excited play with you and your dog. Loads of tug games and running around so very high arousal from Logan. Under Craig’s tuition, Logan was able to bring himself back down to earth afterwards, take food and then jump back into the car. Result!

Notes for progress

  1. How long will it take him to switch off from the toy at the end of the game?
  2. How long will it take him to accept food after the activity has ended?
  3. How long will I be able to work him in a calmer state where he is able to listen to me?
  4. How quickly will he be able to go on to do another activity, such as heel work or accepting petting?
  5. How long do we need to do the second calmer activity before he will readily go back into the car?
  6. Working towards jumping back into the car without a food lure.

Loads to work on over the next few months.

The video clip show is Watson showing the skill set which Logan lacks at the moment. She is able to easily go from one activity to the next and seems to be doing so happily.

Until next time.

Peace and love.

Logan – part 15 – golden moments


This blog was going to be a different topic from what I  written as I started it yesterday. I’ll write that blog in the next part but I had a little golden moment with Logan this evening, about 20 minutes ago. I had taken him down to the retail park car park where it’s quiet in the evening and I can do some work with him (looking our for traffic cones of course).

The rain had just started but it was moving in behind us, the sky was really dark grey and the sun was out at the same time. A perfect rainblow arced across the sky, the wind picked up a little and I only had a T-shirt and jeans on so it was not too comfortable (mere mortals would have been cold under these conditions, you know who you are).

As you know from my writing, I am not prone to romanticising but the atmosphere and the conditions were quite lovely and I was watching my dog. After we had finished working, I threw some treats into the grass so he could search for them to ease him out of his training session as he has difficulty switching from one task to the next. It has been a huge task to get him to relax when out doors as he associates grassy areas with playing. He was on the long line and had started to run about, the way dogs should do when relaxed. This is maybe only second tme I have ever seen him doing this outwith the garden when he is playing with Dr Watson and they are chasing and wrestling.

It dawned on me how far we have come together since December and how a small triumph like this dog running around in a relaxed manner, in a way most owners take for granted, can make you feel overjoyed.

Celebrate these small moments with your dog. Watch them just being a dog, either mooching round the garden or running around an open space just being a dog. Don’t take them for granted because we don’t all experience them.

A good day today, I’m happy for him. Good dog Logan, good dog!

Never work with Dogs or Children


My daughter Abigail first met Quillan when he was only a few months
old. He was a little bundle of fur and fun – Abigail adored him and
helping Gillian teach him tricks. In fact she loved all dogs,
constantly asking if she could have one and always wanting to say
hello to the ones in the neighbourhood that we knew.

Six or seven months ago, a dog got over excited and jumped on Abigail,
catching her badly on her hip with his claws. She got a huge fright
and from that point on wouldn’t go near any dogs, even ones she’d
known for years. She would hide behind me whenever we saw a dog on the
street while clutching my hand and would ask if we could cross the
road to avoid them; something which was particularly difficult to
manage on the school run where many parents get the morning walk in
while taking their kids to school.

She was quite simply terrified and nothing I tried helped (not even my
brother’s hypnotism skills which she instead found hilarious).

For the last few months Gillian has worked with Abigail and Quillan to
identify the different behaviours dogs exhibit when they are happy,
anxious, settled, alert etc and crucially how our own body language,
pitch, tone and actions affect them. Gillian’s own efforts and journey
as a Dog Trainer and her direct handling of Quillan has developed in
her a wealth knowledge of what makes a dog tick and how to identify
and manage sensitive or difficult situations. She also has helped my
family understand that it’s not just a dog’s behaviour that needs to
be assessed and managed but ours in at least equal measure.

Thanks to the help, training and support Gillian has given to both
myself and Abigail we have had a breakthrough. For the first time in
months Abigail was completely comfortable in the presence of a dog.
She walked with Quillan and myself for over an hour and listened
intently as she was given instructions and enjoyed giving him treats
when he had responded to her requests to sit, lie down, “speak” etc.
The difference is amazing and I can’t thank Gillian enough for her
support with my beautiful daughter in restoring her confidence.

Logan – part 14 – not yours, not now


I posted yesterday about Logan’s penchant for killing traffic cones. A common method for a dog who wants to do something which we either don’t like or which isn’t good for them is to find a replacement behaviour which fulfils the same need. Some examples of this would be giving your herding breed an opportunity to herd footballs rather than cyclists or a dog which likes to chase other dogs the opportunity to chase a ball instead. In the second example, we can replace that behaviour when your dog sees a running dog in the park if safe to do so.

What happens when we can’t offer the dog the opportunity to do that behaviour at that time? What do we need to teach the dog? After I posted the video, someone commented that I may be able to get Logan to chase me and play with a plastic toy which was covered with peanut butter. This is a good suggestion and may work well for other dogs. However, I don’t want to use this strategy with Logan for a few reasons. The first one is that at the moment, I can offer no reinforcement which compares, in that moment to the cone. He seems to find grabbing it, collapsing it, puncturing it and tearing it from the base incredibly enjoyable. What would I be able to offer in that moment which is anywhere near the same?

When working with a bulldog, there are a number of reasons we play tug. One of them is to give him an outlet for his “tugginess”. He needs to play tug. He also needs to play it in a controlled manner, keep his arousal under control, be able to listen to me and not lose his mind when the game ends. Understanding both the cues and reinforcers for this behaviour are hugely important. Cue the start, breaks in, and end of the game. Once he understands this, we can then transfer that skill to other environments. It’s not time to play tug now, it’s not time to kill the traffic cone etc.

I am doing my best to teach him what is available for reinforcement and whether that means now, later or not ever. He is learning that traffic cones will never be his for killing. Yes, I have taken away that thing he loves, so I need to fill that void with a tonne of stuff he likes; tug, ball chasing and grabbing, belly rubs, clicker training etc. He learns when he is working and when he is not. What is available to him and what is not.

If you need to take away one thing the dog likes, make sure you replace it with loads of other stuff. When we stop smoking (many smokers love smoking) we need to fill it with something else.

It took me a little while to get my head round this concept when I learned it. If you are interested in learning more, google “the matching law”. Replace stuff we remove.

Please let me know your thoughts.


Logan – part 13 – traffic cones!

Logan likes to kill traffic cones. I have worked with several American Bulldogs where this was a behaviour which the dog found incredibley reinforcing. Other than the damage to the property which isn’t mine, this is a behaviour which tends to seriously overarouse the boy. He stops being able to listen to you when he is killing the cones, his breathing rate increases, the amount of bloood travelling to his skin increases hugely, pupils dilate and it takes him a long time to return to normal. All in all, this is not a behaviour which is good for him and I can give him outlets for the same game in other more controlled, healthier ways.

In the first part of the video, he had just finished a heelwork session. He knew I had food on me and had been working well. I brought him out of the car but we started in much too close proximity to the cone. As you can see, he knows the food is there, will take it but not willingly, but he is looking for interaction with the cone rather than with me. Time to reassess.

In the second part (at the rugby pitch), I start far enough away from the cone where he is able to interact with me. I am also not using a clicker as I don;’ need the behaviour to be precise. My criterion for reinforcement is a general “enage with me”. As you can see, there are a couple of times where we get a little too close and lunges for the cone. Because we have just done a few dozen reps, he is more easily able to switch back to enaging with me rather than the cone. Over the next weeks and months, I will be able to get closer to the cone until he is able to enage with me when the cone is right next to him.

It strikes me when I watch this video that I would never have attempted the first version if I was working with a dog who lunged and barked at people or dogs. I would always have done the second protocol. Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees.

Remain open and analytical when you are training, you’ll get the results.

Happy training.

Logan – part 12 – a moment in time


I took this picture this afternoon. I was lying on the bed reading and he came up and rested his chin the edge of the bed as he often does. When he does this, he is looking for a few things, some petting, a carry on, up in the bed, all of the above. He is a very physically affectionate dog with people he likes and knows and will happily sit for hours being petted, rubbed and scratched and will also solicit this.

One of the things which will prompt him to have a carry on is close proximity to his face, wide eyes from me and blowing into his face. He likes this, which I can observe from his running and spinning playfully and when I stop doing it he will come back into me again, looking for another round and we can go again until one of us decides to end the game.

I posted the picture this afternoon on Facebook and someone asked if it was good for him as they had read that dogs don’t like direct eye contact. Really nice comment from the fella who posted it which then gave me an opportunity to explain it. When we know our dogs, know what they like and don’t like, when we build that deep relationship through the use of positive reinforcement and shared activities which we both enjoy, then we can look critically at conventional wisdom. You may have heard about the use of spray bottles to punish unwanted behaviour. Just search for Labradors  playing with hoses on YouTube and you’ll see how well that strategy would work with those dogs.

We have just hosted the wonderful Dr Susan Friedman for two days here in Glasgow. One of Susan’s fundamental learning points is the Study of One. Each of us are individuals with our own needs, wants and likes. Further to that, a photo is only a moment in time. We know only too well how the media can distort the facts with one still frame taken out of context.

A little more lateral thinking in this post today, rather then being all about Logan but it was inspired by a moment in time.

Happy training. Peace out.

Logan – part 11 – start of chase recall


Short(ish) entry today. We started chase recall training today. Chase recall is where you are able to recall your dog from chasing something, such as another dog, a bike, a jogger, a rabbit, deer or toy.

We have been working on his self control around toys over the last 6 months. He has gone from being a dog who would lose his mind on seeing a rubber toy like a Chuckit Ball or Kong to the start of reacalling from a moving one.

This has been a gradual process, starting with giving a verbal cue and holding his collar, throwing out the toy, waiting for him to stop stop straining against the collar and steady himself and being released to go and collect it. He is now at the stage where I use a verbal cue (sometimes backed up with a gesture), throw the toy and release him verbally to collect it.

Skillset being developed – cues and cuing, reinforcement, delayed reinforcement, self control, body movement and awareness.

We moved on today, working on him moving towards a stationary toy, and the new cue meaning a moving toy would be produced for him to chase – translated to “don’t chase that one, chase this one”.

Little and often, we practice this a few times a week, only for maybe 10 minutes or so at a time, doing around 10-20 trials. We did around a dozen today. He is dead beat now from both the sprinting and having to think and has taken off to my bed where he is dozing.

Tired dog and happy Johnny.

Peace out.

Logan – part 10 – tug games

John & Logan Lo Res-4

I saw Craig Ogilivie speak last weekend at the IMDT Conference. Craig has a massive amount of experience in bite work in various sports and as such is a master at getting the best out of your dog with tug games.

Logan loves to tug but becomes highly aroused in the process. I have been doing all the stuff I have previously learned with him regarding tugging and have brought him a long way in the last 6 months. On hearing Craig speak, in his hugely energetic and enthusiastic input, I realised there was loads I was missing with my game and took his advice. He kindly offered me loads of good tips to implement which I have put into effect. I’ve just finished our first “new” tug session with Logan and we both got on really well. Loads of much calmer play, he seemed to be enjoying it, his arousal  levels didn’t  rise to the insane heights they have previously and he was able to come down much more quickly at the end of the session.

When we first started working together, the play sessions would get out of hand quickly as his arousal levels rose. I had to limit play to keep his arousal low, but in limiting it I wasn’t satisfying his need for play so frustration kicked in and his arousal rose again. A fine balancing act. At the end of the session, he would chew through the lead, jump up and grab the toy out of my hand or grab at the pocket where the toys were kept. He wouldn’t ever take food during these sessions. He would then have to carry the toy back to the house or car, wouldn’t get in the car without it and then wouldn’t give it up. He would also pull the toys apart (he can bite a black Kong in half). This became an expensive habit. I know I am borrowed time with most of the strategies I have been using.

So after today, I feel I have much more understanding of how to raise and lower his arousal under control. No room for complacency as I have fallen foul of that in the past when I thought I had figured him out.

Let’s see what happens next time.

Peace out.




Craig’s website. He regulary has workshops across the country so have a look to see if there is one in your area. It is time and money well invested.

Logan – part 9 – heelwork and skills


Heelwork this evening. We have been working on heelwork for the last couple of months. I have experimented with different locations to try to find a place which is challenging for him to work in, but not too overwhelming that he can’t work. Retail park car parks in the evening and industrial estates are a good choice but I have to be careful where. A few weeks ago, I went out with him to do some heelwork training and didn’t notice a traffic cone which was nearby. He did notice it and one dead traffic cone, one wound up dog and one harrassed Johnny later, we put him back in the car, drove to another location and started again.

In December, a traffic cone incident would have meant I would have had to scrub training for the next several hours, allowing his adrenaline to come back down to manageable levels so he could concentrate. That evening, we rallied, I gave him a drink of water and we chilled for about 10 minutes and tried again with good success. These successes are important for my resilence too as not enough reinforcement for me takes it’s toll.

One of the many remnants from his previous life is that he associates wide open green spaces such as fields and parks with chasing toys. If he doesn’t get to chase the toy, he will bark frustratedly at me (more on this in the future). I started doing heelwork with him indoors at The Vet Creche, then in car parks. I have to be aware of shrubbery in retail car parks as he tends to do some impromtu landscaping! I have found a local car park which is quiet in the evening and has tarmac, monobloc and grass. This gives us three surfaces to change between. He also has to be aware of the step up the curb onto the grass. The grass traps much more smells then tarmac does, so he really has to concentrate to stay with me rather than go off sniffing.

Skills we are working on during heelwork – cues and reinforcement (as always), body position in relation to me, moving from one surface type to another, stepping up while walking with me, body movement (left and right turns, inside and outside turns), focus on me and ignoring other reinforcers (which does back to discrimination/cues and reinforcement – the reinforcement isn’t always about what I have), and ignoring traffic cones.

We also did some work tonight at the end on traffic cones, but on reflection I am going to change it a little as I am not happy with they way I did it, again, more on that later. I do need to keep you wanting to come back.

All in all, much success after our setback yesterday. His bounce back is improving and so is mine.