Being Wholehearted with your dog – part 2

Being Wholehearted with our dogs – part 2 – Letting go of perfectionism.

How does this apply to our lives with our dogs? I see it in a few ways. I work in a public park with my clients and their dogs. Off lead dogs will sometimes come up and jump on me because I have treats in my pocket. The owner will then shout “get down” at their dog. Given that this cry is making zero difference to whether the dog jumps on me or not, it’s the embarrassment or shame of their dog jumping up on the trainer which motivates them to do it.

Having a dog which jumps on people and not having their slightly unruly dog on a long line are both examples of this perfectionism. It’s not perfect that their dog jumps on people, so the feel shame. It’s not perfect that they may need to have their dog on a long line while training, so they feel shame. The dog often bears the brunt of that perfectionism, and I don’t think that’s fair.

There is a hose attached to the vet’s surgery at the park for people to rinse the mud off their dog. I often see dogs in the dead of winter being fully hosed down so that every last piece of dirt is removed before they get back into the car. I even witnessed two small dogs being given a shampoo in December. In Scotland. Both dogs stood shivering after their cold shower, scrub and shampoo. This is a pretty good example of perfectionism.

I don’t compete in sports with my dogs. I have zero interest in it. This might be an unpopular opinion but I see too many dogs, given too hard a time because of the projection of the handler/trainer on to them. The dog misses a turn, stop, position or hurdle and the human gets pissed off. The dog won’t come off the sleeve, they get corrected on a electric or metal collar. Cues are repeated with harsh emotion behind them.

Again, the dog suffers because we want stuff to be perfect. Please. Your dog deserves better, it’s not the end of the world. Then the shame starts and the “He can’t even get his dog to…” from others. Then the dog pays for that. So be kind to others.

Part 3 to come.

Living wholeheartedly with your dog – part 1


I’m currently reading “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. In the book, the author talks about wholehearted living, which is embracing vulnerability, being courageous and being resilient to shame.

Dr Brown states that there are ten guideposts to living wholeheartedly, which is the antidote to shame. These apply to our dogs as well.

Cultivating authenticity – letting go what other people think. Your life and journey with your dog are yours and your dogs. She is a member of your family and deserves to be treated as such. Many people who have had dogs before will have opinions on how you should live with your dog, how your dog should behave, how you should behave and treat your dog, where your dog should be allowed to go etc. Decide what you want for your dog and then train it.

Some people are crushed, truly crushed, when someone says or infers that they are not a good dog owner. Ask yourself – why do you value that person’s opinion? Why do you let what that person, who may or may not live with you tell you how you should interact with your dog if you are taking care of all your dogs needs?

Want to let your dog up on the bed? In the bedroom? On your lap? On your couch? Go for it. The only caveat I would suggest is that you and your dog are both getting your needs met. If you allow your dog up on the couch any time they want, it’s not fair to be angry with your dog when they have dirty paws and jump on your couch. A better way might be to let them up with permission and ensure that their feet are clean when they come in. If your dog is growling at you when they are on the couch and won’t let you on the couch, then that is certainly an issue; your dog is having a nice time but you are not getting to sit on your couch, which clearly isn’t right. Teach them the rules, it’s only fair.

When I first adopted Logan, I had everyone and their granny who had access to Facebook chiming with their opinion on what I should or should do with him, what he should or should be able to do with him. My response now is “and you are…?”

Who is that person who is a witness/voyeur to the snippets of our life I choose to share publicly, to tell me or anyone else what I should or shouldn’t do with him? How much do they really know about our life based on a few minutes of video I choose to share? My answer – no one who I’m interested in listening to. So try to apply the same to you and your dog. Someone tells you your dog needs to sit at the door before they are allowed out, ask why. Sit before they get their food? Why? Sit before crossing the road? Why?

The other side of this is taking advice of people you truly align with and trust. Taking counsel from a trusted advisor, whether paid or not, is very wise. We don’t know everything and must seek help when we need to. I did this with Logan and was fortunate to be able to call on many trainer and behaviour friends and colleagues who could give me help and advice.

The wisdom is knowing the difference.

Part 2 to come.

What divides us.

Not dog related.

Today a police officer was killed in London doing his job. I changed my profile picture to reflect that and respect him and his family. I shouldn’t have to justify honouring him.

I can respect the police and speak about against police brutality and miscarriages of justice both as a citizen and as a former police officer.

I can support the armed forces at the same time as disagreeing with the wars the fight and wanting justice for war crimes.

I can hold an anti vivisection position and the same time educate staff who work with lab animals in order to make the lives of those animals better.

I can disagree with the party I vote for because I don’t have to agree with every policy they have and I don’t have to blindly follow every one of their policies.

I can agree with the UK government in the (very) rare time that they do something good and at the same time hold the position that they get most things wrong most of the time.

I can want independence for my country and at the same time realise that there is much work to do with the practicalities of that.

I can see that religious organisations abuse their power and cover up child abuse at the same time recognising the good work they do for the poor and needy.

I can oppose the state of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people and at the same time be fervently opposed to anti- Semitism.

I can oppose the monarchy and realise that has nothing to do with the armed forces of the country.

I can also draw clear lines with some things while being flexible in my views and positions on others, all within the same genre.

There are other examples. Social media divides us, pigeon holes us, creates identity politics. It reinforces reactionary behaviour. It causes stress. Not every remark is aimed at me, not every remark warrants my energy or attention. the same goes for you.

Last thought

I’ve been commenting and using Facebook less and less of late. Identity politics and tribalism are the reasons. This is just my thoughts, they are no more or less valid than the next person’s.

When we can’t concede points in a discussion, what’s the point of having the discussion. In Alan Alda’s wonderful podcast, Clear and Vivid, he says he enters every conversation open to having his mind changed. To me that means he’s listening. If we want to be heard that means we need to let others be heard as well.

I listened to a podcast recently where an elected conservative representative of his constituency numerously said “objectively speaking” , except it wasn’t objective, it was his opinion on the discussion point. I felt angry listening to it but then realised that anger gets in the way of me listening to him, so what’s the point of me listening to the conversation? Just because I strongly disagreed with some of what he said, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things worth listening to or for me to agree with. Finding the common ground is what will keep all us moving forward. In films like “American History X” the protagonist’s journey reflects what happens when someone who is diametrically opposed to his point of view takes the time to see him as someone who is hurt and damaged and manages to turn him around. Compassion, empathy, love, respect, understanding.

The flip side of being willing to have our minds changed means that we can be influenced by those whose opinions we do not agree with on a fundamental level. This takes us being mindful and developing skills of critical analysis. this takes work and energy and when we are scared and exhausted by the world, this is very difficult. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, but I certainly need to and I think more of us need to also.

Social media drives and thrives on division. The more time we spend online, the more money the platforms make. The irony of me writing this and you reading this on social media is not lost on me. Caution yourself from shaming others from really going to town on people whose comments you disagree with. There is a person attached to those comments with feelings, a family, a job. They deserve our compassion and kindness. Our words have effects.

I’m reading more, reading for a variety of sources and opinions, not just the ones I agree with. this allows me to develop those skills of critical analysis, empathy and compassion which are so important. it also allows me to understand that so many of us have underlying emotional trauma which we are not even aware of and this drives much of these behaviours (the reinforcer being some relief or distraction).

I was a horrendous misanthrope for a long, long time. I am enjoying connecting more with people but I prefer not to do it by text or here. If you are interested in connecting and discussion things like this, I am always open to it. I won’t always get it right but I’m certainly trying.

We have so much more in common than we have different. Those common factors will help heal us, hopefully.

Hope, love, patience, understanding, empathy, compassion.

Our influences

I posted recently about where we get our influences from in dog training. All the knowledge and skills we collect and collate over of lives often interweaves and connects. I kind of think of it like a spider’s web although it’s not woven from the centre out, more like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a little here, a little there until the picture looks fuller. If we are smart about our own learning, that picture will never be complete and will always expand throughout of lifetime.

The influences I weave into my dog training journey come from many sources; dance and movement, martial arts, my previous occupation as a police officer dealing with dynamically changing situations which were often potentially violent or dangerous among all the other things I experienced, reading the accounts of combat veterans on the effects of acute and chronic stress, some neuroscience, philosophy, health and fitness, mindfulness, emotional regulation and awareness to name some.

I’ve recently been through a very dark period of my life. Because I have some knowledge of how diagnosed depression affects mood and behaviour, I can use that knowledge to give myself the time I need to heal and give myself a break that I’m not as productive or creative as usual. I’m currently reading “Permission to Feel” by Marc Brackett. I heard Marc Speak on Brene Brown’s podcast. I first heard of Brene Brown after hearing her mentioned at a conference by one of the speakers.

In Dr Brackett’s book, he talks about negative feelings impacting our creativity. He says that when we are under the influence of negative emotions (my wording is clumsy here), our creative processes are suppressed. Now that I am feeling better, my creativity is awakened more, and I was inspired to write this article. A few weeks ago, I could have read the same information and not been so inspired.

How does this relate to our dogs and how do we apply it? From an evolutionary viewpoint, our emotions serve to give us information about our current conditions so we can change them and survive another day. Those negative emotions are important in our survival but too many of them will inevitably kill us (the physical effects of long term negative emotions are well documented). If our dogs are constantly in a state of negative emotions such as boredom, fear, frustration, anxiety, this will stifle their creativity. This means they will be able to problem-solve less. Problem solving is good for our dogs as each time they solve part of the puzzle, they get a hit of dopamine and their confidence increases. They are learning their behaviour matters, it works, it changes things for them, they achieve outcomes.

If our dogs are not able to be creative in their lives they are missing out on life. If the circumstances that we keep them in lead to confusion, uncertainty, fear, boredom, then they are not fulfilling their potential for a good, happy, healthy lives. We owe it to them to provide true enrichment, safety, certainly with spontaneity, freedom within normal societal rules and happiness. We owe that to ourselves as well. Think of the satisfaction you would feel if you can honestly and objectively claim that you have provided that to your dog. It would be wonderful.

Quadrants schmadrants

learningquadrant-300x259Ah, the quadrants. The source of many, if not the majority of trainer wars on social media. Several months ago, I nearly caused a riot on my Facebook page with these six simple words

“The quadrants are not a thing”.

I had people unfriending me, calling me names (both in front of me and behind my back, adults, grown men and women), threatening to cancel coming to a couple of presentations I was doing the next month. It all got a bit out of hand. The point of the post was yes, to be inflammatory, but not just for the sake of being so. It was to provoke discussion. My position; overuse and over reliance on the term “quadrants” is limiting and fails our dogs.

Let me go back a stage. The following photographs are from a couple of books by two of the best minds in behaviour, Paul Chance and Susan Schneider. I have read both books, refer to them often and continue to digest them. Paul Chance’s book is a behaviour textbook, referred to in Universities (that’s the places where we teach accountants, engineers, doctors etc). Dr Susan Schneider’s book, although not a textbook, was over ten years in the making and has hundreds of citations. These are people we should be learning from.

I have had the pleasure and honour to have learned from Dr Susan G. Friedman on numerous occasions. Another brilliant mind in the field of learning, Dr Friedman’s advice is to learn behaviour from textbooks and then learn how to apply it from skilled technicians. She further advises not to do the bulk of our learning from opinion pieces (like this one, yes, I know). In doing so, we will excel. Dr Friedman has spent over 20 years working with the best animal trainers in the world and applying ABA to hundreds of species of animals.

So, back to the quadrants. The two authors mentioned, these photos are from their books


Look carefully. No mention of the term “quadrants”. Now, yes, Chance refers to positive and negative punishment in this index. No, still no mention of quadrants. From the photos, look at the other terms. How often do you ever hear anyone but the most advanced trainers, or trainers learning from them (like me) refer to these other terms? My bet is rarely, if ever. When we limit ourselves to discussion the “quadrants” and that alone, we ignore the whole breadth and depth and richness of behaviour analysis as a field of study and our dogs (and us) suffer for it as a result.

The next time you get involved in one of these car crash discussions on social media, ask if your opposite number knows what the matching law is. Or a discriminative stimulus. And ask if they further know how to apply it. And if you are reading this and don’t know, then I urge you to find out. If we are going in from the cold, are we seeking warmth or to escape the cold or both? If so, the negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement are at play at the same time. Do you know the difference? Is it always both or sometimes can it only be one? Find out, examine it, study it, think about it and discuss it with people who know more than you do.

Concentrating only on 4 possible outcomes of behaviour (while ignoring extinction) and failing to take into consideration antecedents (distant, intermediate and proximal) and the effects of classical conditioning makes us look foolish. We cannot pick and choose the science we like. Yes, aversive training methods like prong collars and shock collars work, that’s why they are used and continue to be used. But they come at a cost and nearly 100 years of research tells us so. If you revel in the use of all 4 quadrants, read a book on the effects of punishment on the individual. B.F. Skinner wrote all this stuff down.  He was also a man who, having researched this stuff, interacted and taught using positive reinforcement as the driving force. How do I know this? Because I have heard it from his daughter, Dr Julie Vargas, who spoke at the WOOF Training and Behaviour Conference this year.

Stop limiting yourself to discussion of graphic which was used to simplify the glorious study of behaviour as a starting point. Do you still want to be at that starting point a year, 2, 5 or 10 years after you started? I know I don’t and I know I’m not.

Love and peace and good training and learning.

Hannah Branigan in Glasgow

The Awesome Hannah Branigan will be in Scotland for the first time (first time in the UK as well) on the 3rd and 4th Aug. There are a few auditor/observer spots left so please don’t leave it until the last minute if you are thinking of booking as I’d hate for you to miss out.
Hannah is the host of the fabulous Drinking From The Toilet Podcast and author of Awesome Obedience
This will be an amazing weekend of dog training with a brilliant and entertaining speaker.

Humility, progress and provocation


DEEP THOUGHTS (not really)
As a dog training community, whether online or in person, we have a number of objectives and interests. We have to educate the public and our clients as best we can and provide them with information which they can actually use. There is most likely a way to stay away from scientific jargon without dumbing down the process of training and why we train without corrections.
Then we have discussions to make us better ourselves. By having a better understanding of the science of dog training, keeping up to date with new research which comes out, examining whether things we did 5, 10 or 15 years ago are still valid, needs updating or needs thrown in the bin and to build a tribe of like minded individuals who can we can have these discussions with. This is a big ask and each of us are better at some elements than others but other than a few truly unique individuals (Dr Susan Friedman), none of us are better that all of them than everyone else.
Sometimes the two objectives above are at odds with each other, and that’s ok, we can continue to improve until they are not.
I would much rather spend the time I have available online discussion how to get better at positive, effective, ethical training with my peers, so I can provide better content and better training than to debate whether we should still be using aversive training methods with others. There are other people out there who are more willing and better able to do that than me.
Terms and themes which I think need discussing
– the need for our dogs to sit for everything
– the need for our dogs to walk on the left hand side
– the use of the terms quadrants, impulse control, arousal, drive and a few others.
My journey with the spectacular dog in the photo has made me consider loads of stuff which I thought was gospel. This can only be a good thing. The need for discussion of the list above has been inspired by Logan and many other great human teachers who I have been honoured to have learned and continue to learn from. The list is only my opinion, it is no less or no more valid than anyone else’s.
I hope the picture of his nibs made you smile.
Peace and love.

Our dogs’ needs


Two pictures, two needs, to behaviours.

The first picture is from yesterday, working with Odin the Newfoundland. After our training session he was thirsty and needed a drink of water. He moved towards the tap and started licking the spout, Amy turned the tap on and he had a drink. This could not have been more obvious, he had a physical need.


In the second picture, from a workshop I did a couple of years ago in Mallorca, I was working with a young Belgian Shepherd. We were working on him showing more acceptable (to humans) behaviour in the presence of other dogs. In this picture, he is jumping up at me, looking for support and reassurance, which I provided. This was similar to a dog who I worked with yesterday who would disengage from the other dog and jump on his human.

The conventional thinking in the second case would be to turn your back/ignore/reprimand the dog for jumping. In both cases, the dogs were seeking to access reinforcement, both for a need they had, Odin for water to quench his thirst, the Shepherd for a more emotional/psychological need. If our dog had learned to jump on us because they needed a drink would we ignore that? Would we ever ignore Odin for going to the tap and asking for a drink?

Our dogs’ emotional and psychological needs are as important as their physical ones. They rely on getting them all met for optimal health and a happy life. It’s up to us to learn what they are asking, and to recognise their needs based on the situations they find themselves in. Listen to the subtle sounds, so they don’t need to make more noise.

Peace and love.

Interested in Learning Dog Training with me?


I am inviting applications to mentor with me starting in 2019.

Email me –

I will be covering all aspects of learning, training, dog behaviour and running a successful dog training business.

Open to all levels of experience and to anywhere in the world.