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.

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