Future posts – what would you like to see?

Firstly, apologies for not blogging for a few weeks, I’ve been crazy busy. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to blog about the following

1. Preparing your dog for the arrival of a new baby

2. Nothing in Life is Free Protocol versus using your dog’s food and toys for training and classical conditioning

3.Building a truly meaningful bond with your dog through positive reinforcement

4. Forging a new behavioural path and letting the “bad” ones overgrow.

If there is anything at all you’d like me to write about, please comment below, If you are having a problem with your dog’s training or behaviour, write a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future blog.


Your dogs needs to eat



As you know, food is a powerful tool in dog training. One of the main reasons that food works in reinforcing behaviour is that dogs find eating pleasurable, much like humans do. Some food will produce a more pleasurable internal response than other, for example, most dogs would prefer a piece of cooked chicken over a piece of dried kibble. Now, because dogs need to eat, we can use their daily food (e.g. kibble) as a means to train them.

So what if your dog isn’t interested in food? One of the reasons is that many dogs in the western world are over fed and most of them are well fed. If your dog gets all of his food in a bowl once or twice a day, why would he or should he work for the same food when he is outside and you want to train him? If you had a job where you were able to sit with your feet up on the desk all day, reading the newspaper and surfing the internet and were paid handsomely for it, your boss would have a pretty hard time motivating you to do work for him. One of the ways he could motivate you is to start to withhold your wags until you start doing the work required of you and then pay you when the work is done.

Your pet dog’s job is to be a good dog. When you think about it, it’s about what he’s expected not to do, rather than what to do, in the most basic of relationships with you. Most pet owners can live without competition level obedience. We can live without our dogs being able to perform complex tasks. However, what we should expect is that our dog doesn’t mug us or our visitors, doesn’t run out the door when it is open, doesn’t chew our furniture, shoes or dig up our carpets, comes back when we call, and isn’t reactive to other dogs and people (in an ideal world, most of us would want our dogs to be friendly to other dogs and people, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll talk about minimum standards).

If your dog is well behaved and does most of the above most of the time, then we’re on the right track. If he doesn’t, one way to help him get there is to motivate him through hunger. I’m not for a second advocating starving our dogs, but making him have slight hunger pangs for a short period of time will prove beneficial in the long run. Dogs who are not well behaved (by our standards, not the dog’s), tend to be physically restrained/excluded or man handled by their owners more than their well trained counterparts. There can also be the tendency for frustrated owners to shout at their dogs more. This in turn can lead to an increase in adrenalin and cortisol (stress hormones) in the dog’s bodies, which can cause many health problems such as cancers and heart disease. As a trainer, I’m always looking for the least aversive way to train a dog. Given the alternatives of making a well fed, ill behaved, stressed dog a little hungry for a few days and using a more physically punitive method such as a choke chain, I’ll always choose the hunger.

How do we do this to minimise hunger and stress to the dog? Rather than have the dog eat from a bowl twice a day, we measure out the dog’s daily portion of food and ask him to work for each piece. Well fed dogs can go several days before feeling hungry, but as long as we’re offering the food to the dog, the dog has the choice to take it or not. The criteria for feeding initially can be something as basic as not jumping, not barking or not pulling ( see https://glasgowdogtrainer.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/the-power-of-all-or-none-reward-training/ for more details). We’re not asking the dog to work for loads of complicated behaviours, just basic manners.  As the dog starts to feel hungry, he’ll feel a sense of satisfaction internally when he is fed, we then use the power of this internal feeling to motivate him to train. After a few days of feeding your dog in this way, you’ll probably see a change in his willingness to work for food. The first day he might take very little or no food from your hand, remember, we’re only requiring really basic behaviour. Day two he might feel a bit more hungry and might take a bit more, but still not his full daily ration. By day three of four, you’ll probably find that he is willingly taking most food you offer him from your hand. We can also put some of the food in chew toys such as Kongs so we are training him to chew appropriate items.

Now, with this as with all training, you need to start in a very low distraction environment. This could be your kitchen, living room, front garden or a place your dog is really familiar with. If the level of distraction is too high, the dog is very likely to be far more interested in what’s going on than the food you have in your hand. As he regularly starts to take food from you, you can gradually increase the level of distraction. When you have the dog that you want and are happy with, he has earned the food in a bowl.

Happy training



How do you define force free dog training?

Appropriate use of a long line

How do you define force free dog training? Is it lack of physical corrections, not using aversive training tools (prong collars, shock collars), or physical molding (such as pushing your dog’s rear end onto the ground to train it to sit)? Do you consider rattle cans and spray bottles a use of force. Is shouting at your dog or constant repetition of cues using force? Do you stare your dog down when she does something you don’t like. These are all things I wouldn’t use in training or behaviour modification either for my own dogs or working with clients.

Now, what about turning around and physically moving your dog when he lunges, either aggressively or playfully, at a person walking past you and your dog when he is on leash? Do you use a long line to train recall or closer proximity to you so you can prevent him from moving towards a distraction? Would you take your dog by the collar and physically move him from the counter if he was jumping up to get the left over roast chicken and you forgot to close the kitchen door? Do you use a crate or put you dog in another room when visitors come in? Do you body block your dog from coming into rooms or use the door to stop him running out the house? If your dog breaks a sit/stay, would you give another cue to ask him to sit again? Would you consider tethering a dog in place for short periods? I do, or would consider using these methods.

Now, the point of this is that all of these influence the dog’s behaviour, and most of them use some physical means to do so. I attended a BAT seminar recently with Grisha Stewart. Grisha talks of “putting on the breaks” using a long line when working with reactive dogs. What this means is that you use a the long line to slow the dog down from moving forward when the dog would normally run forward and this gives him time to think. We physically stop the dog from moving forward, but slowly and gently.

If I use the analogy of a military base. The military don’t want you entering in the interests of both you and themselves. For them, security and secrecy are the motivators. For you, they don’t want you coming in because they might be dangerous and there may be the risk of exposure to live ammunition etc. The fence is first line of physical control. After that, there might be security patrols where they could stop you by their presence or resort to more physical or might detain you.

In the above example, you might not know that you weren’t supposed to be in a certain area. Say the fences were in a poor state of repair. There might not be any signs or you might not understand what they say. As this applies to dog training, your dog might not know what the rules are, but you have a responsibility to keep him safe. You might not have reached that level of training yet and the environment throws you something you can’t manage in that instant. If that’s the case, you need to get physical with your dog.

There’s an expression among force free dog people – “Positive doesn’t mean permissive”. Some circumstances will dictate we need to physically move or restrain our dogs. Sometimes we need to get physical in preventing them from doing stuff we don’t want them to do. As long as we’re keeping the physical aversion to an absolute minimum, work to try to eliminate it and train our dogs so physical management to a minimum, we are on a more enlightened path.  For example, teaching your dog to lie down with a stuffed Kong when visitors come in will reduce or eliminate the need to put them in another room or crate them if they are prone to mugging your guests.

We have big brains compared to dogs. Dogs are faster than we are, have better weapons that we do, but we are generally smarter. There will always be times when we may need to physically intervene, but we can train and teach to reduce those times. No force, no fear, no pain or intimidation.

Physical punishment – why we shouldn’t use it in training (part 2)


I recently blogged on using physical punishment on dog training, why people use it and some of the consequences using it can have. While the vast majority of feedback on the article was very positive, there were a few comments which made me think that some of the points needed clarification. The link to the original blog is here


The Oxford English Dictionary defines the learning as


  • 1gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught
  • commit to memory
  • become aware of (something) by information or from observation

And Teaching as


  • 1 [with object and infinitive or clause] impart knowledge to or instruct (someone) as to how to do something
  • [with object] give information about or instruction in (a subject or skill)
  • [no object] work as a teacher
  •  [with object and clause] cause (someone) to learn or understand something by example or experience
  • [with object] encourage someone to accept (something) as a fact or principle:the philosophy teaches self-control
  • informal make (someone) less inclined to do something

Now, the point of defining learning and teaching (or in this case as the term applies, training) is so that we don’t get bogged down in the semantics. In cases like this people from either camp (either force free or traditional dog training) can get a little hot and bothered by this highly emotive subject. Again, just to reiterate, I am a 100% force free trainer and behaviour consultant. I use no physical corrections and no sound aversive training tools such as rattle cans.

In the first article, I stated that physically punitive training can produce some results. One of the arguments I encountered was that this type of training merely suppresses others and that it is not actual training, learning or teaching. The flip side of this argument is that reward based training only encourages and animal to do what we are trying to reinforce. As you can see, when compared against the opposite side of the argument, it begins fall apart. Rats in a Skinner box (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning_chamber, for definition) learn not to press the button which gives them a shock. They learn this by avoidance, but they do learn not to do it. As applied to dog training, dogs taught not to pull on leash using a prong collar or choke chain learn not to pull. The behaviour is not merely suppressed. If the consequence of pulling it a painful stimulus in the neck, they learn to avoid the pain, hence not pull and learn to walk on a loose leash as this does not cause them pain (again, I’m in no way advocating this as a training method). Animals can learn by avoiding pain, but not exclusively.

The other argument I encountered is that physically punitive training doesn’t work. Given the above, I’m going to offer an explanation as to why some reward based trainers think this way. Many modern dog trainers have a background in purely reward based training. Since they have never used traditional methods, and many have never even witnessed this type of training, the knowledge of some of them can be based on third hand accounts. I absolutely do not mean to be disparaging of reward based trainers who have not used traditional methods here. They are extremely lucky to have been able to come into the training world and learned from enough enlightened trainers that they have never had to use force, and if I could start again, it would be my preference also. But as trainers, we owe it to our dogs, our clients and our profession to fully understand these training techniques and not dismiss them outright. There is a huge difference between understanding why something works and advocating it’s use. We should be able to have a well reasoned, logical discussion about this issue without it becoming emotional.

I think another reason some force free trainers say it doesn’t work is because of the blurred lines between training and behaviour modification. Training is generally to teach dogs how to do something, for instance a recall or closing a door. Behaviour modification, for example changing aggression, involves removal of the inappropriate behaviour and addressing the emotional state behind it. In this instance, I would absolutely agree that harsh, painful techniques do not work, are counter productive and can make the behaviour worse. Correcting a fearful dog on a metal collar or shocking a dog with separation anxiety will do nothing to make the dog feel better about what is distressing them and will often lead to an association between the frightening stimulus and being hurt. This in turn can lead to breakdown in dog/owner bond, redirected aggression where the dog attacks the handler, or learned helplessness, among others, where the dog stops doing anything at all because all his tools for trying to cope with the stressful situation lead to him being hurt.

I do truly feel that all trainers need to understand the differences between techniques and training methods and philosophies and why people use them. If we are to have an impact in our field of work, inclusion is better that exclusion so that we can use our knowledge to influence other trainers and owners who still use these outdated training methods.

Use of physical punishment in training – why it works and the harm it can do (part 1)

Before I start this post, I want to preface it by saying I am now a 100% non aversive trainer and have been for some years now. I can’t remember the last time I shouted at a dog other than my own (which was a long time before I knew any better) and don’t even say “No” any more, rather I may repeat the cue to give the dog another opportunity to respond.

If any of you have read my first post, you will know that I came from a background of traditional dog training. I took my young Dogue de Bordeaux to a sports dog club, where the use of choke chains and prong collars was common place and shock collars were sometimes seen.

The reason I used metal collars was because

1. I wasn’t shown anything different and

2. I was getting results.

My dog Bosco was a terrible puller on the lead and I taught him, in the space of about 5 minutes, to walk to heal using a prong collar. I also taught a great down stay, sit stay and recall, all using a prong collar. Prong collars work, that’s why I used them and that’s why people continue to use them. Now I wasn’t a barbarian who enjoyed hurting my dog. I loved my boy and wanted what was best for him which was to mind his manners and do as I asked of him, I just went about it the wrong way. In my experience this is generally true of most dog trainers (always exceptions of course).

Prong collars work by, according to the operant model, positive punishment. The positive part is a plus sign(+) where something is added to punish (reduce) the undesired behaviour. So in the instance above with Bosco, pulling on the lead, getting up from a stay and not coming back were all punished/reduced by me adding a correction (i.e. painful experience) with the prong collar. The father of operant training, B.F. Skinner did this in a lab using rats. Rats were put in a box where, upon pressing one lever they obtained a food pellet and on pressing another one got an electric shock. It doesn’t take too long before the rat learns which button to press and which to avoid.

As progressive/non-aversive trainers, we need to understand why other “balanced” trainers do what they do. I recently had a discussion on a web training forum on this issue. The other person argued that using force in training doesn’t work. She argued that I hadn’t trained a down stay from Bosco, merely taught him not to get up, that I hadn’t trained heeling, merely punished him for pulling on the lead. My response to this is, really what is the difference? The picture looks that same, Bosco stays down and walks on a loose leash.

I think arguing against the effectiveness of forceful training is futile. What we should be doing is educating about the fallout or effect it has on our relationship with our dogs. I am currently making my way through Steve White’s DVD set, “How Police K9 techniques can transform your everyday training”. Steve is a progressive trainer who has trained police dogs forever. In the seminar, he states that when punishment is being used (he’s not condoning it), the dog should not associate the punishment with the handler. This is because it breaks down the bond of trust between handler and dog. The dog is less likely to trust someone who hurts it, which is hugely problematic when your dog is your police partner. The breakdown of handler/dog relationship is the best which happens. The worst that can happen is that you end up with a dog who is frightened and/or aggressive to the environment.

For instance, I taught Bosco to be super reactive to other dogs. I did this really well. He pulled because he wanted to say hello to other dogs and people he met. The harder he pulled, the more I corrected him. The more I corrected him the more he associated other dogs in the environment with pain and the more reactive he became as he learned that the pain stops when the dog goes away. What could have happened because he knew it was me who was hurting him, would have been to turn around and attack me. That would be among the worst things which could have happened.

By understanding why traditional trainers do what they do, knowing our own craft inside out so that we can produce better results and be able to demonstrate that our dogs are working for us because they want to and not because they fear not doing it, rather than dismissing these techniques as ineffective then hopefully we can continue to change things.

Part 2 – https://glasgowdogtrainer.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/use-of-punishment2/

Bosco without his prong collar, working for the ball and much happier for it
Bosco without his prong collar, working for the ball and much happier for it

Red Zone Dogs

I re-blogged a post by the wonderful Nicole Wilde yesterday discussing whether or not some dogs need a heavier approach to training meaning more physically aversive techniques. The answer to that is no, they don’t and I agree wholeheartedly with Nicole’s well educated opinion on the matter. It got me thinking about the term “Red Zone Dog” which has been popularised by Cesar Milan on his show “The Dog Whisperer”

I want you to imagine that you are frightened of something. You have also learned that screaming and shouting and acting like a crazy person generally makes the thing you are scared of go away. You also have no ability to rationalise things. Your screaming usually works either because the scary thing wants nothing to do with your insanity or that the scary thing was going to go on it’s merry way regardless of how you act. Now, lets say the scary thing is getting closer and closer. Having learned that acting like a madman usually works, this time it doesn’t. What are you more likely to do? My guess would be act the way you usually act but this time with more intensity and energy than usual. Now the scary thing goes away. So the next time the scary thing comes close and because you are smart and efficient, you are just going to jump in with the same level of intensity as the last time, so you learn this is now what works. Now some person comes along and forces you to remain in the same area as the very thing you are terrified from. Would it be reasonable to expect you to fight like hell to get away from the person and the scary thing and you might even want to hurt the person, regardless of their intention to help or otherwise, who is forcing you to remain next to the very thing which causes you nightmares? On top of this they occasionally punch and kick you in order to “snap you out of it”.

Now, lets imagine a trusted and kind friend who understands your fear, keeps you at a safe distance from the object of your terror, makes you feel safe and reassures you in a way you understand that nothing is going to happen when the scary thing appears and if you don’t react badly, you will either be moved away from the scary thing and/or given something which you really enjoy (chocolate, money, whatever you really like). Do you think in time you might become used to the scary thing, and maybe even look forward to seeing it at a safe distance? Maybe even think you might try getting a bit closer because when you do you get better or more of the things you like?

The safe distance I’ve described is called threshold. At or further away from threshold, dogs have the ability to learn and we can teach them that the object of their fear isn’t going to hurt them, and may even mean good things happen. If we move beyond threshold, dogs can only react, they can no longer learn. They now engage the emotional part of their brain and disengage the thinking, learning part.

Cesar Milan’s “Red Zone Dogs” are seriously beyond threshold. In his show, we have seen him forcing dogs to remain at a distance which they are clearly not comfortable with and he then assaults them. I’ll not get into the reasons or excuses he uses to justify this. Now I have worked with some seriously aggressive dogs, whose threshold distance is several hundred feet. These are difficult to work with but if you find the right location it’s possible and I’ve had some truly excellent results. Some of these dogs could easily be classified as “red zone” cases.

If you don’t want to see a red zone dog, don’t bring it within a distance to the scary thing where it can’t learn. It’s cruel and ineffective. How would you feel?