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.


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.

Kongs – the best dog toys in the world

There are a huge number of applications for Kong dog toys. I often recommend them for training as there are a variety of things your dog cannot do when chewing from a Kong. Your dog cannot bark, lunge, growl, stare at anything else or jump up when chewing a Kong.

I recently worked with a young, shy, under-socialised gundog who the owner wanted to take him to dog friendly cafes and pubs. I recommended feeding the dog from a Kong almost exclusively to get the dog addicted to chewing a Kong. Any behaviour which is reinforced will increase in frequency, duration or intensity and if your dog plays with or chews a Kong and gets food from it, this will reinforce the chewing or playing but we must start out with the dog being able to get the food from the Kong. If we make the Kong too challenging to start, the dog will get fed up as he the pay off isn’t enough and the training won’t work.

Here is the link for teaching your dog to chew from a Kong


We teach the dog to chew from the Kong when we are there. This means we are able to supervise the dog and make sure he can use it safely. I will explain the protocol I would use for using Kongs with a nervous dog so that the dog can enjoy being out in dog friendly premises.

First, teach the dog to chew the Kong using the steps followed in the YouTube clip when you are at home and the dogs is supervised. Gradually build the difficulty so that the dog is able to chew the Kong stuffed with moistened kibble, partially frozen moistened kibble and finally fully frozen moistened kibble. Once the dog is addicted to chewing a Kong, you can then increase the level of reward as you go out into scary places.

Next take the dog to a quiet pub or cafe, with only a few people in it. Give the dog a Kong stuffed with kibble and a few extra bits of something really tasty such as cheese or pieces of hotdog. Let the dog become accustomed to being in the new place with the better Kong.

Once the dog is used to being in that place, take him to another place which is slightly busier. Repeat the process but have a few more tasty treats in the Kong. Scarier place means better Kongs. Repeat this process for the next, busier pub/cafe, then start again.

On the next series of trials, you should hopefully get to another pub/cafe which is busier than the last. It is important to back off and start from the beginning and do your training in “waves”. This way you are not pushing the dog to improve each time, but gradually improving then backing off, improving a bit more, backing off again and so on.

So it would go like this-

Cafe 1, Cafe 2, Cafe3

Next, Cafe 1, Cafe 2, Cafe 3, Cafe 4

then Cafe 2, Cafe 3, Cafe 4, Cafe 5 and so on

When you get to really intense places for the dog, give the dog a Kong stuffed with moistened kibble, pieces of cheese, hot dog, deli meat and lined with peanut butter or cream cheese. The scariest places mean the best Kongs.

This process would be done over weeks or months. Go at the dog’s pace, pushing him just a little to improve but not so much that he’ll shut down or lapse.

Finally, as part of the treatment for separation distress/anxiety, teach the dog to chew the Kong when you are in the room, then gradually further and further away in the same room, then a little out the room, then gradually further away etc until he is in one room and you are in the other. Then give him a stuffed Kong and go out the house for a few seconds and gradually increase the time you are out the house, again using the “waves” approach.

Until next time. Yours in Good Dog training,