Changing Challenging Behaviour

With it being a lovely morning, we’ve just been having a play session in the back garden. Sounds great, except for one annoying thing…Mint decided to run round in circles yapping, which is not good for the neighbours or for me, let alone the dog as she just winds herself up. You can see her typical behaviour in the photo above…barking in the face of another dog
So, what did I do? Remember that I am outside with multiple dogs not just one.
Shout at her? – Nope. cos that would have just made her worse (she’d have got more stressed) and it isn’t a reward based technique. It might have made me feel better,
Did I use ‘no’ to stop her behaviour? Nope, as that doesn’t tell her what to do and what effect would it have had on the other dogs that were just playing quietly.
Did I use a Non Reward Marker (NRM) such as oops or wrong? Nope. Again these NRMs don’t tell her what to do, all they do is interrupt behaviour so that another could be offered. Well the only thing she was likely to offer in that situation was more running in circles and barking, so the NRM would not be very effective and I would have become frustrated very quickly. I do find that NRMs can be very punishing for a dog and can slow down their learning. I also needed to be aware of the effect of an NRM on the other dogs that may well have been behaving appropiately when I used the NRM.
Did I use a positive interuppter (something that the dog has been conditioned to see as positive and can be used to interrupt a behaviour chain)? No, mainly cos there are multiple dogs playing and I don’t want to interrupt their play, I only need to stop Mint running round and yapping. I would have used it if they were all barking and then rewarded them all for stopping.
Did I train another behaviour? Yes! I went and got some treats and rewarded Mint for sitting and offering eye contact. As I went to get the treats, the other dogs stopped playing for a short while which gave me the opportunity to reward Mint for offering eye contact and then sitting and offering eye contact whilst there was no playing. My dogs are pretty clued up to being trained as a group and soon realised that they weren’t ‘on duty’ as such and off they went to play again. Mint stayed put and was rewarded for sitting and offering eye contact and we gradually built up how long she looked at me. Then more distractions were added as I started to interact with one or two of the other dogs whilst still requiring Mint to sit and offer eye contact (so I was kicking a ball for one of the other dogs, talking to some of the others, telling on to find it and so on) and I even progressed to some fetch training with Rush so that Rush was bringing the ball back to me and being rewarded with a treat whilst Mint remained sitting and offering eye contact. The other dogs got the occasional treat to keep them from feeling left out.
Great session that resulted in a calm owner, calm dogs and loads of positive interaction on all counts and Mint learned that she could be calm whilst the other dogs were playing rather than getting wound up about it all.

Sociable or Socialised?

It is great when your dog is happy to be in the company of people and dogs from outside of the family and it means that you can go on walks with friends with no worries. This, to me, is a well socialised dog, but what does that really mean? Well it means different things to different people and there seems to be a real misunderstanding developing.

Everyone knows that we need to socialise our dogs (and yes you can socialise an adult dog just as you can a puppy).  It’s great that the message is getting out there. However, socialisation is the process of getting the dog used to (habituated to) everything that it is likely to see during its life; so vehicles, people, children, other animals, household objects and noises, aeroplanes, etc. This process should mean that the dog develops a neutral or slightly positive association to these everyday things and will prevent them developing negative (scary) associations which could lead to problems later on.

However, it appears that socialising your dog/puppy has also developed to have another meaning; that of allowing your dog/puppy run over and play with everyone else’s dog, much to the annoyance of those dogs’ owners. This isn’t socialising, this is allowing your puppy/dog to run amok and potentially learn to bully other dogs. There is a school of thought that a puppy needs to be told off by another dog so that it ‘teaches him a lesson’ but that lesson could be very harsh and end up with the puppy becoming fear aggressive or the dog that they are harassing (and yes, it is harassment in many cases) could be scared and become fear aggressive to protect itself from rude dogs and your dog is likely going to learn how to be the play ground bully and that is no fun for anyone.

Yes, dogs do need to become familiar with other dogs, but in order to achieve this, it is not necessary for them to play with every dog they see, they just need to see other dogs. It is much more important that they learn to respond to cues around other dogs i.e. that they come back when they are called, that they can walk nicely passed other dogs without screaming and barking and leaping about. In fact, letting them play with every dog they see, is much more likely to result in a dog that pulls and screams/barks to get to them and is likely to result in a dog that completely ignores the owner and won’t come back when called (or be caught) until the dog has had enough. That’s no fun at all, and who really wants a dog which wants nothing to do with you? Mind, I suppose for some, it means that they can just stand there and watch their dog play/annoy/frighten dogs for a couple of hours and then they take a tired dog home….easy way to exercise your dog without putting in any effort yourself, I guess.

That doesn’t mean that you can go for walks with your friends and their dogs; that is what having a sociable dog is all about and it can be great fun. If you feel your dog would benefit from having more doggy pals, then why not take them along to a doggy day creche so that they can play with other well socialised dogs that are happy to be around other dogs? Of course, you need to ensure that it is a well run creche where the dogs are well matched for their play styles, where bullying is not tolerated and that the dogs do get some downtime during the day (s roughly one hour play time and then one hour rest time).

The the type of socialising that makes me cringe is when the owner of an aggressive dog rings up wanting to bring their dog to classes to socialise it. No, no no! This is not socialising, this is flooding! Remember that socialising should be a neutral or positive experience. Putting an aggressive dog into a room full of other dogs that it is scared off is not going to make it like other dogs. If you don’t like spiders and I put you in a room full of spiders for an hour, will you like them more? No, you’ll probably be even more frightened of spiders (and also not trust me either for playing such a dirty trick on you). Aggressive dogs will find group classes very stressful, which may make them more reactive or they maybe be so scared that they actually shut down and just stop doing anything. sadly, some owners (and some dog trainers), think the dog is then ‘fixed’ because it is no longer reacting….The dog isn’t fixed, its just been scared into not reacting…bit like you back in that room full of spiders, you don’t know which one to scream and run away from because as soon as you move away from one, there is another near you…so you just become immobile…not cured, just terrified.

Aggressive dogs that are well on with their rehabilitation training can be introduced to dogs in a controlled fashion, where there is one dog introduced at a time and at a distance that the dogs can cope with and then that positive association to other dogs can be built, allowing the dog to become sociable.

Let’s get the foundations right, habituate your puppy/dog to the presence of other dogs, work on them being able to respond to your cues around other dogs and people and allow them controlled access to other dogs rather then just letting them have a free for all. There should then be a whole host of sociable dogs out there that can be allowed to play (provided the other owner agrees and if the other dog is happy) rather than the scores of out of control dogs that totally ignore their owners and do their own thing.


Fabulous Focus

The Sun is shining, the sky is blue, the clocks go forward tonight and Spring seems to be well and truly on its way.

Spring means light evenings and lighter dog walks, and hopefully a lot less mud! My dogs love beach trips and to be able to fully enjoy the freedom of our dog friendly beaches, my dogs do need to be focussed on me and where I am rather than just running about madly doing their own thing. They also need a recall, but we’ll talk about that in another email.

Fabulous Focus doesn’t mean that the dog is always looking at us and not allowed to be a dog. No, focus means that the dog checks in with us and is always aware of where we are and what we are doing and is able to respond to our cues. This means we can keep our dog out of trouble and keep them from harassing other dogs and their owners, without stopping them from being a dog.

So how do we get this Fabulous Focus?

A simple and effect way is to reward your dog with something tasty or a short game, every time they turn to look at you. Start this at home and then progress to in the garden, and out on walks.Your dog will soon to offering to check in at regular intervals.

Remember that by rewarding the behaviour that we want, we increase the chances of it happening again. Make a check-in a requirement of all sorts of every day things such as going through doors, having the lead put on and taken off.

For more ideas on how to train Fabulous Focus, join us on our EPIC Self-Control and Focus course.

Enter coupon code news1 to gain a 25% discount on the course. Enter the coupon code by clicking on the link ‘Have a coupon’ on the payment page

Reactive Dogs and TRUST

Over the years, a far number of aggressive dogs have found their way to me. Some of these dogs have been on their last chance and if they had not come to me, they would have been on their way to the vet for that final injection. All of these reactive dogs have have taught me so much and helped me to develop my TRUST programme.

So why did I develop TRUST?

My approach to dealing with aggressive dogs have changed over the years that I have shared my life with them. Way back when I first started with reactive dogs (over 30 years ago), I followed the commonly advised approach of correcting the dog for barking, lunging, attempting to bite etc. I’m not proud of that fact now, nor am I proud of the stress that I inflicted on my poor dogs. However, I did learn that punishing dogs for exhibiting aggression just doesn’t work. It may appear to work, as the punishment will stop the dog giving warning signs (so will stop them growling/barking/lunging), but it does nothing to solve the fear that they feel when they see a person or dog (or whatever their trigger is). Most dogs are aggressive because they are fearful of something and using punishment makes them more frightened of their owner/handler than of the scary object and so stops the behaviour to some extent but when the dog goes over threshold, the dog will react, seemingly without warning (remember we’ve punished the dog for giving those warning barks and growls) and may go straight to biting. The dog doesn’t trust us to protect it from what is scaring it and in some instances, the dog is more scared of us than the original trigger. What an incredibly stressful way for a dog to live.

The other problem with using punishment, is that it doesn’t actually teach the dog what we would like it to do instead. it only tells the dog what not to do.Not particularly helpful and again very stressful as the dog has no idea of how to escape the punishment. Punishment also needs to be escalated as the dog will eventually habituate to it. It is also very difficult to assess just how much punishment is enough to stop the behaviour; for one dog a sharp intact of your breath may be punishing enough, for another dog a more severe punishment may be needed. There is far too much room for error.

Please do not use a trainer that advocates the use of punishment (leash corrections, e-collars, rattle cans/tins, spray collars, alpha rolls etc) on your dog. It will not solve the aggression issues, nor will it teach the dog the correct behaviour that you want it to sow instead.

Of course, I tried newer techniques and some of these techniques had bits that I liked and bits that I didn’t and with each dog teaching me something new, I gradually developed my own approach that is based on developing a trusting relationship with the dog and on teaching the dog what to do, rather than what not to do and in addressing the dog’s emotional needs.


The first step in my programme is to develop trust. Trust is a two-way thing;  the dog needs to learn to trust you and you need to learn to trust the dog.dsc_8279

The dog needs to know that he is safe from:

  • Pain
  • Punishment
  • Scary situations
  • Unpredictability
  • Aversive training equipment and techniques

He needs to know that:

  • He will be taught to make good choices
  • His warnings will be listened to
  • You will protect him when he feels worried
  • He can have his own safe space

You need to know that the dog:

  • Will keep his teeth to himself
  • Will learn to give clear warnings
  • Will let you protect him

Many of the dogs that arrive with me are incredibly worried by people and or dogs and need time to relax. They need to be allowed their own space and time to relax and de-stress. Yes, moving to a new environment with new people and new dogs is stressful and we need to make this as stress free as possible, by creating them a safe place, not approaching them whilst they are in that safe place but encouraging them to come with us. I will use long lines, but these aren’t used to drag a dog out of its safe place, but to encourage the dog to move with me. If they stick the brakes on, then I leave them be until they are ready to move. I will not force myself onto the dog, demanding its attention. I wait for the dog to make the first move. I want the dog to trust me and I don’t want to break any trust by forcing myself on the dog or by forcing the dog to do anything. Time is a great healer and by allowing the dog to de-stress, they become less reactive.

For the first few days, I may do little more than feed the dog and let it out for toilet breaks. Don’t get me wrong, I will still talk to the dog, but I won’t force my affections on the dog until it sows me that it is ready. Once the dog starts to react and show some interest in the environment, the other dogs or even me, then we can begin building that two way trust that is so important. It is important to listen to the dog by observing the body language and to back off if the dog is showing signs of being uncomfortable.

This is just the first steps in the process of rehabilitating an aggressive dog. Watch out for our workshops on our TRUST programme that will be part practical and part theory. Keep an eye on our FaceBook page for details of workshops.

Want to host one of our TRUST workshops? Bookings are now being taken for 2017. Contact me on or

When the Wild Child Rears its Ugly Head

Self-control or Impulse control is my ‘thing’, I spend a lot of time teaching people games to play with their dog to improve their dog’s self control and because I end up with the problem dogs, I’ve usually got several dogs that are ‘work in progress’ with regards to self-control and other issues. With the established pack, I usually have a pretty good idea when they are going to get a bit OTT and have issues with their impulse control, but just sometimes, they catch me out.

Take Mr T, always a bit wild on the beach and gets very ‘shouty’, so we do some work there before they are all allowed to hooli about. He can get a bit OTT at flyball (as expected really as it is a high adrenaline sport) and recently, he has become a bit reluctant to release his tuggy, so back to working on that and getting a bit more self-control. However, at a recent gundog training workshop, the wild child really was released. We got to do some retrieves using a dummy launcher; and that was the most exciting thing ever; he couldn’t sit, couldn’t stay quiet, all he wanted was that retrieve. It was all so much more exciting than flyball which did surprise me a bit.

So why did it all go wrong? The quacking noise that the dummy launcher made and the excitement generated by the gunshot and the dummies flying high in the sky was all a bit much for his current stage of training. I should have taken him further away and reinforced calmness and then gradually brought him closer and closer, rewarding calmness before letting him have that explosive retrieve. But I didn’t, he got several retrieves.

I did learn that despite his excitement levels, he could mark the dummy and do a cracking retrieve to hand without mouthing or trying to play tug with the dummy (something that we had struggled with previously, as he would either drop the dummy short or try to play tug with it), he could also memorise where a dummy had fallen and go out and retrieve it cleanly even if the previous dog had missed it. So despite his high arousal levels, he was still capable of having a soft mouth and of thinking and remembering work that we had previously done in a calmer environment. As soon as we had finished playing with the dummy launcher, he did calm down very quickly.

So, although we had a bit of  a blip, and I have more work to do, I’m confident that the games we are playing  at various arousal levels is starting to be generalised to other situations. I will admit that Mr T has taken a back seat since Mint arrived and this episode has reminded me that I do need to keep playing that games with him to maintain and develop his impulse control.

Self-control/impulse control can be taught to a dog. Some breeds are genetically wired to be  impulsive (spaniels spring to mind as well as working line Malinois and terriers) and other breeds are genetically wired to be less impulsive (many retrievers, many hound breeds, some of the large heavy breeds). The impulsive breeds can be taught to control their impulses and this is best taught allowing the dog freedom of choice rather than trying to impose it. So a dog choosing to sit before it is allowed to carry out an action is always going to learn to control its impulses better than one that is told to wait or stay before being allowed to carry out that desired behavior. Both methods will bring about results, but the dog that is allowed to make choices will learn much better and generalise better than the one that has self-control imposed on it by the handler. And yes, you can train impulsive dogs to settle calmly at home whilst you are working; they don’ need to be bouncing off the walls all the time.

We also need to teach behaviors when the dog is in various states or arousal as behaviours taught when the dog is calm will be forgotten when the dog is aroused (much as happens with us).

To learn more about self-control/impulse-control check out our EPIC courses and also our on-line self-control course, both of which are full of exercises to teach your dogs self-control/impulse control.

Back to training the ‘wild child’ that is Mr T 🙂

Making Multiple Dogs Manageable

I live with a large number of dogs of various breeds (some of them are shown above) and yes, they do all live in the house with me. Having  a large number of the dogs in the house could end up being chaotic and, over the years, I’ve found various techniques and strategies that work  for me. Some of them may work for you.

Reward the good stuff

Reinforce the behaviour that you want and manage/interrupt the stuff that you don’t want. For example, as I work from home, the dogs have to learn to settle quietly when I’m working. They all have their own preferred place to settle and they are intermittently rewarded for settling by either  a treat or a good dog or a gentle stroke. If they are being restless, then they can be cued to go and lay down. New dogs sometimes struggle with this and may end up popped in a crate for a short time or tethered to me so that it is easier for me to encourage them to settle and to reward it. They don’t actually need a food reward for settling now, it is automatic behaviour that is cued by me sitting down at the computer.

A great way of ensuring that you reward the good stuff, is to have a tub containing around 50 treats per dog and to reward every instance of behaviour that you like. OK, you may not reward one dog 50 times and another dog might get more than 50 rewards, but it does help to ensure that you don’t take your dogs’ good behaviour for granted.


Meal times can be a trigger for fights in many multidog households, but not in mine. We have a routine at meal times. Each dog has its own place where it will be fed and we have an order in which the food bowls go down. This order never changes and this predictability can help reduce anxiety/arousal at meal times. Each dog is required to sit before I will start feeding and to begin with, this is cued for new dogs, but the established dogs know the routine and will automatically sit. The dogs have to remain sat until the food bowl in on the floor (great exercise for impulse control, for more ideas have a look at my online Self-control course).


New dogs are often fed first and may be popped into a crate until I know whether they are food aggressive or not. Ash is fed in a crate at home as he can be a pain for trying to nick the other dogs’ grub. The crate door is no longer locked and he stays in there until he is released .


One rule in the household that is strictly adhered to is that dogs are not allowed to push another dog away from their food (i.e. Dog A cannot push Dog B away from their bowl and then eat Dog B’s food). Each dog eats only from its own food bowl and only when a dog walks away from their own bowl can another dog go and lick it clean, eat the leftovers (not that there are ever many leftovers). This helps to stop squabbles starting and gives the slower eaters the confidence that they won’t get driven away from their food and reduces food guarding. I supervise all mealtimes and I will tell a dog to move away or to go and lie down, if it is trying to push another dog off their food.


Going out

I have a set routine of which groups get to be put in the van first. This is determined to by who goes in which door of the van. Those that go in the side door go to the van together. Those that go in via the backdoor go out in two lots..

Each dog is loaded into the van crates in a set order and they always go in the same crate, again this predictability reduces anxiety and helps prevent that mad dash when all of them are trying to leap into the same crate at the same time (another flash point for fights). New dogs may be popped in before established dogs, it just depends on their personality and character.

Each dog comes out of the van crates in a set order, and this may be different to the order that they went in. Each dog is taught not to come out fo teh crate until tehy are called. Those that are in teh middle of the van, wait on the van floor whilst their leads are attached and then jump out to stand and wait whilst the others are popped on their leads.


The dogs are walked in groups (usually no more than 5 at once) and those groups are determined by who gets on with who. Mint cannot be run with Ash at the moment or with Beau as she will bully both of them. Mr T can cope with her obnoxious behaviour as can Wish. Leon, Teal, Ash, Beau and Mallik can be walked as one group.

It is important that you have a group recall cue as well as an individual one (mine tends to be ‘Girls’ ‘Boys’ ‘Here guys’) as it takes so much time to call out individual dogs’ names when they suddenly take off after something.


I play recall games to reinforce this group recall cue; I call them and whoever gets back the fastest gets the best reward and the others get a lesser reward. Now you would think this would slow the tardy ones down even more, but in fact, it makes them more eager to get back first so that they can have the best reward. Recalls are always rewarded. This reward may not be food, it may be a game with a toy, it might be being sent back to whatever I have called them away from, it may be a few words of praise, it may be a cuddle, but I always, always, always reward recalls. I also practise recalling each individual dog back, so that they are learning to come away from the pack.

I’m lucky that the places where I walk are generally quiet and we meet few people and other dogs, but when we do, all mine go on lead at quite a distance form the oncoming person and dog and we continue to walk on lead until we get a bit closer. This stops them trying to charge off to say hello (it can be very intimidating to have several dogs charging towards you). Once the other person gets closer, I will move to the side of the path (or just off the path) and ask my guys to sit whilst the person passes. My dogs are rewarded for sitting quietly. Once they are passed, we will continue our walk but I generally walk a little way before the leads come off again.

They are not allowed to rush up to people as it is just plan bad manners. The other dog/person may be intimidated by having several dogs coming towards them. The other dog or person might be frightened of other dogs and get upset which is not what I want. It might also get me in bother, as my dogs rushing over to another person means that tehy are out of control.

Door manners

Several dogs all charging through a doorway at once is amother potential flash-point and can trigger a fight (which can be nasty when you have several dogs). We tend to have an order for going through a door and dogs will be called through by name. As I know Mint can be a bully (this behaviour is being worked on), she tends to go out last. If they go to rush out when they’ve not been called, then the door is just closed (not slammed in the faces just gently closed enough to stop them going out). They are taught a wait cue before they are asked to wait at the door.

Treat and chews

As with food bowls, my guys are not allowed to push another dog away from a chew that they have been given, and I will step in to  stop this. Once a chew has been left, then another dog can take it. Teaching a good leave it cue really helps, as you can ask a dog to leave another dog alone. There are several dogs here, that were food/chew guarders when they first arrived and would growl and snap if another dog came near them when they were eating. Judicious use of crates, not allowing other dogs near them when they had chews/food has helped them to relax, and now they no longer guard their chews/food.

I also teach my guys to wait their turn when I’m handing treats out. This saves me being mugged and stops them snatching and taking my fingers as well. They are taught that the treat comes to them when their name is called. New dogs will generally get their treats first, until they have learned teh rules of the game.


There are always multiple toys lying about in my house and in the back garden. If the dogs want a toy, they can have one. Ocassionally a dog will pick up a toy and another one decides that they want the same one. A leave it cue works well as does directing the second dog to another toy. We usually have multiples of the same of similar toys about, so they can all have the same type if they wish. There’s not much point asking them to give up tryimg to get a favourite toy if you are only going to give them a toy that they don’t like.

Some dogs are toy gatherers; Bug is one as it Tank. It does seem to be a spaniel trait. It doens’t bother me if they want to collect several toys up and put them in their sleeping place. I do move them out again when they aren’t in their bed, otherwise they would end up with no room to sleep!

Sharing your household with multiple dogs is very enjoyable, but once you get above two, then a few ‘rules’ do come in useful. The few rules we have makes things easier on a day to day basis, but I’m pretty relaxed about most things.

This gives you a taste of what it is like to live with multiple dogs (and I live with more than 10 dogs)  and the things that have made life easier for me. These ideas and others will be presented at our new Making Multiple Dogs Manageable workshops that will be launched soon.

Have fun!

Recalls, Poisoned Cues and Distractions

What is one of the most important things that we need our dogs to do? Yep, come back when they are called. If they come when called, then they can have so much freedom, running free on the beach, in the woods, in parks etc. If they don’t come back when they are called, then they generally end up being stuck on a lead when being exercised (which does limit how much the dog can act as a dog) or they end up being one of those annoying dogs that run up to everyone and every dog.

Why have I chosen this particular subject for a blog post? Sadly, I have a dog that has ‘lost’ her recall. Is she being naughty? stubborn? defiant? dominant? stupid? No, she just doesn’t understand what I want of her. This is going to be a very honest post of a dog trainer’s mistakes (note I say my mistakes, not the dogs…it’s not her fault)

Why has this happened? She’s been very well socialised with dogs and people from a young age, and much as I hate to admit it, at the moment, other dogs and people are much more exciting that I am. I made the fatal mistake of not making her greeting of people and dogs a reward for doing good stuff. Add to this the fact that she has had health issues that have resulted in a long period of time being spent on restricted, on lead exercise. When freedom came, it was just so exciting, and her recall became sloppy. Lack of training and reinforcement is the biggest cause of her poor recall; I got sloppy and took her recall for granted. Big mistake. The problem is now, that when she does get off the lead by accident, she will not come back and makes a bee-line for everyone else. Apologies to all that she has annoyed recently. She is also an adolescent, a teenager, with all the joys that brings.

This lack of recall is now affecting her flyball training as, although she will generally come back to her tug in training; in competition she can’t cope and her recall to tuggy goes out of the window. In fact, her recall goes out of the window full stop! We’ve now also progressed (regressed?) to her not coming in from the garden when called. Bit of a wake up call when you have to go and fetch your dog out of the garden every time!

I have now ‘poisoned’ the recall cue, so that it doesn’t mean come back to me as quickly as you can as soon as I call you, but now means do as you please while I say this meaningless word several times with several variations. Sound familiar? Having trained numerous of my own dogs (and other people’s) to spin on a sixpence and head back at full speed; it’s a bit of a shock when your darling adolescent dog sits there looking at you with her tail wagging and won’t come to you, or she legs it across a field to say hello to everyone else and totally ignores you. Our recall cue now means just do as you please, I’ll come and fetch you.

I’m sure many of you can relate to this problem. It is definitely a very common problem and is usually proceeded by dogs owners shouting across to another dog owner ‘It’s OK, she/he is friendly’ The problem comes when the dog or person that your dog is approaching doesn’t like dogs for one reason or another and let’s face it, my dog is out of my control.

So what am I going to do about it?

  • Am I going to restrict her to being on lead for the rest of her life? No. She will be on  a lead or a long line until our recall is reliable, but that won’t be forever and she will be able to go off lead in secure areas where she cannot go and annoy anyone else.
  • Am I going to stick an electric collar on her and punish her for not coming when I call? No! That will totally confuse her, is likely to make her aggressive to whatever she was concentrating on when she was shocked (whether that is people, dogs or whatever) and it won’t actually teach her to come back when called, it will only punish her for being away from me but won’t teach her to come back to me.
  • Am I going to run after her and tell her off for not coming back? No! All that will do is make her frightened of me and make her more likely to run away from me. It may also turn into a great game of chase, leading to even more recall problems.
  • Am I going to get the treats out and bribe her to come to me? No! Yes I am going to use treats and other rewards, but I am going to use them to reward her for doing stuff that I want her to do rather than using them as a lure/bribe to keep her close.
  • Am I going to teach her a recall using rewards? Yes! I am going to go back to basics and re-train this recall. I may need to change the recall cue (remember that I said our  recall cue now means do as you please). I am going to teach her that coming back to me is fun and so rewarding.

Let’s be honest now; this recall isn’t going to get better if I ignore the problem, it is only going to get worse!

So how am I going to teach this recall?

This is a basic overview.

  • The first step is to reward her for responding to the cue in a familiar (smallish) environment. I will be using the living room and kitchen, both very familiar and hence not very distracting. She will be rewarded to turning towards quickly when I give the cue. I want a whiplash like orientation towards me when I give the cue.
  • Next step will be to work on this outside in the garden on our own and then with one or more of the other dogs present; starting with the dogs that she is least likely to want to play with.
  • We’ll then progress to novel environments (starting with those have have no people or dogs present, then areas/times with few dogs/people about and then places with lots of people/dogs). She will be on  a lead to begin with and then a harness and long line as we build towards keeping that fast response to the recall cue.
  • As her recall develops, we’ll gradually increase the distraction levels until she is reliable in all situations.

How will I know whether the distraction level is too high for her and how will I adapt the training to lower these distractions to a workable level?

Distractions can be anything, from people stood still, walking, running, playing football, sitting, eating etc, to dogs on lead sitting still, on lead and walking, off lead walking, off lead running, off lead running, off lead fetching a ball, multiple dogs playing, to horses, sheep, squirrels, rabbits, ducks swans etc. Basically anything that is going to take your dog’s focus and attention away from you.

To gauge whether the distraction level is too high (i.e. you are too close or the activity is too intense), ask your dog to carry out a very well known behaviour (for most dogs, sit is ideal). If your dog cannot carry out that behaviour, then the distraction is too much. Move away from the distraction (2 or 3 meters) and try again. If the dog can sit, then you can practice your recalls (on a lead or line remember) and then gradually move closer to the distraction. If the dog still can’t carry out that well known behaviour, then you will need to move even further away.

It is essential that the dog is trained around distractions otherwise you end up with a dog that is fine when there is nothing else about, but won’t recall once there are dogs or people or wildlife about.

The line or lead is just there to stop the dog making errors (i.e. learning to run off). Every successful recall needs rewarding, although what the reward is can be random. So it could be high value food, low value food, verbal praise, a scrtitch, a game with a favorite toy, being allowed to go and say hello to a friendly person or dog, being allowed to go and sniff, or swim….basically anything that the dog likes.

With a bit of effort from me, Wish should soon have her recall back. This lesson will teach me not to be complacent about my recall again. We’ll incorporate a lot of games and fun into our recall training (like I’ve done with the other dogs) and that reliable recall will soon be ours.

Happy and successful training. I’ve written a step by step plan for me and Wish. If you’d like a copy, drop me and email on

Crossbreeds; the good,the bad and the ugly. Part 2

As promised, I’m back to continue our look at crossbreeds and their behavioural traits.

The flying dog depicted at the top of the page is Ziva, an approximately 5 year old Malinois cross. She is a rescue; so of course, we’re not 100% sure what she is, but she certainly shows a lot of behavioural traits of a working type Malinois: very high drive, very athletic, very little impulse control (boy have we worked hard on that), almost endless energy, strong guarding instinct, huge ball drive with a touch of possessiveness (all toys are her’s especially if someone else wants it) and she is so strong when tugging. She is also very very persistent when trying to get a toy that she wants.

We did have her DNA tested to see what breeds were in her make-up. It came back that she was a Boxer cross GSD. Really? I think not. Why do I think this? Well Boxers are clowns, are very playful, very athletic and do tend to have a lot of energy when they are younger, and can lack impulse control, but Ziva is much more extreme than any Boxer I have met which is why I don’t think she has Boxer in her genes.

GSDs can have a strong guarding instinct (they really do like their family to be together), can be a bit suspicious, bark a far bit. Yes, the working types can be high drive, can have plenty of ball drive and can lack impulse control, but generally, they are pretty level headed dogs. They can be athletic for their size, but do tend to be trotters rather than runners when it comes to day to day activities. Ziva is a runner and rarely trots. Again her behavioural traits are so much more extreme than GSDs I have owned or met, although, some of the really high drive ones are similar.

She is also quite small (smaller than either a GSD or a Boxer) and doesn’t really have the body shape of either. Colouring is  a bit GSD like. So all in all, looking at just her behavioural traits and having lived with her for 4 years, she is more like a Malinois than a GSD or a Boxer.

Below is a sequence of photos showing Ziva trying to get the tennis ball that I placed on a fence post that is around 5ft 6inches high. It took her about 30 minutes to get the ball down (which indicates how persistent she is, as well as how athletic and how fit she is)

The point that I am trying to make is not to just look at the cute appearance of a puppy (after all, all puppies are cute), but to research the breeds that go into making that particular crossbreed.

Let’s have a look at the main behavioural traits of some popular breeds;

Shih Tzus were bred to alert Tibetan monks to the presence of visitors; so yes, they are going to  bark a fair bit.

German Shepherds are a guarding breed, so yes, they will bark at that leaf falling four streets away and may be a bit wary of people and dogs (they also, like so many guarding breeds, need socialising with people and dogs until they are at least 2 years old; but that’s a topic for another blog).

Shetland sheepdogs were bred to herd, so don’t be surprised if they try to herd the children up *or chase bikes, joggers etc.) They may be small, but they do tend to bark a lot, so be warned.

Siberian Huskies were bred to live in groups, be able to fend for themselves and to run/trot over great distances. Don;t be surprised if they prefer being outside to inside, or that they like to dig themselves a sleeping hollow (this might be in your garden or your sofa), they like canine company, are fully capable of looking after themselves (very independent), have a high prey drive (so likely to go chasing rabbits, deer etc.) and will run and run.

Border collies are very intelligent dogs that love  a job of work to do and if not given something to do, they will invent their own way of occupying themselves. They need to be able to use their brains as well as needing physical exercise. People think that they need to walk a collie for hours to tired it out. All that does is give you a very fit collie. They need brain games to really wear them out (scent games, puzzles etc.) and are well suited to a wide range of dogs sports. However, they do tend to herd, many will want to chase joggers, cyclists and even cars due to this herding instinct, and they can be a bit obsessive and some will show OCD tendencies. These traits will come out in Collie crosses.

Staffordshire bull terriers are fabulous dogs in the right hands. They adore people and especially children. They can be very excitable and can lack impulse control. They are very strong for their size, and although they won’t usually start a fight with another dog, if another dog starts a fight with them, they will finish the fight. They are bred to be very tenacious and should never be aggressive (if bred and reared correctly). Huge stamina. They can be very vocal (the staffie witter as well as the staffie scream). They do like their home comforts (so expect a staffie to want to be on your lap) and dislike getting wet (often not wanting to go out if it is raining) and dislike being cold. There are some cracking staffie crosses out there that make super pets and are fab for dog sports.

Jack Russell Terriers were originally bred to be ratters and some are still used for that purpose today. They are likely to get very excited when they hear squeaking noises (whether it is from a toy or a child) as that what their prey would sound like. Very tenacious, are likely to dig, are highly likely to destroy and de-stuff any toys (particularly squeaky ones) and may well go off rabbiting when on a walk. If you want one to live with small furry animals (rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits etc.), then do not get one off a farm or that is working bred as they are likely to do what they are bred to do. They can be yappers, can lack impulse control and can be nippers. They are bright little dogs and do love to learn tricks, do puzzles etc. I love them to bits and have three here that are just fabulous.

Cavaliers were bred to be companion dogs and are generally fab pets. However, they do need to use their brains and love being taught tricks and playing nosework games. they also excel at agility.

Bichon Frise. Another breed that is popular in ‘designer’ cross breeds. Lovely dogs and behind that white fluffy coat is a very intelligent dog that needs to use its brain. These are not just a couch potato or a pretty dog; they do need to do something. Very trainable.

I could go on for pages, but lets just do a few generalizations.
Retrievers (Labradors, Goldies, Flatcoats etc.) are generally good natured breeds that like to greet you with a ‘pheasant’ in their mouths. So expect them to pick things up and carry them (and teach them to give it up when asked) but this does tend to make them a little possessive over some toys/items, so be aware of this.They are likely to love water and getting muddy.

Spaniels (Cockers, Springers etc.) are again generally good natured, were bred to hunt  so are likely to cover large distances and may range at quite a distance from you are may chase birds, bunnies etc. They may also liable to resource guard. They can be a bit obsessive, so you may see some OCD traits in some individuals. Again, they are likely to love water and mud!

Guarding breeds (GSDs, Rottweilers, Dobermanns, Mastiffs, etc.) are likely to bark, may be suspicious of people they don’t know, may like to keep their family together and may get stressed if they aren’t and do need a lot of socialising.

Northern breeds (huskies, Malemutes etc) are likely to be independent dogs that can cover huge distances. They are likely to be diggers and can be escape artists (minmum 6ft fence required) and can howl (s tolerant neighbours are needed). They generally have a high prey drive.

Scenthounds (Beagles, Bassets, PBGV etc.) are likely to go off following their nose and will be deaf to your calls. Generally sociable dogs. Recall will need a  lot of work.

Sighthounds (Greyhounds, Whippets, Lurchers, Salukis etc.) These tend to be sprinters. They are likely to chase anything that crosses their line of sight (so need to be taught a chase recall). They can be escapologists. They do need to run, but generally a short blast is all they will do before gong back to a leisurely walk. They can be couch potatoes, are likely to feel the cold and may dislike going out when it is raining or cold. I’ll just caution about the ‘scream of death’ that sounds like they are being killed and is usually given when they have been injured slightly.

I hope this has given you a bit of an insight as to why your crossbreed acts the way it does. If you are considering buying a crossbreed, please research the breeds that are making up that cross and ask yourself whether you can live with those traits. Assume that you will get the worst of both breeds; can you live with a dog showing those traits. If yes, go a head and buy that dogs (assuming that both parents have been health tested, are friendly and that the mother is present with the puppies). If no; then walk away and consider another cross or a pure breed. Don’t ever assume that you will only get the ‘good’ traits of both breeds in a cross; you may be lucky, you may not be. Don’t just by a crossbred pup because it looks cute. Do your research, don’t just rely on what the breeder tells you.

Although this article is about behavioural traits, please also check out the grooming requirements/problems with your favoured crossbreed. Ask your local groomer what problems they see, how often a dog should be brushed and/or clipped. Breeders will often say that a dog doesn’t need a lot of grooming when in actual fact they do. Cockerpoos need grooming on a daily basis and not just brushing the top coat, but brushing right down to the skin, otherwise they will mat (meaning your dog gets clipped off really short when they go to the groomers) and this will cause discomfort which may show itself as a dog growling when touched or being wary of people.

Also check with your vet as to what breed specific diseases are common in the breeds that make up the cross you are interested in and what common ailments they see is breeds such as cockerpoos, labradoodle, Cavachons, Pomskis etc.

Crossbreeds; the good, the bad and the ugly. Part 1

Now don’t get me wrong, I love crossbreeds. I own a cockerpoo (or cocker spaniel cross poodle if you prefer), but there are some crossbreeds that are just a disaster waiting to happen when you consider the behavioural traits and some that possess remarkable abilities; if you believe the breeder.

Avoiding the arguments regarding hybrid vigour and whether crossbreeds are actually any healthier than either of their parents; let’s look at the important behavioural traits as these are the traits that make a dog suitable for a pet home or make it more suited for an active home.

It is important to do your research on the behaviour traits of all of the breeds that make up your crossbreed, and look at all the traits, not just the ones you like but the ones that aren’t so desirable.

Take cockerpoos…mine is from a cocker mother and a miniature poodle dad, both similar sizes, so I knew I was going to get a small/medium sized dog. Cockers tend to be very active, are very driven by scent (they were bred to hunt game remember) and this can lead them to wander quite a way away from you on walks unless trained to stay close, they can be chase orientated, generally like to retrieve but they can be resource guarders (food and toys). They can also be water lovers (usually the filthiest, smelliest water they can find). They are generally quiet dogs but I have met some that are serious barkers. They are also generally people sociable and dog sociable (if they have been socialised correctly). They may have a heavy coat and will need regular grooming.

Poodles don’t shed and will need regular clipping and grooming. They are ‘people’ dogs and just love to be around people and don’t do quite so well if they are left home alone. They tend to be yappers (always the exception to the rule) and they do tend to jump up and seem to like standing up on  their back legs. They were originally water dogs and were bred to hunt game, although this does seem to have been diluted down. They are active dogs and need something to do.

I’ve ended up with exactly the dog I wanted – an active dog that is very toy orientated and roughly cocker sized. Luckily for me, she isn’t particularly vocal (although we sometimes get the cocker wooohooo) and she isn’t a resource guarder, although she does show some possessive traits. Yes she jumps up, yes she loves all people and all dogs. She has a heavy wavey coat that needs regular grooming and clipping. I’m lucky, because she is exactly what I was expecting. Many pet owners are not prepared for how active this cross can be, and those that are from working cockers are even more active. These dogs need a job to do; we’ve crossed to active, intelligent breeds and expect them to be content to have a 20 minute walk, twice a day. Sorry folks, they need a lot more mental stimulation than that. These dogs need to use their brains. They love scent work, love retrieve games, love activities such as flyball and agility and can be easily taught to help out around the home. They are not couch potatoes!

The same can be said of Labradoodles (labrador cross poodle). Again you have crossed two active, intelligent breeds that need to be doing something and many are not going to be content with just a short bumble around the park. The males may go through a real teenage phase and can be a bit rude with other dogs once they hit 7 months or so, and if this isn’t handled correctly, they can end up being bullies or end up dog aggressive. The males also tend to be much taller than a labrador if a standard poodle is used in the cross and can have a variety of coats (some of which moult quite badly).

Sprockers (cocker cross springer) tend to be happy go lucky, active, intelligent dogs and the cross has been around for ages…they do make a very good gundog. However, they can be resource guarders, can have a high chase drive and can be hunting machines that will find themselves several fields away from you if you don’t train them to stay close.

Husky crosses can look very pretty, but you need to consider the breed traits of the husky. These are bred to be independent dogs (let’s face it, they can survive without humans in a very harsh climate) and they are bred to run. They also have a very strong prey drive and often disappear chasing something. Couple this drive with something like a lurcher, or sighthound and you have a dog that is bred to run and to hunt and to be very independent and there is a whole host of trouble just waiting to happen.

Collie crosses are very common and many seem to be fab dogs in the right hands, but consider a collie’s traits. They have a strong instinct to herd (whether it is people, other dogs, cyclists, cars etc.), they are very intelligent and active and due to their herding heritage, they may well nip at ankles. Other dogs can find them hard to deal with due to the herding behaviour and due to the collie stare (also known as eye). Collies can be chasers (cars, cyclists, children, other dogs etc) and need a job of work to do. Taking a collie out for a long walk will just make it fitter and fitter and you will find that you’ll need to walk further and further each day in order to tire your collie out if you are just relying on physical exercise. They have incredible stamina.

Couple this stamina and speed with a spaniel and you’ve got a dog that is likely to be triggered to chased birds, rabbits, squirrels etc and has the stamina to run for miles. As collies can be very movement sensitive, the slightest movement and they can be off. Yes, they are some fabulous collie crosses out there that are fabulous family pets and you may well be lucky enough to find one that is a laid back couch potato, but be prepared that you may get the tireless workaholic side.

We’ll take a look at some other crosses in the next blog.
I’m not against crossbreeding as long as it is done responsibly and the behavioural traits of each breed are taken into consideration. Being unprepared for what you might get is why so many of these dogs end up being rehomed.

Check back for part 2



Frustration in Dog Training

There have been numerous blogs and articles looking at the dog’s frustration during training and giving tips for how to deal with it, but something that occurs just as frequently is frustration in the human half of the equation and how do we deal with that?

We get frustrated when things don’t happen as quickly as we want them or they don’t happen the way we expect them to; we’re human after all. Even the best trainers will get frustrated, although some of them won’t admit it. If you are an instructor; you’ve probably got frustrated because one of your client’s just isn’t getting it and yet the dog does it perfectly when you handle the dog.

So why does this happen? First off we’re human; it’s part of our emotional repertoire. Some people are more impulsive than others; that is, they lack self-control (maybe something we should be teaching children so that they develop this skill), maybe they aren’t very patient and want instant results, maybe they haven’t thought out a logical training plan and have no idea what to do when things start to go wrong or maybe the behaviour that the dog is carrying out is so annoying and irritating, that they are struggling to find a way of coping with it rationally. Another one that is really frustrating is when you are trying to teach something and your dog can’t focus and your instructor is telling you to get his attention, but isn’t telling you how….this one is so frustrating when you are a handler.

So what do we do about these human traits? Stop what you are doing, take a deep breathe, walk away from your dog and have a break. That is your first step. Continuing to train when you are frustrated is going to end in disaster. You could end putting the dog off the behaviour that you want him to carry out (because your frustration is acting like an aversive to the dog and it won’t be earning as many rewards – a double whammy if you like; the behaviour that you find irritating is likely to increase (or escalate) as your increased attention to that behaviour could be reinforcing it or if it is a stress-related behaviour or an attention seeking behaviour, these will both increase as the dog becomes stressed and tries to appease you.

We may also over use a NMR (No Reward Marker) when we get frustrated which will have an aversive effect on the dog and they will start to shut down, which is likely to frustrate us even more if we aren’t careful, resulting in a vicious cycle.

I cannot emphasise enough that you need to stop and take a break. Go and do something other than train your dog. When you have calmed down and can think, then you can plan what you are going to do differently.

There are several options for you to consider:

  1. Consider breaking the behaviour down into smaller steps. That way it is easier for the dog (who will get reinforced more and will progress faster) and you will get reinforced more because the dog is doing what you want him to do.
  2. Video a training session so that you can see what you need to improve on and then find someone to teach you those skills
  3. Take a break from trying to teach that behaviour for a while. This break may be a couple of days or several weeks. You’d be amazed at how often the dog processes the information from your last session and how often you’ll see the dog progress faster when you resume training after a break. A bit of latent learning can be a very powerful thing.
  4. If it is an irritating behaviour, change your perspective; instead of thinking ‘How can I stop the dog doing that?’ considering what you would like your dog to do instead.
  5. If it is one of your clients that you are trying to coach through an exercise, consider changing how you are trying to teach it. Are you focussing too much on what they are doing wrong? If so, look for what they are doing correctly and reinforce them for that. So excellent timing, well done, great treat placement, well done. Consider getting them to mirror your action as you walk them through it step by step. If they confuse their left and right, look for some way of helping them they wear a watch or a bracelet on their left arm or a ring on a finger..something that is different to their right arm. Demonstrating with their dog only shows that you can get their dog to do it but it doesn’t make the owner feel any better about themselves.
  6. Minimize or avoid the use of NRM.
  7. If your instructor isn’t able to give you the tools to get your dogs attention, then take a break and consider your options. Is the environment too much for your dog at its current level in focus and engagement training? Does the instructor lack the knowledge to help you work through this problem? Does the instructor lack experience of your breed of dog? May be a change of instructor is called for just whilst you learn how to build the focus and engagement that you need. May be a total change of instructor is needed.

I’m sure you can think of other situations where you may get frustrated.

A couple of real-life examples for you:
1. A recent rescue dog has no idea to play and the handler is trying to teach the dog to retrieve (only a play retrieve not a formal one) and the dog is struggling to grasp that they have to pick the item up off the floor, but will hold it if the handler holds it. The handler has tried different objects and is no further one. After a week or so of making very little progress, the handler takes a break and moves on to doing other things. After the break, the handler gets an article out and all of a sudden, progress is more rapid and the dog now has the basics of a play retrieve. Breaking the cycle of handler frustration and giving the dog a break, enabled the tension of the situation to dissipate and for the dog to be able to learn.  The handler being more relaxed enable them to be better with their timing and to be more enthusiastic with their praise.

2. A rather stressy working bred, high drive rescue has the habit of leaping up and nipping at times of high excitement. Really not very pleasant for the handler (the nips hurt) and very hard not to react by pushing the dog off and shouting at it. A very frustrating situation for the handler. So, as the dog is quite food orientated, the handler dropped food on the floor whenever they got the dog out the their vehicle to distract the dog from leaping and nipping and also used the food drop technique frequently as they walked the dog, to reinforce the paws on the floor. A hand touch was also trained and the dog encouraged to leap up to touch the hand (so that the dog had an activity that they enjoyed doing and it was another reward that could be used). Food was also tossed on walks to give the dog something to chase and to build that into a game that is played with the handler. As time progressed, the dog could then be rewarded from the hand for walking nicely and not jumping/nipping. This one is still work in progress but the nipping is now becoming a memory rather than a frequent occurrence and the handler is starting to enjoy the dog and is building a relationship with it.

Enjoy your dogs, enjoy your training and don’t be frightened to take a break, it will do you and your dog and your relationship, the World of good.