What's happening in our world...
What's happening in our world...
Welcome to Horsham Puppy School
Welcome to Horsham Puppy School
September 21, 2016
We've arrived! Our first Horsham Puppy School course starts tonight at St John's Church, Broadbridge Heath, Horsham. Our puppy classes are fun, family friendly and only use reward based methods (no force, no pain, no fear). We set you and your pup up for success so you can train your puppy in polite manners and build their confidence for real-world situations like going to the vets or meeting other dogs in the park. For more information please contact Hannah on 07830 238591 or e-mail [email protected]
Puppy Play - Pets Corner, Horsham
Puppy Play - Pets Corner, Horsham
May 6, 2017
Pets Corner Horsham offers a puppy hour in their store and I popped in this week to run the session. I'm always careful to select puppies I know will have the same energy levels and play style when running a play session. I want to ensure that all experiences are good so that I help to build confidence for the more shy puppies and teach the higher energy pups that they can also play calmly. I brought a few interactive toys including a snuffle mat, Kong Wobbler and Nina Ottosson puzzle feeder that all our pups had a try of and really enjoyed. Rather than have all the pups off at once, I just matched 3 players at a time (something we also practice in our Horsham puppy classes) which meant that the puppies could play and rest which is really important for them. It was great fun and all the puppies seemed to enjoy themselves. I'm really keen for puppy parents to get out and socialise their puppies as soon as their vet has given the OK and made sure that I gave a handout to let puppy parents see the different types of socialisation they can do. Playing with other dogs is only one aspect of a good socialisation program and bringing your pup out to the wide world and ensure positive experiences is vital. Please get in touch for more information on puppy socialisation and ideas to build your puppies confidence on 07830 238591 or e-mail me [email protected]
Horsham Puppy School meets Chirag Patel
Horsham Puppy School meets Chirag Patel
May 13 & 14, 2017
Horsham Puppy School has been at school themselves this week! I am a firm believer that, with dog training, you can never know enough. That's why I attend several courses a year to ensure my knowledge for my puppy training classes is the best it can be. When I'm working with your dog, I want you to be happy that I can offer the best advice that will be kind and effective. This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a seminar run by the internationally renowned trainer Chirag Patel. Over two days we learned lots of great techniques to get the best out of you and your puppy during our puppy classes. Training your dog is so much fun and all the games we worked through this weekend will certainly be making an appearance at my Horsham training class. For more information on Chirag Patel please check out his website http://www.domesticatedmanners.com/ If you'd like to see our puppy training classes for yourself please contact Hannah on 07830 238591 or [email protected]
Horsham Puppy School & Harley
Horsham Puppy School & Harley
June 3, 2017
Look at this gorgeous face! Harley, the black Labrador Retriever, is due to start my puppy training classes this month and his mum and dad just wanted a few pointers ahead of starting the course. I popped round to do a 1-2-1 session and see how he was settling in. Sarah and Steve have been doing an excellent job; Harley is being crate trained so that he has a safe and comfortable sleeping area and also has a puppy pen so that he can keep out of trouble if mum and dad need to leave the room. His only real vice was jumping on the sofa so we worked on preventing him by recalling him away and rewarding him to stop him practising the behaviour. Dogs learn through repetition so the more you can redirect puppies before they've had a chance to achieve the unwanted behaviour, the more likely that they will stop doing it. We also chatted through rewarding him for coming off the furniture; the aim is to make the floor a more valuable place where all the good stuff happens rather than the furniture. Sarah and Steve are going to buy Harley a new, soft bed and Harley can get all his comfortable seating arrangements from that.
Steve works from home - which is great for Harley - but he will need times where he stops playing with Harley and have to actually do his job. For these moments I recommended some interactive toys including a stuffed Kong and a snuffle mat so that Harley can have some fun on his own. If you've not seen or heard of a snuffle mat before, they are an excellent way of tapping in to your dog's naturally seeking instincts. You hide your dog's food in amongst the strands and they can snuffle out the food using their nose. It's so much fun for them and will give you a good few moments peace! Here's a link to a great snuffle mat website https://www.snufflemats.co.uk/
I'm really looking forward to seeing how Harley progresses over the next few weeks and I'm very excited to see him again in our classes starting 28th June 2017 (for booking information please contact me on [email protected]).
Hot, hot hot!
Hot, hot hot!
June 20, 2017
It's sweltering out there and your pooch is wearing a fur coat. So how can you keep them cool this Summer?
- A child's paddling pool is a great way to let your dog let off some steam. The water will cool and they will also have a great enrichment activity, especially if you throw a few chopped up carrots in for them to find.
- Cooling mats are a great buy. I'd recommend a mat for them to lay on over a vest or jacket. Jackets or vests can often trap heat once they start to cool and do not target areas where the dogs' skin is exposed. By laying on a cool surface, the skin on the belly and armpits makes contact and cools the blood. You can buy mats from Pets at Home or Amazon.
- Don't walk your dog during peak sunlight hours. A walk at dawn or dusk is the optimum time to ensure you don't put your dog at risk of heatstroke.
It goes without saying that you should never leave your dog in a hot car. Even if temperatures outside are in the mid 20s, temperatures in cars can be amplified to double even with the windows open and in the shade. If you see a dog in a hot car, please call 999 or 101 and inform the emergency services who will advise on the best course of action.
House Training & Recall
House Training & Recall
July 1, 2017
It's been a busy Saturday for Horsham Puppy School. I did a pre-class visit with 9 week old Bonnie who will be joining classes in August. Bonnie's mum just wanted some reassurance with settling Bonnie in to her new life (which she's doing brilliantly). We chatted about house training and our advice to successfully encouraging pups to toilet outside rather than inside. We always suggest giving your puppy regular opportunities to go to the toilet - every 1-2 hours if you can - and always after your pup has woken from a sleep, eaten a meal or when something exciting has happened (such as play or a visitor). When your puppy does go outside, ensure you really praise and reward well so they get the connection that toileting in the garden really makes wonderful things happen. Be prepared to also get up at night to offer the opportunity to toilet. Some puppies are vocal and will let you know that they need to go and some aren't quite so clear so setting an alarm for a midnight wee will keep house training on track. Accidents do happen, that's life. Don't punish your pup if they do go in the house, punishment will only create anxieties around toileting and only serve for them to find a more private and safe spot to go. Just put it down to experience, clear it up with a cleaner that will remove the ammonia smell (most vets sell good products) to avoid them heading back to the same spot and try again next time. I am really looking forward to catching up with Bonnie at classes next month and teaching her a whole set of additional life skills.
After I'd seen Bonnie I popped round to her new friend Ruby' house. Ruby is an adorable Cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel x Poodle). Ruby's family have another dog, Kip, who they did training with a while ago but wanted a little refresher so they could work with Ruby. Their main focus was on recall as they live in a rural area and want to make sure that Ruby can recall around various distractions. I worked with the whole family to choose a recall word that will always me 'come to me and amazing things happen'. The trick with recall is for it to always mean something good and for it to continue to do so even in to adulthood. Rewarding a recall with food, play, cuddles or the chance to go and hang out with another dog will really cement the reliability around even high distractions. Ruby quickly learnt that heading to any member of her family secured some chicken or a bit of cheese and she even came away from me when I was trying to distract her with her toys. She's a really bright little spark and I know will continue to respond well as the training progresses. At the end of our session Kip popped out to say hello and I couldn't resist a cuddle and a quick photo opportunity.
I look forward to seeing Bonnie on our August course and hope to catch up with Ruby and Kip soon to further add to her repertoire of obedience.
July 22, 2017
I had the pleasure of meeting little Kira and her humans at the end of the month for a 1-2-1. The family hadn't had a dog before and wanted a bit of input so that they can get things going well from the outset. Kira is an adorable whippet with a soft nature and playful personality (in other words completely adorable!). We worked with Kira to encourage a good recall by using her dinner portion and tasty treats to reward her with just for coming in from the garden or the other room. Kira soon got the hang of it and was readily responding to the cues in no time.
We also went through all the treats she had to see what suited her sensitive stomach and took out the Dentasix. Dentasix are marketed as a teeth cleaner but did you know they are high in fat and sugar? Often dogs can put on lots of weight and unwitting owners don't realise that the Dentastix are the main culprits. We discussed products such as Plaque-off (http://www.plaqueoff.com/animal/Animal-Products.html) which is seaweed extract proven to lift plaque and encouraging chewing on things like carrot or Nylabones (http://www.nylabone.com/). Kira is teething at the moment so something to chew on will be a big relief for her.
Although Kira's family have never owned a dog before, they had already got off to a great start. Kira has been sleeping well in her crate and they are redirecting her play biting on to soft toys with understanding and not telling her off (which was brilliant!) as well as praising her for going to the toilet outside and ignoring any mistakes she may have in the house. As all the basics had been taken care of, we worked on some obedience tricks and taught Kira to lie down. Being a bendy whippet, Kira found it hard following the lure so, instead, we made a tunnel under our legs and encouraged her through. As she crawls through and her belly meets the ground, we rewarded Kira. I'm pleased to report that the family let me know that she is now offering a 'down' really reliably :)
Their last challenge was that Kira had suffered a broken leg early in her life so she was on limited exercise until it was all healed. Unfortunately, other dog owners were letting their dogs go up to Kira even though she was on a lead which was getting her excited and then frustrated that she couldn't play. We discussed getting a lead or jacket that says 'no dogs' just while she's recovering but allowing her to meet gentle, older dogs to ensure she is getting that all important socialisation.
So, we packed a lot in and it was great to see how naturally the family had taken to training and to understanding their new addition. I look forward to keeping up with her progress.
Ditch the Bowl!
Ditch the Bowl!
September 4, 2017
How many of you know what a snuffle mat is? Or a Kong Wobbler? How about a Licki mat? Well, they are all alternatives to feeding your dog in their dinner bowl and there are loads of other options too.
Feeding time is an great opportunity to offer a fun activity, a way to really get your dog thinking. Our dogs can spend a lot of time alone or asleep. They don't have a good book to read and can't pop on the TV to stave off the boredom so it's up to us provide the entertainment. Play is equally important to our dogs as it is to us (how many hobbies do you have?) and it's through games that we can offer the best enrichment activities.
I recently posted a few videos of my dog eating his dinner from a Kong Wobbler and Licki mat https://www.facebook.com/pg/horshampuppyschool/videos/?ref=page_internal and https://www.facebook.com/horshampuppyschool/?ref=bookmarks (I've even got one of the interactive feeder I use for my cats). He loves eating his dinner this way, he has fun (I join in cheer leader style each time he knocks some food out) and we build our relationship through fun. He uses his excellent brain to problem solve and is rewarded each time a piece of his dinner lands on the floor and he snaffles it up. His face lights up when I pop the toys down and release him, I can see how much enjoyment he gets out of playing with his food (yes, this is the time we can drop that silly rule!).
Ditching the bowl doesn't have to be expensive, there are plenty of excellent DIY style enrichment ideas. One I love is hide and seek. I hide my dog's food around the house - he patiently waits in another room so I know he can't see where I've been - and then I release him to hunt it out. This game not only is fun for him but it also reinforces his 'wait' and lets him use his nose and harnesses his natural seeking ability.
If you would like more ideas about ditching the bowl please chat to me and also check out this new Facebook page dedicated to keeping our dogs mentally stimulated, healthy and happy https://www.facebook.com/groups/canineenrichment/
Chews and chewing
Chews and chewing
October 8th, 2017
Dogs and pups need to chew. It's a very natural behaviour and provides an outlet for teething, stress and boredom. So, rather than your pup or dog chewing on your best coffee table I thought it might be a good idea to suggest a few things your dog will love to chew on :)
What we like
Natural Chews - in my classes I provide and sell natural beef hide chews. These are air dried beef hide and is a fantastic, tasty chew (always supervise your puppy and dog with any chews). It's got nothing nasty in it so you can be happy knowing your dog will only be eating what you provided.
Stag Bar/Antler - Again, this is a great natural product that provides a fantastic outlet for a good old chew. Not suitable for very young pups as they are very hard and can dislodge a tooth.
Nylabone - These are synthetic chews for dogs of all ages (ensure you buy the age appropriate chew). They do a range of products from plastic gnawing bones to edible chews http://www.nylabone.com/
Pizzle sticks/Bully sticks - these are...um...the unmentionable part of a bull. Again, a great natural chew that you can pick up from most pet shops. I like that all the animal gets used from the meat industry and this chew shows that there's no wastage.
Raw Bones - check out Nature's Menu range of bones that your dog will love. Tasty, natural and a great chew experience for puppy and dog https://www.naturesmenu.co.uk/raw-marrowbone (again, choose age appropriate products)
What we don't like
Raw hide - this is another by-product from the meat industry. However, raw hide is produced in a way that utilises glue, bleach and a range of chemicals to ensure they last forever. We don't recommend them due to the unnatural substances involved in their production and their tendency to cause blockages in the stomach where the natural digestive system struggles to breakdown the treated hide. Here's video showing the somewhat disturbing process of how they are made (warning this is quite graphic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc265q0ZRss )
Cooked bones - cooked bones are dangerous. They can splinter and damage the dogs soft palate and can also get lodged in the stomach and intestine, tearing and causing peritonitis as a result (which can be fatal). Stay away from cooked bones!!
No matter what chew you buy, always supervise your dog with them. If starting a puppy off on a chew, give them for no more than 20 minutes at a time while they get used to having something new in their diet. Never just remove a chew from your dog, always swap by offering other high value food to avoid resource guarding and ensuring your pup sees your approach as positive.
November 29th, 2017
It's something I hear a lot. Sweet little pup is jumping up or chewing on a shoe and its human's first response is 'NO!!'. It's quite a normal thing for us humans to say and respond to, we're conditioned differently, we get the linguistic nuances, but what does it mean to our pups? Puppy might stop chewing or jumping but what did it learn? It learnt that 1) My human can be scary 2)My human gives me attention when I chew or jump 3) I will do these things when the human is not around 4)Nothing!
'No' is quite a natural response for us humans but for our dogs it is not something they can understand in the same was as us, it's not an instruction. In order for it to be a deterrent it needs to be coupled with something bad (such as a lead jerk, loud scary voices eg. punishment) which we are totally against at Puppy School. So the only things your dog will be taking away from that experience will be either negative for them (you are scary) or negative for you (I get attention from you). It's easy to ignore your dog when they are doing the good things such as settling in their crate or chewing on appropriate things so, for some pups, they only get their human interaction when they do something undesirable - for these pup 'no!' becomes a way to get attention so they will continue to do all those things you are finding irritating! For other pups, they see you as going from lovely, kind human to a roaring monster which will only serve to degrade your relationship and chip away at the trust your dog has for you. Alternatively, pup might need to chew as it's teething or bored so they will just learn to do these behaviours away from you so they don't get shouted at. Lastly, if it's said often enough in lots of different situations without consequence then your pup will just desensitise and it becomes completely meaningless and useless - it won't get them to stop jumping or pulling on the lead.
So, what can you do to stop your pup destroying your entire shoe collection? Firstly, give them something else to do. Provide chews and toys that they can chew on, teach your pup to sit when they greet people to avoid jumping, remove anything you don't want them to have - set them up for success. If you've done all that and have a day where you were being human and can't get it right every time then you can use something called a 'positive interrupter'. These are words or noises you have conditioned to mean 'something good is going to happen'. My favourite positive interrupter is a kissy or clicky noise. I also use 'watch me' or 'what's this' which are equally brilliant. It's nice and simple to condition too:
- Make the noise you want to use then feed your pup a treat. Do this several times, make sure the treat (reinforcer) is a good, high value food such as meat or cheese (praise, cuddles and play can also be used in addition to the food).
- Make the noise and then wait to see if your pup looks at you; if they do, mark with a yes or use a clicker and reward with your nice treat
- Repeat and wait for a little more eye contact before feeding
- Start to use in different rooms, then outside, then to stop something happening such as rough play with dogs (a recall is also a good thing to use and is a positive interrupter)
Your challenge is to start staying more 'yes' and less 'no'!
February 3rd, 2018
I had a horrible scare last week with my dog and, now we're all fine, I felt it was important to share.
I walk my dog on a local beach most days, he loves splashing in the water and chasing a few birds which gives me an excellent chance to practice our recall. My dog is a 7 year old Golden Retriever. He's an ex-assistance dog and has a really high standard of training. I spend lots of time with him ensuring I maintain these standards and, for the most part, we do really well. However, last week, I'd just let him off lead and was playing a few games with him when his nose started twitching, he fixed a hard stare and, like a shot, he'd run off. I've trained him to respond to a whistle but no amount of calling, whistling, begging would bring him back. Now, my dog has been known to run off only for me to find him rolling in something disgusting super pleased with himself to be covered in his favourite cologne so I thought that perhaps I'd get to him and, worst case scenario, we'd be heading for a bath before work. However, when I finally caught up to him it was a lot more serious and not something a bath would remove...
For some reason that only the person responsible would understand, to my horror there was an enormous pile of spaghetti bolognese surrounded by bread dumped on the usually clean and well maintained beach. Even more worrying was that right next to it were 4 slabs (they were the size of breeze blocks!) of wedding cake complete with fat, juicy, alcohol soaked raisins. Scarier still was that there were large chunks of the cake missing and dog like teeth marks in the soft white icing. My heart sank, my anger soared "whowould leave such dangerous things on the beach???" My poor boy had caught the irresistible whiff of the Italian gourmet offering and even my meaty treats were no competition for which I cannot blame him. Then I realised that, sadly, some misguided soul thought that the birds would probably enjoy their left overs and had no idea that they'd laced this popular dog walking area with highly toxic dog food. Not only were there raisins and alcohol but onions and garlic, all dangerous in large enough quantities (and believe me, what was left there could have fed a family of 10).
So, I did the right thing, spoke to my vet and whisked my poor lad off to induce vomiting. It's a horrible experience, you feel like a terrible dog parent sending your friend off all pleased from feasting on pasta knowing a wave of nausea is about to make him feel really poorly :( but better that then risk renal failure. I'm pleased to say that within a few hours he was right as reign and had forgiven me. I'm more pleased to say that I ensured I avoided any long term health problems by not taking the 'just see how he goes' approach and sought the right veterinary advice and treatment.
All this leads me to ask, do you know what your dog can and can't eat? Are you aware that there are lots of human food that will cause some nasty health issues if not immediately but in the long term? Here's a list that I'd advise you to have a look at and ensure that your dog doesn't get hold of them:
If your dog does accidently get some, or some idiot leaves these things lying around on the beach, contact your vet immediately and follow their advice.
Stay safe x
How much exercise?
How much exercise?
April 2nd, 2018
Something that new puppy owners find a bit of a mine field is how much exercise to give their pup. It's a really important question and one I'm always grateful to hear asked in the classes. Unfortunately, I'm never able to give a simple figure as, with all these things, it depends on a lot of things.
It's really important not to over-exercise young pups. The reason for this is that they have growing, developing joints and heavy impact can cause trauma to the plates which may cause abnormalities and develop in to issues in later life. Heavy duty running, repetitive chasing of a ball and jumping can all be a potential risk to those growth plates.
To prevent problems, one bit of advice I hear repeated is that you should exercise your pup for '5 minutes for every month they are'. I find this advice problematic. The intention is good but it doesn't take in to account the type of breed or the type of exercise and this is really key when thinking about how much exercise to give your pup. 10-15 minutes exercise per day for a King Charles Spaniel may be fine but try living with an Hungarian Visla who's only been out for 15 minutes and you can see where the issues occur. Likewise, what if that Spaniel spent the entire 15 minutes frantically chasing a ball and jumping over logs on to hard surfaces?
For me, it's not so much about 'how much' but 'what type' of exercise that we should be focusing on. Exercise isn't all about running around and playing with other dogs or toys. Something I love is going for a 'sniff walk'. Take your pup out and let them sniff around, don't hurry them away, let them check out the environment and take in all the amazing information that's been left by the day's visitors. You can hide treats in the grass and play 'find it' and let your pup sniff out all the goodies. This is mentally stimulating and will tire your pup out even more so that physical activity. Exercise can be done on lead or long line and is a chance to build relationship and practice training. Going to the local park can be about working on focus and recall rather than feeling like you have to complete three circuits and get home before the 15 minute timer goes off. Practice the things you want your dog to do such as eye contact, loose lead walking and a bit of dog socialisation before heading home. If it's a long walk to the park on lots of concrete, consider driving to the park or to the woods where the surfaces are softer and less likely to cause impact trauma. Have a think about what sort of games your dog likes according to their breed; for the working types using scent games can be a brilliant way to get their brain working without them running around for an hour.
The other thing I think it important to consider is how much your pup is enjoying the exercise you are offering. I often have worried owners telling me that their pup won't leave the front gate and they can't get them out for a walk. The walk must provide the activity that your dog needs and wants. For dogs that are desperately trying to get back to the house and not out of the front gate, exercise should be about boosting confidence rather than feeling like you have to complete a route round the block. Head to the point your pup is comfortable at and play with their favourite toy. Let them process the sights and smells, work on coupling potentially scary traffic with something amazing like liver paste or meaty treats until they feel able to explore a little further.
How about a trip in to town? Socialisation is so important at their critical period of development and will give them lots of mental stimulation with a chance to encounter a multitude of sights and sounds. As long as this is done with lots of positive reinforcement and ensuring that your pup is comfortable, it's an excellent way to tire out a bouncy pup and give you a peaceful evening.
If you'd like more suggestions or have any questions around exercise, please drop me a line or chat to me at one of my classes.
Bring Your Dog to Work Day 2018
Bring Your Dog to Work Day 2018
June 20th, 2018
Can you persuade the boss to let you bring your dog to the office for the day? 22nd June 2018 is national Bring Your Dog to Work Day https://www.bringyourdogtoworkday.co.uk/ and you can get in on it. The aim of the day, as well as a bit of fun, is to raise money for some awesome charities including All Dogs Matter and Animal Asia which seeks to rescue animals from the meat trade.
As well as the charitable benefits, there can be a real up side to having your four legged friend accompany you to work. For them it's a chance for some enrichment and stimulation. Our dogs can spend a fair amount of time alone which can be a challenge for these social creatures so a day a week in the office can offer some variety to their weekly routine and positive change in environment. If they like people then there's ample cuddles and fuss available from all the staff looking to take a fur break. They get to hang out with their favourite person and a lunch time walk will offer new sniffs and new dogs to play with.
Then there's the benefit for you. Studies show that spending time with dogs lowers blood pressure and relieves stress - imagine having that on hand for a busy day. Less stress means better efficiency and productivity which is what business is all about isn't it? It also forces you to take a break from the computer and get outside during your lunch break as Fido will need to stretch his legs. There's a chance for you to recharge the batteries for a productive afternoon.
If your dog would find a change of environment hard or might find lots of people fussing them challenging then this isn't really for them but you can keep an eye on them while they are at home via cameras or apps such as Dog Monitor http://www.dogmonitorapp.com/ and employ a dog walker to break the day up and provide exercise and a toilet break (see our 'recommended' section for Horsham Dog Walkers).
Enjoy Bring Your Dog to Work Day 2018 we hope some of the information above helps sway the boss!
September 1st, 2018
There was some brilliant news this week in that the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove will follow Scotland and Wales' suit and ban electric shock collars in the UK https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-45320038
As a force free trainer, I hate the use of any punitive devices to 'train' our dogs. I cannot understand why some trainers still advocate their use and lead unsuspecting pet parents down the road of punishing their animals for natural behaviours. Sadly, there's been kick back from some trainers to the announcement of the shock collar ban which I find so sad and frustrating. We need to train our dogs with empathy and compassion and not with fear and pain. I saw Jamie Penrith on yet another programme advocating their use - he appears to be the only trainer willing to defend these barbaric devices on TV - and I was so saddened by his repeated claims that 'if used properly, they can be a really useful training aid'. This argument holds no water for me; if you are a decent trainer who understands your learning theory you will know that there is no place for these sort of 'training aids' (forgive all the sarcastic quotation marks but these devices really have nothing to do with training and everything to do with bullying and exacting pain until an animal is so beaten that they have no other option but to comply).
I think anyone reading this blog will agree that these devices deserve a ban and will be happy to see them go. But would you throw away your choke chain, half check or slip lead? Would you see that an anti-bark spray or collar would be just as dangerous as zapping your canine pal with electricity even if it emits a noise which the packaging on the device assures you is 'humane'? I consider these sorts of equipment to be aversive and none of them supports the animal with learning - instead they offer a punishment to a natural behaviour that humans find irritating.
Take the slip lead for example. They look fairly innocuous on the surface but think about how they actually work...your dog pulls forward so the noose slip around their neck tightens and applies pressure effectively restricting air flow and strangling the dog. This is a very unpleasant experience and not one I think any dog should have to endure. Sadly, I've even had a few puppies turn up to my classes in slip leads on their tiny, delicate necks. Luckily, I have awesome clients who changed them immediately when I let them know why we don't recommend them :)
So, what do we recommend? We first and foremost recommend training. Teaching your dog to walk nicely beside you will take any pressure off their neck and leave you without the need to feel you need to change something. Note that dogs are not 'naughty' they are just behaving like dogs. Barking isn't something we want to 'zap' or 'spray' them for but instead try and understand why they are doing it. We can only help to alleviate the problem if we understand why it's happening (frustration, fear, excitement etc.) and working with a qualified, force free trainer will support any changes you want to make with your dog.
But hey, we are all human and time poor and I can totally understand that it's not everyone's cup of tea to teach a perfect 'heel' around distractions. I'd guess 9 out of 10 dogs will pull towards the park (yeah, I totally made up that statistic but I'm sticking with it) and even with the best of intentions 9 out of 10 will be reinforced for pulling by achieving that magic moment of entry. At these times we can think about a harness.
There are loads out there on the market and, as you'd expect, some better than others. I would avoid anything marketed in a shop as 'non-pull' as it's likely to be aversive. The ones I've seen recently have a toggle at the back and the whole harness tightens around the chest and underbelly if the dog pulls :'( Likewise I tend to stay away from head collars as these can cause neck strain - some of these also tighten around the dog's muzzle and ears if there is tension on the lead (I saw a poor dog in some contraption the other day that involved cord circled round it's nose, ears and neck in one piece. Who thinks these things up?!)
So, to traverse the harness minefield I'd avoid anything with moving parts. If it slips, slides or tightens then your dog is going to be having a miserable time. Instead look for the words 'balance' and 'comfort'. My personal favourite are the Perfect Fit harnesses https://www.dog-games-shop.co.uk/perfect-fit-fleece-dog-harness.html. They are a fleece lined harness that have two D rings - one on the chest and one on the back. Used with a double ended lead, you can help the dog walk in balance beside you without them pulling your arms off! They can be on the pricey side but are long lasting, hard wearing and are washable. The fantastic thing about them is that they come in three parts and you can size each piece specifically to your dog's proportions. If you don't feel you can stretch to their prices then any double ring fleece harness would be my next go to such as these https://www.fleecedogharnesses.co.uk/shop/products/dog-harnesses/fleece-dog-harnesses/
As ever, I'm more than happy to chat about the best options to keep you and your hounds happy so please let me know if you have any questions.
How much will you do for free?
How much will you do for free?
September 25th, 2018
Something I am often asked is 'when can I take the treats out of training?'. It's a question I wince at and my heart drops a little when a well meaning puppy parent approaches me with it.
For some reason, owners are afraid of treats. Perhaps it's our link to them being a special item we give or receive as children; dogs and training are merely victims of semantics. Treats are occasional and reserved for when we've done something good, so are rewards. However, reinforcement should be constant and available to ensure that a behaviour you liked gets repeated.
I - and other dog trainers - use the analogy that, although we love our job, we probably wouldn't turn up every day if we didn't get paid. I think though, it goes even further than that. We are constantly being reinforced for what we do. Reinforcement comes in many forms; I like it when a puppy succeeds at a behaviour for the first time, I love it when I get sent a video of an awesome recall or lead walking, I love it when puppy parents stop to chat through issues and have a light bulb moment knowing how they are going to positively and constructively tackle the issue. I do also like getting paid for a job I love. If none of that happened then I probably wouldn't go to work and would quite quickly be looking for alternative things to do with my time.
I once had a (lovely) vet comment on how well behaved my dog was. He'd noted that his weight was ideal and that he was friendly and happy being handled. This was awesome for me (big reinforcement to get kudos from a vet) and I gave my dog some wonderful treats to reinforce all this loveliness while being examined. At the end of the exam, the vet turned to me and said 'of course, you'll want to move on so that he's just doing this for praise'. My knee jerk reaction was to say, "would you do a consultation just for a 'thank you'?" I wasn't expected to walk out of the consult and not hand over my debit card so why should my dog be expected to behave like a dream without receiving some really wonderful reinforcement for doing so?
If we want behaviours repeated (recalls, eye contact around other dogs, sits, spins, loose lead walking) then we need to communicate with our dogs when they are doing the things we want. One of the easiest ways to do this is by using food. It's small, quick and precise. However, there are also lots of other things we can use in addition (I stress in addition, not instead of). My dog loves to sniff so his reinforcement for a recall is an opportunity to go off and sniff. He also loves his ball and I've got some really strong behaviours just for one throw of the ball - see my videos on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/horshampuppyschool/videos/435506723545038/ The type of reinforcement you use will depend on what your dog likes. My dog doesn't like other dogs so if I asked him to do something for a chance to greet another dog I'd be punishing the behaviour I was asking for. Just like people, our dogs have personal likes and dislikes.
The main resistance to using 'treats' is a genuine desire to keep dogs within their ideal weight. I am totally on board with this and have seen some pretty severe issues with overweight dogs including heart disease, joint pain and diabetes. However, dogs have to eat and we control what we give them. Why not use a portion of their food to reinforce behaviours in low distraction environments? If you've read any of my blogs you know that I encourage owners to 'ditch-the-bowl' and using their food portion for training is such a great way to avoid a '5 second hoover and it's done' meal time experience. Take some of their meal out with you on exercise and reward recalls with it interspersed with some of the tastier things on offer.
Remember to give appropriate reinforcement for the job. If I recalled a social dog away from playing with other dogs and reinforced that with kibble, the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated is low. If I used a bit of hot dog and a chance to return to play I'd be more likely to see that dog choose to return to me the next time I ask. It's the difference in me paying you £1 and £100 (and a chance to go back later) to leave your mates in the pub to help me load my car with shopping, drive it home for me and unpack it. But I could reinforce a sit at a curb on my street with a piece of kibble or carrot as it's something that's easy and done often without a huge amount of effort from my dog.
There are so many things we can use use to reinforce and so many varieties of healthy foods we can give our dogs. Remember that the treat should be about pea sized, they don't need a huge amount of it for it to be reinforcing. There are loads of vegetables our dogs can eat (please see my blog on toxic foods to know which ones to avoid) that are low calorie and low sugar but can be high value. Experiment with your dog to see what their preference is and take out a variety with you so that you can reinforce appropriately. Take out toys if your dog likes them too so that you can have a great tug or chase game for choosing to focus on you over other dogs.
If you take the treats out of training you must offer a better reinforcer for continuation of behaviours. If not, be prepared for your dog to not be too fussed about doing things for you. Remember our dogs are not naughty, it's just a HUGE ask to expect a dog to do things just because you asked them. If in doubt think about the answer to this question: How much will you do for free?
No Pain, No Force, No Fear
No Pain, No Force, No Fear
January 26th, 2019
Don't believe everything you see on TV. Programmes such as 'The Dog Whisperer' or more recently Graeme Hall's 'Dog's Behaving (very) Badly' suggest dogs can be 'fixed' with a sharp yank on the lead or a poke to the rear. They present a 'naughty' dog 'misbehaving' and being 'disobedient' (sorry, by now any reader of these blogs know I love a sarcastic quotation mark) and by the end of their half hour progamme s/he's the perfect family dog walking on the lead and no longer causing the family any problems.
But what's really going on?
Take the example here of Toby, a Basset Hound that is stealing food, slippers and the family's possessions https://www.facebook.com/channel5uk/videos/dogs-behaving-very-badly-tuesday-at-8pm/346016975984382/ This clips shows him then resource guarding when the items are forcibly removed from him. However, the narration suggests that he's 'defying the establishment', is 'rebel without a cause' and is'pushing boundaries'. It notes that Toby is a rescue, I don't know his background as it doesn't go in to much more detail but his need to take items, steal food and then guard them simply won't have anything to do with trying to be defiant or stubborn and all to do with under stimulation, lack of positive input from his family and fear.
Programmes like this push dog training back years. Positive trainers such as myself and thousands of others breath a collective saddened sigh when we see non-science based training programmes aired on prime time television leading an unwitting audience to punitive ways of dealing with natural dog behaviours. But hey, it makes good TV no?
The misinformation is startling and the harm these programmes do is pervasive. Just today I saw a large man walking a small fluffy type that had dared to pull a little on the lead. It was met with a swift, sharp yank that of course stopped said fluff in it's tracks. It also caused a lip lick, whale eye, a shake off and a huge yawn all of which are signals that that little pup was very stressed by this seemingly standard way of dealing with a fairly inane inconvenience. So, the pulling stopped, the yank worked but what are the side effects? A fear of pain has now been instilled in this dog for pulling forwards. That fear will also have been extended to it's owner. Further still, if that yank happened when perhaps a car or dog went by, then this fear of pain could create an association with something seemingly unconnected. Next time a car drives by, we may see barking as the ball of fluff now thinks "go away car, last time you were near it hurt!". Sadly for this dog, the barking would probably be met with more yanking and so the cycle continues.
Rather than stopping behaviours, I'd encourage owners to think more about what they'd like to teach the dog instead. So, instead of trying to stop the dog pulling (yank yank) why not reinforce the moments where the lead is loose or where the dog offers eye contact. Praise the dog, feed a tasty treat and so quickly the pulling becomes less exciting and you become more interesting.
Yanking, poking and shouting is just stopping something in the moment, it's known as behaviour suppression. Suppressing behaviours uses the actual or the threat of pain to keep a dog in line with what we find acceptable. It won't stop the reason for the behaviour and it will most likely just see a temporary lull until it resurfaces usually with more vehemence.
I am clueless when it comes to keeping myself healthy; if I watched a TV show run by so called experts giving advice, I may be tempted to follow it - perhaps even if it encouraged me to stop eating and contort myself in to odd shapes. But perhaps if I delve deeper I find out that expert wasn't really qualified to give that advice but looked good in front of the camera; perhaps the people on the show lost loads of weight but are now having joint issues and have developed food allergies...
TV loves a quick fix, they've got a half hour slot and we like to see things nicely wrapped by the end of it but the realities of working with our fur friends is that quick fixes will only ever have punishment and pain at the root. We love our dogs; all the owners I work with adore their new addition to the family and would hate the idea that some of the methods they use are causing this level of stress in their dogs. Lets work with our dogs positively not punitively and endeavour to train with no pain, no force and no fear.
Set your dog's alarm a little earlier
Set your dog's alarm a little earlier
June 13th, 2019
It’s been one of those mornings. The alarm went off but you hit snooze and promptly went back to that awesome dream involving Ryan Reynolds and some amazing sarcastic comments only to wake up with a start realising you now need to get through your morning routine like The Flash. There was no milk for your cereal and no butter for some toast so you had to settle for black coffee and a breakfast biscuit. It’s OK though, the car started first time and, if it all comes together you should make it with a few minutes to spare. Then you see it, the sea of red lights through the windscreen wipers (it always rains on days where it doesn’t go right) and you slow to a crawl then eventually a stop. You watch the minutes on the clock get nearer and nearer to the time you were supposed to be at your desk and yet this traffic refuses to move. It would be OK if you just knew why everyone had to sit here. You turn on the radio to see if there’s perhaps a traffic update that would at least give you some explanation, but they are just chatting about inane celebrity programmes and you flick through to see if there might be something to distract you from the fact that you are going to be a no show for that important meeting. Your fingers drum the steering wheel, you rifle through your bag in case you stashed some food there (you didn’t) and you feel that surge building in your stomach. Your jaw clamps, your teeth grind, you start sighing heavily each time you edge forward only to have to put the handbrake straight on again. Then you can take it anymore and you feel like you are going to explode. Instead you settle on shouting at the drivers trying to force their way in front of you and beeping on your horn hoping that just something will relive how frustrated you are feeling right now.
You’re not a bad person, you’re not an angry person but being prevented from doing the things that you normally do is hard to take. The feelings of frustration can be raw and very difficult to combat. So what does this have to do with dogs?
You take your new pup for socialisation at a local pet shop. They spend many happy hours un-obstructively playing with other pups; the format is that they are left playing while you chat about products or get to know other puppy parents in the area. You are feeling so pleased as you know socialisation is a super important thing to get right with pups (you are very right) and then you take your pup out to a café and they have to be on lead. There’s a dog nearby but it’s old and the owner says it doesn’t want a pup coming over. Your pup is staring at the old dog and starts barking. You say ‘shh’, your pup is now pulling on the lead trying to get to the other dog. You say ‘no’ but your pup continues to bark and is now pulling quite hard. People start looking and you just want a hole to swallow you up. You don’t bother ordering anything and slink back home and note that you should book more slots on that socialisation class.
From your pup’s perspective: OMG other dogs are awesome!!! I get to play and run and chase and they chase me and it goes on and on until I’m too tired to do it anymore. I LOVE IT!! I love my parents they take me to awesome places and we get to hang out…oh wait I spot a dog. DOGS ARE AWESOME, we get to run and chase and play for hours. Hang on. I can’t get to that awesome dog over there as there’s something stopping me. Let me try harder, if I put my weight in to it I’ll probably get to where I want to go. Oh, no, that’s not working, just feels uncomfortable now. I’ll let my mum and dad know that actually what I want is to go and say hello to that awesome dog, they clearly don’t know. Oh. They just shouted at me. But DOGS ARE AWESOME why can’t I go and say hello, I’ve done that every other time I’ve been with a dog, this doesn’t make sense. I really need to say hello. I don’t like this at all. It’s really hard. Oh, I’m being shouted at again. I don’t understand! We’re at home and I’ve been told I’m a naughty dog.
This is over simplistic I know, but it’s something I see so much in class; dogs unable to cope in the presence of other dogs because the feelings of frustration become too much to cope with. It can be life limiting and if not addressed can turn in to reactivity around other dogs. Frustration makes you feel angry, angry can look and sound pretty scary.
What’s the answer? Responsible Socialisation. I am really grateful that there are puppy parties and play dates but these events should also include time away from other dogs, activities with owners, toy play and learning to settle even when their best mate is next door. Left to just play all we do is build a strong association that dogs are amazing and people become less so. We want balance in our puppy’s world and we want to equip them with the tools to enable them to cope when they can’t get the things that they think they want.
In our classes, we have a heavy emphasis on toy play with owners. Building value in people will start to shift the balance so that people become the important aspect to our dogs’ world. We want our dogs to be well socialised, we need them to meet a variety of dogs but we need those meetings to be constructive, to be educational eg. if you play like this then play will stop, if you play like this however, you get to play more; if you come away, you get to go back. Playing and training will give you tools to focus your dog even if they are around other dogs and will enable your dog to cope better.
I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier than I used; setting myself up for success means I avoid feeling frustrated. Set your dog’s alarm a little earlier, help them cope.
Remove the labels to understand the problem
Remove the labels to understand the problem
September 24th, 2019
How would you describe your dog? Stubborn, lazy, wilful, naughty perhaps?
I've been seeing a wonderful family who had booked on to classes and needed a bit of help to settle their new bundle of fluff in. We did a few pre-course visits as this pup was finding the transition to her new home particularly difficult. Some of the behaviours that she was showing included biting clothes, arms and skirting boards as well as digging in the garden, eating stones, grass and mud. We did all the usual puppy stuff for the play biting and introduced games and management in the garden to help her feel differently about the environment but the behaviours didn't seem to improve. This pup's family were brilliant and followed each piece of advice and at each session we'd try a few more options to see if we could see some progress - there were some minor changes but overall she remained much the same.
Now, we could have stopped there and said well she's 'stubborn' or 'head strong' and you will need to 'put her in her place' and let her know these behaviours are unacceptable. However, that's not how we do things at Horsham Puppy School and instead of just assigning a 'difficult' label to her, we investigated.
Although 'normal' puppy behaviour, there was an urgency and a frustration to her chewing and digging. She chose to sleep on cool surfaces and was sensitive to touch. She would growl if you tried to move her away from the thing that she was intent on chewing despite having good natural hide chews and toys as alternatives. When we first met, she was doing 5 poos a day and they looked more like they’d been dropped by a dinosaur than a puppy. She was confident but easily spooked at novel objects. We went through information about her first few weeks with the breeder, what she was exposed to, how she was weaned, what food she came home on, how big the litter was. Every piece of information builds a picture about the puppy in front of us and helps to understand the root cause of the problem.
All my questions lead me down a path to understand more about her diet and perhaps see if she had something going on in her tummy – chewing, biting, sensitive handling, guarding, lack of focus and lots of big poos.
I’m very lucky in that I have a great friend and behaviourist that lets me pick her brains when I’ve hit a wall and we chatted over the ‘microbiome’. Now, just like us, our pups have good and bad bacteria in their gut. If there’s an imbalance it can have a huge effect on health and behaviour. If you want to geek up (of course you do!) then here’s a link to a great article all about it https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/dysbiosis-in-dogs-causes/ So, we introduced a probiotic as a starting point and the result was remarkable.
This puppy slept better, ate better, focused better, stopped eating things in the garden, played gentler and stopped eating grass and mud on a walk. “And the poo” I hear you cry!! Well we’ve gone from 5 to 2 and in much more expected portions :’D
My take away from this is that if we’d just labelled her as ‘stubborn’ or ‘naughty’ she could still be in a great deal of discomfort and continuing the behaviours that were giving her relief.
Next time you go to label your dog, please stop a moment and ask yourself ‘why?’. Why are they being ‘naughty’; why are they being ‘stubborn’; why are they ‘attention seeking’?
Labels stop us seeing the reason behind behaviours. If we label, we stop looking.
NOTE: If you have any health concerns with your puppy, always seek veterinary advice
Why I won't use a 'correction'
Why I won't use a 'correction'
April 26th, 2020
I recently got in to a bit of an online battle with someone who posted on my Instagram feed. I'd posted an image of a prong collar and noted that I felt these devices were cruel and unnecessary (if you don't know what one looks like, Google but be prepared for some pretty shocking images). He proceeded to 'tell' me why they weren't including his concrete belief that you simply had to 'correct' a dog when it did something you didn't like and reward the dog when they did.
The world of positive dog training involves updating a lot of old information and trying to fill in the gaps from misinformation. Often this isn't helped by TV programs that show quick fixes rather than the more boring route of science based training. It's not sexy but then we don't do it for applause, we do it for the dogs and their families. I will always follow the most scientific and ethical route including a renouncement of equipment that relies on aversive methods to achieve an outcome.
The issue with 'simply' correcting the wrong and rewarding the right is that there is an implication that the dog is misbehaving, that they are 'incorrect' as it were.
Let's look at this more forensically. Can a dog be incorrect?
The example we ended up debating was of a dog lunging and barking at another dog. In this person's eyes, he simply had to 'correct' the wrong – lunging and barking - and once the dog didn't display it any more, give the dog a treat and all was well with the world. Thinking to simplistically about our dogs does a huge disservice to the intricate, complicated creatures they are and suggests that we can just redirect their moral compass to make them a better companion.
What it also misses out is a huge chunk of learning theory known as Classical Conditioning. If you have ever heard of Pavlov's Dog, ringing bells and saliva (ew) then that's exactly what I'm talking about. If not, read this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning. Essentially, a Pavlovian response is an associated response. What was previously unassociated can become so if we attached a pleasant or unpleasant experience at the same time. So, if we use a prong collar (which pinches and chokes the throat of a dog causing pain and discomfort) when they see another dog and bark we are creating a association that 'other dog = pain'. Instead of stopping the behaviour, we are more likely to see an escalation as next time this particular dog sees another dog coming, they're going to try and escape the pain which is probably going to include a whole lot more barking and lunging.
The Instagramer also felt that the same principles applied to children's behaviour and we only need to look at the range of educational psychologists, variety of learning programmes in schools and the kid sitting next to us to know that this simple reasoning just isn't going to work.
Instead, the world of psychology be that human or animal has taken a functional approach. WHY is the behaviour happening. If we know the cause then we can work through change.
So, back to barky lungy dog. Perhaps this dog has had a bad experience, maybe it was attacked by another dog. This dog is using the only communication tools available to them (especially while they are on lead) to tell that on-coming dog to back off. They are driven by fear that the other dog approaching will do the same as their previous experience (imprinted on them due to the wonders of classical conditioning) so receiving an unpleasant 'correction' at this stage of game will only further cement their beliefs that all dogs are unsafe; where as before you might get barking at one type of dog, you will see this behaviour quickly generalise to all types. For less confident more bidable dogs, you may see a decrease, even a cessation of behaviour with a 'correction' at this moment but this is just known as behaviour suppression. You've done nothing to change the underlying emotional response and effectively just bullied your dog in to an absence of behaviour; they are too scared to emote in front of you – if you look closely, you will see lots of stress signals as other dogs approach (lip licking, avoidant gaze, blinking, yawning maybe even some lip curls and low level growls) but because they are acceptable in your eyes (ie. quiet) all is well with the world while this poor dog is having a panic attack on the inside.
Perhaps the barking wasn't because the dog was frightened, perhaps it was just the opposite. It's a super friendly hound who got really frustrated by not being able to reach their friend while on lead so barked to relieve some of the pent up feelings. If this dog receives a 'correction' then you are risking taking a very social dog and creating one who now has a pain association with dogs. Next time you see a dog they may bark and lunge for the same reason as the first one all down to the belief that they need to be admonished for behaviours you found a nuisance.
It's frustrates me beyond belief that under qualified keyboard warriors presume to tell me that I just haven't understood the simple approach that dogs need to be taught right and wrong. To all these people, I say, recognise that your dog is complex and learn to understand what they are trying to say, we can't just erase behaviour with Tipp-Ex. They are never wrong so stop trying to correct them.
Check under the bonnet
Check under the bonnet
May 24th, 2020
I had car trouble this week and it reminded me of an important life lesson that I think really applies to dog training. Stick with me here, I hope you appreciate it being worth a read.
I've been driving for nearly 20 years. I've had a few different cars, some mine, some rentals, some work cars - I've driven friends’ cars and even a few vans. I've had lessons, did my theory, pass plus and even had to do a refresher course when I was caught speeding (oops). I've driven across the country more times that I can count, drive around five counties for my job and have even driven abroad. All in all, I'd say I'm a pretty decent driver.
BUT this week, something went wrong. My car made a gurgling noise; a light came on and my car wasn't its usual chirpy self. What did I do? I turned to Google, popped the bonnet and figured I could save a bit of cash and work it out myself.
Now, despite having a tonne of driving experience what I don't have is any kind of qualification in mechanics. When I opened the bonnet the most I could clearly identify was the battery (and that's because it has really similar signs to the ones in my remote control). Yet I felt pretty smug having identified what the light on my dashboard meant and popped to a local garage to stock up on life saving gloop that I was sure would fix the issue. Long story short, my car ended up on a tow truck and my bank balance will take a fair old hit this month as I hand over large sums to the professionals who actually know what they are looking at when they open my and 100s of other car bonnets during the course of a week.
As I was sat in my broken car, hooked to the back of a truck a thought struck me. This situation is very similar to how a lot of dog owners end up. There are many people out their proclaiming their expertise because they’ve ‘owned dogs for 20 years’ – even offering advice to others on this basis. But owning a dog and knowing what goes on under the hood (behaviourally) are very, very different things just like driving for many years does not qualify me to fix a faulty alternator (which is what it turned out the be). A lot of people find themselves trying to diagnose their own dogs’ needs via the magic of Google only to end up having to call a professional when the problem either doesn’t get better or, sadly, gets worse.
Just like mechanics, trainers and behaviourists spend a long time studying the inner most workings of their chosen subject so that they can treat what’s under the bonnet. They work with 100s of dogs, all breeds, all temperaments and all ages. As new studies are published, they read them, they understand them so that they can interpret the machinations of a Google article that their unwitting client may stumble across. They build a network around them so that, if they don’t know, they have second opinions on hand and have access to all the spare parts they need just as their professional mechanical counterparts would.
Being qualified to ‘fix’ dogs goes far beyond the experience of ownership, irrespective of how long that has been for. An enthusiast is no replacement for a true professional who has invested time and money on their education.
If you experience a behavioural issue with your dog, please (please) don’t turn to your friend who has had dogs for 20 years or consult the oracle of Google. Just like you would if your car broke down, call a qualified professional and let them take a look under the bonnet.
What have I done? Puppy Regret
What have I done? Puppy Regret
June 29th, 2020
Getting a puppy is an exciting moment. You waited for the right time; perhaps until the kids were older or until you're not working full time. It's was a long time coming but the time is right and you're finally able to put that plan in action; all that breed research, all the dogs you've visited, petted, asked questions about, posts you've read and liked - and now you'll have one of your own. You have grand plans: training, playing, walking perhaps even competition sports. They'll sleep on the bed and you'll cuddle and love them and they'll love you back just like the fluffy angel you'd always imagined they would be. Then the puppy arrives and reality doesn't quite meet the expectation.
I'm lucky, the people who find my classes are the responsible people who want to get their pups off to a good start and seek out professional advice to guide them through those first few weeks. However, even the most responsible and prepared owner can still find themselves a few months in to puppy ownership questioning if getting a puppy was the right thing to do. In my experience, owners are generally prepared for the first few weeks being harder; some toileting accidents, sleepless nights and even recognising that the puppy will play bite. But around 3-4 months in, some puppy regret might set in. Having a puppy is hard, they need a lot of care and consideration. The biting behaviours can wax and wane depending on the routines of the pup and can even escalate as they move in to the teething phase, if they've not had enough redirection or, sadly, if they've been punished for it. It's not always easy to juggle the needs of a puppy with the other pressures of life and however good the training intentions, it can often slip.
I get a lot of worried owners call me to say that they think there's something seriously wrong with their puppy. Usually it's for biting behaviours and I hear the fear in their voice as they describe behaviours they are seriously concerned with but I recognise as normal puppy behaviours caused by a variety of different drives. The expectation of when these behaviours should subside or how difficult they are to work through will lead a lot of owners to have 'puppy regret'. What if their puppy isn't 'normal'? What if these behaviours never go away? Will they hurt me or the kids? Have I done the right thing?
When I get calls like this, the first thing I try and communicate is how normal the puppy behaviours are and secondly that it's OK to feel like that. You are not a bad owner for questioning your decision. Did I mention puppies are hard?! I always hope that knowing they are not alone and that others have felt the same way normalises the situation and helps owners reset and allows them to re-frame the issues so that we can put a training plan in place. I think that the overriding feeling that accompanies 'puppy regret' is guilt. Owners worry that they have failed their puppy and disappointed their family either because they think their puppy is abnormal in some respect or that they can't get the unwanted behaviours under control. Feeling like you are failing is never nice and will just exacerbate the issues and lead to a breakdown in the relationship between you and your pup.
What can you do? First of all, don't beat yourself up; having days where it's hard is fine. We can't always swim through life as if we're in an infinity pool in the Med, sometimes there will be a current. Puppies don't work to a timetable and some pups will take time to settle in to life. IT DOES GET EASIER. With the right, positive input most things can be worked through. Seek the help of a professional, qualified trainer who can identify the underlying causes behind unwanted behaviours and help you make changes to support more cohesive and harmonious living.
Welcoming a puppy in to your life is an amazing thing but they can have a tendency to turn your world upside down for a time. Follow the training advice and seek support to help you all adjust especially during those first few months...and then seek us out again when adolescence hits ;)
Setting you up for success
Setting you up for success
July 24th, 2020
It's often a term I use "set your dog up for success" and I really believe in it. But what does it mean, how do you do that? Life is full of platitudes and it's our job as trainers to unpack these terms so that our clients can really action our best intentions rather than these phrases becoming rhetorical cheer leading.
This week I had a call from a previous puppy client looking for recall support. Their pup has reached the adolescent stage and recall is one of the first things that goes out of the window. Squirrels become all consuming and the desire to chase overwhelming. What she really wanted from me was to visit the scene of the crime (squirrel central) and practice all the skills she'll need there. Although it seems logical to practice all the new, great training at the place you will need it most, it doesn't make behavioural sense and won't 'set you up for success'.
It's an age old analogy but so relevant and easy to relate to; when you learn to swim, you don't start off at the deep end. Although, eventually, the goal is to swim in the deep end, dive off the diving board with a triple twist and somersault or even traverse the Channel, it all has to start from the shallow end. You need time to develop the core skills needed to stay afloat in an environment that will build your confidence. In time and with exponential progress, your dreams of Olympic gold become a reality.
Our dogs work the same way. The key skills needed to counter a sexy squirrel are focus, recall and relationship. It will be really difficult to create an environment where your dog can focus on you if they are surrounded by squirrels; if you went on a diet and I surrounded you by chocolate cake how quickly would you crack? Instead, we need to keep them in the shallow end where they can practice the key skills that will enable them, eventually, to ignore the squirrel and make a choice that we prefer. The equivalent shallow end for our dogs is at home. Take time to practice where the distractions are lower, when you can bet £50 that your dog will recall to you whenever you ask, take them a little deeper. Continue layering on the distractions once piece of chocolate cake at a time.
The difficulty is that this takes time and it can be easy to throw caution to the wind and let your pup off lead when you think there's nothing to chase only to see a fluffy tail emerge from a tree and ruin all the hard work you've put in. To this I would remind you of how long it took you to learn the swim. Armbands, holding someone's hand, lessons etc. - we can't put unrealistic expectations on our dogs or ourselves, this is not setting either of you up for success. Try not to put a time limit on things, dogs are never good at working to deadlines. Instead, work with long line management and ensure that the foundation level skills are there to build on and prevent your pup practising the unwanted behaviour. Simulate the movements of a squirrel with a fluffy toy and get that adolescent brain realising there is just as much fun in coming back to you as there is in careering off returning only when they realise they can't climb a tree.
Setting you and your pup up for success means figuring out what their shallow end is and recognising that they may take time for them to develop the self control needed to
What relationship do you have with your dog?
What relationship do you have with your dog?
September 19th, 2020
There's a segment in our Horsham Puppy School classes where we take puppy parents through the different values of the food and motivators we use to reward our pups. We call it our 'hierarchy of rewards' and we class them as high to low value. I talk about the different rewards we can use depending on the job we're asking of our pups and remind them that there is a sliding scale of importance. Kibble will work if there are low distractions but try and offer it for loose lead walking around fresh smells and you're probably going to fail. Hot dog is amazing and will often refocus a pup from even in the most exciting of environments but do you want to offer something exciting when you're trying to get your pup to settle at night? Often, for our social pups, dogs come high on their list of high value rewards and it often leads to a good talk about how we might need to tip the balance so that they are perhaps a little less exciting when trying to get a recall.
Then I always ask 'where do you, as a puppy parent' want to be on this scale? High or low? I always get a resounding chorus of 'high' which I 100% agree with. We want to be valuable to our pups; we want them to think we're as awesome as cheese, as exciting as a poodle and as fun as a tug toy. So how do you achieve this?
Building a relationship
As with all science based, R+ based trainers, I want to be really clear here that being top of our value hierarchy does not mean you are 'alpha' 'dominant' or 'pack leader'. These terms just no longer apply to dog training and have never applied to dogs. Our dogs don't want a 'leader' or a to know they are bottom of the family pile, they, as with all species benefit from forming a solid, predictable and safe relationship from their care givers.
At the heart of all this is that lovely word 'trust'. Conflict, stress and anxiety all stem from a lack of trust and comes down to lack of predictability; does your dog know that they will be rewarded well for doing well and not be punished if they get it wrong? Punishment is the first thing that will erode that wall of trust and chip away at the foundations of a good relationship. I often get clients asking me 'if I can't punish my dog, how do they know if they are getting it wrong?'. It's a good question and is rooted in our sadly less than progressive attitude to child rearing. Punishment shouldn't be a tool we rely on to counter act a behaviour we don't want. Instead, we should be setting our pups up to avoid failing. If I don't want my pup to jump all over my visitors then I'll put them behind a baby gate or use a toy to redirect them towards me. This means I'm not yelling at the pup 'no' 'get down' 'off' which doesn't give the pup any instruction and