The Puppy Specialists
The Puppy Specialists
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?