Archive for category animal learning blogs

Repetition Repetition Repetition

Jean is proving to be a wonderous mentor…she knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to dog training. It’s been tested on thousands of dogs through the Academy teaching.

She gave this advice in several of her books and in tonight’s Academy webinar..Repetition Repetition Repetition. Dogs don’t understand a command after 1, 2 or even 12 reps. It takes hundreds of reps. And we as dog trainers enjoy it! Dog owners…not so much.

We dog trainers are there to train the dog not make mini me trainers out of owners! We need to remember that owners are pushed for time and dogs are great discriminators…they do what works for them. Behaviour in a nutshell.


That’s it…So the puppy which does so well at puppy class but is the devil in disguise at home isn’t trying to be obtuse or embarrass his owner; he has simply learned he behaves one way at school and one way at home. I recall my children being the same at one point. Angels at school, noisy monkeys at home!

So when a client exclaims ‘it’s not working’ ‘I tried everything’ it is more likely to be a repetition fail. You gotta keep going until you get it right. Like learning to drive, play a musical instrument, a second language or in my case learning how to touch people without freezing or freaking. If you want it or need it that badly you’ll do what it takes right?

Make this your mantra…Repetition Repetition Repetition.

Ok so not dog but my cat likes to do what works for him too


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Cats and Dogs

My cat often comes out with us on local walks. Does anyone else’s do this? We get some funny looks and the occasional person tells us their cat used to do the same. What upsets me though is when children tease my cat; one little girl was hissing at him last week and my daughter told me about two boys who exclaimed they couldn’t coax him into their garden now. Why would they want to do that? Another young boy tried chasing him by riding up to my cat on his bike then screaming at him! WTF! You hear people say things loud enough for you to hear but they rarely say it to your face. Rude.

Admittedly my cat (his name is Lego) can be annoying at times…he demands his bowl be topped up with food even though there is only a tiny bit of the bowl visible underneath the cat food already in it. He will demand to be let out of the front door even though the back door is wide open. He pounces on you as you walk up and down the stairs or if you ignore him while he is making one of his numerous demands. Even my dogs, Bull Terriers of friendly sweet disposition are under his thumb. if said kitty has been in a fight, the stress it creates causes him to bat one of them if they dare to pass by him. If he is drinking from the water bowl they will form an orderly queue behind him. If he is sat by a doorway they will wait for him to move first. Yet you often hear people say cats and dogs are natural enemies. I’m confident my dogs would not hurt the cat. But I’m less than confident about the people in my neighbourhood.

Lego has an excellent recall. I love it when we are a little ahead of him and he yowls that we are too far away so I turn and call him, he runs toward us then right between the dogs while they are on lead. They don’t fuss or get excited. Sometimes if off lead one of them will be really playful and try to invite him to play with them. He doesn’t.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has such a cat!

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Bad times sad times and timing

This weekend just gone I was due to give a question and answer surgery at a big vegan event called Vegfest. It had support from Holly Hedge where I’m behaviour and training advisor and other rescues as well. Now, anyone who knows me will know that this is not my biggest strong point – public speaking – yet I was looking forward to going and see where it took me. Scary times yes. But choosing to man up I went with the notion of ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’

The trouble is, unforeseen circumstances meant I had to cancel at the last minute and tried not to get stressed enough to go into Aspie meltdown. Those are not good times. I won’t go into the why’s and wherefore’s here but suffice to say I let people down…I may have missed an opportunity to gain new clients or at the very least extra publicity. I often find myself faced with a difficult decision being a business person and all; do I risk making an idiot of myself and go to an event where I am expected to network and talk to other humans or do I not go and wonder if just this time I may have kept my condition under control and actually had a nice time? It wasn’t the problem this time, other gremlins were afoot.

Sh!t happens though, we have to deal with it and move on, that’s life right! So this blog post is  both an apology and a timely reminder that no matter how carefully you plan ahead or cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s, life has an odd habit of pinching on you on the bottom when you least expect it. A good training plan however, is a must and should be infallible, but that’s another blog post!


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Quadrants: the cornerstone to training

My time with the Academy for Dog Trainers may be have only been a short while thus far, but man have I learned so much already! Including that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did and that my brain is quite good at thinking in quadrants; something I never even thought possible! The syllabus is taught by breaking down everything into easy to assimilate bite sized chunks, therefore learning is easier and highly effective. Awesome stuff and Jean is a fantastic critical thinker and mentor, nothing is too much trouble for her.

So, what do I mean by quadrants? They are the cornerstone to training it would seem, something I already did know on a certain level but the training the Academy gives you makes you see everything in quadrants! Honestly, I am taking examples from everything including my own behaviour in everyday life. It all made my head explode at first as I’m so used to feeling bad about using the words punishment and negative when applied to behaviour but in order to use Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) you have to think in quadrants! They are how you decide if a behaviour has increased or decreased and how.

Reinforcement & Punishment. Negative and Positive.

R+  R-

P+  P-

Positive and Negative Reinforcement increase a behaviour. Positive and negative Punishment decrease a behaviour. Simples.

Over the last few years there has been an enormous movement in attitude toward the positive reinforcement part of the quadrant with trainers saying they only teach positive reinforcement methods. I included myself naively in that. The dread evoked from using the words negative and punishment smacked of old school Alpha methods and aversive (force) training. It’s simply not like that though. If you withhold a treat from a pet because he didn’t sit for you on cue that’s not positive, that is negative. It’s not wrong, it’s part of the quadrant and that is science based fact!

The way to deal with getting your head around using the words negative and punishment in training is to think of them as the mathematical symbols, plus and minus. Plus means add and minus means take away, right? So if you increase a behaviour it’s on the plus side of the quadrant and if you decrease a behaviour it’s on the minus side of the quadrant!

If you decrease a behaviour it’s been punished, if you increase a behaviour it’s been reinforced.

So now to help me decide if a behaviour has increased or decreased I use the quadrants, ask some questions about the behaviour and it’s consequence (the outcome of the behaviour). Thank you Jean Donaldson, the Academy is truly, the Harvard of dog training!

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Product review: Safestix (Say no to sticks!)

With so many play products for pets on the market, ranging from puzzles to tug toys, squeaky to treat dispensers it’s sometimes difficult to choose a great toy for your dog. One product which recently captured my interest was Safestix a dog toy designed with safety in mind. The company director’s, a husband and wife team set up the company after their dog was injured playing with a stick. Knowing that not only do many dogs like playing with sticks but that many owners do not realise the dangers this poses to their dogs, they went about designing and marketing their idea for safe stick for all dogs to play with. Play is an important aspect of a positive relationship with our pets and can be a beneficial exercise, canine friends enjoy playing together too so if playing with sticks is a no no what can you give your dogs to play with instead?

There is a wealth of information out there concerning the injuries dogs have sustained from playing and chasing sticks, many vets advise against this seemingly harmless activity yet when you read and see the evidence you begin to realise that playing with sticks with your dog is potentially an accident waiting to happen. There are some great links on the Safestix website concerning this, have a look. I for one used to allow my dogs in the past to chase and play with sticks, other than the occasional cut gums nothing major happened to them but since becoming involved in the behaviour field I haven’t allowed with my recent canine companions.

A client recommended the Safestix to me after purchasing one for his active collie, sparking my curiosity as the toy itself to me looks rather bizarre. It’s made of durable non toxic rubber, has a twisted ‘stick’ centre and either end is rounded into a bulb. It’s fairly pliable and tough enough to withstand a good chewing. It is currently available in 2 sizes, I bought the bigger size 70cm for my 3 Bull Terriers. Koda and Cassini enjoy a good tug game with each other and I partly chose this toy as they could take hold of either end safely and the toy itself would not rip apart like most tug ropes do (within minutes with those two!). Tallulah is not interested in toys except Kongs and only if they’re stuffed with something to eat.

The Safestix doesn’t splinter like sticks do, the rounded ends stop it from sticking up out of the ground, it floats in water making it a great retrieve toy, it can be tossed for the dogs to chase and is so brightly coloured (orange) it would be difficult to lose! The dogs also seem to like the textured twist design, they spend a while having a good chew on it as well as playing with it.

All in all I find the Safestix a fabulous addition to the toys my dogs enjoy playing with, I’m happy knowing they cannot injure themselves on it and it’s joined the list of products I recommend my clients. The company have excellent customer service and the product arrived quickly and is becoming more widely available through retail agents. Say no to sticks!

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Free stuff: dog and pet training advice, resources

Having teamed up with an artist (Charley from LabraDOODLEZ) recently, I am very pleased to launch my information sheets! These are visual aides designed to help dog and cat owners  learn a bit more about their companions behaviour and body language in an easy and effective way. Combining a small amount of text and colourful illustrations these sheets are handy guides to build into a portfolio you can refer to again and again. They will be available for absolutely free for anyone who wants one and if it helps prevent just one dog bite or one senseless waste of innocent life then I consider that payment enough.

These sheets are downloadable from my websites and  We aim to produce one of these a month.

Preventing bites with children              Pulling on the Lead visual advice

Feline Body Language 101

Canine Body Language 101                      Enjoying Walks on the Lead

BEFORE You Get YourPuppy ebook pdf           AFTER You Get Your Puppy ebook pdf

The illustrator I worked with was a wonderful, talented lady called Charley from she worked on lots of sketches and helped me compose the final posters, thoroughly professional in addition to being amazing with art! We have come up with so many ideas for these sheets and beyond so I am really looking forward to working with Charley in the future. Charley takes commissions for pet portraits and caricatures so please visit her website to see and learn more of her artwork and packages plus her passion for deaf dogs.

I’d also like to thank April (known as @Lilacsky215 on Twitter) for putting me in touch with Charley, April is an upcoming dog-trainer. Thanks April!

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One step at a time: how a little dog made big leaps

We moved into our new home six months ago and is in need of professional help; it needs a lot of refurbishing and one of the things which needs replacing is my flooring. The previous occupants had installed cheap laminate flooring downstairs and tiling on the kitchen floor. These tiles get very slippery when wet and I will be replacing the flooring throughout all the house in time, I’m just useless at DIY so it’s not done yet. So over the summer the dogs have had the luxury of access to the garden and often come running in after a good play in the garden, all full of beans and excitement and sometimes muddy or grassy too! A few times the floors have just been mopped and they have all slipped a bit, Koda more than any of them. Sometimes with the doors open if the front door is open the back doors will slam and a few times this has happened when Koda has been eating. His feeding station is in the kitchen next to the back door.

Just over a week ago I noticed he was slipping and getting stressed and panicky when coming in from outside, I had cleaned the floors again as Tallulah is in season so mopping the floors a couple of times a day is nothing new. However this particular day when it was time for a walk Koda refused to come out into the kitchen then as the day progressed he would not come into the hallway either and stood shaking at the living room doorway for a few moments before returning to his bed. This was distressing for me to see but hoped he would be ok a bit later on. Teatime came and I had to carry Koda into the kitchen where he refused to eat; he kept looking at the back door and looking at me and making stressed noises, his fur became dull and his tail tucked up under his bum. The poor little lad seemed scared of the door which I could only assume had slammed one too many times while he was stood next it. The straw had broken the camels back and my own dog had a behaviour problem.

Not one I can’t fix though! Initially we all tried encouraging and enticing him with his favourite treats and toys, his meals etc but the fear was overriding the desire to eat and please us. Then I tried clicker training him using praise as a reward but still he would move from one rug to another but freak out, panic and begin slipping and skidding along the floor. I tried ignoring it and using over the top praise when he made any attempt to go into the house or into the hallway. Nothing was working. Over the week my ideas crashed and burned. Then I realised he  has a fear, I need to work with him like I would any other fearful dog. So I began initially walking behind him, literally walking him forward one step at a time physically moving his two front legs which brought his body upright a little and speaking in hushed tones. I was attempting to recreate muscle memory for him as he was seizing up his back legs, splaying his back feet up and then would begin shaking meaning his motor coordination was reduced. I then moved onto allowing him to do this on his own but with encouragement and physical help. Then came the magic. I got an ACE wrap which is thick elasticated bandage about 2 foot long and stretchy enough for me to use.

dog behaviour

What I did was simple yet effective. I put the wrap under his belly, holding it above his hips so that it supported his rear end. By keeping this end up it allowed Koda to walk, fully supported by the bandage which had enough give to tighten if I needed to give him further support but loose enough that it seemed he was doing all the work. I walked along slowly telling him ‘one step’ which I had previously conditioned and he could walk forward one step at a time without panicking and slipping plus it had the added bonus of me not actually bending over him as he walked. Within just three times of using the wrap Koda walking back into the house by himself and after the fourth time he was going into the hallway on his own. I was delighted for him! If he continues to improve and remembers to go slowly and one step at a time and not run (I have also taken the added step of removing the water bowl from the living room where I put it during this retraining period and also I removed the kitchen door to prevent it slamming!) then he should be fine long term and prevent a recurrence. What a result! I’ve filmed as much as I can as I can which once I’ve sorted out things with my new web design company will be available for everyone to see on YouTube. I’d love to hear if others have similar experiences!

UPDATE: Nov 2011-

In September I visited Tilley Farm for a client day where TTouch students can practise their skills on real animals. There I met another Bull Terrier admirer, the lovely Sabina from Holland. This is her website BullysCastle Sabina and Christine who acted as her translator gave me some great TTouch advice including changing Koda’s harness which I did as soon as I got home and began practising the TTouches immediately which Koda and my other Bull Terriers have always enjoyed.

Koda continued to improve using the conditioned cue and TTouch ACE wrap and TTouches. I also moved a small rug for the last hurdle as he would into the hallway on his own but would pull short of the kitchen and begin panicking again. The rug was removed 8 days ago and he has been walking into and out of the areas perfectly normally with no visible signs of distress. Go Team Koda!

He has since has surgery to remove a tumour on his elbow, which thankfully and much to my enourmous relief was benign. Thank you to my brilliant vet Martin Brice and his team at Emerson Vets who have once again helped me with one of my dogs with sincerity and professionalism most deserving of their Vet Practice of the Year 2011 Award.

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