Clicker training and the bouncing recall

After seeing a client yesterday I left full of awe and wonder at how just incredible my job is. My client was a young lady with an English Bull Terrier, which she had tried everything with and had little success. I know that feeling, I live with Bull Terriers! Her dog was beautiful black with white markings coloured EBT, entire and bred from (according to her booking form) a Hungarian acrobat who also breeds Bull Terriers. To be honest from the conversation we had prior to our appointment I thought I was about to meet my match in this dog. His owner reported he had zero recall, was beginning to get reactive with other dogs when out with the dog walker and was often difficult to calm down in her apartment.

When I turned up I was greeted by a striking looking Bullie, he was no-where near the out of control mad dog his owner reported him to be. I have met a LOT worse in all breeds. He was a bit of a show off, me being the shiny new toy he had to demonstrate his blanket gathering abilities and how good he was at stealing things but in all a good egg.

His owner went to the shop to buy some super terrific treats (ham) and we began conditioning him to a clicker. I figured if recall was his main issue then clicker and whistle training was the way to go. You should have seen this dog. He literally pulsated, his tail wagged like mad when praised and he gave a bouncing recall which was utterly adorable. This dog enjoyed working! He was amazing and within 20 minutes was racing toward his owner, ears up tail wagging.

His meeting with my fake stooge dog ‘Magic’ went as expected, he immediately took it bed and began showing it some love, shall we say.

I helped her boyfriend teach him not to pull which went really well considering he was used to handling his Scottish Terriers and using leash corrections. There’s plenty of practise to be done there but nothing they can’t cope with. By the end of the session we had established that V… was a keen learner, that Sasha regretted not doing clicker training in the first place, that her boyfriend should stop listening to everyone and allow his dogs to meet V… in a carefully set up situation, V… is not aggressive just lacking in social skills so a work in progress and that Sasha has done a really good job of raising a potentially difficult dog on her own just fine. Bull Terriers have a reputation for stubborness. I find them intelligent in a different way to other breeds, you just need to find their motivation buttons. Tweaking and the right methods is what she needed. She literally glowed when I told her this, something I had seen on another client’s face the day before when I told him his handling skills were fine. The release of pressure can be enough drive to carry forward, it’s so powerful.

V’s owner has some homework to do, mainly working on the whistle and clicker recall which we will take further afield upon my return but I have no doubt that V will prove to be a quick learner. In fact I suspect he will progress so quickly that I may have to adjust their homework! It just shows how well positive reinforcement training and progressive reinforcement training work so well in a short space of time and also how I should know better than to have expectations when visiting clients.

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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 trainabull.com and verypets.co.uk  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 Labradoodlez.com 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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Question for you: Why does my dog…

I have a challenge open to anyone; to give me an answer which explains exactly why my latest rescue Bull Terrier Tallulah seeks out dock leaves and cries while she eats them. The seeking out I can partially explain via zoopharmacognosy or just plain ‘she likes them’ but the crying has me stumped.

Tallulah does cry a fair bit. She cries to be let out for a toilet break, she cries when she espies someone walking along our road or when she is feeling playful/hormonal/attention seeking. But to cry while eating a plant which has no obvious sharp edges, spines, nodules, venomous qualities.

Having scoured all my literature and sifted through my large pile of research papers and even dared Google to find me the answer I have to admit to drawing a blank. Maybe she is “special”. Like me. I’m “special” too. Crying is obviously part of the canine communication repertoire and while it has no dramatic effect on my relationship with her nor does it impact on her life in general (although she will drag me toward the plants’ location should we happen to go that way on a walk) I’m still interested to learn WHY she does it.

So feel free to inform me I’m interested to hear everyone’s thoughts!

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Holistic therapy or should that be wholelistic therapy?

My Bull Terrier Cassini is about 9 years old and came to me via Bull Terrier Club Welfare Trust. She had been used as a breeding bitch in a Welsh puppy farm and was in a right state, covered in sores, welts and serious damage to her teats to the point where mastitis was suspected. Poor girl. Yet she watched me quietly while I was at the kennel and didn’t make a sound. It was love at first sight for us both; she came home with me that day and I’ve not regretted a single day since. She has taught me so much and is what you might call a mummy’s girl.

It took a long time to re-train her, not only how to live as a pet in a home with a family but also normal dog like behaviour. My mini Bull Terrier Koda played a big part in her training, with his determination after 6 months she picked up a ball and dropped it at his feet in an invitation to play. I literally cried with joy. She had been working with me from the first month but she never liked working with reactive dogs, always preferring to go home or point of safety; she was and still is a sweet, friendly and non-confrontational girl.

In my haste to train her though I made a rookie error and incorrectly trained her to be obsessed with balls in order to teach recalls with distractions. Cassini would crash through anything to the point of physically injuring herself in order to get and play with a ball. She would turn somersaults (a 29kg muscle-bound Bull Terrier turning somersaults!), skid, slide, go through fencing, thorn bushes, doors, furniture, dogs, people until she exhausted herself. At some point she must have hurt herself internally but never let on. Until now.

She always been tight in the hips, Cassini waddles like a goose when she walks but over the last 12-18 months especially the last few months it’s become obvious she is feeling sore in her hip area-if one of my other dogs or even one of us humans leans on her while she is lying down she barks, winces or growls in warning. This from a dog which rarely barks, seriously she only barks in her sleep! I began to think about prevention of old age infliction such as arthritis like using glucosamine and checking her into the creaky club at my vets. Then I met Maddy Casey a Canine and human Bowen Therapist at an event I hosted back in June 2011. Maddy invited me to bring a dog to her to see how she worked in more detail, I chose Cassini.

Cassini loved it! Initially she spent a long time relaxing and greeting Maddy and not letting Maddy do too much Bowen moves. Bowen is a holistic treatment, based in science, using specific hand movements on the skin and underlying tissue, the body shows you where it feels stress or pain and Bowen helps rebalance the body as a whole. Maddy allows the dog to dictate the flow of a session and over the next few sessions Cassini would offer different parts of her body for Maddy to work and for longer, except her left hip area.

Cassini’s self-confidence and ability to demonstrate what she likes and disapproves in her typical gentle way made my observations of these sessions so compelling, I am still learning from this dog which I have lived with for over 6 years; what an awesome tutor she is!

Maddy’s understanding of dogs is wonderfully respectful and I enjoy the sessions just as much as Cassini. During a recent session Cassini offered her sacred spot, the left hip which Maddy worked for just a few moments before calling the session to an end, to end on a good note and left us both feeling something powerful had just occurred. We will continue seeing Maddy, Cassini appears to be more energetic in the days after her Bowen treatment, life in my old girl yet! I’m sure once she has more Bowen treatment in her hip area she will feel less sore; it would be interesting to see a heat image of before and after sessions to see the difference that Maddy can feel while working her.

Have a look at Maddy’s website, she works on vet referral and also draws wonderful greetings cards for sale!

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Zoopharmacognosy: Another way forward for dog & animal training?

Today I once again had the pleasure of watching Caroline Ingraham working with her plant oils on a dog. This dog was a 4 month old SBT cross puppy surrendered to Holly Hedge Animal Sanctuary in Bristol with demodectic mange infesting her entire body and was going septic from lack of veterinary intervention. Caroline has previously worked with my own dogs so I  have seen her work first hand. Caroline is a zoopharmacognosist; zoo-animal pharma-medical cognosy-self. In other words Caroline helps animals self select the secondary compounds and oils they need. Having worked with Sarah Fisher of Tilley Farm UK TTouch team, Wood Green Animal Shelter, Battersea Dog Shelter, Horseworld and many others including overseas, Caroline has amassed over 25 years of experience with this fascinating subject and gained a considerable reputation.

Caroline at Holly Hedge

Having first met Caroline earlier this year when I invited her to join in at an event I hosted, I have since introduced her to Holly Hedge where I’m behaviourist. I’m so interested in this subject, it’s natural, non aversive and helps with physical and behavioural problems at a chemical level so is grounded in proven science. Hopefully Caroline can teach me more. Much more. I have applied what little I have learned to my dogs, a recent foster Bulldog and with clients dogs too, mainly on dogs with Separation Anxiety symptoms with amazing results. So is this another way forward for the positive training movement? Should more research be done?

Have a look at Caroline’s video’s on her website Ingraham.co.uk and see for yourself what an awesome topic and way of working with animals this is. Incidentally, the puppy we worked on today showed improvements after just an hour and her hot skin had already begun feeling cooler to touch. The compounds we left should be enough to make her feel more comfortable and work on her immune system from within, helping her to recover and maybe not need pharmaceutical products at all. Staff at the sanctuary will monitor her and of course treat her mange topically immediately as required.

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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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