Posts Tagged pet training

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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In tribute to my sweet Jellybean 2005-2011 RIP

A loving tribute to the memory of my sweet baby Jellybean Lollipop (Kennel name-Tallulah Sunrise 2005-2011), my rescue Bull Terrier who passed on 6th April 2011 after losing her brave battle with kidney failure. RIP my angel until we meet again, mummy loves you.

Our journey began 3 years ago after a phone call from Joan Kenway of Bull Terrier Welfare, she asked if I could take on a young female Bull Terrier still in her previous home needing to be re-homed as soon as possible. So Tilly as she was called then joined my family. We renamed her Jellybean Lollipop on the way back from collecting her because she was such a sweetie and I love Jellybean Factory Jellybeans!

Jelly was overweight (which made her a great pillow), had bad teeth, undershot jaw, smelly breath and a dolphin shaped marking in her red fur. Cassini, my other rescue red female, has a stingray shaped one so this was fate! My vet Martin Brice diagnosed a heart murmur which had gone unnoticed at her old vets and he let me devise an exercise and feeding protocol to tone her up and ease the bowel issues she had. Feeding this young girl was no problem she really loved her food but I had to work on her food aggression as well as her other issues.

Jelly had hyper-excitement issues, meaning if she saw a blade of grass (no, not kidding) she would tip from normal to yowling to high pitched incessant barking looking like she was high in seconds. Wow what a chemical rush this girl was getting! It made my mini Bull Terrier Koda stress and he wouldn’t go near her in the fields. It took approx 6 months of sub trigger/threshold work, positive reinforcement and retraining to get her to the point where I could open the car without her exploding out and making open area visits calm and pleasant for all of us. Kodas reactions and her passing out a few times were enough to motivate me early on to sort it out. She had hormone related reactivity issues as well!

Food aggression was quick to sort out, as was the hyper-excitement with toys. Leading a sub threshold life is not easy but I owed it to all of the dogs, us as well as a responsible owner. Jelly was a joy to live with, she was compassionate beyond compare and taught me this in a way no human has. Her playful, sweet, loving attitude gave us joy and helped me cope when I got stressed and my Asberger Syndrome (it’s on the autism spectrum) took over. She would nudge a dog, any dog if was hurt or seemed fearful. She would nudge us humans if we were not happy, she would come and lay down with you if crying and she would give calming signals galore if arguments broke out in the house, she was like me; not happy to be touched unless asked for and didn’t like confrontation. In fact she would nudge on walks, nudge when washing up or cooking. It was as if she was checking up on you, making sure you were ok. It wasn’t attention seeking there was care behind the nudge! I’d look down at her and her ears would prick up, so heart-warming. She was a lover not a fighter but would react to barking if barked at which I worked on with her to reduce it. She was lovely to train and work with; she did accompany me to work and met lots of friends because of it. She was shy, not scared shy but in a I’ll come to you if I want to then go away if that’s alright kind of way. Her recall was fantastic, aways came running back with a wagging tail and ears up, big smile and she walked by my side whenever I asked, kindred spirits.

When I felt she was fit enough to be spayed, I took her in to the vets and asked for pre-op blood screen. That’s when I was told the bad news. She had creatinine elevation and an ultrasound revealed she had congenital kidney dysplasia. An irreversible condition which was treated remedially but she would eventually go into full renal failure. To say I was devastated was an understatement but she was immediately put on medication, I changed her home cooked food to reflect the lower protein and phosphorous levels she needed and began the long road of keeping everything potentially toxic to her out including some of the dog treats I used to buy and chemicals in floor cleaners etc. Hard to maintain but so worth it; she was my angel.

Jelly’s mannerisms were to me so unique. The only dog I ever met which liked her scruff grabbed and rubbed from side to side, was ticklish on her muzzle too. She laughed when you rubbed her belly; she had subtle expressions in her body language and eyes which she altered when communicating with me when she wanted something, whether it was a treat, a walk or toilet. She tranced all sorts of things, doors were a good one. If you said no to her she would give you the big puppy eyes that so many other dogs use with their owners too, they made her look so adorable that it worked every time, those big brown eyes could melt my stony heart! I let her get away with more than the others, she was my baby and I knew she had less time with us every minute was a blessing.

During the last few months she slowed down. I had to teach Koda & Cassini to walk slowly for Jelly. She damaged her Cruciate ligament and I took her to hydrotherapy at Chapel Farm Hydro Centre for treatment, which helped her gain strength back but she was still slow. Happy to go out, she slowly walked by my side. Our last walk was only a short one, but we had a bit of a play and she seemed happy but had lost so much weight and was weaker. The day before we moved I was worried about her, emailed Martin in SA she had no appetite, laboured breathing, lethargy; Signs of kidney failure. Busy packing I fretted over her, tried encouraging her to eat and take her meds but she did gulp down some liver cake. She stabilised a bit and I took her to the surgery first thing before the movers arrived. Stressed and upset we moved house while my Jelly stayed in the vets, I was thankful she was being cared for while so much was going on. We visited her and she looked so pitiful. There was no spark in her eyes. My Jelly was fading away. Leaving her there that night was gutwrenching but with so much to do at the house (it had been left full of junk and 2 years worth of dirt) I had no choice. Upset and distracted I went to visit the next day and Laura Frascarelli the locum vet and all the vet nurses were so good, patient, understanding took great care of vet Jelly but I couldn’t leave her there on her own another night. We agreed I’d take her home for one last night then bring her back to be put to sleep the next day. It was the most precious night. My friend Rebecca, Jelly’s original breeder as fateful luck would have it came to say goodbye, she had always loved Jelly who was the first born of the litter. Jelly had raging thirst but we slept and cuddled together the whole night and woke to birdsong and glorious sunshine. I was crushed beyond belief but could not see my best friend suffer any longer. She died with her head in my arms at 1.20pm 6th April 2011 and was buried in the sunshine where she had been sunbathing that morning. I felt it fitting, she was a sun worshipper. I had wrapped her in her favourite blanket, put in her Kong, some liver cake and water and cried until I slept, exhausted. As she also liked hosepipes and moving water I will save up to install a water feature in memoriam by her grave. The pain of losing her is like nothing I have ever felt before, I have not had an easy life and coping with the emotional turmoil is alien to me, but I believe she and I were meant to meet and teach each other the things we did. Fate. She plays happily at Rainbow Bridge, free from pain until we meet again. Goodbye my baby. I will miss and love you forever.

Thank you to my children, dogs and cat for letting me bring another Bullie baby home, without you I am nothing. Thank you to BTW, thank you to Martin Brice, Laura the locum, Clare, Lisa, Sara, Jody and the team at Emerson Vets, Clair Hucker at Chapel Farm and a special thank you to Rebecca for making Jellybean for me.


Today April 6th marks the 1st anniversary of Jelly’s passing. I still cry for her, my heart dog. I still miss her. I felt her presence in places  she loved we visited for the first time since her dying, I know she she is joyful where she is free from her illness and this brings me comfort. I shall never forget how she never complained about her pain or how she gave love in such an honest way. Rest in peace sweet angel. Never forgotten,always loved.

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