The Bond Fostered by Training

I was on Facebook last week, and saw that one of my close friends had made the decision not to have one of her elderly dogs operated on to attempt to remove a cancerous mass from her leg.  Now it became abundantly clear why a few days earlier, that same friend was asking how well a dog can cope with only three legs, and how long recovery might take.  Only this time I knew which of her dogs she was talking about, so not only did I really feel for my friend and her special dog – I was hit pretty hard too.

You see, when I was “dog-less” for twelve months or so before bringing Inka home (and starting this blog), my friend would lend me one or another of her dogs to take to classes and train, and I felt honoured that my first “surrogate dog” was my friends’ very special sable collie.  Born with a form of diabetes and rejected by her mother, my friend raised her and hand-fed her.  When I first met her she was 11 years old, although I assumed she was around 5 or 6 – such was her love of people and vigour for life.

My friend and her dogs were there for me at a time when I really needed them, and after being snuggled back to having a dry face again by Starr and Inka, I realised that it was more than this reason, and empathy for my friend, that caused my sadness and tears.  Even though we spent the majority of our time together in class training, and very rarely “hung out” like we all do with our own dogs, the thought of this special girl passing is upsetting to me on a personal level because of the bond formed between us by clicker training.

I have read a number of times about the bond that is formed through the use of positive reinforcement training, and from experience I know this to be true – with some of my friends’ dogs, with dogs at the shelter I volunteered at, as well as dogs who have come in to classes I’ve assisted in.  But this is a very special, wonderful girl who has touched the life of a close friend of mine, and also helped my friend to help lots of dogs, furthermore she was a joy for anyone to meet; her life is and will continue to be celebrated by many, and it is for that reason that I wanted to share this poem:

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze, and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty & strength, and I stand and watch until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There!  She’s gone.”  Gone where?  Gone from my sight – that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her; just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There she comes!”  And that is dying. – anonymous


Record Keeping

I’ve had a post about “record keeping” in the back of my mind for some time now.  I’ve been through several iterations in that time, mostly because I’ve been trying to find something that really works for me.  I’ve revised my methods at least three times but now I think I’m on to a winner, so will share what I do, in the hopes that it helps some of you with your record keeping.  First, I want to share why I keep records for my dog training.  It’s something that completely passed me by for the first few years I owned dogs, even when I was interested in training them to a high standard (not that I’m not now, but different dogs mean different priorities).  Then I read Susan Garrett’s book “Ruff Love”, in which Susan suggests we should keep records of our dog training to help us be better trainers.  I didn’t immediately decide to start keeping records, but that comment planted a seed in my mind, and the more I thought about it the more I realised that was an accurate statement.

In 2010, when I (technically) didn’t have a dog to call my own, I had some “surrogate dogs” that I would train in classes or one-on-one, and I would write down what had been trained in each session so that I could remember from session-to-session what we’d done, and how well we’d done it.  I also made notes when I spent some time working with the dogs in a local rescue kennels, as then I could refresh my memory about an individual dog’s problems and successes, as well as keep in mind how the “quiet kennel” protocol was progressing.

So, on to how I keep my dog training records now, but remember: just because this system works for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for anyone else!  There’s no hard-and-fast rule for record keeping, except that you should definitely do what works for you!

I’ve already shared part of my record keeping with you here, it’s where I note Starr’s brand new and/or amazing progressions, and absolutely nothing more.  The one thing I will say about this is I wish I’d started it sooner, as I’ve probably missed out some things, or added some things that happened before the BoW came to fruition.  Nonetheless I’m glad I have it now, as it helps me to see her progress in areas I wouldn’t necessarily write down in our ‘normal’ records.

For our more every day record keeping, I start off with my Filofax.  The Filofax/diary-in-a-binder system is totally new to me this year, and I only started using it because I couldn’t find a “regular” diary I liked for 2014, and after struggling last year I realised I could make my life much easier if all I needed to do each year was but new sheets of paper to fill a diary/binder I already owned and liked.  If you decide to follow my footsteps, you don’t need a Filofax, just a regular binder would be more than adequate, I was simply trying to make things easy for myself and cut-down the amount of ‘stuff’ I might need to carry around to organise myself.

I set up my Filofax to have a ‘dog training’ section, which I’ve sub-divided into three more sections: long-term training plans; short-term training plans; and temporary training journals.

The long-term sheets are for my longer-term plans, at the moment they cover 2014, you can see Starr’s is really simple, and the most important thing I want us to have “improved” upon this year is Starr’s joy and attitude.  Hopefully in a year or two I’ll be more bothered about her heeling in distracting environments, but let’s not run before we can crawl!

I mainly use my short-term plans for specific activities: response to doorbell is the one I have now, but I want to write one out for ‘hold’, ‘play retrieve’, and ‘formal retrieve’, among other things.

The main section is my temporary training journal sheets: here I make notes on every training session we have during the day.  These (eventually!) get written up into my “proper” training journal.  Alongside this, I also have a “tracker sheet”, on which a sticker is placed over each date we’ve had a day where I’ve recorded a training session.  Not all dates get covered, but that doesn’t mean we did no training, it just means we didn’t have any form of session; I’m a firm believer that every interaction with your dog is training, but what I want to capture in my journal are specific behaviours or activities, rather than every-day-well-behaved-ness.

Overall, I think that keeping records, like this, helps me – helps us – in our training journey, and as time progresses it will be a nice record to look back on, if not a good warning on how to go less wrong with future dogs!

What about you, do you record keep for your dog training, or do you want to record keep and haven’t yet had the right inspiration?

Dog Training New Years Resolutions – 2014

In my last post, I looked at the dog training resolutions I made at the start of 2013. I tend not to make resolutions, so I think I did pretty well with them.

So, “what are my dog training resolutions for 2014” you ask? Well, let’s see: –
* Improve my record-keeping
In Recallers Susan suggests that record keeping is a good habit to get into, and I wholly agree! I now see a lot of value in record keeping, and will dedicate a post to my record keeping shortly. I’ve also come up with a good way to plan my training too, I’ll give that a try and might include that in my journalling post, or a future one.

* Keep training fun!
Although I try not to take myself too seriously during training sessions, sometimes it can be difficult. Luckily I have some great role models from whom I can learn to keep myself relaxed (or copy them until it carries over for me!) and keep things fun


Starr & I, having fun with her baseball cap

* Keep up our Recallers games
As much as I was overwhelmed last year, I feel I’ve made a good start already at incorporating some of the early Recallers games into everyday life; I know if we keep working through the games at our own pace Starr and I will build a truly amazing bond, and I will be able to trust that she will always come back when she’s off the lead (and I shouldn’t need our long line any more!).  That is my number one priority for this year – to have two dogs who can go off lead everywhere it’s safe for that to happen.

* Puppy Peaks
I’ve had a look at the Puppy Peaks information, and am starting to formulate a plan in my head of what I can make use of now and what can wait, but I need to start incorporating that into our lives too.


Inka, enjoying life

* Coursework!
I know I said this last year, but I really want to get moving with my coursework so that I can progress, not just for my own dogs but also so I can start moving towards more learning, professional registration and helping other people and their dogs.

Do you think I’ll manage to keep to all my resolutions this year?  What about you, have you made any resolutions – either for you and your dogs (or whatever animal you’re training), or for yourself?

Dog Training New Years Resolutions – 2013 Review

This is later than I intended, but I’ve been busy helping a collie get a rescue space.  Thankfully, everything’s sorted now, barr her having a little sleepover at my house before being picked up this weekend.


Last January, I posted a list of things I wanted to accomplish with Inka and Starr; I called them my “dog training New Years resolutions“.  Before I look at my intentions for the coming year, I want to take a moment to look at how I did with those resolutions.

To review, last year I resolved to:
* Train my dogs more!
* Train because it’s fun!
* Not waste breath and energy on cruel, pushy, aggressive, and ignorant people that rely on those same behaviours to bully animals and other people.
* Do my coursework!
* Be open to new and different things

So, how did I do?  Well, starting on the negative – I didn’t finish my coursework.  Technically, I didn’t even start it, although I do have a lot of notes and plans for what I want to look at for each question, and I do now feel capable of starting it.

However, the good news is that I stuck to everything else!  I didn’t waste my energy on people who don’t want to know, and I did train both dogs more often, maybe not as much as I’d like to, but certainly more than I’d trained Inka in the past year.

Now that we’re starting to get past Starr’s demons, and I’ve been able to give Inka a break (which I feel that he needs as he still holds quite a lot of demons about learning in general from his early days, before he came to us), we’re concentrating on the fun things – Inka’s training has involved things I know he can do, and just having fun with those; Starr’s training has also been fun (like when we played with this box (below)), but she enjoys the learning process, so we’ve also done some more serious things together (like starting to work on her loose lead walking).

I will say, however, that I think part of the reason why I didn’t train more is because I felt a little bit overwhelmed.  I completed Pamela Dennison’s online course, and when the chance arose I signed up to Susan Garrett’s Recallers course – as part of that we got a whole second course for free, I also signed up for Denise Fenzi’s precision heeling course, and then her heelwork games class, and I then got the chance to become a member of Susan’s “inner circle” – so, of course, I jumped at it, and then Puppy Peaks came along, which I wanted in on as well!

Pam’s course had a small amount of material, and a DVD, so that was fine.  Recallers would release one five minute game every weekday for six weeks, and there was *a lot* of accompanying information (I filled a lever-arch ring binder!), Shaping a Difference was time-sensitive, and Puppy Peaks and the Inner Circle both are an amazing resource, plus both of Denise’s courses are full of information; I’ve then been back and forward to the vets a fair amount, alongside work, running a house, and all the regular exercising and bonding with my dogs.

I know, I know – I took too much on.  I’ve learnt my lesson, and (hopefully!) won’t do it again.  Starr & I are re-doing the Recallers games, but at a slower pace; once I get the mechanics down for the really fun ones, I’ll do those with Inka, leaving the “less fun”/more precise ones to later, or not at all if he would prefer not to; and it’ll be the same for Puppy Peaks, and anything that comes up in the IC (I’m desperately saving so that I may renew my membership, after a couple of surprise expenses in December).

Going forward, at least for the moment, I feel that the Say Yes!/Susan Garrett way is a really good fit for Starr, Inka, and myself; it also fits nicely with the ethos of our training instructor and her classes, plus there’s enough information held within it to help me teach many, many behaviours, and to equip me for figuring out almost anything it doesn’t contain specific information for.

So, what are my goals for this year?  Find out in my next post…

Carol Price – Collie Psychology: A Review

In part, uneducated, disproven, unkind, and in places downright nonsense.  Let me elaborate:

Collie Psychology

I was quite excited when I first learned about ‘Collie Psychology’.  I have one of Carol Price’s earlier books ‘Understanding the Border Collie’, and while it’s of an age that means it has a lot of old-school talk that we now know is no longer relevant, it still contains some good information for those who are able to see past the pseudo-science.

I was hoping that her new book would be bang-up-to-date, with lots of great information on progressive reinforcement training; perhaps some discussion on why outdated training methods and tools worked, but also the issues they cause; reasons why she has “moved with the times” in her training ethos and tools of choice; and suggestions for resources to help others who are interested in learning and expanding their knowledge, alongside lots of great collie information.

Sadly, I’ve only made it a quarter of the way through the book and I’m giving it up as a bad job.  While the section on finding a good breeder is a true gold-star piece of writing that should be held up for everyone with even a passing interest in dogs to absorb, the rest of the book is filled – mostly – with the same out-dated clap-trap.

She makes aggression in puppies sound like an everyday event (growling is during play, for instance, but actual aggression is not); there’s also a fair amount of anthropomorphic fluff about puppies and dogs “disrespecting” their humans, when an understanding of learning theory would show that is not at all the case.

The section on training has a diatribe on why, how, and when to use a “correction command”, when – again – a little bit of education would show the writer there’s no need for such hostility, especially towards a young puppy.  There’s very little discussion on setting the puppy (or dog) up in the home so that he or she is unable to make mistakes, but lots of talk about what to “correct”, and how.

When she gets to actually teaching the puppy/dog and adding cues (which she insists on calling “commands”, for some unknown reason) to behaviours, she suggests people use a gesture and word cue a the same time; this is known as “overshadowing”, and when behaviours are trained with overshadowed cues it means the dog either does not listen at all to the verbal cue, or takes much longer than necessary to learn it.  She also completely fails to mention using a marker during training, meaning that – once again – the training will not progress as quickly as it could.

Not once in this section does she suggest than an owner might want to find a reputable training class to take their puppy or dog to, although she has no issues with pointing out that owners, especially those who are novice either to the breed or to dogs in general, are bound to make mistakes(!) – something a competent training instructor would not only be working to eliminate in every dog/handler team, but they could also provide personal guidance on what to do (or not do!) to help both human and canine understand, and complete, the exercise.

However, the things that really finished this book off for me were the following: –
1) her suggestion on “sticking out your leg” (AKA tripping the dog up) when he or she pulls on the lead;
2) the misinformation she gives to readers on the topic of learned helplessness;
3) her assertion that playing tug with your dog causes aggression.

After reading these nuggets of “information” – one of which does not line up with my ethos on interacting with others (human or otherwise), another which is factually incorrect (though it makes for a good sob story); and the remaining one being a just downright silly – it has relegated this book to the bottom of my reading pile, behind such authors as Toni Shelbourne, Denise Fenzi & Deborah Jones, Pamela Dennison, and my personal favourites, Karen Pryor and Jean Donaldson – all people who are much more easily accessible with up-to-date research and information that appeals to dog owners of every kind, be they “just” pet owners, invested dog enthusiasts, or canine professionals.


Disclaimer: I have not been asked, nor paid to write this review; the opinions contained herein are entirely my own, and are based upon both my experience and my education, both of which are ever-expanding.

Don’t Feed the Troll(s)

Image from Victor Habbick/www.

On a recent video Zak George posted on his Facebook page, asking about what we look for in a dog trainer, I was struck by the irony of the first response being a young lady who responded with “Cesar all the way!”.  I figured that either she’s someone holding some amount of cognitive dissonance about dog training – which must be uncomfortable – or she maybe just doesn’t yet know about faster, safer, easier, and more friendly training methods and/or the issues with the use of aversives.

Either way, I (now) know better than to start some sort of attack/flame war/personal vendetta against someone who is yet to learn such things (as doing so often alienates them further from your standpoint, and frankly isn’t a very good show of +R).  I commented that I would only ever use a science-based positive reinforcement trainer, added a couple of the organisations I’d turn to, and left it at that.  I’d said nothing at all inflammatory, but had given some information and a few little ‘breadcrumbs’ that anyone with any interest could follow for themselves.

Image from Victor Habbick/www.

Sadly, not everyone feels the same, as when I went back to look at the thread a little while later the young lady obviously felt as though she was being attacked.  I continued to monitor the thread for a while, and didn’t see much change.

I wouldn’t blame the person who made this comment for never wanting to look at progressive reinforcement training again, but sadly I still see this all too often, people being rude, nasty, and/or horrible to people who don’t train in the same way as them – whatever that way is.  And that’s silly – there are loads of things that we all – as adults – disagree on, but very little else results in such immature responses from a large number of people.

Trolling is neither big nor clever, and does no favours for anyone – least of all the dogs that so many people claim to want to help.  I understand that it is frustrating, annoying, and often hurts when we hear of a dog who is regularly experiencing aversives, but the way to “fix” that is not through applying aversives to the dog’s owner for what they are doing.

Image from Victor Habbick/

Inspiration and Vapidity

Well, it seems the ability to post anything on schedule is eluding me (I blame washing machines, autumn, canine ear issues (again!) and suchlike).  Here is my latest post, and I will continue to post as-and-when, hopefully making it easier and less stressful on me, and providing better blog posts for you.


The disparity of people amazes me.  On the one hand, you have people willing to give up their puppy for performing perfectly normal doggy behaviour (nipping and house-soiling spring to mind); but then you have people who will live with their dog with one or more serious behaviour problems for years and years without blinking an eye (or, sadly, trying to help the poor dog).  It’s a shame, because with a little bit of public education people in both camps could be helped so much: either to understand normal dog behaviours (or to understand that normal dog behaviours aren’t their “thing”); or to understand how to prevent problems from occurring, and what to do or who to contact if they do.

Sadly, it seems that the public are educated more by TV “entertainment” shows, old wives’ tales, and general misunderstanding than they ever will be by actual facts and figures.

Perhaps this is linked to the huge interest in vapid “celebrities”.  “Normal” people like to believe whatever supposed “secrets” a self-important, attention-hungry, money-grabbing person chooses to “share” with them, and them alone (ha!), or perhaps it’s not; either way it seems to me that the vast majority of people need to get their heads away from the TV’s, newspapers, and magazines that these “celebrities” seem to adore complaining about inhabiting, and go and learn actual facts, from people who have not only proved their knowledge, but continue to expand upon what they – and we – know.

As humans we follow the “monkey-see-monkey-do” approach to learning, and while that isn’t the only way we learn (thankfully!) it does worry me that the majority of the “monkeys” that are publicly available to “copy” are often not good role models for having a thirst for knowledge & facts, and having an open & enquiring mind, for instance.

We all need to find people (and sometimes animals) in this world who inspire us to go out and learn; rather than people who inspire little but a desire to listen to them, and only them.

I haven’t been one to “drink the Kool-aid” for a long time, and it saddens me when I see people that do.

I know who inspires me, but who inspires you, and more importantly how and why?




After a hectic weekend of surprise sunshine, broken washing machines & the ensuing panic this week’s (fortnight’s?) blog post is a little late.  It’s either proof I shouldn’t work to a schedule, or proof I need to be more organised!


“Instead of measuring a relationship with an animal by it’s “cheapness”, it should be measured instead by the amount of trust the animal holds”

People often say that training a dog using food and/or toys as reinforcers can and does “cheapen” the bond of a human-animal team.  What these people don’t realise is that there isn’t a team without some form of reinforcement for each potential member of that team.

Perhaps this makes more sense to me because I have ‘special’ dogs, who need someone in their life they can trust after a hard start; perhaps it makes sense to me because I’m interested in training my dogs in the quickest, most efficient, and least stressful way; or perhaps most people don’t really stop to think about this sort of thing (if that’s you, I think you should!).

I think the thing many people fail to realise is that dogs don’t actually come with a built-in desire to please humans – and let’s face it, not many humans do either!  Dogs are only “in it” for themselves, so if you can’t make it worth their while to do what you want, they’ll happily find something better to do.

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

Would this be your dog?

Of course, there are a few options to choose from, but it boils down to two points: you can force your dog in to complying with your request; or you can show your dog that it’s worth his while to listen to you and do as you ask.

Yes, we know that whichever way you choose, your dog will be more likely to do as you ask but why use methods which intimidate, oppress, and diminish both the spirit of one half of your team, and the bond which holds your team together?

Why not use methods to build up your canine teammate, and strengthen your bond with each other, turning “working” with you, into “playing” with you?

After all, the only one who can show you the value of your “work” is your dog – so why not help him to see that value…?

Dogs on Drugs & The Book of Wonder

Starr started taking behavioural medication (AKA her “drugs”) during the second to last week in August of this year.  Since then she’s been both a wonderful brat, and a stressed little girlie; but I like to think that we’re starting to get somewhere with it all.

After she’d been on drugs for a week or so, I took a problem discussion point to the Facebook Recallers group and got so many wonderful, and brilliantly supportive comments from all around the Facebook Say Yes community.

I had used her tugging as an example of the way she seemed to be “losing drive” – she’d gone from a tugging maniac to a dog who could take it or leave it, even at home.

I got lots of great suggestions, and resources posted on my thread but most of all I was reminded to take it easy.

Starr, taking it easy (on the coffee table!)

I love my dogs, and would never push them into something they couldn’t cope with, but in wanting to unlock all that I know Starr can be, I wasn’t giving her the time she needs before she can give me her all and work alongside me.

I was rushing her, I realised, like a pushy-pageant-mom.

This did not make me happy, so we stopped.  I’ve stopped worrying that she’s mostly “untrained”, and I’ve stopped worrying that she doesn’t really enjoy training (yet – hopefully!), and we’re just going to play, have fun, and worry about all that other stuff later.

One thing that’s helping me with this is writing down all the little things that Starr does, all her little “personal” wins.  Of course, I’ve noticed these things since last December, and I’ve been happy when she’s won at something new or difficult, but I’ve not been recording them, and that means I’ve been forgetting things, or mis-remembering them.  So I decided that I should start writing  down all the great things Starr does, so that I have a record of how brilliant she is that I can look back on – either when she’s having a “bad” day (to remind myself it’s not her “normal”); or when she’s winning lots of ribbons and trophies (to remind myself how far she’s come).

Enter “The Book of Wonder”.  This is a special notebook just for writing down all the things that Starr either does, or doesn’t do that make me proud, or help me to know know that she’s becoming less anxious/more confident.  Things like “didn’t bark at a delivery man”, or “willingly approached auntie June and didn’t flinch when she moved her hand towards Starr”.

I try and find something to write each day, but the nature of life means I might not always get the opportunity, although I know that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not progressing (sometimes quite the opposite!).

This past couple of weeks, I’ve been thankful for having a such a wonderful support network – whether that’s people I see every day, or every week, or even just a couple of times a year, or if I may never actually see them in real life!  I’m also thankful for Susan Garrett, her brilliant courses and all the wonderful people they attract!