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bang-up-to-date, with lots of great information on progressive reinforcement training; perhaps some discussion on why outdated training methods and tools worked, but also the issues they cause; reasons why she has “moved with the times” in her training ethos and tools of choice; and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.


Where We’re Going Wrong…

So, I’ve had some time to think this weekend, and I think I know where we’re going wrong when talking about dog packs and/or dominance:


a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein’s theory of relativity. Synonyms: principle, law, doctrine.

A tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.
So you see – when talking about the now dis-proven dominance/pack dog training ideas, we shouldn’t be calling them theories, because they’re not; they’re hypotheses.
Learning theory, on the other hand, is a theory.


Are You Bribing Your Dog?

There seems to be a fallacy in the world of dog training, and indeed even outside of the world of dog training, and dogs in general.

I’ve had knowing looks on the street, overheard strangers commenting at the beach or lake, had comments directed towards me in person and online, even my mother has (once again!) chided me for my seemingly “poor choices”.

If you train your dog with treats, you’re bribing her.

Bribing – Craige Moore

There I said it.

Anyone who’s anyone knows that all dogs love and respect all humans, and will do as we say because it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they make us happy by doing as they’re told; so it follows that anyone who’s anyone also knows that dogs don’t need treats, or any form of reward, for working for humans. And if you choose to use treats, you’re bribing your dog to do whatever it is you want him to do, because he wont do it out of “love and respect”, or for the joy it brings him in knowing you’re happy with him, he’ll only do it for the food in your hand.

Clearly, all the people making such comments are amazing, wonderful even. They may have spent their whole life working, but they have never once taken a penny – or anything else – in recompense; or if they have they’ve given it all away again.

They have no need of reward or recognition from their employer (or customers, if they’re self-employed), they do the work because they like the fuzzy warm feeling it gives them to help others, and that’s all the payment they need.

Oh, wait…

That’s not true.

While some people can, and do, volunteer their time; the majority of people in gainful employment need to take home a pay cheque every month (heck, even people who are not in gainful employment still have to find a way to get the money they need!).

I don’t know about you, but if my employer decided to stop paying for my time I’d certainly be looking for another job – let’s face it, for humans, money is a very powerful secondary reinforcer.

Money gives us roofs over our heads, various methods of travel, the ability to buy food, books, clothes, music, tickets to the cinema, theatre, or concerts, and even the ability to have and appropriately care for our animals.

Animals see no value in money (aside from the ones who may see value in eating it). They tend not to have pockets to keep it in, or places to keep a lot of it safe, and they don’t have bills to pay, so money as a form of payment is as meaningless to them as hotdog slices as a form of payment is to you and I.

But just because they don’t see value in money doesn’t mean they don’t see value in being “paid”.

Especially when training new behaviours, your dog (or human, horse, goat, lamb, cow, chicken…or any animal) needs paid. They need to feel value in their work (learning), and this value comes from rewards – not only food and toys, but also other things they enjoy doing – digging, barking, running around, sniffing…whatever floats their boat.

These rewards do a number of things: * firstly they help the animal to learn that the rewarded behaviour is worth repeating;
* it adds “money to the bank” for the behaviour, meaning that at some future time when you need to ask for the behaviour and only have dry, biscuit treats (or, worse, nothing at all) your dog is more likely to do as you ask, and not mind too much that you didn’t have some liver or a favourite tug toy handy (however, after this type of situation it would be worth “refreshing” the behaviour in your dog’s mind – and increasing your “bank balance” – by training the behaviour with one or more of your dog’s desired rewards, especially if you made a large withdrawal – such as recalling your dog away from unexpected livestock or wild animals;
* additionally, training using the rewards your dog wants (rather than the ones you think he should want) also has the added bonus of teaching your dog that you’re worth listening to;
* and it’s great for building a strong relationship with your dog.

Looking at that list, I wonder why we aren’t all training with rewards. For me, it all comes back to working: I want my dog to want to be with me, and to not only want to interact with me; but to enjoy interacting with me – whether we’re playing tug, or whether I’m training a drop on recall.

It pains me to see a dog who wants to be nowhere near his human, after all, dogs are social creatures and should have the strongest bond with their ‘family’; but to think that some people actively dislike despise “treat training”, well…I don’t want to think about what they do to their dog in the name of training

The Alan Titchmarsh Show and Cesar Milan

I must admit, when I first heard that Cesar was going to be on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, I was quite worried.  The show is aired from 3pm, a time when many people are at work, so the shows’ main audience is likely to be people who are retired and parents who work part-time – two groups of people that really shouldn’t be using the techniques Cesar advocates with their dogs.

I caught the show on ITV+1, and must say I was pleasantly surprised.  Alan and his team had clearly listened to those of us who had contacted him with our concerns, watched some of the videos that were posted on the shows’ Facebook page and emailed to them, and rightly questioned Cesar on his dubious methods.

After the interview, the number of “likes” on the Facebok page doubled, and the wall was flooded by people thanking Alan for such a wonderful interview – three days later this is still going strong, and a page has been set up calling Alan a “legend“.

Finally, the UK public have had some exposure, no matter how small, to the fact that Cesar may not be all he makes out to be.  Not only that, stories have been run not only by the UK media, but also in South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands, and America to name but a few.

Of course, alongside all the praise, thanks, and positive feelings, there are those who claim Alan jumped on Cesar unnecessarily, that he listened to the lies told to him by the “minority”, that Cesar doesn’t harm dogs, and that he saves the dogs positive trainers refuse to work with, among others.

Sadly, it seems a minority of people have been taken in – often very deeply – by Cesar’s celebrity, his PR machine, his lies, and by his (and often their own) lack of knowledge, not to mention the “glamour” of the thought they practically have a wild animal in their home who they must constantly physically outwit, lest the animal take over.  What his fans and followers have shown both to myself and others, is their lack of regard for other sentient beings.

It’s so sad to see the number of people saying that it’s acceptable to beat, kick, pinch, poke, choke, prod, punch and shock dogs in the name of “training”.  In the UK, we’re supposed to be an enlightened nation of animal lovers, and yet in the past few days I’ve seen people admitting to beating their dogs; saying that they’d use an electric shock to contain their dog (when a leash or a fence not only *would* do a much better job, but is also *proven* to do a much better job than an electric fence); and worse.

It is not, and should not, be a dogs’ fault that his or her family cannot or do not know how to correctly use and apply the methods behind positive reinforcement training – and just like fixing a car or a combi boiler, those people who are unable to do it should seek help from a qualified professional.  Sadly, people like Cesar Milan make it seem like anyone can “fix” dogs, and there are no qualifications (or even real knowledge!) needed.

People watch this man’s entertainment programme, and think that doing so qualifies them to charge other people for their services of “dog psychology”.  These people also lie, and say there are no qualifications to be gained – or worse, gain qualifications based on rescinded science claiming they are “the best” or “only” qualifications, and others are worth nothing.

I for one am sure that a number of universities and colleges who offer qualifications based on current science with regards to behaviour would disagree, as would the many qualified dog trainers and dog behaviourists (which, by the way is the real term, not “dog psychologist”) that we have not only in the UK but the world over.

It also worries me that many of Cesars followers also have children, and that these children are being raised in environments where violence against others seem to be the norm.  After all, whether it’s a dog or a human you’re hurting – it’s still another being, one who’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions you’re affecting.

Additionally, as I’m sure you’re aware, studies have shown that violence to animals often leads to violence against people; and where violence is, seemingly at least, normal in some households with dogs and children I can’t help but wonder if we are inadvertently raising a culture of children who will grow up and go on to abuse or otherwise harm their spouses, friends, and/or children and think nothing of it, let alone the acts that could be committed against total strangers.

Cesar has had his time in the spotlight, and I believe it is high time he is outed for what he really is – an unqualified charlatan practising outdated and dangerous methods.

I understand that many will find this difficult, cognitive dissonance is not be a nice feeling; and sadly I’m quite sure there would be people clamouring to take his place in the spotlight (not to mention the money!), but this time we need someone with some real and relevant qualifications, who understands the science behind what they’re doing, and can make training and interacting with dogs safe for everyone.

It may not be as “flashy”, or as “macho” as a tanned foreigner with an intriguing history, taming “unruly” dogs with physical force – but none of that is important.  The well-being of dogs the world over, on the other hand, that is immensely important.

Did you watch Alans’ show (or the clip on YouTube)? What do you think, is it right that Cesar was called out and his methods publicly questioned, or should Alan have “played nice” and gone along a less direct path when interviewing Cesar?

After the Behaviourist’s Visit

After our appointment with our behaviourist on Saturday, I’m feeling really positive.

Basically Inka is fearful, has little self-control, and no off-switch.  Almost the whole time Graham was with us Inka was “on the go”, only stopping once we’d practised some ‘leave it’ (in a new way), a ‘finish’ (i.e. no more interaction), exercise, and mocked up a ‘settle’ exercise.

However, being quick to pick things up, on my return home after going into town when Graham had gone, Inka came up to the dog gate like normal, and then went and ‘settled’ on the rug and waited for me to go to him – a huge improvement on the usual “what did you buy me” as Inka tries to stick his head in the carrier bags.

We’ve been left with some exercises to work through, and some desensitisation & counter-conditioning to work on, and I’ve also been told that Control Unleashed is to be mine & Inka’s “bible” (yay!).
Things will get better.  I’m happy.  Inka’s happy.

Honour the Dog You Have


Inka waiting for me to throw his toy

Inka & I are taking a few weeks off from our classes.

The last time we were in class, without warning Inka went for one of the other dogs.  I’m not being over-dramatic and saying “he gave no warning”, while really he did and I missed it; there really was nothing, and even our very experienced training instructor said there was no warning.  Apparently that’s quite normal in rescued non-working sheepdogs – but that comes under the banner of “I don’t even want to think about it”.

So, we’re going to be seeing a qualified behaviourist in a few weeks, and in the meanwhile Inka will be having an ‘easy life’.  He’ll be starting back on Zylkene again, and we’ll do lots of training, and play lots of games at home.  I also recently treated, I suppose both of us really, to some new grooming tools, and he’s finding having his coat properly worked on a little stressful.  Up until now all I’ve used is a rubber mitt, but that wasn’t putting a dent in his shedding, so I got some Furminator brushes as well as the de-shedding tool.  His coat condition has improved so much since I eliminated corn from his diet, and I started adding salmon oil to his breakfast to support his skin & coat about a month ago, and while on the one hand the new tools are adding to this improvement, they’re also giving me an indication of how much more improvement could be made.

So I’m spending some time each night not only brushing him, but also making sure he enjoys it.  It’s probably a “girl thing” but I really enjoy grooming dogs, it’s relaxing for me, and I like to think it is (or at least it can become) relaxing for the dog too, and it can be a good bond strengthener when done correctly.

After giving Inka a toy to play with for a while a few nights ago, I spent some time grooming him, after which we had a cuddle on the floor.  As he was getting himself into just the right position for a belly rub, I think I began to realise something.  I had a lot of expectations for Inka, many because I’ve owned dogs in the past; more because of my love of training, and learning about training; and even a couple because I came home several times to find Inka on the dining room table!  Regardless of my expectations, I need to let Inka be himself, and I don’t think I was really doing that.  I need to listen to him, but also I need to remember that while he may enjoy certain situations (class, for instance) that he may not feel the same about similar situations (formal assessments, for example).

That’s not to say I’m not going to work to help him to enjoy all aspects of his life, but I’m going to be more aware of his preferences.  If he decides he doesn’t want to cope with crowds of people, then in the summertime when I go to Keswick, Inka can stay home.  I’ll miss him, and I’ll wish he could come, but I’ll also respect his needs and wants, saving taking him to popular tourist locations for quieter periods in the year, when both he and I can enjoy them.

We’ll keep you updated with how Inka & I get on, but to finish this post, I’d like to borrow something from Susan Garret‘s blog, she ends each post by saying what she’s thankful for.  Right now, I’m thankful for friends, their honesty, and openness; and for the advice and support they offer.

Taking Stock

Inka’s been in mine & Scott’s lives for almost seven months now.  We’ve come a long way in that time, though that’s not to say we’re at our endpoint, but Inka has improved a lot.  I still remember the first few times I took him to the training centre, just to sit in on classes.  He was so anxious he froze in the car park and wouldn’t move.  Our training instructor came and took his lead from me, allowing me to walk into the centre, with Inka now following behind, probably in a bit of a “please don’t leave me!” panic.

But it worked, and needless to say, he now loves going to class – he whines in the car when we’re waiting to go inside, pulls like a steam train to get inside, then whines to get started (or get going again!), and spends the entire hour with a big grin on his face – especially during his agility classes.

He’s been on & come off Zylkene, which in itself I think was a godsend, it certainly seemed to help to take the ‘edge’ off his anxiety so that he could learn.  He’s had a session of TTouch, which also helped him a lot, I try to do touches daily, but it often turns into an as-and-when situation, because he’s still not absolutely certain about them, though we’re getting there slowly.

He’s had a ‘play date’ at a local hydrotherapy centre, which he seemed to enjoy, even though he had to be carried into the pool.  That did make me think about a lifejacket for him, but his confidence is slowly increasing around water.  Down the road from us there’s a small stream which he’ll walk through beside me (thank goodness for wellies!), and downstream where it grows a little wider and deeper he’ll cross it to retrieve a toy.

We worked hard so that the fireworks on bonfire night & new years eve wouldn’t bother him, and he slept through most of them, the loudest bang made him lift his head up, but then he put it right back down again.

He’s now confident enough to go off-lead, obviously only where it’s safe to do so, and his recall is good – if a little problematic…he comes charging back towards me, and then keeps on going!

This past Wednesday was an extra special day for Inka, not that he really noticed (though he did enjoy the food sample that arrived for him).  His Kennel Club Activity Register Certificate arrived in the post – his ‘posh’ name is ‘Morgansr Got an Inkaling’; and alongside that, Inka passed his UK APDT Good Companion course, receiving his second certificate of the day.

So, what’re our next steps?  Well, I’d love for their to be a higher level of APDT certification, but as yet there isn’t, so next week we’ll be starting classes to work towards the Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze award; as well as carrying on his agility training.

We may do some fun classes in agility shows this year, and will hopefully start playing for real next year.  As for his Good Citizens, I’d love for him to achieve the gold award.  Who knows what we’ll do after that, but we’ll certainly have fun getting there!


Inka with his APDT Good Companion and Kennel Club Activity Register certificates

Inka with his APDT Good Companion and Kennel Club Activity Register certificates

Product Review – Thundershirt

Soon after Inka came to live with us, I decided to get him a Thundershirt.  As a non-working sheepdog, he was really nervous, which at a guess was probably due to inadequate socialisation in the early weeks & months of his life, or to put it bluntly – living on a farm, and then living in a shed.

He frequently vomited in the car, not to mention all the drooling; he’d leave the car looking like I’d used it to bathe him, whether we drove 2 minutes down the road to the vets office, or fifteen minutes to training classes (the sick was kind of like and ‘added bonus’ for longer journeys only); he was nervous of people – especially men; he was very sound- and sight-sensitive, and would jump at the slightest visual or auditory hint of wind or heavy rain.  A Thundershirt seemed like it would complement the behavioural modification programme I was putting in place for him, and at worst it would do no harm (and it’s backed by a 45 day refund period).

Sizing it was a little difficult, though that was because of Inka, not the Thundershirt.  When he came home in July at about 9 months old, he weighed at the low-end of 19Kg (the breed standard for a Huntaway has an upper weight of 29Kg!!), we eventually decided on the large Thundershirt, and when it arrived it would wrap just small enough, though now he’s gaining weight & growing, it fits better each time he needs it (he now weighs ~21Kg and has grown about an inch or so).

Inka wore his Thundershirt almost constantly at first, he was always more settled in it than out of it; and he especially wore it any time the car was involved, or the weather wasn’t so great, or we were having visitors, and even for his first few lessons at our local training centre.  With his Thundershirt, alongside a behavioural modification program, Inka has improved immensely in the six months since he came home; and now he only wears his Thundershirt when the weather is particularly bad.

We were especially thankful for his Thundershirt over the Christmas break, as on two separate occasions we had localised, short thunderstorms, both of them in the early hours of the morning.  The first storm was just a single clap of thunder, the second was a bit longer and had hailstones, a couple of lightening bolts, and several thunder claps.  Both times, the three of us woke up, both times I got out of bed, said “lets go get your Thundershirt on” to Inka, both times he followed me into the front room, and sat waiting on the rug, had his Thundershirt put on, and we all went straight back to bed and fell asleep without any problems.  I’ve never regretted getting Inka his Thundershirt, as it’s helped in every situation he’s worn it in, but after the two mini-storms we had recently, I think I like it even more – if that’s possible!

When I first got involved in dogs, I must admit I wished I had a “real” problem dog to try this strange Thundershirt thing on, and now that I’ve used it with Inka I wouldn’t hesitate to use it with any other dog, or recommend it to anyone who was considering trying one for their dog.

Inka in his ThundershirtI was neither asked nor compensated in any way by anyone for writing this review; I wrote it simply to share my experience with the Thundershirt in the hopes of helping other dog owners make an informed decision about whether it may help their dog(s).

The words we use

Given my earlier post defining what I think are some common words and phrases, I would like to further discuss language usage within dog training and behaviour modification.  As someone who is learning more and more about dog behaviour, I regularly speak to people about dogs, be it their dog, or a dog belonging to a family member, friend, or neighbour.  When talking about different things with people, I always try to make sure I stay away from certain words or phrases.

It seems obvious, to me, that if I want to help someone to help their dog, I cannot inflame their worries.  They need my help, and that means my understanding, knowledge, and care, alongside advice, and whatever else might be needed to help them.  I frequently see trainers on TV, or hear of other trainers, or people within the media industry, or on TV saying things like “he’s a killer”, or “he’s really scary”, or “I was worried he was going to bite me”, and so on.  As professionals (or in my case, a professional-in-training), I believe we need to choose words that reassure, use phrases that inspire confidence, and back them up with actions that gain the trust of our clients, and the trust of their dog as well.

Doing anything less is, in my books, not only unprofessional, it is unforgivable.

Many people are already scared of certain breeds of dog thanks to the media, as well as others who espouse the good breed/bad breed myths and propaganda.  Additionally, sometimes people can be more than scared enough by their own dog, so to me it is obvious that we don’t need a supposedly professional behaviourist or training instructor to spout the same nonsense too, let alone somebody with very little real knowledge of the subject writing a newspaper article, or putting their mis-informed opinion as fact on primetime TV.

I much prefer people who are rational, and look objectively at all situations, even if some people may find worrying, upsetting, or scary; as that is how we help others – by showing them that what they are worried about, actually has no cause for concern.

It’s only through gaining real knowledge that we learn.  Real knowledge should never make somebody afraid, or fearful – as the quote says “the truth will set you free”; and in this case, the truth would set everyone free; free from fear of dogs, free from fear and worry of their motivations and reasons for behaving in certain ways; and all the myths and falsehoods that still plague popular culture would be no more.