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?


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


‘Name That Sheep’ – Alan Cleaver

Well, this has certainly been an interesting week!  I found out through a friend that a local rescue organisation had hired an electric shock collar trainer for a dog that was chasing sheep.  I posted on my Facebook page that: “Currently I’m feeling shocked and saddened that a local rescue organisation has hired an electric shock collar trainer to “cure” a dog of his sheep chasing.

I feel very sad for the dog, but also lucky that I will never have to resort to such dangerous and barbaric practises – in fact I currently have just the same problem with Starr, she would love to chase sheep if given the opportunity, so she’s not getting it!  Or at least not until I can take her up to my friend’s farm and start teaching her to play with sheep appropriately.”

‘Loweswater Sheep’ – mPascalj

And I mean every word of it. Starr has about 10% of the recall she needs to be off-lead, and about 1% of the recall I’d like her to have before I “let her loose”; and I’d never ever let her off lead anywhere near sheep that she was not working.  Why would I?  If a farmer thinks that a dog is worrying his sheep, he can shoot it dead on the spot, and to many farmers a dog being off lead near his sheep is more than plenty reason to shoot it…

This then brought to mind that a little while ago I was chided in the comments section of another blog.  The post was about dog training and the apparent lies therein.  The reproach came as I’d said I never had and never will use anything except a flat collar & static (i.e. fixed) harness on any of my dogs, and I have no need of telling them “no” (as in “don’t do that”).

I was told I had “so much to learn”, including “the four ways to deal with a behaviour” and “what to do with a confirmed sheep worrier”.  I did have to wonder where the common sense was – if one has a confirmed sheep worrier why would you take it anywhere near sheep?  That’s just asking for trouble, and certainly not something I would ever advise to any future potential client I may have, unless they were under the tutelage of the person who owned the sheep, and they were either a) teaching the dog to herd the sheep; or b) teaching the dog enough that he could leave the sheep entirely alone on one cue.  Note also that both of these would take more than one short lesson!

It was then that I was curtly told that I “know nothing”, and should “go out and learn” as well as “shut up” because my “lack of knowledge won’t impress anyone”.  Hmmm, yes – clearly I lack knowledge because I’m not going to take a dog who may worry livestock near the livestock, nor will I let said dog (or any dog, for that matter) off lead unless they’re working the livestock, and I certainly would never electrocute my dog for showing an interest in livestock!  Oh, how much I must have left to learn to get these sensible ideas out of my head!

‘Sheep’ mPascalj’

I then had someone else telling me that I “don’t live in the real world”, and “would rather keep a dog on lead than give any form of ‘no’ command”.  According to this second commenter, I’m not alone in living in cloud cuckoo land, as I’m an “example of many UK trainers”.  This coming from someone who allowed her dog to kill a sheep (meaning it was off lead and/or under no control around them), and then used an electric shock collar, rather than walk her dog somewhere beside sheep-covered moors.  Of course, she’s otherwise a totally positive trainer, and had “exhausted every other positive option”.

I’m sorry, but I really fail to see what is so bizarre about being responsible enough to keep your dog on lead around sheep that don’t belong to you and/that your dog isn’t actively working; not to mention keeping your dog who you know is, or is likely to be, overtly interested in sheep away from them.  It really isn’t that difficult – I did it for over twelve months while living up the road from a farm; not to mention having done it with my previous two dogs!

It’s common sense – if you don’t want to see your dog shot by a farmer, you need to make sure he or she can see you have control over your dog around livestock and that means using a lead – something that is visible and obvious; not just hoping that you have enough verbal control over your dog that you can call your dog away in the split second before the farmer reaches for their gun…

‘Sheep’ – mPascalj


Other People’s Dogs

Following on from my earlier post, I saw a question posted on Facebook, regarding canine/human interaction.

The question was: “A lady stopped me earlier when I was out with my dogs and started talking to me. Without asking, she leaned forward to stroke my dogs. One of them backed away, and the other barked at her. The woman told me that I “have problems” with my dogs.

I haven’t taught my dogs to not let people stroke them, they just don’t like it, although they’re happy to just stand/sit whilst I talk to people. Is this so wrong?!?”

I find this quite interesting as “is it wrong?” is a very subjective question.

Personally, I don’t think it’s wrong that any sentient being has preferences for how much personal space they want or need; however I do think it’s wrong there are some insistent people who see no problem in thinking (and acting on!) “all dogs must be stroked”, “all children must have their cheeks pinched”, “all women/men are free for the feeling”, and so on.

I believe it is up to those of us who disagree to say “please always ask first (and listen to the response you get!)”, “please don’t”, and “I’m reporting you to the police” (respectively). While many people don’t seem to listen to what you say when they want to pet your dog(s), some do – and it’s important that we tell the people who do listen, as that’s what helps to circulate the message, and the more people that know – and share this knowledge – the fewer people there will should be who impinge upon anyone’s personal space.

What about you – where do you stand on the “petting someone else’s dog” scale? Do you think more people should ask (and listen!), or are you more of an impulsive petter, and think there’s nothing wrong with it?

A Good Dog…

“Good Dog” by

How many times have you been told “a tired dog is a good dog”?

I can see why people say this, after all a tired dog is going to lay around resting – or sleeping – most of the day. A tired dog is less likely to get into the trash can, dig the garden up, bark at the mail man, or bother someone for attention.

This all seems like a good dog, as far as many owners are concerned; but not I.

‘Pauli Knows Good Dogs Don’t Get A Lump of Coal’ by sundero

Let’s be realistic: a tired dog is a tired dog, nothing more and nothing less.
On the other hand, it makes much more sense to me that a good dog is one who’s been trained to understand the cues that his family needs him to follow; she loves her family and enjoys spending time with them but doesn’t constantly pester for petting and attention; he gets to indulge in activities that he enjoys doing – whether that’s things like agility, or herding, or through performing “bad” behaviours in more “legal” ways (such as a sandpit in which safe toys are buried for Fido to dig up).

A well-trained, happy pet is a good dog, a tired dog is tired, not to mention more prone to being grumpy and snappy. Grumpy, snappy dogs are not good dogs!

What about you, what’s your definition of a good dog?


People think they know what an aggressive dog looks like.  He’s big, totally or mostly black, he pulls and lunges on the lead, he barks, snarls, and growls.

But, wait – what’s a big dog?  Most people say Labradors, or Border Collies are big dogs, but in reality they’re medium-sized dogs.  To me, an example of a big dog would be a Mastiff, Rhodesian Ridgeback, or a Great Dane.

As for the “aggressive” behaviours I listed – I’ve heard or read all of them used as an example of how a bystander or neighbour “knew” that a dog was aggressive – yes, even pulling on the lead.  Let’s look at the behaviours individually, from a more sensible perspective: –

* pulls on the lead.  A dog who pulls on the lead is basically a dog that hasn’t been trained to walk nicely on a loose leash, or perhaps is being walked in an environment that is much too distracting and stimulating for that dog’s level of training.  Alternatively, the dog may have been trained using leash pops or jerks, or perhaps a “training” collar i.e. a choke, prong, or shock collar – all of these are things will make most dogs not want to be near to the person they associate with the pain i.e. their owner.

* lunges, barks, snarls, and/or growls.  I was going to separate these out, but then thought that would be a waste of space.  When in the ‘outside world’ (i.e. not in the home) any dog that is performing any one or combination of these behaviours is doing all he or she knows to get something they find scary to leave them alone.

Often, people find it offensive when a dog is barking at them, others find it funny; what many people don’t realise is that continuing to look at a dog who is barking at them is completely counter-productive.  Even worse are the people who stay at the distance which the dog clearly finds problematic; worse still are those who attempt to approach, talk to, and/or touch or pet the dog who very clearly finds the close proximity of that person an issue.

Many people have been bitten by dogs, occasionally people are attacked, or sometimes even killed by dogs.  Yes, aggression and bits are so often emotion-filled topics, but people who make statements about a dog or dogs without any thought or understanding put into them are very dangerous…

When a dog bite is reported, people will often say that the dog “bit without warning”, or that it “wasn’t a mean dog”, or that the owners “didn’t think he was vicious”.  However, all dogs are perfectly capable of biting another being, and moreover it’s usually the case that the dog did give plenty of notice about how he felt in the situation that resulted in a bite, but these communications were – knowingly or unknowingly – not heeded.

Worse still, perhaps these communications were “punished out” of the dog.  A dog who’s told off, shouted at, hit, kicked, or smacked for growling will learn not to growl; but the absence of the growl doesn’t mean she feels any differently about that situation – she’s simply learnt that growling causes a human to do something to her that is antagonistic, possibly hurts her, and definitely scares her further.

Big or small, young or old, pedigree or mongrel, all dogs have not only the potential to bite, but also the ability.  Of course, the likelihood of a dog biting will vary throughout time – just like people, some dogs will tolerate endless irritations with grace and aplomb, and others will be less tolerant; of course, sometimes how tolerant a dog can be may be reduced due to anxiety, illness, pain, fear, tiredness, and so on.

Often, play biting and mouthing is mistaken for a puppy or dog biting.  Although it is often mistaken for biting, puppies – like human babies – like to explore the world using their mouth.  Yes, puppies have sharp, needle-like teeth, but mouthing and exploring the world is not biting.  Those teeth are sharp to make up for the weakness of their jaws; because the teeth are sharp they hurt when the puppy bites another in play.  The “bitten” puppy will yelp in protest and stop playing with the puppy that “bit” them.  This teaches the puppy that using that amount of force is unacceptable and ends the fun.  Thus the puppy learns to moderate their jaw pressure, meaning that when he grows up and has forty-two carpetknife-like teeth in her mouth, he knows the difference between holding and biting down, and he also knows not to bite down on a playmate.

As for what a bite is, Dr Ian Dunbar has a “bite level scale“, which gives an idea of how “bad” an inflicted bite was.  This is really good, and should be used in every bite incident, rather than simply euthanising (and demonising) the dog, and as often is the case the breed(s) of the now deceased dog.  Additionally, what I believe is needed alongside objective bite assessment, is objective assessment of not only the living situation of the dog(s) involved in a bite, but also the situation surrounding a bite.
All dogs will, at some time in their lives, bark – basenjis perhaps being the exception; and unless taught otherwise all dogs will pull on the lead. Using those as markers of an aggressive dog immediately condemns the majority of dogs as being “aggressive”.  If people who are not dog owners are going to label dogs – as aggressive, or as anything else – based on normal, natural canine behaviours, where does that leave the dogs and their owners?

Often, I’ve had a difficult enough time with other dog owners, for instance I if I’m walking Inka on leash, and there’s an off-leash dog in the vicinity I will call to the owners and them to put the dog on leash so as to stop it rushing Inka and worrying him.  I’ve not yet met an owner who didn’t do as I asked, but it’s fair to say that the majority first asked “Why, is yours a bad ‘un?”; even when I replied to say that Inka doesn’t like being rushed at, least of all when he was on leash, I could tell many thought it was a way of skirting the question.

It’s sad that many people see aggressive dogs, or dogs who bite as inherently “bad”, it’s also sad that many think that dogs who are displaying aggressive behaviours are being mean, or spiteful or have something “wrong” with them, but rather than looking to medicate any pain the dog may be in, or desensitise and counter-condition the dog to the scary thing, they have it eutanised.

Once again, normal dogs are failed for their human’s lack of understanding.