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/


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!

Summer Break

We’ve enjoyed a break from blogging over the summer, but now we’re ready to get back to it!

We’ve done a little bit of training, mostly with Starr on her impulse control, which enables me to take photos like this one:

20130901-053830 PM.jpgWe’ve taken lots of walks, many of them at the beach when it’s been warm, and some of them just later on in the evening, which is especially nice on weekend evenings, or when I’m off work.

20130901-054147 PM.jpgStarr has been put on behavioural medication by our vet, and has vastly improved in many areas with very little prodding on my end which says to me that the training I was doing, was getting through, and now she’s able to implement it.

20130901-054204 PM.jpgI didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped over my break (isn’t that always the case?!), so I’ve decided to change from weekly to fortnightly blogging, and posting on a Monday rather than a Thursday.  If nothing else, it means I have all week to share a new blog post, whereas I’m usually too busy over the weekend to be going on social media a lot.

Blogging every other week should also mean I can keep the quality of the posts, without sacrificing time for other things, such as the Recallers run-through that the R4 group are doing, starting from this week at “turtle speed”.

I’m also tempted by the recent Puppy Peaks videos, to consider taking that when it becomes available, but that means I need more time for my dogs and my computer-based “dog training” too.

I’m also considering the Training Levels too, definitely for Inka (who’s beginning to loose his manners), and also for Starr while she decides if she wants to attend classes and such.

So yes – overall, good summer, not enough of it, and trying to share my time and myself better!  I hope you all enjoyed your summer (or winter, in the southern hemisphere!)



I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about neutering your dog.

Neutering being the gender-neutral form of spay and castrate.  I don’t know when, or why, it became “cool” to say “spay and neuter”, frankly I think that makes you sound kind of silly – it should be “spay or castrate your pet”, or “neuter your pet”, but that’s not really the point at hand.

Then I saw this photo on Facebook.  For me, on that day, this was enough.

Yes, responsible ownership, responsible breeding, population control, reducing the number of ‘unwanted’ dogs – whatever you want to call it is important.  Hugely so.

Neutering isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t always make it the right choiceNeuter appropriately to avoid health and/or behavioural problems.

Being responsible with your pet is much more important than paying someone to remove something you have control over them using.

I have two dogs, one entire male, and one entire female.  Well, we assume Starr hasn’t been spayed, but then again we don’t know how old she is, whether she’s already been in season, whether she’s been spayed and will never have (another?) season, and when she might be due to come into season again.  And I know Inka hasn’t been castrated.

Does this mean that we’ll have an accident if/when Starr comes into season?  Hell no!  We have crates, and dog/baby gates, and doors, and frankly – we have at least one brain cell in our house (though it’s occasionally debatable who’s in control of it at any given time!).

Regardless, on the days when Inka or Starr seemingly have the household brain cell, I still wouldn’t let them within touching distance if I even thought Starr was even a little bit in season.  That’s just the type of common sense that doesn’t leave your brain.

So Inka not being castrated won’t be a problem, and it means he’s had chance to grow properly, and he has, and continues to steadily grow in confidence.

And Starr not being spayed won’t be a problem, and it also gives her the chance to mature – mentally and physically.

If the time is ever right for one, or both, of them to be neutered then I will do it.  But not doing it doesn’t make me irresponsible.

How I Spent a Lot of Time This Weekend…

In a rather serendipitous act, I decided to take last Friday off work.

Early in the afternoon, I received word from a friend about a straying dog just outside of Workington.  My friend asked me to go and put some food down in the area the dog was last seen in, in the hopes of keeping him in that area and thus catching him.  As it happens, Friday is one of Scott’s days off work too, so he followed me up to the area and we had a look around for him and as luck would have it we saw him, but were unable to catch him.

Saturday arrived, and I was due to be in that area again so I checked the food I’d left out, and put some more out.  On my way home, I drove around to see if I could spot him, but had no joy.  Just as we were finishing our tea that evening I got a phone call, my friend and a vet nurse (who was there by luck, not design) had the dog almost caught, but members of the public had frightened him away, and would I go and help them.  I grabbed some treats, a slip lead, and a muzzle and went to find them, followed by Scott.  Cue a fraught couple of hours as we first had to find him again, then we followed him down a dual carriageway, then down the Distington bypass (I was on foot by that point), once he’d came back we got him away from the main roads, then had him pushed back  on to them, and eventually lost him.

Sunday saw a fruitless hour or so searching for him, after seeing him curled up asleep on my road end before running off; and then yesterday we came close to getting him, but he’s quite evasive.

All of this has made me think: what behaviours could I teach Inka, firstly to reduce the chances he will ever become lost; but secondly, if he were to become lost or separated from me, what could I do to help other people catch him?  Especially as we had a lot of help from motorists on Saturday evening when the dog was on the bypass.

Firstly, a recall is a must; and as Leslie McDevitt says in her books, the “leave it” cue is a key component of recall – a dog must be able to leave something alone before it can orient and move towards his or her handler.  A good off-lead ‘heel’ would be good too – teaching Inka that he can walk alongside me even without his lead, that way I could recall him from a situation and not need to immediately leash him up to keep him with me.

So, if his leave it, recall, and/or off-lead walk to heel don’t work; or Inka becomes lost in some other way; what things could I teach him that would help him to be caught and returned home?

The first one that struck me, was I really need to work on his Crate Games training.  A humane trap was left out for our stray friend, but he didn’t go anywhere near it – perhaps with a little bit of crate training he would have seen it as a safe place and  gone right in there.  After that, or perhaps before depending on the situation and availability of such tools; what cues would I want Inka to know that could help someone to catch him?    Well, something to stop him moving would be good, perhaps a sit or a down (though he still struggles with any sort of cue for ‘down’, bless him); or a stay or a wait cue would be good too, perhaps even a ‘stop’.

One thing that changed this from a ‘stray dog’ to “that dog which half of town has seen” was a photo – someone got a photo of the dog which I put on Facebook & tagged some friends in, and a friend tagged some friends in; and it really has rocketed from there.  Now, everyone knows who we’re all looking for.

The overall message here, teach your dog things like a recall to prevent him or her from becoming lost; teach him or her cues to stop movement that a member of the public could know.  Take photos, lots of photos, of your dog(s) – ensure you have easy access to them – put at least one recent photo on Facebook, or Flickr,  or anywhere else you can share it with other people from.  Bite inhibition is also important – any dog can bite, and a scared dog is potentially  more likely to bite, but an inhibited bite that doesn’t break the skin is much better to receive than an uninhibited bite that does break the skin and cause both you, your dog, and their potential rescuer a lot of trouble.  Collar tags, and/or a microchip are also important – and in the UK your dog must have a tag on his collar which has the owners’ name and full address on it, any other information is optional.

Have any of you been separated from your dog, what did you do to get him or her back safely to you?  Do you have any training or plans in place for if your dog should become stray?