Monday, 17 November 2014

A Blog for the Anonymous Commenter/s (hi there, I see you there)

So someone recently left some comments on a fairly old entry, I don't know if they read much of this blog or just that entry but hey ho, I'd like to address some of their criticisms, cos thats what I do.

First of all, any entry by me that is entitled a 'a review of' and then a TV show or book - that will be my opinion of the TV show or book. It will therefore be biased to some extent, because my opinion may well not be the same as your opinion.

For reviews of Cesar Milan shows, yes I am tearing it down,yes I am biased, yes that is clearly evident if you read the rest of this blog (I have helpfully tagged Cesar Milan in entries about him so they are easier for you to find).

In posts that are not reviews I do discuss not just what is wrong with what he does, but why it is wrong, and what the correct approach would be. I don't think there is the room for that within reviews, particularly as those reviews tend to be aimed at like minded trainers/behaviourists who didn't really want to watch the show itself.

But anyway - so back to the comments.

"keep sayin shit about "good behaviorists" but never cite any studies"
why don't you give us some empirical evidence for your bullfuckery instead of forcing us to take your word for it"

Frankly... you do not seem to be any professionnal either. Just a random amateur like me"

How about reading/watching the following:

Raymond & Lorna Coppinger - Mexico City Dump Dogs, also Raymond Coppingers observations of the dogs of Pemba.

These guys reveal that dogs are not pack animals!

Dr P. McConnell has a wealth of information in her books and online.

Here particularly she discusses the 'dominance myth' - dogs do not seek to dominate us, and if we seek to dominate them, we just cause problems.

Also on that topic I'd recommend John Bradshaw's 'In Defence of Dogs'  and the somewhat briefer work 'Dominance, Fact or Fiction' by Barry Eaton.

If you want some long term, tried and tested, been doing it for decades kinda stuff, check out

Dr Ian Dunbar has been teaching and training with positive reinforcement for over 35 years, he is also a vet and a behaviourist (with the PhD's to prove it).

If you are still in doubt that punishment based training is damaging to dogs and their relationship with humans, what about this article by Stanley Coren

If you haven't the desire to read through that, the relevant study is by Meghan Herron, School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. I recommend you do though, this isn't an article by just anyone, Stanley Coren is a well respected scientist and pscyhologist who has written a lot of books on dogs, the way they think and how we relate to them etc.

Anyway, this study backs up the findings in human and child psychology, that the use of punishment particularly (but not limited to) physical punishment, increases the likelyhood of aggressive behaviour.

And before you say 'ah but that doesn't say that positive reinforcement is better'.. well here, have an other from Psychology Today..

Ok so, this article references a study done on children, but children and dogs are a very good comparison, particularly young children. Also, there are not nearly so many studies done on dogs, purely because up until relatively recently, no one saw much value in financing such studies.

That is now changing and thats great news - which leads me on to tell you about SPARCS - Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science  -

SPARCS have, at the time of writing this, now run two conferences, both spanning three days, with seminars/lectures by the likes of Coppinger, Udell, Wynne, Gadbois, McConnell, Hecht, and many, many more.

These guys are pushing for more and more research to be done, to fill in the gaps that we have, but its worth pointing out, the gaps we have are generally NOT the areas most 'average joe's are discussing - the old 'is Cesar abusive and do his methods cause problems' type questions are old news, theres no doubt there, its not a mystery Yes they are, yes they do, end of.

These guys are researching how canids are using their olfactory senses, how wolves use agonistic and affiliative behaviours, why dogs relate to us so well when other canids do not...

Its interesting stuff and their yearly SPARCS conference can be viewed live and free via online streaming, so its very accessible!

There is quite a lot of useful and interesting information out there, but you do have to go and look for it, its really not going to jump up and bite you in the ass, and most of it is sadly nowhere near as exciting as watching someone on tv appear to work magic.

As for me, am I a professional - I guess that depends on your definition of professional!

I'd say I am, based on the fact that this is how I earn my living, that I blog on the subject of dogs and training in a number of other places, by invitation ( sporadically, for I am a lazy creature), that I spend a not inconsiderable amount of money each year on attending training courses, conferences/seminars and lectures, and I think quite crucially, that people seek me out for my assistance and advice.

Personally my definition of a professional, is someone who not only knows a lot about their subject matter, but is always learning, and knows when (and to whom) to refer a client on when they don't have the answer - because no one has all the answers.

Yours may be entirely different!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

How NOT to deal with resource guarding!

As of a few minutes ago, I discovered that a friend who shared this video from Facebook, has been 'locked down' by Facebook and the video removed.

The original footage and copyright belong to Nat Geo and Cesar Millan (I presume) I make no claim to own this video.

I reproduce it here under the UK copyright legislation 'fair dealing - using the work of others' as specified here:

"Criticism or review
Quoting parts of a work for the purpose of criticism or review is permitted provided that:

  • The work has been made available to the public.
  • The source of the material is acknowledged.
  • The material quoted must be accompanied by some actual discussion or assessment (to warrant the criticism or review classification).
  • The amount of the material quoted is no more than is necessary for the purpose of the review."

The video has been annotated for the purposes of education and discussion so please, have at the comments section here and share this blog anywhere you like.

In this video, Cesar is attempting to demonstrate and address Holly's food guarding and aggression.

It is important to note that a dog is aggressive over food when they fear they will lose that food. Food is a super valuable resource to your dog, to any dog, in fact to any living being, because without food, we'd die.

It is not remotely abnormal for a dog to want to keep its food to itself - however in a home situation its not appropriate to have a dog who is so fearful that food will be taken, that they feel they must defend it by being aggressive.

So the answer is to remove the FEAR - to change the dogs emotional response in the situations they currently interpret as 'you need to be on guard here, you might lose this resource', from fear to joy!

And it is super simple to do - you put down a bowl with just a few pieces of low value food in it, you step back as far as the dog needs you to so they feel comfortable (lets say a couple of metres at least) and once they have finished that food you step foward a foot or two, and you toss in some HIGH value food.

Whoa! Person approaching food bowl = GOOD THINGS!

This is really low risk, the food in the bowl was low value, the dog has finished eating it before the person approaches, and the person only steps a few feet closer and throws the high value food the rest of the way, so the chances of a dogs fear being triggered in this example are really really low!

Repeat this routine over the course of a few days and your dog will start to look up as he finishes his food, hoping the human will step  nearer and hand over more yummies!

Once that happens you can put more food in the bowl initially or you can step a little closer to start with (but don't do both, we want to make this EASY).

Gradually we teach the dog that no one is going to take their food, that approaching humans bring MORE food and are a good thing.

Of course sometimes we do need to take something from a dog - but you know we NEVER need to take away a bowl of food WE gave the dog in the first place. How many times did you accidentally give your dog a bowl of poisoned dog food or a ticking bomb? Oh thats right, you've never done that, and you never will!

If you wanted to take your dogs food bowl to put more in there, just wait until he is done! If you gave him the wrong meal well thats unlikely to cause a problem and if you gave him a meal with someone elses medication in it, again its unlikely to do any harm as a one off, call your vet if you are worried.

The times we do need to take things from a dog, we can teach that skill in advance - its pretty much known as a 'retrieve' - just teach your dog that bringing you stuff he has and giving it to you is HIGHLY rewarding behaviour. Teaching a dog to swap is pretty easy, start out with low value things, hand them to him, then offer him a high value treat - he's going to drop that thing and yay, he gets his reward. Work your way up to higher value items, and treats he can't see immediately (so, hidden in your pocket, treats you have to get up and get for him) so that you fade out the 'bribery' element.

If your dog picks up something dangerous, there is never ever any way that chasing, confronting, or forcing him to give it back will make the situation safer.

If you chase or confront your dog, these are the likely outcomes:

  •   He runs away
  •   He tries to chew it harder
  •   He tries to swallow it
  •   He guards it from you and bites you 

    In no way are any of these options safer, no matter what item he has, than you walking AWAY from him and sneakily doing something you KNOW will attract his attention, such as picking up his lead and offering him a walk, getting the car keys and offering him a ride in the car, making a sandwich and eating it noisily - you know your dog, you know what floats his boat. Offer that and DO IT, do not lie, because you will only lie to him once!

    This is what you do in an emergency situation, it is not how to train a dog to leave, drop or give things up, but it is important to know that there is no emergency worth you confronting your dog and teaching him to use aggression.

    To cut a long story short - there is never any need to do what Cesar does in the video.

    No behaviourist worth their salt needs to confront a dog as Cesar does, to the point where they get bitten. As a working behaviour consultant myself, frankly I wouldn't need to do any of the things in this video at all - if the owner tells me the dog is food aggressive then I will start with the cure straight away, I don't need to SEE the dog guarding food to know what the potential outcome might be, and none of what  Cesar does in the video is involved in the cure.

    Whats more, addressing the problem the way I do, means that if for some reason the owner was wrong and the dog is NOT food aggressive, well all we have done is waste some time, we will have done NO HARM.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Are You Still Hauling that Sled...

... Whilst Everyone Around You Is Using Wheels?

I come across statements like this so often, so I thought I would bring this up for discussion here.

"I've been training this way for 40 years and it works"

"I've trained all breeds this way and never had a problem"

If we don't take a look around us, with a truly open mind, there's a damn good chance that we are still hauling that heavy load on a sled through the dirt, whilst all around us, other people are zooming by on their wheels.

There is no doubt that using old school methods that involve punishment and are based in the flawed concept of 'pack theory' can give results, they can appear to work.

But at what cost, at what risk, and even if you have by some lucky chance, gotten by without having a dog ever redirect onto a handler when subjected to a harsh correction, or develop a fear of a rattle bottle... what if there IS a better way.

What if all this time you've been doing it the hard way, the miserable way, the way that is not actually fun for all concerned.

Because it CAN be fun, in fact, it should be fun - we have dogs for our amusement, whether you get your kicks from competitive dog sports or just from housing a hairy freeloader who eats you out of house and home, we have them for fun!

The fabulous comedian Tim Minchin said this:

Be Hard On Your Opinions
A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.
We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. "

He hits the nail on the head - if you, in your opinion, have been doing something for a long time, thinking a certain way for years - its important that you take those ideas, practices and beliefs and really examine them. Put yourself in someone elses shoes and look at those ideas from another angle.

Today I heard this:

" Never place yourself in littermate status, do not sleep with your pup..."

The persons point being that if you do this, your pup will treat you as an equal and therefore not respect you.

I can see how someone might think thats reasonable, but lets examine that further. To treat you as another puppy, a pup would have to be completely unable to tell one species from another.

And yet we know that dogs can tell the difference between a variety of species and not only that, they can learn to behave differently around them!

If this were not something dogs are capable of doing then how does this person explain the working lurcher who knows that the rat is prey, but the ferret is not, the rabbit is prey but the sheep is not....

Lets go one step further, what about the pup who has learned that the cat can be a cosy bed companion, but he cannot play with the cat as he would play with another dog. Or the Deerhound who plays with other dogs by leaping in the air and pouncing on them (and she can leap 6 foot!) but would not attempt to do this with a person (yes this is my dog, guess where she sleeps - yep, in my bed!)...

But what else is this person missing - by insisting you do not sleep with your dog (either in the bed or in the same room) she is insisting that you miss out on some of the very companionship you were looking for when you got a dog. For entirely fictional reasons...

She is also insisting that you subject your puppy to sleeping alone in another room before they are housetrained over night, and before they are confident in their new home - which sets this pup up for anxiety and distress from day one.

And all of this due to an opinion she has formed, without really examining it or thinking about it.

Further more, when you investigate this idea deeper, you find people who believe this are also believers of pack theory... and yet if you examine any social group of canines, where do the young sleep?
With the adults. In a big heap.

So the whole thing falls apart, because now we see that the pack theory doesn't actually make sense - if we were to do what packs of wolves do with their young, then we would all sleep in a pile somewhere, and we would let our puppies crawl over us at meal times, allowing them to snatch the choicest bits from our mouths - hell we would come home from a meal out and regurgitate that steak and chips for them...

Which demonstrates just how ridiculous this stuff really is!

I do understand that if something appears to work, and you have thought a certain way for a long time, it is hard to let go of certain beliefs and practices. That is the nature of humans really, and I am no different - there are things I have had to open up to, (clicker training was one a while back now, Ttouch is another!) and things I have had to let go of (boy how I struggled with the idea of teaching a recall ON lead!)..

So - next time you find yourself thinking 'but I've always done it this way' or 'but that works for me' - play devils advocate and see if you can find the holes in your opinion, see if you can find your blind spots and open up to learning something new.

It really won't hurt!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Time outs - how to have a useful and effective consequence

Postby emmabeth » Mon Jan 30, 2012 6:58 pm - Originally published on

A correctly deployed and wisely used time-out is a very very effective consequence for unwanted behaviour. It is a bit of a grey area as to whether this is a positive punishment or a negative reward, I actually don't think it matters, what matters is how you use it, when you use it and why you use it.

What is it

A time out is when you remove the dog from the room, or yourself from the room, for between 5 and 15 seconds, to provide a clear cut consequence for unwanted behaviour. It needs to be done swiftly and without lots of chatter or recriminations or chasing the dog around, so that the dog can link the time out with his own behaviour.


Fido is barking in the face of Fluffy. Fluffy has a toy Fido would like and he is bullying Fluffy by yelling at her, to give it up. Using my body rather than my hands and voice, I push Fido out of the room, shut the door, count to ten and let him back in.
I repeat this every single time Fido attempts to start bullying Fluffy again for the toy.

What happens...

Done correctly, Fido learns that his behaviour, bullying Fluffy for the toy, results in the opposite of what he wanted. He doesn't get the toy, in fact he gets NO attention whatsoever and his behaviour is interrupted and prevented from working. After a few repetitions, Fido realises this tactic will not work.

Is it really that simple?

Yes - and No.

On the one hand, the basic bones of it is really that simple, however this is positive dog training here - if we just give Fido a time out and we do not ask "Why is Fido bullying Fluffy? we are not thinking dog owners, we will just be using a punishment to eradicate a symptom.

A time out is a useful consequence as one element of a behaviour modification program - used alone, without addressing the underlying issues, without demonstrating to Fido appropriate ways of communicating, without considering Fidos actual needs, it will lead, just as other forms of punishment will, to the behaviour or related behaviour popping up elsewhere.

So lets go back to Fido and Fluffy - we need to know more about them!

Fido is a 8 month old terrier pup - Fluffy is a 2 year old Deerhound b itch. This means neither of them are mature adult animals. Fido has a huge amount of testosterone swirling around his body and these hormones are pushing him to test his boundaries and try out behaviours to see where they get him. Fluffy hasn't the confidence or maturity to do anything about him bullying her, an older b itch might make a face at him or air-snap, or just get up and walk away but Fluffy isn't old enough for that sort of wise behaviour yet.

We can't stop Fido being a juvenile male dog, and we can't magically make Fluffy become a wise, sensible lady - they are who they are. So what can we do?


Dog's don't really do sharing all that well, it isn't natural, so ideally (not that any of us live in an ideal world), if we make sure that Fido and Fluffy are kept mentally as well as physically exercised, with lots of training, games, walks of suitable distances for their age. If we make sure there ARE plenty of toys to go around, and that we rotate these toys daily so a different selection is available each day, we occupy their minds by feeding from food dispensing toys and we manage their interactions so there is really no opportunity to compete or vie for the same resources, we can generally prevent such behaviour.

In other examples of unwanted behaviour there are other ways of preventing it - it is up to us to find those ways (and to deal with it when we make a mistake as we inevitably will), and to offer appropriate outlets for necessary behaviour. That means giving the dog who chews furniture and wallpaper access to lots of chewy toys and foods and limited access to furniture and wallpaper, giving the dog who is addicted to your smelly socks and underwear lots of opportunities to track scents on cue and no opportunities to get at our dirty laundry, etc etc!


We can identify when the behaviour is likely to occur - ie, when Fido is bored, when he is antsy, when he is full of energy, when he doesn't have his own toy, and when Fluffy has something that looks interesting. Because we can do that, we can and we should step in first. The time to react is before Fido gets into a full on tantrum, bullying Fluffy. If you can spot him eyeballing Fluffy's toy, getting himself in a tizz, you can offer him another toy and a game with you that should be more rewarding. You could take him to another room and play with him there, you could do some clicker training with him or some impulse control games. There are a multitude of ways you could distract Fido before he starts to bully Fluffy.

So when do I use a time out

When you are sure that you are meeting your dogs physical and mental needs, and you are doing your best to pre-empt unwanted behaviour and distract your dog or 'change the subject' with him before he goes down the route of unwanted behaviour, then when you mess up, when you miss that chance to pre-empt, when despite your endeavors to meet your dogs needs, he does the unwanted thing anyway** then you time out.

**Lots of us will have dogs who have developed unwanted behaviours already, either through our own errors or the errors made by previous owners - then we take steps to do all three at the same time and we need to use the time outs.

The point I am making here is, time outs have to be used thoughtfully and carefully and in conjunction with pre-empting behaviours and taking steps to prevent them occurring in the first place. To use them otherwise is little better than waiting for your dog to mess up then pointlessly shouting No at it.

Common errors in using time outs

Asides from the obvious, using time outs without attempting to think about why the dog is behaving that way, how we can pre-empt and prevent that and provide appropriate outlets for the behaviour where relevant, these are the common mistakes:

1/ Putting the dog out of the room for several minutes or even longer.
It is tempting to think that a time out of 5 minutes to 30 minutes or more will be more effective than just 5 to 15 seconds. It really isn't.

When you time a dog out for 5 seconds, you provide a short, sharp, clear consequence that is easily linked by the dog, to the action/behaviour/thing he was doing and thinking about at the time the consequence occurred.
If you leave that dog shut out of the room for much more than this, they forget - they wander off, they start focussing on how they are shut out and alone and sad, they start barking or shredding carpet or they fall asleep. Whatever happens, they forget what happened and why it happened and the message is lost.

2/ Human inconsistency.

This is a biggy - a time out has to happen as soon as the behaviour starts (ie as soon as the dog thinks of doing it!) and it has to happen every time as well.

Humans being what they are, ie, sloppy, inconsistent creatures - we ignore it, we think oh I will get up in a minute, we are watching tv we are eating our meal, we are talking on the phone or having a natter with our partner. Whatever, but the more inconsistent we are, the worse the behaviour will become because once you are inconsistent you are telling the dog sometimes this behaviour can happen. If there is a 'sometimes' then the dog will ALWAYS try it. Just think about the sometimes and the maybes in your life - sometimes you will win at bingo. Sometimes that horse will come in. Sometimes the girl will say yes...

We bet on sometimes, we repeat behaviours that work 'sometimes'.

How often do you repeat a behaviour that works never?

3/ The Extinction Burst

Linked to the 'sometimes' issue - this is where a dog is juuuuuuust about to get the idea that this behaviour works never - just before that happens, they try harder! And very very frequently the human sees this and interprets it wrongly as the method not working, and gives up.

What is actually happening is not freaky or unusual, in fact its something we humans do all the time. If a thing always worked before, well its worth trying a little harder when it stops working.
The tv starts to blip, but it always worked before so in frustration, you hit it - bingo, it works. Now you hit it every time it blips, and one day that doesn't work. Do you give up and buy a new tv immediately?

No - you hit it twice!

Your car always starts, until one day it doesn't - you turn the key a few more times, it starts, so now you have learned to try three times instead of once. When it doesn't work on the third try.. do you immediately head over to the car sales place and buy a new one? Nope. You turn the key four times, five times...

Even really OBVIOUS things, we will try harder.

You come into the house and you flick the lightswitch - it doesn't come on - you flick it again. Now - even when you walk into the house, and there is no electrical noise, all the street lights outside are off, none of your neighbours have their lights on, ie, your entire environment tells you there is a power cut, there is no juice in the whole street.... you STILL flick the light switch don't you.

So, when your dog tries something that has always worked, and now it doesn't - he would be a total dummy to NOT try it again at least once or twice!

4/ Three strikes and you're out

This generally won't work and just makes the whole process longer and less effective. You have to prevent the behaviour working every single time, and because dogs cannot reason quite the same way as kids (and heck, small children don't reason anywhere NEAR as well as adults think they do either!) this is not a helpful strategy.

5/ Chasing the dog around, grabbing the dog, shouting at the dog

This again muddies up the message you are giving to your dog. Don't argue, wheres the point arguing with a dog. Don't yell or grab or hit, that just sends the message that YOU are scarypants and need to be avoided and it takes the dogs focus from whatever he was doing, to YOU and your behaviour.

Set yourself up so that either you remove the dog, or you remove yourselves, depending on what the problem is, with the least amount of fuss possible. This may mean instructing a visitor to step outside the room adn close the door over and over again, this may mean putting a harness and trailing house line on the dog. Whatever it takes, you have a huge human brain and you can think of ways around this problem!

6/ Giving up too soon!

Some dogs, for some behaviours will take five, ten, twenty five repetitions of the time out - you must be prepared to jump up and time out the dog every time, over and over and over and over. For long standing, ingrained behaviours it is hard work and you must be on the ball and you must not quit. Also be ready to reward heavily the first signs that your dog is getting it and actively choosing NOT to repeat that behaviour, you may only get a split second opportunity with some dogs!

The first time you start doing this it can be very hard work and very frustrating. If you have a dog with a really irritating and long standing issue, for example, barking AT you for long periods, you may find it better to actively set up a day to get started, a day where your meals will be portable, stand up type food, where no visitors will come, where the phone is off the hook. Do be reassured that after the first session it is rarely ever as bad again!

The other trick to use if you think your dog REALLY isn't getting it, is to 'change the subject' - ie, if you have done a million repetitions of the time out, and Doggo is still persisting and you don't know why and you fear you might lose your rag - instead of letting Doggo back into the room, YOU go out and you take him for a walk or you go in the yard and play, anything other than what was happening before. Go and chill out doing something else, something easy, and think the problem through and see if you cannot employ pre-empting or prevention to better effect in future.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

"I don't want to think I've been doing it wrong...."

"... because that makes me feel bad. So I won't listen, but I will carry on doing things the way I have been doing them."

Yes. Even if they are wrong!

To get back to context - I'm talking about breaking the news to someone that the methods they are using to train their dogs are wrong, for a number of reasons.

  • Involve pain or fear or startling their dog
  • Carry the risk of 'fall out', i.e. unwanted and unpleasant side effects
  • Don't address the root cause of the unwanted behaviour
  • Are confrontational and risk personal injury to the handler
  • Suppress unwanted behaviour rather than actually fix the problem

When I have to address someone's dog training or dog behaviour problem, the urge is to tell them all of the above, because they NEED to know all this, right?

Well... yeeeeeeeeees... but...

Most people will be put on the defensive if you tell them they have been doing it all wrong, they may well (they almost certainly DO) love their dogs very dearly, but you make them feel bad, and they will go into denial, and that means they will keep ON using those methods, because to change, means admitting they are wrong!

Yep, they fear they are wrong, which does mean that your words have in some way hit home, they can determine a grain of truth in there as unpleasant as it is to recognise, and they don't want to hear it.

But they need to know it's wrong.... !!

Eventually, yes, but they don't need to HEAR this from you - come on, you are at least a fan, if not a professional user of positive reinforcement training. When you make someone feel bad about what they have done, what they are doing, do you know what happens?

You become the aversive. 

They want to avoid you, you are the aversive here, you make them uncomfortable, they are experiencing positive punishment but the behaviour that will reduce is not what you want, their behaviour toward their dog! Nope, the behaviour that will reduce is 'listening to and being around YOU'...

Sometimes just as some dogs will redirect and use aggressive behaviour toward someone doing something unpleasant to them, people will do the same - you are the messenger... BANG!

Bu... wha... how... Ok, what do I do then?

First of all, avoid wherever possible, giving advice to people who did not ask for it! Those people are the LEAST likely to listen to you.

If you absolutely  must, because you fear their dog is suffering right now then tread carefully my friend, tread very carefully indeed.

Don't wade in there telling them they are doing wrong, the chances are the situation is already fraught, they already feel bad in some way to be doing what they are doing - if you go in hurling abuse or telling them, no matter how politely, how wrong they are, they are likely to at best, ignore you and at worst, punch you.

Instead, be sympathetic, avoid blame, offer a workable solution.

You see someone yanking their dog on a lead because it won't walk nicely, they are getting dragged about, the dog is getting a sore neck.

If you wade in and tell them all about collapsed tracheas, and how barbaric choke collars are (or prongs or whatever they are using)... you are not helping, you are not part of the solution.

If you could go over and say 'hey that looks like real hard work, you have my sympathy, I've been there and has anyone shown you this' and then go on to demonstrate luring a loose leash walk with food or suggesting a make of harness that is secure along with a training class... you MIGHT.. just MIGHT help that dog out in future.

There is still a high chance you'll be told to get to fuck and mind your own business - but it's a better chance than just wading in all guns blazing!

Ok.. so what about people who DO ask for advice, they definitely want help yes?

Erm well.. not always!

Some people will want you to wave a magic wand -  hey presto, problem solved.
Some people will actually want advice and solutions they can work on themselves.
Some people want advice but won't put in any work, but hey at least they can say they tried....!
Some people want you to tell them that they are justified in what they are doing, or it's not their fault they can't fix the problem.

So it's not a case of being able to crash in telling folk what's wrong and what needs to change, even if they DID express a desire for advice!

Again, you need to be sympathetic, empathetic, listen to them, give them as much positive reinforcement as you can, manage them, redirect them into the behaviours or attitudes or conclusions you want them to reach...

Yep just the same as training dogs!

Let's meet Mrs Thing. She's completely fictitious yet very very real at the same time.

She has a dog called Rover, he wears a prong collar because he's huge and she's tiny, he wears a shock collar so he can go out in the yard for some freedom as there is no physical fence up. Mrs Thing ADORES  Rover, she kicked her last boyfriend out for teasing him, she lives alone apart from the dog, but she was raised to train dogs by using punishment.

Rover pulls on the lead, he's pulled her over, he likes to rant and rave at people passing by and at other dogs and if he is in the yard when the postman comes he goes absolutely nuts, he has bitten two delivery people already and UPS won't deliver to Mrs Thing's address any more.

You cannot present Mrs Thing with the concept that she has been treating her dog cruelly for the last 5 years, even though that is in certain contexts, completely true. Mrs Thing has also adored this dog, fed him, taken him to the vet, cuddled him, allowed him up on her bed, spent thousands on him... the things she has done to train him she felt were necessary, deep down she didn't like doing them, but in her mind there WAS no alternative, she's done this for his own good...

Rover needs you to be Mrs Thing's friend and advisor and for that, Mrs Thing needs to trust you and listen to you - if she feels you've put your judgey-pants on and are telling her she's cruel, she is not going to trust and listen to you!

So, find something to reward - everyone likes to hear how awesome their dog is, so tell her, Rover is an amazing, stunning, fabulous, squishable dog, he's gorgeous, you'd LOVE a dog like him.

Find out the things Rover is good at, if possible find out in a 'show and tell' kinda way, if he is good at tricks or solving puzzles, see that happen - I take puzzle toys to all consults with me because aside from being an invaluable tool for assessing a dogs brain and how they solve a puzzle, it's also AWESOME for an owner to see, in front of a witness, how smart their dog is!

Somedays you have to work hard to find something to praise but believe me, there will be something, find it, use it.

Now Mrs Thing is listening to you, now you and she share something, you both recognise how amazing Rover is, that's money in the 'trust' bank between you and her.

To address the problems, ask Mrs Thing not what she wants to STOP happening, but what she would like to SEE happening INSTEAD.

So we aren't worrying about Rover pulling on the lead and lunging at other dogs - why not, because we are here to teach Rover to walk on a nice loose lead and focus on his person!

At some point Mrs Thing will eventually ask if what she's been doing is wrong - at this point you may be forced to agree BUT... do so tactfully and sensitively.

Explain that in whatever situation applies, MOST people feel the need to do the thing she's been doing, it's NORMAL, reassure her that it is perfectly understandable, she wasn't to know and crucially, move on quickly because the past is the past, it doesn't matter now because NOW she's going to be doing this cool stuff.

If you've handled this really carefully, instead of YOU having to tell someone something nasty, they realise that for themselves, and then there is no messenger to shoot!

You are the person who is providing the solution, you are giving them the feel-goods, you say nice things about them and their dog, so they will continue to listen to you!

It's also worth remembering, there's no point having someone come to a point where they realise even for themselves that what they were doing was wrong, if they have not been set up to understand the solution and the way to redress that issue.

Anyone who is mentally down on themselves, who does not HAVE the answer presented to them in an appealing and easy way to achieve it, is not GOING to achieve it, they WILL fall back on what they did before because they have no other option.

So, if you are going to offer advice to someone who wants to hear it, you must be prepared to give them the tools to cope, set them up to succeed, and if you can't do that... it's probably best you say nothing at all.

"I Know It Sounds Awful But...." ... Evaluating Advice!

I heard that statement last week, well I read it, on Facebook obviously, thats where we all read things these days, apart from those of us who still read books, who ARE you people... erm, I digress (and actually I read books too)...

To give you the context, someone was asking advice on their resource guarding spaniel, he was growling over his food or a bone or something yummy when the owner tried to touch him, they wanted to know what to do to resolve this problem.

"I know it sounds awful but..."

And yep, the following advice WAS awful, the poster advised that each time the dog growled, they should grab the dogs head and force it to the floor and hold it there, saying NO whilst they did so. Apparently they did this with their own dog and it worked, therefore they felt qualified to advise this course of action to others.

Heres the thing - if YOU think a piece of advice involves something that sounds awful - IT PROBABLY IS!That little voice saying 'hey, wait.. that doesn't sound so nice', you want to listen to that, thats there for a reason!

But lets back-track a bit here, this person was advised to do this by someone she thought was a trustworthy authority on the subject - namely a spaniel rescue organisation.

It is not unreasonable to think that someone from an organisation specialising in rescuing your breed, would know how to address training and behavioural problems. The thing is, often they don't know!

Just as it may surprise you to realise many many vets do not know much about dog behaviour and training, nor do many rescues, or dog walkers, and hell... there are even people advertising their training services who don't know their ass from their elbow!

But she said it worked! So thats surely ok yeah?

Well... no. Because when it comes to training or resolving behaviour problems, 'it worked' is just not good enough.

We need to know WHY it worked - otherwise I could advertise myself as a trainer who can cure all problems, then go around curing them by shooting the dogs dead. Extreme, yes, but hell I'd be honestly offering a 100% guarantee that your dog would NEVER: get on the couch, bark at strangers, chase stock, wee indoors, steal food, run away, bite the postman....

So it would work but you wouldn't want that method to be used would you - so you have to agree then, that 'the method works' is actually not good enough for you, because of 'why' - it works because the dog is dead. Dead dogs can't misbehave!

But that's stupid, no one's suggesting shooting the dog.


No, that's called hyperbole, an extreme example that is in fact pretty ridiculous, to prove a point. Do you think it's acceptable if the method works because the dog is scared of you? If the dog fears being hit or grabbed? If the dog is so scared of you he dare not do ANYTHING at all that might get you mad at him?

I think most of us would agree, we do not want our dogs to be scared of us, or to fear our actions. But a few might disagree...

I don't mind if he is a bit scared of me, because THIS behaviour is dangerous and has to stop.

Ok, no one is disagreeing that things like aggression around food need to stop, but the seriousness of a behavioural problem does not increase justification for using methods that work by causing fear or pain.

There is a common idea that serious problems, particularly problems involving aggressive behaviours, require harsh methods to fix them.

This could not be further from the truth, really!

All unwanted behaviour requires you to work out why it is happening, and address the root cause of the problem, very often it is fear. Problems involving aggressive behaviour almost always mean fear is the root cause. Do you think treating fear by causing MORE fear is a good idea? Really?

But that lady said she used it with her dog and her dog is fine now and isn't scared of her...

She might well have said that, and it might even be true - but dogs are really context specific about their learning. That means that, to use a human example, if a human learned like a dog learns, say to change their car tyre, and they learned this on their driveway as most people do.

They would NOT know how to change their car tyre in the garage, or on the road side, or on the hard shoulder, or when Uncle Bob was there, or in Tesco's carpark with the kids yelling and bawling...

Because all of those are different contexts, and dogs have to experience something in LOTS of different contexts before it is learned.

So how does that apply to Fluffy the Spaniel who 'learned' not to growl when her owner touched her when she was eating?

What the owner did was to pin Fluffy down by her head and say NO in a firm voice and hold her down whenever she growled over food. This always happened in the owner's kitchen, it always happened at meal times and it always happened when just the owner was present.

Thats a very specific context - what do you think might happen if Fluffy had a bone that she found, in the park, and a toddler wandered over to stroke her?

Has Fluffy REALLY learned that she must not growl at people near her food, or has she learned that it does not end well if she growls at her owner in the kitchen in her own home over her own food bowl.

There is an exception to the rule though - dogs CAN learn certain lessons, and generalise them to apply to all situations very very quickly.
That time is when fear is involved, when they feel as if their own safety is threatened - that's not some sort of weird magic, it's the way we all learn about danger, to stay alive!

SO the reality is that Fluffy MAY have learned not to growl at her owner in the context of a meal in her own kitchen, because in her mind the danger is her owner will do something horrid.

Fluffy might ALSO have learned that now it isn't just food in her own kitchen she must be careful around, now she's learned that whenever she has ANYTHING tasty or valuable to her, ANYONE approaching her ANYWHERE is a threat.

So, do we think there is now a high risk of Fluffy turning around in the park, with her bone, and biting that toddler?

You bet your life there is!

So even if you believe that we don't always have to be nice to our dogs, that sometimes it's justified to be nasty - ask yourself, do you believe it's sensible to use a method that creates a higher risk or an even worse problem than the original?

I suppose IF the only way of teaching a dog something were to use the nasty method, maybe it would be justified...

I bet you are going to say it isn't the only way...

You are spot on - there are MUCH more effective, safe and kind methods you can use, for even the most scary sounding situations.

Let's look at Fluffy again, she's growling when her owner tries to touch her as she is eating food. Why? Because she is eating her food, who wants to be messed with then! Also because food is highly valuable to dogs (it's highly valuable to us too, just go try stealing something from even a loved ones plate and you'll see!), they naturally want to protect it, and themselves whilst eating it.

Aggressive behaviour whilst eating is actually NOT an abnormal behaviour, it is a perfectly normal one - when you understand that a growl (or the preceeding body language, freezing, staring, lip curling, making a toothy-face) IS just a communication "hey, back off buddy this is my food here, I don't like you being so close! " and NOT some sort of personal insult, you'll realise that growling over food is not nearly such a big deal as long as everyone around the dog can respect their space and leave them alone.

Of course it is also a sign that your dog is anxious about you being near his food, and if you don't at the very least manage it so that he never has to eat around people, it could become a bigger problem.

This is NOT because the dog is 'bad' or 'aggressive', it's because he already has this fear of losing his food in his mind, he could easily misinterpret totally innocent actions by people, particularly by children, which would make his fear worse.

So, now we understand why - first of all manage it so it can't get worse - feed him in a room on his own, pop the bowl down, call him in, walk away. Simple.

Now we have to change his ideas about what it means when someone is near him, and he eats. Currently, he is worried, we need to make him happy!

For dogs, actions speak far louder than words - keep this in mind. If you go and try to take his food bowl even if you want to put something else in it  he is going to ONLY see that you are taking his bowl, this is a bloody brilliant way to get yourself bitten, and make a food aggression problem worse!

So, what can we do? We can't put more food in whilst he is eating, because dogs can't count, he won't realise that there is more in there.

We have to wait until he is done - so give him most of his dinner, walk away, when you think he's on his last mouthful, come back, SLOWLY and when you are five feet away or so (further if he is uncomfortable at this distance) you THROW the remaining pieces of kibble at his bowl (if you feed meat then use a few biscuits or bits of cheese). Ideally they land in his bowl but it's not the end of the world if you can't throw for shit, the point is you came near, but not TOO near, and he got MORE FOOD (he might not be able to count, but he sure as heck knows the difference between 'food all gone' and 'woo, more food').

DO this every few days, don't do it every day, you want him to WANT this to happen, doing it every day could cause more stress than anything else.

You need to be looking for his body language to change as you approach, you want a soft, wiggly happy looking dog who is looking at you like 'hey, is there more food?'.

Keep tossing those bits into the bowl, go slowly and don't rush in, you are building up trust here and you can't force anyone to trust you, you have to earn it!

IF you take this slowly, at his pace, and you use a decent treat or yummy food you will see that over the course of a week or two, he starts to relax and begins to WANT you to approach to put the food in his bowl.

That's what we wanted, from there you can build it up to ask him to back off his food bowl whilst you put more in, or touch him if you need to - but do keep in mind, these things are NOT necessary to do whilst he is eating, so don't take the piss and mess him around. Even if you bring more food, no one likes to be messed about with whilst eating.

The same methods apply if your dog has a juicy bone or other chewy treat - approach at a distance that is safe, throw MORE FOOD to him. It will take longer with a really high value thing like a bone because unless you throw more bones, what he has is worth more than what you are offering - but the same principle applies, your approach does NOT result in anything horrid, only NICE things.

Now, this version of Fluffy expects people to give more food when he has food - what do we think THIS Fluffy will do when he finds a bone in the park and a toddler wobbles up to him?

Even though it is out of context, he has no reason to fear that he will lose his bone, if his owners have done a good job in getting other people to reward him around food, and have practiced rewarding him when he has bones too, there's a really good chance that Fluffy will expect food, then see that the toddler has no food and ignore them, because they are irrelevant!

Most likely, if Fluffy isn't too keen around kids, the chances are he's going to pick up that bone and move away!

Doesn't that seem a better than the risk that Fluffy would bite the child? I think so!

So - when you are asking advice from people, evaluate it carefully! If it starts with 'this sounds awful but' then the chances are it IS awful. If it sounds as if it involves doing something unpleasant to the dog, the chances are it's likely to create a worse problem, or involve risk - after all, what do we think Fluffy's owners would have done if instead of accepting being pinned down and shouted at, she'd snapped and bitten the owners hand? How would that improve the situation for anyone?

For any advice you read or hear, ask yourself 'is this the most effective, SAFE and KIND way to deal with the problem, or does this method carry a hidden cost I won't want to pay, such as my dog biting me, my dog being scared of me, my dog developing a more serious problem'.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Crate Training... no you don't just lock the dog in and wait for him to shut up!

So I have to admit, I have returned from the National Bite Prevention Conference at RAF Odiham, more than a little bit inspired!

In  a bid to get this written down rather than randomly blart information at people like a nutter, here's a guide on crate training the right way - and when I say the right way, I mean the effective, KIND, way so that neither you nor your pup/dog suffer any undue stress!

There is as you may have guessed (though many people don't!), quite a bit more to it than just shoving the dog in, shutting the door and ignoring them until they shut up. In fact, crate training should not involve ANY shoving, shutting the dog in, or ignoring, AT ALL!

Ok so, what do I do then?

First of all, consider how you want your pup to feel about being in his crate. You may want pup to sleep in there (in your room please!) or to travel in there or to be happy to rest in there whilst you are busy, or all of these things.

Crates used properly can help with toilet training and provide a safe space for a pup to go to when they want some peace and quiet - it can also be very useful if you need to take your pup away with you on holiday or if they have to stay in the vets for any length of time.

We want a pup to feel relaxed and happy about being crated, we want the crate to become a place they associate with chilling out, chewing on a toy or sleeping, in other words, it is a NICE and CALM place!

So we won't achieve any of that by locking him in and ignoring his screams of frustration and fear!

Ok ok, I got that... so now what?

So, arm yourself with a crate the right size for your pup (big enough to turn around, stand up, lie down and stretch), line it with a comfy bed, some vet bed, a fleece blanket or two - stuff that is easily washed and dried and provides a good level of comfort!

You also need some very high value rewards - chopped up hot dog sausage, bits of cheese, chopped up cocktail sausages, roast chicken pieces etc etc - as I very frequently state, shop bought dog treats are NOT high value, Bonios and Gravy bones SUCK!
As a guideline of treat size,  from one cocktail sausage you should be able to get 20 or even 40 tiny treat sized morsels, we are NOT feeding whole sausages here, tiny tasty bits please!

For the later stages,  have a couple of toys you can stuff with food such as Kongs, Linkables etc.

If you have conditioned your pup to a clicker or marker word such as YES! then you can use this but its not crucial.

Sit on the floor by the crate with your puppy, show him the treats and toss a handful into the crate, he should follow and eat them.

Here's the huge secret that most of us wouldn't figure out...

Do not close the door on the puppy. Allow him to come out the second he wants to, but he gets no treats for coming out!
The crate is where these treats happen, get him to go back in for more treats, this time see if you can encourage him to stay in by adding more treats through the side bars of your crate. If he stays in a few seconds this is where you can click or use your marker word, if he settles down, huge praise and more treats!

When you get to the point where your pup is dashing into the crate because he has figured out it makes you give him treats, then you can think about pushing the door closed.

If at ANY time he wants to come out, let him out. Do not hesitate, do not linger, do not think 'I'll just make him wait one second' - the SPLIT second your pup wants out, he can get out. This is honestly and truly the way to teach a pup that a crate is a SAFE place to be, even if it feels counter intuitive right now.

Letting your pup come out of the crate the second he wants to is a huge part of increasing his confidence in being in the crate.

Animals are VERY highly aware of when they are trapped, and feeling trapped means a huge increase in stress, anxiety and fear - we feel it too, hence the number of people who are claustrophobic, who get stressed in lifts or other tight spaces!

By teaching your pup he can come out whenever he likes, you increase his confidence, and when he is completely relaxed and confident about the crate, he will WANT to stay in it and you can teach him to stay in it for longer and longer periods.

You should be doing this training in very short sessions several times a day, and end each session on a high note, even if it means the session turned out a little shorter than you had planned. Never ever push a dog too far for 'just one more go'!

Once pup can stay in the crate for a few minutes with the door pushed closed, you can attempt to lock the door, for just a second. Try not to build this too fast and mix things up a bit, don't go from door pushed shut to door locked to door locked and you walking away, because he will soon realise that EVERY time he goes in the crate he is locked in and you leave him!

Instead mix it up, if he can stay in the crate with the door pushed to for a few minutes, then add in you stepping away for a second or two then. If he is good in the crate for five minutes with the door shut, add in some sessions where you don't even shut the door.

Once your puppy can lie in the crate for more than a couple of minutes, it's time to introduce a toy filled with something tasty, such as a Kong, or his meal in a bowl (or his meal stuffed into a kong!)

If you put in the work, it is possible to crate train a puppy to be happy shut in his crate for half an hour within a couple of weeks - but ONLY if you take it at his pace. If you start rushing, you will teach him that being locked in is nasty and he should avoid it at all cost!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Puppy Primer part 2... but he's too little to go to school...

Again, inspired and desperate not to bombard my friend via instant messaging/telephone, here's part 2 of the puppy primer!

In part one hopefully I got across the importance of house training and building confidence, confidence is the foundation for everything else!

Now the next thing you need to know is that puppy must 'go to school' - pups are like little furry sponges, slurping up information or 'input' (if you remember the film Short Circuit!)...

If you are not giving your puppy the right input, the chances are he is getting the WRONG input!

A pups best learning period is from the age of 3 weeks to around 14 weeks - for those of you with a GSD puppy, sorry folks, your pup's ideal learning period ended at around 10 weeks or possibly sooner, so I hope you got a breeder who did a LOT of socialisation and habituation. For those of you with a labrador puppy then life just got easier because his optimum window is more like 16 to 18 weeks old!

In this time you must socialise and habituate your pup to ALL the things you want him to be cool with as an adult.

That means people, children, men and women of all different shapes, sizes, colours, adorned with all manner of silly hats, helmets,  coats, frocks, carrying weird boxes, umbrellas, pushing prams or trolleys, using crutches or wheelchairs, riding bicycles, rollerskates, scooters, motorbikes...

You should get him used to going in the car, on the bus, on the train if possible, and busy places and quiet places and different animals and other dogs and ... it gets to be like  a Dr Seuss 'Cat In The Hat' book really!

The important thing about socialisation and habituation is that your dog finds ALL of these people, things, experiences, pleasant, he finds them rewarding, because you make sure they are NOT scary, AND you pair them with yummy treats (bits of cheese, bits of sausage,  no boring bonios or craptastic chews!).

Part of this is going to involve you saying NO to people, because people are silly and will want to crowd your puppy, which could scare him, they may want to encourage him to jump up at their legs which is not something he will be thanked for when he is older.

Your job is very much to ensure that he experiences the world in a safe way, so be ready to remove him from any situation that is overwhelming or likely to become overwhelming - he won't learn by being scared (except that things are scary!)

Final word on socialisation - socialisation particularly with other dogs and people does NOT and MUST NOT involve him being allowed or encouraged to barge up to other people and dogs, expecting food/games/fun - because the world is sadly a dog UNfriendly place and not everyone he meets in it will want to be kind to him.

Instead you will do him a huge favour if he is never allowed to do this but is always asked to sit whilst you ask the other person or dog if he can greet/play - if all the rewards in this socialisation stage come FROM you and are enabled by YOU, he's always going to want to check in wtih you first to ask if he can do something - and he is never going to be that dog who barges up like a lunatic, knocks Grandma flying into the mud and gets bitten by the crabby old terrier who doesn't wanna play!

Traaaaaaaaining - yep more school work for puppies!

Fill up that brain with good things to do - he is perfectly capable of learning sit, down, wait, leave it, walk nicely on a lead, all at 8 weeks old.

I like to use a clicker but its not obligatory - the reason I like it is its great to capture and mark behaviour you really like, very quickly and it leads to playing games that involve the dog figuring out problems for himself (great to keep their minds exercised, a tired mind is a tired puppy is a QUIET SLEEPY PUPPY!)

Just keep training sessions to a 5 minute limit, lots of rewards and praise and stop the second he gets it so he is really keen to do it again next time. Stick to one behaviour or trick per session so he doesn't get confused.

The first thing he needs to learn is that wearing a collar, leash and probably harness, are ok, and are safe. Let him drag a leash around indoors from a harness, let him wear a collar for a few minutes at a time if hes a bit worried by it, distract and reward with chews and treats and take it off before he cna have a full on tantrum.  With the harness (much safer than a collar for walkies an dalso car safety) reward him well for letting you put it on, and also practice pairing little gentle tugs on the harness iwth food rewards.

This ensures that as he grows up, someone tugging on the harness is NOT associated with anything bad - I would do the same thing with a collar too, so he never thinks 'ooh my collar being grabbed is nasty'. (There is nothing worse than either a kid grabbing for a dogs collar and getting nipped because the dog found it painful or associated it with something horrid, OR an adult grabbing a dogs collar in an emergency, only to get nipped for the same reason!)

Walkies start with just hanging out on the street in front of or behind your house, getting rewards for seeing stuff (cars, people) and getting rewards for walking next to the person for a few metres in either direction. 10 minutes max each time!  Easy peasey!

Get him off lead as soon as possible, whillst he is still young enough to WANT to follow you - drive to a nice park, and let him off lead, be ready to get him and distract him away from anything dubious (other dogs or people who might be idiots!) - you can always ask someone once they get near enough, if he can meet their dog.

Meeting ADULT dogs is important, its actualy much more important for a pup than meeting other puppies. I wouldn't recommend you let an unvaccinated pup meet strangers dogs, but do try to have them meet adult dogs belonging to friends and family who you know are vaccinated and clean/healthy.

Finally a word on vaccinations - vets will tell you 'ooh dont let him out until he has had all his jabs' - the problem with this is that generally by the time the pup has had all his jabs, he has MISSED that vital socialisation window!

Sadly the fact is, more dogs end up dead because of behavioural problems stemming from a lack of socialisation, than end up dead because of ALL the diseases we vaccinate against, put together!

So, exercise common sense - don't take him to shitty places filled with stray dogs or dogs you suspect won't be healthy and vaccinated.

Do take him to peoples houses, out to nice clean places with healthy dogs!

DON'T let him on the floor in the vets - the vets is one of the BEST places possible for a pup to pick up an infection, bleurgh, no matter how clean they are!

Tune in next time for....... ARGH HE'S BITING ME!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Puppy Primer... Start as you mean to go on, right?

I am inspired to write this as a good friend of mine (waves!) is on the brink of getting a puppy (squee), so here is the first in a series of 'puppy primers', top tips and explanations for how to do things RIGHT, the first time!

Day 1... you arrive home with your puppy, yay!

The first thing to do is see if puppy needs to pee or poo outside - yes, outside! No puppy pads, no newspaper, outside.

Puppies can learn, in fact your puppy has already begun learning, a preference for which surface they want to toilet on.

They are MUCH more concerned about the surface, than they are about WHERE that surface is - and this is why puppy pads and newspapers are a crappy (haha!) idea.

Puppy pads very closely resemble carpet... newspapers, well, they resemble paper... neither of these is a surface you want your adult dog, or even your slightly older puppy to go on, so lets skip that stage entirely and NEVER allow them to go on any surface other than the outdoor surface you'll want them to use as an adult.

So that means outside, on grass ideally or sand/dirt whatever you have out there. Note, a lot of pups dislike going on a hard surface, the reason is... splash back! No one likes splash back!

If for some reason you absolutely HAVE to have an indoor toilet area for your pup, then get a nice big flat tray and some turf, and use that. You will need several so that you can rotate them, some outside, some inside so that the grass does not die, and yes you will need to water them for the same reason.

Most people do not need to allow a pup to toilet indoors, and so the big bad world outside is fine - take your pup out there initially every half an hour the first day, every hour the second day and each day until you learn your pups schedule, and your pups signs for 'I need to go'.

Yep, thats right, you will need to learn these things because puppies don't come with a manual! The signs are likely that your pup will sniff about, circle, try and find a quiet spot... orrrrrr your puppy may just 'drop trou' and go with next to no warning at all!

This is not because your puppy is a complete arsehole, this is because at 8 weeks old your puppy has almost NO bladder and bowel control at all, there is very little time between the sensation 'I gotta go' and those muscles relaxing and pup GOING, and there is NO ability to 'hold on'.

So, get used to popping out a lot! And you must GO out with your puppy, no standing indoors watching through a window, no loitering in the doorway, OUT you go and be ready with a nice tasty treat to reward your pup the second they finish their toilet duties.

This praise and reward teaches your puppy that going outside is a GREAT thing to do, and also that toileting in front of you is a GREAT thing to do - you need this, because eventually you want him to wait and to ask you, something he is not going to do if he thinks toileting in front of you is a BAAAAAAD thing!

After the first week you should have a pretty good idea of when your pup will need to go, and this frees you up a little to do more stuff without watching him like a hawk - but do keep in mind it is going to be around another SIX MONTHS before your puppy is actually toilet trained.

What about if he goes indoors?

Ooopsy, say nothing and clean it up with a suitable cleaning product (not bleach!) like biological washing powder.

Punishing your pup for making a mistake here will NOT teach him that he should not go in the house, it will only teach him he should not go in front of you.... and thats not a lesson you want him to learn at all!

Be more vigilant in future - when he is done with his house training, he will have a hard-wired habit of ONLY toileting on the grass outside (or whatever surface you provided him with) and he will not WANT to go indoors. If you think this doesnt sound like 'enough' and you think perhaps he needs to learn that it is BAD to go indoors just stop and think for a second...

Conditioning like this is SO strong, just ask yourself, how hard would YOU find it to pee in your pants, on purpose?

I would bet that even if you were pretty desperate for a wee, you would physically struggle to pee in your pants - thats because you are conditioned over many years to  pee only in a toilet, for this reason a great many (women anyway!) are even unable to pee outdoors somewhere quiet, even when they really need to!

So conditioning is VERY strong and VERY effective - there is never a need to try and teach a dog that he is bad for peeing in the wrong place, its only going to harm your relationship with him!

Nighttime - Day 1.... where does my puppy sleep.

Forget all the rubbish you heard in the past about not having dogs sleep in your room - put puppy in a box or crate beside your bed.

The reasons for this are much the same as the reason why your baby sleeps in the same room as you - you need to hear in the night if they need you. In the puppies case, if he needs to pee in the night (and at first he probably will) then he needs to wake you OR, he must wet his bed,  yuck, thats not a habit we want him to learn!

He will likely feel anxious and lonely, having him in your room means you can reassure him, and build a good strong bond with him, increasing his confidence.

People often don't want the dog to sleep in their room with them as an adult - that is fine, but right now you have a puppy, not an adult. A puppy needs to feel safe and secure to build their confidence, and leaving them in a room alone at night is not going to achieve that - the chances are it is going to achieve a pup who cries him or herself to sleep at night, which means they are distressed and this affects their ability to learn (plus, its just plain not nice!)

It is VERY easy to teach a happy confident adult dog to sleep somewhere else - it is VERY difficult to teach an underconfident, stressed dog, to do practically anything.

A major problem caused by trying to insist the pup sleeps alone at night, is separation anxiety - they are naturally anxious at being left, so they cry - you could ignore that, but practically speaking most people can't (plus how do you differentiate 'I am lonely' from 'I have my leg stuck behind the radiator' from ' I need a wee' and 'I have my collar caught on some piping and I am strangling myself, I'll be dead by morning' (sadly true story).... the answer is, you can't!

IF you return to the crying puppy, and given he has to wake you and you have to come downstairs to him this takes time, you are teaching him 'if you cry I will come back' - and when it comes to leaving him alone to go to WORK or the shops... what does he try.. oh yes, crying, that makes people come back!

The answer is to introduce separation in TINY doses, build a happy confident pup who is NEVER anxious, and start out by leaving them for 10 seconds when they doze off in one room , building this up 30 seconds at a time if necessary, until being left alone is nothing to worry about!

This is quite easy in a confident pup, you will know when to start building up the time more when they start to be independent and choose to go into another room away from you (or choose NOT to follow you when you leave the room).

Of course if you want pup to sleep in your room forever more, thats also fine - it is a myth that this is a problem!

......... to be continued!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Channel 5's 'The Truth About Your Dogs Food'....

Er, well, it wasn't really was it!

They attempted to cover far too much ground, without giving enough real detail on any subject mentioned. No really useful conclusions drawn and probably a lot of confusion created.

I'll have a go at explaining some of the points raised - I'll be upfront and honest, I am biased, I feed my dogs raw food with the occasional low cereal or cereal free kibble once in a while (holidays usually!).

Commercial Dog Food In The Uk - a Potted (haha) History...


 Up until the 1860's, dogs in the UK ate table scraps, raw meaty bones, and really not much else.
People who didn't have a lot of table scraps and yet still had the money to own pet dogs would buy cheap cuts of meat and often horsemeat to feed their dogs on - those with dogs that could hunt would feed their dogs the bits they didn't want (carcasses).

Along came Mr Spratt, who invented the dog biscuit - not the small kibble we know today but larger flat, hard biscuits much like the Ships Biscuits they were based on. These things were rock hard and crunchy which dogs liked, and would be mixed with left overs, warm water etc to create a softer meal.

Mr Spratt never revealed exactly what was in his 'Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes', though advertising suggested it contained buffalo meat - given he launched his biscuits in London in the 1860's, I would strongly suggest they contained horsemeat, as well as wheat and vegetable matter (you only need to look at how many horses were working in London at the time, and what their average lifespan was to see that there was an incredibly high turnover of the horse population then, working horses started at 2 and were dead before 15 - modern horses work at 4 and live into their 30s now!).

These Dog Cakes would have made use of the waste grain products created by the brewing industry and the flour/milling industry, and by utilizing the one very readily available, cheap meat that was also almost universally shunned by human diners (horsemeat was only eaten by the VERY poor!) Spratt made a product that cost him very little, which he marketed to those owning sporting dogs - those with a fair bit of money to burn!

In the 1930's the industry advanced again with the introduction of canned food, so now not only did people eat tinned meals and found them convenient, but the pet food industry could offer tinned dog food.

Two very important facts become quite obvious from this brief history.

1/ Commercial dog food has ALWAYS been based on combining readily available unwanted meat and grain products and by products, into something dogs will eat and people want to buy.
2/ Dogs have only been eating commercially produced dog food 'en masse' for around 150 years.

It is therefore highly unlikely, in fact to my mind, impossible that dogs have 'evolved' to eat commercially produced dog food based on high grain content flavoured with meat.
Dog food was never invented for the benefit of dogs - it was invented for the benefit of the producers pockets.

Now thats not to say there is anything wrong in making a profit - we all need to live, and money as they say, makes the world go around. But lets not kid ourselves - profit was, and still is, the primary concern of a commercial dog food producer.

The Situation Now...

So fast forward those 150 years from Spratts Patented Fibrine Dog Cakes - we now have a huge range of commercially produced foods available for our dogs.

Those foods are actually produced by only a small handful of huge, multinational companies.

As an example, Mars Inc - famous in most peoples minds for the Mars bar - they own:

Pedigree (formerly Pedigree Chum), Nutro, Royal Canin and Greenies as well as cat food brand Whiskas

Nestle own Purina Pet Care and under that banner, they produce all the 'Purina' brands (Pro Plan, Purina One, Gourmet) but also GoCat, Winalot, Bonio, Beta, Felix and Bakers

The basic principles have not changed - cheap ingredients, tarted up, pretty colours and fancy labelling(and thats not new, Spratt put beetroot in his biscuits to give them a more appealing meaty looking colour!) to command a high price for what is, certainly with all the above brands and product names, a low quality product.

How do I know it is a low quality product. Well, firstly, lets revisit evolution. Dog food has been around for 150 years, give or take a year or so.

Dogs on the other hand have been around for 15'000 years, ish when they split from their common ancestor with what is now our modern wolf (note, modern dog did NOT descend directly from the wolves we have today, they share a common ancestor!)

Do you think it likely that 150 years of eating commercially produced dried dog food and tinned meat has had a significant impact on dogs digestive system, given they have been around for 15'000 years?

We know that their digestive system is no different to that of the modern wolf, and of the Dingo, both of which still survive eating raw meat, bones, semi digested vegetable matter and anything else they can get hold of.

So given that information - if  all these companies had at heart, the best interests of dogs first and foremost, and profit secondary to that - why does a small sample of the ingredients listings for these foods contain huge amounts of cereals, fibrous filler, sugars and colourings?

Food Labels - but those are confusing as heck!

Absolutely they are, and one of the chaps on the program wasn't entirely devious when he pointed out that in part this is because there is no different legislation in the UK certainly, for pet food, as opposed to livestock feed. It all falls under the same rulings about how it can be labelled and what can go in it.

Lets have a look at a food label from one of the above mentioned brands.

First of all, Pedigree, one of the leading brands in the UK and advertises itself with tag lines like:

"Every dog deserves leading nutrition:"

I chose Pedigree Vital with Chicken for medium sized dogs.

Meat and Animal Derivatives (including 4% Chicken)
Oils and Fats (including 0.2% Fish Oil, 0.2% Sunflower Oil)
Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (including 2% Dried Beet Pulp)
Minerals (including 0.7% Sodium Tripolyphosphate)
Antioxidants, Preservatives

 So first of all, it says 'with Chicken'. You may not know this, but the wording even within the name of the product has to conform to certain laws. You couldn't call a dog food 'Chicken Doggy Bits' if it only had 4% chicken in it. You COULD call it 'Chicken Flavour Doggy Bits' if it actually had NO chicken in it.

This one says 'with Chicken' so it has to contain a min. of 4% chicken. It could contain more but we will never know and likely the quantities will change from batch to batch.


Next, the actual ingredient list - well it might be 'with Chicken' but we know that only  means a min of  4%... and hey presto, here's the first whammy - the first ingredient is 'Cereals'.

One labeling directive manufacturers must comply with is that they have to list the single largest ingredient first - so that first ingredient in the list is really, the main content of this food.

This food just states 'cereals' - this is because they are then free to change the exact make up of 'cereals' as it suits them (as it suits their profit margins).

So if one year wheat is incredibly cheap, and maize isn't - in goes the wheat. If next year actually oats are cheap and maize is costly - in go the oats.  This lumping together of ingredients here means the exact breakdown of cereals can change.

Meat and Animal Derivatives (inc. 4% chicken).

Now that to most people sounds grim - and yes if you saw what it is, it is pretty grim - it is all the bits of human grade meat and animal 'stuff', that we wouldn't want. Bear in mind, this is the stuff that is too crap to go into sausages, cheap burgers, hotdogs, etc. Despite the nice man from the pet food companies on the TV saying 'well its whats left after we take the nicest bits for people' giving you the impression its just the scraggy bits... no,  its quite a bit yuckier than that. This is mush, its connective tissue, gristle, fat, skin, hoofy bits.

Now thats not necessarily a bad thing - dogs are after all the consummate scavenger, they are well evolved to make good use of the bits no one else wants.

The real reason that this is not a good ingredient is that again it is a 'lumped together' ingredient. Only 4% of this is chicken... what is the other 96% of this particular ingredient?

Like the cereal content, this is going to vary from batch to batch, based on what can be sourced most profitably (ie, cheapest, and not as the man from the PFMA stated, 'due to supply').

For most dogs that might not be a problem but if your dog IS sensitive or intolerant or allergic to some ingredients, you have absolutely no chance of identifying exactly WHAT meats are in this food, and the nutritional value of it will change from batch to batch, some times more hoofy feathery blech, sometimes a bit more fat and connective tissue (still blech but nutritionally more valuable to the dog).

Oils and Fats (including 0.2% Fish Oil, 0.2% Sunflower Oil)

Oils and fats are necessary to the dogs diet, yes. But only 0.2% is fish oil and 0/2% is sunflower oil. What then, is the rest?

We don't know, and we won't ever accurately know, but this will be another variable ingredient, produced from rendered carcasses, recycled from the human food production industry... I actually wouldn't delve too deeply into what exactly is in these fats and oils, even writing about it brings back the horrific olfactory memory of slowly, so painfully slowly, passing a rendering plant on a canal trip some 20 years ago! At 2 miles an hour it took us about four hours to get out of smelling distance of the place!

Derivatives of Vegetable Origin (including 2% Dried Beet Pulp)
Minerals (including 0.7% Sodium Tripolyphosphate)
Antioxidants, Preservatives

The rest of this is basically about making your dog produce poo rather than liquid slurry - thats what the dried beet pulp is for by the way, this is whats left AFTER the livestock feed trade has removed the beet pulp that still contains some nutritional value once its finished being made into sugar for us.

To put that into context, this stuff has already been processed several times before it ever gets to the dog food factory - once for sugar for us, then for animal feed (and the food they give horses and cattle has to be higher grade as they are going to enter the human food chain (potentially for horses, definitely for most cattle), and once its turned into dog food it will be processed again!

Minerals, Antioxidants and preservatives are added so that the product will still contain sufficient legally required minerals even if you feed it right before the use by date, and so that it doesn't go off on the shelves.

So - despite the manufacturers claims to provide 'leading nutrition', its blatantly obvious that this food does not actually offer high quality ingredients, nor does it provide the pet owner with an accurate and useful list of ingredients, because the main ingredients are lumped together and can vary fairly wildly.

This food is on sale for £31.99 for 15kg

Maybe its just that one thats horrible?

Ok then: Royal Canin Medium Adult

Dehydrated Poultry Protein, Maize Flour, Maize, Wheat Flour, Animal Fats and Oils, Dehydrated Pork Protein, Wheat, Hydrolysed Animal Proteins, Sugar Beet Pulp, Fish Oil, Soya Oil, Yeasts, Minerals, Hydrolysed Yeasts, Antioxidants

Dehydrated Poultry Protein is the first ingredient, single largest ingredient first remember - so yes thats marginally better than 'cereals', but how much? Well we still don't know from batch to batch exactly what the 'poultry' in question is! Is it chicken, turkey, duck, who knows!

Now look for the cereals, there is Maize Flour, Maize, Wheat Flour and Wheat in this food. Given that Maize Flour, Maize and Wheat Flour are the second, third and fourth ingredients here, its highly likely that if they had just listed 'cereals' (particularly if you note that Wheat is listed further down too) there would have been more 'cereal' content than 'dehydrated poultry protein' content.

This is a clever trick that some brands will use to list a meat product higher than cereal content - it LOOKS on the label as if there is more meat in here than there are cereals, but thats not likely to be the case.

This does give the manufacturer less wiggle room to change the cereal content, but not much, bearing in mind that this product is a premium priced brand in their line, unlike the previous one which actually isn't. It is worth it then to sacrifice that leeway to save money on cereal content, but be able to list a meat product higher on the label.

The rest of the ingredients will make up a much smaller proportion of the food and are there to bulk up the protein content to that necessary to keep dogs alive, and to produce firm poo and a shiny coat.

Again, there are no top quality ingredients in this food, and yet this will cost you £52.99 for £15kg

How about a good food, surely there are some?

There are indeed now, some quality dried foods around, and that sector of the market is growing.

Here's a good one.

Orijen Adult Original


Fresh Deboned Chicken (22%), Dehydrated Chicken (15%), Fresh Liver (4%), Fresh Whole Herring (4%), Fresh Deboned Turkey (4%), Dehydrated Turkey (4%), Fresh Turkey Liver (3%), Fresh Whole Eggs (3%), Fresh Deboned Walleye (3%), Fresh Whole Salmon (3%),  Chicken Heart (3%),  Chicken Cartilage (3%), Dehydrated Herring 3%, Dehydrated Salmon (3%), Chicken Liver Oil (3%), Red Lentils, Green Lentils, Sun-cured Alfalfa, Yams, Pea Fibre, Chickpeas, Pumpkin, Butternut Squash, Spinach Greens, Carrots,  Red Delicious Apples, Bartlett Pears, Liquorice Root, Angelica Root, Fungreek, Marigold Flowers, Sweet Fennel,Peppermint Leaf, Chamomile, Dandelion, Summer Savory, Rosemary, Enterococcus Faecium

The first thing that strikes me is, wow thats a big list, and it is, and probably a lot of what is in there isn't strictly necessary, and probably a fair bit isn't actually all that useful because its in such tiny quantities.

However, this is a premium priced food, in fact this is probably the most expensive food on the UK market!

The first thing you'll note once you get over the shock of the list is that the meats are named, and you are given a percentage for each one.

This food is definitely going to be 37% chicken, if you combine the first two ingredients alone. Add it up and its around 74% meat/poultry/fish based.

The remaining 26% (ish) is pulses, vegetables, fruits, herbs... a small amount of which is there to create some roughage for decent poo consistency,  yes (pea fibre, alfalfa) but not much.

There is NO grain or cereal content in this food - not a single scrap of it. The meat content is all stuff you would recognise as food if it were put out on your table - ok the dehydrated turkey, chicken and fish might not look too appetising, but it would still resemble food.

Of course, 13kg of this will set you back £67.99, but does that actually accurately tell you how expensive this is to feed on a daily basis?

The incredibly useful website helpfully breaks down how much each food listed will cost you, given your dogs weight, per day.

I'll use a medium sized dog between 15 and 20kg.

Pedigree Vital with Chicken:  53p per day - 248  grams per day
Royal  Canin Medium Adult:  73p per day - 208 grams per day
Orijen Adult Original              78p per day - 150 grams per day

As you can quite clearly see, the price per pack is not a good indicator of how cost effective a food actually is.

Whilst the low quality Pedigree is the cheapest to feed, you will need to feed nearly 100 grams a day MORE of it than the highest quality food!
The ingredients in the Royal Canin food are only marginally better quality than those in the Pedigree, however that  costs almost as much to feed per day as the Orijen, and still, you  need to feed over 50g per day more of it!

Where is all that extra food going? It isn't pretty, but the answer is, in your yard, on the pavement and if you are a responsible owner, into a baggy and into the bin. You are paying for poo.

The reason you can feed the same sized dog only 150g of Orijen per day, but need to feed that dog 248g of Pedigree per day, is that so much MORE of the pedigree food is not actually digestible, nutritious food - it is going to come out the other end!

I can vouch for this myself, as my dogs occasionally eat Orijen and produce on average, two poo's per day. Other similarly sized dogs on a diet similar to the Pedigree listed, produce five or six or more poos per day, (and larger ones at that!).

So what do I feed my dog?

I can't really answer that for you. I feed my dogs a raw diet, which is the most cost effective way I can feed six dogs on a tight budget and still provide what I consider (after over a decades practice and research) a premium quality diet, on a par with the quality of foods like Orijen.

What you CAN do is feed the very best quality food you can afford - and note, I say afford, not 'justify', there is a difference.

Most of us, me included, baulk at paying nearly £70 for a sack of food, but I can justify it, because now that I know how dog food works, and how to read and understand the labels sufficiently, I can make an informed decision about where my money goes.

Learn to read the food labels and find out exactly what you are feeding, and where your money is actually going - if you are feeding a very low cost food such as Pedigree or even cheaper (Vitalin, Wagg etc), then whilst you might appear to be saving money short term, because a bag of either of the latter two costs under £15, you might NOT be saving money in the long term.

How much of that food is going into your poo bags? Does your dog have cruddy teeth, horrid breath, itchy skin, pongy smell, anal gland problems, rashes and allergic symptoms?

Does your dog leave his food and only eat it at the end of the day when there really is nothing else on offer?

In my experience some foods can have a detrimental effect on a dogs behaviour, for example, I won't go and see a clients dog if they are eating Bakers Complete, because time after time, I see dogs eating that who are also dogs who are bouncing off the walls and struggle to learn - change the food and the dog improves!

If you answered yes to even some of those questions, the chances are that your dogs diet could be improved - if your dog is actually fit and healthy and doing fine on a low quality food, thats fine, dogs ARE brilliant survivors and scavengers, but in my opinion, feeding the best quality we can afford means saving money on vet bills and other long term costs, and a happier dog.

Have a look through the Which Dog Food site, and cost up some of the alternatives, as I have demonstrated here, a higher quality diet may well NOT be such a dramatic financial outlay as you think!