I saw this quote on Facebook recently from Susan Friedman “The animal is never wrong…you get what you reinforce. All behaviour has a function including undesirable behaviour. The question is not “Why is the animal behaving this way?” but rather, “What’s reinforcing this behaviour?”
If we can think for our dog’s behaviour in this way, I really believe it would help us understand those behaviours that we wish they didn’t do. I talk to lots of people who get really distressed that their dog does a certain behaviour, and they think the dog understands this behaviour is wrong. I hear “they knew they shouldn’t be doing that”. Let’s just be clear – dogs are not moral; they have no concept of right and wrong. They view the world as what works and what doesn’t. what’s safe versus what’s dangerous. As Susan Friedman says, “all behaviour has a function”.
So the real question you should be asking yourself is “what is the dog achieving from doing the behaviour?”. “What is reinforcing it so that they repeat it?”.
Let’s talk through some examples: Your dog is jumping up on your kitchen table. Sometimes when it jumps up something is there to grab, crumbs from your toast, a smelly tea towel, or even loaf of bread. Can you see that the action of them jumping up is being rewarded by the ‘thing’ they get. Now what usually happens is that you now catch your dog in the action of jumping up, you tell them off or correct them in some way, they stop doing it. You think they have learnt not to do it. However you notice that they still do this behaviour when you are not home as you find evidence of things chewed up when you return home. You now think your dog is doing this on purpose – they knew they shouldn’t be doing it; they are doing it to spite me. No! They have learnt that doing that behaviour when you are present is dangerous (there is a consequence) but when you aren’t home, it’s safe so that’s when to do it. This is smart right? It’s safe when no one is around so that’s when they do the behaviour. It gets reinforced because sometimes they win something like some left over food.
Let’s think of another example. Your dog is worried about other dogs getting too close, so they have started to bark when another dog approaches. Most of the time, the owner of the other dog will move their dog away (as barking is intimidating) so now the barking dog sees their behaviour as successful. After a few repetitions they have learnt that barking keeps them safe as the other dog moves away. Even if this barking behaviour doesn’t work every time, it work’s often enough that it is seen to be successful and therefore the function of barking has achieved the goal of making the other dog move away.
Once a behaviour is learnt then why would the dog change it? It works! Behaviour will only change if you consider the function, the ‘why’ of the behaviour is happening and what is reinforcing it? Only then can you look to change the behaviour.
Have you ever tried to change your behaviour before? Something that you have done for a long period of time. It’s hard work and takes time.
Sometimes figuring out the ‘why’ needs a different viewpoint and not from someone in the middle of it. I am very happy to tell you when I struggle with my dog’s behaviour, I seek help from others. People I trust that can help and guide me to achieve the best outcome for me and my dog. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.
If you have got to the point where you need help and support for your dog’s behaviour and to understand their ‘why’ then please get in touch.
It may surprise you that as a trainer I haven’t started doing much training with Bramley yet. We have had him 6 weeks, and in terms of obedience training, he knows sit (the breeder started that) and to respond to his name, so the start of recall training. That’s it. I think this will surprise some people.
With any new dog (puppy or rescue) the last thing I focus on is obedience training in those first few months. Don’t get me wrong, I start working on manners such as where to toilet, reducing puppy biting, confident in being handled and showing them how much fun playing with me is. My focus is on finding out who this dog is, what they enjoy doing, working on building confidence in the world around them (noises, different environments, people, dogs etc) but mainly it’s all about building a trusting relationship.
I love all the training side, and he will learn lots of skills, but you cannot expect a dog to enjoy training and learning without the fundamentals of having a relationship first.
Our main focus with Bramley at the moment is raising a confident dog. We met our target of meeting 100 people before he was 12 weeks old (Ian Dunbar recommends this amount) which took lots of planning and carrying him around and having people in our house. He has meet several of our friends’ dogs before he was allowed out to interact with others. We have been to garden centres, B&Q, housing estates, rural walks, woods, riverside walks, seen some horses and sheep. Lots of trips in the van, which he is now happy to travel in. Working on being left alone, and appropriate play with the other 2 dogs. I have goals of what I want him to be good at as an adult and what experiences I don’t have easy access to – this shapes what we do each week. I need to be proactive in what we are doing but also being aware to not overwhelm and give him space to process.
The joyful moments we now have with him and Hallie playing together is lovely. We had to do a slow introduction to start with as Hallie can guard me and stuff on the floor, so management is needed. However, they are building a lovely bond together and figuring out how to play. Cuba isn’t that interested but as he is 9, I wouldn’t expect him to be. I think when Bramley is less bouncy their relationship will build.
I will keep you all updated with what we get up to as he grows up. The joys of adolescence will be on us in no time!!!
I was out with a client last week and walked past another dog walker who the moment they spotted us, moved away and was obviously wanting space. I initially was really happy as I love it when I see dog guardians knowing what their dogs need and will advocate for them. We of course moved over as far as the path allowed. However, it quickly turned into a sad experience…as they walked past us, the dog gave a few barks at us, and the owner started shouting no and yanking on the dogs lead. This dog was clearly uncomfortable about being this close, and the consequence of the dog expressing his discomfort - he was shouted at and hurt by the person that should be his protector.
This isn’t a one-off experience. I frequently see dog owners that use punishment as a way to control their dog’s behaviour especially when they are feeling embarrassed or out of control of what their dog is doing. I genuinely feel sad, a deep-down stomach sort of upset; but my heart goes out to these people. It’s so hard to have a dog that ‘misbehaves’ and the looks of judgement that come from other dog owners is really hard to cope with. It still shocks me that other dog owners can be so unhelpful towards each other. Surely, we should all be on the same team? We all just want our dogs to have a lovely, safe, happy life?
I understand the stress and frustration of having a dog that looks like a ‘crazy fruit loop’ (my technical term) when another dog turns up. It’s so embarrassing. It’s hard to not get upset and angry as this usually loving dog is now looking like a crazy beast. You don’t understand – you give this dog a wonderful life, and this is how they are paying you back! The walk is for them anyway, and now it’s ruined because of their behaviour. You don’t understand that they are so wonderful most of the time, expect when another dog shows up. Have you considered they might also say the same thing about you??? You are lovely most of the time, but the moment another dog turns up, you turn into a lunatic. You start shouting, pulling, and looking like a mad person! Just a thought…
You and your dog are now in a circle of behaviour in that you both ‘react’ when another dog is present. It’s a hard behaviour pattern to change, but it can be. However, I really want to express my concern in using punishment as a way to stop this reactivity. Making your dog fearful of expressing themselves is not the way to do it. Fear of being hurt or punished will only suppress the behaviour, it won’t change how they feel about the situation. Yes, it might look like it’s working as your dog is no longer shouting or lunging at other dogs – but at what cost? The cost of your dog now living in fear of when the next ‘lead check’ might occur, or worse. Are you aware that dogs don’t process information as we do. They may not understand that the pain is due to their unacceptable behaviour – it’s much more likely they will pair that pain with the presence of the other dog. So now they are even more afraid of the other dog and afraid of you too!
Can you imagine living in a world where the person you trust with your life, is also the person you fear? Dogs are so forgiving animals that they do put up with it. That is not the life I want my dogs to experience or anyone of yours either.
If you are struggling with your dog’s behaviour, please reach out and ask for help. I know that most of us find it hard to accept that we cannot do things alone and that we need help. However, it really can be the best decision you make. Please makes sure you use a qualified, rewarded based trainer, so that you get the best results without it costing the loving, caring and trusting relationship you have with your dog. See the ABTC website link below for details of trainers that follow a code of ethics and have been assessed.
However, we do need a bit of empathy and to understand what is going on for our dogs. Do you remember being a teenager? Certainly, a time of change and confusion. So why wouldn’t our dogs (or an animal) be similar.
The mammalian brain is physically changing during this period between puberty and adulthood. What this means is that they are more likely to take risks, have less inhibition, their confidence is increasing, their desire to be ‘social’ increases and prey drive kicks in. Sound fun!!
I remember being a teenager well. Finding my place within the world, wanting to be grown up but not knowing how to be. Hormones were of course impacting me and my friends as well, so no one really knew how to manage their behaviour sometimes. My parents were also trying to find the balance between giving me more freedom versus keeping me safe.
I think having an adolescent dog it very similar. We need to understand how many changes are going on physically and mentally. We must find the balance between giving them outlets for what they want versus keeping them safe.
Having suitable dogs that they can interact with without learning to be a hooligan. Using long lines to make sure they don’t learn how much fun running off and chasing a rabbit or bouncing on all the other dogs in park can be! Giving them some quiet time to allow them to process the world. Managing our expectations about what they can do, where they can go and help them cope if they are struggling.
Remembering that management isn’t cruel, it’s about not setting your dog up to fail. What gets rewarded gets repeated! Can you imagine the internal reward (feel good factor) your dog gets when it chases a rabbit across the field. They cannot hear you calling them, all they know is that this is the best thing they have done all day! So why wouldn’t they want to do it again tomorrow? For you, you are terrified that your dog is not listening to you and scared they aren’t safe. It’s the same if you allow your puppy to play with all the dogs they meet on a walk – this isn’t going to help them cope with their frustration of not being allowed to interact when the other dog when they are older. Management is essential during this time in their life.
However, please don’t take this to mean you hide away and don’t spend this time still working with your dog. This period of their life is very important to develop a well-rounded adult dog.
A few thoughts for you to help: How often do you play with your dog? Spontaneous, silly, just running around play? Do you give your dog appropriate outlets for both physical and mental desires? Hiring a dog field is a great way to give them some safe off lead time, do some training games, sniffing time, and be relaxed because you know no one else is around. Get to know your dog – what do they like doing? I love asking people – if your dog had choice of what they get up to, what would they do? This will guide you as to the fun activities you can learn together.
I personally really enjoy this time in a dog’s life. I love getting to know who they are going to become. Yes, it is challenging, yes it can be hard work, but please remember to enjoy it too! We don’t have long with our dogs, so make it all count.
I'm sure you are all aware of the news about the likelihood that the Government will ban XL Bully dogs. I have to say I don't agree with banning any breed as this doesn't address the underlying issues, however I do agree that something needs to be done to stop the numbers of dog attacks.
A ban will just move breeding 'underground' and actually could generate more money for breeders of these dogs. The big challenge is an XL Bully isn't a breed so there is no standard, so who can decide what is an XL Bully? These dogs are crosses and most likely created due to the ban on the Pit Bull. I believe all this will do is make breeders create another type of dog that is outside the government restrictions.
I know lots of wonderful Bully type dogs; however, some people are attracted to the breed due to the status of having a very large powerful dog and these people will go for looks or colour, and not be considering the health and temperament of these dogs. The breeders will not be health testing, raising them with care and understanding of how to raise a well-adjusted dog, and the new owners, wanting a status dog, will unlikely be taking them to certified reward-based trainers to give them appropriate life skills. For all of these reasons, it’s time to make changes.
It's time to focus on who is allowed to breed dogs. It's time to focus on education on how to raise dogs to be well adjusted and able to live in a human world. It's time to regulate the Dog Training industry so that people cannot just watch some 'quick fix' TikTok video and think they know how to fix a behaviour problem or spend money with an unqualified trainer. It’s time to stop and think if getting any dog is the right choice for the dog and family and understand in this world where we can get almost anything instantly, whether it’s time to stop and think first before buying.
Having said all the above, I want to reach out to any Bully dog owner and say there are lots of certified reward-based trainers across the country that are ready to help you. Please don’t panic and give up your dog (I can already see so many dogs being abandoned or given to rescue). I suggest you start with getting your dog happy to wear a muzzle. I can recommend the below link for well fitted muzzles and information about living with a dog that needs to be muzzled.
If you have a Bully and just want to talk to someone, please give me a call.
Do you worry about using food in training? Do you worry that you will always have to use it? Will your dog become obsessed with food? Can you use ‘human’ food, or should it always be ‘dog’ food? Will using food make my dog fat? Using food means you are bribing not training. I don’t need to use food; my dog loves me and that should be enough.
I think there is still confusion about using food in dog training, still some old school myths running around, so I wanted to address this.
Firstly, get comfortable with using food when you are training your dog (or any animal). Food is a fantastic tool that you have easy access to, so why not use it? Do you get paid to do your job? How about if I told you that when you are learnt your job, and when you are really good at it, that’s when I will stop paying you – how do you feel now? Are you still keen to work hard? To listen and respond to what your boss asks you to do? This is what I say when people ask me when I can stop using food in training.
Food is a primary reinforcer, and most dogs find it valuable. I can already hear people saying “my dog isn’t interested in food when another dog is around” (or insert your own distraction) and yes I agree food doesn’t trump lots of distractions and I’m not saying it will, but used correctly it is a powerful tool. Food can be used to create powerful positive associations for dogs as well as counter condition negative associations. It’s easy to use, lots of different variety can be used (kibble vs sausage) and your dog needs to eat so let’s get used to not seeing these are ‘treats’ but actually as part of their daily food allowance.
Your dog gets to choose what food is rewarding. Stop thinking about human food versus dog food. One of the activities I often get my clients to do is use a tray, pop 8 different types of food on that tray and then put on floor and watch to see which items the dog eats first. Some examples of food are: cheese, sausage, chicken, fish cubes, soft cheese, strawberries, cucumber, blueberries, kibble etc. If you haven’t ever done this, I really want to encourage you to try this – a wonderful way for your dog showing you what their personal level of each food reward is. That can be useful information when you are training. I am not a fan of getting your dog ‘working’ for all of their daily food, but you certainly need to find the balance of what food they have when you are training. You are in full control of what they eat, therefore there is no need for your dog to gain weight when you use food in training.
How do you deliver food is another way of creating value in using food. Do you get deliver to their mouth? Do you scatter food on the floor so they can sniff to find it? Do you throw it away, so they chase it? Do you chuck in the air, so they catch it? So many different ways to use food and depending on your dog’s personality they will have a preferred way for receiving food. Some dogs would love to chase it across the floor, whilst some would look at you with the ‘you’ve got to be kidding – I now have to run to earn my reward!!!’ Another fun game to try with your dog – how do they like to receive their food reward?
I pay my dogs regularly and have no shame in doing so. It’s interesting that people sometimes comment when they see me using food. For example, when walking on the canal and a bike goes past, I’ll ask my dogs to sit and wait whilst the bike goes past, I will then give my dogs a food reward and some people will quip “they’ll do anything for food” in a way that is them almost suggesting my dogs need to have food to listen. I just smile and don’t say anything because they don’t understand, but I do find it interesting that people seem to judge dog owners that are seen to use food. I get full of joy when I see someone walking down the street delivering food rewards to their dog when you can clearly see them practicing their loose lead walking.
So does that mean I always have to use food? I will go back to my point of: Do you get paid to do your job? So Yes, some form of reward should always be used but as my dog’s learning increases the payments do reduce. I would expect my dog to do more, work harder or longer for the ‘payment’. When I started Hoopers training, I would reward my dog for simply doing 1 Hoop. Now, I expect them to run a whole course of 20 obstacles for a reward. Starting to teach loose lead walking, I pay every step and overtime reduce this down to some food rewards and verbal praise. I often say pay according to difficulty. If I am at home, no distractions around, then a mix of kibble/biscuits I would use, but the moment I go outside on a walk or to a training class, the value of my payment/food reward goes up.
Getting paid for doing a job is a big reinforcer, but it’s not the only reason we go to work. We have relationships with co-workers, pride in your job and learning skills are all motivations to work. Linking that back to dog training, when your dog is learning new skills, or you are still building your relationship, more frequent rewards are needed, as your relationship builds, and there is intrinsic value in learning and playing together, then that also forms part of their motivation.
Overtime, your dog will often work without food because they truly enjoy the activity, the teamwork of playing with you and they have been reinforced previously so now it is valuable for them to do. This is all about relationship and history of learning and reinforcements that will get you to the goal of you and your dog being a great team.
I have just read a recent website article titled “How to Dominate a Dog and become the Alpha Leader”. This was written this year and the ‘expert’ writing it gives advice about how to makes sure your dog knows you are Alpha. Some of the suggestions were:
Make eye contact – stare at your dog when are they acting out of line.
Don’t let your dog walk in front of you because only the Alpha leads the pack.
Control all the resources – don’t let your dog have any food or toys without you giving it to them.
Don’t allow them on the bed or sofa.
Misbehaving is your dog trying to test the boundaries and needs to be corrected.
Get your dog to earn everything – nothing is for free.
All these things make you a strong leader and is you asserting your dominance so your dog will learn to be a well-behaved canine.
I honestly cannot believe this sort of article is still being written and still allowing people to be misinformed about how to train and live with dogs. This information is so outdated. It has now been disproved by scientists; however, these sorts of myths just won’t go away. I feel so sad for dog owners who are trying their best to raise their dog to be a wonderful family member when these sorts of articles are still being spouted by so called experts!
Why do we seem to cling onto outdated, factually incorrect information? Is it deeper than this? Is it that sometimes we feel out of control with our dogs and that being told to ‘be more Alpha’ connects with something more basic that makes sense to us? If we fear something or don’t understand it, then control must be the only option? Discipline is needed. Right and wrong – a moral judgment is required.
Dogs are not moral. They have no concept of right and wrong. They see the world as what’s successful/safe versus unsuccessful/unsafe. So, when we say things like “they knew they shouldn’t be doing that” it’s not correct. Yes, they give a brilliant ‘guilty’ face, which we take as them ‘knowing’ they did wrong. The appeasement body language they are displaying is in response to your emotional state or past memories of what happens in these situations. For example: your dog chews the sofa when you are out of the house. You come home, you are angry and shout at the dog. Dog learns, when you come home you are sometimes angry and upset, so they learn to show appeasement when you return home. The sofa chewing isn’t in their radar of why you are reacting like that. You need to look at why the dog was chewing the sofa: boredom, stress, anxiety, teething etc. The underlying reason of ‘why’ needs to be addressed, not punish them for doing it.
I honestly understand that sometimes our dogs can cause us stress, worry and anxiety. Some behaviour problems can impact every aspect of our lives. Not being able to walk on the beach in case you see another dog, not having visitors in your home for fear of them showing aggression, not being able to go out to social events because your dog cannot be left alone. There are lots of behaviours that our dogs need our support to help them with, to live in our human world. They don’t need us to dominate them, to be more Alpha, to stop any freedom of choice or prevent them from having a trusting relationship with us.
If you get a dog to dominate and rule like an Alpha, then can I please suggest you don’t get one.
Do you know the difference between a reward and a reinforcer? We use the term reward-based training often, but if you only reward the behaviour and your dog isn’t actually getting reinforced then the training outcome you are working towards is unlikely to be achieved.
The quick way to know if the reward is actually reinforcing the behaviour is to see if your dog is willing to repeat the behaviour. If they don’t want to repeat it – it wasn’t reinforcing! This is when we start to say that our dogs are dumb or stubborn. This isn’t correct or helpful for us to think like this. Our dogs are very intelligent but also honest. They will repeat a behaviour that is worth doing again. They are looking for rewards and reinforces in their daily life (just like us!) so why would they do something that doesn’t have any fun outcomes?
How much would I have to pay you to do a job you didn’t want to? A job I hate to do is cleaning the windows of my house. So if I did it and only got a ‘thank you’ from my husband, I am less likely to want to do it again. However, if after I finished all my friends turned up and had a party, then you know what, I might be more likely to happily clean my windows more often! So in this situation, in the first instead I did get rewarded by verbal praise. However, this reward didn’t increase my desire to repeat the behaviour of cleaning my windows. In the second example, I got a wonderful evening with friends, that reward reinforced my behaviour so I am now more likely to do it again. By the way, I now pay a window cleaner as really don’t like that job and my friends don’t turn up to party after I do it 😊
Top tips to help with your training:
1 – Play more! Find out what games your dog likes. Is it tug, chase, bounce? You can build an amazing relationship with your dog once you understand their play style. Also take your games on your walks. Most of us only use games at home with our dogs and don’t think about taking this fun interaction outside.
2 – Tone of voice – be aware how you speak to your dog has an impact. If you are stern in your tone, then that ‘control’ you think you have will only last to a certain point. Who wants to do things because they are worried about the outcome if they don’t do it? At some point, the dog will choose the other more fun option such as chasing the squirrel or running with another dog. Keep it happy and light.
3 – Words – do you ‘nag’ at your dog? Keep repeating the same cue and expecting them to respond? Do you constantly ‘chat’ at your dog and just expect them to know what is chat and what words they should respond to? Make sure you are clear with what verbal cues you expect your dog to understand and respond to.
4 – Management – the old classic of using management so that you dog gets it right. Don’t set your dog up to fail – I say this a lot. If you know in certain situations your dog is likely to do the unwanted behaviour, then it’s your job to put in the management required to keep them safe and not allow them to rehearse the behaviour you don’t want them to do. Using a long line, or using a stairgate at home, these aren’t failing, these are management steps.
5 – Celebrate small wins – it’s so important in anything you are training your dog to do, to celebrate each small progression step they make. Slow and steady is the best way for your dog to learn a new skill, so make sure each step is rewarded.
6 – Natural outlets – is your dog allowed to be a dog? Do you give them appropriate outlets where possible? If you have a dog that loves to dig – have you got an area in your garden where they can dig or a sandpit filled with sand and toys to find? Do you sometimes hire a dog field and let them freely run around without worry of what you might come across? Especially useful if you have a dog that struggles around other dogs and people or a young dog that doesn’t have a reliable recall yet. Do you allow your dog to choose the pace of your walk? To allow them to stop and sniff as much as they want or even choose the direction they go?
My challenge to you is to really start thinking about what your dog finds reinforcing as this really will help you with your training goals.
I went to Crufts for 2 days this year. I have been going for many years and decided 1 day just wasn’t enough so the last few years I have gone for 2 days and stayed overnight. Mum and I go and have an amazing time cheering on people we know in various dog sports and showing. Showing I have to say isn’t really ‘my thing’ so spend most of our time in the big arena watching agility, flyball, obedience, heelwork to music and all the other brilliant displays. I love understanding how much work and time and sometimes tears has been put in to achieve the level of skill that each dog and handler are displaying and to be able to do it whilst being watched by thousands is amazing. The relationships are wonderful to watch no matter what age.
Another reason I go is to shop! I like to speak to various stands to learn about new products, diets, treatments and to meet up with people from my membership organisations of APDT & PACT. We always go round Discover Dogs and find out information about breeds I don’t know much about. Speaking to people that own these dogs is the best way to learn the truth about them and know if they would be suitable. We also pick a breed that we would have – cannot be one you’ve had before – a fun game 😊
However, I am always torn as to whether I should support everything that this show stands for. I really struggle to see certain breeds of dogs that clearly struggle to function as a normal dog. Brachycephalic (short nosed dogs) that cannot breathe, German Shepherds which have such bad slopping backs that it impedes their movement, Labradors that are clearly overweight – this list goes on. All these dogs are in the show ring and therefore are a good ‘breed standard’. I see dogs that are showing lots of stress signals simply being in that environment. I also witness some horrible handling of the dogs. The worse was on Gundog day; 2 children, under school age, were pulling their Labrador around, on a slip lead, whilst the parents just stood and chatted to other competitors. When the girls screamed, it was only because the other child wanted their turn to hold the lead, the parent gave the second child the dog lead and she then proceeded to drag the dog around and around in circles. The dog had a tucked tail, was licking his lips, licked their faces and was showing every appeasing signal possible, and no one was listening or responding to him. It was so desperately sad to watch and know that this dog was such a lovely dog to tolerate this. As a country of dog lovers, it makes me so upset that we don’t learn to read and understand our dogs. It should be our responsibility to learn how dogs communicate and to listen and respond when they do talk to us.
After saying all that, I know I will more than likely attend next year. It’s a very tiring day as you walk miles around all the halls, but I do love it. I think you have more chance of making changes from the inside rather than just not engaging. Most of the organisations are wanting the best for the dogs and are working towards improving their breeds and focusing on welfare overall. So that I want to support.
So, what are your thoughts? Are you a yes or no to Crufts?
Was it a certain breed you always wanted? You grew up with a similar dog? Did you see them on a rescue page and fell in love? Did you meet one in the park, and you knew that was the right dog for you? There are so many reasons why people pick a certain breed or type of dog.
When I was 12 years old I met an Irish Red & White Setter when I went to dog training classes with my parents when they were raising their Border Collie Mac. I knew from that day, one day I would get a Red & White Setter. I thought what a beautiful dog, gracefully yet silly, intelligent and loved to work. When I was 30 I knew I was able to consider getting a puppy. I had enough time, money and knowledge to devote to raising a pup. Most people don’t even know what a Irish Red & White Setter is; I used to get asked if he was a big spaniel or some sort of cross. They are not a common breed, so I had to wait for the right breeder with a suitable pup for us. We welcomed Morgan into our family and he was just as I hoped. The long legged, handsome, regal I always used to think, silly puppy. At 8 months of age, I still remember this so clearly, we were on a walk, and he did his first ‘set’. He froze, stalked and then flushed a pheasant out from the grass. I didn’t see the bird and up to that point he hadn’t shown any of these behaviours before. His recall was great; however now everything has changed. His natural genetics had kicked in and his desire to flush birds was now the most important thing in his world.
The fact as an adolescent he discovered his natural breed traits shouldn’t have been a surprise. This is the age where your dogs will be developing and learning, and this time is when your relationship can be tested as the pup you were raising has now changed. This is why you need to know what your dog was originally bred to do. That way you can focus your training on what is likely to show up. Are they more likely to bark? chase? hunt? destroy? bite?
Anyway, back to Morgan. We spent the next year with him on a long line (we hadn’t needed to use one up till then) and spent lots and lots of time working on his engagement with us and not allowing him to freely chase birds. The internal rewards he would have felt when he flushed that bird; there is no food or toy reward I could use to show him staying with me was better! So management is required. Don’t let your dog rehearse a behaviour that you don’t want them to repeat. We spent lots of time working on focus and engagement type games, building our relationship and yes we did also allow him to flush birds sometimes – but only when he was given a cue to do so. I love giving dogs access to their natural outlets, but there needs to be boundaries to keep everyone safe. There are some behaviours that you can give an alternative outlet rather than access to the thing they actually want.
During these challenging training times, this is when having dog can make people turn towards punishment-based training methods. I know lots of people that have come to me, that have been told by others that their chasing dog needs to have an e-collar on to teach them not to chase. These e-collars give an electric shock to your dogs neck when they do the ‘wrong’ behaviour. Please Please Please never feel like you need to use any training that causes pain, fear or intimidation. As the more intelligent species, we have so many more options as to how you can train your dog to listen and respond to you. I feel so sad when I hear people have used these types of equipment because they felt they shouldn’t be using them, but a trainer told them to, so surely it must be ok? NO! Dog training and behaviour is an unregulated industry. Anyone can set up a business and call themselves a Behaviourist or Trainer. Please check the people that you use are accredited with a membership organisation that actually ensures they are using only up to date, science based, rewarding methods.
Anyway, back to Morgan and his pheasant chasing. Yes it took time, and yes we made some mistakes along the way (he got some free chasing that wasn’t planned) but yes we did get to have him off lead in all locations with a great recall around birds.
If you have a working breed, you must expect that some of their natural behaviours will show up. Are you aware what your breed or crossbreed were originally bred to do? If you are considering getting a dog, can I please encourage you to research the breed. Don’t be tempted on looks alone. Another trainer described a working line dog as the Ferrari of the dog world. I love cars even though I drive a van! I would love a really fast sports car, but I certainly wouldn’t want that to learn to drive in one. Actually, if I just want to pop to the shops with kids in the car, that wouldn’t be suitable either. Maybe a Ford Focus would be must more suitable as the all-round car? I love this analogy of dog breeds. What do you want from a dog? Is it an all-round family pet? Or is it a high drive sporting breed? Do you just want to enjoy walks on the beach, or need to take it competing and giving it a special lifestyle? If you get a dog from working line parents – what do you think you are going to get?
Something to consider when researching your next dog or perhaps looking at the dog you have now. If you are struggling with your training, have you consider breed type? Genetics? Can you give them more appropriate outlets?
As always, if you want to have a chat about your dog, don’t hesitate to give me a call.