November 30, 2022
Ruby and Fern (Sue Brundrett)
Ruby and Fern (Sue Brundrett)

Many trainers resist using food rewards when training their dogs. Until your dog has realised the value of expressing innate and instinctive responses, and you, as a trainer, have taught her self control around the things that she wants, food is the most desirable and the most convenient reinforcer available in the early days. But simply using food to reward desired responses is only a small part of the picture…

Using food, toys and praise is all about building a bond with a puppy. As the training progresses the dog will start working with you, not against you. You become a team working together, using motivation not force. This relationship makes training easy in terms of the dog understanding what you want and trying hard to offer you behaviour you like. Positive training is about the big picture, relationship, motivation and association – not treats. So we manage the emotional experience while training, making sure the dog enjoys the behaviour with no frustration or confusion so that the dog chooses that behaviour rather than something else. If the learning is negative, then the conditioned emotional response associated with it will impact the choice, especially if there is opportunity to avoid it.

This is why, so often, dogs resist returning to the handler, go out to the retrieve slowly, lag when heeling, delay picking up the retrieve article, to name a few. If this is happening to your dog try and see what he or she is avoiding. Check what it was in your training that created this particular conditioned emotional response.

Another important point with the use of food is that it should never be used to manage behaviour such as a dog running in on a retrieve, or producing food to tempt the dog to come to you. You might want to read about the fallout of using food as a bribe here.

Positive trainers use food to create a “trained response” to a cue. Just like traditional training, the dog needs to learn to respond to cues in increasingly distracting situations and this is often where trainers fail to take their training to the next level where the reliability of the “trained” or “conditioned” response to the cue is proofed. Once the response is on cue (or under stimulus control) producing food should no longer be necessary. o.

The “take home” message I’d like to convey here is that ultimately the value of the reinforcer whether it is sausage, liver bread, tug toys, balls or the opportunity to display a hard-wired motor pattern, is decided by the dog!



April 22, 2020

Since some of my clients battle to train two dogs at the same time and end up confining one of the dogs, I thought it might be useful to repost this which was originally part of my Lockdown Challenges effort.


If you are pressed for time in your training, then locking one or more dogs away while you work with another is time-consuming and tends to take away the spontaneity of a training session. Also, the dogs that are locked away and probably crying and barking to join you are not learning anything. It also makes planning your training sessions easier.

Teaching dogs to wait their turn off-lead and at the same time enabling observation is a useful skill and well-worth the time it takes to train. The Premack Principle also comes into play here as it does with so many of the skills you teach your dog.

What is the Premack Principle?

An individual will be more motivated to perform an activity if he knows that he will participate in a more desirable activity as a consequence. Stated objectively, if high-probability behaviours (more desirable behaviours) are made contingent upon lower-probability behaviours (less desirable behaviours), then the lower-probability behaviours are more likely to occur. The Premack principle has long been informally understood and used in a wide variety of circumstances. An example is a mother who says, “You have to finish your vegetables (low frequency) before you can eat any ice cream (high frequency)”. So with our Go to Mat game, we are reinforcing the high probability behaviour of the opportunity to train with you by making it contingent on your dog waiting on his mat (low probability behaviour) for his turn to train with you and at the same time reinforcing the low probability behaviour of waiting on the mat.

Step 1:  For two dogs you will need two mats placed close together. Close enough so that you can stand in front of them and feed them treats without moving your feet. Give them three of four treats turn and turnabout, saying the dog’s name just before delivering the treat. Release them for a break and repeat the step a couple of times.

In this video I have added my pup to the lineup but the principle remains the same for two dogs.  Notice how I handled Bo leaving her mat.

Step 2:  For your next session, and provided all went well with Step 1, you can now move the mats further apart. You now must take a couple of steps between the mats in order to give each dog his treat for waiting patiently on his mat. If Dog A breaks and follows you to Dog B, then do nothing. Give Dog B his treat – say nothing to Dog A but walk back to his mat and wait for him to get on it. Only then does he get his treat. Do not say anything but just wait for him to make the right choice and get on to his mat. It might be that you have not taught the basics of Go to Mat thoroughly enough, in which case you need to revisit Step 1 and 2 of the basic GTM game.

Step 3:  Only proceed to Step 3 if you are sure that each dog will stay on his mat while you move from one to the other or until released. With the mats positioned as they were for Step 2, and with each dog stationed on his mat, call Dog A off his mat and either on lead or off lead him a few paces away and do a couple of reps of an exercise that he can do well.  At this stage, you do not want to be teaching him a new skill. You then take him back to his mat and repeat the exercise with Dog B. Alternate each dog a couple of times, and then release.


August 9, 2022

Some useful information.

Louise's Dog Blog

Having grown up in a world where temperature was routinely measured in Fahrenheit, a temperature reading in Celsius normally confounds me.  So when I took my young 10 month old girl’s temperature because she has been looking and behaving off-colour since yesterday afternoon, the reading on my Celsius thermometer of 40.7 degrees did not mean too much to me – only that it was above normal.  I had no idea by how much above normal.  Since it was too early in the morning to phone the vet for an appointment, I realised that I should at least know if a temperature of 40.7 was serious or not.

Once again, Google to the rescue.  With a click of a button you can convert temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit or Kelvin; you can convert anything measurable from one thing to another.  As easy as pie.  Much simpler than multiplying by 9, dividing…

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About the Tether

May 9, 2022

There will be times when it is necessary to tether your dog.  However, dogs that are not accustomed to being tethered will pull against the lead and if left will become more and more panicky so develop all sorts of negative associations with the environment and the situation.

Digimax A50 / KENOX Q2

Step 1:  The first step is to make sure that your dog will tolerate the lead.  You might have to start off simply desensitizing him to simply wearing the lead attached to his collar.  You do this by first of all attaching the lead while he is eating his dinner, and then letting him drag it around (with your supervision, of course), and then teaching him that he can control the pressure on the lead by giving into it rather than pulling against it. 

(If your dog is happy with the lead, then you can skip this step).

Step 2:  With your dog on lead, attach the lead to a post, tree or fence.  Make sure the lead is long enough to allow it to hang loose when your dog is lying down.  Without moving away reward your dog for staying in position.  Your rate of reinforcement must be high enough to keep your dog in a relaxed position attached to the fence.  Use up at least 10 treats or more doing this.

Step 3:  When you are sure your dog is relaxed take one step away, count to 2, return to your dog and reward.  Repeat this a number of times until you feel sure your dog can tolerate you moving a little further away.

Step 4:  Move away 3 steps, count to 2, return to your dog and reward.  Repeat this 5 times.

Step 5:  Move away 5 steps, count to 3, return to your dog and reward.  Repeat this 5 times.

In this way you gradually desensitize the dog to being tethered.  What you need to avoid is raising your criterion of distance too fast so that he panics and starts fighting the lead again.  This will require you to go back to the beginning.  Spread this exercise over a number of days and a number of trials, releasing your dog between trials to either have a game with a tug toy or a ball or to do some obedience exercise that he knows well.

This is an excellent exercise if you are training more than one dog.  If the tethering is followed or interspersed with exercises with you that he enjoys, the tethering will become an enjoyable experience that predicts good things happening rather than a frightening experience that your dog may never recover from.


Characteristics of the Various Breeds of Dogs

July 5, 2021

Louise's Dog Blog

The dog has been around humans, the latest research shows, for the past 15,000 years, or more.  In the beginning the dog was merely a “camp follower”.  Its presence around the early settlements was tolerated possibly because it helped clean up the waste that accumulated in the village dumps to which the early dog was attracted.  These dumps were a relatively risk-free source of food and it didn’t require much effort to obtain enough food for the animal’s survival.  All it required was a certain level of “tameability”.

Over time various “land races” evolved with characteristics which were determined largely by the environment they were exposed to which was initially geographic.  All the greyhound type dogs come from landraces which evolved all over the Middle East and which were used for hunting for thousands of years – the Saluki of Arabia and the Borzoi of Russia;  The herders – precursors…

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Retriever Training – Steadiness using Premack

June 6, 2021

Having just watched one of Susan Garrett’s podcasts on the Premack Principle I though of this blog post where I used Premack to teach my dogs to be steady on a retrieve.

Louise's Dog Blog

In retriever tests and trials it is a requirement that your dog is steady in the line until sent by the handler to retrieve.  An unsteady dog will fail to mark the fall accurately, particularly if the fall is in cover of some sort, so steadying a dog is one of the skills it is important to master if your dog is to “make the grade”.

Punishment as Motivation – not Recommended

Traditional trainers through the years have used punishment to teach the dog to remain steady.  Some dogs are brought into line wearing a lead which will then bring the dog up short as he runs out and hits the end of the leash.  Some trainers clip their dog with a heeling stick or whip as they run out.  Some trainers “correct” their dogs at the slightest sign of breaking with a helper armed with a BB gun or…

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The Eight out of Ten Rule

May 25, 2021

Louise's Dog Blog

The whole point of so-called “obedience” training is to have some control of your dog’s behaviour at all times and in spite of distractions, without having to physically handle him.  This can only happen if you train thoroughly.  This means that for each behaviour you must apply the 80% correct rule.  This means that you need to get 8 out of 10 rewardable repetitions before you can raise your criteria.  The problem with most training is that the reinforcers are removed too soon – before the behaviour is conditioned.  Conditioned behaviour is something the dog does not have to think about.  He hears (or sees) the cue and his muscle memory takes over.  This conditioning is very much what happens to humans who play a musical instrument or drive a car.

For example, let’s assume that you have planned to practise “sit” in your formal training session.

Step 1: …

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The Case of the “Stubborn” Dog

March 24, 2021

Have you ever been in a situation where your dog, for no apparent reason, stops doing a behaviour that he or she has been doing really well in the past?  Is your dog being stubborn?  Is he trying to “dominate” you?  Has he forgotten his training?  Or does the answer originate with you, the handler?

When you require your dog to perform a task the sequence is to give the dog a CUE which is followed by the BEHAVIOUR which you asked for followed by a CONSEQUENCE.  A cue is the “green light” that tells the dog it’s time to do a behaviour. A cue can be anything that the animal can perceive: verbal, visual, environmental, a scent, a sound, or a touch. A cue can be trained—the word “down” is a common verbal cue that means “lie down on the ground.”  Or, a cue can simply be learned from association—when I open the lid of the treat jar in no time I am surrounded by dogs with sad, starving dog faces so I will give them a biscuit.

As Karen Pryor describes in her book, “Reaching the Animal Mind”, a poisoned cue occurs when a dog associates unpleasant things with a cue. Because of these unpleasant associations, the dog will either hesitate to perform the behaviour or not do it at all. We humans think of unpleasant as a reprimand or scolding, or painful, like a jerk on a check chain. But what we think is unpleasant and what the dog thinks is unpleasant are often different. A slight tug on the leash, pulling on our dog’s collar, leaning over the dog, or even a pat on the head, can all be unpleasant – for the dog.

Poisoned cues are more common than you think and are often the culprit when a dog is thought to be stubborn.

In the following scenario, a dog who was previously coming when called in response to the cue “Come” and a treat, for no apparent reason stopped responding to the cue, and when called ignored the handler, avoiding eye contact and sniffing the grass.  In this case the “Come” cue had been inadvertently paired with a scolding.  The “Come” cue had been “poisoned”.

In another scenario, a dog who had been delivering a toy very nicely to the handler’s outstretched hand for no apparent reason started dropping it at the handler’s feet.  What the handler had been doing was to “reward” the dog for delivery by patting it on the head which the dog didn’t enjoy.  So he started dropping the dummy thus avoiding the pat on the head.  The outstretched hand which was the cue for delivery was poisoned by the pat on the head.


So, before you label your dog as being stubborn, look at yourself and your behavior.  You might be inadvertently poisoning your cues.


Keeping Your Dog Busy

January 19, 2021

Louise's Dog Blog

Giving your dog a supply of toys is one way of keeping him busy.  There are an amazing variety of toys for dogs these days.   Fluffy toys that squeak, rubber toys for chewing, and interactive rope toys for playing tug.  The problem with most of these toys is that because dogs – unlike children – do not have the right brains for inventing solitary make-believe games with their toys, very quickly tire of them.  One solution is that if your dog has many toys, do not make them available all at once.  Rotate them so that there are always one or two toys that he or she hasn’t seen in a while.

The best toys are those that involve finding food.  Dogs that are not family pets spend most of their waking hours foraging for food.  So, it stands to reason that if you want to keep your dog amused…

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Empathy and Emotions

April 27, 2020

Instead of presenting yet another challenge, I would like to post this article that I wrote in 2012 and I feel is very relevant now.

Louise's Dog Blog

According to Frans de Waal empathy is the capacity to (a) be affected by and share the emotional state of another, (b) assess the reasons for the other’s state, and (c) identify with the other, adopting his or her perspective.   This definition extends beyond what exists in many animals, but the term “empathy” … applies even if only criterion (a) is met.”

Every night owner John Unger takes his sleeping pal Schoep into the waters of Lake Superior in Wisconsin and lulls him to sleep.

There are a many articles and studies done on whether or not dogs are empathetic towards humans.  But in spite of the fact that empathy towards the dogs we live with is an essential ingredient in our relationship and interaction with these animals very little has been written about this subject.  How often with our own dogs do we put feelings of frustration and aggravation…

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April 23, 2020

Our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed the nation this evening and has advised that from May 1 our Lockdown will be moving into a slightly less intense phase.  This is a great relief and will mean a slight relaxation of some of the restrictions.  However, public gatherings will still be restricted so that means that dog training classes are still on hold.  However, Animal Behaviour Consultants of South Africa are preparing a document motivating the resumption of dog-related activities so hopefully there will be some relaxation in our case.  In the meantime, I will be continuing with these free challenges certainly until we hear what the outcome is on the 1st of May.

dog touching target 2


My challenge over the past day or so has been to concentrate more on “targeting”.  Targeting and Luring are two similar and easy ways that we can “get” a dog to perform a behaviour.   Both a food lure and a touched target lead an animal into position. Both “get the behaviour.” Is there any real difference between the two methods? Why do some trainers rely on luring while others opt for targeting?  Both methods have similarities and some important differences.

Similarities are:

  1. Both methods require an eventual fade of the lure or the target so that they don’t become the final cue for the behaviour.
  2. Both carry a risk of the trainer becoming as dependent on a physical prompt as is the animal to complete the behaviour.  Beginner trainers are afraid that they may lose the progress they have made without maintaining the method that got them there.

Differences are:

  1. The lured animal is so focused on the treat that it is thinking of its appetite and not the task.  Less learning has been accomplished.
  2. With targeting although there is also a food reward the food is not in front of the dog so that it can think of the task and not its appetite.  More learning is accomplished.

So with targeting the animal is more engaged in the process, has accomplished more learning, and is more able to apply that learning to any number of behaviours.

The most basic targets are for the dog to touch his nose or paw to a hand, but there are also targets that may not seem so obvious.  We taught the dogs to target a “Perch” earlier in the challenges, as well as a platform.  Getting onto a mat is also targeting behaviour.  Your challenge over the next few days is to teach your dogs to touch your hand with a nose or paw and also to follow a target stick.

I’ll be back tomorrow so in the meantime, stay safe.

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