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.


April 22, 2020


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.


April 21, 2020

I thought it was time to do a quick review of the learning challenges that have been posted since Day 1 of Lockdown.  So this is a list of the challenges if you need to go back and review anything.

Teaching Down and adding a verbal cue:  You find these on DAY TWO  and DAY FIVE

Teaching Perch – Easy beginnings:  DAY THREE and DAY FOUR

Teaching Chin Rest:  DAY FIVE and DAY 6 

Teaching Self Control:  DAY SEVEN

Platforms and Stays:  DAY 8 and DAY 16 

Retrieve:  DAY 10 

Clicker/Marker Training:  DAY 12

Loose Lead Walking:  DAY 13 and DAY 14

Go to Mat:  DAY 19 and DAY 20

Tricks – Spin:  DAY 23

Tricks – Around:  Day 24

I hope this will help you negotiate the blog if you’re looking for something specific.

I know that some of you have more than one dog and I always feel bad having to lock one of mine away while I’m training the other.  They feel bad as well!  And left out!  But there is a way that you can train more than one at the same time.  The first step is to teach Go to Mat Step 1 and Step 2.  I will tomorrow show you how to include all your dogs into your training sessions.

Take care and Stay Safe.



Day 24 of Lockdown SA Challenges

April 19, 2020

I hope you are all staying safe and keeping busy.  I also hope that working through these challenges and tasks has kept you and your dogs stimulated enough to ward off any feelings of frustration.

Yesterday I explained a trick that is really easy to teach your dog and once accomplished will give both you and your dog a sense of achievement even though it doesn’t really have any practical purpose apart from keeping your dog moving in ways that are different from the norm.

Today I’d like you to learn how to send your dog around an obstacle.  You can use any obstacle that your dog can circle with ease.  It can be a plant, a pole, a tree or even a chair or a person!

Step 1:  Stand in front of your obstacle with your dog facing the obstacle.  Holding a piece of food in front of your dog’s nose lure him around the obstacle, either clockwise or counterclockwise.  Mark with a click or the word “Good” or “Yes” as he is going around and give him the food in your hand when he finishes.  Repeat this step 5 or 6 times and have a break before doing another couple of repetitions.

Step 2:  With your next session use the food to lure your dog around the obstacle a couple of times, then with an empty hand and with the same gesture as if you had food in the hand, repeat this 3 or 4 times.  Once again, mark when the dog is halfway around the obstacle and feed when the dog finishes.  You will probably have to repeat this step over the next 3 sessions.

Step 3:  By now your dog should get excited when he sees the obstacle and might even pre-empt going around it.  In this case, show him how excited you are at his progress and reward him.  However, he might be waiting for you to give him the hand signal so it’s okay to do this.  Repeat step 3 once again over two sessions.

The final step is to add a verbal cue, but I’ll cover that tomorrow.

This is a video I took this morning of Bo demonstrating the “Go Around”.


April 18, 2020

I haven’t heard from any of you about our Obstacle Challenge.   The best way to build an obstacle course is to train each obstacle individually and then when they are on cue (either a hand signal or a verbal cue) then start chaining them together.  So looking forward to what you have been doing!


dog tricks4

I believe that the pup’s and dog’s mind should be engaged; that he should be taught to be aware of ALL his body – not only his legs; spinning, weaving, walking backwards, walking up and downstairs, swimming. These are all activities that your pup will enjoy and that will prepare him for a life of health and well-being.


  • Tricks teach pups to think, to use their bodies and minds.
  • Tricks teach pups that there is no difference between working and playing and gives them the right attitude.
  • Tricks give pups confidence in the way they move and that there are no mistakes and failures and that trying things is good.
  • Tricks build a bond between you and your pup and give you more insight into how they think.
  • Tricks also help teach pups about hind-leg awareness and strengthen the muscles the pups use for balance.

Some of the tricks you can start teaching your pup or dog (it’s never too late to learn) are:

The Spin:

This is a very easy trick to teach with a lure.  It is a good idea to teach it going clockwise and counter-clockwise.

Step 1:  With your pup or dog standing in front of you, place your right hand with a piece of food in front of the dog’s nose and rotate the hand clockwise so that the dog turns his head to his right to follow the food and continues following the food until he has turned through 360 degrees and finishes where he started.

Step 2:  Once your dog is following the food lure confidently, you can replace the lure with a hand signal.  Now your dog has learnt the visual signal for the behaviour.

Step 3:  Now you can insert your verbal cue (a different one for each direction – I use “Spin” for counter-clockwise and “Turn” for Clockwise.




April 16, 2020

How are you all going on your Obstacles Challenges.  Having some fun I hope.  I spent today catching up on chores (long overdue) and since my garden helper is also on lockdown I mowed the grass and pulled a LOT of weeds with help from Bo.  So, nothing much got done on the Challenges, but I thought you might need a break as well.

What I did do while busy in the garden is practise some recalls.  Recalls should always be like a game for the dogs otherwise they will stop coming to you with enthusiasm.  So a couple of tips…

  1.  ALWAYS reward your dog for coming when you call…  even if it was not instantaneous and even if you are frustrated and angry.
  2. NEVER associate your recall with punishment – remember that your dog might have a different opinion about punishment than you have.
  3. If your dog won’t come when you call don’t chase him – rather run away.  Few dogs can resist a chase game.
  4. Make coming to you the best thing in the world.  It is too important a skill to neglect and it might one day save your dog’s life.
  5. Until your recall is 100% reliable use a long line on walks.  When you are sure your dog will come when called, then you can happily let him run free.
  6. If your dog won’t take treats (sometimes if he is too excited, then he will not be interested in eating) then reward him by giving him access to something he enjoys – send him back to sniff some more, or play with his doggy friends, or perhaps he loves fetching a ball.

These videos illustrate some of the pointers in getting your dog to come when called, no matter what.


April 15, 2020

Continuing on from Day 19 and the start of teaching Go to Mat.  You might like to review the detail of what to do in Step 1, but here is the updated Progressions for Step 1.

GTM Step 1 Contd

Today was a lovely sunny day so I took another video of Bo learning about mat.  I have spent quite a lot of time on platform work so she has no problem targeting a mat.  The task went quite quickly.  Have a look…




April 14, 2020


St Bernard on mat

Hi everyone on this wet and chilly day in Kloof, KwaZulu Natal.  Too wet to work out of doors so I thought it was a good opportunity to introduce Bo, and you, to Mat work.  I was first introduced to a training game called “Go to Mat” or “GTM” by a Lesley McDevitt who wrote “Control Unleashed”.  I have been teaching my dogs to go to their mat for many years now and I love it so much that I include it in all my classes.  We will be spending the next two or three days on this challenge.

When this game is mastered it will give your dog a great behaviour that has clear expectations for him, no matter what distractions are present.  The potential applications are endless.  You can take a mat anywhere.  You can send your dog to his mat when you are eating dinner, when you are preparing a meal in the kitchen.  You can send your dog to his mat when your guests arrive or when the doorbell rings.

There are five parts to training the Go to Mat game:

Step 1:  Get on the mat

Step 2:  Find the mat.

Step 3:  Sitting or lying on the mat.

Step 4:  Teaching the release.

Step 5:  Adding Duration, Distance and Distractions.


Take any mat, blanket or towel that your dog hasn’t seen before and hold it for a while, examining it carefully (with your dog watching).  You will be using the same mat while your dog is learning the exercise.  Without a word and with a flourish, put your mat on the floor close to you where you think the dog will naturally be when she realizes you have food – probably right in front of you, but not too close.  She will come over and stand on the mat facing you.  As she touches the mat with her paws be ready to mark and treat 5 times while she is on the mat.  Toss the 6th treat OFF the mat so that your dog has to leave the mat to get the treat. Be ready to mark and treat 5 times while your dog is on the mat.    After eating the treat she will most likely come back on to the mat and when she does you’ll once again repeat the process.  Repeat this whole procedure 2 or 3 times over 2 or3 sessions.

Now we need to see if she can find the mat and get on it.  Even with the mat a little further away from you she should go straight to it.  What if she still doesn’t get it and persists in sitting in front of you (off the mat) and gazing hopefully at you.  Although it will not help her learn if you start tossing treats on to the mat you can move around the mat so that she responds to your body position.  No luring, gesturing, vocalizing – just wait… Remember, the art of training is in how you set things up to help your dog succeed.  The learning block might have happened because you raised your criteria too rapidly in the first couple of steps.  Remember – baby steps.

I did record Bo doing Step 1 today but it was so gloomy and dark that I decided not to post it.  No rain forecast for tomorrow so I should be able to get a better video.  In the meantime this is a summary of Step One which you should repeat at least over two sessions.  I know that you’ll enjoy this game.  And so will your dog.

GTM Progressions






April 13, 2020

Today I thought I’d do a little work on hind leg awareness.  I’ve already introduced Bo to the Perch – have a look here and here.  But today’s challenge was to get her high stepping over an obstacle – much like a cavaletti for horses.

Using a stepladder worked quite well as you can see from this video, but you can use any random objects laid out on the floor in a fixed pattern or randomly. In the second half of the video I’m playing around with Bo on the Perch.  She clearly loves it and her enthusiasm gets the better of her.  So funny and so sweet.

Happy training.  I’ll be back tomorrow.

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