May 22, 2011

I wrote a post recently about behaviour and consequences and how consequences drive behaviour.

Many of us try to direct behaviour by controlling the dog…  We push the dog’s rear end down to get him to sit; we use the leash to get him away from another dog; we use a long line to get him to come to us amidst distractions.

Surely it is better to control the consequences by keeping the dog focussed and working without leases and long line while slowly adding distractions and distance?  From my experience, it is far better to combine a very high rate of reinforcement with high value reinforcers to control consequences, rather than to try and control the dog.  This way we let the dog learn to make appropriate choices .

I’m sure most of us are very familiar with withholding the dog’s dinner until he or she sits!   This is a perfect example of manipulating a consequence to get behaviour.  Another example, if you’re training a gundog to be steady, would be picking up the dummy if the dog breaks, so removing the dog’s ability to be reinforced with the retrieve.

Is Your Dog a Good Citizen?

May 21, 2011

By far most students that come to my school for training do not wish to become obedience or agility champions, but merely want a well-mannered dog; a dog that they can take on walks without being pulled along; a dog that can calmly and appropriately greet other dogs they meet either on or off-lead; a dog that knows how to greet people who approach him; a dog that will come when called.  To this end the South African Kennel Union has compiled a test which, when passed, certifies that your dog is a good citizen!

The test has three levels – Bronze, Silver and Gold.  To give you some idea of what is required at the Bronze level, the tasks that your team, consisting of yourself and your dog, need to pass are:


This Test is to see that a stranger can approach the dog and handler in a casual, everyday situation. Ignoring the dog the Evaluator will walk up to the handler and greet him in a friendly way and shake hands. The dog must show no signs of resentment or shyness and must not leave his position to go to the stranger. Sitting politely for petting by a friendly stranger, with the dog sitting at the handler’s side, the Evaluator pats the dog only on the head and body, and then circles the dog and handler which completes the Test. The dog must not show shyness or resentment.


The dog should have a well fitting buckle or slip collar of leather, fabric or chain. Special collars such as “pinch” or “spike” collars are not permitted. The lead must be either leather or fabric.


The purpose of this Test is to see if the dog can be examined by a Judge or a Vet without it becoming aggressive or flinching. On a lead the handler will present the dog to the Evaluator for a gentle examination of its mouth, teeth, throat, eyes, ears and feet.

Test 4:   GROOM

The Evaluator will inspect the dog to see if it appears healthy, is clean and  groomed and will permit a stranger such as a vet or groomer to examine it. The Evaluator then combs or brushes the dog and lightly  examines the ears and front of each foot to see if it will accept grooming from someone  other than its owner


The Test is to demonstrate that a dog can be calmed easily following praise or play and can leave the Test in a well mannered fashion. The handler may praise the dog verbally, by petting, by playing with a toy and/or via a favourite trick, in the allowed ten (10) seconds of play and then must calm the dog for the next test.


The purpose of this Test is to see if a dog can play happily off lead and be recalled and be put back on lead. The handler will release the dog from the lead and either play with it or throw some object for it to fetch and play with, then recall the dog and place back on lead.


The purpose of this Test is to demonstrate that the handler is in control. The dog must be on the left side of the handler but need not be in the “heel” position. There should be no doubt that the dog’s attention is on the handler and it responds to movements and changes of direction. The course taken must include a left turn, right turn, an about turn, a stop in between and at the end of the Test. The dog does not have to be perfectly aligned with the handler, nor sit when the handler stops.


The dog should walk confidently through the door/gate and should not shy away from it.


This Test is to demonstrate that the dog should have no difficulty in walking through pedestrian traffic. The dog should walk around close to at least four (4) persons one of whom should have a dog. The dog may show interest in the strangers and the dog, but should continue to walk without any evidence of shyness or over exuberance and should not be pulling at the lead. Throughout this Test the handler may encourage, praise or talk to the dog.


This Test is to demonstrate the proper behaviour in the presence of other dogs. Starting at a distance of ten (10) metres from each other, two handlers walk towards each other, meet, stop, shake hands, exchange a few words and continue for about five (5) metres. The dogs should demonstrate only casual interest. Neither dog should go to the other dog or handler.


This Test is to demonstrate that the dog has some training and will respond to the handler’s commands. Taking reasonable time, the handler commands the dog first to “sit” and then to “lie down”, using as many commands as he likes. He must not force the dog into position. The “stay” command is then given and the handler walks about seven (7) metres from the dog and returns at a natural walking pace to the dog, which must maintain its position until the handler returns and the Evaluator gives permission for the dog to move.


This Test is to demonstrate the dog is confident at all times when facing a distraction. The Evaluator must select two (2) of the following for this Test (they need not be the same for each dog).

1. Simulation of a handicapped person with crutches, a walker or a wheelchair (manual or motorised).

2. Sudden opening or closing of a door or solid gate.

3. Dropping a large book or similar object behind the dog but no closer than three (3) metres.

4. A jogger passing in front of the dog.

5. Good natured pushing or shoving or animated talk, excited talk and back slapping by people, with the dog and handler passing within three (3) metres.

6. Someone pushing a pram, or shopping cart from the front or rear and passing within two (2) metres of the dog and handler.

7. A cyclist passing in front or from the rear within two (2) metres of the dog and handler.

The dog may express natural curiosity and interest and may startle, but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness or bark.


This Test is to demonstrate a dog can be left alone if necessary, whilst maintaining its training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like “would you like me to watch your dog while you make your call?”, both to add a touch of reality and to accentuate the fact that leaving a dog tied up and unsupervised is not condoned. The dog will be attached to a two (2) metre line. It does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, howl, pace unnecessarily or show any behaviour with a mild agitation or nervousness.

NB. Tests 12 & 13 may be conducted in a group.

Why not go through the list today, and see how many of these tasks your dog can complete.  A participant may take all the Tests at one time or singly, as they wish. As each Test is completed, the Evaluator will mark the Test Sheets “Passed” or “Not Ready”.  Participants whose sheets are marked “Passed” may pass onto the next Test. Those marked “Not Ready” will have to be tested again on that  particular task.

Once all the Tests have been completed and marked “Passed” and signed off, the Club or organising body will issue the dog with a rosette and a numbered KUSA Canine Good Citizen Certificate and return their copy of the completed Test sheet to KUSA for record keeping.

Criteria, Consequences and Consistency

May 17, 2011

I think I can safely say that ALL dog training consists of these three elements.  Before you even start training any particular behaviour you must have some idea of what you want (Criteria).  Your training philosophy will determine the consequences and your consistency in establishing realistic criteria and providing consequences will make the learning process quick and trouble-free.


Even when training a basic behaviour such as a sit you need to decide what you want from your dog.  This sounds simple enough.  You want your dog to put his rear end on the ground when you say “Sit”.  But, once you have decided what the basic behaviour is, you have to start asking yourself these questions:

  • Where do I want the dog to sit in relation to my position?
  • What do I want the sit to look like?
  • How long should the sit be sustained before I release him?
  • In how many real life situations do I need my dog to sit when I say “Sit”?

All  this means is that you have to give some thought to the complexity of the behaviour.  Once you know exactly what you want the behaviour to consist of it is then simple to formulate a training plan.  This doesn’t need to be complicated with charts and schedules, but it will help you to know what to do next.  All behaviours can be broken down into steps and will go much quicker and easier if you tackle one step at a time.


Consequences drive behaviour.  In other words, consequences are what make a behaviour strong – or weak, for that matter.  If there are no consequences there will be no behaviour.  Behaviour cannot exist in a vacuum.  If the consequences are unpleasant, the behaviour will be suppressed or will weaken.  If the consequences are pleasant, the behaviour will get stronger.  This is operant conditioning, and it is how all animals learn.

Say now we are teaching our dog to respond to his name.  Our criteria is that our dog must swing his head towards us immediately (within ½ a second of hearing his name).  If he meets our criteria he will get a treat.  If he takes 2 seconds to swing his head around, the consequence is no treat.  Of course, if we have set our criteria too high, then we are setting ourselves up for failure, and this is why setting realistic criteria is so important.


No matter how carefully you establish your criteria and how much thought you have given to providing good consequences all your training can fall apart if you are not consistent about what you’re asking for (in other words the criteria for that particular behaviour) and what happens as a consequence of meeting your criteria (or not, as the case may be).   A lack of a consistent experience can slow down or even disrupt training so that your dog fails to learn, or learns an unexpected variation of a desired behaviour.

So, set your criteria realistically depending on where your dog is at that particular stage of the training, provide appropriate and desirable consequences if the criteria is met, and be consistent in your communication with your dog.  If you can maintain these things your training will be more enjoyable for your dog and yourself, with fewer errors and a lot less frustration.    

Continuation of NGC Club Test

May 11, 2011

In spite of heavy clouds and continuing drizzle we decided to go ahead with our scheduled club test on the 8th May.

We managed to complete two of the three series we had planned in spite of the soaking rain.  But, at this stage even the most hardy of the competitors realized that it was just too uncomfortable to carry on and we called a halt.

However, we also decided to finish off the test another day, and after taking a vote, it was decided that the 16th of June would be the day.

The details, therefore, are as follows:

Venue:  The Duke’s Farm, Eston

Time:  Roll Call 7.30 a.m. to an 8.00 a.m. start

Judges:  Carolyn Baker and Hilary Wisdom

Classes Run:  Puppy, Junior, Maiden, Novice and Open.

If there are any queries, please contact Carolyn at

2nd Natal Gundog Club Working Test for Retrievers

May 5, 2011

Sunday 8 May

2nd Club Test

Venue:  Duke’s Farm at Eston
Time: Roll call at 07:30 for an 08:00-sharp start
Judges: Hilary and Carolyn

Stakes:  Puppy/Junior Maiden, Novice, Open
Entries:  R35 per dog

Send entries to Carolyn:

Entries close Friday 6 May

%d bloggers like this: