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 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.


April 12, 2020

Happy Easter everyone!

Taking a break…  Hope you are.

Happy Easter


April 11, 2020

I hope you had a nice break yesterday and had some cuddle time with your dog, did some chore catch-up and did some reading or watched a movie.  I know I did!

sit and stay cartoon

On Day 8 I challenged you to ask your dog to stay in a Sit for 10 seconds.  If you have achieved that your next challenge would be to add DISTANCE.  Remember the 3 “D’s”?  Duration, Distance and Distraction.

Let’s talk about Distance.  Adding distance to a stay is the ability of the dog to stay in the position you have requested while you move away.  You are not adding any duration yet so you will immediately return to your dog once you have moved the required distance.  The reward will be given to the dog in place on your return.  Remember that you are rewarding him for staying in place so only reward him if he is still in the Sit when you return to him.  If he stands up as you approach (this is the most common situation) and then you reward him, you stand the risk of reinforcing him for NOT staying.

As with the Duration exercise where you rewarded the stay in progressions of one second, the distance is increased in progressions of one step at a time.  You can either start with the dog in a sit in front of you (which is probably his default), or at your side in the “heel” position, or even on a platform.  You want to make it as easy as possible for the dog to succeed.  If your dog fails at any one of the progressions the only consequence is that he is not rewarded and you need to reassess your criteria.

In this video I’m demonstrating the sit/stay in two positions relative to me.  In front and at heel.

I hope you have fun with this one.  No intimidation or punishment.  Just gradual reinforced progressions towards your goal.






April 10, 2020

So, here in South Africa we were informed by our President, Cyril Rhamaphosa, that for the country’s wellbeing and our safety we will be in for a further 21 days of Lockdown.  I have such admiration for our leaders who are having to make these difficult decisions – and so bravely!

This led me to think about pressure that is being put on people in terms of motivating them to spend the extra time they now have available to become more productive.  This quote is doing the rounds on social media.

‘If you don’t come out of this with a new skill, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline’

This is supposed to motivate you to do better and to be more productive.  However, in my case, all it does is makes me feel guilty about watching a movie or reading a novel rather than (in my case) training my dogs and preparing the next challenge on my blog.  I hope that my initiative in terms of setting challenges for you to do with your dogs is not making you feel guilty.  This is the last thing that I want to do.  Keeping your dogs busy is one thing – avoiding spending time with them because of the pressure I’m inadvertently putting on you is another and the last thing that I want to do.

This is what a trauma psychologist has had to say about this motivational pressure…

“We are going through a collective trauma, that is bringing up profound grief, loss, panic over livelihoods, panic over loss of lives of loved ones. People’s nervous systems are barely coping with the sense of threat and vigilance for safety, or alternating with feeling numb and frozen and shutting down in response to it all.

People are trying to survive poverty, fear, retriggering of trauma, retriggering of other mental health difficulties. Yet, someone has the nerve to accuse someone of lack of discipline for not learning a new skill…

What we need is more self-compassion, more gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions coming up for us now, more focus on gentle ways to soothe ourselves and our pain and the pain of loved ones around us, not a whipping by some random fucker making us feel worse about ourselves in the name of ‘motivation.'”

So spend some unproductive time with your dogs.  Watch them playing by themselves.  Watching my crew this morning playing with not a care in the world, made me feel so good.

Cuddle them.  Pet and snuggle when they come to you for attention.  I know in my dealings with Therapy Dogs and with my own dogs that these beings that share our lives are wonderful medicine for depression and sadness.  So let them help you.  Do some fun training stuff with them.  But please don’t let it become a chore.

Someone gave me a lovely little card not so long ago…. It sits on my desk next to my computer.

Therapy dog the best therapist

So go ahead, spend some glorious, unproductive time with your dogs.  You’ll feel much better for it.


April 9, 2020

I’m going a bit slower with the challenges for the next few days to give you a chance to catch up if you’re falling behind.

I hope that those of you that need to improve your loose lead walking skills, or are just starting out with a new pup have had an opportunity today to spend five minutes on Step 1 of the exercise – I call it the Focus and Follow.

The next step in the exercise is where you teach your dog to focus on you and walk next to you, keeping the leash loose all the time.

Step Two:  Starting with the focus and follow exercise for a few steps, pivot to your right but keep moving in the same direction.  Your dog will automatically end up on your left-hand side.  You will continue walking forward with your dog on the left, keeping your left hand close to the dog’s mouth and rewarding frequently.  If your dog starts moving ahead, get his attention by saying his name or making a smoochy sound and go back to walking backwards until your dog is focussed on you once again.

I haven’t done much with Bo just recently, as she needs a little more work on self-control before I start anything more complicated, but I’ve asked Fen and Dash to help with the demo.


I’m still working on Step 1 and 2 with Bo, but this video with Mary Ray working on the Perch exercise and taking it a step further with her dog Cruz.

You might not have heard of Mary Ray but she is an English trainer who has demonstrated Heelwork to Music at Crufts for many years, a sport that she introduced to the UK many years ago and is now a popular dog sport globally, and gaining in popularity (and complexity) every year.  This is one of my favourite Mary Ray demonstrations at Crufts a couple of years ago.  IF THIS DOESN’T PUT A MASSIVE SMILE ON YOUR FACE I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL.  ENJOY!!!

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