Why Your Dog Doesn’t Know Sit

May 20, 2016

For anyone who is battling to instil verbal cues, this is a really, really useful article. Yvette’s example of learning a story by looking at the pictures is brilliant. … And I’ve learnt a new word “Overshadowing”.


When I was a young girl, my grandmother would send gifts of books from Czechoslovakia.  The books were filled with stunning moving pop-up illustrations.  I learned a lot from those books.  I learned how those illustrations popped up.  I learned how one moving part operated another moving part.  What I failed to learn was how to read Czech.  My attention was so fixated on the illustrations that I memorized the words.  I recited the story based on the illustration.  I never focused on the letters.  Illustrations overshadowed the letters.

fox with cheese

Overshadowing is a well-researched part of dog training.  One place it applies involves adding cues.  (Commands for those who still use that term)  Animals, when simultaneously given two or more cues are likely going to learn about the most salient – to the detriment of the others.  Which facet carries the most weight depends on many factors.

Lured downs offer an…

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Mission statement

April 5, 2016

This is such a great article and contains really great information, not only for training police dogs but any working discipline. I would love anyone who is involved in training their retrievers for field trials to read this in the context of training their dogs.

Positive Police Dogs

I’ve been training Police dogs for 15 years and at the time felt the need to differentiate myself from other, more traditional Police dog training which contained not only a lot of physical corrections but was also structured in such a way (or not structured) that it was causing many of the problems it was trying to resolve or just not making the most efficient use of time and energy, both commodities in limited supply.

ernie face bw

Whilst there has been much progress in our understanding of dogs and their capabilities in that time, the training methodology is lagging behind. There appears to be a wealth of confusion about what is and isn’t true and hot debates about what is or isn’t an acceptable training technique. Whilst the phrases positive trainer and force free trainer are a nod towards a style of training, there are many trying to use semantics to undermine…

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March 6, 2016

One of my clients has been looking for a dog. Her needs were fairly specific as she is an active 78 year old and her husband 84. They have had dogs all their lives up to now and miss having a dog around so would love to give a dog a home. But she was very clear in terms of her requirements:

  • She didn’t want a puppy and would rather have an adult dog.
  • The dog needed to be one who was looking for a new home, either because the owners couldn’t keep him any longer, for whatever reason, or because he was a Rescue.
  • He needed to have good manners around people as my client’s husband was frail and would not be able to handle a lively, excitable dog.
  • He needed to be cat friendly.
  • He needed to be calm around her grandchildren.
  • As she loved walking, he would need to be able to walk with her without pulling.
  • She would love a Labrador Retriever as they had had this breed in the past.

Ah, you might say, that is a tall order, and I would agree with you as the first two dogs we looked at were for two very different reasons, totally unsuitable. They had very little self control, very poor manners around people, and had had no basic good manners training. Their connection with people also left a lot to be desired. They were very typical of dogs that had been acquired as puppies, given attention when they were cute and cuddly and as they got older and more boisterous, were banished to a life out of doors with minimal contact with their humans.

We eventually found a dog who looked as though he was the right dog. He was calm and friendly when we arrived to meet him. Although he had very little formal training he was very much part of the family with his owner taking him out for regular walks, spending time playing fetch games (at which the dog excelled). He was very good with children although as they didn’t have a cat we couldn’t assess his behaviour around cats. I felt that this was a problem that could be addressed because of his generally calm behaviour. With this dog the characteristic that impressed me the most was the connection he had with his humans.

This connection can only be achieved if the owner spends some time bonding with the dog in terms of activities that they do together. This dog is one that would fit in with my clients.


Circumstances change and I hesitate to judge people who need to re-home a dog because of unexpected or unplanned for changes in their lifestyle. There are often things going on in their lives that we know nothing about. But if these same people had taken the trouble to make sure their dog was socialized, had some basic training and had a connection with humans, then this would be their gift to their dog. It does not take much time to train your dog to be a good citizen, and just in case you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to put your dog up for adoption at least by doing this you will be ensuring that his future is secure.

Layman’s Dictionary of Dog Jargon in Rehabilitation

February 3, 2016

This is a very useful article on some of the jargon used by trainers that might leave the layman in the dark. Very nice explanations.



Technical jargon can sound impressive, scary, intimidating or any combination of the above.  I get that there are proper, technical definitions.  However, using jargon to explain jargon isn’t very helpful to people that are new to dog training and rehabilitation.

Think of this as a stepping stone, one that I recognize is taking liberties.  The concepts are accurate, but the words are less formal.  Hopefully you won’t need migraine medication after looking up a definition.

If you’re learning about learning theory, I hope this layman’s guide helps get you over the initial hump.  From there you can progress to more technical versions.

Please note, just because a strategy is included in the dictionary, it does not mean that it is effective, without risk or appropriate for your dog.  This is just a glossary of terms with examples.

Classical Conditioning (AKA Pavlovian Conditioning AKA Respondent Conditioning)

Take something meaningless  and pair…

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Training a Gundog Using Food Rewards

January 14, 2016

Some Observations

Ruby and Fern (Sue Brundrett)

Ruby and Fern (Sue Brundrett)

Many gundog trainers resist using food rewards when training their gundogs. Until your retriever has realised the value of expressing her innate desire to retrieve 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 association with a puppy. As the training progresses the dog works 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, 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. 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.

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!


What Exactly is Puppy Socialization?

January 11, 2016

I posted this article some time ago, but as many people adopt puppies at this time of the year, I thought it would bear repeating.

Louise's Dog Blog

You probably hear the word “socialization” tossed around a lot – especially if you have just acquired a new pup.  Your pup’s breeder insists that you need to “socialize”; the rescue organization your pup came from says you need to “socialize”.  But what does everyone actually mean by socialization?

What they mean is that not only do you have to introduce your pup to a lot of strange dogs of all shapes and sizes, but also to different humans and as many different species of animals as you can, particularly animals that your pup will have contact with in your home.  It also means that you should expose your pup to as many different environments as possible; as many different sounds as possible from babies crying or toddlers screaming and shouting to traffic sounds, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles.

Even more important than just exposure is for you to carefully observe…

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Tips for a Reliable Recall

December 6, 2015
dogs running

We’re Coming!

What exactly is a reliable recall? It’s when you call your dog once, no matter what she is doing, and she immediately begins running straight toward you as fast as she can, and then stops within touching distance. She must be close enough for you to comfortably grab hold of her collar and attach a leash, without any squirming or wriggling or biting the leash.

Build your reliable recall step by step.

 Marvellous recalls do not happen overnight, but are taught like any other behaviour – gradually, one rewarded repetition at a time. Your goal should be to brainwash your dog into believing that your “Come” means that wonderful things are going to happen NOW. You want to be a “dog magnet”. The secret of reliable recalls is rewarded repetitions as many times a day as you can manage. You want recalls to become a habit.

Introduce Distractions and Distance

 Introduce Distractions and add Distance gradually. Your dog might be brilliant at home or in a place where there are few distractions and you are close, but add distance, other dogs and lots of activity, and you are setting yourself up to fail. Rather go to the dog park when it is quiet and there are not many dogs around. Do not allow your dog to get too far away from you before calling him. If you build distractions and distance one step at a time you are more likely to succeed.

The Cue Must Predict Wonderful Things are About to Happen.

Use your recall cue not as a command but rather as a predictor that wonderful things are about to happen. Be outrageously generous with rewards. Training the recall is no time to be stingy! Use meat-based treats, a large portion of your dog’s daily kibble, a game of tug, a ball – anything your dog loves. Never show her the food or toy before you call her, though. Use these as rewards after correct behaviour, not as bribes to encourage it.


Use your recall cue with care.

Initially, say it only when you are sure your dog will respond correctly by moving immediately toward you. You should be able to bet someone R100 that your dog will move towards you after hearing your cue within a few seconds. If you’re not prepared to make such a bet, don’t say the cue; instead just go fetch your dog (go up to her and gently lead her by the collar). You don’t want to repeat your cue. Chanting “Come, Come! COME!!” is not only frustrating, it’s sloppy training. Go back and practise your recall with at least ten very easy heavily rewarded repetitions.

Be unpredictable.

If your dog can predict what reward you have up your sleeve, she can also calculate when it’s in her best interest to ignore your recall cue. So make a point of being variable with your rewards. Give her a pat on her side for a correct response sometimes, and a huge handful of chicken for a good recall at other times.

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