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!!!


April 8, 2020

Hello there.  Hope you’re all doing well and keeping positive.  After 13 days your household should have settled into the new routine with your dogs enjoying having you around more.  Spending quality time with them whether you’re doing some training or playing games does not have to take up a lot of time.  Two brief 5 or 10-minute sessions a day will keep them stimulated and satisfied.  Make the training sessions worthwhile by doing a bit of planning beforehand instead of just diving in and wasting 5 minutes trying to decide what to do.  Read this article on planning your training sessions here.


Before I start on our next topic which is Loose Lead Walking I’d like to share with you shaping Bo to go around an obstacle which I did late yesterday afternoon.  I have used a clicker as a marker (bridge).  It’s not very loud in the video but you can hear it at times.  Enjoy.



lab pup walking on a leash

Walking your dog on a loose leash is probably one of the most difficult skills to master, but if you consistently work through the steps it will become a habit and the walks will be more pleasant for both of you.  I know that one of the things that most dog owners are missing is the daily walk with your dog.  Or, perhaps you don’t walk your dog regularly because he or she pulls ahead of you.  Very uncomfortable for both of you, and potentially physically damaging for both your dog and yourself.  Now, with lockdown you can practise the first few steps without the distractions that you would normally encounter on your walks until, for both of you, loose lead walking is a habit.

Training Tip:  Stay on each step until you and your dog become fluent in that step before you move to the next.

Start the exercise in a low-distraction environment and gradually start adding distractions and generalize to different environments.  I have spread the tutorials over the next 8 days with each step to be done over two sessions (one session of loose lead walking a day).

Step One:  The dog will focus on you and follow you when you’re walking backwards and will stay with you when you change direction.  Stay on Step One for two or three sessions until your dog is paying attention to you even though you are changing direction.  You can every now and then have some surprise changes of pace and direction.

I’ll be working on these exercises with Bo and if I feel that I’m moving too quickly through the steps I’ll slow the pace down.

If your pup does not understand about leashes yet, go slowly.  Put the collar on and play a game with him to take his mind off it.  When he’s comfortable with the collar, clip the leash to it and let him drag it around for a while (supervised, of course).  Distract him by feeding him or playing a game with him.

When he is comfortable with the leash, put a very small bit of pressure on it.  Not enough to scare him or make him try to get away, but just enough so that he knows it’s there.  Then, either call him, show him a toy or lure him with a treat held out to him.  When he starts moving towards you, he will realise that HE can release the pressure by moving WITH the leash towards you.  Mark and treat as soon as the leash becomes slack.   Be careful to keep your hand holding the leash quite still.  Do not pull the puppy towards you.

I hope you have fun with this lesson.  If you hit any snags, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me via our Facebook Group

Until tomorrow – STAY SAFE.



April 7, 2020

The rain today has put paid to my session for today as I wanted to work out of doors.  If it clears later on I will do catch-up.

Clicker Training or Using a Marker

In the meantime I would like to discuss marker training as using a marker will enhance your training, especially if you use food as a reinforcer.  A marker is a sound that has been paired with food many times so that it starts to predict that a reward is to follow.  When the dog hears the sound of the clicker (CLICK!) or the verbal marker (YES!) or (GOOD!) it knows that the behaviour it was doing when it heard the marker is the behaviour that is being rewarded.  Although I use verbal markers a lot of the time, when I’m working with tiny slices of behaviour there is nothing to beat the clicker. There is no ambiguity.  It is PRECISE, RELIABLE,  IMMEDIATE and DISTINCT.


  • More precise at identifying behaviour or parts (splits) of behaviour.
  • Allows for a time lag before delivery of the primary reinforcer.
  • Allows for treat delivery to be more flexible.
  • Allows for easy resetting of the behaviour.
  • Affects Demeanour
  • Enables movement to be marked and reinforced.
  • Allows for distance building.
  • As with any training, it is a process that starts with “getting” the behaviour.  The steps are:

The First Step – Charging the Clicker.

The Second Step – Getting the Behaviour:

  • Get the Behaviour by luring,  capturing or shaping.

The Third Step – Offering the Behaviour:

  • Behaviour offered – “OK so that’s what you want!”
  • Behaviour marked – click – “Hooray, you’ve got it! – payday”.
  • Reward the Behaviour – “I always keep my promise!”
  • Explain Default Behaviour.

The Fourth Step – Giving the Behaviour a Name (Adding the cue):

  • Behaviour offered
  • Behaviour named and clicked.
  • Behaviour rewarded.

The Fifth Step – Do you get it – is the response on cue?


For those of you have never done clicker training before, and even for some of you that have been using the clicker with lure and reward type training, keeping the click separate from the food (or primary reinforcer) is difficult in the beginning.  The sound of the clicker should be meaningful to the dog on its own without its value being diluted by the presence of food.  What you are trying to do with the clicker is to encourage your dog to engage its mind, not its appetite. You are helping your dog to “learn to learn”.

In this video, Michael Ellis explains a little more about the clicker/marker.

I see the sun is coming out so I can continue with my plans for today.



April 6, 2020

Here in South Africa, we are a third of the way through our Lockdown and all is well.  Most people are staying at home with only essential services out and about.

What concerns me about this time is the lack of puppy socialization, which especially will impact on any puppies between the ages of 9 and 16 weeks.  I take my dogs for a drive in the car so that they at least get to see the world out there a couple of times a week. So we drive around the neighbourhood for 10 minutes or so.  I am fortunate in that I have a garden that we can run in which many people, particularly those who are confined to flats or gated communities do not have.  Physical exercise is very important, but even more so is mental stimulation which can be achieved by playing thinking games with your dog indoors, training new skills and playing scent games.  It is also important that your dog is visually stimulated so set up your environment to enable your dog to be able to see out of your property.

dog on balcony

More Retrieves

I hope you have enjoyed watching the videos I posted yesterday and have tried out some of the ideas.  The video below is the way I encourage my dogs to hold on to the retrieve article until I require them to give it to me.  Also in the video is how I’m playing a retrieve game with my pup.  Most retrievers will not be able to resist chasing a thrown retrieve so all I’m doing with her right now is building value around the retrieving activity so that I can use it later when I wean her off the food rewards so that the opportunity to retrieve is something she will work for.  Read about intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcers here.


More “Sit” 

Sit” is usually the first thing that pups and dogs learn because there are so many applications for the behaviour.  Sitting to greet is incompatible with jumping.  Sitting for their dinner is incompatible to jumping up at the bowl.  Sitting for the leash to be attached is incompatible with leaping around in anticipation of the walk.  So, my question is how well do your dogs know “Sit”.  To test you need to ask yourself these questions.

  • Does he sit/down each and every time you ask him to?
  • Does he sit/down quickly (with zero latency)?
  • Does he sit/down no matter where you are – without fail?
  • Does he sit/down with only ONE cue?

If you answer YES to all these questions, then your dog is probably ready for the next challenge.  I call this the “DoorSit” challenge.

Dash waiting at gate

Get your dog, and a pocketful of treats.  Now walk through your home and ask your dog to “Sit” at each open doorway or threshold.  You can do this off-lead if you like, but if you’re not absolutely sure that your dog will succeed, then it is a good idea to have some restraint.  You want him to succeed so that he can earn a treat.  If you have garden gates, you can do the same thing.

If you are really battling with this one, then the best thing to do would be to go back and work a bit more on getting the sit under stimulus control.

Stimulus Control:  Essentially, stimulus control means that within the context of a training session the dog offers the behavior when it perceives the cue and does not offer the behavior in the absence of the cue.


April 5, 2020

The sun is shining here in KZN in South Africa so we’re probably in for the last of the really hot days leading into our winter.


Today’s challenge is about the retrieve.  Most dogs are hard-wired to chase a moving object, some breeds more than others.  The interesting thing about the retrieve is that if your dog has not been exposed to retrieve games before the age of 14 weeks then it is more difficult to teach the retrieve.  Scott and Fuller (1965) discovered that a dog’s willingness to fetch an object is definitely influenced by early exposure to retrieving games.  What they found was that pups exposed to retrieving games between the ages of 9 and 14 weeks became significantly more avid retrievers than those exposed later.  They also discovered that these puppies were easier to train than those who had been introduced to retrieving later (around 32 weeks).

However, it is possible to teach an adult dog to retrieve.  You just have to wake up the desire to chase and grab a moving object.  You can do this through games and play.

This video goes through the steps to teach your dog a retrieve and a delivery to hand.  What he is doing is back chaining the retrieve.  See here for more on back chaining the retrieve for a dog competing in field trials.

It’s worth commenting on how teaching the dog or pup to target your palm with his nose or his chin encourages him to come to an outstretched hand.

Another game you can play with your dog that involves the retrieve is to put your toys away.  This video shows you how.  Your dog needs to be able to retrieve his toys before you can teach this trick.

So…  get out those toys and balls and start practising “Fetch”.

I will make some videos of my dogs playing fetch games later on today.  In the meantime have fun training and STAY SAFE.  Remember if you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact me through the LOCKDOWN Facebook page.



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