Friday, 4 November 2011

"There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons."

"There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons."

Sometimes in life, we have to learn things the hard way. Over six months ago now, I had an awful experience with my own dogs and I now feel ready to speak about this in an attempt to save other people and their dogs from finding themselves in the same situation.

I wanted to increase Cody's fitness level, so along with Dave, took Cody and Dobby to a 'dog swimming pool'. It's amazing how much trust we put in people we believe to be professionals in their chosen field. In defence of the pool both dogs had previously swam at this pool with no problems.

After a short swimming session the dogs left the pool and were immediately sick. Twenty minutes latter and arriving home Cody left the van and collapsed. Ditto who had only been running around the edge of the pool started to vomit. We rushed the dogs to the vets. Worried vets treated all three dogs as an emergency. 48 hours later and all three dogs were still on a drip.

Meanwhile, we found ourselves at a dead-end with a pool unwilling to communicate with either ourselves or our concerned vets.

So we found ourselves asking why has this happened? And along came K9 Hydro Services run by Barbara Houlding and Maria Johnston. They kindly invited me to their very professional centre. On entering the building immediate differences were noted between K9 Hydro and the dog pool I was used to: it was so quite and calm, the pool was small, there were no toys and highly qualified staff were more than happy to help and greet my dogs.

Below are some of my finding following my visit to K9 Hydro as to what may have caused the problems:

·       At no point should a dog take a toy from or below the water level.
·       Emphasis should be on controlled water based physio treatments instead of random swimming.
·       Dogs should be calm and focused throughout the session rather than crazy or over excited.
·       Dogs should safely be assisted in and out of the pool, no jumping in.
·       Sessions with one dog to one therapist are essential for safe practice
·       Multi dog swimming is not therapy.
·       Qualified Therapists should have hands on contact with their canine patient at all times both in and out of the pool or treadmill and wet room.
·       Centres should have good water management and ventilation.

I urge you to research this topic, think wisely before selected a hydrotherapy pool and visit K9 Hydro or go to their website for more information

Above is a picture of little Frisbee the foster I  had over DINAS and KC Festival in her new home. She is so tiny!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing. Dale Carnegie 

With Camp one being so great, there was lots of pressure to make camp two even better! Monday afternoon arrived and the camping field was filling up with posh caravans, motor homes and Delphines luxury, 5 star tent (which came with a free ‘Inu heater’).

With no time to hang around, the jam packed schedule kick started with a learning theory and agility handling presentation. The first evening at camp is all about getting to know everyone, so to the pub we headed (this pub just loves our large groups ... not!).

Our first trainer, on day one of training, was Sian Illingworth. Words our ‘campers’ used to describe Sian after training were: fun, motivational, great people skills, inspiring, confidence building  and consistent ... these attributes combined make for a great trainer! Sians training focused on handling jumping sequences. The evening entertainment was an Indian takeaway, the entertainment being ordering it (have you ever tried ordering a takeaway for so many people, to be delivered to a place you don’t know and with a phone with little signal!)!

Day two of training and Lucy Osborne arrives as the trainer. Lucy’s morning sessions focused on contact training. Starting at step one with shaping the end position and then onto building whole contacts into short sequences. In the afternoon Lucy focused on handling including foot-work; a new focus for many participants. It was really great to have Lucy stay an extra few days at Camp and get into ‘camp spirit’, there are certainly no silent moments when Lucy is around!  All the participants loved Lucy’s training and learnt so much! A fun and filling BBQ made for an enjoyable evening.

Day three, was Munnings day. Not only was he teaching but it was also his birthday (and Lucy’s).  Dave’s sessions put together everything the participants had done throughout the week into courses. Wow, these dogs were looking great! Most of the campers regularly train with Dave so only quietly told me how much they loved his training, in fear he may up his prices!

The last night is always so fun at camp as it’s our farewell meal at the pub and ..... AWARDS! Ranging from most dramatic to sweetest person, the awards were taken in good humour as laughter took over the pub!

I have to say a big thanks to the trainers but an even bigger thanks to the participants for being so fun and easy going. Bring on next year J

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Suggested reading

A friend asked me yesterday to suggest some books for a reading list she was putting together so thought i would blog my top ten dogs books, for all you fellow dog geeks!

1) How dogs learn. Birch and Bailey

2) Dogs: A Startling new understanding of Canine origin and behaviour. Coppinger and Coppinger

3)Dominance in dogs: Fact or Fiction. Barry Eaton

4) In Defence of Dogs. John Bradshaw

5) Dont shoot the dog. Karen Pryor 

6) Stress in dogs. Nartina Scholz and Clarissa Von Reinhardt

7) Controll Unleashed. Leslie McDevitt

8) The Culture Clash. Jean Donaldson

9) Jackpot! A simple guide to food rewards. Pam Mackinnon

10) Dog Behaviour Explained. Peter Neville

Saturday, 18 June 2011


There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream - Author Unknown

My  latest foster, Benny, went to his new home today. There are always mixed emotions when fosters fly the nest. On one hand I am so happy they have found the perfect home, where they will be loved and spoilt rotten. On the other hand, there is sadness as it is time to say good bye to a dog who you have seen change in front of you as a result of hard work and patience and has become such a close friend. Enjoy your new home Benny :)

Code's agility is going nicely. I love this picture Jodi Lunn took of him ... he just loves it!

Ditto is maturing nicely. I love her work attitude she is full on, intense and non-stop. Shaping is by far the best way of tiring her out. I will make sure I get some videos of her tricks for my next blog.

And here is Hattie, having a great time at the camp last month.

The feed-back from last weeks 110% was brilliant. This workshop is really good fun and both Dave and I love teaching it. You know people enjoy it when they book on to the same workshop for the fourth time :D The workshop aims at creating 'attitude'. It's amazing how some dog and handler partnerships can change within a few hours.

Anyway,  best go and pack. Spain awaits me tomorrow. Job one for when I'm back ... finish the website!!!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

D-Force Camp 1

I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person.
Audrey Hepburn

So, the first D-Force Camp is over and what a success! The feed-back forms were full of praise in every aspect of the camp. The training and lectures were fantastic but what made this camp so great was the social element and the great people on the course. Every where you looked people were laughing.

The dogs on the course were fantastic. Dogs ranged from grades 1-7 but all were up to the challenge. Their motivation and toy drive were fantastic, all trainers commented on just how great every dog was. 'They really were a pleasure to train'.

The trainers:

Friday, 20 May 2011

For every disciplined effort there is a multiple reward

For every disciplined effort there is a multiple reward - Jim Rohn

Reward based training continues to make great steps in the modern world. Its evolution has been rapid; a testimony to its global success. Looking back just 10 years and dog training flyer's would advertise being 'top dog', instant results and 'trained by ex-police dog handler'! In my area there are still a few of these classes advertised and I often get the privilege to rehabilitate some of their 'failed' pupils.

So, I will introduce dog 'A'. Dog 'A' arrived on a thick choke chain, neck low, eyes staring to the ground, feet firmly planted in the ground, tail under and eyes bulged. Dog 'A' is just 4 months, from good breeding. Dog A's owner, in-between tears, explains just 2 weeks ago her puppy was confident, happy and 'all over the place'. I questioned what had happened to the dog during the last few weeks. To my shock it appeared the reasoning behind the sorry state in front of me was 'socialisation classes'. In the past I have seen clients with dogs displaying these traits as a result of training classes which are largely based on aversive, correctional techniques. But how could socialisation go so wrong ....?

Thanks to 'Dog A' who motivated me to write the blog below and Dog A's owner for allowing em to use their dog as an example :):)

Modern, reward based training relies heavily on finding what a dog values and using it to achieve a set criteria. D-Force companion classes refer to socialisation as 'socialisation training', it reminds people to use this reward in their socialisation. Below is a video of a friends dog 'exploring the farm' - great job Danni. A treat is used in order to: create a positive experience, teach the dog what is wanted, reward confident approaches, control the situation, build value in exploring, aid bounce back. This puppy is a far cry from 'Dog A' but i have no doubt that with positive methods on board 'Dog A' will be up to this challenge in no time :):)

Without rewards present, we can not refer to socialisation as socialisation training. Instead, we could call it flooding. 'Throw him in the deep end, he'll have to get used to it' type attitude. Flooding a puppy to encounter a new experience is dangerous. The chances are the puppy will experience fear, as a result survival instincts will kick in. Accept, Flight, freeze, flight (or fiddle about if your a Labrador :P) are the options we have given the puppy. Probability states the chances are the puppy will pick one of the undesirable traits (all but 'accep't). We have put our dogs in the situation where a new experience has become negative. This result is likely to be mirrored or exaggerated in your dogs next encounter with a new experience. We are creating a learnt behaviour in our dogs that is going to create a unhappy, un-confident, dog that is unable to deal with the encounters of daily life.

This is not to say I think dogs should never have to deal with a degree of stress. It is impossible to shield our dogs from stress in their lives and therefore it is important they learn to deal with it whilst young. However, i do not believe socialisation is the place for.

It's only three days till day 1 of D-Force Dog Training Agility Camp. I will try to keep you all updated with camp going-ons.

Friday, 29 April 2011


It has been a fun few weeks. Cody won into grade 3 at his first show of the season. He looks like a different dog to last season, I really feel like  he is ready for it this year.

Cody has been so good at making me a better trainer. He finds fault in training like no other dog. If I do something wrong he makes it clear. He is also so good at telling me what is good training.  

Ditto and I went on a training day with Lauren (Dit's breeder). It was Ditto's first session working around other dogs and she was great, complete focus and great toy drive. Lauren picked up on a few things I need to work on with Dit. I think on the whole she was was happy with Dits progress, as am I :-)

Ditto with Dad Reed and half sister Daisy.

I had loads of fun training the dogs with Natalie Mitchell this week, thanks Nat :)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.  ~Winston Churchill

Thank you Natalie Mitchell @ The Twilight Touch for these photos :) x

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Well, it has certainly been a tough week. On Tuesday I took the dogs to hydrotherapy and to cut a long story short Cody, Ditto and Dobby sustained chlorine poisoning. For a moment it seemed touch and go, my world collapsed around me. After many different treatments and a night on a drip they made a break through, and are now back home (Ditto back to causing havoc, Cody still not quite himself). We really were so lucky!

Prior to the incident, I had been working on Ditto's habitual learning. Habitual learning aims to create a working state of mind in a dog/puppy that can focus in any environment and situation. The dog/puppy should offer the same intensity to cued behaviours as they would in their most comfortable environment. Our agility dogs are asked to give us 100% of their attention, focus and drive whilst competing at shows and at training. These environments are hugely arousing! By acustomising puppies to different environments and asking them to 'work' (or play as they see it)  can only aid them for their future agility career.

So I have found myself squatting down on the floor, tasty treats in one hand, clicker in the other, in many strange locations: high street, pet shop, pub, road side, fields, car show room ect ect. The results are amazing. I just love this super puppy!

I have often wondered how/why people say ' I cant wait till my pup is 12 months so we can start agility training'. Both Ditto and myself are having so much fun pushing the boundaries of puppy training into new areas for both of us. Dog training really is about pushing the limitations conventional dog training has set. 

A big thank you must go to all who have supported us over the last few days. The good wishes and thoughts have meant a lot :)

“Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.” Jamie Paolinetti

Saturday, 5 March 2011


Little Melvin, my foster pup, has gone to his new home. He is now called Merlin and is very spoilt and loved. I look forward to seeing him in puppy classes. I looked after him yesterday for his new owners ... he is a very special puppy! 

His wound is almost completely healed, he is such a happy boy :) 

Anna and I have now taken on another foster dog each ... I will blog about them soon. There are so many dogs out there needing help in some way; from fundraising to volunteer dog walking. Its just interesting  to see who is willing to do it!

My own dogs are great :) looking forward to the show season with little Code :D 


Saturday, 12 February 2011

natural? science? opinion?

Dependant on who you are, dog training and ownership is either general knowledge, gut instinct and natural or a science. To me it is both; having a sound understanding of the science behind dog ethology, ecology and learning is vital but is nothing without a natural understanding, empathy and experience. And vice verca, a competent history in canine handling means little without the science.

Where possible, I try to keep an open mind into views surrounding canine welfare and training but when facts from leading veterinarians, trainers and behaviourists support my own understanding of dogs, this can prove difficult.

Choke chains to me should play no part in our modern day relationship with dogs for many reasons:

  1. they have been directly linked to the following medical conditions: injured ocular blood vessels, Tracheal and oesopageal damage, severely sprained necks, cases of fainting, Trabsient foreleg paralysis, Laryngeal nerve paralysis, Hind leg ataxia
  2. It is often argued that if used correctly they cause no harm. This is because the dogs fears the noise the collar makes. Should we not avoid any punitive training?
  3. The use of them often cause behavioural problems (next blog)
Choke chains (I include half checks in this title) can be disguised in many different ways to look more subtle, but effectively do the same job (slip leads, made of tuggy material, pretty colours etc).

Owners often say they use them as they are 'easy', 'work' or 'stops the dog getting out'. To me, after seeing the facts and figures surrounding this apparatus i would ethically never be able to use one. On top of this, as a trainer, i would be gutted to know i needed a punitive piece of apparatus to train my dog to complete a behaviour.

However this is my opinion, it does not mean it is right or wrong. How we take peoples opinion is up to us. Some take it to heart and get defensive. Some listen, way up the surrounding thoughts and act in accordance. 

“An open mind leaves a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile thought in it”

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Foster Puppies and Many Tears

Last weekend end,  and after a 6 hour journey to Wales, I arrived at Many Tears Rescue to lend a hand. Wow, what a fantastic, dedicated, caring and inspirations team! Saturday morning and Nat gave me a tour of the kennels. It was heart-breaking to see so many beautiful yet un-wanted dogs but at the same time reassuring to know there are centres like Many tears around to help. It was both an eye opener and a privilege to have spent time at Many Tears.

Nat apparently knew  I wouldn't come home with the same number of dogs I arrived with ... and she was correct! Meet Melvin, Moomin and Meerkat; the puppies Anna and I are now foster parents to.

They are 10 week old working lab cross collies. But mentally and physically resemble the traits of a 6/7 week old pup! They are really starting to come out of them selves and starting to form real characters (noisy ones)! Both Anna and I hope that the time we put into these puppies will benefit both the puppies and their future owners in the future. 

'For every disciplined effort there is a multiple reward' - Jim Rohn

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Dog Day 1

There have been so many doggy activities going on in the past week that I will have to report on them over several blogs.

Saturday Morning, and running on 'D-Force Time', dedicated owners turned up to hear me present 'so, you think your pack leader?' a talk aimed at challenging old fashioned dominance and pack theories. The audience contained an array of owners from trainers and behaviourists to first time owners and vet nurses.

It can be a very difficult challenge to enter things with an open mind, but no one seemed to have a negative 'I don't need to learn' attitude. And I believe everyone left questioning what they may have previously believed.

At the end of the session, I asked for a group conclusion (see below):

1.) Dogs are not wolves
2.) Dogs do not form packs.
3.) Dogs are a mirror of our training, not a pre-programmed 'must rule the world' machine
4.) Dogs know we are not dogs and therefore it would be impossible for them to want to 'dominate' us and see us HUMANS as part of their pack.
5.) The evolution from wolf to dog was complex but quick and done with little help from humans (except a bit of garbage).
6.) Positive methods work. Dominance based training methods are cruel to the point of ridiculous.
7.) Pack rules are silly ... if you want your dog on the sofa, he won't think he is god!

Lets take one example of a  pack rule to get you all thinking ... A dog that pulls on leash is dominant as he thinks he is leading the pack hunt.

1.) so your dog is dominant whilst he pulls on his way to the park, and suddenly decides he doesn't want to be when he stops pulling on the way home?
2.) Your dog really thinks your going on a hunt?
3.) This is a serious problem that must be sorted. A choke chain will be a great method to show your dogs who's boss?
4.) A halti will PREVENT the problem?
5.) Your dog really wants to go out and hunt even though their is easily accessible food at home for minimal effort?
6.) Your dog sees you as another dog who is to be 'led'?

Got you thinking? Take a look at Dominance: Fact or Fiction by Barry Eaton and make your own mind up (and make your dog 100 times happier)!!

"We don’t have to be Alpha, dominant or pack leader, and neither does our dog. All we need to be is an owner responsible for guiding our dog, shaping and influencing its behaviour through correct socialisation and training so they can live in harmony with us." - Barry Eaton

Cody as a very cute puppy!


Wednesday, 19 January 2011



I have just been having a clean out at home and came across a card I was given years ago whilst sitting exams. The front of the card read ‘We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough – Helen Keller’  As with most things in life, this got me thinking dog!

There tends to be two types of attitude when people train dogs:
1.     * I will stick to this technique/method/exercise/system, perseverance will pay off
2.    *  This technique/method/exercise/system isn’t working, I’ll try another.

Something I remember Dave Munnings making very clear during my first lesson with Cody is ‘consistency is the most important ingredient for successful dog training’. It was a wake up call. I had always told my clients to be 100% consistent, but had I ever sat back and analysed my own consistency.  

The behavior of a human being is diverse, complex and confusing for another human to read. Imagine how hard it is for a dog to try and figure. Now imagine being a dog who is just getting to grips with what you may mean/want  …. Then, everything changes again!

Last weekends recall workshop was a great fun and all owners were amazed at how much there dog had improved in a two hour session. At the end of the session I asked the owners to set four aims in which they wish to complete within a month. Every owner mentioned consistency – BRILLIANT!

A little twist on Langman’s Shaskespear quotes - Some are born consistent, some achieve consistency and some have consistency thrust upon them!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Brilliant D-Force Members

Well tonight, I couldn't be more grateful for having some fantastic club members. Two members are organising a club trip to Crufts including minibus, tickets etc! 

Hopefully lots of club members will take them up in this great offer for a fun, doggy filled day.

So a big thank you to Emma and Alison :)   (below are Emma and Alison's dogs)

At home, we've been answering the door all night too Ditto fans after her guest appearance on Location, Location, Location tonight :P

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Don't stop now

Training Ditto is so much fun, she is so into her food and toy, she picks things up so quickly and always gives 100%. Being the behaviour geek I am, the socialisation training just gets my brain going into a frenzy.

Sunday night’s puppy class have just completed their 10 week socialisation plan and diary, and although not everyone chooses to give them to me to read through, those that have, have done a fantastic job. These first time puppy owners are setting exercises, breaking them down, attempting them, noting strengths and weaknesses, asking me how to improve areas of weakness, going home and kicking ass! I was so proud to hear one of last year’s puppy graduates has been accepted as a PAT (Pets as Therapy) dog showing just how great the results of socialisation work within the D-Force classes are.

So where do so many people go wrong:
  1. stopping socialisation – allowing issues
  2. going for gold (flooding) – forcing issues
  3. not raising criteria – training issues

Issue one comes from the attitude ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt’. For example ‘my puppy has met a child, had no reaction, job done’. Remember the developmental stages puppies go through, these will affect your puppies reaction to a stimulus, puppy needs to meet children at every stage of its development, regularly and confidently. I describe this attitude as ‘allowing issues’ i.e not enough socialisation training allows issues to arise nothing has been done to prevent these ‘negative behaviours’.

Issue two is something that many owners do subconsciously. The attitude ‘he will be fine, throw him in the deep end’ can perhaps cause the most detriment in socialisation training. Lets take a puppy party, 8 puppies are let off lead in an enclosed area. The puppy may learn to become a victim or a bully, this may then become a ‘learnt behaviour’ so by ‘forcing’ the dog into this environment rather than gradually building it up and by taking no control (regular recalls, quite time ect) the dog learns undesirable behaviours.

Here is an analogy for problem 3 - Imagine a 30 year old man greeting someone with ‘ga-ga’ and a smiley wave, instead of shaking someone’s hand politely like we have been brought up to do, this is the result of not raising criteria with age. In a canine, the equivalent behaviour when meeting a human would be lots of hyper, frequent licks and a body out of control rather than sitting and waiting to be invited to say hello. The dog has been taught that people are great, but not to show some self control before being invited.

Below are extracts from one of the diaries from a D-Force puppy owner. What is brilliant is how much care is taken to avoid the three above problems.

Puppy age: 8 weeks
Overall aim: Teach a polite meet and greet with humans
Aim for this session: increase confidence to approach people
What happened: met 10 people all gave puppy treat and gentle fuss. Puppy grew in confidence did not back away. Man in hat was scary!

(In-between 8 and 10 weeks lots of hat work)

Puppy age: 10 weeks
Overall aim: Teach a polite meet and greet with humans
Aim for this session: Sit before meeting person
What happened:  Met 10 people. Asked puppy to sit before meeting each person, rewarded (high value) and then released to greet stranger who gave reward (high value)

Puppy age: 12 weeks
Overall aim: Teach a polite meet and greet with humans
Aim for this session: Puppy offers sit position when in front of stranger
What happened: Met 10 people. Had to prompt the first 3 sits and then puppy offered last 7. Slight caution of man in hat. Need to go back to high rewards from lots of people in hats.

Who is willing to be honest? Most dogs will react to a certain stimuli in a non-ideal manor. Identified it? Hattie’s (my 10 year old retriever) is loud Lorries (probably because you don’t see many in my village), Cody’s is cows (seen a lot but never did any ‘socialisation training’ specifically on cows). Form an initial plan including your overall goal. Have a go and see how you get on. And let’s prove that socialisation does work outside the critical period!

Step 1: From a large distance from stimuli push feed or play with dog. Don’t push your luck and move closer until your dog is ready. This step should last a week. No ‘commands’ are being asked for just to have a good time whilst the stimuli is present.

Club Dog - Mika