Author Archives: Peggotty

Motivation and persistence

Do you find sometimes the effort involved in getting something you want just isn’t worth the hassle?

Take a concert locally. It looked appealing to me. So, I went online to the link to book a ticket. Because I can’t walk very far, I can only go if I can park relatively close by. Half an hour later I still haven’t managed to find precisely where the car parks are, and have failed to register with their car parking payment system (necessary apparently in order to park there) which I hoped might give me some clues. The venue’s website doesn’t include a map with the car parks labelled so   – even with the help of Mrs Google and her maps and images – I can’t see where they are or how far I would have to walk.

I am pretty tech savvy. I know how to use smart phones. Give me another half hour and I could get the answers I need. But the hassle? Before I even get to book the concert – well, just not worth it. I don’t want it that much and so I am choosing not to go. Lazy? Perhaps. But who expends a lot of time and energy pursuing a goal they just don’t want enough? Why persist with trying to achieve a goal you don’t want very much?

Where’s the dog training lesson in this? If we – or our dogs – don’t want the outcome enough, and we make it just too challenging to achieve the outcome, then tbh, they just won’t want to bother. The difference is they don’t find themselves tempted into writing a blog post about the experience 🙂

Half asleep bored Golden Retriever
Puppy Australian Shepherd X Collie with a toy

Have you taught your dog that its OK if you need to take food away from them? If not – here’s why you might want to!

I seem to be seeing a lot of posts which say ‘never take your dog’s food away ‘ ‘don’t grab things off your dog’ – but how is that equipping your dog for the ‘real world’? Where they might have found something edible (well, what the dog deems edible anyway!), but life threatening? Got hold of something that could kill them? Or is their life going to be so well managed for the next X number of years that will NEVER happen?

Can you guarantee someone, at some point in your dog’s life, is NOT going to move swiftly to try to take articles away from your dog? If a dog manages to get hold of some pills, goes to get hold of some food dropped on the kitchen floor or finds a rotting carcase on a walk – have you taught your dog to accept someone trying to take them off them? In case you aren’t the first person on the scene?

‘Real world’ training suggests to me we should aim to teach our dogs to be as fine as we can with the vagaries and unpredictability of human behaviour, because IME teaching ALL the humans they are ever going to meet in theit whole lives how to behave around dogs as safely and carefully as they should just isn’t going to happen.

We can teach our dogs to give up articles and food items easily enough (and yes, I’d be teaching that as well); but will everyone else know what cues you’ve taught the dog for them to do that? In an emergency, will they ask the dog calmly? Or might they panic a bit and move fast? If you have children, can they sometimes act like, well, children, and go to grab things from the dog? Visiting children – do they know not to pick up the dog’s food bowl or chew?

Collar grabs, taking food from their mouth, article grabs  – high on my list of things to teach a dog to associate with a positive outcome, in well planned strategic stages, as soon as possible so they are less likely to be taken by surprise, it be less likely to trigger aggressive, fearful or defensive behaviour, should it be needed to save their lives. Nothing to do with being a ‘pack leader’ or showing the dog who is boss – just sensible training, for the ‘real world’.

The fun in trial and error learning

German Spitz holding a unch of keys
Peg – one of the first dogs to be clicker trained in the UK

As I experiment and play around with getting to grips with the challenges of bringing order to my various projects online, I am struck by the parallels with learning any new skill whether it be a deeper dive into WordPress or Joomla or training a dog.

Hands on – playing around with the tasks – learning by trial and error though choices and decisions made in a reflective way is my approach of choice. I enjoy it – its fun! Decisions influenced, and skills improved, by seeing results I like, and want to repeat, reinforced by an outcome that pleases me and helps me achieve my goals. Whether it be an image appearing as I like on a blog or a dog homing in on a behaviour I’ve clicked – all will be informed by hands-on practice. That it can sometimes be frustrating when I don’t get the results I want doesn’t matter too much – I have learned, through experience, that I can take a break, go back to it later and try a different approach. The dog doesn’t need to get frustrated, and if they do, well, IME they learn to problem solve and find out what they can can do to get me, as the trainer, to adjust my criteria – they have no idea, nor care, what the target behaviour is. So long as they don’t get into trouble, or get corrected for making the choices I’m not interested in, and get what they want out of the negotiation whether it be food or toys, why would they? So long as I can help the dog solve the problem, there is no problem. But sometimes I need help to solve my training problem- so then I go to the experts to help me out, or for enlightenment. And do I really want to try and reinvent the wheel all the time anyway?

At some point any skill is going to be informed by the expertise and skills of those who have been there before and already know how to do it. I can learn from watching others at work; others putting into practise the skills they have honed through their experience. I can learn from them describing and teaching; from their books, workshops, social media, YouTube and webinars. So learning from others – also important. Far less time consuming usually too (just how much time do I want to spend on how to get an image in the place I want it I wonder? <big, big sigh!>)

It will also be informed by people who have studied it as well as put it into practice – the people who do research (both formally and informally), who measure, observe and analyse results. That is what science does. For example understanding what the observable signs in a dog’s behaviour mean can inform what trainers do. It can measure, analyse and examine what is happening when a dog is trained, and how it is learning, but under controlled conditions which aim to isolate the variables in a way that might not be possible in the ‘real world’, so it might be clearer what is happening. That they can’t do that effectively where there are too many variables to take into account doesn’t negate the value of those that do.

So although skills can be acquired in variety of ways – I wonder if I would have enjoyed my exploration of clicker training (indeed, all my training) quite so much if I had only learned how it was supposed to work through an online webinar, in a classroom or by reading a book? I doubt it. I know Peg thought it was great fun too, when all she had to do was ‘behave’ – offer behaviours – and manipulate me into giving her more sausages.

  • The fun in trial and error learning

    As I experiment and play around with getting to grips with the challenges of bringing order to my various projects online, I am struck by the parallels with learning any new skill whether it be a deeper dive into WordPress or Joomla or training a dog. Hands on – playing around with the tasks –…

  • Fear and the Humber Bridge

    “Dogs can’t rationalise fears statistically the way I was able to, but we can offer them choices, weighting them subtly in favour of being bold and fearless, but not so much that we put too much stress on them and frighten them into not wanting to even try. Allowing them to opt out if they…

  • My DogBlog

    I get asked a lot of questions about dog training and behaviour, but I’d be lying if I said the main purpose of this blog would be motivated be some egotistical need to satisfy the need in other people to learn from me. No, in writing and exploring gripping dog training and behaviour topics, like…

  • Motivation and persistence

    Do you find sometimes the effort involved in getting something you want just isn’t worth the hassle? Take a concert locally. It looked appealing to me. So, I went online to the link to book a ticket. Because I can’t walk very far, I can only go if I can park relatively close by. Half…

  • Have you taught your dog that its OK if you need to take food away from them? If not – here’s why you might want to!

    Have you taught your dog that its OK if you need to take food away from them? If not – here’s why you might want to!

    I seem to be seeing a lot of posts which say ‘never take your dog’s food away ‘ ‘don’t grab things off your dog’ – but how is that equipping your dog for the ‘real world’? Where they might have found something edible (well, what the dog deems edible anyway!), but life threatening? Got hold…

A Pigglepig world


You are a very sociable person. You were raised in a large family. You love your fellow humans. But suddenly you find yourself in a new home. No more humans. None. Your family is the strange animals that care for you. Pigglepigs. They don’t behave like humans. Their behaviour is a complete mystery to you. They don’t talk to you in any kind of language you can understand – just a load of noises which make no sense. Worse, from that day for weeks, you don’t see, let alone meet, another human. You miss them desperately! But you get along OK. The Pigglepigs are kind, albeit bossy. Then one day, out on a walk with your Pigglepig family, you see on the horizon not just ONE human being, but a whole bunch of them! You can’t contain yourself. You charge over to them, laughing excitedly and generally making something of an idiot of yourself as you shout ‘HI! HI! OMG! People! Who are you?’ You hug and kiss a couple before they are aware you are on top of them. But the third one is ready for you – and pushes you away angrily. After all – you are a complete stranger. You have not only ignored all the social niceties of a proper greeting – you HUGGED him?? He gets cross.  At least the others just move away and put up with your nonsense. But the one that got angry – he’s not prepared to let it go. He’s a bad-tempered old bugger with a dodgy hip; he can’t evade you and it hurts. You nearly had him over! He gets hold of you and shouts at you to ‘stop!’  Suddenly all your enthusiasm evaporates. You are frightened. You had never met anyone as grumpy as that before and you were only trying to be friendly, and you hadn’t seen a fellow human being in WEEKS.

Three dogs being sociable and greeting each other

Your Pigglepig family gallops up and intervenes to stop things getting out of hand. “It’s OK!” says Dad Pigglepig. “He’s friendly!” They are angry with the grumpy old man who’d told you off so aggressively. Then they turn round and tell you off too. But what for you really don’t know. You did just want to be friends! All very stressful. No chance for apologies. No making up between you and the humans you were so desperate to make friends with. Everyone is angry or upset. You hadn’t been able to stay around and make friends with any of them and worse, there was the shock of finding out that some people are horrible. A poor encounter on every level.

We can easily see how a young dog might be set up to make bad mistakes when encounters with other dogs are mismanaged by us humans, or he is allowed to behave in a way that upsets other dogs. The dog barking and lunging with either excitement or frustration on the end of the lead; the grumpy old man as he reacts sharply, and aggressively, to stop other dogs from hurting him or being knocked over.  Both might be labelled as “reactive”, but they have very different motivations; potentially very different outcomes in the long term.

“Dangerous dogs” – what’s to be done?

What should we do about “dangerous dogs”?

So many views; so many entrenched ideas about there being no “bad dogs” only “bad” owners. That no dog is born “bad”. I’m not going to go down the route of defining what “bad” is supposed to mean, though although perhaps the naïve people who believe it, should take off their rose-tinted specs. IME working with clients, and with my own dogs, its far from black and white.

But what can we do to stop dogs killing and biting people?

Ban certain breeds?

It’s been tried. It hasn’t done a great job. Dog bites haven’t been reduced. The government are saying the legislation did work because no pitbulls are associated with any of the recent deaths. But anyone who knows anything about dogs knows the owners just went on to find another type of dog they could turn into aggessive status dogs. No, the legislation hasn’t worked Suella Braverman. Moreover, it has been failing the lovely, nice, safe pet dogs that just happen to look like a banned breed. They have been seized, often highly aggressively, isolated, and even destroyed because it’s just too difficult to keep the dog under the rules imposed on them.

Defining what constitutes a breed is fraught with difficulties. Not all dogs within any breed are the same either, even if it is likely certain traits are more likely to be found in that breed. That’s the point of selective breeding for a type, or breed. Breed dogs for traits that contribute to aggressive behaviour, and yes, you are more likely to see the consequences of that just as you can breed for traits which make it more likely the pups will be sociable and friendly. There is no single “aggressive” gene than can be identified. Aggression is a complicated topic. Just removing some dogs from the gene pool won’t stop dogs behaving like dogs. Any dog can bite if they feel under threat or are stressed or frightened. That some dogs are physiologically more able to do more harm when they behave aggressively is perhaps the only rationale behind a breed ban that makes any sort of sense. Bull breeds usually have bigger, stronger jaws than a terrier, or a collie. They can do real damage when they do decide to bite in a way a Pomeranian or a cockerpoo physically cannot.

So, what about the owner?

Plenty of dogs ARE messed up and are unsafe. It’s not always the fault of the owner. When people take on a pup, or an adult rescue dog, that dog will have already had experiences and an environment to add to their genetic make-up. Even an 8 week old pup isn’t a ‘blank slate’ as some people like to believe. Plenty of owners end up with a dog that they love and care for that has had things happen to it, triggering all sorts of unwanted behaviour – perhaps including aggressive behaviour. Of course, there will also be plenty of unpleasant people who get a dog that intimidates and reflects a particular lifestyle. If there is legislation surely it ought to find a way focus on those individuals?

Some dogs are going to be much more vulnerable to bad things messing them up because of their genes and early rearing. Often because they were bred and reared by backyard breeders whose ethical outlook (and empathy for dogs and fellow human beings) is so very different to other breeders.

Some dogs are going to be more vulnerable to adverse events happening in their lives for all sorts of reasons. Whether it be by accident or design – some just can’t deal with them without damaging them in some way. Its why how we breed, train and bring up our dogs matters so much. Uncaring breeders, abusive trainers, owners who simply don’t know or understand enough to realise what their dogs need can all bring out traits which might never see the light of day in other circumstances.

But even the most experienced owner and trainer can find themselves with a dog that throws a curved ball at them by some quirk in a dog’s make-up, or just because the problems they present are simply not possible to fix.  

Chance can throw a spanner in the works too. It might be an attack by another dog, or the dog becomes frightened by unexpected events. However well or safely we manage our dogs; however well we set them up to be resilient and sociable, ‘stuff’ can happen to wreck things.

Then it becomes the owner’s responsibility if they fail to make good decisions about training, management or control of those dogs once they realise they have a problem. It’s the owner’s job to aim to mitigate against that becoming a disaster.

So, shouldn’t the focus of any legislation need to be on the people involved? The breeders, the owners, and the trainers. Banning “breeds”, without any clear idea about what the “breed” is, hasn’t reduced dog attacks. The people who want their dogs to be dangerous (or don’t care) just moved on to different dogs. And that’s what they’ll do again.

What can we do? I really don’t know. License owners after they’ve taken some sort of test? Educate everyone who has anything to do with dogs about the importance of responsible breeding and rearing? Focus on breeding sociable dogs? Get shot of abusive trainers? That would probably reduce the more ‘accidental’ domestic aggression problems we trainers and behaviourists would need to deal with.

But understanding the mindset of people who breed and intentionally choose to own “status” dogs, who want them to be aggressive, and have no desire to have dogs as sociable, friendly companions is way beyond my ken. Maybe banning is the only practical way to pause them, before they find another breed to exploit, and dogs to abuse (which they will do), but in the meantime there will be dreadful consequences for so many nice, lovely people and their (genuinely) nice, lovely dogs. A lot of dog lovers, especially those who own a dog that, by sheer bad luck, physically resembles an American bullie, are likely to be paying for the government’s refusal to understand its not just about the dogs.

Reasons…and excuses

I was under no illusions at all that I was making excuses for my rubbish parking skills when I told the amused Sainsbury’s assistant ‘My new car – it’s too bloody long!!’ as I mowed down the cone I was supposed to stop in front of, as I reversed into the space so I could collect my ‘click and collect’ shopping. I sometimes joke similarly about my dog’s ‘floppy ears’ when she ignores a verbal cue to do something. I know, really, that it’s my poor judgement about a badly timed or insufficiently trained cue, not her ‘floppy ears’, that are the problem, but joking aside – with our dogs, it can matter.

The dog owner who says ‘My Mongolian Duckhound – they just have to chase ducks! It’s what they’re bred for!’ as an excuse for not having trained or managed the situation well enough to stop their dog pursuing the ducks on the local duck pond. The dog walker who says ‘My dog doesn’t like other dogs – that’s why he barks and lunges at them when other owners let their dogs get too close’. All too often Ignoring the role they had in putting the dog in the position that it felt the need to kick off; blaming other dog owners and their dogs.

The blame game

When do reasons become excuses? That I was having difficulty parking my new car was undoubtedly because it was a much longer vehicle than I was used to. I hadn’t learned how to reverse park it into narrow spaces or judge its length.  But that becomes an excuse when I am clearly laying some kind of responsibility on the car for the problem, or Sainsburys for putting the cone in the wrong place, not my lack of skill if I don’t plan on doing anything about it to change the outcome next time I have to reverse into a narrow space.   

Same as with dog training – blaming the dog for actions, when it’s our management and training skills that are lacking, is very common. It allows people to place the responsibility for unacceptable or ‘wrong’ behaviour on the dog, or on other people. But any experienced dog trainer knows that is silly. If a dog hasn’t learned (yet) to not chase ducks, then as the big-brained human it is our responsibility to aim to manage the dog so it isn’t in a position to chase ducks.  That the dog made a bad decision (as far as the owner and the ducks were concerned – the dog probably had a great time!) to chase ducks is down to handler error. That the Mongolian Duckhound is hard-wired to want to chase ducks may be a reason the dog decided to chase the ducks, but blaming the dog for doing it is making excuses for poor management skills, or lack of training, on the part of the owner. Not liking other dogs might be the reason a dog keeps kicking off at other dogs, but if it keeps happening, then it is just making excuses for not managing walks better. Blaming other dog owners, or the dog’s history, in an effort to seem less culpable is a very understandable human response to making mistakes.

‘Stuff happens’

Human frailty means I am probably as guilty as the next person in sometimes exclaiming “B***** dog!!”, as it legs it over the horizon, but I do know, in my heart of hearts, that my emotional response isn’t the slightest bit helpful, or fair on the dog, and must aim to try harder next time to not let it happen.

Does it matter? Maybe not, but if the owner continues to blame the dog, other dog owners, the ducks for moving too fast, or the rest of the world for just being there (like that pesky cone in the Sainsbury’s car park), without actually doing any training, or changing how things are managed, so things are less likely to go wrong again could lead to disastrous consequences. Avoiding taking responsibility for the dog’s unwanted behaviour rarely does the dog any favours.

Of course we all misjudge things from time to time and management might fail (and random ‘stuff’ happens) – but let’s not blame the dog (or others) when it does. It’s important to try and identify reasons why dogs do or don’t do things. But it’s also important to do something about those reasons if the consequences are unwanted or likely to be potentially harmful.   

So I can see I shall have to spend some time and out some effort onto retraining reverse parking in narrow spaces before I mow down some hapless pedestrian, since should that happen, the excuse that my car is too long probably won’t stand up in a court of law!

Stranger danger

I remember the day I went out with a client with a lungy barky GSD – at the training stage of ‘dealing with random stuff on walks’. At one point a large truck pulled up and a man got out clearly intent on talking to us, so while the handler did her ‘move the dog away to create a bit more distance and move behind mum’ strategy, I ran interference – the man was just asking directions. Which I gave him. Dog and handler doing really well on their own behind me. No lunging or barking. Almost relaxed owner.  As our accidental helper was about to go back to the truck I felt I had to ask – ‘do you know about dogs?’ because he hadn’t looked at the dog and owner at all. Not once. SO unusual. It turned out he had been a dog handler in the RAF and knew exactly how NOT to (as well as how to no doubt!) turn the dog into a whirling dervish monster dog. Turned a random encounter into a great positive training opportunity for which I thanked him.  

But how often can you rely on random strangers out on walks behaving in such a way to help you and your dog? IME hardly ever. They let their dogs come too close. They let their off lead dogs run over to us. They try to stroke and fuss our dogs – especially if they are cute puppies. Ask them to stop and they don’t. None of them mean harm. They love dogs just as we do. But every experienced dog owner can relate tales of how well meaning, but (but let’s be frank here!) ignorant people seem to mess things up for them. It’s a very human thing to want to hug and touch and make contact physically. It’s what most people do.

People will come up with loads of things to try and prevent those episodes happening. “My dog has mange” “Let me try and hug you to show you how unpleasant it is to be groped by a stranger”. I once had occasion to say clearly and deliberately to one person “my dog has bitten people for doing exactly what you are doing now. Please take your hand away”. Yet that person persisted in stroking her. It was a testament to Poppy’s progress that I was able to bring her away before she bit one more person for touching her in a way she deemed offensive! Calling out to people in the park “please call your dog away” as their dog runs over to say hello, rarely has a dog magically understanding the recall cue the owner might already be trying, in vain. That’s assuming they are trying. But many an owner could be genuinely mystified as to why a complete (possibly quite mad!) stranger is telling them to call their dog. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try these things. But IME we are so often left frustrated, angry or upset by what appears to be the thoughtless behaviour of these random strangers.

Being your dog’s advocate?

So if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that there is no point in relying on random strangers to change their behaviour to accommodate you and your dog. Being assertive and practiced at “being your dog’s advocate” in telling people to stop doing what they are doing can work. For sure. Always worth trying. But all too often unless you are prepared to be pretty rude to some people either in what you say, or what you do, and risk losing their willingness to help you in the future, as well as cause offence, you probably need to work on changing you and your dog’s behaviour rather than rely on changing their’s. If you aren’t very good at being assertive and start to sound worried and anxious in your attempts, you might well make your dog more anxious. Sound at all aggressive – ditto. But not only that – if it has come to the point where you and the other person are close enough to have that conversation, it’s probably already too late. They will have already stretched their hand out. They might already be cuddling your puppy. They have probably already made eye contact with your dog. Their dog is probably already trying to make “friends” with yours even more intimately.

Have a plan

So have a training plan to deal with ‘random strangers’. A strategy. It might be as simple as making sure you can easily turn and move away before the intruder- human or canine – gets too close so the situation doesn’t arise in the first place. It might be teaching your dog to move behind you. Your dog being up close and personal to you, with you acting as physical barrier, is likely to stop most humans in their tracks.

You could enlist the help of friends by asking them to role-play being a “random stranger”. Practice saying phrases like “Please don’t touch my dog” in a firm tone of voice, whilst rewarding the dog for moving behind you, for instance. Practice taking a step away, more or less subtly as the situation dictates, as the stranger moves closer.

Random strangers and their dogs can be a menace. They aren’t friends or training buddies who can be instructed in what they should do, or not do, to aid your cause. Accept it. 🙂 IME it’s much easier, and usually less stressful, to change how you and your dog behave than trying to change theirs. IME it’s much easier to train and manage a single dog than train or manage an entire population of random strangers.

Is Obedience for the dogs?

One of the first competitive activities pet dog owners took up with enthusiasm some 70 odd years ago was ‘Competitive Obedience’. It was an opportunity for like-minded enthusiasts to get together and train their dogs in a series of set exercises and be judged at just how well the dogs executed them. The exercises themselves have changed little over the years; but the techniques to train them most certainly have.   
The originators of the Kennel Club tests knew what they were about. The jargon and science we use today might not have been there, and our modern day understanding of the concept of ‘obedience’ has changed, but throughout the tests the dog is being trained for all the skills we want today. Impulse control, reliable responses to cues, being able to focus whilst being aroused and excited. Ability to become calm at the drop of a hat. Scentwork. Sharing and giving up articles willingly and happily. Independence and confidence in responding to cues at a distance from the handler. Being attentive to the handler. A willingness to work as a cooperative team and choosing to be with the handler. The first real test for any new competitor is usually finding a way to motivate the dog to want to stay in the ring! There are so many important lifeskills a dog acquires; so many training skills a handler has to learn to succeed.

Nowhere is the change for more positive, motivational techniques reflected than in the Obedience shows run by the British Competitive Obedience Society. The emphasis in the rules and tests is on the dog showing enthusiasm; wanting to join in with the handler in what are, by and large exercises of little immediate practical value. They have borrowed the best of the Kennel Club tests and given them a positive twist.  

So it is excellent news that BCOS already has their first post-covid show planned. Look out for it – if the idea of dogs being ‘obedient’ has put you off ‘Obedience’, then think again. Competitive Obedience (capital C; capital O) is for the dogs, as well as the humans.