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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.

Are you a mugger or a bank manager?

I don’t know many owners who haven’t been faced with the loss of a sock to a “naughty” puppy, or watched in despair as a cushion or a pair of knickers have disappeared at speed up the garden, or collected in the pup’s bed.  But it’s never just socks and knickers – its Barbie dolls, tea towels, flower pots, slippers…all can fall prey to the quick eye of an opportunistic pup! The first time a puppy “steals” something is when they find out if you are a mugger…or a bank manager.


Muggers come up to you, assert themselves, and take what you have. Without a by your leave. No warning. Sometimes they threaten you first. They put on an ugly face. “Give me your phone!” “Give me your money!” They might even physically attack you. So the next time you are out and carrying your bag or your phone, you are going to be on your guard. Ready to protect yourself should anyone try to do the same thing again.  Depending on your temperament, your state of stress or just because there’s an R in the month, you might become very aggressive if anyone should try to steal anything off you another time.  That some muggers are more subtle – they might even smile and try to engage you in conversation, lull you into a false sense of security before taking your money – just makes you more suspicious of the mugger looking like a Greek bearing gifts. That he is just trying to trick you, rather than assault you, as he takes what you have is not always a great comfort.

Poppy believes there are muggers about!! Think how we tuck bags under our arms or put our hands protectively around our possessions if we believe someone might want to ‘steal’ them. Poppy used to show extreme aggression towards anyone approaching her when she had any article.

Bank Managers

But there are some people who we go looking for to give our money to. It used to be bank managers. I guess the world has changed since I first came up with this analogy. Who sees bank managers any more? Their image isn’t all that great either nowadays, but back in the day they loved giving you interest on the money you deposited with them. The principle remains the same. IF it’s in our interests to give away our money, we will give it up willingly and happily. These days we go online to find people to take it from us. If we learn to believe the person saying ‘Give me your money!’ is not only going to keep it safe, they will give you interest, and then give back your original investment, we will willingly hand it over. We actively go looking for them. Once we’ve learned to trust the person we are very unlikely to bite them, or run away from them, when they approach us asking for our money.

The main difference between those 2 scenarios is a very basic one. In the first you had no choice. Someone else was literally forcing a decision on you. And were clearly planning on permanently depriving you of your property. They were probably scary as well. The latter – giving your money to someone willingly, was entirely your choice. The bank – in order to manipulate you into making that choice freely and willingly, understands it has to make the transaction both appealing and non-threatening. 

So which would you rather be with your dog when he has something he shouldn’t? A mugger or a bank manager? It’s too late to stop him taking the things you value if he already has it (that’s a different training issue entirely) so there’s no point telling him off for that, so if you want to come out well from the situation you created (by leaving things lying around), then you need to consider how important it is that your dog views you as a bank manager rather than a mugger.  

Future proofing

  • Don’t get aggressive with your pup or adult dog over articles he has picked up just because they are ‘yours’ not his – don’t be a mugger sometimes, and bank manager at others. Guess which articles he is less likely to want to give up in the future? He already has the article; he cannot understand how he came by it in the first place matters to you, however cross you get. In a dog’s world, if he has something, it’s his.  He can’t understand that you are angry because it’s fluffy loveliness cost you £100 from John Lewis rather than a fiver from Pets At Home.
  • Once you have hold of the article – even if it’s just a hand holding it at the same time as the pup  –  give your dog ‘interest’ (in the form of at least one treat, maybe more) while you hold it before giving it back
  • 99% of the time you give back the article once the pup has eaten the treat –you need to do this with ALL articles – his toys, chews, unimportant articles of yours (e.g. socks). The only ones you don’t give back are the ones that are dangerous for him or things that REALLY matter to you (e.g. £50 notes!).  If you really want to be clever about it, you can give higher rates of interest for giving you things he shoudn’t have so he is more likely to give them up than want to keep them. Imagine how fast you would want to put your £500 into a bank account that offered 10% interest, instead of the usual £1.3%. Just be careful that he isn’t so clever that he learns to ‘find’ that £500 in order to trade it in!

In effect you want to teach your pup to want to bring things to you. That some things earn even more interest (like Barbie or £50 notes) and you are always up for trading things in for something better. That it can mean your dog randomly finds objects to bring to you in order to get something from you is a bonus IMO. If it matters to you that your dog doesn’t put his teeth on some things, don’t let him have access to them. Manage things better. But if from the first day his little paw crosses your threshold he learns that you are a lovely, generous bank manager wanting to give him interest and not a nasty, thieving mugger wanting to permanently deprive him of his treasured possessions, the chances of him being an aggressive ‘resource guarder’ as he matures are dramatically reduced. . So which are you going to choose to be for your pup? A bank manager or a mugger?

 “Please sir, can I have some more? “ An optimistic dog who believes it pays off to take even really difficult articles to mum in order to earn ‘interest’!

Stimulus control

One of the most interesting ‘rules’ I heard about when I started clicker training, and started to look at the science behind learning, was the concept of stimulus control. i.e. you give significance to a cue by ONLY reinforcing that particular version of a behaviour when you present the cue. You also DIDN’T reward it in the absence of that cue. I learned from experience the environmental cues mattered too, but the principles remain the same.

Don’t want your dog to randomly jump up and grab things – e,g, the lead – in your hand? Teach a cue which means ‘grab what is in my hand’ and put it under stimulus control. No need to tell the dog off or stop playing tuggie with the lead, or tuggie toys that look like leads, just don’t reward him for jumping up grabbing without that ‘permission’ cue.

From a competitive obedience point of view that was highly desirable and what we really did – and do -need.

Domestically…did it matter so much? I thought then that it probably did, and still do. Its just so much harder to use effectively in the ‘real world’. It teaches the dog the cues you present to them – i.e. your ‘commands’ – ARE important, worth listening to and are opportunities to earn reinforcement. Those cues don’t have to be verbal. They can be gestures, but verbal cues are usual far simpler and more black and white to teach. There was a great video of one trainer showing how he taught it ….cue, behaviour, good consequence. No cue – behaviour? No positive consequence. i.e. no reward. Just repeated and repeated in a random way, until the penny drops.

For behaviours that aren’t reinforced by other people, or intrinsically rewarding (a great example usually being barking) , it is a great way to reduce the dog randomly annoying us with things we’ve only half trained them to do or things we want them to do sometimes, but not at others. It also explains why once a dog understands a ‘cue’ and it’s been taught the concept of stimulus control (dogs do get it!), they will steadfastly appear to “refuse” to do it when you use even a slightly different cue by mistake.

Want a more comprehensive, but very readable, explanation? Look at chapter 3 in Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoort the Dog.


Jigsaw training

When clicker training came on the British dog training scene some 20+ years ago it refined and informed a lot of training people already did, but more importantly brought a whole new orderly, science based approach to it. One technique we learned about was ‘chaining’, especially back chaining. Where the dog learned it needed to carry out linked behaviours in order to get the reward. It was – and is – a very linear process. jigsaw-pieces

But rather than seeing the process as linear it is often more useful to view the end result you want as making a jigsaw. The final picture not made up of a chain, but a more complex composition of individual pieces perfectly formed, ready to just slot together to make the final picture. The more perfectly formed each piece is, the better the end result will look.

When you break down an exercise, you are working on individual pieces of the jigsaw. Once you’ve formed a piece perfectly, you can just put it on one side to take out and dust off later on, maybe polishing off any rough edges, when you’re ready to put the whole picture together.

Take the retrieve for example.  One piece of the ‘retrieve’ picture is the ‘pick up’. In most competitive activities HOW the dog picks up the article is important. Clicking for just the pick-up – clean and fast – may be one piece of the jigsaw. The ‘hold’ – well, that can be broken down too. Where the article is held in the dog’s mouth, how much pressure is exerted – those may be 2 different pieces. You will have a load more criteria to add to your particular ‘jigsaw’ depending on what purpose you are teaching it for and what you want your particular jigsaw to look like at the end. Moving with the article towards the handler – how the dog returns may be important. Does it need to be fast? Do you need to work on the ‘recall’ as a separate piece of the jigsaw?
Sitting holding the article – that may be another piece. The action of sitting – another.wysscent

Once you’ve formed all the individual pieces, how you put them together – well that’s another lesson entirely – but there’s little point in trying to do a jigsaw where the pieces aren’t the right shape or size. It just won’t turn out right.


Fostering nervous dogs

I know how distressing it is to lose a dog – but there are some absolute things you do and don’t do – and I thought it might be helpful to know how I have handled and fostered rescue dogs over the years. The do’s and don’ts I put in place-

I usually use a slip lead, or half check AND a normal collar (ensuring its snug and that the dog can’t slip it) and lead if a dog has to moved from one vehicle to another and from one place to another. Perhaps 2 different attachments in case the dog is adept at slipping harnesses or collars (many are) or one should break.

IF a dog is so nervous it can’t have a collar on, getting a collar on it to me would be a pretty high priority because otherwise you have no way of attaching a houseline.

I have a house line attached to a dog for a MINIMUM of 3 days – indoors and out. The dog is only taken out in a garden on that line and it is not released at all while the dog is still avoiding me, or still looking for exits. I let it appear to have freedom – its allowed to go wherever it wants and I am looking for it starting to climb or squeeze through anything. If there look like there are any weakness at all I repair them or block them immediately. I have learned never to assume that because the previous 20 dogs have never got out of the garden, this one won’t!
Then it is allowed, carefully and actively supervised (after maybe a week or so) – on a trailing long line – a bit more freedom so I can check out if its still thnking of escaping…that may be the case for WEEKS. I always assume a dog can will try to get over a fence and that height is relative.

Dogs like this are also usually quick to spot when people look like they are going to open a door and may be just be waiting for the oportunity to make a bid for freedom. Until you have had dogs like that you cannot believe just how fast they can move – they won’t warn you.

I always have 2 layers of security – so we have an ‘air lock’. One door or gate shuts before the other is opened.

I wouldn’t release a nervous dog loose *anywhere* (including the back garden) until it was obvious it was beginning to feel safe. e,g looking to me for food and treats, settling in a crate or bed and begining to take itself there and look relaxed, beginning to move around with my other dogs and even then I’d be very very cautious until the dog was was beginning to respond positively to some kind of recall/attention getting cue.

So if you take in foster or rescue dogs…NEVER assume they want to stay with you. They won’t and don’t usually Not for ages.

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 ‘why does Snowy continue to howl at the Coronation Street theme music?’ or ‘how can I teach a perfect left turn?’ i have to examine and question my own experience, knowledge and thoughts and in turn provoke questions and responses from others.
But this first blog is just a trial run – the first toddler steps in a new venture.

I hope you will enjoy it.