dog choice training

I'm too busy to train my dog

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Gone are the days when you had to march round a hall for what seemed like hours on end to train your dog. Those bad ole days when we were instructed to practice only whole exercises instead of breaking them down into tiny component steps.

No longer do you have to prepare a training session like a military campaign, getting everything in place before you fetch your controlled and manipulated dog from the white room he’d been placed in so that he didn’t get too excited/bored/whatever. 

You don’t have to take copious notes on what you do in every session. Note-taking certainly has a place, and if you’re a professional animal trainer, working with a host of different animals every day, it’s a must. But for the average dog-owner, with just one dog to work with, you should know what you last did and how to progress it next. 

Most of my training is done on the fly, as part of my everyday life with my dogs.

A delightful morning greeting! | All-Day Training, force-free training | #dogtraining, #puppytraining | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

First thing in the morning, for instance, my dogs are released from their beds to give a delightful morning greeting. Here’s Lacy’s morning smile to me, leaning over my pillow … What could be nicer?

Straight downstairs and they all sit at the garden door waiting for it to open and to be let out by name, individually. 

So already we’ve used matwork, impulse control, turn-taking, and waiting for - and acting on - a personal release cue. These all have their own intrinsic rewards - no need for treats or toys. 

While the others do their business, Rollo will be too busy watching the hens emerging from their house for another day of clucking and scratching. His “Hurry up” cue sends him straight to the pee-side of the garden for some action. Back inside again, they are free to greet the cat, keep me company getting ready for the day, to chew bones, lie on their beds - generally amuse themselves. So that takes more impulse control, self-confidence, feeling comfortable in their own skins. 

And so it goes on, through the day. While I work they can do what they like. An off-switch is an essential here! Preparing for a walk or van-journey incorporates impulse control and patterning. 

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A visit to the shops or cafe brings in more of their everyday training. Here’s Coco on his mat at the coffee shop, waiting for victims to come through the door to greet him (so he thinks). More matwork, more impulse control, polite greetings. 

Once we’re out we either have an exploring walk, or play with toys (each dog has their own toy so that there aren’t any mid-air collisions or spats), and the two that have difficulty with things suddenly happening - strange dogs, people, children, bikes, plastic bags, or hot air balloons - get to work on their reactivity with carefully-designed strategies for them to adopt instead of barking, lunging, and shrieking. I help them cope with the hazard, then on we go again. Here we’ll have used a number of reactivity-geared techniques, counter-conditioning, recall, loose lead walking, retrieve, stop mid-hurtle, down, sit, and any other tricks I fancy asking for. 

I’ll walk one, two, three, or four, dogs as the fancy takes me, and as the need arises. Multiple dogs in a home can soon turn into a gang of hoodlums if their individual needs aren’t catered for.  


William Henry Davies had it, when he penned his well-known poem Leisure. He knew the value of living in the moment:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


Breaking down what you end up with into tiny steps

Those recalls, for instance, aren’t something you teach by telling your dog to sit, marching away, facing him like a statue, then barking out a command for him to come to this imposing figure, and sit. Life is not an army camp! And your wayward dog is not going to learn by you just yelling at him when he’s a couple of hundred yards away, hoping that somehow, miraculously, he’ll understand what’s wanted. 

When I call my dog I want him to respond to me with a “Hey! That’s my name!”, a head-turn towards me (a stop and turn if they’re racing away), whole-body turn - then a race towards me where they’ll be greeted not with a stony face, but with joy. No requirement to sit - just to race back. So each of those parts is taught entirely separately, and only occasionally put together as a whole. And each of those parts is practiced in isolation, regularly. 

Practice makes perfect

Yes there are little impromptu training sessions dotted about the day, one dog at a time, while the others wait their turns on their beds - or perhaps all at once to see who’s listening!

Lacy searches a car smaller.png

And when I’m teaching a completely new skill - scentwork (in the photo Lacy is searching a car for contraband), teaching them their sign to give consent when I want to handle or groom them, fun things like stacking beakers or dinner bowls, fetching and carrying things for me, formal obedience stuff, like Sendaway or dressage-style Heelwork - these will be slightly more planned, but still slotted in for a minute or two here or there. In the back of my mind I know what I want to achieve, and what small steps need to be taken to get to the desired result. Then I just peg away at it when we are all in the mood.

In short, instead of planning training times with my dogs, which would inevitably be postponed because time slid away, or I felt too tired, or I’ve timed things wrong and they are now exhausted from a long walk . . . I grab the moments I already spend with them and use those times to teach new things or practice old tricks. (It’s all tricks to them.)

We don’t line our children up in the morning and give them a ten-minute lesson on what we want them to learn, then ignore them for the rest of the day! We interact with them all day long - a word here, a story there, a little advice or teaching slid in to a conversation, appreciation for something they’ve done which pleases us. We don’t need to allocate special time for all this - it all happens as the day unfolds, during the time we are already spending with them. 

And that’s what happens with my dogs here. A frequent note to self that “What you expect is what you get,” ensures that I keep the training going at all times - although to my dogs it’s just daily life, interaction with me and each other, cuddles, food, fun.

This is what I call “All-Day Training” - just bits, slotted in here and there.

Who’s doing the training?

How many people have a dog of eight or ten years old, and say - “Oh, Harry never comes back when he’s called,” as if somehow it’s Harry’s fault that they never took the time to teach him!

It’s never too late to teach your dog skills that not only may save his life, but which make daily life so much more congenial. If you wait till the time is right, all your ducks are in a row, and you are going to “do some training”, you’ll have missed the boat. 

Full of care, you’ll have missed out on the squirrels and the stars, and the smile in the eyes.

Forget about formal sessions. Forget about sits and downs and marching about on a lead. Stick to All-Day Training and see how easy it is. 

If you want to find out how to break things down and teach one minute at a time, check out my Online Courses, and my step-by-step books. Develop the bond between you and your dog, enjoy watching him blossom as you work together, and things will all pan out very nicely.

You’ll be a family.

 


And for lots of quick ways to learn some of the things in this article - and which you can fit anywhere in your busy day - get our free email course here

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Yes, There can be good stuff on tv about dogs!

A problem dog learns the same way as any other dog. Be careful what you watch on tv so you feed your mind and your dog with the right ideas! The relationship will blossom and life will improve | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #problemdog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

A lot of television programmes about dogs are either mawkish and miserable - or actively misleading, giving bad advice.

The programme-makers are always looking for the sensational to attract audiences and sell their advertising space, hence the many shows about mistreatment and cruelty to animals, and the dramatic attacks seen in some “dog-training” series. These programmes are made with no reference to the huge scientific advances in the knowledge of how dogs’ brains work, and are responsible for a lot of misery and suffering - of dogs and their owners, who try to put the techniques into practice with disastrous results. 

It's so sad when clients come to me with a problem that has been made considerably worse after trying these inappropriate or downright barbaric methods.

A fresh breeze!

So it’s good to come across a show that I can actually wholeheartedly recommend! UK viewers had a treat recently when a couple of well-known force-free behaviourists (Chirag Patel and Sarah Fisher) and a like-minded vet got together to deal with some very difficult cases - from a variety of animals. As well as a couple of dogs, there were a cat, a rabbit, a pig, and a parrot. It did have a sensational title - Nightmare Pets SOS - but the rest of it was fine.

[This program is available for UK viewers at https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0b05w88/nightmare-pets-sos-series-1-episode-1 for a limited time. You may also find pirated copies on Youtube]

What interested me here was that the solution to the many diverse problems encountered with very different species was always the same: 

1. Remove pressure

2. Provide correct environment

3. Enrich the animal’s life

4. Teach an alternative behaviour

5. Use only Choice Training


So what this meant in effect, was that the terrier who pulled frantically on the lead should be given a slack lead; the “vicious” parrot who didn’t want to interact with its owner was allowed space; the cat who was not using his litter tray was given the correct size and number of trays, and privacy; the pig was taught to go to his mat instead of begging from the customers in the pub he lived in; and the biting rabbit was given peace, suitable housing, and could only be handled with its permission.

In addition to this, the animals were offered enrichment with toys and objects they could interact with so that their brains were stimulated into more acceptable activities. 

There was no need to have more control of the animal, more restraints, tighter boundaries, or "NOOOOO". 

The animals were offered a choice in their care. And their owners were surprised how quickly their recalcitrant pet changed once they stood back and allowed a moment’s reflection and a freely-given choice. 

Lacy plays Retrieve Games  http://youtu.be/TM73EUsI7bk

Lacy plays Retrieve Games http://youtu.be/TM73EUsI7bk

And they were united in appreciating that this could all be done without confrontation, without more controls, without alienating their pet further. 

All the pets had a successful outcome in varying degrees. Why did the success vary? Because once the owners had been shown what to do, it was entirely down to them to accept the advice and follow through with the training! 

It was very rewarding - as it was for those trainers on the programme, and indeed anybody involved in this type of work - to see how some of the owners really did what they were asked, and got the results to prove it. Any who carped and complained and made excuses didn’t get so far. 


Does this ring a bell?

And where have you seen those five points before? 

Here! All over Brilliant Family Dog you’ll see this training in action.  It gives you workable solutions to so many problems.

And once you get into the swing of this way of interacting with your dog, you can work out for yourself alternative ways of changing other behaviours you are less than ecstatic about.

 

Get started with this free email course, which gives you new approaches to old problems:

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When you change, your dog will change too

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I wrote recently about how a small change in your own mindset can trigger a dramatic change in your dog’s behaviour - without any “dog training” at all!

And I wanted to revisit this as it’s such an important - and little understood - part of the puzzle.

While we say “My dog is this, my dog does that,” it’s all about the dog. The dog is perceived as the problem. But the fact is that it’s the perception that is wrong!

Once people change their way of thinking and talking about their dog, they get massive change without having to do a thing.

Not only dogs …

As a child I was curious, questioning, always challenging what I was served up as gospel truth. So naturally, teachers didn’t like this and saw me as a threat (yes, even aged three …). So I was labelled “difficult”. I was the naughty child. 

This “knowledge” about me was passed on in reports and staff meetings, so that all new teachers were instantly brought up to speed with this troublemaker, instead of forming their own opinions from facts. The other children began to look to me for a response in new situations: I had a reputation to live up to! 

So my entire school life was coloured by a few instances in kindergarten and junior school - perpetuated despite the fact that I grew and changed. I came to believe these opinions myself. And then had to work through adulthood to shed this nonsense and develop my true self. (I can tell you that making prize-winning drawings and writing bestselling books was definitely not something those teachers foresaw for me!)

Back to dogs again

We have a much shorter time with our dogs - they simply don’t live long enough for us to spend years labelling them and predicting their poor behaviour based on our wrong assumptions.

And these wrong assumptions can creep into every corner of our lives with our dogs. 

Whenever you say “She always does this,” or “She never does that,” you are placing a permanent label on your dog. You are fixing in your mind that she cannot change, that she’s hardwired to behave in a certain way. 

Back to children - there’s a big difference between “You are an untidy child,” and “Your room is in a mess.” Or “You are a bad boy,” and “Was that a good thing to do?”

Focussing on the doing rather than the doer takes blame and finger-pointing out of the picture, leaving the way clear to solutions and change.

And while we look at the behavior rather than the perpetrator, we see that nothing could be further from the truth than the belief that your dog is hardwired to behave in a set fashion. It doesn’t matter how long your dog has been doing a certain thing - you can change it! 

  • She’s afraid of things? You can make her environment less scary while you countercondition her to better responses.

  • She’s boisterous and impulsive? You can teach impulse control and show her that she can get what she wants when she does what you want. There’s no need for confrontation, ordering about, “commanding”, having a battle over anything.

  • She annoys you by barking noisily, chewing the furniture, messing up the house? Manage! Train! Once you realise that these things are just what the dog IS DOING, and not what the dog IS, you can change it all.

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The secret of change is to focus all of your energy
Not on fighting the old
But on building the new


“Socrates” by Dan Millman


I learn a lot from my students, as well as from my dogs!

I’m delighted to watch my online students develop. The penny drops! They see where they have gone wrong in the past, not helped their dog. Sometimes they have unwittingly followed bad advice from the multitude of awful “trainers” and tv personalities out there, and actually made things worse.

But today is a new day! 

Tear off a new sheet!

Start from where you are and head forward!

It’s a joy seeing things improve for them without their needing extra gadgets, lockdown, extreme control.

They see that opposition is just as unhelpful in their relationship with their dog as it is in their relationship with a friend or spouse. Embracing their friend’s likes and dislikes is part of the friendship. Empathy for their fears and foibles is essential to a strong bond.

And a new life opens up for them with their dog, whom they can now view with different eyes. 

 

Check out this email course that will get you started on the change!

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