The BIG event!

We are most definitely in the season to ‘Be jolly’… and the streets are decorated with Christmas lights, and house adorned with inflatable Santa’s and Reindeers attached to the sycamore! We can sense that a BIG event is coming on the 25th of this month…. The excitement, the anticipation…. The dread at eating one too many Brussel sprouts! Whether you love or loath the festive period, you know that its on its way!

Often we we train our dogs, we forget this pivotal factor when training… We forget to make the process and reinforcing an ‘event’! We forget to let them know something worth celebrating is about to happen. 

One of the biggest advances in animal training in the last 30 years (the span of my career), has been clicker training. It has revolutionised what and how we train dogs. However, there is an integral part of that has been definitely lost in communication along the way. 

Often people focus so heavily on the moment when they click, meticulously marking the exact moment when the behaviour that they are intently watching for, occurs… yet the reinforcing and delivery is an after thought. It’s as though the learning stops when the dog is clicked and we no longer have to consider any of the subsequent actions that take place. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Animal training great, Bob Bailey describes the click as a trigger in a slot machine, where it then prompts a series of events to occur. This is a great way to articulate the importance of reinforcement processes. Or simply, making the rewarding an event in it self. 

I talk about the 5 W’s of reinforcement…. What, when, How,, why and where…. All these need to be considered as part of your planning for marking and reinforcing. 

If you were to train a sit, and clicked precisely as your dog put his bum on the floor and adopted the most beautiful position, but then reinforced by feeding from the floor, directly at the dogs feet….you would probably find that the dogs behaviour would change. It may start to offer a hunched sit, or even a down. Dogs are masters at reading body language and are experts at working out patterns of reinforcement. We can help or hinder our dogs learning by ensuring that our reinforcement process is conducive to what we are trying to create. 

Did you reward from the left? From the right? Did you throw or delivery in position? Did you use food or a toy? The list is long and endless but so important.

Additionally, when we click and actually deliver the reinforcing…. Are we giving ‘ourselves’ to the process? Are we being active in the manner in which we engaged and interact with our dog? Often, when people click their dog, they rely heavily on the ‘click and treat’ to common the sense of joy and euphoria we are feeling when our dog has done something correctly. This is a vital piece of the puzzle that turns ‘average’ into ‘exceptional’.

Now, this doesn’t mean that every time you click, you have to run around like a crazy thing…. But it does mean that this needs to be considered. Is that an appropriate choice for the behaviour you are trying to create or even the question you are posing to your dog? Does that moment warrant you ‘giving’ more? Or do you need to taper this to create a state of ‘zen’.  Is the event a crazy an ‘out there’ party, communicating your joy and excitement at your dog achieving a moment of genius … or is it a quiet, thoughtful moment where you allow the information to be absorbed and digested? Both are events, and both may be options.

For me, dog Training is absolutely a science and anyone can master these skills by understanding the principles of learning theory, understanding what classical and operant conditioning are…. But there is something, that for me surpasses all the above, and that is ‘relationship’. 

Most of us probably enter the world of dog training, because we love and adore our dogs. We wanted a means to spend more time with them and to improve our relationship. This should serve as the Foundation for how we choose to live, train and engage with them. So, for me, this should be the guiding factor when we train them and delivery reinforcement. Here is a simple and easy tip to help understand this point. Video a Training session with your dog, it can be where you work on anything you like. Then review your video and watch it without the sound on. What do you see? What does the session look like? Does it look like both parties are actively involved? Does it look like you are both working together? Does it look like you are facing a challenge, that you are building clarity around? Does it look like you are having fun? Asking these simple questions and reflecting on your training can often shed light on your training struggles. 

Thinking beyond the click, and viewing reinforcement as a process can totally change the dynamics of your training and the relationship you have with your dog. You can go from being the pez dispenser to the centre of their world, with minor changes in your reinforcement process!

When you reinforce, smile, laugh, touch and engage with the dog…. Scratch their bum, or rub their belly, let them go all silly and get excited, give them a cuddle or stroke them from head to tail…. Vary what you do, see what impact it has on your dog…. Experiment! See what your dog responds to… talk in a silly voice, clap them, tell them how smart they are…. Mix it up! Lose yourself in the joy of engaging with your dog! Make the reinforcing an event in itself and one worth remembering!

So go on, make your reinforcing an event in itself and celebrate the successes on the way!

Ying and Yang

Ever noticed how everything in life done well has a conflicting entity to it… just look at sports…. Martial arts for example as the conflict between absolute discipline against aggression, tennis has the conflict between the chaos of a bouncing ball and the blistering accuracy with which it can be hit into a specific point on the court… or a sprinter hurtling down a track appearing to be a blur, yet their technique and motion is smooth as silk…

Dog sports is no different.

Agility has the conflict between speed and accuracy, IGP drive and control and tracking has a dog to ignore their natural desires and focus on the scent of a specific person. Its really quite incredible what we ask of our dogs.

Well, Competitive obedience is absolutely an illustration of beautiful conflict.

You want your to work with enthusiasm and desire, yet be deadly accurate in every movement. You want them to hold a very specific physical position, yet appear free and flowing… have power and want in their being, yet be completely focused and thoughtful. It is a complete battle between two sides! Ying and Yang!

Obedience is often perceived as the more ‘stiff and proper’ alternative to other dog sports, but this is a misconception I hope to dispel.

See, the sport requires absolutely motivation and desire from the dog in order to achieve the picture of unison and togetherness.

Like so many things, you ‘can’ do it without… but anyone with an untrained eye can see the difference!

Every nuance of each skill has to be broken down, motivated and then stitched together in a intricate and delicate tapestry of dog behaviour and skill to create a picture that is simply breathtaking! The feeling of connection and synchronisation, as you change speed, manoeuvre turns, weaves, circles or patterns on the ground all test your focus as well as the dogs, but the sense of accomplishment is ten fold! I won’t lie, and say it’s ‘easy’, as it takes time and dedication… but the rewards are extensive.

I love it. I have taken part in Obedience for over 30yrs and reached the dizzy heights of Crufts, and helped countless others realise their dreams and ambitions in the process. Their success has given me so much pride and joy, I can’t put the feelings into words.

Beyond the ‘academic’ successes, Obedience has ‘provided’ for me a ‘family’ and kinship that have seen me through the highs and lows that life can provide… my daughter sees my ‘obedience family’ as her family….

Obedience is SO accessible, you can train it anywhere and everywhere, with minimal equipment, and space. So in that light, it is ‘easy’.

All the exercises have a great balance of control and desire… Heelwork in itself is a balancing act between dog and handler, where the slightest weight shift or head movement can alter the picture drastically… a test of concentration and focus… retrieve, and send away test desire and accuracy of speed, body and self control… and distance control is the ultimate example of stimulus control… 6 position changes in any order, at a distance… with distractions and temptation all around… it really is ‘WOW’ when you see it done! I can still recall the first time I ever saw a dog complete this exercise, I was in awe!! Convinced this was the thing of witchcraft, or robotic engineering! LOL. It still has me marvelled when seen completed well!

There are so many myths and fallacy’s about obedience, which I hope to set straight!

On the 1st November, join me for a week of LIVES talking ‘Obedience’… you’ll be able to join me for sessions to get you started and the MOST important skill you can teach any sports dog! Just go to my Facebook page, and click LIKE to be notified of any LIVES!

For now, enjoy your dogs!

Kamal Fernandez

http://www.kamalfernandez.co.uk

I hate to say this, but Lassie was a boy!

Its that moment we all dread happening to our kids…. The realisation that Santa isn’t real…. I know, I know… some of you will be reading this in shock… go get a stiff drink, because there is more bad news on the way!

Did you also know ‘Lassie’, the gold standard by which all dogs across the world are measured, wasn’t a girl!!

That’s right people… Lassie was a boy! In fact Lassie was several boys!! All identical in appearance, and trained to perfection but none of which were female!!

I can sense the disbelief and hear the sound as childhood dreams are shattered!

So the icon on which we base our standard and ideology of what and how dogs should behave is in fact a ‘lie’….. well not a ‘lie’, but certainly not ‘reality’.

The irony is, that this has caused so much damage across the world for dogs of all shapes and sizes.

See, so many dogs are expected to adhere to a fallacy created by images, and illusions in the media. And if they don’t, they are labelled as problematic, weird, odd, dangerous, or discarded.

The fact that one of the most iconic canine stars of the silver screen wasn’t even as depicted, is ironic to say the least.

We have been conditioned to believe and expect unrealistic ideals of our dogs, and as a result our dogs are labelled as problematic when they don’t ‘conform’.

Lets take the simplicity of dog to dog interactions.

The imagery we have been flooded with is dogs meeting, frolicking in long grass, bounding happily with each other, with out a single incident, or cross word.

Now that is most definitely the thing of a Disney film!! It just isn’t reality. Don’t get me wrong, we can ‘teach’ and build our dogs confidence and experience up, so they ‘learn’ to have well rounded social skills, but it is perfectly normal for your dog to take a dislike to another dog… and even show a level of anxiety, concern or aggression! It’s perfectly ‘normal’. And as a result we can teach and educate our dogs to behave perfectly ‘abnormally’, by learning to meet random strange dogs and show disinterest or in difference. But to expect or be disappointed when they don’t have these skills is grossly unfair.

Additionally, the dog that walks on a loose lead, or chooses not to chase wildlife, or come back when you call, or settle in your home, or get on with your cat… the list goes on and on.

Of course there are dogs that do have these innate skills and bombproof temperaments, but they aren’t the norm, they are the exception. And whilst we can discuss the need to select and breed dogs with these attributes above other traits, this is probably unrealistic. There are literally billions of dogs on this planet, and I suspect the smallest percentage bred with these as a priority.

See Lassie was a product of training… he was ‘taught’ to do do the behaviours as depicted on screen. As are the countless dogs seen in movies, television and media.

When I was approached to be part of a television series which wanted to take 12 rescue dogs and teach them the skills and behaviours needed to fly a plane, in the sky series ‘Dogs might Fly’, the first priority was to teach the basics…. Recall, sit, down etc and then prepare the dogs for the plethora of situations they would be put into.

These were dogs from various backgrounds, who had been in rescue kennels. Even the simplicity of learning to relax and remain calm, was not ‘natural’ to them.

One of my 3 dogs was a malinois! Settling and relaxing was most definitely not natural!! But to be able to be on ‘set’, this was a mandatory requirement.

So, Tess was taught… educated and trained to ‘settle’. She was exercised and stimulated mentally so she found it easier to ‘chill’. She was given an outlet for her energy, and taught to be focused on me. Her confidence was nurtured and built so she could cope in any situation. She trusted me and flourished.

These skills meant she was not only able to take everything that was thrown at her in her stride, the real ‘Disney’ ending was that she was homed to one of the crew!! Now that, is a story worth telling!

The sooner we dispel the myths created by movies, and tune into ‘reality’, the better chance of helping create happy, well adjusted dogs across the world, rescues won’t be over run with discarded unwanted perfectly ‘normal’ dogs, and there would be more acceptance, compassion and understanding for those that are dealing with ‘normal’ dog problems. There would be less stigma and more success!

Blue pads, garden sheds and mental gyms!

I recently did a training day, and the plans for the day were altered by the random British weather…. As per typical UK summer, we had rain, rain and more rain! LOL. Two days prior it was like the Bahamas!

So the planned session had to be adapted.

I decided to do a simple session of shaping everyone’s dog to stand on a blue yoga block. Easy right? Well, yes… but I wanted to use this to examine the process of training and competing.

Each person was asked to shape their dog to place two paws on the block, but due to the rain, we used an open shed as the training space.

Each person was given 2mins exactly to train their dog. They could end the session before that time, if they felt they achieved what they wanted.

On the first cycle, every person ended their session comfortably within 1minute.

Each session was videod and we discussed the ‘process’.

The first question I asked was ‘How did they feel about, the session?’. The group were all avid agility competitors, so shaping a two foot target on a yoga block wasn’t exactly what they anticipated. They were candid and honest in their responses. Some said they were instantly apprehensive, because they dislike shaping as they always feel they don’t know what to do, others said they felt confident as their dogs knew the behaviour.

The second discussion was about what was their ‘process’ for the exercise. Did they consider anything that could affect the dog?

The environment?reinforcement? placement of reinforcement? Marker words? Release words? On or off the lead? Possible distractions within the environment? The dogs feelings towards the behaviour?

You could see the thinking happening… and the aha moments occurring.

See, the session wasn’t anything to do with the target behaviour as such, it was about the trainers process, and the competing process.

I solemnly believe on so many levels, that our thoughts manifest everything around us. That sounds a bit hocus pocus, but what I mean is, where and how you focus your thoughts, dictates how and where you use your energy, which in turns, creates a return on that ‘thought’.

Your mental ‘muscle’ needs to be worked regularly in order to get stronger.

Often people wait for competition, to practice their mental preparation and mental game, however this is way too late.

Your mental game should start in your training, and specifically the process.

Are you present? Are you focused on what you are doing? Do you have a plan? What are your physical movements going to be? Have you rehearsed this prior? Have you got the right equipment, and tools? Have you got some data to guide you? Had the dog acclimated to the environment? Did you feel pressured?

All of this is exactly the same process when you step into competition.

The last 18months has seen many let their mental muscle go weak… and the place to start working it out is at home.

In the session we shaping our dogs to step on a blue perch, in a shed! But if we substitute the perch for ‘weave’, or heelwork, or an A Frame, or retrieve… or any other sports specific behaviour, and we see the shed as ‘the ring’… this is the perfect metaphor for competition.

Being present, mindful and connected are the foundation of competing with another team member, especially the 4 legged type.

There is nothing wrong with training for the sheer fun of it, and the same is applicable to competing. Go in there and have a total ball! But often the pressures and challenges of the occasion can cause you to underperform, and ‘Luck’ is when preparation and opportunity meet…

Here are 5 keys times for mindful training and competing.

1. Mechanics, mechanics, mechanics!! Practice your mechanics without the dog so many times, until it feels comfortable. Then, and only then…. Bring the dog into the mix!

2. Think, plan, do review! The Bob Bailey mantra should guide you if you want to ensure you are at your best when needed.

3. Collate data. Use video or record keep to note progress. Numbers, distance, time, reps. Keep a log of how much, how many, how long, how far etc, so you know what you can and can’t do, and when you are moving forward.

4. Train your mind to see, say and hear what is helpful. Self doubt and negative talk are what we literally do to ourselves! Stop it! Stop it and put those demons to rest.

5. Learn to tune into the task and the moment. Quieten all the outside influences and focus! This is your superpower! Use it!

Seen and Not heard?

Did you ever hear the phrase ‘Children should be seen and not heard’….. I definitely did! LOL. My mother was big on the notion that, children should be seen and not heard, and that ‘big people’ are talking….

I think this was a very common held belief system that a lot of children were brought up with, and maybe still are…. 

And I would say that is a similar belief system that many expect of their dogs….  To be inconspicuous, to be constantly calm despite the situation, to ignore all other dogs people and things…. But like children, is that realistic…. And more importantly, is that fair? And even more importantly, how are we going to teach them to be ‘seen and not heard’??

Firstly, we need to ask ourselves how was ‘being seen and not heard’ communicated and taught’ years ago? Was it done with a steely glare? Or was it done in a way that had an underlying fear attached to it? The repercussions of not adhering to the ‘rule’, being a veiled threat…. Or was it done in a manner that set the dog/child up for success? A huge amount of reinforcement paired with appropriate behaviour, and value being built for the correct responses? I am sure that for most of us, over 30… it probably was more of the former, rather then later. But can you imagine the difference it would have made if it was taught in a different way?

So for example, I like my dogs to be able to be used for demonstration (when the world was open, that is!), so they will often hang out in a bed, until I need them. 

This is a taught behaviour. They have been initially taught to want to be in their crates as puppies, this is a place of safety, security and comfort for them. They are then taught to want to stay in the crate, until they are released…. So this then can be modified to a bed, or a bench, or a seat…. Anything, that I ask them to position themselves on, becomes the ‘crate’. 

They are taught that, in that situation… they are to remain ‘seed and not heard’. 

Another example is around dogs and people. I like my dogs to be ‘seen and not heard’ around people. I do this by viewing socialisation as a lesson in itself and ensuring that I set them up on ‘play dates’ with dogs and people that they are going to have a positive experience with, or a productive experience with. This may mean learning to play appropriately with other dogs, or learning to ignore other dogs. Both are valuable life skills to teach your dogs. 

Or it could be, out on a walk when I see someone approaching. I want to be able to recall all my 11 dogs back at once, and have them ‘wait there’ whilst they person or dog passes. This is again taught. I build a desire to want to come back when called, and a desire to ‘wait there’ until I release them.

These skills allow my dogs to be ‘seen and not heard’ in situations where it keeps them safe and ensures they are not a hindrance to others. 

However, I am also realistic that they are dogs. Not robots. Its their unique personalities and antics that make me LOL, that keep me owning dogs after 30 years!

Adolescence is a notoriously challenging time, when hormones take over, and your once angelic pup, changes into demon spawn! I don’t expect my dogs to be ‘seen and not heard’, so I manage them and ensure that I don’t put them in situations that they cant cope with. I manage their interactions, and ensure that I work extra hard at our relationship.

If a dog acts inappropriately to one of my dogs, and my dog air snaps at them, when they jump on their back or become too intrusive, I don’t expect my dogs to be ‘seen and not heard’. This is an appropriate response to an inappropriate social interaction on the part of the other dog. Now this doesn’t mean my dog can tear the other dog limb from limb, or cause damage to them, but saying ‘GET OFF MY HEAD!!!!’ Is most definitely an appropriate response. Thats a realistic behaviour of a well adjusted social dog, who is educating another dog about social etiquette. 

I don’t expect my dogs to be ‘calm’ at all times. If they are watching something exciting happening, and they show interest and get excited at the prospect of having a go, thats a fair response. However they also understand that they can’t get involved, leave they beds, or leave me. They also understand if I ask them to focus on me, whilst that interesting activity if going on, that supersedes their desire to focus on the other dog. But I am not unrealistic in my expectations of them. They can watch, but they cant vocalise. So in a way they are ‘seen but not heard, but not being a hindrance of danger to others. 

Often, we as dog owners, bring into our relationship, our stuff. Unrealistic expectations of our dogs, often influenced by the Disney-eque standard of what dogs should be, rather then what they are… Or at least what they are without education or information. 

It is absolutely possible to teach your dog and your child to be ‘Seen and not heard’, but how you teach them and therefore the long term impact of ‘being seen and not heard’ is critical to their overall emotional well being and overall confidence. 

A fearful dog that is ‘see and not heard’ could equate to a lack of confidence… an introvert chin who is ‘seen and not heard’ could equate to the same. 

I want my dogs to ‘WANT’ to be ‘seen and not heard’! I want them to have so much desire to focus on me, that they don’t have interest in other dogs, or they have so much value for their bed, that they ‘WANT’ to stay there, despite the distractions. 

Creating this ‘WANT’ is the key… They say, you can make a dog do almost anything, but getting them to ‘WANT’ to do it, is the secret!

Do you have a dog that is far from ‘seen and not heard’… I don’t mean a robot, devoid of personality and joy, but a dog that sees ‘good behaviour’ as an opportunity to be reinforced… and ‘good social skills’ as a way to get all the things they want? 

Well, I may have not he solution for you… I have been working on a HUGE project, to create all the above for owners who’s dogs are anything but ‘seen and not heard’… 

I have written many blogs, delivered seminars, and helped countless dogs with ‘Reactivity Issues’ to grow into confident, well adjusted family pets and so much more… 

And now I am at the cusp of sharing with you aimed at helping dogs labelled as ‘Reactive’, to overcome challenges and lead a more fulfilling life! I am so exciting about this project and all the work that has gone into it… I can honestly say, it has been a passion project after seeing so many people struggling with their dogs behaviour and in desperate need of help….

Well its on its way! Keep an eye out over the coming week… more to come! And some REALLY exciting news!!

Kamal Fernandez

Feelings… nothing more then feelings…

Have you ever thought about how your dogs feels? I can imagine a sea of dog owners and trainers across the globe, all responding in unison ‘Of course I do’….

However, lets take this a stage further…

Have you ever though about how your dogs feels about the reinforcement you have chosen? Have you created the ‘right feelings towards the reinforcement?’

Does the dog have the appropriate feelings about the reinforcement and the way in which you deliver it?

This may sound somewhat cryptic, but as with all life lessons… I am having this one reaffirmed to me at present as I train my three (that’s right…. I said three) puppies!

Foundations for any sport is like building a house, without it being solid and firm your house will likely topple down. So often people are thinking about the colour of walls, rather then foundations, and risk the whole building falling down! For my dogs, how they respond and react to the reinforcement is part of this foundations.

At the moment I am training three young dogs, two Border Collies and my Malinois, Jungle. My primary focus is building foundations and creating the correct feelings about and for reinforcement.

My 10month Border Collie Puppy Hottie was a phenomenal tiny puppy! Amazingly clever and bright, played incredibly well, food driven, clear headed and had a super temperament… perfect! What more could I want! Things were going remarkably well… until she started teething.

The first indication that she was having a tough time teething was her loss of appetite. She went from a dog would eat with the appetite of a labrador, to a dg that would walk away from her food or pick at it.

In herself, she was well and as I raw fed, appeared to love frozen treats. This made complete sense with the discomfort she clearly felt.

I could see her gums were swollen and sore, and her sibling appeared to have issues teething too.

At this time, I generally stop training my puppies and let them be ‘dogs’. This isn’t unusual for a pup, and often when left alone, they come through teething and swiftly revert back.

However, Hottie was different. She became ultra sensitive to food and toys, and hands moving around her mouth and face. Whilst she wasn’t worried or frightened, she was definitely reluctant to tug or take food when I offered either long after all her teeth had settled.

This affected her desire to train and engage. Even though she hadn’t had any negative experiences within the training itself, because she understood that this were available as reinforcement, she became reluctant to train because of the potential of them being presented.

Imagine going to your favourite restaurant, where you normally have your favourite meal but on this occasion, you order that meal and get food poisoning. Would you want to go to that restaurant again? Or would you go and avoid that dish? Either way, your experience of that restaurant has been tarnished. The service may have been excellent and the atmosphere perfect, but the feelings caused by the meal made all the difference.

This was essentially what happened to Hottie.

She associated training with how she felt about food and toys… and she felt a great deal of discomfort and pain.

As a reinforcement based dog trainer, this is a huge concept to embrace as pain and discomfort are not things I utilise with my dogs. Yet, here I was with a puppy who ‘felt’ both of these associated with training.

In contrast, Jungle my malinois is SO aroused by toys and even the prospect of them being on offer, that she instantly spikes in her arousal if I incorporate them in her training. This instantly creates changes in behaviour and loss of accuracy. So we have had to address her ‘feelings’ towards the toy. Her desire for a toy, borders on obsession but without the ability to think and listen in their presence, this obsession is counterproductive.

The ‘feelings’ your dogs has towards reinforcement bleeds into the work, in both a positive and negative manner. If the dogs ‘feelings’ towards the reinforcement hasn’t been as trained as the behaviour itself, you risk having unwanted ‘feelings’ developing towards the work.

This is particularly apparent with sports dogs, where frustration is a common technique to build desire for the reinforcement. This ‘feeling’ of frustration can bleed into the work… and this can easily create a ‘stacking’ of frustration if the training or teaching, in itself is creating frustration. This is typical seen in dogs that don’t willingly release toys on cue, the conflict about the release can bleed into their ‘work’.

How your dog ‘feels’ about the reinforcement will affect the dogs ‘feelings’ about training and therefore competing. This, coupled with the challenges presented in competition can be a cocktail of tension!

Working on clear skills and understanding of reinforcement strategies and criteria, BEFORE using them, is a crucial often over looked component to preventing unwarranted frustration and confusion.

It can prevent over arousal issue, displacement, shut down, frustration… the list goes on.

Feelings matter. Plain and simple.

Feelings… nothing more then feelings…

Have you ever thought about how your dogs feels? I can imagine a sea of dog owners and trainers across the globe, all responding in unison ‘Of course I do’….

However, lets take this a stage further…

Have you ever though about how your dogs feels about the reinforcement you have chosen? Have you created the ‘right feelings towards the reinforcement?’

Does the dog have the appropriate feelings about the reinforcement and the way in which you deliver it?

This may sound somewhat cryptic, but as with all life lessons… I am having this one reaffirmed to me at present as I train my three (that’s right…. I said three) puppies!

Foundations for any sport is like building a house, without it being solid and firm your house will likely topple down. So often people are thinking about the colour of walls, rather then foundations, and risk the whole building falling down! For my dogs, how they respond and react to the reinforcement is part of this foundations.

At the moment I am training three young dogs, two Border Collies and my Malinois, Jungle. My primary focus is building foundations and creating the correct feelings about and for reinforcement.

My 10month Border Collie Puppy Hottie was a phenomenal tiny puppy! Amazingly clever and bright, played incredibly well, food driven, clear headed and had a super temperament… perfect! What more could I want! Things were going remarkably well… until she started teething.

The first indication that she was having a tough time teething was her loss of appetite. She went from a dog would eat with the appetite of a labrador, to a dg that would walk away from her food or pick at it.

In herself, she was well and as I raw fed, appeared to love frozen treats. This made complete sense with the discomfort she clearly felt.

I could see her gums were swollen and sore, and her sibling appeared to have issues teething too.

At this time, I generally stop training my puppies and let them be ‘dogs’. This isn’t unusual for a pup, and often when left alone, they come through teething and swiftly revert back.

However, Hottie was different. She became ultra sensitive to food and toys, and hands moving around her mouth and face. Whilst she wasn’t worried or frightened, she was definitely reluctant to tug or take food when I offered either long after all her teeth had settled.

This affected her desire to train and engage. Even though she hadn’t had any negative experiences within the training itself, because she understood that this were available as reinforcement, she became reluctant to train because of the potential of them being presented.

Imagine going to your favourite restaurant, where you normally have your favourite meal but on this occasion, you order that meal and get food poisoning. Would you want to go to that restaurant again? Or would you go and avoid that dish? Either way, your experience of that restaurant has been tarnished. The service may have been excellent and the atmosphere perfect, but the feelings caused by the meal made all the difference.

This was essentially what happened to Hottie.

She associated training with how she felt about food and toys… and she felt a great deal of discomfort and pain.

As a reinforcement based dog trainer, this is a huge concept to embrace as pain and discomfort are not things I utilise with my dogs. Yet, here I was with a puppy who ‘felt’ both of these associated with training.

In contrast, Jungle my malinois is SO aroused by toys and even the prospect of them being on offer, that she instantly spikes in her arousal if I incorporate them in her training. This instantly creates changes in behaviour and loss of accuracy. So we have had to address her ‘feelings’ towards the toy. Her desire for a toy, borders on obsession but without the ability to think and listen in their presence, this obsession is counterproductive.

The ‘feelings’ your dogs has towards reinforcement bleeds into the work, in both a positive and negative manner. If the dogs ‘feelings’ towards the reinforcement hasn’t been as trained as the behaviour itself, you risk having unwanted ‘feelings’ developing towards the work.

This is particularly apparent with sports dogs, where frustration is a common technique to build desire for the reinforcement. This ‘feeling’ of frustration can bleed into the work… and this can easily create a ‘stacking’ of frustration if the training or teaching, in itself is creating frustration. This is typical seen in dogs that don’t willingly release toys on cue, the conflict about the release can bleed into their ‘work’.

How your dog ‘feels’ about the reinforcement will affect the dogs ‘feelings’ about training and therefore competing. This, coupled with the challenges presented in competition can be a cocktail of tension!

Working on clear skills and understanding of reinforcement strategies and criteria, BEFORE using them, is a crucial often over looked component to preventing unwarranted frustration and confusion.

It can prevent over arousal issue, displacement, shut down, frustration… the list goes on.

Feelings matter. Plain and simple.

A road well lit…

This is a ‘Birthday Blog’, and whilst not about ‘My Birthday’, it is ‘My Birthday’… so what better way to celebrate then to blog… (I’m a bit old for Birthday cake and bouncy castles….)

I was thinking about what are the most important factors to effective dog training, irrespective of what the intended purpose is…

Well there is ‘confidence’… The dogs and yours…. There is ‘understanding’… There is motivation…..both outlined in my book ’Pathway to Positivity’…. But there is actually one major factor that intertwines all these factors….

Communication. Our ability to communicate what we want to our dogs, and from our dogs.

All too often, we look to our dog to carry the burden of responsibility for deciphering our information, be it a different language, dialect or even agenda! We forget how amazing our dogs are to even be able to function in a world that is totally contradictory to everything that they are, and yet despite this conflict, they still manage to flourish.

And all too often, if we are honest, our dogs do decipher our poor information and learn despite us, and not because of us.

Dogs, and arguably Horses have been subject to ‘our’ miscommunication for centuries, and yet they still ‘learn’. Other animals have been some what less accommodating… anyone that has owned a Cat, will nod in appreciation!

Dogs have allowed us to pull, yank, check, click, fed, tug, shout, smack, stroke, yell, hit, rewarded frivolously, rewarded scarcely….all in the name of ‘training’ and yet still figured out what we wanted! In fact, some have even anticipated what we have wanted! They truly are amazing!!

Dog training has pillars on which all understanding and clarity is built.

They are ‘Timing’, ‘rate of reinforcement’ and criteria.

Hell mend you if you fail to acknowledge the impact of any one of these being under par. The dog may still learn, but surely we want to do better for them? Surely they deserve that?

Often, we are blindly ignorant of our miscommunication, and it takes a ‘Sherlock Holmes’ level of deduction to determine that your dog simply doesn’t understand. They aren’t ‘being naughty’, or ‘doing it on purpose’ or ‘being thick’ or ‘doing it to wind you up’. They just don’t understand what you are trying to communicate. And whilst you may think you have explained it to them in plain English, try another language!

Common signs of Good communication are:

⁃ Fluency

⁃ Relaxed and joyful expression

⁃ Engaged throughout

⁃ Focused

⁃ Prompt, fast responses

⁃ Accurately meeting criteria.

Common signs of poor communication may be:

⁃ inappropriate levels of arousal

⁃ Displacement/disengagement

⁃ Avoidance

⁃ Vocalisation

⁃ Frustration

⁃ Stress signals (yawning, shaking, sniffing, lack of eye contact)

It is our responsibility to ensure that we communicate our intentions and agenda with blinding clarity. We expect so much of our dogs, but not enough of ourselves!

We need to be aware of OUR role and the importance of OUR influence on our dogs behaviour.

These are not issues beyond our grasp if we ‘THINK, PLAN, DO, REVIEW’, as Bob Bailey says.

Think what you want to train, Plan what you want to train, Do the training and Review the training.

Look at the following:

⁃ consistency

⁃ Mechanical skills

⁃ Preparation

⁃ Empathy

⁃ Patience

⁃ Timing

⁃ Rate of reinforcement

⁃ Criteria

⁃ Overall enjoyment

⁃ Your input, are you connected? Are you present? Are you giving?

⁃ The dogs response. Are they engaged? Are they responsive? Are they focused?

WE can influence our dogs behaviour substantially, IF we hold ourselves accountable to the same standard we hold them.

At the moment, I am raising three amazing puppies… that’s right, 3!

Jungle, my working line Malinois…. Hottie, my Border Collie pup whom I bred, and Reset, her brother whom I had back after going to a home as a puppy.

They are all so uniquely different and present different challenges, and therefore forms of communication and clarity for each.

Jungle is prone to frustration and gets over stimulated by even the sight of people… Hottie has an intense desire to herd and chase, and Reset I have only had a few months, and our challenge was building a bond with an older pup and forming a relationship.

For each dog, I have to think about creating a way for us to understand each other. Its a two way street, and it’s one I have to figure out first and then explain to them.

It is this process I find most joyful, and where I believe we truly forged a ‘bond’ with our dogs.

From today, I am ‘Opening The doors’ to be a fly on the wall, as I raise these three puppies in the first year of their life…. I show you the ups and downs, the challenges and the way in which I overcome them… how I create a clear communication systems with them, how I raise three High drive intense dogs into model citizens and amazing sports dogs!

If you want to join me on on this journey, click the link below to join my exclusive Facebook group ‘The Jungle Book’ where you get to see regular updates on my puppies, plus numerous other special ‘guests’ pups that I have trained for others. See webinars and exclusive lectures, not available anywhere else!

www.kamalfernandezonlinetraining.com/the-junglebook

Communicate clearly and reap the rewards!

‘Communication with our dogs is the beacon of light which dictates the path of travel, ensure your light is bright, your path well lit, and just in case…. have a dam torch!’ Kamal Fernandez 2020!

Time to reset…

Man this has been a crazy year! And it’s not over yet…

Do you feel like you could just hit ‘reset’ on the world, and start over. I mean, like you do on your phone or computer when it’s acting crazy… Just reset everything back to square one!

I don’t know about you, but there is no way in my wildest dreams, I could have anticipated this year…. and all that it has been! CRAZY!

Its been filled with challenges, tests, the unexpected, the unknown and so much more…

The choice could be to give up or give in. To succumb to the crazy that we are in, and hibernate. To decide that you can’t take another step forward. I know so many that feel that way, and have struggled to find a new normal and hold onto hope.

Like all things, I relate this back to dog training.

When you get a puppy, rescue, rehome or older ‘new dog’, its not dissimilar. I look back at each of my dogs, and I couldn’t have anticipated some of the lessons, experiences and challenges they have presented to me. Being honest, there have been countless times when I have thought, ‘I can’t do this’….. I want to walk away, I want to give up… BUT there is something inside me, that pushed me on. It is at this point that I just have to ‘Reset’.

That dares me to dig deeper.

Thats my choice. As a professional dog trainer, I believe in having the ability to relate to ANY dog, and experience ALL the many variations dog ownership, dog sports and training presents. How can I relate to my students if I haven’t had the challenges that they may have?

There are always genuine circumstances when walking away is the wisest decision for all, and putting the needs of the dog first, but for me, as a professional who teaches others, educates and has a platform which others look to, I choose to persevere and take the lessons sent to me.

Well in the spirit of crazy times, I didn’t expect a puppy from my last litter to come back to me. ‘Smartie’, a male pup from my last litter had been homed to an experienced home, and started off brilliantly. It all seemed to be going swimmingly well… but in true 2020 fashion, something changed.

A clash of personalities, a mismatch of circumstances. It doesn’t really matter, but as his breeder, I felt responsible for him and his future. Smartie’ came back to me.

Like with all dogs that come into my home, be it one of my own, or a clients dog, I allow them time to settle and gain confidence. This may take seconds, minutes, hours or days… it doesn’t matter. Leaving them to ‘Reset’.

I did the same with ‘Smartie’ and gave him time to settle and allow him to find his place with my dogs.

I credit my dogs with so much influence on dogs that come into my home. They give them exactly what they need, be it space, confidence, boundaries, nurturing…

He didn’t know how to settle or relax, or just chill. He was like a hyperactive child, and as they say ‘the devil makes work for idol hands’. He was a pup, full of energy but not knowing what to do with it.

Within a short space of time, I could see ‘Smartie’ settle and start to find his place.

I could see him start to ‘Reset’.

A key turning point was when all my other dogs were settled and chilling, and he took himself next to Punch, and curled up and went to sleep.

He simply needed to ‘Reset’.

Well 2020 has been full of the unexpected, so why not continue in that vain.

‘Smartie’ is here to stay… but he needed a new start… and what else could it be…

Welcome ‘Reset’ to the family. Get comfortable son, you’re not going anywhere.

Smartie aka ‘Reset’

Are we there yet???

Parents can relate to these cringe worthy words… ‘Are we there yet….’

5mins into a hour journey, the phrase known worldwide, chimes from the back seat, and at that moment you wonder if leaving your child at a services, with a bag of clothing and a label, is a justifiable option… For those reading, apparently it’s illegal… I’ve looked into it…

Isn’t it frustrating to be traveling with someone so focused on the destination that they aren’t stopping to take the sights surrounding them? Or appreciate the extensive array of snacks and games you’ve prepared to ease the inevitable monotony or a journey that doesn’t always bring instant gratification?

Well, imagine how your dog feels? Are you constantly asking ‘Are we there yet??’, to your dog, who is going at the speed that is appropriate for their learning and progressing on the journey YOU choose for them, as fast as they are capable?

I am a huge advocate of having goals. I have goals for my life, year, dogs, daughter, business, students… BUT I have learnt that goals need to be flexible. A good friend and students says, ‘Goals should be set in stone, and plan’s should be in sand’.

This mantra truly resonates with how we SHOULD be approaching our grand and extraordinary ambitions, but often we are so focused on the end, that we forget to observe the process, and take stock of ‘wins’, along the way.

The other pitfall that can await, is trying to rush or force the process. I shared a meme this week, which read ‘A novice handler want to work on intermediate training, and intermediate handler wants to work on advanced training, but an advanced handler works on basics’.

This is one of the biggest lessons that newbie handlers to any sport can slip into. The enthusiasm to reach the summit of the mountain, they glance over fundamental pieces that will inevitably haunt them further down the line.

We have all been there… the basics can be, in truth… boring! Lets be honest. They aren’t often sexy or flashy, they are sometimes bland and laborious. But, as with anything, its all about your foundations.

The simplicity of training a solid ‘SIT’ that can be cued, anywhere, anytime and no matter what you do, may sound simple but is a skill often over looked.

I train a ‘settle’ which is a cue that means ‘hang out there’ whilst I do something. There is nothing eye catching or ‘wow’ about this cue. It just is my dog waiting for me. Thats it. Waiting patiently, and calmly, whilst I talk to someone or wait for a dog to pass, or before I go to compete, or whilst getting feedback from a peer… without constant reinforcement, without repeating cues, without consideration that my dog will leave that position. The list is endless to its uses. But its basic. Its boring to ‘train’ in comparison to flashy heelwork, or independent weaves or bitework… but underpins all the above.

The thing to remind yourself is, just work on the pieces. Train them thoroughly, so that your dog has so much confidence and clarity, that they can do it despite you… stop asking ‘Are we there yet?’ Stop thinking about ‘what is the next step’ before mastering the first….And pay attention to the sights in front of you. By doing so, the journey will fly by and when you reach your destination, you’ll be ready to enjoy the fruits of your labour.