Labels and limitations…..

Do you have a nickname for your dog? I mean, an endearing title or word that describes or captures who they are? This can often be a positive thing… all of my dogs, have a ‘second name’, that I often use to reference them… Sugar is ‘shu-shu’….. Punch is ‘P dog’… ‘Super’ aka suppy, dupey do, or do-do…. thriller… Girlie whirl…. you get the drift…. 

Its so easy to label your dog with a phrase, word or characterisation… but what does it actually mean? 

Whenever I deliver a seminar, regardless of the country, place or sport… I always ask people to tell me about their dog at the start of the day and as part of the introduction… Often you hear people describe their dogs with ‘labels’. Phrases or words that they feel capture who or what their dogs are. 

But what do these ‘labels’ actually say and mean….

Labels are often the way we articulate how we feel about our dog, sometimes they are flattering… others times, not so much…. 

I’ve done it myself, I’ve described my own dogs by a word…. and the resulting affect can sometimes be more damaging then you may release. 

Years ago I owned a red and white Border collie, who was closely related to my first obedience dog. I look back now, and although I didn’t feel i had a case of second dog syndrome at the time, I most definitely did. Sometimes its hard to see the woods for all the trees.

Springa wasn’t a ‘natural’ obedience dog, and I labelled him as ‘stubborn and lazy’. To teach him anything was a chore…. he literally dug his heels in at the prospect of learning anything new. I look back now, and release that his ‘stubbornness’ was actually his way of saying he didn’t understand… and his motto being ‘if in doubt, do nowt!’

His stubbornness, wasn’t ‘stubbornness’, it was my lack of knowledge and understanding. It was the dog training ‘universe’ telling me to change, rather then be disappointed my dog didn’t conform.

I repeatedly described him as ‘not the brightest’, using him as a example of how difficult it was to teach a dog something new. 

Again, looking back.. it was never about the dog. It often isn’t.

It was only when a series of circumstances, forced me to have to use ’Springa’ for some TV work. A good friend was working on the ‘Underdog Show’, a series where celebrities trained dogs each week. They needed a dog to do the links and short clips demonstrating what the tasks were each week. When she rang me up, I was in a dark place having lost two dogs in close succession, who were that brand of ‘special’ dogs that just had ‘it’. 

The dogs I had ‘left’ were my young puppy malinois, too young to do any of the tasks they had to do, and my older Obedience dog, who was too old to do any of the tasks….. I was ‘left’ with ‘Springa’. I initially declined the job. I didn’t have a dog. I only had “springa’ who was in my mind, incapable of doing any of it… or so I thought. 

My friend forced my hand, and played the guilt card. She ‘NEEDED’ a dog to do this that day, the production team had sprung this on her last minute. She played the ‘friend’ card! 

So I reluctantly took ‘Springa’. 

He blew me away…. it made me realise that even though he may have been difficult to teach, he had learnt so much information, that he had been taught to use his brain and as a result could pick up new things, string behaviours into chains he had never done before and was most importantly, impeccably behaved throughout. 

The production team commented on Springa being a ‘genius’…. a canine ‘einstein’…. I initially laughed at the thought, but when I stopped I acknowledged what the lesson was, I had a light bulb go off.

Springa might have been difficult to teach, because of my approach…. so rather then change my approach, I labelled him…but that wasn’t who he was now! I was holding onto the past….

I realised in that moment, how binding my labels had been, and how it affected my relationship with Springa.

When you label your dog, you instantly place your dog in a box. A box which has restrictions, which has boundaries and limitations.  

This label is the way in which you describe your dog to your friends, peers and fellow trainers…. who will constantly ask you about your ‘lazy dog’, or rescue dog, or ‘stupid dog’ or ‘reactive’ dog…. 

Labels can also be the breed name… for example, ‘my cocker spaniel doesn’t come back because he loves to hunt and sniff’….’my beagle cant be be trained because, well he’s a beagle’…. ‘my malinois cant settle and wait patiently because he’s too high drive’….

Don’t get me wrong, knowing and acknowledging what you have is smart dog training. My dog is sensitive, my dog is aggressive, I own a high drive german shepherd from working lines…. thats not labelling, thats making a statement. But thats where the journey starts, not where it ends.

I have lost count of the number of people that have asked me ‘WHY did YOU get a BOXER!’…. as if it was an accident, or misjudgment on my part. My simple answer is, ‘I got a Boxer because I like Boxers’. Full stop. I don’t see the limitations that others clearly perceive the breed to have, I don’t see the definition of success as what my dog wins or doesn’t win. There was a point in Punch’s life where he may have never have walked normally let alone do any dog sports. If our relationship was based on MY goals and aspirations, I would have been sorely disappointed. I make the choice the have the dog, because first and foremost, I like the dog.

Labels can sometimes be the restriction that is stopping you achieving your goal… he can run fast in agility because he’s breed doesn’t like to run, or he’s too nervous or afraid, or he’s a rescue dog and he was ill treated, or distracted but he’s a herding dog and thats what they do…. or he’s a hunting breed and thats what they do….

Discard labels and give your dog a title! Titles are owned, they are a indication or brilliance, of achievement and success….

The amazing thing about dog training is that the rules and principles don’t listen to the labels….. they merely focus on solutions…. 

Ditch your labels! Liberate your dog! 

Relatable relationships…

Thank you all for the positive feedback in relation to my previous blog…. and the offers of ‘perfect’ dogs that would suit me LOL. I have 8 dogs, all perfect… so at this moment in time… plan B, is just that… a plan! I It did however, get me thinking about the perfect ‘relationship’ and how we use that word so frivolous to capture issues we have with our dogs, or the interaction we have with them.

Indeed, I always explain my take on dog training falls under 5 distinct areas and one of which is relationship.

I would love to be able to say, that every dog I have owned I have instantly clicked with and had that head over heels infatuation with. I definitely have had that, with most of my dogs…. but there are a few that it took a minute to create and find. Thats right, my name is Kamal Fernandez and I didn’t have an instant head over heels fall in love feeling when I saw some of my dogs…. I admit it! Stone me in the streets, flog me repeatedly, tar me and roll me in feathers….what a bad owner/dog lover I am! 

But I know, some of the people reading this blog will probably have felt exactly the same. 

I would love to have that instantaneous connection with my pup/rescue dog… that gut wrenching, skip a heartbeat feeling… you know that no matter they do, you love them, accept them and adore them… yes they may have their little quirks, yes they may have some hang ups, but despite that… you love them. Warts and all. 

But sometime, that just doesn’t happen. Sorry to burst the bubble of Disney and ‘happy ever after’, but sometimes it takes work. There are several examples of relationship issues that I see and have experienced myself.

Second dog syndrome is a classic.

That phenomenon where you have had one dog, a particularly special dog that you just clicked with. You instantly had that head over heels feeling when you met and saw that dog, and it just seemed to innately know what you wanted or with minimalist training, picked stuff up, made your dreams come true and was a great family pet…. 
The time comes to find another dog, and that subsequent dog never meets up to the expectations set by of the first dog. Often they are have a connection to the first dog, which makes it all the more challenging to see this dog as an individual and accept it for what s/he is, rather then living in the shadow of your previous dog.

Another example, is getting the wrong dog for your personality/lifestyle.

This is such a common issue which affects the relationship you have with your dog. In dog sports, people assume that a breed or line of dogs will bring them ultimate success. However the traits that make the dog so great for that sport, also can be a source of frustration and despair. The high energy full on workaholic doesnt always just clock off when you leave the competition setting. That OCD desire to ‘do’ still is there at 10pm, after a long day and all you want to do is chill out and relax! Or picking a dog or breed that clearly doesn’t suit your needs/lifestyle or commitment. 

It has always baffled me when people talk about the pick of a litter…. pick for whom? One mans meat is another mans poison. 

Or the case of the ‘rescue’ dog…. the person who lives in the head space where your dog is always a ‘rescue’ case, rather then doing what dogs do, and living in the now. I can say this from experience, I’ve had ‘rescue’ dogs, several of them… i’ve had rehome dogs, several of those too…. my dogs aren’t ‘rescued’ once I have them. They are just ‘my dogs’. I always bath them when I first bring them home, for me this is cathartic. I’m washing away all their past, and whatever issues they have I merely focus on solutions. What do I have, and what do I want…. the bit in between is simply dog training.

I can speak of these examples because I’ve had them all. 

I’ve found myself telling everyone that will listen about how inadequate the dog I have is, whilst inside I am comparing him to my previous dogs…. I’ve found myself out dogged, underestimating what I had on my hands, and seeing what I thought I was getting and what I had being a rude awakening, I’ve had the ‘rescue’ dog whose every short coming was hung firmly on that ‘label’… rather then taking ownership and acknowledging my part.

You could probably say, why didn’t I just find a nice home where the dog would have been loved and adored from the get go? And sometimes this is probably better for the dog TBH…. but for me personally, I know that life is about lessons. The dog in front of me is here for a reason, it’s here to teach me something. I may have to wait to see where that lesson falls into place, but it always will. Perseverance, understanding, adapting, compromise, acceptance…. just a few of the life lessons, my dogs have taught me. Thats the choice I make, I don’t judge people for the decisions they make. To each his own. You dont always get what you want, you get what you need. Whether you think you need it or not.

I have ‘stuck’ with each and every one of my dogs and they have given me some of the greatest lesson I could ever have. They have all ended up, confident, well adjusted and happy. I have ended up with a relationship that was based on truth, acceptance, mutual respect and admiration. I set ego aside. I removed all labels, and worked with what I had. I learnt to love them for who ‘they’ were, rather then what I wanted them to be, and moulded them to the best they could be. We compromised, we managed, we train, we cried, we laugh, we contemplated given up, we got frustrated and sometimes we didnt even like each other. And at the end of it all, it was worth every struggle, every heartache and every challenge.

Thats right, relationships take work! Who knew! Relationships take work to create and nurture, to build a solid foundation that will stand the test of tme.

Any relationship is a long term investment, do the work, because the return is worth every second!

The power of genetics…

Recently a pupil and friend, got a ‘new’ dog. He is new to her, but an older dog that was to be rehomed. He is a Giant Schnauzer from really strong working lines.He came to be rehomed because of various reasons, but for the sport that he is hoping to be trained for, he will be required to do bitework. He had done some work in his previous home, however his owner decided to start as though he had done nothing, and set some new foundations.

In his first few sessions, she was dubious about what she had taken on as there were some ‘issues’ which could be a huge concern later on.
However, in the next subsequent sessions, the diamond in the rough, she had taken on… really started to shine.

In just a few sessions, you could see what potential this awesome dog had….

So why was his progression so quick? And such a difference in a relatively short space of time? Well, partly from the right approach but a more valid factor was quite simply, good genetics.

Good dog training will often improve or ‘mask’ issues, and bad dog training will often create issues, however the affects of genetics cannot be underestimated.

In the litter that I bred between my own two dogs, it amazes me to see genetics coming through.

Physical and mental traits from parents, aunts, uncles, grandfather etc…. literally clones of predecessors!
It even amazes me, how genetics can assist your dog training! 

I’ve repeatedly said since the second I got him, my smooth coated collie ‘super’ is a complete gift. He just has a natural aptitude to do anything I ask, and seems to ‘know’ what it is…. when there is in actual fact, no way he should! I literally train him one day, and then can leave him for varying amounts of time and he just has worked it out! Now, if I had less experience in training dogs, I would be patting myself on the back as to how great a dog trainer I am…. when in actual fact, its the dog!
I know when I first started dog training, there were several distinct lines of dogs, that all had a very strong ‘type’.
This type would be looks, attitude, temperament and even characteristics.

The power of genetics cannot be underestimated! And as such certain techniques to train them consistently worked, not necessarily because it was good sound training, but because it suited a type of dog… however when the occasional anomaly didnt confirm, they were often labelled a ‘reject’, ‘thick’ or dud. When in reality they needed a different approach.

Genetics can be positive and negative, when you place a dog in an environment which is unsuitable or the person doesn’t understand nor honour the dogs genetics. It doesnt make it a bad dog, just a mismatch. I see this constantly when you have people who want the dog they think will be the quickest and fastest route to success, vs the dog that would suit their lifestyle and ability. Its not a failing to say you’re not the worlds best driver, as its lucky you aren’t racing in a Formula one grand prix! 
A really good friend of mine, who is a extremely competent dog trainer would always say to me, when I had my large malinois Strut, she could admire him but wouldn’t want him, as he wouldn’t suit her. And she would be right. Does that make her a ‘bad dog trainer’? Absolutely not! It makes her a smart dog owner!
Genetics are a powerful force, literally running through your dogs veins… both the good bits and the bad bits.

Understanding them, embracing them, channelling them and working with them will ultimately lead to joy and peace for you and the dog! The key is dog training…..
Enjoy your dogs!

Socially responsible and a moment of inspiration….

Social media has a lot to answer for, it can be a powerful tool and a lethal weapon all at the same time. What it is used for can be both a help and a hindrance. 
As a professional dog trainer and dog sports coach, I utilise social media on a daily basis… I use it to connect with people, engage with my pupils and audience and a platform for my work. This will problem intensify over the coming year, with the development of an online community and teaching tool.

However, after reading on various forums on various discussion, everything from raw feeding, to jump height, to obedience issues, to rules and regs, it occurred to be that, social media and the use it, from a personal perspective, comes with a responsibility.

The question I ask myself when I post a message, status or video, is always… what is your intention? By asking myself that question, I use it almost like a barometer for the tone and message.
The post others make, that truly resonate with me, all have a reoccurring theme. They set an example to others, and leadby that example…. or in other words, They inspire in one way, shape or form.
Inspiration or being inspired, is such a profound and powerful concept, and can literally steer your life’s direction…

Personally, I can recall vividly throughout my life, when I have been inspired by en event, a teacher, a moment or simply a ‘thing’. It hits you like a tonne of bricks, it evokes emotion, excitement, thought and many more movements within you. And of late, as a new father, my daughter inspiring me to do better, push harder and strive for more from myself.

For someone who has been training dogs for more time then I haven’t been training dogs, its these moments that act as reinforcement for me.

It may come from a student, who has overcome a struggle and worked through an issue…

It may come from a dog, whose enthusiasm and tenacity for life, puts a smile on my face just watching them run and play.

It may come from someone competing, whose training resonates from their performance.

This was exactly what happened recently when I watched both the 1st and 2nd place dogs in a championship obedience class. The quality and standard of both teams was inspiring, both combining style, accuracy, drive, teamwork and an obvious attention to detail endorsed by smart handling.

It doesn’t esnt matter if its obedience, agility, IPO, working trials on any other dog sport, such performance transcend the boundaries of the individual sport and anyone with even an untrained eye, can appreciate the beauty.

Often, in this weird and complex world that is dog training, we look to highlight the difference between us, one method better then the next, one path more ‘correct’ then the other. However, it would be far more beneficial and have greater impact, not to focus on the differences but rather concentrate on being and doing the best you can, and let that be an example to others. In doing so, you may inspire someone to follow in your footsteps, and that is where the greatest impact will occur.

What inspires you to get up each day, brave the weathers, travel the length and breadth of the country, or the world, chasing accolades and achievements? What creates that burning desire within you, to start the Everest like journey that is in front of you? Are you lacking inspiration? Or are you searching for it? Who has sent an example for you, by their actions?

Irrespective of the answer to the above, start being an ‘inspiration’ to others. In your actions, your attitude, your interaction and your dogs…. send out that energy into the universe and see what comes back to you….

Caring is sharing….

Recently there was a video that largely went viral, discussing the risks of raw feeding…. Whilst this is not what this blog is about, it did give me the idea to write a post about the products I believe in and recommend….which just so happens to be a raw food…. So I accept I run the risk of this blog being trolled by those stating that I am bound to go to hell for feeding my dog a chicken wing… it’s a risk I’m willing to take…

It really isn’t the purpose of this blog to be controversial or judgmental, it really isn’t ‘me’…. So I thought I would write a post and take a slightly different take on things, and talk solely of my experiences with two fantastic products, and share them so others can benefit.

Raw feeding vs kibble divides opinions like Moses and the red sea, people standing by their views as though they are religious beliefs. My take on this is somewhat simple…. Do what suits you and your dogs are happy with.

No need to justify it, no need to enter into an argument about it, no need to pass judgment… just do what you are happy with.

Which brings me onto the products that I use and recommend, and the experience I have had with both….

The first is Natural Instinct, a pre-made raw food, from a company based in Surrey.

My experience of Natural Instinct has been from several years of feeding their food, but recently I have been fortunate enough to be sponsored by them. I cannot sing the food’s praises enough, and I have commented on Facebook on how much I rate and believe in this food…. So no surprises there….. I just love the food! I love my dogs reaction to it, the quality of it and the variety. Even Fire, who is a terribly fussy eater, cleans the base of her bowl! That says it all. You can ‘feel’ the difference in my dogs, their muscle tone, coat texture and shine…. I would share a pic of my 8 dogs all waiting for whilst I dish up their latest banquet, salivating at the sight of the little white tubs… Its almost Pavlovian! But I think the image of drooling dogs could be a step too far…

The second product is called Aptus, a joint supplement and rehydration drink from a Finnish company…. I was approached by Aptus to sample their product, and have used it for the last few months…. Again, I cannot sing praises of the results any higher. My two oldest dogs, Thriller and Scooter were both out with injuries all last year, and whist they had gone through extensive rest and rehab, I had resided myself to the fact they both had lasting affects. Since using Aptus joint supplement in their diet, they have both been visibility improved in their mobility and flexibility. Scooter in particular, is a dog that has always been prone to lameness and niggling little things, which has taken a lot of management and awareness…. However he is like a new dog! My Scooter has never been one for doing anything at a pace above a brisk, purposeful walk…. However, he’s been charging round like a spring lamb (when I say charging, if you knew Scoot, you would know the term is largely for dramatic affect….but he is definitely exuberant).

The benefits of both these products on my dogs are literally visible…. HIGHLY recommend!

However the other factor which makes these two products stand out, if the customer service I have received from both companies…. This has been AMAZING!

For some reason, I think that customer services is a lost ‘art’ or so it seems…. With all the methods of communication, available it amazes me that people don’t respond to your emails, enquiries or interest. All anyone wants is a professional service, and having a personal touch is the icing on the cake. Its almost like we have been accustomed to picking up the phone, and being put through to ‘Roger’ from Mumbai… and whilst you curb your over riding yearning to question is ‘Roger’ a traditional Indian name, you filter through the infinite sequence of numbers that you have to select and choose from… Making a simple phone call to your bank, becomes a numerical crystal maze…. Perhaps secretly they are subliminally giving you the lottery numbers for next weeks jackpot?? In which ‘pressing 1 for customer care’ may inspire a bit more attention!

However with both Natural Instinct and Aptus, my experience has been nothing but positive, and what really makes them both stand out, is that they genuinely love dogs….

It’s ironic that these are attributes that I would like to think are paramount for anyone working in an industry especially when producing a product for dogs… but this isn’t always the case.

So take a look, here are links for both products….



Does it always have to end on a good note?

Whilst teaching one of my regular groups yesterday, the conversation came up of the need to reward their dogs at the end of the session, irrespective of what they had been working on or the relevance of that last reward.

The notion of having to leave your training on a ‘good note’, is something that is often advised and still endorsed.

Where does that expression come from? I remember reading an article written by a world renowned agility competitor who discussed this exact point.

Her comments were really so insightful.

She discussed in this article, that one of the reasons she believed the concept came to fruition, was when training utilised more compulsive methods, and leaving your session on a ‘good note’, was in the hope that your dog wouldn’t necessarily remember the negative aspects of the session so when you next trained them, they would come out with a upbeat attitude to the training. I can definitely see how she drew that conclusion.

However as a trainer/coach and teacher, who uses reinforcement based methodology, I still see this concept coming up. Yet the people that I teach couldn’t be further away from compulsive training, if they tried.

So why do people who subscribe to a reinforcement based system, feel THEY need to end their session on a ‘good note’?

I believe there are several reasons.

A) Dog training is a culture, and whichever sub section of that culture you subscribe to, seems irrelevant. The cultural traditions and norms still run through all facets of the ‘culture’. So ‘ending’ your session is a concept that is cultural.

B) People who gravitate to a reinforcement based system of dog training, largely want to reinforce their dog, or in more simplistic terms, be ‘nice’ to them. So if a session involves challenges or struggles, or some failure and no reinforcement delivered, the moral obligation is to reward the dog at the end, or engineer the dog getting reinforcement. This is regardless of what the dog is learning.

C) Being flippant in their delivery of reinforcement, rather then mindful and strategic. The Bob Baily mantra ‘think plan do, review’, resonates in my mind constantly and allows for mindful and purposeful training with intent, rather then casual practicing or rehearsing.

D) Failing to acknowledge the effective and timely delivery of reinforcement as information. So petting your dog in attempt to pacify them, when they demand bark at you, is actually reinforcing them for exactly the behaviour you want to stop.

Reinforcement based dog training heightens the need to ensure your communication is ultra effective. As a cross over dog trainer, the amount of awareness, thinking and analysis I now have to do in comparison to how I initially trained dogs, is like night and day. Dont get me wrong, I’ve always been a trainer that ‘think, plans and do’s….’ but now I have to be aware of the smallest nuance of behaviour, placement of reinforcement, differential reinforcement, schedules of reinforcement, generalising the smallest detail…. the list is endless. But for me, there in lies the joy. Although it sounds overwhelming, really it isn’t once you have that light switch turned on to this approach to training.

So, the not receiving a reward or the specific reward they may want, isn’t necessarily about being nice or nasty… its information to the dog. And ending your session and the dog not getting his best toy or favourite food, is information to the dog. Or even walking out of a competition ring and asking your dog to do more, isn’t being ‘mean’….it would all depend on your dogs capability, whether their performance was average or better and what schedule of reinforcement they have each behaviour/behaviour chain on.

I am also very much aware of classical conditioning and the power of the dog wanting to play the game, so this concept should again be implemented with thought and consideration.

So next time you want to end your session on a good note, ensure the ‘good note’ is appropriate. Reinforcement builds behaviour…. just ensure the behaviour you are building is the behaviour you want 😉

Who’d have thought I’d be a blogger…

Well this is a strange one…. my first ever blog! I’m kinda excited about using this platform to talk, write about the conversations that I want to have and find interesting and stimulating….. Primarily this will probably gravitate to dog training….but as as new father, with a gorgeous baby girl… I expect I might write the odd post on nappy rash, weaning and the challenges of teething 😉

So, best I introduce myself…. My name is Kamal Fernandez, in case you haven’t guessed LOL, and I am a full time professional dog trainer… I live in the stunning South of England, in East Sussex and share my life with my gorgeous Girls, my girlfriend Lois and my baby 7month old Neave…. I have 8 dogs, of varying breeds, including border collies, a boxer, a Malinois, a German Spitz and one of those ‘designer’ breed, my little Jack-a-poo… Sugarpuff!

I have been training dogs for 26yrs…. it makes me feel incredibly old to think there are people able to vote, who are younger then that time span! Life just literally whizzes by….

Before I was a dog trainer professionally, I was a Police Officer and did a variety of roles within the Police…

I currently compete in Obedience and Agility, and I am training my Boxer for the sport of IPO.

My passion is most definitely training dogs, and has been an obsession since the day I discovered this weird and wonderful world! I have been blessed to travel the World teaching and lecturing on Dog Training and Behaviour….

Currently my time is divided between my work, which mainly involves being a dog sports Coach. My students have competed at the top level in Obedience, Agility, Working Trials and IPO. I advocate and follow a reinforcement based approach to training dogs.

Additionally, I have been involved in providing Animals for Television and Film…. one of the TV productions I was involved with included the Oxford Scientific Production ‘Dogs Might Fly’, the crazy concept to teach a dog to fly a plane!

This blog will have information, ideas, opinions and possibly some humour….