Lights, Camera… ACTION!

Lights, Camera, ACTION! As we dawn the annual canine ‘Oscars’, Crufts is seen my the dog world as the pinnacle of the dog world. The glamour, glitz and glory!

Held in high esteem, it is revered and feared in equal measures!

For many, when they get their puppy/dog, they lay awake at night dreaming of stepping foot onto the hallowed Green.

Just to have the honour, is perceived as mystical. Memories are made, dreams are realised and champions are crowned. 

As a competitor, coach, mentor, teacher and judge, I have seen Crufts from all angles and thought it would be a good time to put pen to paper, or in this case, fingertip to keyboard…. to offer some insight and advice.

I can recall vividly, stumbling across ‘Crufts’ on the television, by sheer accident and being glued to it for the total time it was on. I can still remember the heartfelt disappointment, when I tuned in the following week to watch the ‘Coverage’ only to be bitterly disappointed it wasnt on! Little did I realise all that Crufts was. But a seed was sown.

When I got my first ‘proper’ competition dog, I set about planning my route to ‘Crufts’. I trained morning, noon and night… my single mindedness and blinkered outlook, meant that I climbed the ladder of progression leading to that inevitable day, when all the hours, days, weeks, months and years of work all came together, and I found myself stepping foot onto the main ring at Crufts. An accumulation of a dream that started way before that moment, and one that seemed like Everest itself, to climb. But there I was, at the summit of the mountain looking back. Yet I was too overwhelmed and in awe of the occasion to truly absorb the moment. I was worrying about all that could go wrong, rather then focusing on what I had achieved. 

My first experience of Crufts, left me with mixed emotions, because I had spent years working toward something, that when I reached it, I actually didn’t enjoy. I was so wrapped up in nerves and anxiety, that I failed to see the glory that was in front of me. I missed the moment. It was a steep learning curve, and has subsequently allowed me to help so many others in all dogs sports, including Obedience, Agility, Working Trials, IPO, HWTM… to fulfil their dreams and master their mental game. I learnt the lessons needed to help others. 

On subsequent appearances, I took a moment to saviour the experience and relish my time on the Green, with a dog that I had a deep and intense bond with. A dog that had grown with me, and for me, that made dreams come true. It was this journey that truly taught me the importance of mental composure, being present and harnessing the power of your mind.

I have also been being the scenes, as a coach/teacher and mentor, nurturing people from humble beginnings to top honours, from the dog that was thrown out of 3 clubs before I met them for reactive behaviour, who ultimately went on to win at Crufts… to being part of a history making international competition, flying a team from across the world to compete at Crufts, not once bit twice. Two different countries, two different stories. To those who I have seen raise and select their pup from birth, from a homebred litter to qualifying for the Obedience Championship. I have also been a judge, and assisting in various roles as an official, and seen the nerves up close and personal.

All of these perspectives have given me a deeper understanding of the validity of a strong mental game, preparation, planning and delivering under pressure. Crufts is the ultimate test of all of these! It is the thing of legends, titles and tiaras. For many, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Or the possibility of greatness. Either way, having some simple yet effective pointers to steer you along can be just what you need, to execute that well rehearsed plan!

Here are some tips to mentally help you be your best.

  1. Be present. This is easier said then done, when you are faced with a fire hose of emotions, all rushing towards you at once, but take a moment to stop and take in all the glory. This is the accumulation of those hours or training, dedication and commitment, this is what you have been working for, so enjoy!
  2. Game time, means game face. Get in the zone. Those moments before you compete, are your chance to gather your thoughts and centred yourself. This is your time to shine, so bring it! Don’t be afraid! Chest out, eyes bright and dazzle them! You’ve earned the right to do so!
  3. Hydrate yourself, but beware of caffeine! For me, I get buzzed up in competition, so I know to avoid too much caffeine, I know that the atmosphere will give me an ‘edge’, however ensure you are well hydrated so that you can think clearly and function! This is applicable to food too, Crufts is intense, but can be a marathon not a sprint! Ensure you have supplies on hand to keep your energy up
  4. Trust your dog, trust your training and trust yourself. If you haven’t trained it, it is too late. There is no point worrying about it, let it go, and focus on what you can do. Because by doing so, you’ll realise you have so many weapons in your artillery!
  5. Stay in the moment, there is no point thinking of the second step if you haven’t got through the first. Just focus on whats in front of you, one thing at a time.
  6. Take time the night before to ensure you are packed and ready to go, this alleviates any last minutes stresses. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
  7. Remember cues, words and signals! Have cards to prompt you, or a friend to remind you. The dog will only do what you ask, so ensure you let them know!
  8. Take a time out for you. Go for a walk, go to the toilet, or go for a breath of fresh air. Take a moment to re-group if needed!
  9. For supporters, coaches, mentors.. The time directly after they have finished, is not the time to give a critique or feedback, good or bad. Pick your moment! Allow at least 15-30mins before you approach and discuss. 
  10. Have fun! This is so crucial! This is a game we play, for our ego… with our friend/family that happens to have four legs, and fur! Don’t lose sight of that!

I look forward to catching up with you all at Crufts, best of luck to all those competing, judging, stewarding or involved! Have a fantastic time!

My book will be officially launched at Crufts, which details my journey in the world of dog sports! Great stories, tips and ideas from my perspective…..

I shall be signing books on Sunday, 10th March at Hall 1 stand 70 Performancedog.co.uk, signing books.. time to be confirmed. Unfortunately due to Crufts restrictions, I wont be able to live stream or video the draw for the winners of the book give aways, however I shall post to my facebook page on the day!

If you still want to win, a one of two, free signed copies of my book, ‘Pathway to Positivity’, go to my facebook page and share the video!

See you at Crufts, and may the best dog win! Either way, you still take them home!

Pavlov and Picasso

I am sure that both the above names need no introduction… and some would use the word ‘genius’ to describe their contributions to their respective fields…

Picasso was a world renowned artist, his legacy being his distinctive style and unique talent.

Pavlov, the mind that identified the phenomenon of classical conditioning, and underpins everything that we do, our behaviour and actions.

One an ‘artist’, one a ‘scientist’.

Both brilliant, both genius. Both revolutionary.

But it would appear that in dog training, there is a distinct divide between the ‘science’ of training vs the artistry of training.

Like most things, be in raw feeding vs kibble, or vaccinations vs no vaccinations… there is almost a tribal mentality to both banners. Yet the irony is, neither is entirely right or entirely wrong.

As a professional dog trainer, and someone who deals with behavioural issues, the ‘science’ offers me a blue print from which to ‘cheat’ the ‘solution to a problem’, yet the artistry allows me to ‘go off the beaten track’ and try something totally different.

There have been countless times, when I have discarded what I ‘should do’, and allowed instinct and ‘feel’ to take over.

And there have been countless time, when a well thought out, strategic plan, and identifying the patterns of behaviour and reinforcement, have provided a solution.

If we look at both Picasso and Pavlov they both understood the necessity and importance of being a ‘scientist’ and an ‘artist’.

Pavlov’s observations connecting his dogs salivating, was ‘an accident’ and his findings shaped so many walks of life. He knew not to ignore this ‘off the beaten track’ moment.

Picasso’s unorthodox style and unique perspective, was a result of not being afraid to go against the current. He wasn’t afraid to be uninhibited.

In so many ways fear, steers our decision making process.

Its fear that causes so many to defend their beliefs and ‘tried and tested’ ideologies, and decree those that differ.

We see this in all walks of life, but when we strip it back to its core, its fear that is at work.

In dog training, behaviour and all matters related to canine well being, we see these distinct ‘tribes’, those avidly adhere to science and data, stringently recording data and analysing the outcome, and those that ‘paint’ and draw using instinct, trial, error and ‘feel’.

The irony is that both approaches have more in common then we realise and the key it to embrace both ‘personas’. Whilst I regularly video my training sessions, and make mental notes on what I see, I am mindful of not over analysing to the point of self deprecation.

Science gives us the lines to follow, the dots to join, and the colours to use…. artistry tells us when to mix them, go outside the lines and sign our individuality over the piece.

A good trainer will have a sound understanding of the methodology, awareness of mechanical skills and impeccable training. A Great trainer will make it look effortless, as though they are reacting entirely on a deep connection between them and the subject.

Developing your insight into how, when, what, where and why to take an approach takes time, effort and commitment

There are artists, there are scientists.

We need both. Dogs need both.

Healing holistically…

As a professional dog trainer and sports dog coach, I regularly have dogs in for residential training, that have ingrained behavioural issues. 

When I take a dog for residential training it is a way to ‘jump start’ the progression of the dogs training, whether it be for simply domestic training or more complex behavioural problems. A regular ‘type’ of dog that I am often asked to help, are those with aggression or reactivity issues. 

At present, I have one such dog, in my care. 

Tizer is an 18month old Border collie cross. I suspect some sort of setter based on his appearance and behaviour. I have actually known Tizer since he was approximately 16wks, as he was owned by a student. 

He attended one of my competitive groups, intermittently and I saw him less then a handful of times. It was apparent he was a sweet genuine little dog, with a sensitive streak. He showed great promise for Competitive Obedience, where you could see his extravagant movement influenced by the gundog in him. Unfortunately, his owner was unable to attend the group and time surpassed and I didnt see Tizer for well over a year. 

Recently, I got a phone call saying that Tizer’s owner was in need of help. 

His owner rang me, and I could instantly hear the sadness and heartbreak in her voice. She had a change of personal circumstances, and needed to find Tizer a home. 

She said that he had developed some major behaviour issues, including aggression and in-house fighting. She also said that she was concerned over his reaction to children and small dogs, to the extent where she believed that he would kill a small dog. 

There was no way that I could not try and help, given the situation. Here was a dog and person in need, and I was in a position to assist. 

The sadness part of this tale, is that this situation is neither unique or unusual. I count myself fortunate to have had more then my fair share of ‘guardian angels’, always there when I needed them, so this was the least I could do. 

On collection of Tizer, you could clearly see a heart broken owner and a ‘broken’ dog. He was edgy and apprehensive. When I collected him, there were children coming from a local leisure facility, and Tizer’s body language showed apprehension, fear and a tenseness. He was obviously uncomfortable around them, and even tried to lunge forward towards one that was closer to him. His behaviour was concerning to say the least. This wasn’t going to be a simple solution. I assured his owner I would do my best, and said I would contact her the following day, to discuss Tizer. She was clearly too emotional to do so at the time.

Tizer had transformed from the dog that I initially met, who was sensitive and shy, but in no way aggressive. My role was to try and work out what had caused this drastic change in personality. 

When I spoke to Tizer’s owner, she said that he had been absolutely fine until he hit approximately 6months old. She said that his behaviour changed dramatically and declined. She said that he started to act aggressively towards her other dogs, in particular her male Australian shepherd cross. There had been 3 incidents, in which one Tizer caused damage to the other dog. In addition, Tizer received an injury to his eye area. She stated that this behaviour was often unprovoked and ‘random’. 

She explained that Tizer’s reactivity had increased from there, with outbursts towards other dogs on walks and also showing aggression towards smaller animals. 

The change of dynamics in the house, had caused tension and undoubtedly stress for both the owner and Tizer. 

As a a dog trainer and someone who deals with behavioural issues, I have to put on my Detectives hat, to try and work out why and how a problem has evolved. Whilst this is not always possible to fathom, it can help me work through the issue, faster. For example if a dog is lunging out at other dogs, being able to work out if it is fear based because it has been attacked by a certain colour of dog, I know that this is something I need to be aware of and can implement a plan accordingly. This information is helpful, but failing to have this insight, doesnt mean that the dogs behaviour cannot be improved, or even resolved. We just deal with the ‘now’.

There were several ‘clues’ which may indicate why Tizer’s behaviour has become so extreme. 

Firstly, when I first met Tizer, he was definitely a sensitive soul. He was very biddable and receptive to training but would def need building up in confidence. He was very friendly with people, but would be submissive on approach. His behaviour was slightly appeasing, when meeting people. His demeanour was gentle but had an anxiety about his being. Dogs of this type, can often form unhealthy attachments to ‘their people’, and can result in anxiety related issues. My goal for all my dogs, is to create them being confident in their own being, with or without me present. If I have a dog of this ‘type’, I implement tactics to build their confidence up without my influence.

His owner stated that his behaviour changed at approximately 6months, which would also correlate to adolescence when dogs behaviour can change. With male dogs in particular, there is change in testosterone levels, which can incite aggression behaviour, either the dog being the recipient of, or attacker. Often this is superficial, but can result in a level of trauma to the owner or dog. 

She also stated that he was very ‘attached’ to her, which could result in either resource guarding or separation anxiety. Because of Tizer’s sensitive nature, he would be more inclined to hold any anxiety and stress he felt, which would increase his likelihood of reactivity. When discussing Tizer’s behaviour, she said that the attacks on her other dogs, could be when all the dogs were in ‘quietly laying in the living room’. She stated that he would fly out at another dog without any warning. 

The incidents within the home with Tizer, would create an apprehension within the environment a dog should ideally feel a sense of calm and ‘peace’. However, as is often the case with in house dog to dog issues, this in itself can create an atmosphere and a ‘walking on egg shells’ feeling. This again is building anxiety and tension. 

Because of the issues with Tizer’s behaviour, his freedom and ‘outlet’ had been tapered, due to the restrictions his behaviour causes. A dog with ‘dog to dog’ issues, can be a life affecting responsibility. This could also contribute to his tension and eventual reactivity. 

The other factor is the genetic influence on Tizer’s behaviour. He is part herding breeding and I suspect, part gundog. Both these types of dogs, have a high level of prey drive which has been utilised for a ‘job’, if and when this isn’t allowed to have an outlet, this can also contribute to a behavioural issue. His owner stated that he often would nip at her other dogs heels, when they run which is a trait common in herding breeds. She said that because of his unpredictable nature, she had been reluctant to allow him to run with her other dogs, fearing the nip would escalate. 

You can see the picture being drawn and the ‘clues’ all merging together. 

Here you have a sensitive dog, with a level or anxiety in his make up, who has entered adolescence and started to alter the way he behaves. This has resulted in every increasing internal fights between dogs in the home, and caused a level of apprehension within the household and owner. His lack of confidence around other dogs, has then manifested itself into anxiety and defensiveness, and eventually aggression. He may have formed an unhealthy attachment to his owner, which would manifest itself in him resource guarding her, or her property, which could trigger an aggressive outburst. 

His behaviour has meant that his freedom and exercise are tapered, which could also create pent up frustration. 

Often, there is not one singular cause a behaviour issue such as reactivity and aggression. As you can see from Tizer’s case study, it is more an accumulation of several factors. 

So… now how to help him…. can I help him? Is his behavioural issues resolvable?

If you want to find out my plan to try and help Tizer, check out my facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/kamalfernandezdogtraining/

I shall be doing a live stream where you can ask questions and receive answers…. for more details, check it out!

Motown records to record breakers….

Just back from a weekend of teaching, and as always I feel so fortunate and privileged to have been asked.

However this weekend was a bit unique.

See the club I was asked to teach for, was Lichfield Dog Training Club.

For those that don’t partake in competitive Obedience, you may not be aware of ‘who’ Lichfield club is…. so let me give you a little insight into why this was such a privilege.

Quite simply put, Lichfield would be to dog training what Motown would be to music.

A club steeped in history and accolade, they probably hold the British record for the number of Obedience Champions, Ticket winners, Crufts judges and Crufts winners, within the dog sport of competition obedience. Thats some résumé.

I suspect the only club with a record to rival Lichfield would be the infamous South London DTC. If Lichfield was Motown, South London was Arista records. It was truly an honour to share the same space of so many greats, before me.

You can tell I’m somewhat of an obedience anorak and make no apologies for that. I have trawled the internet, magazines and wider publications educating myself on the history of the sport. In doing so, I have a huge respect and understanding for those that came before me (the Lichfield patrons for example), but I also can see turning points in the sports history.

Knowing the history of your sport is a worthwhile endeavour, as it is where the roots and foundation on which you now stand, are laid.

It is a balance between looking back and moving forward, and knowing the path we’ve worn will tell us the route to take.

Whilst teaching, I am often entertained and dined, and this was no exception. It was a chance to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about years gone by, to break bread with people I wouldn’t usually have the chance to do so with.

Having been involved in training dogs for nearly 30yrs, there was quite a lot to talk about!

The conversation prompted this blog and many thoughts relating to the past and present. And in fact ‘our’ sport as a whole.

I make no secret of being passionate about all things ‘dog’, and sports are top of that list, and specifically competitive Obedience. Its been a part of my life for more years then not.

Obedience can get bad press, for being ‘boring’ or ‘serious’, but for those that partake in it, it the canine equivalent of dressage. I appreciate that it may be an acquired taste, however it is anything but boring when done well.

The contrast between intricate precise movements and exuberance and energy, are what make the sport both challenging and appealing.

I have partaken in it for all of my career and I still find the sight of seeing a ‘team’ working in total unison, a thing of absolute beauty and joy.

Often dog related matters, certainly within sports, can cause a tribal mentality to methods, views and perspectives, diet, equipment and all that relates. This is not unique to dogs, but a trait of human nature. We only have to look to politics to see this in full glory.

We draw lines in the sand, pistol at dawn, loaded and ready to be fires.

To me it is an asset that we have diversity and a broad range of opinions. It makes it interesting and topical.

However, the irony is that we have more in common then differences. This is the ultimate human story. We are far more alike than different.

Our conversation was a group of people, who may differ on some views, but our commonality is that we all are deeply passionate about the ‘game’. We want to see it prosper, it has given us all more then we could ever quantify.

The landscape of dog sports has greatly changed since many of us started, and the variety of activities available has had an adverse affect on obedience specifically. Obedience is a sport that requires a long term investment in contrast to other sports with more instant gratification. This reflects the world we live in now, where the changes in how we live mean that we are often conditioned to seek out instant solutions.

The infrastructure of clubs and classes primarily oriented to competitive dog sports has largely altered, people attend classes on a short term basis to complete a course for 8wks, with a certificate at the end. In years gone by, you worked your way up the relevant classes, and the ‘top’ class was a goal to aspire to.

You often had several key members who attended and contributed who were actively competing, which then influenced the classes, content and direction of methods. So the ‘bug’ was passed on.

However this is largely a rarity now. You may have clubs and societies that have some competitive entity, but this is becoming more and more uncommon.

Private trainers and groups serve this clientele.

This has often been a aspect to apportion ‘blame’ to…. and there may be some truth in it.

However seeking to place blame on a single factor will merely prevent us at looking at the greater picture.

Another factor is nurturing the new blood, and making the sport accessible and attainable.

The bottom line is that people want to have reinforcement. Just like our dogs, there has to be something in it for them.

Having a competition based on qualifying vs winning, at the preliminary levels would encourage people to persist.

Having a system where entry to shows was contingent on ‘giving’ back.

Having an annual inter-club competition, where members had to be ‘active’ within the club itself, would feed into the registered club system, provide help and support for shows and events.

Allow those that won a certain amount of ‘reserve’ championship certificates to qualify for our major championship would increase numbers and give supporters something to watch and a wider cross section of people, dogs and competitors.

These are just some of the ideas, that all came about from breaking bread. There were at least another dozen more.

However a large reason why the majority will never gain momentum, is the main contributing factor to the current issues we have.

Politics, misunderstanding and misconceptions. These are the greatest adversary of the sport succeeding and prospering. We could substitute ‘obedience’, for any dog sport, or fishing or knitting, or kayaking or…. well you get the idea.

We often second guess what our ‘opposition’ is thinking, yet we share more then which divides us.

Put down your sword, baton and guns… stop and listen. Be willing to do that much. You don’t have to agree, but you might hear your similarities. And there in lies prosperity and growth.

Potatoes and Eggs

I had just came from the hairdresser, getting a short back and sides in preparation for Xmas. I have to confess I normally dread the mundane conversations that ensue, normally including ‘where are you going on holiday this year?’ or ‘what do you do for a job’, as the stylist looks blankly out the window willing the day to pass….

Well this was different. I hadn’t been to this hairdresser before, and the conversation between the hairdresser and I, was nothing short of eye opening.

Don’t ask me how we got to this topic or depth, but we discussed how she had been a journey of self discovery and awareness following childhood trauma caused by being abused. She went into great detail and shared the journey of a woman that overcame adversity and an experience that would break many others. I shared my experience from my previous role, working with those who had experienced similar and the long reaching ramifications of this experience.

It caused me to ponder. A good friend put it very eloquently, when we were talking about how different dogs can respond to different upbringings. She said ‘It’s like eggs and potatoes. Eggs go hard under hot water, potatoes get soft under hot water. Both still taste good, you just have to know how to cook them’. 

What she was saying in a somewhat pragmatic manner, is we all response to pressure and stress differently, and it doesn’t make one right or wrong, or taste nice or awful. Its about understanding what the affect of that ‘hot water’ can have potatoes and eggs and being aware of the outcome. 

The same can be said for people and dogs, in how they respond to pressure, stress and being in ‘hot water’. This ‘hot water’ may be trauma at a crucial point in their life, which can be the catalyst for long term issues. This is a consistent pattern with both people and dogs. That crucial time is often adolescents, or those formative years. This can be equated to puppyhood and adolescence in dogs. This is where the majority of long term behavioural issues, and mental health concerns can be established.

It seems to be that the awareness, and importance of considering well being and mental health is becoming a more open conversation. The stigma is slowly being challenged and we can share in our experiences. Often we don’t know what people are going through, or what internal battles are they under going. Someone who is loud and confident, could be using this as a front for their own inner pain. The same goes for the bully or person who attacks others on social media. Hurt people, hurt people.

Similarly, with dogs, the one that is hyped up and ‘keen’ MAY actually be anxious and stressed. Or the dog that lies for hours on end in a corner, barely showing any interest in life, MAY be shut down rather then ‘quiet and well behaved’.  I have emphasised the word MAY, for the implicit reason that sometimes it MAY be what you are seeing is what it is. 

The same can be said of dogs, is that aggression or sniffing masking an inner angst, confusion or concern. Your dog’s confidence is the most crucial aspect of a relationship based on trust, it should be protected always. 

As a sports dog coach and professional dog trainer dealing with behavioural issues, my role is often to help deal with these issues, from both the dog and person. To unravel the protective mechanism they have built to cope with and deal with their underlying concerns. This first means establishing trust, and this can take time. But the ends does justify the means.

What could be an insignificant event for one person/dog, could be a tragedy for another and trigger a reaction, resulting in anxiety, depression, aggression….like the difference between eggs and potatoes, one may break as an outcome. Or what would be an insignificant event for one person, may be a mile stone for another. 

Dog trainers and behaviourist often say, helping the dog is the easy bit. And so often this is true, but failing to be sympathetic to the needs of the human counterpart will create barriers to progress. We are there to support them to achieve THEIR goals. Ego will get in the way of that. 

As a industry, dog training views are often so polarised and segregated. One trainer will say its about the history of reinforcement, one will view it as a neurological issue, one will says that application of appropriate Tellington Touch will help resolve the issue, whilst others will say manage the behaviour and environment and change the association to the trigger. Some will say its because the dog is ‘dominant’, some will says its because he’s ‘disobedient’. 

But the truth of it, is… none of it really matters unless you can connect with the person and dog. You can understand if they are being a ‘potato’ or an ‘egg’ in hot water. You can communicate with them in a way that they can relate, you align yourself with their goals and you set achievable tasks and objectives for them. Some people need it blunt and short with a dose of truth serum, others need a softer approach and a more sensitive delivery.

The interpersonal relationship and connection between dog and human, can be so deep and intimate, the challenges and burdens are shared. See the ‘team’ as a whole and consider the needs of both individuals. 

Here are 10 simple tips for dogs and people, to ensure you build and maintain your confidence and avoid getting in ‘hot water’ 😉

  1. Surround yourself with those that support you, your villagers.
  2. Your mind needs to be treated like a muscle, exercise it it, rest it, look after it, nurture it, care for it!
  3. Rehearse success. Train hard, fight way! The more you work towards your goal, the luckier you’ll be 😉
  4. Everyone has a story, and its far easier to be nice and kind, then negative and mean.
  5. You reap what you sow! Be accountable for your own actions. If you think you’ll fail you probably will, if you think you’ll succeed, you just might! And be aware of what you put out in the universe as it will be what you get back.
  6. Mental health and welfare concerns and issues are nothing to be ashamed of. It is what makes us human. Dispel the stigma and be open to the possibilities.
  7. Be kind, it costs nothing but is worth all the riches in the world.
  8. Social media has changed the way we engage, in the world. Often living vicariously through a filtered image or doctored photo. Having a social media detox can be just what the Dr ordered! See it for what it is, a tool to engage with others and a way to be informed. Be respectful, be mindful and be aware.
  9. Think, plan, do, review! That Bob Baily mantra should be a tattoo on your forehead by which you expose your dog to new situations. Just taking a moment to plan, can prevent a mind field of issues being faced, that you either dont want to, or dont need to deal with. 
  10. As a coach, there are times to be a butt kicker, a shoulder to cry on and arms to hug… knowing which is appropriate is a skill and takes time, which only life and experience can give you. be patient with the process. Learn to view things from the lens of the student. 

Peppa Pig in surround sound!

This morning, I was sitting on the sofa watching the program that seems to be in stereo in our house…. Peppa Pig! I have to clarify, I was not there on my own, Neave was sat with Lois at one end of the sofa, and I was further up. In between us, was Sugar aka Shu Shu. Sugar is our 3yr old rescue dog, she is a Poodle x jack Russell, and we have had her for approximately 2yrs. She arrived, like several of my dogs… on an impulse. She is just the best dog ever. She also arrived at a similar time to when we were moving house, having a new born and another puppy in the house! So you can say, that she was definitely thrown in at the deep end. 

We were having a sit down on the sofa with duvets and blankets. A rarity with our schedule and my work! So, Neave was giving her mum a cuddle, and made her way towards me, clambering in the way that 2yrs olds do, along the bak rest of the sofa. 

Sugar was curled up between us, and was half asleep. As Neave stepped in her direction, but no where near her, Sugar woke briefly and let out a low growl. She was giving Neave a warning. She was very clearly saying, I am sat here, and please be mindful of me. She didnt really move, or appeared startled or overly concerned. She was just letting Neave know, to be careful of her. She wasn’t being ‘aggressive’ or ‘dominant’, or plotting Neave’s demise… she was just communicating. 

Neave’s response, was everything that a parent raising a child amongst dogs, could hope for. 

Neave stopped in her tracks, and responded ‘Sorry Shu Shu’. Neave waited for me to lift her, so she avoided ‘Shu Shu’, and we had cuddle and Sugar continued as she was. 

I couldn’t be prouder of Neave for reaction and understanding. And I couldn’t be prouder of Sugar for her response, she taught Neave that she needed space and to be aware of her. 

Since having Neave, I have been asked regularly about how we prepared my dogs for her arrival and taught them to accept her. 

This was only half of the education. The dogs were actually relatively easy! Due to the manner in which they are reared and socialised, my dogs adjusted to her presence with little or any disruption. However teaching Neave how we wanted he to be around them, was the greater lesson to be taught. 

The minefield of videos that circulate social media, showing ‘kids and dogs’ interacting, in a way that can incite a thousand comments and execution by emoji, clearly shows that there is a lack of knowledge and awareness. Dogs clearly giving warning signals and signs to the observers that they are feeling uncomfortable, stressed or anxious, yet the signs are ignored and worse still, the child’s interactions are almost encouraged! 

Dogs and children are by nature unpredictable, and even the most ‘sound/safe’ dog can innocently injure a child with their over enthusiastic interaction. Or similarly, a child can cause offence to a dog without any ill intent. 

Sugar has an amazing temperament, literally impeccable. She reads dogs beautifully and she has endears herself to people at a drop off a hat. However, those that have followed her journey on social media will know, this wasn’t always the case. In my early interactions and attempts to play with her, she clearly showed signs of worry and apprehension when I made attempts to play with her. Over time, her confidence was built to understand that my engagement was to be trusted. Play and interaction are great ways to bond and build a relationship. In the same way, I acknowledge situations which she found stressful and created a safe space for her. 

When I introduced Neave, I did so in a controlled manner and ensured each interaction was safe, with distance and clear space for Sugar to move away to. I observed when each of my dogs met her, and what they ‘told’ me. 

My dogs general response varied from ‘oh whats that? it smells funny….’ to ‘is it here for the weekend? Its the oddest puppy I’ve ever seen…’ They were largely unimpressed, to say the least…. Sugar was intrigued, and did what Sugar does, read the situation beautifully and adjusted her body language and energy to Neave. I knew Sugar was a pretty unique and special dog, when she first came home. All my other dogs told me so. She just fitted in, everyone instantly took to her and she read them all perfectly. The only lacking she had, was confidence, and specifically around handling. This was more then likely learnt. 

Neave helps me when I prepare their Prodog Raw food, and take great delight in ‘mix mix’, and then heaping their Prodog Raw supplements onto each dinner…I have her sat on the work tops, where she in out of the way and up high. 

She then waits eagerly whilst they eat, and then once they have finished and they are removed from the area, I lift her off, and she wanders around and collects all the bowls up.  She is being taught how to care from them, and look after they needs. She is also being integrated into their lives, and engaged in a huge part of mine, so she takes as pride in them as I do. She has come on walks with me, and delights in doing ‘training’ with them.

The common theme with my dogs that I have owned, and Sugar… was that they have appropriate social skills. They have been raised and taught to engaged in a certain manner, they understand how to approach other dogs that are lacking confidence, or how to be respectful of a dog that is worried, they also know how to deal with an unruly pup that wants to jump on their hand, and behave inappropriately. They have met a variety of dogs, in a variety of breeds and understand that black dogs are friendly, and small dogs are to be mindful of, big dogs aren’t all scary, and hairy dogs are giving your signals to be listened to. They understand that being touched and handled is safe, they understand that being grabbed by the collar is fun, or that when you are concerned about something, take confidence from me. 

This process is no different for Neave. Part of her upbringing will be to teach her how to engage with her peers, adults, animals and the world in a respectful manner. She showed that one of the many lessons she has to learn, has had affect. We have many more to teach, but this was a huge ‘win’. It is down to us to educate both dogs and kids, teach them how to be in each others presence and how to have compassion. 

She is being taught how to interact with dogs, in a way that will keep her safe, and allow to create relationships with them, based on trust and mutual respect. 

This is a lesson we should all take on board, and in times when this is challenging, ensure we pass this message on. 

Tricycle to Tour de France…

So I have made a decision, and I think its one that you all will be interested in hearing about…

I have decided that I am entering Neave, my 2yr old daughter in the Tour De France next year…. I am pretty sure she will be fine, I mean she is really good at home in the garden one her tricycle…. How hard can it be?

Its a decision I have been pondering for some time, I have been planning and looking forward to this since the second my daughter came home… I mean, we had her because we wanted her to be a cyclist…. Its really important that she loves cycling, because I REALLY want her to.

I am pretty sure she will be fine, she can go straight on her tricycle, and she can turn if she has enough space… well sometimes she can, sometimes she has to push it with her feet… But thats ok. She has a little while yet.

How hard can it be? She is fine with people, so the crowds wont worry her… And she has travelled on a plane when she was young, so she should be fine with the flight over to France.

I think we are all good!!!

Before, you all start to google the number for the NSPCC…. you may have figured that I am jesting about Neave doing the tour de France next year…. It may be a few years before she does, maybe 3 or four 😉 but this is the scenario people impose on their dogs on a regular basis.

In my past vocation, we had a saying…. ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’, and this articulates beautifully the thought process that should be going through our mind, when we contemplate exposing our dog to a new experience.

It doesnt matter whether we are discussing dogs sports of general domestic pet dogs, there is a multitude of experiences that we must ensure we prepare them for prior to venturing out into the ‘big wide world’ of competition or indeed life.

When I use the metaphor of asking my 2yr old to jump from riding her tricycle around in our living room, to competing in the Tour De France, the epic failing on my part, can be sighted instantly. However, it is often not so when discussing dogs.

Even getting your puppy to live in your home, can be filled with potential incidents and encounters that if not prepared for, can lead them to a road of trouble and danger. For my dogs, who live in a world where emphasis is placed on highlighting to them what I do what them to do, rather then correcting or chastising them for inevitable mistakes, preparation and anticipation is key.

When I get my puppy home, or have a dog with me for training, I have dog proofed there environment and set up areas where the can live and be where they are safe. This allows me to reinforce behaviour that I want, and deter or prevent behaviour I dont want. This is a preparatory step to creating a dog that I can live with, and take anywhere.

How about taking your puppy to the vet… this is itself is a huge ‘step’ for them to overcome. A strange person, handling them intrusively, and then potentially making them feel uncomfortable or even, in pain. Getting my puppy to accept me handling them intrusively, and also having other people do so, is a huge part of their upbringing.

These are the ‘standard’ things I have to prepare for. And depending on the dog, and the temperament, this could be where the lions share of the work will need to be placed.

For those of us that do, dog sports, we now have to add onto this list, the endless challenges that our dog will face within the sport.

First, laying the foundations. Core skill and behaviours that will create the basis for which our dogs career will be built. Then skills that are required, plus proofing, generalising, chaining, reinforcement schedules…. just to name a few.

We then have to transfer this information and learning to other environments, plus add the competition pressures and ‘furniture’, people, sounds and distractions.

When you break it down, it’s HUGE what we expect of our dogs and therefore easy to underestimate the work it takes to achieve this.

All to often, the extent of work and layers needed are overlooked and often there is a breakdown. When people approach me with issues, often its as simple as reviewing their preparation.

Dogs don’t sent out to deliberately ‘mess about’ or be ‘naughty’ and I defy anyone to prove otherwise. What they do do, is repeat what has been reinforced, whether you intended this to happen or not.

So the key is to reinforce behaviour you want. Simple, and use to articulate to your dog what and how you want them to be.

Here are some tips for effective preparation:

1. Prepare them in small pieces, not by ‘testing’ and gambling. Everyone can get lucky once, but at what expense.

2. Thorough preparation takes time, but ‘thinking, planning and then doing’ will save you this in droves.

3. Your dog should ideally not encounter anything they haven’t experienced in training or at home. That way you can teach them what you want, and reinforce behaviour rather then pick up the pieces of a mistake or error.

4. Classical conditioning wins every time. If your dog isn’t happy or comfortable in the environment, no amount of clicking sits will make any impact. Ensure they are confident, always!

5. Get your skill, behaviour or chain in 5 locations, with 5 ‘challenges’ as a means of preparation. So your dog do a sit in 5 different locations, under any one of 5 challenges in the form or environmental, noise, equipment, distraction or ring prep. This will give you a pretty clear indication of your dogs readiness.

6. Look at it from the dogs perspective. What do they see, hear and feel. This will give you an idea of what you need to do to prepare them for the question you are asking.

7. Your foundations create the basis on which everything else is built. The issue may be nothing to do with the exercise or behaviour itself, but a crack in the foundation. Review them constantly. Even experienced dogs need foundation skills brushed up now and again.

8. Attention is everything. It may not be literally looking at you, but being able to have focus in any environment irrespective of the distraction, is of paramount importance in every dog sport. Don’t underestimate its value and don’t overestimate the need to reinforce it.

9. There are two members of your team, the dog is one… do you part. Don’t let your dog down by failing to prepare yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally.

10. Its not about the destination, its about the journey. Preparation is the journey.