All your options….

I just delivered a seminar that was intended to be on motivation and impulse control, however as often is the case, the premise of the seminar altered by the nature and needs of the participants. Seminars can sometimes be organic in their nature, and take a path all of their own. When this happens, I have learnt to go with them.

A conversation that came up and was relevant to so many was the ownership of a dog that overwhelms you, or you find yourself ‘over dogged’.

This is a common issue in dog sports, when people are attracted to certain type of dog that succeeds in a chosen discipline and the natural assumption is that this dog will be the best fit for the sport, however not necessarily the needs of the individual. This can also often happen with people who don’t partake in any sport and just get a dog because they see them on TV, or film of their neighbour has one, and underestimate what that dog is, and all that comes with it. This can simply be the experience of a first time puppy owner. Or when your beloved fido hits adolescence. The feeling of being grossly overwhelmed and ‘over dogged’ can immerse you and sometimes even drown you.

I know this was exactly the feeling when I first owned by truly ‘high drive’ dog. It was like being at the base of a tidal wave, desperately running for shore knowing that I was too far away and all I could do was wait for the impending crash! To say it was steep learning curve would be an understatement. Since then, I have had numerous dogs of this ilk and now, having come through this experience, relish this type of dog and all that comes with it. In fact, I would say, not only do I enjoy it… i thrive on it. However this weekend, got me thinking of how overwhelming this can be and how this ‘experience’ isn’t just unique to dogs.

The parallel I can draw with this, is the experience of being a parent.

The cliche, ‘No one can prepare you for it’ is so true, when talking about parenting, and indeed the first time experience of owning a dog that’s every living moment is consumed with the deep rooted thirst for work and a job to do. This can be an overwhelming feeling, and can often swamp people and leave them feeling in a sense of despair because of it.

I know that parenthood can be overwhelming, and people react in various ways. Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility, and 24/7 relentless needs of this little amazing being who you have this conflict of emotions about. You have this instant life changing love for them, but also this life changing pressure attached to parenthood and the expectation of others. You see people that just seem to be naturals, who take to every part of the sleepless nights, feeding, nappy changing, crying, screaming etc like a duck to water. This in itself can contribute to the feeling of failure and inadequacy. With some, it takes a moment to adjust to the role and it takes making decisions and choices. Feeling that you can’t cope, being tearful and stressed are ‘normal’ reactions.

This experience, is similar to those who have a dog that they feel overwhelmed by.

You see other ‘doggy parents’ with their adoring ‘furbabies’, listening, being focused, well behaved and the perfect citizen, and you assume that this is what you’ll be getting, or even if you anticipate that there may be some work, you don’t quite equate, how much. Your ego gets in the way, and conjures images of podium places and titles galore, or angelic behaviour and the envy of many. Anything less is a failure….or at least thats the story you have told yourself.

So what are the options for those in this position? What can you do to quill this feeling of being overwhelmed or Over dogged? What are the REAL options to try and deal with problem….

A) Death.

That’s right, for some… death is an option and one frequently chosen. It may sound dramatic but it is an option many resort to. This isn’t to say that this is an option that many would even contemplate, but there are many who have and would. This isn’t about judgement, its about having an open and frank conversation.

I regularly encounter instances where dogs that have overwhelmed their owners have ended up being euthanised because they have become either a liability to themselves or others. It may have been frustration. It may have been misunderstanding, lack of knowledge or simply can’t cope anymore. Again you may not be able to comprehend it, but for some it has been an option. And, in some instances, you know what it may just be the most appropriate option. This blog isn’t about debating the rights and wrongs of euthanasia, it is just having a warts and all conversation about options, and understanding which option is appropriate for you is uniquely personal and takes a lot of soul searching.

B) Rehoming.

Rehoming the dog is an option for so many, hence why we have rescues over flowing with dogs of all shapes and sizes. This was the first initial impression that jumped out at me, when filming ‘Dogs Might Fly, where we had the crazy notion to teach 12 rescue dogs to fly a plane. The dogs we had were all of a ‘type’, and their stories corroborated my thinking. These were mainly dogs who would have overwhelmed their owners and left them feeling like they were drowning. They were craving a vocation and a purpose that just couldn’t be met in the situations they were in.

I have always been very vocal about rehoming dogs, and sometimes ‘self righteous about it’. However, time, wisdom and experience has taught me that in some instances this is the best outcome for all parties who choose this option. The dog and original owners have been happier and better off for it. I have also seen the other extreme, where ‘Rehoming’ was just a flippant decision because of a lack of commitment and awareness of what owning a dog of any type entails.

C) Life Management

I have talked in previous blogs about management, but decided to live with a dog that you feel overwhelmed by may entail a lifetime of management. This may entail having a set routine that prevents issues escalating, and very consciously avoiding any triggers. This can also be overwhelming, having to comply with a endless list of rules by which you run your home, and life. But for some this is a viable option. This is the approach many take, yet do they every actually have joy in this? Do they have find this lifestyle ‘fun’? Or enjoyable? In many cases, this is the best solution for the scenario and one where the dog and person can live in some co-existence. But it is somewhat of a burden.

D) Medication

Medication has become an option prescribed more regularly then in the past, and again in some instances this may be an appropriate solution for dogs that have a physical or chemical need that can be met by medication. However for dogs that are just of a genetic predisposition to work and live life on the edge, this is often a plaster over symptom. I have previously talked about creating contentment rather then calm with these ilk of dogs. These traits have been created by us to serve a purpose, however when they are not appeased they can self implode. When feeling overwhelmed, medicating the dog to stem their over enthusiasm and arousal may be a temporary solution however the symptom will still be there.

The above may not be options that many of you would consider, however that are still options. It may be a trial and error process to determine which suits your situation and knowing what all the options are, can alleviate the pressure. However clearly the emotional and life altering affects need to be considered. So what if you decide that all the above are not options for you… what else can you do?

D) You can embrace the challenge.

This means collating help, be it professionally or emotionally. I have previously talked about ‘villagers’ and never more the case then when you are ‘over dogged’. Everyone of us need support and help, and being open to this is pivotal to overcoming the challenges and issues that will be presented. Being humble enough to accept it is another matter.

It means acceptance of what you are capable of, what the dog is capable of and meeting in the middle. No relationship is perfect, it takes work, patience and commitment.

It means enjoying the journey and savouring the wins along the way. Small achievements, keep you going. Some days its just getting through, others its achieving a milestone. Hold onto the fact that you love and adore this dog, even when you they push you to your limits. That will get you through a lot of tough times.

Change your perspective on the relationship and the dog. I urge people to remind themselves, what drew you to this type of dog… or in other words, what drew you to the prospect of being a parent. Its the moments, the tiny ‘wins’ of success that keep you going. Accepting them for what they are, warts and all. And also accepting that the perfect ‘picture’ doesnt exist. And thats ok.

Be honest with yourself. Evaluate what you can do to create clarity and confidence in your dog. Take ownership of your part in the relationship. Relationships are a two way street, make sure you do you bit…..

Every dog has challenges, with dogs of this ilk the challenges are more extreme and come fast and furious. Each day is constant reminder of how they just dont allow you any grace for inconsistencies, they highlight your shortcomings and keep you on your toes…. but there is something exhilarating and exciting about owning them. Their tenacity, determination, joy at being alive and just sheer gusto! These animals are the ferrari of the dog world, however this means that a commitment to owning them, it means you need to step up your game… you need to give them direction, and channel all these characteristics into positive activities. Engaged them, exhaust them and embrace them They have so much to give, if you do the work.

The golden moments when you get little successes or over come little challenges and reach a point where you can enjoy being with this wonderful little creature… be it two legged or four 😉

What can we learn from Voldermort?

I expect you are wondering what on earth I am talking about, how can the infamous bad guy from the Harry Potter Series relate to dog training?

Well, in dog training spheres there are names and words that must not be mentioned, and if you find yourself daring to utter these names or words, you must do so with a hushed voice or whisper and prepare for a barrage of comments declaring how heinous and awful they are…

Well lets stop, take a breath and chill… if just for a second.

Certainly in terms of dog training and behaviour, there is one particular name that if mentioned can split a room like Moses and the red sea. I am deliberately not using ‘The Name’, for fear of a barrage of emails, messages or scathing FB comments… however, here is the point of conflict.

I kind of agree with some of ‘Voldermorts’ thinking. Lets pause for a second whilst I find my hard hat and get into my underground bunker….

Let me be clear. I disagree STRONGLY with the the vast majority of what is promoted, and employed… but you know what. There’s a lot I agree with.

For example, exercising and stimulating your dog. I most definitely agree with this and the thinking behind it, I may approach it differently as may you, but if we whittle it down to ‘disagree/agree’, i agree.

Dogs should have Boundaries. I agree. My dogs have boundaries about how I wish for them to behave, I may teach this via reinforcement but the intent is still the same. I believe boundaries are healthy, they will literally save my dogs life so I have them.

Affection. Agree here too. My dogs are more then just ‘dogs’…. they have a place in my heart and soul etched out solely for each and every one of them. Being around them and near them is a joy. It always has been. I love dogs, I love them in all their weird and wonderful shapes, sizes and colours.

Can you see my conflict! I agree with a lot ‘Voldermort’ says!! Awkward!!!

So what does that say? What does that say about me as a trainer, teacher, dog owner, dog lover?

It doesn’t. It just says that I can see in others our similarities and our differences and thats ok. Rather then judging or condemning others because ‘I am better’, ‘Nicer’, ‘kinder’ or ‘more positive’… why not allow your actions to demonstrate all the above. These actions and example will attract those who want to engage, those that are curious and those that are questioning. And by not judging, you still leave the possibility of communication.

Agreeing to disagree is not a ‘loss’, and being able to differ between an opinion and a person is a vital skill to develop. I can like someone but disagree with them adamantly, or dislike someone yet totally share their views. Often we make our judgements without having a open dialogue.

Dog training, behaviour, diet, exercise and the endless list of topics related to their well being, can cause opportunity for arguments and disagreements, but choosing to discuss in a civil manner and voicing your opinion in an articulate manner may cause a pebble to drop in an otherwise still ‘pool’ and create a ripple.

This ripple may be the start of change.

In divisive times we need to look not at what makes us different, but our commonality. It is this, that will allow us ALL to prosper. Leave the door open, even Voldermort may step in 😉

Dirty words in dog training…

The title may have your mind going to strange places, and there’s nothing like a title to grab your attention! And whilst dogging may have a very different meaning in some circles, this topic is strictly PG!

The title was actually taken from a presentation I have delivered, initially at seminar, and since in various formats.

The subject matter is the contentious and emotive discussion concerning dogs, Training, living and owning them. Words that have become ‘dirty’ in the world of dog training and behaviour.

The history of dog/human relationships has been one fit for a Spielberg classic… the story of taming the wild beast, incorporating them into our lives, befriending them, domesticated them, selecting and breeding them… to eventually raising then for a purpose, if only to take a cute selfie with. Our paths have been intertwined for centuries, as has the process of Training them. We have swung from extreme levels of punishment, to more co-operative approaches which take into consideration the dogs needs and wants. We have been influenced by science and the knowledge gained from those that care give to wild animals in captivity and have employed to ensure their welfare and wellbeing in false environment is as comfortable, humane and ethical as possible. I am aware of the debates in relation to animals kept in captivity, and I am not going delve into this in this blog, as this will detract from the purpose.

I for one am thankful for the sharing of ideas and knowledge available to us, from any source, that allows me to train more effectively and clarity.

However it also appears that we have been a society and culture that swings from one extreme to another.

There are two distinct words, amongst many others that are becoming more and more contentious when even mentioned in relation to dogs, their welfare and Training.

They are stress and frustration.

Before you run for a cold flannel and brown paper bag, as you hyperventilate… hear me out.

As Training of dogs has become more reinforcement based, so has the way in which we perceive and engage with our dogs.

We are more aware of our responsibility towards them. We understand the need to consider THEIR communication signs and body language, whereas in our history this wasn’t relevant or considered.

In this thinking, we have also made the concept of stress and frustration taboo subjects that can divide a room full of dog trainers and behaviourist like the red sea parting. However, in doing so we have misunderstood how both these concepts can assist and help our dogs be happier, healthier and more accustomed to the world we ask them to endure.

Stress and frustration aren’t necessarily a negative concept. At least not in excess, and that is the key. Anything to the extreme can be damaging, too much food can cause health issues, too much sun can cause cancer, too much rain can cause a flood…. but all these things in appropriate doses are needed for us to lead normal HEALTHY lives. I see stress and frustration as the same.

The world is full of situations and circumstances that will create stress and frustration, and not educating our dogs how to deal with either, is preventing them from being healthy.

As a sports dog trainer, I can work and harness both to create better performance and teach my dogs how to think whilst in a heightened state of arousal and how to cope with frustration. But that process of inoculating my dog against both, doesn’t start for the sake of a dog sport… it starts because I want a dog that can function happily, safely and confidently in a world where they may experience both on a daily basis, unpredictably and uncontrollably. They need to develop and be taught coping tactics. That is my responsibility, no different to preparing for daughter for the same when she grows and faces the world.

This reluctance to understand and embrace these concepts can be attributed to several factors.

I believe that we as dogs owners and trainers/behaviourist, we have a lot of guilt over our gross misjudgments from the past, the techniques and methodology used were lacking in compassion and understanding, thats for sure. I am

not referring to individuals but a collective industry. But as Maya Angelou said ‘when you know better, you do better’. We all have made mistakes and misjudgments, thats part of the human experience. Are we potentially over compensating for our past guilt?

As mentioned previously, the influence on dog training and care, by care givers to other animals and species has raised the awareness of management, enrichment and living with animals in environments that are not ‘their own’. This is a huge revelation for us and we should all glean for this knowledge basis. However their are factors to consider that do needed to be taken into context. Dogs and humans have a very unique and deep interwoven relationship, more so then most other species. That is not to discredit the close interpersonal relationship others may share with their axolotl or arachnid, but we have literally created a species of animal that are ‘custom’ made for humans. This in turn has affected their ability to relate to us. They also face challenges on a daily basis as a result of this close interpersonal relationship that other species may not, simple things like the TV, the hoover, children, other strange dogs at ‘their’ park, strange people coming to the door daily… and the endless list of daily stresses our dogs are expected to ‘cope’ with and largely be indifferent to. This is not to list the everyday unpredictable challenges they may face on the odd occasions, an elevator, a hot air ballon, a reversing dustbin truck… these are just a few examples of unusual things our may encounter on any single day, and possibly unpredictably.

Having a dog with sound temperament can’t be overemphasised enough, but often this isn’t the case.

Strategically and systematically inoculating our dogs against stress and frustration will help them navigate their way through ‘our world’. Allowing them time to acclimate to the world, gain confidence and letting them be, whilst they figure out for themselves what scary thing is.

Now before you throw your arms in the arms in disgust, let me clarify. There is a HUGE difference between subjecting your dog to so much stress and frustration it causes them harm or damage, emotionally, mentally or physically and introducing challenges that may cause them stress and frustration in tiny does they barely notice, and providing reinforcement for overcoming the challenge and ALWAYS using your dogs confidence as a bench mark for progression.

Like exercise, you systematically stress your body so that it can adapt and become stronger. Rest days in between exercise are crucial to become stronger and also taking time to build takes time.

But trying to work out when you are ill, or injured is asking for trouble and this is applicable to dog training. Imposing stress and frustration to a dog that is anxious or fearful, will merely break down the dogs confidence.

Shaping, adding arousal systematically and creating achievable challenges for your dog, are just some of the ways to build their confidence and bolster it. Jackpots, thoughtful Training and awareness will create a dog full to the brim with confidence to conquer the world!

It takes a village…

I feel so grateful for to have shared my life with dogs for the majority of time I have been on this planet, and been involved in dog sports for a similar time span.

As you can imagine, owning, being around and spending time with dogs and the world of dogs has had a profound affect on who I am and how I see the world.

So I have chosen to write these forthcoming blogs to share with you some of the biggest lessons I have had. These lesson are applicable to more then just dog Training.

The process of taking on the responsibility of owning a dog and all that comes with it, is for some a mammoth task, especially if you are a first time dog owner, or you have a particularly challenging dog.

I can recall vividly the daunting task of getting our first dog in our home, and realisation how little we knew! How do they know to go out the toilet? How do they know to not pull on a lead? How do they know to come back? And the endless list of questions, are what any unsuspecting newbie dog owner will ask themselves. This was in the days before the internet… so books and other people’s guidance were our only reference.

What is without question, is that we ALL need help. Whether this is to find out how to house train your puppy or get it to a major world championship in your chosen discipline… the journey can’t be a solitary endeavour if you wish to succeed.

So the process of finding and sourcing a network of people to assist you on this, what at times seems a perilous journey, can be challenging.

However it is very much essential.

The phrase ‘It takes a village’ is so appropriate when talking of dogs, ownership, behavioural issues, goals or training.

No one can or needs to do this alone, however being able to discern who are the appropriate ‘villagers’ can be confusing to say the least.

As mentioned, when I first owned a dog, there was no internet in your home, easy access to information 24/7/365 was not a reality. Most of the information came from books, and generally gave guidance on what to do, but not necessarily what to do when the answers or questions weren’t applicable to the content.

Since the invention of the World Wide web, you can ask a question or make a query anywhere, any time and get an answer. However, the internet is awash with advice, videos and tutorials but it can often be a mind field to try and identify which ‘tribe’ to join.

This is sometimes a process of trial and error, and it is not unusual for a inexperienced owner to attend a few options before settling.

The key thing is to look for guidance from people you feel some connection with and who’s ethos, ethics and principles of training and engagement are aligned to yours.

All of us, have a moral and ethical compass that guides us on a daily basis, a internal compass that draws us to the path we should be on. Often external voices, be it literally or figuratively speaking, alter this.

However when it comes to the choice of trainers, methods, choices and philosophy’s we wish to follow with our dogs, we need to utilise this to find our ‘tribe’. Listen to your gut instinct.

The people and social group we surround ourselves with, should serve a purpose on our journey. They should be aligned with who we are, and what we stand for. With Training dogs and behaviour, we need a village of like minded people to help us. Whether this be to provide constructive feedback or to give us a dose of reality and truth. If the ‘tribe’ is aligned with who we are, this will only serve to help us grow and strive closer to our goals.

Allowing toxic negativity into your life will only distract you from your journey. The village should be comprised of those who will uplift you.

Spend the time determining who your villagers are, that connection may be instant, or it may be a worldwide search to find them. But when you do, you’ll know.

Here are some simple yet effective guidelines to help you find your ‘village’.

  1. Take your time and do your homework. Rushing the process will only act as a reason to compromise, and potentially deter your progress. Often people attend a trainer or class, because if the location but end up following a principal and ethos that doesn’t represent who they want to be. Spending the time researching potential villagers will save you time in the long run.
  2. Dont be afraid to question what you see, either internally or literally. You have the right to seek affirmation that these villagers are what they say they are, and they have the right to say the relationship won’t work. And thats ok too. Villagers have to be active participants.
  3. Trust your instinct. Social media, flashy advertising or great marketing should be taken as intended, to grab your attention. But what happens to that attention is your choice. If the feeling isn’t right, move on. There are many more fish in the sea.
  4. Be prepared to ask for help. Pride comes before a fall. There is no shame in seeking ‘villagers’, it doesn’t detract from your brilliance, just says that you are astute enough to recognise your shortcomings and take steps to rectify them.
  5. Be your dogs advocate. In the process of sourcing villagers, you may stumble across those who mean well or may not, but there actions can only have an outcome if you allow it, don’t be afraid to speak up. Someone who is worthy of being in your village will hear you and respect your wishes.
  6. Be open minded. A village takes a diverse group of ‘villagers’, each one uniquely individual. They should share the same purpose, but it’s their individuality that makes them an asset.
  7. Be open, remain humble… villagers should have your back. Being truthful and taking constructive feedback can hit a nerve, but the right villagers are doing it from a place of love and purpose.
  8. Having villagers means you are part of the village. It goes both ways. Don’t be a villager who takes and never gives.
  9. Your villagers represent who you are, so choose wisely. If you don’t like what you see, chances are neither will others when they look at you.
  10. Accept, you may make mistakes. And its ok. You may convince yourself that you’ve found your tribe, and even follow them when you know it’s not who you are. Let it go. The guilt won’t serve you. Its just another lesson pushing you closer to your true path.

And finally, thanks to all my ‘villagers’… you know who you are 😉

I couldn’t do this without you all!

Annoyingly adolescent!

There is a point in your dogs life when you may find them at ‘best’ a little mischievous, and at times down right horrid! Yes thats right, even as an avid dog lover and owner, I go through a phase with most of my dogs, where they test my last nerve and I wonder if its too late to give up dog training and get Koi Carp!

Between the ages of 6-14months, your dog will enter into adolescence and with it you will most definitely be facing some challenges. This tends to happen just when you want to really progress their training, and you want to start some of the ‘really’ fun stuff with them. However out of nowhere, you start to see subtle changes. It may be a loss of focus, or a lapse in concentration… it may be a cheeky recall, where you use that second cue, assuming your little darling just didn’t hear you, or it may be something more serious like an unprovoked attack on your young dog or they your young dog attacks another dog, without being provoked.

So your previously sweet, endearing little darling has now turned into Cujo! And before you know it, his reputation has spread like wildfire with people drawing their dogs away as they see you approach, and picking up their children up and shoving them up into trees, till you pass…. any of this sounding familiar?

Adolescents is a testing time to say the least, and this is when relationships are largely made or broken. Your young dog is transitioning from a puppy to an adult, and as a result their body will be undergoing lots of changes. Hormones will be running a-mock, and their behaviour changes aren’t them being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’, but physiological changes that they cant help. Male dogs will be emitting testosterone from their system, which is like a bellisha beacon to other dogs that there is a young adolescent male present. Some other dogs will take this as a threat in itself, and some others will perceive this as threatening. This can instigate ‘

unprovoked’ acts of aggression. Which long term can create fear, defensive behaviour, anxiety etc. Adolescence is often a time when behaviour deemed ‘reactive’ can develop, be this because of your dogs experience or from anxiety that develops post a traumatic event at this time in your dogs life.

With female dogs enter adolescence, they will be due to season, which can cause unpredictable nervousness and ‘seeing’ ghosts. This is where your previously happy go lucky baby, starts to spook and act apprehensively without any due cause.

Adolescence can last up to approximately 3yrs, depending on the breed and type of dog. This isn’t to say that this level of unpredictable behaviour will be constant throughout this time period, it will very much a rollercoaster. You may get weeks or months of your dogs behaviour improving, then out of nowhere you’ll get a regression. To say it can be challenging and frustrating, would be an understatement.

For those that wish to follow a path of reinforcement, the question is how do I navigate this incredibly testing time, yet follow a path of reinforcement based training.

Well firstly, lets be clear. Positive is not permissive. Because you follow a reinforcement based approach to training, doesn’t mean you have to be a door mat. Dogs need clear boundaries and education, especially at this time.

Here are some simple points that should help you through adolescence.

1. Firstly you will need to become the master of management. The less your dog can rehearse inappropriate behaviour, the better. Anticipating the situation your dog will be in, and being prepared is crucial. Employ the good will of others to help you, and set up learning experience that you can control that mimic ‘real life’ rather then have unplanned uncontrolled interactions, where possible.

2. Don’t turn up to a gun fight armed with a knife… reinforcement is your friend! Ensure you control access to reinforcement and are always armed with high value reinforcement. If you don’t have the appropriate reinforcement for the situation, just avoid it!

3. Socialisation doesn’t stop at puppy hood, it should continue throughout your dogs life. However cherry pick the dogs you allow your dog to interact with, for example I avoid other adolescent entire males with my own adolescent entire male. At this age, due to the hormone changes, there is a higher chance your dog may be unpredictable, and this could be a catalyst for an unnecessary altercation.

4. Accept that you will have good days and bad days, its normal! This is not permanent. You will get through this! Be patient, breath and go to your ‘happy’ place!

5. Don’t prioritise your dogs ‘proper’ training at the most challenging times, as their lack of concentration and limited focus will merely frustrate you and sour the association. They can’t help it. Just stick to simple behaviours and focus on ‘focus’. Prioritise your relationship.

6. One on one time will be crucial. If its a 5min Training session, or a one on one walk, take the time to relationship build with your terrible teen. Its this relationship that will get you through the hard times.

7. Expect tantrums and tiara’s. They may have some extreme reactions to life at this time, stay calm, don’t take it personally and remember reinforcement is key!

8. Your recall will probably disappear at some point during your dogs teenage years, feeding meals via Training, being mindful of pairing all things of value to your dog, with you and desirable behaviours will increase your worth.

9. Don’t be afraid to scream, rant and vent!! Just not at the dog directly…. thats what friends are for! Get it off your chest… the teen years are testing! You are ok to say that at moments your dog isn’t your favourite ‘person’ at times!

10. There are times to manage behaviour, times to train against behaviour and times to just ignore behaviour! Thats right, don’t try to climb Everest in one step. Pick battles, some things can wait for a more appropriate time or are they really ‘that’ bad. Your dog is still maturing, some things may just disappear with age. Be patient.

Finally, remember we have all been there. You will get through this, and relationships are made of various phases, this is just part of the journey. In years to come you will chuckle at the testing antics, and wonder what all the fuss was about!

Sports addict….

I have competed in various dog sports for fast approaching 30yrs, and I am very aware that the premier purpose is for my pleasure, ego and personal gratification.

I am under no illusions that as much as I would like to believe that my dogs will the days away, waiting to attend a show, trial or competition… I am neither naive of foolish enough to believe anything of the sort. Dog sports is for me, and my pleasure.

So why do it? Surely, I could train my dogs to the standard I aim for, in the manner I choose to and go over the park and have as much pleasure and joy? Absolutely, I do and I will. However dog sports adds another dimension to my training that I would otherwise not have to address or deal with.

At your average competition, there are numerous factors to consider and challenges that will guaranteed to be presented.

To start with, there will be dogs. And most probably lots of them. Depending on the sport you do, you may have anything up to several hundred dogs all at a competition at the same time. This means male, female, little, large, hairy, pointy, squashed face dogs… all colours, shapes and sizes.

There will be people. Hundreds of people. All shapes, sizes and looks.

There will be strange noises, sights and sounds.

Tents, awnings, speakers, odd smells, maybe children, maybe wheelchairs, maybe dogs that lunge, or bark or whine…

And there may be even lycra… and in some cases, this can be terrifying!!

So why do it? Why put my dog through it. Well, yes you could say it is my ego. But on a deeper level, I believe that dog sports has attributed largely to my Dogs characters and disposition, because in preparing them for dog sports thoroughly, I have no choice but train and create a dog that can cope with the rigours of competition, and it doing do, I create a dog that can cope with life.

One of the questions I am asked frequently since becoming a father is how did I inter-grate my baby girl into my home when she was born. The simple answer is I walked into the house let the dogs investigate what I was holding in my arms, and that was it. Now considering that I have 8 dogs, in various breeds and most of which are what you would describe as high drive, and some of which have unknown histories, rescue dogs, initially were fearful and nervous of people, and have an extreme prey drive, this is no accident. Don’t misunderstand me, dogs and kids are always a combination to be treated respectfully, and with sense. But my involvement and preparation in Dogs sports can be attributed to the way in which my dogs act and behave.

As part of preparing my dog to ‘cope’ with the environmental challenges that they will most likely to encounter on attending even a small competition, I have to create a dog that has a robust temperament. With dogs, people and environments.

They have to have social skills, and I have to train them to cope with the unpredictable nature of having several hundred dogs and people in a relatively close proximity. I have had dogs that had dog aggression issues, that had to be taught to remain in a controlled position whilst I was out of sight and possibly some distance away, whilst having another dog less then 6ft away. I have had nervous and fearful dogs that have had to learn to cope with people in close proximity to them, even handling them or restraining them, I have had dogs with high chase drive that have had to learn to remain still and calm whilst another dog is running flat out in front of them.

These are just some of the challenges that dog sports has presented.

This is not to mention the challenges for me, as an owner.

I have had to step out of my comfort zone. I have had to develop patience, persistence and perseverance. I have learned discipline and structure, planning, effective use of time and dedication. I have had to dig deep, soul search and get up from being knocked down… these life lessons serve me far beyond the confines of an show ground, or trials field. I have had to learn to have reliance to criticism and develop a thick skin. I know what it is like to work for, strive towards and achieve goals. The mental composure needed to compete at the top level in any sport, requires attributes that can be carried through to life, business, relationships, society in general and many more walks of life.

And along the journey I have accumulated a people who I deem family. They are my daughters family as much as my blood. I have travelled the world, and followed my passion.

All this from doing something with my dogs at a weekend, in a muddy field, with a burger van and a cup of something hot…

So, in truth whilst it may be my ego that drives me to compete in dog sports, the ‘wins’ are far more then rosettes, certificates and accolades.

Success comes in many forms. I have been fortunate to be successful.

Sink or swim

Last Friday I took Neave, my 1yr old daughter to a swimming lesson.

This was with a group called ‘Puddle Ducks’, you can check out the website

As a coach and teacher for competitive dog sports, and someone who works extensively with behavioural issues in dogs, I am always ‘aware’ of how others ‘instruct’, seeing if there is anything I can take from how others approach teaching and communicating. Great teaching is great teaching, whether it be aimed at two or four legged subjects!

Well I can definitely say, Neave’s swimming experience was definitely teaching at its best!

Teaching someone that has no ability to communicate with you verbally, is reliant on clear communication in other ways… body language, expression, posture, tone of voice and gestures are some of the ways the instructor created a positive learning environment for Neave to learn.

The lesson was going to particularly challenging for Neave, as she was going to be briefly submerged underwater. This in itself can be incredibly stressful if not handled correctly and safely.

The first part of the lesson Neave had was how to enter the pool appropriately. She had to sit at the edge and wait briefly to be lifted into the pool. She was given information about what was happening and allowed to come in the pool when she was calm and attentive.

We initially played games to build Neave’s confidence in the water. Although, she had been previously, and we were comfortable that she was happy in the environment, the start of the session was confirming this feeling.

The first part of the sessions comprised of games that were familiar to Neave, and she appeared to recognise theses games and the songs that were sung.

This helped start the session with some ‘successes’. It built her confidence in the process. It also ensured she found the session fun.

Next was the challenging part of the session, where she was to be submerged briefly underwater.

This was done incrementally and at each stage, we ‘checked’ Neave was comfortable and happy with what was happening.

Initially, a small container was used to pour water in front of her, and she was encouraged to play and interact with it. She was allowed to indicate the speed at which the session progressed and when to move on to the next part. Her body language was closely observed and monitored.

The water was then poured on the back of her head, then across her face. Again, each stage was monitored and a visual ‘thermometer’ taken of how she was coping. Although Neave cant speak coherently to exclaim her joy, it was clear to see.

Next, was the submerging.

My role was clearly explained, what I was to do was demonstrated with a doll several times. I was allowed to ask questions and then, when I was ready allowed to submerged Neave briefly.

It was explained clearly how long for and what to do directly after. I was advised to distract her with games immediately after and not to instantly react by turning her towards me. This was to ensure I didn’t create anxiety around the experience. As Neave’s parent, this was clearly a nerve wrecking experience for me! Instead I was advised to distract her and make it fun!

We did variations of this exercise and at each stage Neave’s response was monitored and gauge. She dictated the speed of the session and the rate of progression. She loved it, and even when there was a moment of hesitation after her first submerged, because she was refocused onto another game, she quickly gained confidence.

After a few more repetitions, we finished on some easier challenges and the session was ended.

Neave loved it! Largely because of the expert guidance and instruction.

This was an excellent example of growing confidence, pushing beyond your comfort zone, making learning fun, using interaction and games to teach important lessons. It incorporated shaping, desensitisation, acclimatisation, impulse control to name but a few, all merge into a series of games, songs and fun experiences.

This is everything that a great learning experience should be, irrespective of whether it is a one year old learning to swim or a dog learning to face the world, or nose target a cone, or pick up an article.

Learning should be fun, but it can be stressful and create anxiety but rather then avoid it at all cost, create confidence in the subject so that they can cope with challenges, and perceive situations that may invoke stress and anxiety as a positive. Fun isn’t just fast and furious, it can be a mind game, a challenge, physically or mentally.

This session built up to the challenge in increments, they also paid attention to Neave and what she was coping with.

There was no rush, no hurry and no time frame to adhere to. But yet they also took her further in her learning, slightly out of her comfort zone and above all, made it a game.

The session was clearly planned out, and strategic. This one of a series of lessons designed to teach core skills and foundations for swimming and safety in and around water.

If only all teaching could follow this pattern. Either end of the spectrum, being to forceful or shying away from challenges, can inhibit growth. Both moving at a snails pace or racing to the finish line, are counter productive.

Strategic planning, clear vision, enthusiasm, passion are just some of the attributes that a great teacher has. They create a student that wants to learn, will relish challenges and have confidence in everything they engage in.

Be that person for your dogs, your students and yourself.