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There are no short cuts

September 7, 2017

There are no short cuts

When we are working with an animal our own needs can direct our choices and decisions. We focus on outcomes and the end goal which is commonly revolves around us. The dog that no longer causes discomfort when pulling their leash, the dog that instantly responds to our demands, the companion that understands our lifestyle choices.

But for that learner, for that animal, what is happening now and how it makes them feel is what matters the most. That is their reality. Do they understand, do they want more than the next treat, do they want to be with us or have they no choice ? For decades trainers have been engineering time saving processes and hard-selling them as ideal solutions.

What they are missing is the life-breathing element that evolves from the process. The reflection of joy and connection from a time invested process that leaves your learner enthused. It is never replaceable with quick fix solutions.

It takes thoughtfulness to plan how to make the learning experience one of pure pleasure, even in the elements that are challenging. It is so much more than just delivering treats or toys. Our companion animals want to share a part of us, the very best they can draw from us and it is this demand that ensures we grow, as companions to them and as their teachers.

It takes intelligence and intuition to seek out solutions that carry the mark of deep practice, skilfulness and evidence of a body of work that aligns with our own beliefs. We see the culmination of thousands of hours of practice, exploration, cold fingers and slobbery clothes. But we also see those bright, shiny eyes reflect our passion for teaching, learning and connecting with another animal.

Passion follows engagement and meaning follows mastery Srini Rao
What we experience when training thoughtfully may be individual and exclusive. We are all teachers and we are all learners to each other. Although our paths may not be travelling in parallel, a weekend of intense exploration that cultures thoughtful learning can ensure the next steep slope is one of exhilarating views, not one of staring and the ground and hope we get to the top soon.

When I see thoughtful training I see a passion, experience and skilful application that leaves me itching to get training, get learning new skills, exploring even better solutions that leave no learner floundering. Training that leaves no stress residue but a perpetual desire to learn more, learn with others and enjoy the global energy that it brings.

Travelling to another city and leaving our companions is never short cut learning. This is the sort of effort that lasts a lifetime, and experience that begins new views, shifts our understanding  and starts it own revolution in the way we approach training.

My most significant shifts have evolved when applying what I have learned from conferences or seminars, often going through my notes on the flight home. I get to see the very best ideas, the essence of thoughtfulness, the accumulative mileage that other trainers have taken and what they have learned and can share with us. Even preparing my presentations forces clarity of thinking and a crystallisation of the processes, ideas, creativity and experience.

I have seen this effect over and over again. In classes, online groups, conferences, when people with the same passion get together to learn the learning explodes.

when people with the same passion get together to learn the learning explodes.


There is nothing that can replace learning alongside people who share our values in animal training. A passion shared is a passion deepened. No matter what dog, horse, chicken or child we are teaching making sure they have the very best experience is much more than just being a treat dispenser.

Train thoughtfully.

Training thoughtfully IS the short cut

The Moment of …..

July 5, 2017

One of the traps of good intention, training without aversive punishment and with unquestionable love and affection is to be remiss in teaching that good moments also run alongside moments of “bugger” … that was a disappointment.

Within a few hours of arriving into the world M.O.B. (moments of bugger) become the fabric of life. These pups were enjoying an afternoon snack, when Mother turned upside down. Those titties were not where expected, the scent of them was definitely in the air, but climbing was needed to secure one. The small little sausage bottom left is still experience a MOB whilst the others are tucking in. Just as well she could not see at this age!

Teaching Moment of Bugger

Time is an experienced learner. He is set up to learn that I would like him to go around the bin clockwise and then stand on the platform. Watch the video through once to get the idea of what I am teaching (this is running faster than reality).

Here is the first video:

As the bin is moved further away from me to the end of the platform it seems perfectly logical for him to take the short cut and come direct to the platform with the bin on his left.

Here is the second video with his logical choice:

This is not my desired behaviour, I want to eliminate this. I have two options.

Initially on the video I demonstrate withdrawing reinforcement for arriving on the platform when the bin was on his left. No click, no food, I even fake disappointment. Then I set him up to try again by refreshing success for the correct choices: bin on your right. We arrive at the same critical decision point and he makes the same choice: the shortest route to success is with the bin on my left. Again, no click, no food.

This may be called selective reinforcement, but it does not explain to him why he is not getting success. It is NOT an NRM. He completes the behaviour to find there is not success.

There are 2 behaviours:

Standing on the platform

Going around the bin.

Both behaviours in the chain, one after the other need to be successful. He is focussed on arriving on the platform, not relating the first behaviour of how he goes around the bin to the change in his success. This is using the consequence (no reward) to attempt to extinguish the undesired behaviour.

BUT, the desired behaviour of arriving on the platform is in danger of becoming extinguished, where as the first behaviour – arriving with the bin on your left, is the undesired behaviour. By withdrawing reinforcement at the end of the chain I am not explaining what IS required. He repeats the same logic, (not really an error at all), again. No evidence of “no reward” having an effect.

Here is the Moment of ….

Instead I use a cue (raising my foot) to block the undesired behaviour and leave him to make a choice. He adjusts what he does and goes around with the bin on his right to gain success on the platform. This is extremely high probability from the previous successes.

This is a chain of two behaviours, two successes. The decision to adjust what he does and go around the desired side needs feedback and arrival on the platform also needs feedback. Both are critical to the success of this chain. I give verbal “well done” on his point of decision and click AND a fuss, and a re-set treat for arrival on the platform.

You could choose to do this the other way around, click at the point of the desired decision and give verbal feedback on arrival. But knowing my dogs they are likely to come to an enquiring stop when hearing the click.

The important points here:

  • the prevention of the undesired option is part of the antecedent of the cycle NOT in the consequence.
  • he makes the choice for the alternative successful behaviour, I do not tell him what choice to make.




At the point he was prevented from going the logical route I describe as a “moment of bugger”. He is then left to make alternative choices – which he had plenty of time and reinforcement to have learned, it was very fresh in his mind. He made the logical choice only once more.

For me this is ethical prevention of an undesired choice. The undesired aspect is my choice, and I spend a lot of consideration setting up the learning in the direction that is beneficial to all of us.

This is an example of using a MOB. It is an important strategy when the dog’s logical choice is likely to make life harder for us and for them. I want to prevent using extinction as a consequence to undesirable choices.

A clear example is me leaving the dogs in the garden when I go through the front gate. Sometimes the dogs come with me for training, sometimes not, I go to feed the chickens. The conditions look very similar. I always teach the dogs that access through the gate is never from behind my legs, I will go through, turn and face the dogs and invite them to join, or not. On the “or not” occasions they will experience disappointment, a moment of bugger. The closed gate prevents the error. I do not let them come through an then attempt (hah, not likely) to extinguish that behaviour. The gate not opening is a cue (the antecedent) of disappointment.

Notice I use the terms “gate closed”, not “closing”. I do not use the movement of the gate into the dogs as a punishment for trying to get through. Initially when I step through the gate I throw treats behind me. This avoids any discomfort a puppy could experience if they tried to follow me and let me teach the wait behind me whilst gates and doors open. Once through and the gate is shut, I turn to face, then if I want them, either all or a single dog to accompany me they will be called to join

I add a verbal cue to this “not today”. I use it carefully, with calmness. I could have used my verbal cue when Time was about to make his logical choice with the bin, instead I used my foot and hand to block the choice.

We can learn to use a variety of preventative blocks: a flat of hand when the dog is coming towards us. Most of us use this with a puppy just before they make a logical choice (the error) of jumping up at us, a particularly valuable strategy if I am carrying a cup of hot tea. We recognise the preparation to jump with that slight dip of the shoulders and put our hand forwards, either as a visual block, or if within reach a steadying hand to the shoulders. It does not punish the behaviour of jumping or showing affection, desire to greet, just a prevention  “not at this moment”.

Arriving at the end of the lead should be just a MOB, not an aversive reaction from the person to pull back or yank. A fence is just an MOB if what you want is on the other side, puppy gates the same, the crate, the same, the opening of the car boot, the same. By careful forethought we can pair these moments of disappointment from an arranged environment to a verbal cue “not today”. Rarely will these behaviours come under the category of “never”.

Rules for MOB

  • Always take time to teach the choices available under the same conditions that may previously have lead to success.
  • Use safe, recognisable environmental arrangements for “not available”, your hand block, end of lead when wearing a harness, puppy gates.
  • It should never induce a fearful response, it is just information.
  • The dog must make the alternative choice, not be prompted by you, and learn how to make choices. These choices should be reinforced when possible.
  • Put a predictable “moment of bugger” on a verbal cue.
  • It should be an experience of disappointment, not a tragedy

Want to learn more about teaching thoughtfully?

The value of error

July 5, 2017

Errors are critical to the learning process.

It a common habit to toss around loose terms and phrases of a global nature. Often the interpretation is as broad as it is long and both speaker and listener understand something quite different.

Walk nicely”, it gives me no idea what is desired, or a definition of that person’s “nicely”.

A high drive dog” as a descriptive term that may mean one thing to one person but interpreted differently by another, it describes nothing specific.

Our business needs to move closer to an engineering model where we learn to be as specific as we possibly can, giving clear information but not overwhelmingly technical terms. We are engineers in that we need to analyse situations with care and detail, identify root causes and provide practical, appropriate and effective solutions.

Other terms have been adapted by common usage to mean one thing that is often not the true meaning of the term, or it is misapplied. “Free-shaping” has become a generic description of training by selective approximations, but in truth all learning is a form of shaping, how that shaping occurs is the key point.

“Correction based training” usually has a negative reaction. But deep down, when we are learning, there are corrections happening all the time. Again it is how those corrections are occurring is the salient point.

My least favourite is the term “reactive”, since most people who live with dogs actually desire reactivity, a prompt response to a cue is excellent reactivity, agility handlers want exquisitely fast reaction to their signals counted in micro seconds. All predators are reactive, reactive to prey, reactive to threats. Certain lifestyles, living in a war zone, may shape you into be super-reactive as a survival mechanism. But we now have reactive dog classes, that are avoiding the truth of what they are. But super favourite has to be socialisation, socialising a puppy, so that we have a happy and friendly adult dog, the same dog that has become a nuisance to all other dog walking ambitions. Super-friendly should not be a desired ambition of breeders, trainers of owners. The absence of one trait, non-friendly, should not be replaced with the other extreme; neutral or selective is quite satisfactory.

When we use these global descriptions they are vulnerable to polar opposite understanding to individual use and often mask the issues we should be paying attention to. By describing in detail we can use the terms rather than avoid them, and learn to pay attention to how a protocol is applied. Yes, detail is centric, not just important, critical.

Error-free, or minimal error learning is a global use that provides very little information except that the user has good intention.

“One group of educators argues that errors hamper learning and should be avoided; another group argues that errors are potentially beneficial as long as you know how to interpret and use them.” Judith R. Johnston, Ph.D,

Avoidance of correction

One of the traps of labelling ourselves as positive trainers, besides the global variations in exactly what that term has come to mean, is that we avoid using certain terms because of the their negative association. We avoid the term “correction”. Yet whenever we are learning self correction is in play all the time otherwise learning is unlikely to be effective and worthwhile. We drive a new car and learn self correction from the process of unlocking the car, climbing in. My last change required significant changes and even 2 years later the older processes are know to resurge when I am not focussed or tired.

Our education system and much of our surrounding lifestyles teach us to avoid being wrong. With a sibling 2 years older I was always going to be wrong – or let’s be less global: younger, less experienced, less skilled. Our classrooms focus on the wrong behaviour to the point of significant avoidance, I have been known to silence enthusiastic learners because of the fear of wrong answers, when in fact the answer, although it may be a misunderstanding, false information or assumptions, is simply an indication of the knowledge at that time. Truthfully it cannot be wrong, or error, it is what we believe to be true or fact until further knowledge and information come along.

Dogs are all young animals should not have fear of being wrong. Just more opportunities to learn, move forward, increase our knowledge.

Is this an error? Or just information that skill and experience is under development?

A focus on avoidance of error can overwhelm the learning. What we see is stuttering in the behaviour, hesitation and uncertainty. We would continually be focussing on what not to do in our effort to do what is going to be successful. We want learners to blossom and thrive, not become reluctant in their tasks.

If I am driving I want to focus on reaching the destination safely, not focus on not getting lost of being late or causing an accident …. or making an error.

Error is an interpretation BY THE TRAINER that expectations are not being met.


When we give a cue, or stimulus the choice of response is always correct for the dog. We give the cue for a sit, and the dog lies down, for that dog at that time either the cue to sit was not recognised or remembered, or it looked very similar to “down”, or the down has a stronger likelihood of success – this is the behaviour that has most recently received the greatest, and most salient, reinforcers. The dog cannot “be wrong”.

Error is feedback

This is a critical part of the teacher’s ability to set the learning at the appropriate level for the learner. We may be teaching a person or training a dog. Step back and examine the feedback in detail and then make a decision what to do next. Which area is in greatest need of change? For me the decision usually comes from my experience of seeing an unchanged behaviour becoming so deeply reinforced in the package that every repetition cements that learning. There are sometimes that need to be halted as soon as possible. An example would be food snatching. This is evoked by the withdrawal of the hand as the dog approaches and is going to sour the future process of training with food.

By monitoring the changes I want to teach I am able to get clear information of progress being made.

Error is normal learning, error is part of the technology of teaching. “At this time the skills are insufficient”, which may be the skill of analyse, self-correct, adjustment. A need to shorten the lead as we approach this situation, slow down, adjust our speed.

What to adjust comes from the teacher who will teach specific actionable steps. The skill of the teacher is in deciding what steps can be achieved, and in what order. Focussing on one change at a time may require the teacher to hold their tongue through the other “errors”.

An increase in the error-feedback can often be an indication of fatigue, letting me know that a break is needed. If I am trying to supress error that vital feedback would be missing. (Watch our for our Take a Break Citizen’s Research)

Work towards precision learning

The area I have strong reasons to become disagreeable about is the deliberate use of lures to cause error to enable elimination through punishment.

The classic example is mugging the hand for food. Food is held in the fist and the dog is lured to try to get this food. The hand is quickly withdrawn and the dog steps back with surprise. This is then clicked and the other hand delivers food. If you want to see this in action the key search words on YouTube are “reverse luring”.

After several repeats of this strategy the dog will be avoiding the hand and can be clicked for passive behaviour in the presence of food in the hand, even food offered from an open hand.

At no time can I envisage when I would want my dog to show displacement behaviours in the training environment, near me or my hands. I would certainly never teach a puppy that food offered from an open hand equates to backing away. My open hand should always represent something to come towards, either for affection or to put a hand on the collar.

When watching these videos the dogs show many alternatives to mugging, looking away, looking at the ground, backing off, sitting and endless attempts to work out what is required. The dogs become focussed on avoidance not a pro-active display of confidence in what is able to secure success.

This is not positive training. The use of food alone does not make something positive when the teacher is focussed on inducing error so that it can be punished.


Let’s begin with a clear definition of what we want the dog, or any learner, to do in response to a specific stimuli: food in the environment, hand, pocket, treat pouch etc.

We set up the learning with 20 pieces of food in our hands, and a container of food at shoulder height or at the rear of a counter also containing the food. The first hand-treat is placed or thrown on the floor or behind the dog for the dog to find. Even if you are training outdoors or on an unsuitable surface a dog bowl or tray can be set out for the food placement.

As the dog re-orientates after eating to this supply larder (nature ensures this is a high probability behaviour), the click occurs and the food is placed away from the person. The behaviour we desire is re-orientation with an enquiring stillness. Before they can begin any undesired behaviour we show them what can be successful.


Repeat this until the 20 hand held treats are finished. For first time treat deliverers this will require supervision to ensure they can place as required and with speed. What we want to ensure is no doubt for the dog as to how to attain the food.

For the first occurrence after the hand is empty, treats are collected after the click from the reserve pot. Still with placement away or around the floor. When food is delivered direct to the dog’s mouth from a hand containing more food nature is likely to step in and induce mugging.

Over the next 20 repetitions the treat pot is gradually faded into the picture, and occasionally a treat can be in the hand also.

We want the conditions of training: presence of food in hands, pockets or treat bags, to stimulate alertness, enquiry and stillness. This is the perfect platform for all learning. Not displacement, avoidance and confusion.

It is also a critical lesson for people to learn how to teach desired behaviours not lure them so that they can be punished. Dogs are not the enemy.

Along side this I would teach clean delivery from the open hand with precision placement at the dog’s muzzle so that snatching food from hands never needs to become a habit.

Often puppies are reared in an extremely competitive environment where if food is not aggressively secured it is lost. This can result in a quite different response to the scent of food in the environment and all the more reason to teach food as a cue for enquiry AND stillness throughout the day and for every meal.

Here is Merrick at about 11 months old going through her learned behaviours with chicken in a pot on the chair. The scent and sight of that chicken is a cue to orientate for me with enquiry and stillness. Once that occurs I progress to other behaviours.

Although science explains that punishment is an effective form of ensuring learning happens, we should not be in the business of using this when we have the option of working WITH nature to ensure success.

Dogs have been around lures all their lives, as are we, commonly known as marketing. This does not mean we need to be punished for buying/eating/signing up for everything that we are lured by. I can easily watch an advert showing glossy, shiny, sticky food and show alertness, enquiry and stillness. This is tempered by experience and analysis of the long term value of response!

Dogs are equally lured in all directions and nature has prepared them to learn to be selective, and make choices that are likely to be successful.


Errors are feedback. Set up learning for success, focus on precision in learning and use the micro-errors to enable analysis, adjustment and seeking of progress.

An error should just give the learner feedback, not a withdrawal, avoidance, or distress. Taking something away because we simply did not know what else was available in NOT training positively or ethically.



Want to learn more about teaching thoughtfully?

We are ALWAYS training

April 24, 2017

We are always training because animals are always learning

I had not really considered the props we use as significant objects for the dogs when competing in a ring or training environment. We are aware of using bedding or crates to give the dogs a sense of security, but our props can change the unfamiliar ring environment into something familiar – provided they have a really good history of reinforcement, carefully trained.

I love cross learning! Both Alex and I spend hours closely examining perfectly normal protocols in each of our own areas of training but are refreshingly new viewpoints of looking at training. In this blog Jen Digate clearly shows that for horses away from their herd has a different response than for dogs.

We always have to be considerate when training the dogs at the Barn. Our usual practice, certainly for play, is individual training for each dog one after the other – this gives everyone a chance to have the whole barn, without the worry of watching dogs, or the stress caused to watching dogs.

For most dogs, going on lead and getting into the car, when at home is an opportunity they never want to miss out on. It is exciting and performed without question. A strong behaviour.

But, going on lead and getting into the car when leaving the Barn has a completely different consequence. It is often the end of the connection, learning and focus (leaving the Barn), it is back to the car, and then most often abandonment (the owner wants to return to the Barn to watch the next dog, learn more).

When we (inadvertently) change the consequence of the behaviour, we change the behaviour. The behaviour then breaks down, often very fast, under these specific conditions – when at the Barn, but the behaviour stays solid and enthusiastic when leaving home. Because we are focused on the behaviour we often do not notice the start of the break down, or only pay attention when it comes to a complete stop.

We have to become aware of the conditions that give our learners salient information as to the likely consequence of these (similar) behaviours.

There is a parallel when taking dogs into competition environments. If they are normally strong, solid, enthusiastic behaviours when training, but in competition they break down, become uncertain, then the dog is learning the different outcomes of the similar behaviours depending on the environment. The environment cues are directly related to the different outcomes. (Note: these are not poisoned cues!)

In Training, behaviour: walking back = food / toys (in the normal training environment)

In the Ring / competition behaviour: walking back = no food, not toys, usually another behaviour.

This is sometimes labelled “ring wise”. Errm, well, yes, dogs are not that dumb. It is a survival skill to pin down and remember what works and results in success and what doesn’t. The dog will selectively choose to respond when the consequence is reliable. Good, clever, bright dogs, we cannot con them for ever.

Prevention is always more effective than trying to fix this once the person realises what is happening.

Training and environments need to be fluid and not directly related to consequence.

In the training environment the dog should be introduced and familiar with the conditions that may occur in other environments – such as food only being delivered in a certain spot in training. You may train in your kitchen, but after the mark / click, travel to a different part of the house to collect and deliver the food. This means the wearing of food does not become part of the training environment. The reinforcement should be consistent, but variable in location. It should be a graduated process, where the dog only has to travel a few steps to their reinforcement station and then extended when the behaviour is showing stability and maintaining its strength.

For the going on lead/getting in the car, at home this is usually followed by an exciting outing. We need to build in variation to the outcome of these patterns. Take the dog on your errands but no external outing, travel then becomes a resting event. At home pop your dog in the car and spend 20 minutes going to and fro, loading the car, general car chores, and then go for an outing.

I am very, very conscious of developing patterns of behaviour that the dogs quickly discover results in something of value to them. We cannot expect to train our dogs in operant processes and them not use those skills round the clock. In the morning my dogs go to the orchard and then come in for their breakfast. In the evening they browse around the orchard after they have eaten. They have worked out the difference, the behaviour of returning to the house is influenced by what happens next and sometimes those differences can be as subtle as the time of day or the fullness of your stomach.

We are ALWAYS training, because animals are ALWAYS learning.

Three reasons to use a clicker, or not.

April 8, 2017

The concept of “being a clicker trainer” is always going to lead to argument and misunderstanding because it cannot exist alongside the science and technology. It is a “fakery” of our time.

The clicker itself is a simple tool that when used in conjunction with technology provides clarity and understanding in teaching. Using Facebook does not make you  social, it is the tool that gives you the opportunity to be social. You still need some skills and understanding of what being social is. We learn the difference between “liking” post and “like” a page or business. They don’t mean the same thing. Neither a clicker or Facebook when used by themselves have little or no effect on improving communication.

Many folk learned their virtual social skills in the list and email groups. We learned to follow threads, avoided social reactivity and explain ourselves with detail. The new tool for virtual socialisation has adapted those skills, and the folk who missed the email shaped behaviours are shaped in this icon based era.

I can see the similarity in dog training. Skills established pre-clicker evolution, were adapted and honed with the use of the new tool. But for those who arrived in the clicker period these skills are often absent and the clicker itself becomes central to the protocol.

I use a clicker

I am very specific and selective when a clicker would benefit a situation.

It is a tool that can be used to teach very accurate, precise outcomes when based with exquisite timing and relevant reinforcement. It requires an understanding of what you want to teach and how it should be carried out. The difference between a move that is correct but stressed and a move that is correct and relaxed.
I did not appreciate this when I first used a clicker. It has tremendous power, to build and equally to confuse. A confused learner will show disinterest in learning new things, often exhibit low commitment or at the other extreme demonstrate frenetic anxiety to be right.

The clicker is a tool that rests on top of good teaching skills. If those skills or understanding are not present it becomes an irrelevant noise because consistency does not exist. The classic example is the advice to “click for a loose leash/lead”. The dog could be exhibiting 1001 different behaviours, a variety of which would be clicked giving the dog no salient information. The trainer could be lucky and get results, but not for the reasons they assumed. (Probably a dog able to ignore the clicks and respond to the timing of the food delivery)
I use a clicker when I can anticipate the accurate repetition of the behaviour I would like repeated. When teaching the use of the clicker the operator should be able to arrange the environment so that the behaviour has a very high probability of occurring in a way that is desired and of benefit to the future of that individual. This is the skill that underlies the use of the clicker.

Without being able to set up, anticipate and clearly verbalise what the click is going to mark it becomes a non-effective, and confusing tool.

Our task as teachers is to teach these skills, which rarely arrive in a single lesson.

We begin with the use of reinforcers, how they are delivered, what is delivered and when it is delivered. This is an understanding of positive reinforcement. This is more important than the clicker. This is not clicker training.
If I do not consider a clicker is going to be of value to either the trainer or the dog then I would not advise its use. Its purpose is to improve communication and understanding, not to make the trainer feel good.

It can separate the event from the reinforcer.

For those of us that learned our skills pre-clicker, there was a predominance of using the food delivery which marked the successful outcome. The dog was lured, manipulated, encouraged into a down position and fed in that position. I still see dogs return to the feed location and demonstrate the desired behaviour.
My dominant pattern of reinforcement (in the range of 85-90%) is feeding out of location. I feed where I want the learner to be when they start the next repetition of the behaviour. If I want energy in the behaviour then there will be animation in the set-up of that location – a chase to collect the treat, a catch.
If we are feeding in position then I do not see  how a click benefits the communication since the learner will simply watch for the start of the delivery process.
It is the understanding of the complete cycle that is the critical skill.

This is not clicker training.

It makes us pay attention

The endless arguments for using clickers or words will continue for many generations yet. It really does not matter. Either will be just as valid when used with thoughtfulness, consistently followed by reinforcement, and salient.

What I do see is a verbal cascade of positive noises that are supposedly verbal-clicks that are NOT accurate, NOT consistently paired with reinforcement and have become non-salient to the dog.

I do think that the physical use of a clicker is more likely to be used with skill than verbalisation. The behaviour of pressing the clicker takes more conscious learning than verbal “good” and “yes”. It can be developed as new process as if we were learning a new musical instrument rather than an adaptation of verbal sounds that have been with us for life.

It make us consciously aware of what we are doing.

It makes us pay attention.

It should make us ask questions, learn the technology and develop good skills.

This is benefit of using a clicker, but it is not clicker training.

Want to learn training skills? Come into my barn …..

Remember: I do not ride or train horses!

April 6, 2017

“The key isn’t in the amount of movement, but in the amount of relaxation in the movement. Asking for even a tiny range of motion in a relaxed state is 10 times more effective than asking for a large movement in an non-relaxed state,” (Jim Masterson,)

Remember: I do not ride or train horses!

But, the more we demand greater understanding we often find the gems from other fields of knowledge. It is in this exploration that we improve our own knowledge.
I have just finished a book by the author referred in this article (Dr. Gerd Heuschmann: Tug of War: Classical Versus Modern Dressage): MANY of the same points we are facing in dog sports:
“The hunt for success and recognition doesn’t allow time and space for thoughtful, quiet work with the horse and a naturally orientated training process.”

Success in dog sports is all about wins, titles, record breaking achievements: greatest number of wins, youngest dogs to win ****, team inclusion, whereas we should orientate our energy to the sports having benefit for the dog as an individual level as well as at a species level – how dogs are perceived.

“Everyone, trainers and riders, must agree on the training goals: we want to produce horses that are relaxed, content and healthy and who bring their  riders joy in the dressage arena or in other venues as reliable pleasure horses.”

If you have now snorted because dog sports are not your interest, consider that the protocols develop in dog sports WILL find their way into everyday life for every day “pleasure” ownership of dogs.

Social media selectively shows successes in tricks that entertain often at a cost to the dog, the perceptions of what dogs are and what is normal behaviour.
Often because there is a degree of copying but more often because this person does not have an interest in the long term welfare of their dog this type of self-promotion can cause long term harm in the name of fun and status.

The dedicated sports trainers are enjoying fit, active, healthy dogs in older life for much longer than 20 or 30 years ago. This has taken knowledge and understanding to develop the correct foundations, build the right muscles, structure, balance and mental capacity for competition or performance work.
How many young dogs are retired or withdrawn early because of the rush and unbalanced training they have endured?

It's my drum and I want to bang it

Many trainers are falling into the same trap as described in this article. I can speak with authority on heelwork to music and freestyle. They are training the “big muscles”, the heel positions with unstable, often immature, dogs that do not have the foundations to sustain the postures. A disproportionate amount of time spent on movements that are flashy or entertaining at a cost of simple, structurally necessary movements that build strength and resistance in the supporting muscles.

We commonly see dogs competing at all levels that vocalise during movement, trying to communicate in the only way they know how, that they are NOT happy. Either struggling physically with the balance or speed requested or under the unprepared mental stress. The response is so often “shut up”. A barking dog is penalised in our sport. A barking dog is desperate. Judges are often unable to tell the difference between happy barking as an expression of joy and arousal and stress barking as an expression of discomfort.

Sports with our beloved dogs or horses should never be at the animal’s expense of their mental or physical well-being. We need to ensure that when human nature gets carried away with the euphoria of success that the dog is protected from the thoughtlessness and extremes. Trainers, organising bodies, judges and competitors all have a responsibility to dogs.

(But I am not so sure that my mental well-being is suitable challenged when reading this article and coping with a flashing advert on fungal infections pop up. No I have not been searching for it)

If you want to excite your interests:

I am introducing and running workshops on dressage for dogs:
Association British Canine Dressage:

I have a course running through the summer on teaching sports dogs the foundation skills:

If your dog is already competing:

More thoughtfulness:






What to learn? Where to study? Which Conference? How to choose?

March 31, 2017

This is a regular question when mixing with the trainers and professionals of tomorrow. There are more folk wanting to move into the business and fullfil life goals to be able to work with dogs and their people. Unfortunately the “make money whilst I sleep” crowd are also aware of this and seeding the market for the less discriminatory, or just plain innocent, who can be parted from their time and money.

I have spent some fruitful hours accompanied by sharp teeth sucking when browsing around the offers in front of us today. Although a course, conference, seminar, workshop could not be reviewed without personal attendance, there are some surface symptoms in the marketing that I would like to hi-light for the unaware.

I run a variety of courses:

  • face to face at my barn, covering 5 days, monthly and others on a weekly class basis
  • online courses for nine years, single webinar events, 8 weeks and 2 years.
  • seminars presenting international speakers from evenings to 3 day events.
  • cruises, (oh yeah) for deep immersion and a great holiday combo

I have been doing this for forty years in one form or another. I first attended a dog training course in the seventies, qualified in the college teaching system and worked as a college inspector. I have presented around the world at conferences, seminars and workshops. I currently enjoy being an online student in self-directed learning format.

Mid-nineties saw the introduction of specific canine courses into the college environment and the next decade a maturing of the online options to study. The conferences and seminars are breeding with great fertility offering lush options to change your life.

I thought it might be quite useful to share my views from all sides on the availability and potential pitfalls when investing money, and sometimes serious, hard earned, sweat inducing money, into an unknown future.

I should give a warning that my scepticism may surface.

We don’t know what we don’t know!

I watch the TV dog shows less and less. I can recognise the quick and dirty fixes, the not-seen-on-camera moments that are displayed in the dog’s body language. The pseudo experts loved by the camera but coached by the off-stage trainers. These shows are not aiming to educate but to provide controversy, conflict and “good TV”.

Try to become consciously aware of the hidden agendas behind the shop windows. Marketing will tell you what you need to know to get you to part with your money, after that their job is done. The marketing may not match the reality.

My experienced view has also led me to distrust other topics about which I have an innocent level of knowledge. We don’t know what we don’t know.

The quantity of time and money you invest, and the value of that investment to you, should be reflected in the research you can do before signing up. Having a go for forty quid for an afternoon is not the same as investing twelve hundred pounds, three weekends and five hours a week study for five months.

Be a nuisance, check it out, research the providers, course designers, teachers. Ask questions, ask around, ask friends.

Reviews and endorsements

These are not always what they appear to be.
Are they to be trusted?

A publishing company requires their under-contract authors to provide reviews on other products in their stable. This is no more than selling a name and reputation for the benefits of the company. Reviews should be unbiased. But if they are printed permanently on the cover of a book then you can be sure they are specially selected.

Endorsements are usually some sort of association that benefits both parties. A product will endorse an event or person because it is of benefit to them by association. The endorsers may not have the expertise to know if the person is the expert they profess to be.

Peers’, friends’, colleagues’ reviews and recommendations are likely to be more of value. You should know something about the reviewer to know that they share the same values, interests and ethics for the recommendation to be valid. Experience is also a key element, if they have little experience of subject knowledge, courses or classes the first one they attend may seem revolutionary.


Software management. These are the techies behind the hosting, functionality of the courses, study format etc. There is often serious long term investment to get the product to market and this money needs to be recouped. They are probably not informed in the topics of their courses to know what is good quality learning and what is a cash machine. They will often out source for their  course material.

Curriculum course designers. This should not be hidden. If there was a degree in dogs (from training to genetics and everything between), and I am investing thirty thousand pounds and three years of my life, I want to know who is writing the individual units, what their experience is and their view points on many related topics. I want a CV of that curriculum author. Their experience, views and preferences will be threaded through the course curriculum.
This is important at every level from classes to seminars.

I made the mistake of presenting for 3 days at a facility that the previous month had hosted a trainer whose beliefs were the polar opposite of mine. Although folk travelled a serious distance to attend because they had researched my background, they were side by side with local folk were also faced with a complete turnaround in their understanding and expectation. The owners of the facility did not have the experience or expertise to recognise there was going to be conflict, there was no long term curriculum generated by the various speakers. This can also happen at conferences with mixed speakers. The host should have good subject knowledge to recognise where they may be conflict between speakers that is simply unhealthy for the event and promotes a toxic atmosphere.

Personally I am very careful when accepting conference invitations until I know who the other speakers are going to be.

Course teachers, tutors and assessors. This should NEVER be hidden. Part of my college work was participating in the team of higher education inspectors. One of the critical points we assessed was “does the teacher have confidence and depth of knowledge in the subject?”.

It is common practice in college to use a teaching qualified teacher in as many courses as possible, often stepping in to cover. The courses are often written by the teacher with the subject knowledge, and then the material is just delivered by another teacher, who may have no more knowledge of the subject than the cleaning staff. A lack of subject knowledge is a weak point that any self-respecting student can reveal with a little pointed questioning.

Your investment should have teacher qualified teachers AND subject experienced (I hesitate to use the terms subject qualified as at present it does not exist).

A teaching style often reflects that teacher’s learning style. Don’t expect a highly practical course from someone who is academically orientated and vice versa.

Is this going to benefit you as a person?

Are you going to feel that you are developing as a learner? Online or remote learning is not for everyone. It takes discipline to prioritise the time to study alone and complete the training and/or assignments.

Have you got the time to contribute to the learning and experience of the whole group? Everyone in the classroom has shared responsibility by proactively engaging in the course, getting the work done, training the dog, completing assignments. This takes time. (read here )

Is the course a pre-set recipe format

… or could the bones be fleshed out in different directions?

Online courses often have an international flavour which requires different understanding of dog cultures, different environments where dogs are kept and quite different laws and beliefs. This can enrich the learning process where the topic is examined at depth allowing for many different view-points and angles of approach.

Unfortunately when looking through some of the available courses their curriculum is very specific and narrow, limited to one lifestyle with dogs. Even within the UK a dog with a country lifestyle and expectations can be quite different from an urban cousin.

Who is going to benefit from this seminar / course?

Dogs in general or the providers?
What are they teaching?

Very often the course is about delivery of the subject to a specific student model. We want to be able to learn as individuals as we the learn the subject.

Often courses share how this person does whatever they do. This promotes the copy-culture, the recipes for success. Rarely does it allow you to learn the necessary skills to develop in your own right. Recipes do have their place as a structure, but equally they can inhibit learning. Courses can have the same effect. Multi-choice assessment are the reverse of recipe teaching in that the answers must fit the specific expectations. It may not explore your abilities to assess situations, evaluate the learning gap, identify the activities that can teach the skills, what knowledge is sound and what may be superstitious – for either a dog or a person.

What is the agenda of the providers?

Off the shelf “modules”.

Having been at the sharp end of marking assignments my eye is well trained to see familiarity and pings into “this is someone else’s work” red zone. Courses are sold and traded as much as any other commodity between online providers.

I appreciate that events need to pay for themselves, cover all costs and hopefully leave something in the bank to “pay it forward” to organising the next event. But often the casualty of a cash based motive is the learning quality. Success is measured by number of attendees or certificates awarded, not the quality of learning. (One of my reasons for abandoning college based teaching was the system that rewarded quantity of students over quality of learning).
A symptom of the cash-over-learning agenda will be a poor ratio of students to teachers.

The other aspect of this is the well intentioned providers not putting sufficient planning into the business model and begging for folk to come along, sign up now, early bird offers, special discounts, bring a friend, buy 2 get 1 free. Most of the single events such as seminars will not be making their break-even until close to the date of the event. A nail biting time.

Organisers have to commit to a contract with well-known speakers and the penalties for cancellation wipe out any “pay it forward” savings. The closer to the event for a cancellation the greater the penalty.

As a speaker that does travel and book events 18 months to 2 years ahead these “oh, we cannot fill the event” cancellations are a major disruption. Speakers often ration themselves travel wise or arrange a cluster of events on the same trip.
As a provider, organiser, speaker and attendee – play fair, get your booking early, be sure to support the learning over cash opportunities. As we know, reinforcement works. If you want to have access to these events in the future support them.

Planning an event may begin 2 years before the event. This may clash with other events in the same area, at the same time, or in close proximity. There is only so much to spend on education, learning and jolly weekends.

Check list

All courses should clearly state:

  •             Eligibility for refunds, cut-off dates, percentages, costs of “administration”
  •             Complaints system, re-assessment opportunities and conditions
  •             Quality assurance in providers that have multi courses and tutors.
  •             Equal opportunities to learn, be assessed

Watch out!

redflagHeavily discounted courses. I found one offered at a 92% discount. This may indicate some desperation, last chance, or simply nothing to lose. I cannot think they are paying a course tutor anything reasonable at that price.

Out of date websites. Particularly those that use past students or certified attendees as advertising. On one site the listing was 5 years out of date, which does not give confidence to the content of the course material.

Go for it

If you read the outline of a seminar or a course and have a visceral response – butterflies, heart beats fast, then sign up!

Very unscientific, but you are more likely to grow as a person when learning from an inner spark than a logical “qualification”.

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