I'm delighted to have received my certificate through from the Agility Club confirming that I'm an approved dog agility instructor!
What is a crate and how to set it up
A crate is an indoor kennel which gives your dog a place of their own. They are often sold as metal or part metal/part plastic cage over which you can drape heavy blankets to create a den for your dog. There are also more solid plastic ones available which double as a carrying device for transportation. A quiet room or area towards the back of the house is ideal, out of direct sunlight but with natural light and ventilation too. Often a utility area works well. This crate is your dog’s bedroom so you should provide them with soft blankets for nesting, fresh water for drinking and a range of toys too. You’ll also need to make sure that you keep the children and/or other pets away. This is your dog's sanctuary.
Giving your dog their own space can help them to feel safe. Dogs who suffer from anxiety often do better if they have a small safe space of their own rather than access to the whole house which can lead to them fixating at what they see out of windows or trailing around behind you all over the house. Worse still when you go out your dog may patrol the house and wait anxiously for you to return. If your dog falls asleep in their crate on a regular basis they will gradually learn to relax more and more quickly when they are in their crate. Puppies who sleep in a crate are often easier to house-train and are less likely to get into bad habits chewing on furniture or shoes. Finally, remember that if your dog ever has to go into kennels, boarding or for a stay at the vets they may well be confined to a crate so it is well worth ensuring that they are used to the experience well before they have to go.
Is it cruel?
A lot of people instinctively feel that a crate is like a prison. I would not want to live in a crate. It would be a prison.
However, I do sleep a bed in a bedroom. Every night. I don’t randomly fall asleep by the front door or on the stairs. Once I’ve gone to bed, I stay there all night. In one room, without a huge amount of space. I can’t even do any stretches or yoga in there, but I can walk around two sides of the bed and I can have a glass of water by the bed. I don’t routinely patrol the house at night because I’d wake the children and dogs.
Neither do I encourage my children to wander round the house and fall asleep wherever they see fit. They sleep in a bed in their own room and have a bed-time after which they are expected to be quiet. If you have children you may also have realised that ‘sending them to their rooms’ for some dreadful misdemeanour stops being any sort of punishment as they become adolescents. Instead, for them, it is a relief to go to their own space and they start to go there of their own volition if you have visitors with whom they have nothing in common.
A crate should fulfil a similar purpose for our dogs and it is not a replacement for walks, access to novel environments, access to lots of smells, socialising, games and training. It is just a place for them to sleep and for them to go to for safety and when we have visitors that do not concern them. It is a natural instinct for dogs to fall asleep in small and cozy confined spaces.
How to ‘train’ the crate
In order for your dog to want to be in their crate you need to build lots of positive associations to being there. You can feed them in their crate and make sure that any chews or treats magically appear in their crate rather than coming from you. You can play with them in or near their crates, fetching a toy from the crate or running through a tunnel into their crate or searching for treats hidden in the crate, snuffle mats are great for this. They can learn to sit and lay down in the crate too. To start with just leave the door open and then as they get comfortable being there you can practice opening and closing the door of the crate. As you work on building the length of time you can close the door you need to give them a food dispensing toy or a snuffle mat to keep them occupied. When they are happy being in the crate for half an hour with you in sight then you can start to go out of sight. The RSPCA has a great factsheet on this, they recommend that adult dogs with a good association with their crates should not be confined to their crate for more than three hours.
Most people assume that having dogs in the bedroom is bad for the dogs as well as for us.
The fear is that the dogs will develop 'pack hierarchy' problems and try to dominate us. For us it isn't just the dog hairs and the stolen socks, but the potential sleep disruption. Yet the reality is that many of us do let the dogs in the bedroom, so what are the real issues?
According to a study by the Mayo Clinic in 2017 "sleeping with dogs helps some people sleep better ─ no matter if they’re snoozing with a small schnauzer or dozing with a Great Dane. There is one caveat, however, don’t let your canines crawl under the covers with you. The sleep benefit extends only to having dogs in your bedroom ─ not in your bed. According to the study, adults who snuggled up to their pups in bed sacrificed quality sleep."
It stands to reason, to me at least, that especially when you first bring a puppy home at just 8 weeks of age, that like all mammals it would sleep as part of the family group and to leave a puppy in a crate to cry all night feels unacceptable for good reasons. It wasn't so long ago that we were encourage to leaved our human babies to 'cry it out' and that if we spared the rod we'd spoil the child.
But many dog experts support the idea that dogs need to 'know their place' and should not be allowed upstairs or in the bedrooms as it can lead to dogs developing 'dominance' and other behaviour problems. This is an interesting area and would warrant further study. There may well be a correlation between the two but I'm not sure we can say that one causes the other.
Dogs have been artificially selected over tens of thousands of years specifically for their abilities to work with us. They have great social skills and now live in mixed species human-dog families. They value their time with us which is often at a premium because of our modern world of work. But compared to their wolf-like ancestors and their closest cousins, the modern wolf, they have lost some of their reasoning and cognitive skills. In fact, the relationship between a dog and a human is very similar to the relationship between a parent and a two year old child. Dogs depends on us to provide leadership, set boundaries and solve problems. We don't let our dogs decide how much to eat and how much free run they should have when off the lead. They need us to keep them safe.
So, when it comes to sleeping arrangements, if our dog is suffering with anxiety or other behaviour problems we may well want to provide them with their own safe space. Somewhere quiet in the house, partly shaded, cool, with lots of toys and soft blankets for nesting. We probably do want to make sure that our dogs build a strong positive association to this 'safe place' by feeding them and playing with them in that safe place. Indoor crates are ideal for this, especially if you have a quiet place in a utility room for instance. Our dogs may even benefit from having a bed time and understanding that when we set that boundary, that we mean it. If our dogs believe in the boundaries we set, it helps them to feel safe and for an anxious dog it is essential that they know that we are sorting things out and that they can relax.
If our dogs are struggling with their behaviour and we are using them as our own comfort blankets and teddy bears we may be missing opportunities to help them. It's not that snuggling on the bed is 'wrong' but that your dog may get a huge amount more from a training session with you or a super enriching walk and a night in their own bed.
Are you thinking of getting a new dog? Are you considering adopting a rescue dog or choosing a new puppy?
Are you thinking of getting a new dog? Adopting a rescue dog or choosing a new puppy. What are the issues?
Rescue dogs may have unknown history, or just a history that lacks detail and that can put people off.
Some people are attracted to the idea that you can adopt an older dog and miss out on teething and toilet training and crate training. If you are adopting an older dog, they may also be calmer and may even be partly trained. If you choose an older dog, your dog may also have more of a stable, proven, temperament.
On the downside you may worry that you don’t know about their experiences during critical socialisation and imprinting stages. You may worry that you have missed out on some bonding time and that there may be more work to do than you expected. However, there are younger dogs and puppies available for rescue too.
You will know that you are giving a dog a home who otherwise wouldn’t have one.
Choosing a new puppy
Puppies are most often brought into the world for profit so there is always a risk that you may inadvertently support puppy farming. Even if you are careful and use a really ethical breeder you are still supporting intentionally bring more dogs into the world while rescue centres are full. Even if you give your puppy the best home, its unlikely that all of the litter from which you selected your puppy will get such a good home, and in reality the chances may be slim.
If you are choosing a puppy though, you do need to choose an ethical breeder, for the best chances of a balanced well socialised puppy. You may be excited about the blank canvass that you are getting from your breeder, and perhaps just a little distracted by the undeniable cuteness of it all. Remember that you may very quickly get a full-sized adolescent dog on your hands.
If you are choosing a new puppy you can select the specific breed you want with the traits, exercise requirements, shedding and temperament traits you are looking for. You may want a dog which is hypoallergenic or good for agility or needs very little exercise. The reality is though that even if you are careful with choosing the puppy you want, the genetics of each puppy can vary significantly across one litter so there are no guarantees that you won’t need to put in more work with behaviour and training than you are expecting. First time puppy owners often under-estimate the costs and time needed to care for a dog so if this is your first time do your research and even offer to look after a friends dog for the weekend.
What are the real issues?
Whether a rescue dog or a new puppy, one thing is for certain, investing in some training is one of the best ways of ensuring that you and your dog have a long and happy relationship. Missing out on training significantly increases the risk that your puppy or rescue dog will be surrendered in the future.
Whether rescue dog or a new puppy, they will need walking come rain and shine, there will be vets fees, training costs, vaccinations, boarding when you are on holiday and walking when you are at work. The best chances of us keeping rescue centres empty is to understand the commitment when we take on a dog.
Can you tell which of these lovely has been rehomed and which has been owned from a puppy?
[all from rescue or rehoming}
Why do dogs bark at the front door?
Your dog may be excited to greet visitors or alerting you that someone is arriving. They may have an urge to guard their home or they may be startled and afraid of an unexpected sound. Some dogs have just copied another dog in the family! This was the case with my youngest dog Lawrence who only just managed to hone this particular behaviour before my oldest dog, the barker in the family, sadly passed away. And we are just about managing the legacy behaviour but it’s taken a bit of strategy and patience!
Most dogs who bark at the door have learned that a knock or a door bell means something is going to happen for them e.g. greeting. If, every time the doorbell went absolutely nothing happened for them they would likely gradually habituate to this noise like most dogs habituate to everyday household noises like a toilet flush or a washing machine on spin. The problem is often that when they are puppies and we are anxious for them to meet lots of visitors, we end up teaching them that a doorbell means visitors or excitement or some sort of other stimulus for them.
What can you do about it?
The first thing is to double check what exactly is going on. Does your dog run towards the door in an excited, happy, frenzy or do they run away from it? Do they ‘trigger’ to the sound of a door bell, a door knock and keys in the door in the same way? What about if you play the sound of different doorbells on your phone? Do they carry on barking at visitors as they arrive? Is it all visitors? It's thoroughly worthwhile to get a bit of professional help at this stage ... sometimes its hard to really 'see' what is going on when it is your 'everyday'.
First things first, don’t yell or raise your voice. If you raise your voice you are setting the wrong example to you are dog: you are “joining in”! Your dog will think that they are on the right track with barking because their owner is also clearly anxious and getting loud.
Next, keep dog below their threshold of anxiety and reaction for 3 – 5 days before any training. This sounds hard but here are some ideas to manage the practicalities:
This last point is important. If your dog has access to the front door during the day at the moment, then it would be worth considering moving them toward the back of the house so they are less aware of post coming through the letter box and can’t see visitors arriving. Make sure your dog has their own ‘safe space’ to retreat to …. This is their space where they have their food and treats and toys. If you don’t have this at the moment feel free to message me, and see the video at the bottom of this blog.
Finally, you are going to need to stop inadvertently rewarding your dog for barking at the front door. In fact, for a while, it would be better if the front door, visitors and doorbells were simply something that did not involve them. All the training in the world won’t work if every so often they bark like crazy at the front door and then they are rewarded by the stimulus, sights, sounds, of visitors.
There are two very different aspects to the training we need to do here:
1.Training an alternative behaviour
I'd recommend training a down stay on their mat or bed. You’ll need a training plan and I’d thoroughly recommend getting a bit of support with this bit. You’ll need to spread the training out into very short fun sessions over a few weeks. For a down stay to help us with this issue you’re going to need to make sure that it’s ‘proofed’ against distractions and that it works at a distance and for some duration. These are all things you can practice at home. It’s better to add these aspects in separately first and keep your training super positive with lots of treats on their mat or bed when they hold their stay.
Here are some ideas to practice.
Distractions – try turning in a circle, bending down to tie your show or doing a star jumps near to them. Start moving slowly and give lots of rewards. See if you can walk around them. Try playing some interesting sound effects on your phone or dropping a toy near them while they are in a stay. Move on to rolling a toy passed them while they are in a stay. You might even add in the distraction of a doorbell noise on your phone or the sound of the door of the fridge being opened or moving their food bowls.
Distance – try moving away from them a short distance and return and give them a treat. Very gradually increase the distance that you move away until you are out of sight for a moment. You keep yo-yoing back in to give them a treat so its all fairly quick and fun. Work towards being out of sight for a minute or two.
Duration – gradually increase the duration of the stay while they are next to you on their bed. If you are watching the TV or working you can put the bed by you and keep rewarding them with a treat between their paws on the bed every few seconds or minutes as they improve. Work towards a 5 minute calm stay.
This is often a tricky one to work with. For desensitisation to work we need to be able to control the amount of the stimulus of the door knock/bell so that we can start in a really small way. You need the sound of the doorbell or knock to be so quiet that although the dog may notice he or she doesn’t react. You may need to get creative. I’m directly working on this with my youngest dog and here are my tips:
It’s critical you start in such a small way that your dog is able to notice AND to stay relaxed. Repeat the stimulus 5 or 6 times and if they are able to do this you can give them a treat or a play with their toy. At your next session you can increase the level of the stimulus slightly.
Once you and your dog have a consistently good down stay on their mat or bed you can start to combine the desensitisation and the down stays by having pretend and then actual practice visitor sessions. You should be able to leave your dog in a down stay on the mat and go and ring the door bell yourself and come back and reward them before you move on to real visitors.
Remember that there is help available and this is just a phase that you and your dog are going through.
I'm absolutely delighted to announce that I'm now a full behaviourist member of the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN) as well as the Association of INTOdogs!
INTODogs are a members-only organisation for Dog Trainers, Behaviourists and other dog professionals, promoting positive, kind methods in order to enhance the quality of life for owners and dogs. INTODogs also promotes the highest standards of professional conduct. These are both a really good match for my own ethos and my aims in setting up Harmony Professional Dog Training.
For you, our customers, this means that you can relax and know that you are in a safe pair of hands with an INTODogs professional! You know that we maintain the highest professional and ethical standards AND that we keep the welfare of your dog central to our work. You can also rest assured that we keep abreast of continually with new regulations and teachings.
ICAN is an umbrella organisation which sets and maintains high standards within what is currently an unregulated industry. Anyone can currently call themselves a trainer or a behaviourist regardless of their experience or theoretical knowledge. ICAN are putting welfare first and bringing high standards, cooperation and unity to the industry.
It gives me great pleasure to be both a behaviourist and a trainer member of both organisations.
Find out more here
A staggering 80% of you have dogs who pull on the lead at least some of the time! For most dogs they can walk with a loose lead in some situations, often not the ones that matter to you the most. So first, take a look at what’s really going, even ask someone to video for you. It’s often good to check out if they can walk on the lead in the house as many can do this. What about as you leave the front door, the whole time you are out or is it just if there is a really good distraction. Is their lead walking just as difficult in a town centre as at the park?
You’ll need to put together a practical training plan and allow yourself a few weeks to start notching up some successes. Remember that your dog may have spent weeks, months or years learning to pull so we need to allow ourselves some time to relearn this life skill. This is where a professional consultation can be really helpful, they can help manage our progress through specific stepping stones and also manage our expectations! Here are my seven secrets to unlock a perfect loose lead walk!
1 - Stop stepping forward when they pull
is to make sure that you no longer allow the pulling to be rewarded by you taking a step forward. So, if they pull you stop until the lead pressure has reduced. In fact, pulling stops the walk. You’ll need to be careful here because you may find that you have actually got quite used to all the pulling too!
2 – Practice little and often
This is a new skill and a hard one at that. So practice for two or three lots of fifteen minutes a day only for the first couple of weeks. If your dog is particularly hyped at the start of a walk, perhaps because he has been home alone during the day, then you may want to go out in the car for some off lead running or alternatively some training or extra enrichment at home.
3 – Practice in a new environment
Some dogs will have become used to always behaving in a certain way in a particular environment. So if you have an entrenched steam train style puller then starting the training on a different footpath or park can help your dog to realise that you are doing something new
4 - Consider your equipment
Consider changing your walking equipment! If your dog has never walked in a harness before then this change may also help them realise that you are doing something new. It’s also worth remembering that if your dog is pulling on their collar they may be at risk of damaging themselves. Head collar’s can make your dog more sensitive to lead pressure and slow them down, but many dogs find them really uncomfortable so they need to be introduced in a very slow and positive way.
5 – Prepare to reward your dog for their small successes
This will involve lots and lots of tasty treats to start with because really High Value Rewards for the dog help them to remember and repeat a particular behaviour. You may want to use some of your dogs daily food allowance by the amount of the kibble that we want to use in the training session. If the dog isn’t particularly motivated by kibble to start with then reduce the previous meal but use fresh food like hotdog, sausages or cheese cut into tiny treats. All this can feel a bit over the top especially if you are actually a bit annoyed with your dog in the first place. I remember not really believing that they deserved all these treats because they were the ones not doing what they should be!
6 – Teach your dog to ‘look’
Teaching your dog to look at you is a really useful trick. Dogs often forget where you are and some forget that you are on the end of the lead altogether! So, teach them to ‘look’ by lifting a treat from their nose up towards your eyes and then rewarding them when they make eye contact. It can be worth getting some professional help to make sure you get your timing right here.
7 – ‘Lure’ your dog into a few steps of loose lead walking
Finally lure your dog into walking to heel first of all (if necessary) by holding a treat a nose height between thumb and forefinger in the palm of the hand and stepping forward for three to five steps as they nuzzle the treat. When you’ve practiced this a few times then break up the stepping to heel with sits and downs. Concentrating on this new behaviour is hard so lots of sits and downs help to give them a little break.
You can now gradually increase the number of steps between treats and if they get it wrong you can use your ‘look’ command to get them to look back at you. You'll need to build up their endurance slowly and then vary the locations and distractions that you use.
Your dog’s pulling behaviour has taken a long time to be learned by your dog, so good, positive practice is essential. Entrenched pulling can result in neck injuries and so this effort now is thoroughly worthwhile. Enrolling in a training class is a good opportunity to practice this new behaviour in a new setting and around new dogs. To kick off though I'd thoroughly recommend working with a professional. Contact me now for a 121 consultation on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01462 504722.
If your dog is pulling like a steam train it can make your morning walk stressful for you both. It certainly used to cross my mind that this wasn't how I imagined it would be when I first brought my beautiful puppy home! Often you may find you pull them back to you and that helps for a bit, but before you know it they are back at the end of the lead and there seems nothing you can do but be towed along.
Which of these seem right to you? My dog pulls on the lead because ....
There are lots of reasons that a dog may start pulling on the lead and it could be all of the above! Most mid-sized and larger dogs will naturally walk faster than most humans, so our poor dogs have to learn to walk more slowly! This may be a new and frustrating concept for some of them!
This is coupled with the practical issue that once your dog is ahead of you and the lead is loose they may forget where you are anyway.
Unfortunately, rushing ahead of the owner is often a "self-rewarding behaviour". Pulling towards another dog/lamp post/bit of litter means that they get there sooner. They pull and the owner steps forward. Any behaviour that is rewarding is likely to keep happening and this is where the problem really begins. Your dog starts to remember that this is a good strategy to use next time they are frustrated by your slower pace of walking and your dog is eager to get to a good smell ahead of them.
Isn't it uncomfortable for them? Yes it is! And it can cause permanent damage if they are pulling hard on a traditional collar. The problem is that they become habituated to any discomfort over time. Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to pulling and may actually enjoy it for its own sake, whilst others who are a little anxious may get comfort from knowing exactly where their owner is from the feeling of tension on the lead.
Luckily you can rest assured that you are not alone. I've certainly been there at various times with all three of my dogs!!! There are luckily lots and lots of ways we can change this behaviour which I will cover in my next post.
TIP 1 Positive reinforcement is far better than punishment or correcting a mistake. Training for treats and for toy are essential when learning a new behaviour, best treats are wet food i.e. fresh chicken not just dry kibble, best to train hungry. You can try mixing up different rewards mixing up praise, treats, games and even using a mixture of treats.
TIP 2 Consistency with your visual and verbal commands is key, e.g. stand with your arms wide apart facing your dog and call them using either come. Try not to repeat your recall command or you’ll always ending up saying it two, three or more times.
TIP 3 Practice even when proficient you’ll need to practice. I try to use a one in ten rule for my youngest dog which means ONE recall in earnest for TEN fun practice ones. Practice your recalls in different places including in the garden or in the house, short and long recalls, even just the length of the lead!
TIP 4 Stop them from getting it wrong. The old behaviour has been learned, albeit unintentionally, so you’ll need to make sure you don’t put your dog in the position where he or she can fail. Keep them on a long line so that can’t ever inadvertently get positive reward from failing to recall …. Unintentional rewards could be time to chase the bunnies, smell interesting smells or all the attention that they get from you chasing and calling them.
Teaching your dog to lay on their side is useful for home health care like checking their tummy, legs and paws for lumps and bumps. I started with a clicker and a few treats and had to lure him into position with food the first few times before progressing to add distractions.
STEP 1 - lure the dog from a down into laying on their side by slow moving a treat up over their shoulder and marking when they are in the right position by saying 'lay' and clicking your clicker (following every time with a treat)
STEP 2 - ask for the 'lay' and say good or click as soon as they are in position
STEP 3 - build duration by delaying the click and treat by a second or two once they are in position
STEP 4 - add in distractions such as stroking them or handling their paws, and then increasing the distractions to include equipment such as clippers or a brush