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The Listen Dog Blog

Welcome to the Listen Dog Blog!


I'll be keeping it up-to-date with regular catch-ups on what I've been up to, plenty of original articles on obedience training and behavioural best practice, plus top tips and ideas you can work on at home with your own four-legged friend!


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By listendogtraining, May 6 2016 11:37AM

Most dog owners have been there – you teach your dog to sit perfectly with a 100% success rate in your living room at home, you take him to the park to show off your new trick and… he ignores you, stares at you blankly, or runs off after a squirrel.

So many people are perplexed as to why their dog won’t perform the command they KNOW their dog understands, and end up labelling their dog as defiant, disobedient, or madly rebellious.

The truth is – dogs’ minds just aren’t wired in the way that ours are, and they simply don’t generalise rules the way we do. So when your dog learns that ‘Sit’ means park your rear end, on the rug, when the TV’s on (because this happens to be where and when you trained the behaviour), he can’t then generalise that rule to other locations and situations, like the park, a friend’s house, when some children run past, the vet’s office, etc.

In order to help him generalise the command, you need to do what’s known in the dog-training world as ‘proofing’. This means exploring the three Ds of dog-training, one at a time, in order to increase your dog’s reliability so that eventually, your dog will responder to you wherever you are, whenever you ask, and under whatever circumstances you find yourselves.

What Are The Three Ds of Dog Training?

Duration – How long your dog will remain in the requested position.

Distance – How far away from your dog you are able to walk, without them breaking the command, or how far away from them you can be when you give the command, and still receive a successful response.

Distractions – The dog’s ability to listen to instruction and fulfil your command, amidst various levels of distraction (traffic noise, children nearby, cyclists passing, etc.)

After only a couple of days of training, you can’t expect your dog to remain in a sit position for 6 minutes, after you walk away, whilst 3 other dogs stroll by… that’s D-overload!

Instead you need to focus on working with only one ‘D’ at any given time. So once your dog has learnt the ‘Sit’ command, try giving the command, and taking a couple of steps backward, then immediately return and praise. Gradually increase the distance whilst there are no distractions present, and only for a short duration. Similarly, if you want to work on proofing the command against distractions, then remain close to your dog, and release him quickly. Ask for a ‘Sit’ whilst a child walks past, maintain his attention, then release and reward him.

Never overwhelm your dog during training, and don’t punish him if he fails – instead take it a step back; his failure is a sign that you have pushed him too far, too fast, not that he is a bad dog. If your dog breaks command after 10 seconds, take it back to 5 seconds, and release and praise him.

Always set your dog up to succeed, keep training sessions short and regular, and always end each session on a high note – leave him wanting more and you’ll always have a dog who is eager to learn, and will work his hardest to please you!

By listendogtraining, Apr 13 2016 08:22PM

Teaching your dog to do something you want him to do – how do you do it? The simplified answer is: reward him when he does what you want! Whenever we are training a new behaviour, we use lots of high-value rewards to encourage a dog to repeat that behaviour. So when your dog fetches the ball you threw for him and returns it at your feet – reward him! If a good retrieve is what you want, that is.

Likewise, it makes sense that if you’re trying to eradicate an unwanted behaviour, you need to make sure the dog is not getting rewarded for it in any way. Does he jump up at house guests? Then instruct every single person who passes through your front door not to pet, praise, speak to or interact with your dog in ANY WAY – even if it’s to call him a hideous brute (he doesn’t speak English, all he sees is that he’s getting attention, and he LOVES that!) - until he has four paws on the ground. Again, it seems simple... doesn’t it?

But there’s a twist.

A third way you can encourage behaviour, is by introducing a variable schedule of reward. This means that instead of rewarding your dog EVERY time he returns the tennis ball at your feet (expensive, and potentially calorific...), he is only randomly and intermittently rewarded. Sometimes he gets a piece of chicken. Sometimes he gets nothing at all. It has been proven that a variable schedule of reward will more successfully increase the reliability of a behaviour than rewarding the dog every single time he delivers the goods.

Of course, when we are first teaching a new behaviour, lots of rewards are a must, but once you are confident your dog understands what is being asked of him, you can cut back on the kibble.

This concept works because of something called ‘the extinction burst’ – a dog trainer’s blessing... and curse.

If your dog responds to your command (‘Fetch it!’) by returning the ball, and then receives chicken, he’ll be pleased. If however, he repeats the behaviour, and then stops receiving chicken, the behaviour he had to perform to get the original reward will increase, in an attempt to bring back the reward. When the reward is only given intermittently, it becomes more valuable to the dog, and the dog will strive to work harder to receive it again. When it comes to playing fetch, this is great.

When it comes to jumping up at house guests however, this is a nightmare. Say you and your partner completely ignore your dog every time he jumps up at you, when once upon a time, you would have greeted him and patted him down. Your dog will quickly become frustrated, and for a short time, the intensity of the unwanted behaviour will increase, in a bid to bring back that lovely reward of attention and affection that he once received. If you stay strong, and continue to ignore the unwanted behaviour, eventually, in the consistent absence of any reward, the behaviour will become extinct.

The only spanner in the works is when the neighbour pops round, receives an over-the-top welcome from Fido and, so as not to seem rude, pats him on the head and says ‘Hi!’ And there’s his reward, and his proof that he needs to up his game and stay persistent in order to receive that lovely affectionate reward, which has now become even more valuable to him than it was previously. Now, before you know it, your dog is jumping up at visitors even more than he was before, and you’re entirely at your wits’ end.

To put the extinction burst into human terms, it’s the equivalent of playing on a slot machine, and the unfortunate reason why so many people can become addicted to gambling. Imagine you put a coin in the slot machine, and you win, first time! You feel fabulous. So for the next five minutes, you continue to put coins in, but you win nothing back. You are getting no reward whatsoever, yet you are continuing to repeat the behaviour that earned you that first reward, in the hope that you might receive it again. If you don’t win again, after long enough, you will give up and leave the arcade. But if, after six minutes, you hit the jackpot, then you feel even better than you did after the first win, and you’re more than likely going to spend the rest of the afternoon there, repeating the behaviour.

Things to Remember:

1. When training a desired behaviour, once the behaviour is learnt, only reward intermittently.

2. When trying to eliminate an unwanted behaviour, ensure the dog is NEVER rewarded again once rewards have been rescinded... or you’ll end up reinforcing rather than eradicating... Lecture everyone who crosses your doorstep!

3. Remember – some behaviours are entirely self-rewarding for a dog. You don’t need to give your dog a biscuit after he chases the neighbour’s cat for him to feel good about doing it; the act of chasing the cat is great fun and a reward in itself, and won’t be stopped by you ignoring it... but that’s another blog post!

By listendogtraining, Nov 26 2015 05:25PM

Recall-training a new puppy – it’s almost too easy. You put them on the floor, you walk away, and they follow you. For those of you who’ve tried it, it’s a pretty heartening experience to have your new best friend so eager to stick by your side from the get-go… that is, until a few months pass by and adolescence rears its terrifying head!

Oh my. Honestly, the biggest proportion of pleas for help I receive come from owners of dogs aged between 6 and 18 months. Adolescence in dogs always shows up at just the wrong time – usually, if you’ve been implementing a good training programme from day one, you’ve just about cracked it – and then suddenly that once obedient, attentive, relaxed play mate turns into a wild, oblivious lunatic – chasing off after everything that moves and leaving you left in the dust without a second thought. Before I advise you on recall training from here on in, I’d just like to immediately say that adolescence will pass, and along with it - as long as you STICK with your training through the thick and thin of it - will the erratic unreliable impulses of your teenage companion.

The age ranges of adolescence differ amongst breeds due to size and maturation variations, but you’ll recognise it as a massive development in your dog’s independence and sexual motivation. Suddenly his once tiny world expands massively, and you as his owner become a tiny fish amongst the big pond of chasable cyclists, humpable dogs, harassable cats, alluring scents, and the rest.

The solution? You need to go right back to the very beginning. And I mean the pre-recall beginning – so let’s concentrate on your leadwork, and perfect it. The essence of any reliable recall, is having a dog that fully understands that he needs to focus on YOU and know what you are doing at all times, if he is ever going to get anything he wants. So let’s put a lead back on your dog, and ensure that when he’s walking with you on lead, he’s paying you all the attention he can muster.

The First Step…

A dog that’s hyped up as he steps out of the front door is not going to pay you an ounce of attention (you know the dog I mean – he’s bouncing off the walls as soon as the lead appears, and strangling himself just to get to the front gate.) so let’s get him ready to leave the house in a manner the Queen would be proud of. Desensitise your dog to the prospect of going for a walk by regularly ‘preparing for a walk’ throughout the day. So get out the lead, but then put it on the kitchen table, go and read a magazine, then get up and put the lead away. Get out the lead, put your coat on, then go and have a cup of coffee. You can even put the lead on your dog, then drop the lead and go off to potter in the garden for 5 minutes, then return, remove the lead and put it away. VERY quickly your dog will stop reacting like an Arkham escapee every time a walk is on the cards.

The next stage is to attach your dog’s lead, and walk him in the home – I don’t mean aimlessly lap your house for 20 minutes, but go about your life as you would, were you not leading your dog. So attach his lead, go into the kitchen and make a cup of tea. Your dog will need to wait for the kettle to boil and the drink to brew, and for you to then carry your drink through to the living room, where you will sit and drink your tea, whilst watching 20 minutes of television. Keep hold of the lead all the while, so your dog must learn to settle beside you. After all that tea (sorry!) it’s time for a toilet trip, and Fido needs to come to. He’s learning that you are in charge, you dictate where he’s going to and how long for, not him. Do this regularly across a few days for short periods of time, to realign what the relationship between you and your dog should be when there is a lead involved – YOU are the leader, and you make the decisions.

All or Nothing…

Eventually you can move this exercise to the garden, and once successful there you can move it to the front of the house. There is a good heelwork exercise coined by Dr. Ian Dunbar that’s worth mentioning here, particularly if you have a very ‘pully’ dog on-lead. It’s called ‘all-or-nothing’ training, and works well because it really engages the dog’s brain and encourages active problem-solving. Simply attach your dog’s lead, and stand still. Your dog will be excited to go for a walk, and confused that nothing’s happening… but stay firm and do not engage with your dog, or give any verbal commands – the aim is to get your dog to sit down beside you. Some dogs get this within minutes… some have been known to take more than 20 minutes on the first attempt – going through their whole portfolio of tricks to get the owner’s attention first! As soon as your dog sits down, you praise and treat, then take one big step forward, and stand stock still again. Your dog will probably work it out quicker this time. Once he is sitting beside you again, you praise, treat, and take another step.

Your end-game is a dog that follows each single step, and then immediately sits beside you when you stop. It’s called all-or-nothing, because your dog gets nothing, unless he delivers exactly what you want – then he gets it all – praise, reward, fuss and affection. This teaches your dog to pay very close attention to your movement in order to earn his reward, and that rushing off ahead will gain him absolutely nothing.

Time to Take the Lead Off...

The reason I’m talking so much about lead-training in a recall article, is because all these exercises are designed to encourage and increase your dog’s focus on YOU – if we bring you back to the centre of their now widely expanded world, you stand a much stronger chance of being able to get a good recall out of them when you need to.

So now we’ve encouraged them to point their focus in the right direction, it’s time to let the lead off… but replace it with a long line. You can buy longlines designed for recall training in a variety of lengths (or you can buy multiples and attach them together to give you control at an even greater distance) and the idea is that you attach it to your dog, but do not hold onto the other end. It simply provides you with an easy opportunity to gain instant control of your dog from a distance, should you need to.

In this instance, the longline will enable you to prevent the dog from ever self-rewarding the act of ignoring your recall command. If for example, he spies another dog, decides to ignore you entirely and dart towards said temptation, you simple stamp your foot on the end of the longline, or grab hold of it. Your dog won’t be able to reach the other dog, and therefore won’t receive any positive reward for his act of defiance. Instead he’ll be snapped out of his drive to reach the dog, at which point you can give your recall command again, encourage his return with the long line if needs be, and praise, praise, PRAISE when he reaches you.

If, in a parallel longline-free version of this scenario, your dog had great fun by playing with another dog as the result of ignoring your recall, he learns that ignoring recall gains him joy – and we never want to allow this. The only reward he should get is when he returns to you (lots of praise, toys, play, fuss etc.)

Remember never to punish a returning dog – even if he’s been ignoring your for ages beforehand – you will create the wrong association in his mind, and give him no impetus to repeat the experience!

Hide and Seek…

Remember when out walking that your dog should always be keeping his eye on you – not the other way around… so if needs be, HIDE! When your dog runs ahead, you turn and walk back in the direction you came from. If he turns left, you turn right, etc. Don’t constantly call him to keep up with you, if he loses sight of you he must work to find you again, and learn that keeping an eye on you – i.e. paying you a lot more attention – is the easy way forward. It helps to keep your dog within a workable range if their recall isn’t too reliable to start with (again, a long line is great for maintaining this) as the further he travels from you, the less likely he’ll be to respond to you, and distractions will take a priority once again.

Distraction, Duration and Distance…

Always remember the 3 ‘d’s of dog-training: distraction, duration and distance. You can only work on improving ONE of these at any one time; so for example, if u want to practise recall at a greater distance, you must do it in a much less distracting environment. Likewise, if you enter a far more distracting environment than usual, bring the distance right back down again, and work on a very short recall, rewarding every success.

If you feel your dog is failing at any point, put the lead back on, and return to a few heelwork exercises. Bring his focus and attention on you back to the forefront - the reward for doing this well, is free play again. It’s helpful to introduce a phrase that communicates to the dog that he’s free to have a wander – in our house ‘hang loose’ means off you go and relax. Dogs should be allowed free time to sniff and explore on walks; it’s equally as important as strong training.

As I said before, NEVER punish a dog that returns, returning should always be rewarded with praise, fun, and (if safe to do so) the freedom to go back out and play; the dog should learn that listening to you ultimately allows them more freedom, not restriction.

In Case of Emergency…

When it comes to emergency situations, it’s ideal to teach another command, such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’, which you can proof to a much more reliable standard fairly quickly. For example, if you are suddenly approached by horses, another dog, fast-moving traffic or any other potentially dangerous situation or unrehearsed scenario, it’s far less of a Herculean task in your dog’s mind to drop his hind quarters and sit down, than it is to tear himself away from that sudden incredible temptation, and back towards you. Just sit-stay your dog, then approach him and leash him (with lots of praise).

Of course, an article on something as important as recall can in no way replace the guidance and practical training an experienced practitioner can deliver in person, but these are a handful of tips that most everyday owners should be able to implement, and hopefully see some improvements with!

Let me know if you found this article helpful – and if there’s anything else you’d like to see some advice on in future posts.

Happy Walkies! x

By listendogtraining, Jun 5 2015 03:09PM

When you first bring your new puppy home, they’re a quivering little bundle of excitement, and once they’re allowed out for post-vaccination ’walkies,’ this excitement reaches out-of-this-world levels! They’ve just discovered a big wide world full of AMAZING smells and sights and sounds and people and dogs and cats and… they’re racing off into it like a steam train and paying you no attention whatsoever!

This constant pulling on the lead is manageable whilst they’re small, but if you’ve got a larger breed like a German Shepherd or a Labrador, trust me when I tell you that you’ll want to nip it in the bud as soon as you can.

My first recommendation is this: get your dog a harness. Some people will tell you not to put a ‘pully’ dog in a harness, because without the pressure of the collar tightening around their neck, they’ll feel happier to just pull even more… but if your dog is currently wearing a collar and pulling with all his might anyway, then the collar isn’t acting as much of a deterrent, is it? But what it is doing, is causing immense strain in an incredibly delicate and important area of the dog’s body, which, in the worst case, can cause serious damage to their throat and spine. Try putting your two hands out in front of you, palms facing down, and touch the tips of your thumbs together. Now wrap this around your neck, and press gently against your throat. Incredibly unpleasant, isn’t it? But as unpleasant as it is, it’s not stopping your dog from pulling – so do them a favour, and harness them up, so at least they can walk safely and without pain.

Having worked with almost every harness there is, I can personally recommend the ‘Perfect Fit’ harness. I’ve used a number of the so-called ‘anti-pull’ harnesses and headcollars on the market, and had only limited success. I tend to find that the dogs I have worked with will be receptive to them for a time, but will then soon develop a resistance and simply revert back to their previous pulling behaviour. What I love about the Perfect Fit, is that it features TWO D-rings for you to attach a double-ended lead to, giving a far greater level of control, and the ability to communicate with and steer your dog in a much more comfortable, accurate, and harm-free way.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the use of double-ended leads, they are generally attached by one end to the dog’s back (on the harness) and by the other end to the dog’s chest (on the harness). You can then control the dog’s ability to move off with incredible ease, and minimum strength. The attachment at the dog’s back provides you with general control, but the attachment at the front allows you to stop the dog from pulling – because if they do so they will simply be pulled back around in a circle. Pulling forward with any kid of chest-attached lead throws the dog’s balance so they simply cannot travel in a straight line past a certain point – try it on your dog and I promise you’ll be amazed at how suddenly your steam train is transformed into a passive companion! Once you have a more controllable dog, you can begin to work on their lead training with much greater ease, so that eventually you no longer need to use the chest attachment at all, and your dog will walk well because of his manners, rather than because of a restrictive piece of equipment!

So, how to lure out those all-important manners?

Whilst there is no magical ‘foolproof’ cure - every dog is different, with different levels of determination, tolerance, motivation, and the rest - there are lots of things you can do to help. Using a food treat to lure the dog into the correct position, sharply changing direction every time the dog reaches the end of its lead, and stopping dead every time the dog pulls are all popular methods… BUT a lot of people say to me “I tried that and it DOESN’T WORK!”

So let me tell you what the important thing to remember is here: until your dog will walk without trying to pull you over, you need to remain 100% consistent – it’s demanding work, but you will see results if you stick with it. So this means that until your dog grasps the concept, EVERY walk must be considered a training session… and for training sessions to be effective, they need to be short, frequent and fun.

Unfortunately, this means that for the time being (if you’re really serious about this), these short lead-walking sessions won’t provide adequate exercise, so find other means to use up all that pent up energy, like a game of fetch outside, some sprinting in the garden, or a long game of tug in the house. It will help if your dog has been exercised in this way BEFORE you put their lead on too – a slightly tired out dog is much more likely to listen, and less likely to steam off ahead!

I suggest you use high value food treats (like cheese, ham, sausage, etc. not just manufactured dry dog treats) and speed up your walking pace during training; your dog is more likely to pay you attention if you’re moving quickly.

Attach a verbal command to the act of walking beside you, ‘heel’ is the obvious one. Use this word every time your dog is beside you, and treat/praise regularly. The purpose of this is that eventually, you will teach your dog to differentiate between walking to heel, and free walking. No dog should have to walk to heel 100% of the time, and should be allowed free time to roam and explore sights and scents – as long as you know you can call them in when needs be. With my own dogs, ‘heel’ means get beside me, and ‘off you go’ means trot off and explore a little!

A great starting point is to establish ‘heel’ at home, by simply placing the dog in a ‘sit’ beside your left leg. Lure them (with a treat) from in front of you to beside you with the command ‘heel’ – once they reach the correct position, praise and reward. A clicker is a great way to mark the behaviour you’re praising, and can help to speed up the learning process. Once your dog understands the term ‘heel’ and will move to the correct position without the need for the lure, you can begin by taking your first step. If the dog stays beside you, praise (or click) and treat. Repeat this. Eventually you can take two steps. Then three. And so on… by the end of the training session you should be able to walk a circle around the room, with your dog by your heel. After this, you progress to the garden (in a separate session), and go back to the beginning – one step, then reward. When you’ve nailed the garden, you try the street… but it’s back to the beginning again. Each time you upgrade the environment to a more distracting or challenging one, you start again from scratch, to reinforce what you’ve already taught. If at any point your dog fails, take everything back a step – it is your job to set them up for success, not failure.

The most important thing to remember here is consistency. Until your dog has grasped the concept, EVERY walk needs to be focussed on keeping your dog beside you – if you throw in a quick ‘Oh who cares, I need to get him walked because I’m in a rush and I’m sick of not getting anywhere so I’ll just let him pull me along this time’ then all the progress you’ve made so far is shattered – he learns that if HE is consistent enough with his pulling, he’ll win YOU over in the end! I’ve mentioned the harness and double ended lead once already and I’ll mention it again here – because I think it’s an invaluable tool in keeping your dog beside you for those times you DO need to walk them, but have not yet mastered full control of the heel. It prevents the dog from steaming off ahead, and undoing all of their learning so far… and it prevents you getting all hot and agitated!

If you’d like any further detailed advice on teaching your dog to heel, please get in touch! You can email and I’ll do my best to get back to you promptly.

Happy walkies! :-)

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