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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!


If there's anything you'd like to see covered here, simply drop me an email at: 


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By listendogtraining, Jan 3 2017 09:00AM

Generally speaking, fear in a dog will manifest itself as a result of one of three influencing factors. These are: learning and experience, a lack of adequate socialisation or habituation, or a genetic origin.

The first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life are regarded as critical in terms of socialisation and habituation; owners are recommended to expose their puppies – in a positive way – to as many sights, sounds and experiences as possible during this period of time when their puppy is least likely to react with fear. As Fogle states in ‘The Dog’s Mind,’ “Pups that are deprived of this normal exposure to common stimuli during their critical periods of development quite simply become fearful dogs when they mature... virtually all dogs will show a fear response to new and unusual stimuli that they have not experienced before they were sixteen weeks old.” So for example, if the puppy spends its early months kept exclusively indoors, in a quiet environment away from busy streets, cyclists, noisy traffic, heavy rainfall, etc. then it will more than likely really struggle to cope with exposure to the big wide world without fear or anxiety, as it matures.

Alternatively, it could be that due to a negative experience, the dog has inadvertently been conditioned to be fearful at the presentation of a certain stimulus. For example, if the dog is involved in a painful collision with a cyclist, he could develop a fear of cyclists as a result, because he learned, via this experience, that cyclists cause him pain.

Of course, it is also possible that a dog’s fearfulness is in fact genetic in origin; it is indeed true that puppies inherit characteristics from their parents – it is thanks to this passing on of genes, in fact, that we are able to selectively breed dogs that vary quantitatively in terms of aggression, maternal instinct, and other key traits.

If you are struggling with a fearful dog, it is critical that you seek out professional assessment so that the right course of action can be determined – but have heart! There are plenty of ways and means that fearful dogs can be rehabilitated, and go on to become happy companions!

By listendogtraining, Dec 18 2016 01:40PM

To say that ‘there are no bad dogs, only bad owners’ implies that the actions and behaviours of the owner are the ONLY possible influential factors that can affect the personality, motivation, and behaviour of a dog – and this is certainly not the case.

We know that dogs are affected by a vast array of stimuli from incredibly early on; Bruce Fogle goes so far as to say that dogs can even be affected by the state of mind of their mother, during their time in her uterus, alluding to research that suggests that stressed pregnant mothers can produce more fearful animals, and in particular that bitches who are stressed during their third term of pregnancy are more likely to produce puppies with reduced learning ability, extremes of behaviour and increased emotional states.

There are so many factors that can influence a dog’s personality and behaviour outside of those within the owner’s control, including experiences with its mother and littermates, adequate or inadequate socialisation with other dogs during puppyhood, the memory of traumatic experiences, such as being attacked by another dog, the dog’s genetic make-up, breeding history and state of health... the list goes on.

However, whilst there are many factors outside of the owner’s control, it is equally true that there are many, many factors within the owner’s control, which can greatly alter a dog’s behaviour also. So if you took two genetically identical puppies, who had reasonably similar personalities, it is safe to assume that if one puppy was placed with an owner who provided adequate socialisation, obedience training, nutrition, exercise and companionship, then that dog would be seen to thrive in comparison to his counterpart, who had been placed with an owner who did not exercise, socialise or train their dog appropriately. Such a neglected dog would be more likely to develop problems such as aggression or anxiety around other dogs due to poor socialisation, bad manners due to poor training, and problem behaviours such as destructive chewing or excessive barking due to inadequate exercise or stimulation.

The above is a very controlled comparison; the point still remains that no two dogs are the same, even if they are selected from the same litter. Add to that the further diversity that exists as a result of the myriad breeds we have today, all bred for different purposes and to display incredibly varying behaviours, and you find it is impossible to place sole responsibility for a dog’s ‘bad’ or ‘good’ nature on the owner alone.

Nevertheless, what can certainly be said, is that whilst the owner is not the only influence on the nature of their dog, they can be an immense influence, and this is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

When investing in a puppy or dog, you must always take full responsibility for providing the essential training, socialisation, healthcare, exercise and companionship that that dog requires, to provide them with the best chance of growing into a well-rounded, good-natured canine companion. When the breed traits and natural instincts of a dog are left unfulfilled, behaviour problems are going to occur, so to do your best to ensure a dog is happy, balanced and safe, you must take into account the needs of the dog you have chosen, based on its breed and its individual personality, and provide the most appropriate lifestyle and care possible... the rest is up to the universe!

By listendogtraining, May 12 2016 11:18AM

Those of you who know me, will know that I’m always preaching on about how prevention is better than cure when it comes to canine behaviour.

When we first pick up our brand new puppy from the breeder at 8 weeks old, we are gifted with the most wonderful thing of all – a fantastic socialisation window - and it’s amazing that so many people are entirely unaware of it. Put simply, your puppy is at the prime age to experience everything the big wide world has to offer in a positive way… so don’t just keep him locked up in the kitchen!

What happens to your puppy in the first 16 weeks of his life will ultimately determine the kind of dog he becomes as an adult. Whilst genetics will also come into play, generally speaking, his temperament, character and behaviour habits will all develop as a result of how well you socialise and habituate him during this critical time.

A socialised puppy is well-placed to think, learn and problem-solve as he grows up (making obedience training so much easier!) whereas a poorly socialised dog is likely to suffer anxiety and stress when faced with unfamiliar situations, experiences or interactions, severely hindering their ability to function at the top of their game.

What Do I Mean By Socialisation and Habituation?

Socialising your puppy means ensuring he receives ample opportunity to interact with men, women, other dogs, noisy children, cats… you name it! If he’s ever likely to encounter it in his lifetime, make sure he experiences plenty of it in the first 16 weeks of his life. During this time, a puppy is primed to react positively to the world around him, and is incredibly unlikely to form fear associations with anything he encounters, which makes it the ideal time to get your puppy used to whatever the world might throw at him. By making sure he has plenty of opportunity to interact, you are giving him plenty of time to learn the rules of play – he has the chance to develop a strong bite inhibition for all his interactions with humans and dogs, plus he’ll learn what’s acceptable and what’s not when greeting his fellow species… saving you a whole lot of trouble later on down the line!

Habituation is also incredibly important; this term refers to the process of ensuring your puppy gets used to all the different sights, sounds, and smells in his environment. Expose him to a noisy vacuum cleaner, a washing machine, traffic, cyclists, thunderstorms (CDs can be purchased for this purpose), umbrellas… anything in the world you can think of – show him! Even though we know it’s entirely harmless, a vacuum cleaner can seem absolutely terrifying to a dog that’s never encountered one before – so do yourself a favour and vacuum every day… at least for the first week (well there’s dog hair everywhere anyway, right?)

But I Can’t Take My Dog Out Until He Finishes His Vaccinations… Can I?

Of course you can! There are so many ways to expose your dog to the world without risking his health – just don’t put him on the ground. Carry him outside the school gates at collection time, so he learns to take the hustle and bustle of noisy children in his stride; take him out on a little drive around the block once a day so road journeys are no biggy. Invite the world, his wife and all their children and vaccinated dogs to your house to visit and play with your pup!

Just don’t keep him all locked away in a quiet, calm and uneventful house… or you’re just storing up a whole heap of trouble for the future!

Listen Dog Puppy Packages

I’ve put together a unique private puppy school package that’s ideal for first-time owners, or even second-time owners who want to be confident that they’re providing the best start in life for their new puppy! Unlike traditional puppy classes that take place in groups, and focus mainly on teaching beginner’s obedience, the Listen Dog puppy Package comes to you – and only you.

You will receive a private training plan uniquely tailored to you, your puppy and your family, and I will help you implement it in the comfort of your own home, so you needn’t worry about having to travel, you won’t need to share the attention of an instructor with 6 or 7 other owners and their puppies, and you can make sure the whole family can be involved in your puppy’s upbringing, right from the very start!

This fantastic private package will include four private consultations, during which you will learn about:

• Socialising your puppy (this includes meeting other dogs, and exposing your dog to the world in the right way and at the right time to avoid the development of phobias)

• House training

• Getting through the night (crate training – if you wish to use a crate)

• Acclimatising your dog to separation – avoid the development of separation anxiety

• How to play with your dog, and train appropriate play behaviours, such as ‘fetch’, and ‘drop it’, plus explore a range of stimulating games and activities you can both enjoy

• Walking correctly on a lead – without pulling

• Basic obedience training, including ‘sit’, ‘lay down’, ‘stay’, and ‘leave it’

• Basic recall

• How to deal with mouthing, chewing and teething

• How to stop your puppy from nipping and jumping up

• Acclimatisation to appropriate handling (ideal for visits to the vets, groomers, etc.)

• Canine communication and body language – how you can understand what your dog is saying to you

• Plus lots more!

But that’s not all - across the course of your training package, I will be available via telephone and email for advice, support and further trouble-shooting as and when you need it, and once you successfully complete your puppy course, your puppy will receive lots of lovely graduation goodies!

To Summarise, You Will Receive:

• A digital copy of Dr Ian Dunbar’s ‘Before You Get Your Puppy’

• A digital copy of Dr Ian Dunbar’s ‘After You Get Your Puppy’

• Four separate private training sessions, tailored to you and your puppy

• A personalised written training plan

• All relevant training handouts

• Listen Dog Goodie Bag, containing;

- Training Lanyard

- Clicker

- Recall Whistle

- Training Treats

• Open telephone and email communication until your puppy’s graduation

• Certificate of Graduation and a Golden Listen Dog Graduate Collar Tag

The Listen Dog Puppy Package will be available to book via the website from September 2016; if you have any queries in the meantime, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

My ultimate goal is to see as many puppies as possible grow up to be happy, healthy and relaxed adults, who are enjoyed by their families, and their four-legged friends at the park alike.

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

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