Listen Dog Training on Instagram Listen Dog Training on Facebook Full Member of the Pet Professionals Guild Mail black small

Proud Member of The Pet Professional Guild

listen-dog-web-ready PDT-Logo-Certified-Purple-01

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: 


or get in touch via our Facebook page:




By listendogtraining, Dec 30 2016 07:00PM

‘Classical conditioning’ – otherwise known as ‘Respondent conditioning’ was discovered and observed by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist who was studying digestion in dogs at the time. He noticed that the dogs would salivate before they were fed, and investigated the idea that perhaps the dogs were associating the lab assistants who fed them (or even the sound of the door opening) with the immediate presentation of food, and so tested this theory by ringing a bell just before the dogs were fed. He presented the sound of the bell immediately prior to the food, several times, before going on to present the sound of the bell alone. He discovered that, after this exercise, the dogs still responded by salivating, even though food was not present.

This type of response can be described as unconditioned or reflexive – the dogs cannot help but salivate when food is presented, it is a natural physical response that they do not decide upon. In classical conditioning therefore, an unconditioned stimulus (food) elicits an unconditioned response (salivation). It is a natural reaction. The sound of the bell began as an entirely neutral stimulus which elicited no response, but eventually became conditioned (by its association with the arrival of food) that it ended up causing the once unconditioned (but now conditioned) response of salivation. And it is this process of conditioning which is described as ‘Classical conditioning’.

Whereas the unconditioned responses that form the basis of Classical conditioning have a biological basis related to survival – i.e. reflexive actions of the glands – Operant conditioning, in contrast, involves the muscles of the dog which control his voluntary actions, such as sitting, running, and barking.

Operant conditioning was the work of B.F. Skinner, who wanted to take Pavlov’s findings (and the work of another scientist, Lee Thorndike) on to the next level, and explore how behaviour could be influenced by reward. It is the work of Skinner which now forms the basis for what we traditionally refer to as ‘dog training’ – teaching a dog to respond to verbal commands such as ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ etc. Skinner discovered that dogs learn faster when the desired behaviour is consistently rewarded – so if every time a dog responds to a certain cue by ‘sitting’ he is then given a treat, he will eventually learn to sit on command, by realising that this select behaviour is being rewarded, and voluntarily deciding to perform said behaviour. In stark contrast, the responses elicited through classical conditioning are not voluntarily decided upon by the dog, but brought about as mere reflex reactions, which are elicited on cue simply because this chosen cue was so frequently paired with the original, natural stimulus.

So to conclude, operant conditioning conditions voluntary responses decided upon by the dog, whereas classical conditioning conditions the involuntary, biological reflexes. To this end, it is operant conditioning that we apply in order to train assistance dogs, trick dogs and general obedience… whereas it is classical conditioning that we apply to help with socialisation, fear-rehabilitation, and the overcoming or prevention of any other problem behaviours that are a direct result of how the dog feels.

By listendogtraining, Dec 29 2016 07:00PM

Despite the fact that every decent dog breeder, trainer, and behaviourist will wax lyrical about the importance of good socialisation and habituation from an early age, there are still many dogs who grow up with fears and anxieties because they simply haven’t been exposed to the big wide world in the right way at the right time.

Any poorly socialised dog suffering from such issues must be reintroduced to the world slowly, and in an entirely positive manner. For example, if the dog shows anxiety or fear around other dogs, do not flood him into sensory overload with a trip to a dog-filled park, instead slowly introduce the concept of other dogs in his vicinity at a great distance. If another dog is visible in the distance and your dog spots it, praise and treat him incessantly. This kind of classical conditioning can be used to gradually build up a positive association in your dog’s mind, with the presence of other dogs. The same method can be applied to a range of anxiety-inducing stimuli, such as traffic, children, or men. Generally speaking, the best way to reduce fear is to keep introductions incredibly gradual, and make strong positive associations throughout.

As advocated by behaviourist Nicole Wilde, this process of desensitisation must be done steadily; never flood a dog with the trigger that frightens him, as this can be a traumatic experience for the dog, will not help to resolve the problem, and can in fact make matters worse, because now the dog has a problem trusting you as well.

So if we take the sound of the hairdryer as an example, you could first turn it on upstairs whilst your dog is downstairs, and treat the dog. Then repeat this with the hairdryer in a nearby room on the same floor, then again in the next room, then again with the doors open, and then in the doorway of the room the dog is in, and so on and so forth.

For fearful dogs, confidence-building is a lengthy and heart-rending process, which requires dedication and understanding on the part of the owner; progress will be slow, but much more effective if taken at this pace. Be careful to pay attention to your dog, and watch out for subtle signs that your dog is getting stressed or anxious, such as excessive yawning, lip-licking or scratching. If, at any point during the desensitisation process your dog starts to display these behaviours, take a step back to a point in the process where your dog was not reacting with stress at all.

It is also critical to educate any friends and family who will be coming into contact with your dog on the current state of affairs, and ensure that these people do not behave in a way that may compromise any progress that is being made – it is incredibly frustrating to put in oodles of hard work as an owner, only to have a house-guest come striding in and undo it all in one fell swoop! If for example the dog seems fearful of people, spread the word to ensure that no-one approaches your dog quickly or noisily, or reaches out to pet the dog when it has not yet sought out contact.

Be wary of any behaviourist who says they can ‘fix’ your dog’s problems in ‘just one session’ – such results will probably be obtained using less than positive means, and will likely be short-lived. Genuine rehabilitation takes time, patience, consistency and dedication, but with commitment, and the help of a good professional, you can certainly rehabilitate your dog from a range of anxieties, and help him to enjoy life!

By listendogtraining, Dec 18 2016 02:53PM

When two dogs are meeting, their body language and greeting behaviours are so important in terms of whether they end up perceiving one another as a potential threat or a welcome playmate. Sometimes, when humans intervene in this initial greeting, these crucial body signals can be unwittingly interfered with, misread entirely by the other party, and lead to an unnecessary aggressive encounter, which could have otherwise been totally avoided!

For example, when a dog approaches another dog in his line of sight, he may become instantly excited to get over there and greet that dog, pronto! If he is on a lead, he might well start pulling energetically in a bid to reach the potential new playmate quickly. As a response to this, the owner will likely pull back on the lead to try and regain control of their excitable hound, creating a tension which their dog will strain against. Unfortunately, this straining posture inadvertently becomes a completely accidental display of some potentially aggressive looking body language. To the other dog, the dog straining on the lead will appear to be leaning forward (due to the tension on the lead) and likely staring at their potential playmate because they are so desperate to reach them despite their irritatingly reserved owner! The other dog however may instantly read this body language as threatening, and respond accordingly, which could quickly lead to a fight. Loose leads are an absolute must when it comes to greeting dogs out and about – if you can’t manage it, and you don’t know the other dog you are approaching, walk the other way.

Similarly, it must be noted by owners how important it is that their dogs are allowed to perform the correct social greeting behaviours when they do meet other dogs. Pheromones are one of the biggest contributors to non-verbal communications amongst dogs – which is why they are so obsessed with sniffing each other’s rear ends! If an owner were to interfere with this ritual and pull their dog away from another’s behind mid-sniff, their dog would be perceived by the other dog as behaving incredibly rudely – which again, could cause an attack.

The common act of sniffing one another’s rear ends when two dogs meet is like the equivalent of two people shaking hands – to not perform this behaviour is considered abnormal and a slight against the other dog. Bruce Fogle describes dogs as having ‘a veritable cornucopia of pheromones that activate or inhibit other dogs’ minds’; these pheromones are present in a dog’s saliva, faeces, urine, vaginal and preputial secretions, as well as their anal, perianal and dorsal tail glands, and provide a vast array of information to other dogs, including sexual status, social status, health information and more. In the same way that we might verbally introduce ourselves to a new person in order that they might learn some basic information about who we are, dogs learn this introductory factfile from the act of sniffing... and it is not to be interrupted!

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.

RSS Feed

Web feed