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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:

 

Lisa@ListenDogTraining.co.uk 

 

or get in touch via our Facebook page:

 

www.Facebook.com/ListenDog

 

 

 

By listendogtraining, Jan 24 2017 08:12PM

Something I am always reiterating to clients, is that there is very rarely such a thing as a ‘quick fix’ when it comes to dog training and behavioural rehabilitation. If you want long-term, positive results, you need to take a long-term committed approach to focussing on the way you interact and work with your dog. I know it sounds like hard work, but dedicating yourself to putting the effort in now can have life-changing results for the both of you, if you manage to stick with it!


Three years ago, I was at my wits’ end with my Labrador cross Nova. She was born to two hyperactive, reactive parents, entirely by accident, and I took her on as an 8-week old puppy not knowing any better. I also had two children, both under the age of 3 to manage… and to say I had a lot on my plate was an understatement! Life was chaotic, and Nova’s behavioural problems made her much more of a chore than a delight. She was dog-reactive, hyperactive, destructive… you name it! We had taken her to puppy classes and paid private trainers… but nothing really seemed to make the changes we were so desperately seeking – until I took the plunge, and my husband and I agreed I was going to dedicate myself to the cause whole-heartedly. It was go hard or go home time – so I went hard! I enrolled in a 2-Year Canine Behaviour Diploma, volunteered at a local rescue, studied a number of other training and behaviour courses, graduated everything with distinction and applied for full accreditation with the Pet Professionals Guild. Now I was the pro who could tame the beast that lived with us… and I did! Three years later, Nova is an absolute delight to share our home and our lives with – the children adore her trick performances (which have earnt her a few prizes so far) and my once dog-reactive hound is now free to frolic safely and happily with any dog she chooses on our daily off-lead adventures.


But none of this was achieved quickly, or without great effort, dedication and perseverance. I kept notebooks, pin boards, checklists, flashcards… you name it and I had our latest training sessions and schedules scrawled out all over it. There were exercises we needed to repeat daily for her to learn to replace old unwanted behaviours with new ones, not to mention the myriad new cues I needed her to learn to keep her thinking/problem-solving brain active, and her reactive/anxious brain away from the control panel!


What I desperately wanted – but could not find anywhere – was a journal/planner that was designed specifically for dog owners and trainers, to help them design, plan and implement a long-term training programme that would guarantee them results. A place where goals, tricks, cues and behaviours could be listed and logged, training sessions could be recorded and progress could be charted… but it seemed like nothing like that existed. So I thought… I’ll create one!



And The Listen Dog Training Planner was born! This fantastic planner contains more than 60 pages designed specifically to help dog owners plan their training goals, and chart their progress, week after week, to keep them right on track towards their target training goal. This book is the companion no dog owner or training enthusiast should be without!


Filled with modern, positive, professional guidance and top tips throughout, this planner is filled with pages specially created to enable you to get the most out of training your dog. There are sections dedicated to puppy training, trick training, behaviour training, weekly planning, dog show tracking and so much more - that’s more than 60 pages for you to utilise to take your dog training to the next level!


The best thing about it? It’s downloadable – so once you’ve paid for it once, you need never buy another one! Simply print out and fill up your planner, use the weekly pages to progress, and once you’ve reached the end of the dog training planner, you can instantly print out another! Build upon your dog’s obedience and abilities in 8-week blocks, and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.



Want one of your own, so that you and your dog can achieve great things this year, too? These fantastic dog training journals are now available here!


Happy training!


Lisa




By listendogtraining, Jan 1 2017 11:00AM

A dramatic shift of opinion has occurred in the world of dog training over the last 50 years; Burch and Bailey note that in the 1930s and 1940s, most trainers believed that animals needed to be ‘broken’ in order to work properly, whereas today’s trainers for the most part advocate an entirely opposing ideology of positivity and reward.


These dog trainers of the ‘old-school’ variety were firm advocators of training by punishing undesirable behaviour, arguing that your dog will obey you if he fears the consequence of disobeying you. However, the modern approach to dog training today has taken a massive shift towards more positive methods, promoting the achievement of success by encouraging and rewarding the right behaviour, as opposed to punishing the wrong behaviour.


Science too seems to support this theory, as we now know that dogs are more likely to learn a selected behaviour successfully, if they are forming a positive association during training. Thanks to the hippocampus (an important part of the limbic system, involved in learning, emotions, and the formation of memories), using positive stimulation to develop desirable behaviour means that lessons are linked to favourable emotions, and are therefore more properly fixed in the dog’s brain. For example, every time you give your dog a command, if the behaviour you are commanding him to perform contradicts the behaviour his instincts are compelling him towards, your dog has a decision to make. By offering a reward that your dog considers more valuable than the natural reward he may receive by following his instinct, you are creating a positive association in the dog’s mind with fulfilling said command. By associating a positive emotion to the dog’s memory of this command, you are more likely to cement it in the dog’s mind, and find it successful in practise. So if the particular lesson is an exercise in recall, you could reward your dog for responding to your call with a piece of ham or chicken – a valuable reward in the eyes of a dog, especially if you dog is food-motivated. If this is repeated often enough to create a strong positive association in the dog’s memory, then the dog is much more likely to return to you even when his instincts tell him to do otherwise – if he sees a cat he’d like to chase, for example!


As a result of such modern science, most contemporary dog trainers now advocate the exclusive use of positive methods, such as food rewards, conditioned reinforcers (such as clickers), and the whole-hearted exclusion of all aversive punishers.


Evidence that positive punishment can have an undesirable effect is even evident in the canine world; Erik Wilsson’s aforementioned study at The Swedish Dog Training Centre looked at the social interaction between mothers and puppies, and noted that the evolving behaviour exhibited by mothers as their puppies grew from 3 weeks of age to 8 weeks of age was capable of having a permanent effect on the minds of those puppies. He noted that some mothers were much more severe with their aggressive altering of their relationship with their puppies from a ‘care-dependency’ relationship to one of ‘dominance-submission’ as they grew, and that this had a direct bearing on how that puppy would ultimately behave with people. For example, when trying to wean their puppies, some mothers were much more aggressive than others, and would continue to punish them even after they withdrew from her. Wilsson said that the social bonds within these litters were weaker than those within litters where mothers had been more benign, and that these puppies ended up less socially gregarious with people; they were less likely to approach even a passive human, and when tested playing ‘fetch’, they were less likely to perform than the other puppies.


So, whilst learning the art of dominance submission through maternal punishment is critical for every puppy (so that s/he may grow up to become well-mannered and able to properly socialise with others of his species) it has become evident that a mother who applies too much positive punishment can actually have a very inhibitive effect on her puppies’ future personalities, and interactions. Puppies may grow up overly anxious, less willing to socialise, and less willing to interact in training exercises and play activities.


In this case, the more punishment received (above the critical threshold), the worse off the dogs ended up. But does this mean we must rule out punishment altogether? Perhaps not – perhaps it means taking a more measured approach – which professionals in the area of canine behaviour management are far better equipped to do than Joe Public. Most agree that dogs need limitations and boundaries in order to become well-balanced – this does not mean they should be hit, shocked or hurt for choosing to disobey a known command, or performing an unwanted behaviour – but in some instances a firm verbal reprimand may be put to good use.


For those who are unable to distinguish between what is ok, and what is ‘too much,’ the safest advice would be to rule out punishment altogether, in order to avoid the erroneous application of punishment, and the disastrous effects of such an error. Burch and Bailey confirm that caution regarding the use of punishment is critical – as it can result in aggression, extreme shyness, extreme fear, and more. Perhaps advising the general public against punishment in its entirety is simply the easiest way to guard against its erroneous use. If a dog owner angrily hits a dog for urinating on the rug, then this is physical abuse, as opposed to the systematic and planned use of punishment.


In broad terms, unwanted behaviours can be ignored, in favour of lavishly praising the juxtaposing desired behaviour when it occurs, or they might, by some trainers, be calmly corrected in a planned and controlled manner, especially when all other punishment-free approaches have been thoroughly applied – any form of punishment that causes unnecessary pain or distress, is just abuse.


Most owners do not want to see their puppy or dog in pain, distress or any other form of suffering – so if the use of positive-only methods mean that more owners will seek out, stick to, and even excel at training schedules they are introduced to by professionals, then that can only be a good thing!


However, whilst our knowledge of dogs’ minds and behaviours improves, it is interesting that we are choosing to entirely exclude a form of canine behaviour and critical communication that is massively present – and crucial - amongst the canine species. Why is it that we are choosing not to apply the use of positive punishment, when it is so extremely evident as a form of communication/training amongst dogs themselves?


Bruce Fogle highlights that during the socialisation period of a puppy, the mother-pup relationship between a bitch and her offspring evolves to one of dominance-submission – and referencing a study carried out by Erik Wilsson at The Swedish Dog Training Centre, Fogle highlights that ‘inhibited bites’, ‘growls’, and ‘mouth threats’ were all amongst the behaviours used by mothers to redefine their relationship with their puppies as they grew older. So if dogs use positive punishment as a form of interaction/communication within their own relationships, why don’t we?


One argument put against the use of positive punishment is the viewpoint of some that as a species, we may be cohabiting with dogs, but we are not dogs, and our dogs know that we are not dogs. So to attempt to mimic them is not the right thing to do. Cesar Milan’s controversial ‘mimicking’ of the mother bitch’s corrective snap (delivered to a dog with his hand) is one such example, and is frowned upon by many as an unnecessary physical punishment.


However, if one were to argue that we should not be mimicking dogs, then the only solution is to behave and communicate simply as a human. Do we use punishment within our species? Of course we do. If you were to behave disobediently at school you might be punished by having to write 100 lines; it’s an aversive punishment used to decrease the frequency of a student’s unwanted behaviour. We punish criminals with prison, or community service, and we might punish children with extra chores if they have been naughty. The world would be a very different place if our only response to crime was to ignore it entirely! So, to play devil’s advocate, a supporter of the use of punishment might argue that if dogs use it amongst dogs, and humans use it amongst humans... then it is somewhat confusing that the dog-human relationship must be managed entirely without it.


The reason the reaction to the use of punishment in today’s society is now so strong, is likely a direct result of the abhorrent and extreme punishing techniques known to have be used in old-school training methods. Old-school trainers -particularly those working in the military- believed, at the time, that dogs must experience consequences for negative behaviour, rather than being lavished with food rewards for good behaviour, alleging this to be a better way to produce reliable obedience, since these dogs were depended upon to keep their handlers alive and safe in serious situations. Unfortunately for the dogs being trained at the time, some barbaric forms of punishment – like prong collars, electric shocking, hitting, choking and shaking – were commonplace. As a result of the entirely justified modern outcry against such awful forms of punishment, it would seem that ALL forms of punishment have now been grouped under the same umbrella term, and thrown out alongside. (Although ironically, even people who claim to use ONLY positive methods can still be seen to shout a stern ‘NO!’ when their dog misbehaves, or yank angrily at the lead when their dog starts barking at the nearest cat.)


I think a balanced conclusion should be that when it comes to any form of behaviour modification or training, positive reinforcement should always be the first port of call – and there’s plenty of research to testify to that effect. Elly Hiby published a paper in 2004 after comparing the relative effects of reward and punishment, concluding that the dogs trained using rewards became more obedient, whereas those trained using punishment displayed an increase in bad behaviours. In 2008, another study was published further supporting Hiby’s findings, which stated that positive reinforcement led to lesser displays of fear and attention-seeking behaviours, whilst dogs trained using punishment were showing increased aggression in comparison.



By listendogtraining, Nov 10 2016 12:11PM

The hippocampus is described as the most important part of the limbic system, because it is responsible for emotions and memory, and plays a dramatic role in the capability of a dog to be taught and trained.


For example, dog trainers of the ‘old-school’ variety were firm advocators of training by punishing undesirable behaviour – your dog will obey you if he fears the consequence of disobeying you. However, the modern approach to dog training today has taken a massive shift towards more positive methods, achieving success by encouraging and rewarding the right behaviour, as opposed to punishing the wrong behaviour.


Thanks to the hippocampus, using positive stimulation to develop desirable behaviour means that lessons are linked to favourable emotions, and are therefore more properly fixed in the dog’s brain. For example, every time you give your dog a command, if the behaviour you are commanding him to perform contradicts the behaviour his instincts are compelling him towards, your dog has a decision to make. By offering a reward that your dog considers more valuable than the natural reward he may receive by following his instinct, you are creating a positive association in the dog’s mind with fulfilling said command. By associating a positive emotion to the dog’s memory of this command, you are more likely to cement it in the dog’s mind, and find it successful in practise. So if the particular lesson is an exercise in recall, you could reward your dog for responding to your call with a piece of ham or chicken – a valuable reward in the eyes of a dog, especially if you dog is food-motivated. If this is repeated often enough to create a strong positive association in the dog’s memory, then the dog is much more likely to return to you even when his instincts tell him to do otherwise – if he sees a cat he’d like to chase, for example!


So if you want your dog to really remember something, hijack the way his mind deals with committing information to memory, and ensure he’s feeling good during training. The easiest way? Ditch the punishments and dole out the rewards!





By listendogtraining, Nov 10 2016 10:54AM

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself repeatedly talking to clients about the importance of using ridiculously strong-smelling treats in training and rehabilitation exercises, so I thought I’d go into a little detail on the matter here, in case anyone else could use a little help that only a handful of freshly cooked sausage will achieve!



The limbic system is the most primitive part of the dog’s brain, and is responsible for experiencing and expressing emotions, which can directly affect behaviour. It controls memory function, and is responsible for the way in which the dog perceives the world around him, and his own relationship to it.


The limbic system is made up of the amygdale (where aggression and fear are generated) the hypothalamus (which controls the release of hormones) the hippocampus (important for memory function) and parts of the cerebral cortex (where behaviour is organised) as well as other structures.

There is a direct link between the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system, which means that physical behaviours can be caused by emotions , e.g. a dog’s hunger and thirst is suppressed when he feels sad, which can result in many dogs not eating when they are left home alone, only to consume their food and resume drinking when their owners return. When there is any conflict in a dog’s mind over which course of action to take – because what he wants to do and what he has been instructed to do, differ – then this conflict is dealt with in the limbic system.


In terms of encouraging a dog to obey our instructions, even in times of conflicting desires, we must attempt to override this system, by either increasing the reward he gets for obeying our command, and making it greater than the reward he might naturally receive if he disobeyed (catching that cat he’s just spotted, for example) or by punishing his decision to ignore our command. If however, the reward you offer is of a lesser value to the dog than what it is currently doing, it is the limbic system that is responsible for your command being ignored.


How Does Smelly Food Help?


So important is a dog’s sense of smell, that a large part of its brain is devoted solely to the analysis of odours – the olfactory bulb. A dog has two olfactory bulbs, each weighing around 60 grams, which is four times as heavy as human olfactory bulbs. Pair this with the fact that the human brain is ten times bigger than that of a dog, and it becomes evident that the canine brain has 40 times the amount of its brain dedicated to smell alone, than we humans do.


The olfactory system is so incredibly important, as it means that a dog’s sense of smell bypasses their usual decision-making process entirely, and is linked directly to memory and emotion. As such, behaviourists can exploit this to help dogs very quickly overcome certain problems.


For example, engaging a dog’s nose with a smelly treat at the right moment can help to create a positive association where there was previously a negative one, helping to override the dog’s usual reaction to a chosen stimulus, which may previously have caused problems such as anxiety or aggression. So a dog that is anxious in the company of other dogs, children, or the vacuum cleaner, for example, can be taught to react positively if the reward is SMELLY enough. (Put the dry biscuits down and get out the cooked sausages!)


In stark contrast, a dog’s sense of taste is actually not that impressive; dogs have around 1700 tastebuds, whereas we humans have around 9000. It makes sense then, that when it comes to eating, the taste of the food is actually not the overriding factor when it comes to whether your dog is going to eat it or not, and is by no means as influential a factor to a dog as it is to a human. Smell is in fact believed to be the most important factor to a dog, followed by the texture of the food, and finally, how it tastes. So like I said – put those dry biscuits down, and get some juicy meat in the oven! The smellier the better when it comes to helping your dog commit a new skill to memory, or overriding a negative association and forming a shiny new positive one.




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.







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