Saturday, December 19, 2020

Ho - Ho - Ho... Merry Christmas?


Well, it's that time again. The season of goodwill to all men, of Santa Claus and baby Jesus and endless Red, Gold and Green stuff.

Even with covid-19 being a guest at too many tables, everyone is busy planning how they are going to see people, zoom people, drive by people's houses to drop presents off wearing festive masks and holding hand gel. Kids faces are getting that expectant glow, and parents excitedly buy sprouts and tinsel and bags of chocolate reindeer poo.

A time of great joy, magic and wonder, right?

Well... erm… not always.

For people who struggle with anxiety, this time of year is a minefield of potential things to worry about. 

From money struggles, to fears around covid-19, to wondering if your presents were going to be well received, to the sheer horror that can surround being forced into social situations at work or even within our own friends and family circles, and so many more things that come up at those time - memories and loneliness, all the noise and pressure. It can be a lot to deal with.

You feel like you should be enjoying Christmas, like all the other people do - but the truth is that not everyone does enjoy Christmas. Or, some people prefer their Christmas a little more quiet and reserved.

If this is how you feel, then that is ok. You are not alone in feeling like that. There are many, many people who struggle at this time of year and it is important to remember that if you don't take care of yourself and what you need first, then you can't take care of, or be fully present with anyone else - including your well meaning friends and family.

Take time out to have rest breaks from it all. Schedule in "days off", and allow time for dog walks etc on days where you might feel expected to be super social. Nobody can blame you for taking a couple of hours out to go and attend to your dog. Have bubble baths and take a bit longer in them. Light candles. Colour in mandalas. Do whatever it takes to give yourself a little physical and mental space regularly through it all.

Eat and sleep as well as you can, we all enjoy Christmas sweeties but be sure to get some healthy stuff in too, and avoid a shed load of alcohol which will only make you feel more anxious over the days that follow a session. You don't have to be the life and soul of the party, and by giving yourself adequate care you will cope better.

If you are the other way and find yourself feeling lonely over Christmas, which many people with anxiety often do, then that is not uncommon either. An anxious person feels a lack of company, even though that company might make them feel anxious - it is catch 22 and is compounded at Christmas when we are surrounded by images of families unwrapping presents together and we notice our lives do not look like that.

All in all Christmas can be a wonderful time, but it can also be a bit of a struggle, and I want you to know that if you need to reach out, then you can send us a message. We may be closed for dog training over the festive period but we are not unavailable for those who might need us. 

Stay safe and have a peaceful festive season.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Fun Not Fear®️ Complete Dog Care Course

Wow - isn't it amazing how necessity drives invention? 

We have accidentally discovered a niche and our new passion at Locke's Dogs.

Our new Fun Not Fear®️ Complete Dog Care Course.

The amount of time I have spent inside the home this year, coupled with my own experiences of my own and other's anxiety and social anxiety, has led me to re-examination of how I teach dog training and dog-life skills to an entire gang of people!

I have seen how hard it can be to look after your pets, mainly dogs admittedly, in my line of work, but other pets too, when social anxiety is a factor. So, I have made something a bit special just for you!

I have gotten together with people who are amazing in their fields to help me teach you better, in ways that are tailored to suit your needs. I decided to approach people who know more than I do, in certain areas of dog care, so that I can be certain you are getting the best advice from the best people! 

Every specialist I include on the course is also a force-free and positive method user, so you can guarantee that everything we do will be kind and enjoyable for your dog. At Locke's Dogs we use Fun Not Fear®️ methods with our dogs (and our humans!!!!) and so we will never use shocks, prongs, collar pops, shouting or any other harsh and unnecessary equipment. Modern training is much kinder and more fun than that, you will love it and so will your dog!

Every person studying the course will also be able to relate to the other people studying the course as they will have similar life experiences, struggles and successes, so it will be easier to find new friends among the group too.

With a pile of resources to make your life easier, advice and support, we know we can make a huge difference to your daily life with your dog.

I am so, so, so excited and this is just the beginning - the beauty of realising a special area of interest is that it can only get better and better as I gain more knowledge and experience of that particular area.

I love, love, love being able to use my platform to make a real difference to people and their dogs. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Why I don't use punishment or aversives in training.

One of the many things that people will read about when looking for a trainer or behaviourist is what method of training the dog trainer will use. Most modern trainers are taught to use "positive" or "reward based" methods. Some trainers will use "balanced" methods which utilise punishment and aversives, while others are completely punishment based. Thankfully the completely punishment based are very few and far between, the balanced are a dying breed, and positive is the way forward.

"What the fuck are you on about?" I hear you ask. Well here goes.

For many years, people were taught that dogs need to be shown "who is boss", "who is dominant in  the pack" and that their dog should be "submissive" to their human. These ideas were based on a flawed study involving captive, unrelated wolves and their behaviour around each other and resources such as food, mates and so on. A bit like "Big Brother" on tv, but with wolves. 

These wolves did not know each other from Adam, and being confined only had access to limited resources as they were unable to move out from the area and go hunting and seeking the things they wanted. So they fought over the things that were available to them. Naturally, the bigger, healthier and stronger wolves were able to be more competitive than their smaller counterparts and received a bigger share of the resources. So, the humans decided that these wolves were dominant and "Alpha", and this is how a pack would behave, and so to make the dogs act like the seemingly "lower ranking" wolves who were less aggressive, we must bully them into being submissive. 

The trouble is, wolves do not behave like that in a natural setting. They are more like a family, with mum and dad, taking care of the rest of the family, older siblings that can go off and start their own families and they rarely fight over resources at all. The pecking order as to who gets fed first varies from day to day, and the wolves jobs within the pack is also fluid. Then there is the fact that although they have a common ancestor, dogs and wolves are two entirely different species. One evolved to stay away from humans, the other to hang around with us instead, and their brains think and react differently as a result.

So the study of how wolves behave was wrong. The scientists who observed these wolves then spent a bloody long time trying to tell the world of their mistake, but by this point the damage was done. Trainers in village halls, and TV trainers were telling people to yank their dogs with prong collars, zap them with shock collars, do "alpha rolls" which involve pinning the dog to the floor until they stop wriggling, biting the dog's ear and so on, and because the dogs were afraid, for a temporary period the treatment works. Punishment, by definition, means to reduce a behaviour. Punishment must work, or it would not be punishment.

However... with using punishment in training there are flaws. Not just that it is not very nice to zap, bite, hit or yell at your "best friend" while you try to get them to "submit" to you - to me that sounds like domestic violence, and if a human did that to another human, it would be viewed incredibly dimly by other humans and the law, but also, when the unwanted behaviour stops, so does the punishment. 

Which means training has stopped. If a dog has practiced something, they have gotten good at it, even if that thing is an unwanted behaviour. Now, the dog has probably reached a level of tolerance to the punishment, has stopped being trained not to do the unwanted behaviour, and so the unwanted behaviour can creep back in and need a harsher level of punishment before the behaviour stops again.

Punishment does not tell the one whose behaviour is being punished what you DO want instead. Try asking your partner to do the washing up, by saying nothing but "no" from the moment you see them, until they get right what you want them to do. Now just simply say "it would be really nice if you could wash up, please" and see how much quicker they understand.

Think of the dog who has been told "no" countless times when it comes to chasing the cat. The dog, might stop chasing the cat if told off, often enough. But he loves chasing the cat, plus he is also getting used to being told off, so when he goes to chase the cat and being told off no longer cuts it, what next? Should he be shouted at more harshly? That might work quickly at first, but when that stops working, what next? Hit? What when that stops working? Kicked? Zapped with a shock collar? The punishment is spiralling and even though there are interludes of the dog deciding to behave appropriately and not chase the cat, eventually the chase of the cat becomes more valuable to him than the fear of the punishment, especially if the behaviour has not been punished for a while so the dog is less bothered by it, and so the cycle begins again. He may even begin to blame the cat for the bad thing that happens to him and then you have a whole new set of problems. 

Now imagine, if instead of chasing the cat, the dog was firstly managed with stair gates, or a long line, so he could not actually physically get to the cat (after all - positive does NOT mean just let the dog do as he pleases). The dog could be taught calmness in his daily life so as to not be so aroused to feel the need to chase so often. The dog could be taught to disengage from the cat. The dog who is really, really, reeeeaaaally adamant on chasing the cat as he has a really strong prey drive and can't help himself could be rewarded for doing something else still - he might very well enjoy a chaser tuggy (a fluffy toy on a rope for tugging and chasing) or a flirt pole (like a cat's toy on a string but much bigger and the string is attached to a horse lunging whip so he can run around very fast, chasing it) for example, and so they can indulge their desire to chase and catch something fluffy or squeaky, and actually be rewarded for doing so. If the reward is reinforcing enough, the dog's behaviour will change.

By practicing behaviour in an appropriate manner, the dog is getting good at an appropriate behaviour and both human and dog are winning - and as a bonus no cats are eaten in the process. The better the dog behaves, the more they get rewarded. In the meantime, management means he is not practicing chasing the cat and so that behaviour is becoming slowly extinct. Training continues for the dog, with every praise. How much better is that for the dog and human relationship? How much nicer and fairer is that for the dog? After all - it is us who want the dog to behave in a certain way. The dog couldn't give a fuck. He just wants to chase something. So it is up to us to make it worth his while.

Positive training has never been about letting the dog do as they please, or being soft, despite popular thinking - if anything it takes a bigger skill set than punishment, as the trainer has to work out how to lead the dog forward in an appropriate way that works. They need to work out what makes that dog tick, what reinforces his behaviours. A good trainer with good knowledge and a good skill set will be able to do this - if you need help with your own dog, ask a qualified professional (like me ;-) ). In truth it might take a little longer at first than simply zapping, yanking or yelling at the dog each time they do something you do not like, though with adequate management most behaviours can be instantly stopped. 

The effects of positive training are much, much longer lasting than punishment and mean relationship building, and help to teach your dog that the world is a good place, you are a good person, how to behave appropriately and be happy about doing so - and is that not what we want for our best friends?

Friday, September 11, 2020

Change the energy, change the behaviour.

We often talk about stress buckets (arousal thresholds) and emptying them while doing our consults and training, trying to remove sources of stress by management or by desensitisation and counter conditioning, but sometimes a place can be just as much of a bucket filler as any physical trigger. Just the thought of going to certain places can mean your dog's bucket is overflowing before you even leave the house, and dogs often can't behave in ways we deem appropriate when they are way over their threshold or their bucket is full.

Behaviour can be very strongly influenced by mere habit  and what you practice, you get good at. If you are always finding your dog is too highly aroused to think straight in a certain place, you should think about changing the associations your dog has with that place. 

This is more simple than you would think.

A building generally has walls, a roof, and a floor, as a bare minimum. The building might be a disco, or it might be a phone shop, or a library, 
or anything else. But before it is all of those things, it is just a building. 

The things that change it from a building into a disco, or a library, are the energy, equipment and routines  you put into the building. The dancing you do to the pounding speakers blasting away the latest "choons", or the reading quietly in the comfy armchairs by the windows. The things that you practice doing determine the overall "feel" of the place, and so when you next come to that disco you are more likely to dance, because that is what you do at discos. When you go to a library, you are much less likely to dance, but more likely to be calm and in the mood to be sensible and read. Why? Because that is what you do in libraries.

The building doesn't change. It is still a building. The place you go with your dog doesn't change. It is still a place you like to take your dog. However, the idea and routine of what you get up to in the building can change. 

The behaviour your dog exhibits in that highly arousing place can change. They just need to learn a new way of being in that place. A new way of feeling that "this is what we do here".

Think of all those discos that shut down (probably sometime back in the 80's when people still said "disco") and are now phone shops. Do people dance in phone shops? Not very often. They need to concentrate on what the latest gadget does before they spend lots of money on it. This is possible because they now have a new associative behaviour in that building.

So if you want your dog to be better able to think in some situations, you need to be turning exciting places - discos - into calm places like libraries or phone shops. 

How? By changing the energy. By replacing high arousal activities with calmer ones and then practicing the new way of being in that place. HINT - You might need to swap high arousal for mid-arousal activities at first, before swapping down to low arousal activities, so your dog is better able to process the changes going on in his environment.

So for example, take a dog that goes crazy for the ball slinger, and is hopping about like a bunny rabbit, mad with excitement, rushing out the door, barking and being an absolute oik every time you get to the park... But you have just learned that the repetitive running back and forth is not very good for the dog, and you would much rather be able to go for a "nice" walk, but now the dog can no longer seem to go within 20 miles of the park without turning into the Tasmanian bloody Devil... 

You might want/need to wind their energy levels down gradually over a few visits at the park, from using the ball slinger less and to throwing the ball manually instead. Then after a few sessions start to only throw the ball a few times and begin to play a few concept training games once they are in a headspace where they can concentrate. Then after a few more sessions, wind down further to a few concept training games plus perhaps calmly scatterfeeding their tea and allowing them a long sniffy meander through the undergrowth finding it all.  

The dog will not feel like they are missing out, after all they get to play games and have a sniffy picnic at their favourite place, however they are no longer hyped up to the point they are unable to think straight or performing an action that could see them get an injury. You and they can have the walk of your dreams, or at least begin to work on the pulling, barking and your recall, with a dog who is more able to be receptive to your teaching. 

You have turned the disco into a library. Albeit a slightly more lively than average library. With kibble in the pot plants. But a library where learning can take place nonetheless. 
 Remember - always choose Fun Not Fear®

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A new normal.


In the while since I last wrote a blog, a heckin lot has happened. I am knackered! I am writing this from my phone as I can't reach my laptop, and I have no desire to get up and get it. So apologies if there are any autocorrect spelling disasters. I am sure I will edit it later.

Mostly, the lot that has happened over the last few months has been lockdown and COVID-19 related. You would think that the almost the whole country shutting shop for a few months would mean we all had nothing to do, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Firstly I found myself being a teacher to a sixth form student, who found himself being taught his A-Levels remotely. This was pretty new as we didn't even have Internet when I was at school. I say "new", I had previously homeschooled my eldest for a while but we were able to pick and choose what she would be learning and it certainly wasn't A-Level Criminology or Politics. Plus there was the fact she wanted to learn, he would much prefer to play Xbox. So that was nice.

I found myself decorating a teenage boy's bedroom, which was an experience in itself and one that will haunt me forever.

I found myself having to completely remake the website for my non-profit over the course of just a few weeks, after the providers gave up providing, and that was a lovely surprise that saw me working until 3am for many a night. if you fancy a look.

I also worked out how to use acuity schedule software. And put it on my website. And linked it to Facebook. And to Zoom. And to Google Calendar. I actually could be Bill Gates as I am so bloody good at computers now. The things you never knew you needed to know, when you learn to train dogs is endless.

Then there is the seemingly foregone conclusion that I am now the only person who needs to leave the house "cos social distancing"... so I am now officially the house representative in all things that involve getting dressed and going out of the door. Which includes shopping, bill paying, gardening, dog walking, and anything else that involves daylight touching skin. Though the oiks have visited the relatives a few times once lockdown was eased up, I will give them that. Nan turned 99 and my Dad had a Barbeque. My poor mum had a big birthday but was unable to celebrate it properly because we were all still in lockdown at the time. I am so grateful to have everyone I love still around me, as many I know do not have that luxury.

And then dog - work went mad. Every person in the whole world except for me bought a puppy. Puppies need training. Dogs whose humans are home 24/7 seem to develop a reliance on their human continuing to be around 24/7 and were in for an unpleasant surprise when their humans went back to work. Dogs who had previously snoozed their days away were now no longer getting any sleep. Dogs whose humans suddenly developed a passion for jogging and twatting about with fitbits were suddenly being dragged into doing "Dog Bed to 5k" whether their hips could stand it or not. The park was off limits too. 

Everyone was spending longer on the Internet and so my social media pages went crazy too.

I rewrote my training course, made videos for it, and trademarked it too.

The reactive dogs thought social distancing was brilliant as people all gave them 2 meters space, and all the other dogs were on leads. Some didn't have to go for walks at all. Now it's almost back to normal. The dogs are all back to barking at each other and the humans are noticing the behaviour change after they had made so much progress. If only they could all just carry on keeping a bit back from people and dogs, like we behaviourists have often been trying to get them to do for years, while they keep up their desensitisation programs,  so much more would be right with the world. 

The dogs also didn't need to actually meet the behaviourist before starting their behaviour modification programmes, as we all learned how to Zoom with our clients bloody sharpish. Not having the initial hour or six of building up trust with the dog first means the clients can launch straight into their training and the dog is in a better headspace to start learning. Of course there are so many ways in which an in person consultation is beneficial, not least the way it is so much easier to become immersed in the client's world and to show them first hand the things you want them to see. But, being able to teach remotely is a skill well worth having in the arsenal when it comes to anxious dogs, as they can begin to build their confidence, before ever being subjected to a stranger with a bumbag of treats and a clipboard sitting on their sofa.

I have stopped walking Moo daily now, as the break from walking we had at the start of lockdown did him the world of good, and he chilled right out. We now go four or five times a week and I let him walk to wherever he wants to go, sniffing and snooting about. We both really enjoy it much more than before. I also have been using him as a demo dog for zoom consults and so his basic training (and treat pot) has been getting topped up nicely too.

My youngest is back at college next week and I am actually dreading it. Normality is no longer normal. The past few months have been a blur, but at least me and my little family have all been together through it. I will be really worried about it every time he sniffles or forgets his mask for ages, but I guess that is the world we will be living in for a while now. I was very afraid of leaving the house at all a few months back, but now I am used to masking and handwashing every 20 minutes and it feels less threatening. I have even stopped subconsciously holding my breath when I walk past people in the supermarket and then wondering why I feel giddy halfway round. We will get used to it.

The decision to live a pyjama based lifestyle for a few months, ultimately has become a lifestyle that I don't want to give up too quickly. The comfort of working from home is a lesson I have found very valuable indeed. I am just getting into the swing of not trying to work 24/7 at my laptop (hence it is switched off as I write this) and find balance between my caring responsibilities, my work life, and drinking coffee and eating snacks. 

I am loving being able to work with my clients again, to see the dogs and to see with my own eyes, the plans I make with their humans coming to fruition. This is something I will never take for granted again. However now I feel better equipped to work in a virtual, and online environment as well as in person. So, in many ways the whole lockdown and COVID-19 disaster has been a time of growth and of learning for me. I have been able to take my kids, my dog, my business and embrace a whole new way of doing things with all of them.

Hoping you have stayed safe and well xx

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Is your dog loving lockdown?

How is lockdown and social distancing going for your dog?
Did you secretly breathe a sigh of relief when you realised that lockdown might mean not walking the dog as much or in the usual places? Or that people might avoid you and give you space BEFORE you have to ask for it?
You can still walk your dog, and good on you for sticking to your routines if that is what works for you - great!! Carry on and enjoy the exercise  (Just don't forget to wash your hands when you get in xx)
But lots of people are opting not to. Or not to walk every day perhaps, or for not as long.
Social distancing means that people are now crossing the road when they see someone coming, and walking around them in a big arch - or nipping down alleys etc to avoid getting too close.
It also means people are not walking their dogs every day, some (like me) are not even walking the dog at all - Moo has been out once for a walk since the day the lockdown started.
This lock down is having some unexpected benefits for some of our dogs. 
Moo, though no longer particularly reactive, seems to be so much calmer. He definitely eats more. Plays more. Trains & learns faster. He seems to rarely bark at all any more. Sleeps like a log. No longer feels the need to guard the front of the house, and has decided the Thursday clap is a massive reward for him, and so people going past the house no longer seem to bother him either as they are now all his clappers - I taught him to associate clapping with reward from an early age as food was not always such a good choice for him (being allergic and intolerant and all). The postman is still cheeky enough to venture up the path, but in all honesty, most days these days, we are still in bed enjoying a lay in when the postie sneaks up to burgle us, and Moo only worries about burglars when we are up and out of our pits, as he is as lazy as the rest of the family when it comes to a nice lay in.
Now, how many times have I asked people with reactive dogs to empty their buckets by having days off from walking and do other stuff instead - enrichment and games? It's one of my go-to starting points for many a consultation. Getting that bucket emptied. Now buckets are emptying faster than you can say "Dear Liza". Starting from a good place mentally helps learning accelerate and behaviour problems melt away so much faster.
I also tell people to map their walking routes so there is always a road to cross to be able to create distance, or alleys to nip down. Walking along, straight towards another dog can be very threatening and intimidating to both dogs, but walking around them by crossing the road, or going around a parked car etc is so much less so. Now almost EVERYBODY is avoiding you - dog or no dog. It is great. Strangers are not stopping to pet your dog either, which helps immensely with desensitisation, when you have a very cute one that hates people.
I don't tend to encourage dogs meeting each other on lead very much at all, and three seconds is long enough for an initial sniff to suss each other out. Not all dogs want to be met! With the lockdown and social distancing, the dogs can avoid this pressure too.
I train an A2B/U-turn motion so to be able to get away without yanking on the lead. This is something people have been practicing both as an enrichment task in the garden but also while gently leading their dogs out of the path of oncoming joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and so on. Leash skills make a lot of difference as if a dog expects to be yanked away as soon as he sees a trigger, that trigger becomes even more of a thing to be concerned about.
The humans, well they are just glad to be out of the house, and so are not marching the dog around their route at the speed of light so they can get home in time for Eastenders. Nope - instead they are ambling along and letting the dogs sniff and snoot about. Much nicer for the dogs. Steering clear of the benches and touchy things, and taking the time to look at the blossom on the trees or feeling the sunshine on their faces instead, accidentally practicing a spot of mindfulness as they go. 
The reactive dogs are seeming to get much calmer and relaxing as a result of doing all of this. So are their humans!
🐾 So perhaps keep it up after lockdown ends? 🐾

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The best end to an amazing day.

So, last night I went to bed a miserable cow. After weeks of being miss cheerful and jollying people along, I finally cracked under the covid-19 weight and bawled my eyes out for about two hours solid.

I miss my Dad, my Mum, having a proper visit with my Nan, taking my dog out for a decent walk, and just being able to go out and be in nature a bit. Then I began worrying about my clients, and was I doing enough for them. The more I sat and thought about stuff, the shittier I felt. Covid-19 is shit and I haven't even caught it yet that I am aware of. 

God knows how hard it must be for those that are being worse affected.

The day I had today could not have been further from that point though.

Firstly I had the most lovely food, from a local Indian restaurant named Monza's Place, that is an absolute gem. 

Then I was reminded how lovely my neighbours are, when the whole street came out to sing happy birthday to a young girl who for obvious reasons can't have a real party.

But the biggest thing by far happened just a few moments ago.

Putting this here as I know you guys will understand how BIG this is to me and I can't fit it all on a Facebook post, and I just need to get it out before I pop.

A few years ago I had a very poorly little dog, who was on the point of being put down. Allergies, food intolerances and digestion issues, plus colitis and a rejection at birth by his mother meant my little Moo had became underweight, sick and terrified little mess by the time he was about 8 months old.

Daily vomiting, passing blood, food not passing through his stomach, ducking if anyone tried to stroke him, gunky sore ears and eyes, anorexia, anxiety and chewed bald patches on his legs... My poor, poor pup - i was at my wits end and he was in agony, aggressive and afraid of everything. I used to cry just looking at him sometimes.

I came across The ISCP while trying to sort him out, joined on a whim as a last resort as nobody seemed to have the answers, nothing was working and he was in so much pain and so sad all the time. As a single mother I had next to no money, but I got the course fee together and I am so glad I did.

Here i studied my backside off and gained degree level qualifications, which is no mean feat when I had left school in 1996 with average GCSE's and not much else, and I began to understand a bit of what was going on with my boy.

Being in the ISCP, 
I learned his fears and anxiety were likely rooted in his pain. His aggression was likely to be fear based. I began to understand my pup. A new world opened up for us. I heard of all sorts of things behavioural and otherwise, including being introduced to a nutriscan test. They offer a food intolerance test that is not yet offered in the UK, but can be ordered from the USA. Here started the path to his recovery, once we found some food intolerances. 

From there we were able to cut out things from his diet which meant his tummy issues began to clear up. I taught him how to enjoy food again as he was deeply suspicious of it, using toys as a reward for eating. 

I began helping out a lady at the local Dog College puppy & obedience classes too. As a family we had always trained our own dogs and so on, but training other's dogs was just so much fun..

At this point I was able to start training him, with all the new things I was learning at ISCP and I then went into absolute DOGS to learn even more training techniques using games and fun stuff.

But - even though his tummy cleared up, he still kept getting chronic ear infections, lasting months at a time. Each time, the pain was setting back the progress we had made with his behaviour and so we would have to keep dealing with new phobias as they cropped up.

I also did other courses, all of which helped me to shape my positive, reward based methods and "Fun Not Fear" philosophy, which I use with clients now.

Further investigations at the vet eventually led to him being diagnosed with Dust/Storage mite allergies, so yet more things were cut out from around him, and a routine of daily antihistames began. This was a good year ago.

After years of tears, vet trip after vet trip, continous care and rounds of antibiotics, steroids, washes, flushes, pain killers and a home made diet, thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours spent on education, on diet, on tests, on medical bills, on pills and potions, and a whole new career path... tonight I realised at just gone midnight I had forgotten to do his ear flush.. so I wearily went to do his ears and made a marvellous discovery.

They were already clean. 

Actually fucking clean.

Like really clean!!!

No pain. No redness. No wax. No smell. No wincing as I came at him with the cotton bud. Just clean ears.

So... to recap 

No tummy ache. A good appetite. Well trained (to the point of now being my demo dog). No skin issues. No bald patches. And now no ear infection.

I have spent years working my butt off to get to this moment. Joy doesn't cover how I feel right now. I know it won't last forever, and he will likely have another flare up soon, but for now, for the first time in his life...

...I have a completely healthy, happy dog.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Make self-isolation work for you and your dog!

Coronavirus. The new thing that is sweeping the world and not in a good way.

So we are being given plenty of advice on what to do and what not to do. 

  • Wash your hands. 
  • Catch your cough in a tissue. 
  • Don't touch things like card readers or door handles unneccesarily incase the infected got there first. 
  • Do wash your hands some more. 
  • Avoid big crowds. 
  • Avoid medium sized ones too... 

...and for the love of the Gods stop buying all the bastard bog roll - some of us actually need to get some, while you sit there on your 100% recycled paper, double quilted and embossed thrones, hoarding like an Andrex puppy with resource guarding issues. Have you ever wiped your arse on kitchen towel? It's like sandpaper. But worse because you can put your hand through it. And Juan Sheet is a bloody liar. And you have to be really careful to rip it up small enough to not block the loo up.

And what is it with pasta? Pasta shelves are empty but all the pasta sauce is still there? Are you planning huge and impressive banquets of pasta with a cheeky bog roll surprise? Count me out!

If we fall sick or are not planning to fall sick any time soon, one option is to self isolate.

But what of our dogs? Assuming we don't all fall ill and need to outsource some help to take care of them for us, they will still need us to do stuff with them and for them. On that note DO keep an eye on Great Aunt Mabel and her minature poodle Bitey Bessie, incase she gets sick and needs help - make sure they have a list of phone numbers to call. Yes, including yours.

Naturally the idiots that bought all the loo roll are now starting on the dog food. This doesn't mean go running out and buy the local shop out of their entire stock of complete crappios, but do have an extra tin or two handy just incase you have to pop back a second time to get some food. Have a nice little stock of things your dog CAN eat, meat, fish, veg etc - and be aware of things your dog can not have. Onions, chocolate, raisins, tree nuts to name but a few of the things NOT to feed. 

Home fed dogs are at a bit of an advantage right now as everyone has spent their money on pot noodles and tins of beans, (presumably to knock up some tasty little number, to go with all the bog roll pasta), so the fresh veg and meat counters were heaving full when I went shopping yesterday. Some dogs might enjoy the chance to spend a few days eating some nice fresh food, and you might find it easier than you think to prepare it, should the dog food cupboard run dry. 

If you own a dehydrator then great - you can dry some jerky during all the time you are now spending at home self isolating, and knock up some tasty little stews in the slow cooker for doggo while you are at it. Here is a nice little recipe book for dogs if you are stuck for ideas.

What about stuff to do? Well for your dogs, assuming you are healthy enough through it, this can actually be a brilliant time! 

CANINE ENRICHMENT- THE BOOK YOUR DOG NEEDS YOU TO READ by Shay Kelly, is absolutely packed with ideas for enrichment that you can do with your dog, to make their day more fulfilling and interesting. From stuffing toilet rolls with treats, to playing with food puzzles and more, there are enough ideas in there to keep your dog busy for weeks. Enrichment can be so much fun, and should be a part of your every day life, not just your Coronavirus war effort. Why not use this time to set up new fun things and play habits to carry on doing from now on?

Absolute Dogs have a range of downloadable books and DVDs, which as a PDT I am obviously going to recommend as I find them brilliant. If you have a behaviour issue you would like to work on, now is an excellent time to start. Although I am only doing 121s over Skype etc with new clients for a little while, there is nothing to stop people doing work on many things. I would advise speaking to a professional before trying to deal with aggression, and always supervise dogs around children. But, issues like a lack of confidence, or optimism, separation issues or maybe working on your loose leash walking etc - well you are in luck because now is your perfect time to be getting on with it. do get in touch if I can help you! 

For dogs that are very nervous, this time can be perfect for bucket emptying, and for doing gentle games that boost confidence, so that when you are back to your more busy life, your dog can be better prepared and well rested, which can only be a good thing. Now is a perfect time to learn Canine Massage , or to start using a thundershirt, or to start using scents like Pet Remedy to create a relaxing atmosphere. If you need advice on how to achieve this, do ask.

Canine grooming and husbandry can be a complete pain in the arse too, but with your new found self-isolation time, you can really spend hours teaching your dog that a (very gentle) swipe of the brush or the nail file, is really not that terrible. Swipe. chicken. swipe. chicken. swipe. chicken. You get the idea. Heck - you could even go all out and give them a bath. Let them have a pile of old towels to dive into and roll about to get dry on afterwards and they will wear themselves out nicely.

Lastly - yes you CAN walk the dog. You do not have to avoid all contact with life outside your front door. Just don't go to overcrowded places, don't be touching outside surfaces and then sticking your fingers in your mouth, and do wash your hands (and occasionally wipe the door handles too) when you get back in! A nice walk in the fresh air will do you good, mentally and physically. If you are worried about your dogs paws spreading the virus if he hops up on benches etc, pop a little bottle of water and his usual shampoo by the door and wash his feet and face on the way back in. Job done. It's just a case of being sensible.

This is a scary time for many of us, especially those who are likely to be worst affected by Coronavirus, and their families. We can't see who is going to fall ill, or how badly. We don't know if time off school will mean bad exam results, or if time off work will be a disaster for our finances, or how long all of this will go on for. Rather than going off out doing things that do not need to be done, like having fights over packs of bog roll in crowded supermarkets, why not spend the time at home making the most of it? Yes - it is not a holiday, and yes, it is not going to be easy. But we can make it seem a little easier just with a little reframing and a positive frame of mind, solution seekers!

UPDATE - since writing this, the UK has been put into lockdown. Many vulnerable people now should not be out walking, and those that do go out for some exercise should be VERY cautious about keeping distance from others and practicing good hygiene. PLEASE DO NOT TAKE RISKS.
Stay safe. xxx

Friday, January 10, 2020

Why Choose Positive Training?

What is positive training?

Positive training, (reward based training, force-free training, what ever else you call it), means to utilise positive reinforcement techniques to teach dogs (and anything else capable of learning) cues, behaviours and is also used to condition feelings towards stimuli, in order to have the dog behaving in an appropriate and safe manner, in this human-centred world where they find themselves. 

The Dogs Trust tell us :

Positive training rejects the notion that dogs need to be taught using aversive methods such as prongs, shock collars, being "told off" or yelled at, jerking on leads and anything else designed to bully a dog into doing as they are told.

A dog who has been trained using punishment and aversive methods will likely stop the behaviour. When they stop, so does the training as there is no need to keep punishing and using aversive methods. The unwanted behaviour can then return, perhaps with more resilience than before - as the dog has practiced the unwanted behaviour already. What we practice we get good at. This may then need harsher punishment and aversives to train the behaviour away again. However a dog who is trained using positive methods, is rewarded every time they get the behaviour "right". In this way, training never needs to end and the dog will always be guided in the right direction.

It means many things to different people (including the sciencey bit terminologies) but what does it mean for owners who do not want a degree in behaviour, they just want to know how to "fix" the issues their dog may be struggling with? Or for shelters and rescues who want their dogs to find homes as well adjusted, happy good boys and girls?

It is firstly not a quick fix. It is a long lasting one.

It is a kind and ethical way of teaching cues and behaviours to dogs, and shaping emotional responses that they can carry with them throughout life. This takes time - especially when counteracting behaviour issues. This also effects a long - lasting, positive change in the dog's overall view on life. 

Just as a human might not expect a good therapist to cure them of all of their life's woes in 60 mins and a follow up phone call, neither can a positive trainer/behaviourist do that for a dog (At least not very often). 

It takes work and can seem to be yielding slow results compared to a balanced/dominance trainer's methods. But think of it - if you went to see a therapist and told them your issues, and they treated the issue by whacking you straight in the face, with a punch - you certainly would not want to explore your issues further with them. This would not mean your issue was fixed. It would mean you were afraid of getting whacked again. When the therapist left after claiming your behaviour had changed and therefore you were "fixed", you would still have your issues, but now added to that perhaps a fear of talking about them again. So these issues might build up until one day you could no longer cope and you had to react. Then what? Does the therapist need to whack you even harder to contain your issue?

Now imagine the therapist had done their job properly. Had used positive methods. Had listened to you, looked at everything going on in your life that had made you feel as bad as you felt and dealt one by one with those things - pain, sadness, irritating cats, shown you the thing you were worried about from a safe space, explored your fears and then boosted your overall confidence level by making you feel happier in yourself both near that thing that worries you - and away from it in general life situations. They might even do it over a slice of really nice cake and some coffee. Gradually getting you to a point where you no longer feel the need to worry about that thing, and giving you the tools to not feel so worried about other things too. Yes - it may not have worked as quickly as the therapist who whacked you, but the effects of this approach are much more pleasant and longer lasting.

It means enriching your dogs life instead of leaving them to a bowl of kibble and an hour of marching briskly along a pavement as their daily outlet. Allowing them to utilise their noses and engage their brains will set them up to be calmer, more focused and feel more fulfilled, leading to less destructive behaviours and boredom issues. Just as reading a book or watching a film, listening to music or doing other things that involve our primary senses of sight and hearing are good for our mental well being, the same goes for dogs and their sense of smell. Sniffy walks, scent work, food puzzle toys, scatter feeding are all easy ways to increase your dog's daily dose of joy in life - and do not need to break the bank or specialist dog training.

It means not bollocking them if they "get it wrong", but setting them up to succeed in the first place so they can practice getting things right - and then when they have practiced getting things right, these things become their go-to behaviours. What we practice we get good at. If Fido practices going and waiting politely on a mat for a treat when the doorbell goes, this is what Fido will get good at. If Fido learns that when the doorbell goes this is a great opportunity to bowl over the incoming visitor, Fido may well get good at doing that instead. No amount of yelling "NO!!" tells the dog what they should be doing. "NO!!!" is not an instruction and has no clear desired outcome. "NO!!" could mean "stop doing that but chase the cat instead", or "stop doing that and run out of the front door", or perhaps "stop doing that and bark at the visitor, because now you associate visitors with your human being cross and you don't like them any more". Similarly, leash jerking every time the dog who reacts to other dogs on lead, sees another dog, will not make the dog like oncoming dogs very much more. And so on...
Think of what you DO want and then reward the heck out of it with something the dog loves, until it becomes his go-to behaviour.

"There is nothing that can be taught by fear, that can't be taught with fun, apart from fear itself" ~ F.Locke