• Jack! Jack! Come back...

    It's 108 years since the Titanic sank and over 20 years since the film was released in 1997.  What's that got to do with recalling your dog?  Well, if you remember Rose (Kate Winslet) spends most of the film shouting "Jack!" as she and he run around the ship while it's sinking.  I was reminded of this when I was in a class teaching recall only to hear an owner shouting "Jack... Jack!" like she was channelling Rose.

    Recall is something a lot of owners struggle with.  And I see a lot of dogs who are running around aimlessly not knowing what to do.  Of all the problems I'm asked to help with, recall is actually the easiest one!  But there are a couple of things you need to know before you start.

    1.  Your dog is NOT being naughty.  Dogs don't do naughty in the same way as we think.  They just are having fun not coming back.

    2.  Dogs are NOT a mind reader.  How many owners just shout their names and expect them to know what you're asking.

    3.  You need to give your dog a good reason to come back to you.


    Okay, let's do the last one first.  No matter how interesting, how much training or how much you trust your dog there will ALWAYS be a reason for them not to come back to you.  Just like humans, dogs don't do the same thing in the same way every time.  If you want a dog to be 100% then get a Sony Aibo dog.  They will, I promise, always come back!

    Dogs aren't naughty in the same way as humans.  They want your attention.  They will take things from you, run off and once they hear you calling them they know they have your attention.  A client's elderly aunt had a Labrador pup who took her shoes and put them under the kitchen table.  First step, Auntie telling the pup he was naughty.  So he did it again.  More shoes under the table until eventually Auntie had to go under the table to get them.  There they were under the table, with the shoes and the pup very happy to be sitting there with her full attention...

    As for mind reading, imagine if someone called your name.  Would you know what they wanted?  If I wanted your attention, calling your name is a great way to get it.  (A whistle is even better!) But if I wanted you to get a pint of milk from the shop?  Saying your name is just not communicating properly.  And it's communication with your dog that you need to build on.  No, they don't understand every word (well, okay sometimes they seem to) but they do like clear and consistent communication and instructions.  So call their name yes, but make sure you follow it up with a cue word like "come" or "here".  TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO DO.

    Finally, number three is one of the most important parts of recall.  Give them a reason to come back.  I call it the "curly-whirly" effect.  Most of my clients know what I mean as I mention this a lot in class.  I've even been known to give them out at the end of the courses or workshops!  If someone holds up a curly-whirly and waves it at me - I'm there.  No matter how delicious anything else is, or how fabulous the shoes are... I'm going for the 99p curly-whirly.  My family know it's a great way to get my attention.  But it wouldn't matter who it was (well maybe someone in a hoodie in the park after dusk) I would always go for the curly-whirly.  Honestly, tell me you aren't thinking about eating one now?  Loads of clients usually dive in to the sweet shop on the way home... so remember that you need to have the magic ingredient in your recall.


    So let's reorganise those points.

    1.  Get your dog's attention.  Call their name or blow a whistle to get them to look at you.  If they aren't looking at you, then they aren't listening.

    2.  Tell them what you want them to do.  There's no point just yelling their name over and over.  Use your cue word "come" or "here" or "treat" or "sausage" as long as they know what you are asking them to come back.

    3.  Hold out the treat and wave it.  You're not bribing them.  You're making yourself more interesting.  Make sure you use a treat that they LOVE and that they NEVER get any other time.  Edie loves anything fishy and Rupert loves cheese.  It's fun trying to find out what they do like and what they don't.

    4.  When they come to do DON'T ask them to sit down first.  Reward them as soon as they are next to you.  I hold the treat close to me so that my dogs come to me.  And while they're eating the treat I put the lead on.  I always ALWAYS put the lead back on.  What it teaches your dog is that the lead is okay and a good thing not something to run away.


    And there you go!  You need to practice this in your lounge, in your hallway and in your garden until it's a consistent recall.  Don't start off in the outside world until your dog understands what you want.  Once you have your dog recalling at home, take a long line and practice in a quiet, semi enclosed area.  Again, take your time but eventually you can work up to a consistent recall even when there are more interesting things (like a curly-whirly) around.  And keep practicing.  The more you practice you put in, the better your recall will become!

  • Just a-walking the dog...

    In this week's email, I mentioned that I would put up some tips about teaching your dog to walk on the lead without pulling.  It's now a recommendation that dogs are kept on lead to stop anyone getting too close to another owner.  And while you may think you have a good recall, no dog will be 100% proof.  

    A lot of owners don't use leads much.  If they live in a rural area they may take the dog out in the car and straight out of the car to the walk area without even putting the lead on.  Even in cities and the suburbs, people feel that a dog needs a long run off lead to give it some exercise.  My dogs actually walk on a lead 90% of the time.  Is it cruel?  Not at all.  Am I restricting their exercise?  No.  They do get a run off lead when we're at a secure field, an enclosed park or in a woodland, but most of the time they are walking with me.  And they are walking on a loose lead more or less to heel without me even having to say the "H" word!

    Think about the equipment you use.  I mostly use harnesses for puppies to train them to walk in a balanced way.  In fact, I taught Edie to walk on a harness from 8 weeks and it was only when I put a collar on her to go to the groomers that I realised she didn't know what I wanted her to do.  I had to teach her that a collar was okay as well.  I used to use the Fleece Lined ones from Dog-Games but they have stopped selling them direct so I now recommend the fleece dog harnesses from eDog Products.  They offer a half size harness as well as breed specific ones.  There is a measuring guide on the website www.fleecedogharnesses.co.uk or you can call Joanne at their office to help you find the right size.

    If you do decide to use a collar and lead, try and find a wide collar rather than the small puppy ones.  Remember your dog's neck is very sensitive and a thin one can be very painful and stressful for your puppy.  Once your dog is older, you can change without any problems.  Both my dogs now wear a collar from Wiff Waff Designs and it's a decent size on their neck as well as having lots of funky designs.  

    As for a lead, I use the Dog-Games fleece leads because they wash well and are better for my hands.  I use the 2m lead (perfect for social distancing) which gives my dogs a bit of room to walk with me rather than being made to walk with me.

    At last we can get on to the training part!  I truly believe that the walk starts before you even go out of the door.  I have a small lobby area and I make my dogs wait by the door before I put their collars on.  Yes, Rupert does like to pick up his lead and run about, but as soon as I ask them to wait, they stop and we get prepared before the door is opened.  Once I am happy that they are ready, the door opens and we go downstairs to the outer lobby door.  Again, I make them wait.  I have another set of steps and I can't have them pulling me or anyone else down the stairs.  By reinforcing slow walking (usually I say "slowly" to keep them steady) I am getting them ready to walk nicely.  

    Remember it doesn't matter which side you walk your dog.  I keep my difficult dogs on my right side as my right arm is stronger.  But when I am in the show ring, Rupert (who normally walks on the right) has to switch to the left.  He gets it really well and so far hasn't put a paw wrong.  Edie is usually on the left side because she walked there when my bad boy (Bertie) was on the right side.  She never changed.  Does it matter to you?  No, my two have learned where I want them to walk with me.  And I want them to walk with me.  Not me being pulled along or them off having fun on their own.  How many times do you see owners on their phones or listening to something without even seeing where their dog is.  You want to be the main focus of your dog's adventures.  They should be walking with you because it's fun!

    It's important that your dog doesn't just rush straight out of the door.  Make your dog sit and wait and then walk out calmly together.  If they are getting in the car, don't encourage them to jump in without being on lead.  Part of the process is to walk them to the car and get them in under control.  If you are driving to the park or to the woodland, make sure your dog is secured and when you get out of the car, put them on lead again.  Never walk them around a car park without a lead on.  

    If you're just doing a block walk, then start off together.  The first five minutes or so are the most exciting part of the walk for a dog.  They are revved up and ready to go out.  Sometimes they pull but I just stop and wait until they look back at me and then encourage them to come towards me.  Once the lead is loose, we go forward again.  The video will show you what I mean.  I just wait to get their attention before starting off again. 

    Alternatively, if your dog is a real puller, you can do the "this way" exercise.  The moment your dog pulls you turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction, give your cue word (I use "let's go") and almost try and catch them out so they have to hurry after you.  When I'm training this I give a treat after a few steps, not every step.  Pick a lamppost or tree and try and get there without pulling.  The dog gets the treat when they get to the object, not during the exercise.

    When training puppies, you can drop a treat each step but I honestly feel that this encourages your dog to keep it's nose down and not take any notice of you.  They are just walking for the treats.  And it encourages them to snuffle about in whatever is on the floor when your out walking.  You don't want them picking up stones, tissues etc.  So I only use treats for walking exercises very sparingly.  The only time I do use them is to teach my dog which side to come to for the treat.  Tapping your leg and getting your dog to come and stand next to you helps them to work with you.  Treat when they are beside you not in front, which is often where the dog is used to getting a treat.  

    Realistically, it takes about 2 weeks to get a dog to stop pulling and you will need to be consistent and firm about it.  If you go out and have a terrible walk, don't stress about it.  Put it down to experience and try and again next time.  I've actually spent a week getting out of my driveway before I even got to the pavement.  And I've never been afraid to go back indoors after 15 minutes.  

    While we're in lockdown and you have to keep your dog on a lead it's a good time to practice your walking on lead.  Use your lounge, your hallway, your garden and when your dog is walking nicely with you in these areas go further and start by walking round the block.  If you need to keep your dog closer to you, you can shorten the lead and if your dog barks or lunges at another dog, turn around and walk away.  Don't stop and think about what to do.  Make the distance bigger between you and the other dog or person.  But remember you're concentrating on walking not the noise and the rumpus your dog is making.  That's for another article.  

    So here are the instructions for a nice, well behaved walk with your dog.

    1.  The walk starts at home.  Make them wait to go through the door calmly.

    2.  Allow them to have space on the lead to walk with you.  Don't pull them too tight or close.

    3.  Get your dog to stand beside you on the side you want them to come back to.

    4.  Start walking.  If the dog pulls to the end of the lead, stop, wait and encourage them to come back to you.  Don't go forward until they are on a loose lead.

    5.  Lots of praise.  I tell my two they are walking beautifully all the time.  I give the odd treat when I need to but mostly I use praise.

    6.  Don't be afraid to go home if it's not working.  You can always try again next time.

    7.  Lots of practice in quiet places before you even think about going out with other dogs and people around.

    8.  Relax.  If you're stressed, your dog will be anxious and stressed too.  

    9.  Keep practicing.  You wouldn't put on ice skates and expect to be Torvill & Dean without a practice first.

    10. Ask for help if you need it.


    I was going to put a video on the website but haven't been able to find a way to do it yet so if you visit my Facebook page you'll see a little bit of me and the dogs walking on a loose lead.   

    Happy Easter to everyone!

    Sara, Edie and Rupert


  • Don't leave me...!

    Rupert... is he bored? Is he waiting for me to come back?  No he's actually watching a bus outside...!

    There has been a lot in the press recently about the changes in lifestyle that most of us are going through relating to working from home.  And while some people are enjoying this change, they have realised that their dogs are becoming used to their humans being around more.  In fact, their whole routine has been disturbed.  I've had messages from lots of clients asking about what happens when they go back to their normal work pattern and they have to leave their dogs again.  It's something that people are worried about.

    I've thought about this a lot this week and I can honestly say to you that your dogs will be fine.  If they were used to you being at home (like my two) then it's no change.  If you work or have a busy lifestyle and are out a lot your dogs will be happy for you to go out when you can.  I put my two in a crate when I go out.  It's their safe space and they are more relaxed and rested when I get home.  I've done it since they were both puppies and I've never had a problem with leaving my dogs from day one.  But I have two dogs and they are together all the time so it does make a difference.

    When I used to do doggie day visits or dog walking, the dogs got into a routine pretty quickly.  They recognised my footsteps or my car and they knew that after the walk or visit I would be leaving again.  What we forget is that our dogs need more rest, especially during the winter.  I used treats to settle them down again before I left and made sure that they felt safe, comfortable and happy.  Most of the time I'd leave the radio on (Classic FM or Heart or even Radio 4 were the most popular) or in some cases - and I do this for my own dogs - I'd leave the television on.  These days your dogs can see the screen and seeing a welcoming face or hearing a normal programme is good for them.  My two love Bargain Hunt or Money for Nothing.  I read yesterday of a zoo that's been playing cartoons for the chimpanzees to watch as they missed having visitors.  So do think about the tv if you can.  

    Note: I had a client - an Italian Greyhound called Monty - who loved to watch daytime tv.  One day he had changed channels to the news before his first visit of the day.  Coming back in on the second visit, he'd changed the channel again to Only Fools and Horses.  So it's fun to find out what your dogs recognise.  Edie also loves MasterChef... it's her sleeping music.

    So, unless your dog has shown signs of separation anxiety before the lockdown there is very little chance that your dog will be upset when things go back to normal (whatever that will be).  However, if your dog has been very clingy or is quite young and not had the chance to learn to be on their own, you will have to start your routine again.  

    Firstly, your dog will know you are going out whatever you do or say.  The old idea of putting your coat on and having a cup of tea so that your dog gets less stressed at you putting your coat on doesn't mean that your dog is going to be calm when you leave.  The biggest clue to my two is either me putting on my work fleece (well, that orange is a bit bright) or shouting "won't be long" at them when I put them in the crate.  They know that the crate means I will be a long time... more than an hour... but they are okay with it because they know that I will be back.  Don't worry about what cues you are giving your dog.  And try and stay calm.

    Secondly, use an enclosed area or a crate where your dog can relax, away from the front door, the hallway or windows that they can look out of.  Put a t-shirt in their bed or basket that smells of you so they have something to sniff.  Set up the area as a "chill out" zone for your dog before you even leave the house.  Leave a few toys and a chewy treat or a filled Kong.  And start to use this NOW when you go in the garden, to the car, out the front door to chat to the postman or even to go and have a shower or do some work.  The more your dog gets used to a calm, quiet area, the less stressed they will be. 

    Start by building up the time you are gone gradually - a minute, five minutes, 15 minutes and so on.  If you have to shut a door between you, again build it up gradually.  Your dog may bark or whimper or scratch the door (which is why I use a crate).  Don't return until your dog is quiet even if they shut up for just a second.  And reward them for being quiet.  Edie used to get a treat when I left and a treat when I came back.  Eventually, she was shoving me out the door to get the treat because it was a special treat that she wanted and me hanging around was delaying her getting the treat!

    What do you need to do when you do leave?  Get a routine going.  Walk your dog or play with them before you are going out.  Not a long walk, just enough to stretch their legs and give them something to sniff.  Playing or doing some training - maybe clicker work - will wear them out.  Then feed them.  A dog with a full tummy will settle down and sleep a lot.  Not a whole meal, but enough that they are filled.  Wet food always makes them more relaxed, I think, just like when I'm going to sleep I will have a hot milky drink or a biscuit.

    Get ready to leave.  Be calm and just say "bye" and go.  Don't keep worrying about the dog.  It's the first 20 minutes that are crucial.  During this time they will be a bit confused about where you are going.  Leave a very chewy treat like a pigs ear or a filled Kong that will last longer than a few minutes.  And give it to them before you leave so they are focussed on it before they are left alone.  By remaining calm, you will set the tone for the dog to feel that things are okay.

    Finally, if your dog is really struggling there are lots of remedies - both chemical and organic - to help your dog over come the anxiety.  I recommend the Valerian & Scullcap tablets from Dorwest Herbs or Dr Bach's Rescue Remedies in their water.  But it may be that a visit to the vet would be a good idea to check that your dog is healthy before you think about doggie Prozac!

    It's never easy being a dog owner and with things so changeable at the moment, we are right to be concerned that our dogs are finding this current atmosphere rather stressful.  They will be picking up on your stress and worries.  So try not to worry too much about something that may or may not happen.  Enjoy the time together and if you do find that things are not settling back into your routine then I'm here to help you with some more techniques.

    Have a good week, stay home and stay safe!

    Sara, Edie and Rupert


  • How to work at home with your dog...

    Rupert after a long day’s work...

    Because we are living in strange times and have no idea when this will be over, people are becoming worried about the effect the lockdown will have on their dogs.  They are concerned that they will miss out on long walks in different places or seeing their doggie friends.  If you have a multi dog household, it will be easier for your dogs to socialise together.  But if you have just one dog, you may be finding it a little more difficult to keep them busy and happy, especially if you are working from home.  Suddenly, your dog has you at home all day and wants your attention.

    My two are used to it. They regularly help me with emails and video calls - Rupert lays on my feet and Edie is perched on the top of the sofa. I used to look after Gladys the Schnauzer and she used to sit next to me with a paw on the keyboard.  Because my dogs are used to me working, they don’t worry too much about what I’m doing and they tend to sleep until I’m finished.

    So how are you going to keep them entertained while you work?  Get into a routine. Right now, we’re all being told that a routine is good and will keep us mentally healthy as this continues.  My routine is that I get up and walk my dogs first, have breakfast (give them their breakfast at the same time) and then, when I get the laptop out they know I’m working.  They have lots of toys to play with if they want and it’s important that your dog has something to challenge his or her mental skills.  Try a snuffle mat or a big chew toy.  Fill a kong with yummy treats or even their breakfast in and let them chew.  You can make it tougher by putting in a cardboard box and covering it with newspapers so they have to find it. Or put treats in a plastic bottle and let them chase it round.

    Once they’ve had a chance to burn off some energy, get them to settle down and you’ll be able to work in peace and quiet for a couple of hours.  During the day, when you take breaks to get coffee or tea or a snack, spend some time with your dog.  Go out into the garden, if you have one, or walk round the block on the lead.  Now is not the time to be practicing your off lead skills.  I use a 2m lead which is perfect for social distancing.  Let your dog sniff and work on that loose lead walking (which you’ve been promising to sort out for ages) so that your dog walks calmly.  Think of it like a treadmill in the gym.  It’s not supposed to be exciting!

    If your dog is used to a crate or a playpen, give them a time out when you want to make a call or join a video meeting.  My dogs always bark when I’m on the phone so I go into the bedroom to get away from them.  Let’s face it, trainers dogs are a nightmare! It means I can think clearly without the constant “arf arf” noise in the background - as many of you will have heard if you’ve called me!

    If you have children at home as well, encourage them to play with your dog.  Home schooling needn’t be boring for humans or canines.  Let your children read to your dog (they are excellent listeners) or ask your children to draw your dog.  Maybe a bit of exercise for everyone in the garden to burn off that energy!  If you have worked with a clicker before you will know that kids love this type of trick training. I’ll be loading up some videos of my two doing the basics of clicker as time goes on.

    Finally, when you have finished work for the day don’t forget to give your dog a bit of praise and attention.  I usually make sure that Edie and Rupert get a walk and a bit of a chat after a quiet day.  Normally, I’d let them have a run but at the moment, it’s easier to just walk them on lead.  They really don’t mind.  All I have to say is “who wants a wee wee” and they are ready.

    I know that it will be stressful for you with all the changes to your normal day.  And you may worry that your dog will get attached to you but right now, they are looking to you for a bit of comfort while everyone is so anxious.  Cuddles are allowed all day and you’ll find that most dogs are really good office co-workers.


    Stay home and stay safe...

    Sara, Edie and Rupert.