When working with clients I like to discuss how we can adjust our
natural mindsets to benefit dog training. As a species, humans tend to
be reactive in nature and have a ‘negativity bias’ ingrained in our
mentality. This means that we look for the bad things in life and don’t
notice an issue until it has already developed; not a good mix for dog
How does this translate to dog training?
You have a puppy who you are house training. You’re sat watching the
TV and not paying attention to what the puppy is doing. Puppy wanders
off towards the door into the garden and pees in front of it. You
eventually discover the wee puddle when you go out to the kitchen for a
drink and proceed to tell the puppy off for the mess. In this instance
you have reacted to a situation in a negative way and punished a puppy
for something they cannot help.
How can we change this scenario to be proactive and set up this puppy to succeed?
You have a puppy who you are house training. You’re set watching TV
but notice your puppy get up and wander towards the kitchen. It’s been
about an hour since you last let the puppy out so it’s likely it needs a
wee. You follow puppy and open the door into the garden; when puppy
pees, you praise and reward your puppy then head back in together to
cuddle on the couch.
See the difference?
proactive and ensuring your puppy can access the outside when they need
to pee you are able to reward the behaviours you want and prevent the
wrong ones from even forming and causing you to think punitively. This
way of thinking is great for lessening stress for both of you and your
dog, allows for a better trusting relationship and creating strong
Have a think about how you want to set yourselves up to succeed by using these points as a guide:
• Management – Think how you can set up the environment so that you can prevent or limit your dog’s ability to develop unwanted behaviours. This can range from limiting the space your dog has access to, keeping temptations out of the way, picking a low distraction environment.
• Teach – Decide what behaviour it is you want your dog to do in the given situation and train for that, adding in distractions gradually and proofing the desired behaviour in all types of scenarios.
• Reinforce – Reinforce, Reinforce, reinforce. Practice makes permanent. You need to keep rewarding every right choice your dog makes and reinforce those behaviours to strengthen them.
I get a lot of clients, especially puppy owners, who have questions and assumptions about why their dog is humping them/other dogs/their bed/a favoured toy. The usual reasons I’m given are that the dog is exhibiting sexual overtures or is trying to be dominant. While humping can be related to sexual behaviour, it isn’t really seen as an act of status assertion in dogs. Sexual humping is usually in the minority when it comes to why the dog is doing it. Especially when looking at young puppies who are not even sexually mature yet, humping for mating makes even less sense.
So why do dogs hump?
Believe it or
not, humping is a normal part of dog behaviour and is exhibited by both
males and females. The majority of humping behaviour I see comes from a
dog who is feeling overwhelming emotion, such as excitement, stress or
anxiety. My own dog will usually hump me after she’s had her dinner and
feeling good or if we’ve had a vigorous play session and she’s very
amped up. Puppies can hump if they are over tired and not sure what to
do with themselves. We call this ‘displacement behaviour’, a way for
dogs to let out their stress and emotions or fall back on when unsure
about a situation. As the post says, if in doubt, dogs will shag it
Dogs will also hump to get attention or to initiate play and
sometimes it just feels good! Humping on occasion and as part of
mutually enjoyable engagement and play between dogs can just be left
alone and we need not interupt. But it can sometimes become an
obsessive habit in dogs if they are doing it excessively. It’s
important we understand the motivation behind humping so that we can
either act or let it lie. When you see your dog humping, look at the
context of why it might be happening and if necessary, take action by
addressing the reason for it. Some options for this can be either
redirecting the dog, taking them away from the situation or training
It’s still a common misconception that dogs need x amount of exercise everyday and when we cannot provide the hours to wear them out we can also resort to high energy burning things such as a ball launcher. I see people pulling their dogs away from something they are sniffing so that they can keep up the pace and ensure they are putting in the miles needed to exercise their dog.
What if I told you that you didn’t have to resort to these methods to get that right amount of exercise?
Have you noticed that the more exercise you undertake, you eventually get used to and increase the amount? It’s the same for dogs. When you keep amping up the physical exercise, your dog will acclimatise and require more and more. It’s a vicious cycle. Furthermore, a dog that is amped up from high energy events stays up in a wired state and makes it both harder for them to calm and more likely to react to things.
Slow things down.
Take the time to allow your dog to indulge their nose and sniff at all the interesting things that they come across. Don’t worry about the milage, think about letting your dog immerse themselves in their environment. Even a seemingly boring street walk is filled with sights, sounds and smells that are mentally stimulating for a dog. Allow them to learn to switch off from seeking that dopamine high from chasing a ball and enjoy the world around them.
Allow them to them to engage with life and not to being an adrenaline junkie.
I talk about management a great deal in my classes and consults. This infographic gets the point across wonderfully.
Management should be a part of any training you do with your dog from simply teaching your dog a sit to behaviour modification. Controlling the environment you are working in and preventing dogs from doing undesirable things is all part of a greater strategy to then promote the right behaviours.
You wouldn’t teach your dog to sit in the middle of a crowded street, right? You start somewhere quiet.
People can make the mistake of falling into management mode only and never progress to reinforcing the desired behaviours. It can feel safe in your management bubble but often we are not actually dealing with the situation.
When behaviours and habits form, neural pathways are created in the brain. Those pathways become stronger the more they are used. That’s why kicking a bad habit is so hard! Management is great when we want to rewire the brain as it stops those neural pathways being used. If they aren’t used then they weaken and break down (use it or loose it)!
By reinforcing the new and desired behaviours, we are forming new neural pathways and making them strong. How cool is that?!?!?
As owners, we control the majority of our dogs lives. We decide when they can go out, when they can eat, what they can and can’t do in the home, what toys they can have, when they can play, who they get to greet and what environments they can experience. We even control every part of their walk; where to walk, what direction, what they can sniff e.t.c
I get pretty annoyed when I see owners feel they need to hurry their dog along, that they don’t need to mark all the time because they’ve already had a wee and take control of the walk by dragging their dog away from a sniff. Do we really need to exert so much control on our dogs? We have all the power already, yet we are squeezing every last drop out of our dogs in the name of so called ‘obedience’. It goes against everything I believe in as a trainer.
Dogs are social animals and while it might be annoying for you to pause on your march around the park for Fido to cock his leg AGAIN, he’s actually communicating with other dogs. Urinating to empty the bladder and marking an area are entirely different things. Marking is done by both bitches and dogs and it isn’t just about ‘claiming territory’. It’s a complex communication system amidst canines sometimes dubbed ‘pee post’. Marking allows dogs to find out who has been about, when they were around, how they were feeling, their health and sexual availability. Even how dogs mark over, across or beside other pee marks tells its own story.
Your dog’s primary sense is also their sense of smell. Sniffing on a walk is one of the main things they enjoy about going out. They are not only taking in the pee post, but investigation a cornucopia of scents that we as humans will never be able to fathom. Allowing a dog to use their nose and their brain on a walk is for more energy draining than your frog march around your predestined route.
So today I let Bertie take me entirely for a walk.
The red path is Bertie’s. The blue path is me taking over the walk as I had to get back for an appointment. The spots on the map are where Bertie stopped to sniff, mark or have a think about the world before selecting his next direction. He would have kept going to the golden steps and down into Porthkerry Park. I have a feeling he would have eventually taken us back to the house via the Mill Woods but alas we ran out of time.
The point is we barely touched the routes I usually walk on, we went where Bertie’s nose took him. A few points on the walk we stopped and Bertie stood there for a good few minutes unable to walk further as he was taking in the surroundings or not sure what to do without me cueing the direction. In these instances Lulu took over and walked ahead which kicked Bertie back into gear.
I’m sure a lot of you local to South Wales have seen the posts about quicksand on the beach around Rest Bay. The video going around shows a bubbling patch of water and sand, but it isn’t always obvious to spot when an area is dangerous. A couple months ago a few horses got trapped in sinking sand off Ogmore beach and there was no indication that it was not stable until the horses were trapped.
Despite what the movies like to show, if
you get stuck in sinking sand it isn’t going to suck you down and down
into the Earth’s core. In reality you eventually stop sinking, usually
about halfway, and it is the threat of an incoming tide that can make
quicksand so dangerous. Unfortunately, these areas cannot even be signed
off as dangerous because sinking sand moves with each tide.
It’s great to spread the word of warning about this potential hazard but I’ve not seen any advice being shared about what to do if you or your dog gets caught. So below is a list of advice from HM Coastguard about what to do if you get caught in sinking sand:
•Don’t panic! Whether its you or your dog trapped in quicksand, it is important to remain calm. By staying calm and not struggling you will slow your sinking down and by being calm you can reassure your dog if they become trapped and stop them sinking more and even injuring themselves.
• Do not encourage others to attempt a rescue. If you do not know where the quicksand starts, then you risk getting stuck yourself. Things like bags or long bits of wood can be thrown to provide buoyancy but don’t try to pull someone out who is stuck as you could injure them as well.
• If just your foot is trapped, try sitting down on your bum, lean back and slowly wriggle your foot to attempt to free it. If more of you is trapped, then distribute your weight as widely as possible across the surface and remain still.
• Call for help! Dial 999 and request the Coastguard. They are equipped to deal with these types of rescue safely.
• If you are concerned about coming across sinking sand, take a walking stick to test the sand and make sure you have a way of getting attention (such as a whistle) or mobile phone. Keep close control of your dog so they do not enter unknown areas of sand.
What does it look like is happening in this picture?
In this snapshot you can see Lulu mid scratch. Looks like a pretty boring image if you’re asking me; just a dog with an itch. But is that all that is happening? You see pictures of dogs on the internet and people asking for opinions on body language. The problem is you are lacking context, you’re seeing a second of time and missing the rest in the lead up and aftermath of the shutter snapping.
The real context of this picture is that there is a half chewed pizzle on the bed being guarded by Bertie who is hidden behind the bedroom door. Lulu aborted walking into the room and turned and scratched herself to take the heat off from Bertie’s staring and let him know she doesn’t mean any harm.
What’s happened in the lead up to this image has changed the entire context of what you’re seeing. It’s important not to judge a single moment without understanding what’s happened outside the picture. This is also very true for anyone and their dog that you encounter when out on a walk. Try not to judge and make assumptions about someone from the snippet of their life you have crossed roads with. It can be very annoying to your day when a strange dog goes after yours or an owner is trying catch their errant hound. Perhaps you’re the one who’s had a crap day of it with the dog who’s caused a ruckus. The last thing you’d want is to have someone judge you for one small snippet of your day.
Sometimes an ignorant owner is just an ignorant owner. But sometimes it’s a person with a dog who has had an unfortunate time and needs the benefit of the doubt.
We’ve all experienced it; that moment when we have had many
different things piling on us and then one seemingly tiny, insignificant
instant and it all comes pouring out. I
will never forget the first time I understood Trigger Stacking. It was a few years ago and I was having a
very busy time at my former job, covering double shifts and taking on more and
more responsibilities. At the same time
my husband had been informed that he was suddenly not going to be able to get
off the ship he was working on for 4 months.
I decided one Sunday afternoon that I was going to go for a
hike with my dogs and enjoy the lovely day and relax. I’d planned my route, packed my daysack and
gathered my walking boots to put on when I arrived. After the 40 minute drive I arrived at my
destination and groped about for the walking socks I needed to wear as I had
driven in sandals. Only to come up
empty. I had forgotten to stuff socks
into my walking boots.
I lost my cool.
I had a break down in the car; screaming, sobbing and
hitting the steering wheel and just completely lost my top.
My poor dogs were silent in the back of the car, not
understanding what had changed my mood so suddenly. After about 5 minutes I managed to calm
myself enough reassure my dogs and rethink my walking plans. I ended up on a quiet forestry walk, not
quite the epic hike I had planned but it allowed me to relax enough to think
about what had happened. I later shared
my day and the hilarity of loosing it over socks with some friends and one who
is a dog behaviourist told me they called that trigger stacking.
I was instantly intrigued and I think it was one of the
things that got me to start looking at changing to a dog training career. I looked up this new phrase and how it was
not only relevant to me but to my own dogs.
It started to make complete sense how Bertie could be perfectly fine
with a dog one time and then loose his shit the next time he encountered that
So what is it?
We all have a limit of how much stress we can handle, dogs
included. Like me a few years ago,
various events throughout my life had contributed towards this limit until I
couldn’t handle the stress anymore and my body went into reaction mode. Stress can be a lot of things, not necessarily
bad, nor induce a dire reaction such as my steaming fit. In dogs, reactions to a trigger stacking can
range from barking, lunging and biting to a sudden case of the ‘zoomies’. How the dog reacts will vary depending on the
situation but it is always sudden and intense.
One way to think of it for both humans and dogs is in terms
of a cup; some have a pint glass, others a tea cup and some a shot glass. Each of these
‘cups’ can hold a different volume of stress. By continually filling the cup with stressful
things, eventually the maximum volume is going to be reached until it spills
over the edge. That moment of spillage
is the trigger that sets off these intense reactions. It doesn’t have to be a significant thing to
set the spill-over, but as there have been previously stressful things
happening, this one event became the trigger that sets it off.
How do we stop the spill-over?
When a stressful event is occurring, the body reacts to it
by releasing adrenaline and cortisol in a huge rush, gearing the body up to
react if necessary. This is sometimes known
as fight or flight. But while the release of these hormones is a sudden thing,
it can take up to 72 hours for them to reduce and leave the system. So having a quick culmination of stressful
events, gradually builds up the concentration of these hormones until they hit
critical mass. Going back to our cup
analogy, the lack of allowance for cup to empty itself (allowing the hormones
to leave our system) will see it keep filling up until spillage occurs.
Dogs that live in long-term stress will have a cup that is
constantly filling up and so there is less room for more stress to fill it. Dogs in constant stress will be increasingly
likely to start reacting suddenly and intensely far more often. It is important that when stressful things
occur, we allow for the body to calm down and empty its stress cup. Dogs with long term stress issues need to
have what is causing that underlying anxiety addressed.
Teach a dog to learn to relax in the presence of triggers to
stress and encourage relaxing occupations such as sniffing. Take a day off from walking and spent a quiet
day at home enjoying doggy massage, nosework, having fun playing or doing some
relaxed training. Allow for them to come
down and empty out their stress cups, giving them greater tolerance for future
stress events and decrease the likelihood for a trigger stacking event to
The Kennal Cough season is upon us, I’ve already heard of a few suspected cases starting up in the South Wales area so thought it was time to get this blog out ASAP so people can learn about the in’s and out’s of the big KC. I wrote this in my former life working for a Doggy Daycare. Kennel Cough was the stuff of nightmares for those types of set up when trying to control an outbreak. I hope you find it informative and gives you better insight as to why pet professionals are very strict when it comes to Kennal Cough.
What is Kennel Cough? Kennel cough or infectious bronchitis at it is technically known, is a respiratory infection commonly caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica and the Parainfluenza virus. It is effectively the dog equivalent of the common cold or flu.
How is it transmitted? Despite the name, kennel cough isn’t solely found in kennels, although due to the confinement and nature of kennels, it spreads prolifically there. Dogs can pick up kennel cough from anywhere. It is airborne and highly contagious and can be passed on through shared objects like water bowls or toys. Dogs greeting each other in the park can easily pass the infection on. As with humans, dogs that are immune-compromised, old or young, are at higher risk of infection and susceptible to complications, such as pneumonia .
Can humans contract Kennel Cough? This is a bit of a debated topic among scientists. Due to the bacterial nature of the respiratory infection, it is thought by some that there is the possibility of KC crossing over to humans, but only those with immune-compromised systems or living in low ventilation environments could be susceptible. If you are at all worried and have a family member who falls under these categories then it might be a precaution to keep any canines with suspected Kennel Cough away.
Can it be prevented? A few of the infections that can cause kennel cough (canine adenovirus type two, canine parainfluenza virus, canine distemper, and canine influenza) are part of the standard vaccines every dog has from a pup and are required to come to any Rat Pack Dog Services’ services. This should also be the case for any of the pet service industry, from walking to grooming.
However, the most common bacteria present in kennel cough is Bordetella bronchiseptica. This is a separate vaccine that is administered either by nasal drops or injection. As there are many strains of this bacteria, not all are covered by the vaccine and your dog, even vaccinated, can still potentially catch kennel cough, though the symptoms are usually reduced.
This vaccine is not compulsory for attending any of our services but if you choose to vaccinate your dog against kennel cough, you will need to inform us. Please be aware that some pet services require this extra vaccine, such as boarders and some walkers/daycares. Due to the vaccine using ‘live’ cultures, your dog can pass it on to others and give them kennel cough. Once vaccinated, your dog will have to be kept out of our classes for a period of two weeks to prevent any infection.
What are the symptoms? The most well known and obvious symptom of kennel cough is the persistent honking and retching cough it induces. Please look at the YouTube videos we have provided below to give you an idea of the sounds of kennel cough. The distinctive cough is the main symptom exhibited but other symptoms include:
A “reverse sneeze” sound, distinctive to a normal cough
A dripping nose
Sore and inflamed throat
Inflamed and runny eyes
Loss of appetite and reduced energy levels
Kennel cough has an incubation period of two to 14 days, and some dogs can be carriers of the infection for months without developing symptoms. Your dog could have the infection but not show any signs. This is easily spotted in multidog households where only one dog may be showing the signs, but all dogs still must be isolated incase they are carrying the infection.
Think your dog has Kennel Cough? Don’t panic! Contact your vet for advice. Like the human cold or flu, a dogs immune system can fight against the infection and vets will usually give medication to help fight the infection. Humidifiers can also help reduce the severity of the coughing.
Please let us know if you suspect your dog has kennel cough and keep us up to date with the prognosis from the vet. It is important you inform us as soon as possible because you will need to stay away from classes until your dogs has been symptom free for 2 weeks. We will also need to contact other clients who might have been in contact with your dog to make them aware of possible infection. If you have already paid for a course, you will be able to make up the missed classes within 3 months of having the all clear from the vet.