08 October 2013

Beware of false prophets...

Dog training and the god complex

A recent training visit has inspired me to break my blogging ‘dry spell’ and got me to pondering about the dog – oops, I mean god – complex that seems to inhabit some corners of dog training.  There’s no doubt about it, some trainers think they’re god... omniscient, omnipotent and omnicompetent: their word is gospel and not to be questioned.  But as the Bible says: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

I’m pretty sure Matthew wasn’t writing about dog training when he wrote this, but it seems ironic to me that wolves are mentioned.  It’s the notion that dogs are mini-wolves and the dog training theories that this has spawned, which is the driving force behind this blog post.

Stevie contemplating if there's a god/dog
Today I went on a training consult, to help a client improve her dog’s confidence and recall.  The dog in question was a 2 year old puppy farmed, crossbreed who is extremely fearful and nervous.  A dog whisperer/listener had previously been to see the client and in response to the owner’s concerns the dog whisperer’s advice was:

  1. Slap a choke chain on the dog for walks. (Thankfully owner only used this for a few weeks, but in reality should not have been advised to use it at all). 
  2. If the dog ignores you when you call them, when eventually they do come back to you - tell them off and give them a time out on the 'naughty step'. 
  3. The dog is trying to be dominant, gesture eat before them so dog knows you are the boss!

Thankfully the owner felt uncomfortable doing this (and pretty stupid doing number 3) so, didn't continue doing it for long. To me, this is a classic example of how to screw up an already fearful dog and a reminder of how advice from ‘false prophets’ can be damaging.  In reality, the dog listener’s advice translates as:

  1. Inflict pain on your dog whenever you're on a walk and make the world a scarier and more stressful place
  2. Make yourself seem scary & unpredictable - giving the dog more of an excuse not to come to you when you call 
  3. Just plain ridiculous!

The dog listener also told the client that their dog was autistic! Potentially, this could have been very upsetting for the client, not to mention mislabelling the dog and their behaviour. Making a clinical diagnosis such as this can only be made by a vet - not a dog trainer.

I'm sure the dog listener has faith in the methods they use and recommend.  However, I believe, as dog trainers we have a duty of care to our clients to provide the best advice, keep our knowledge up to date and ensure our training and behaviour modification techniques are humane and practical for our clients to implement.   We cannot and should not spout what we believe to be gospel, if it isn’t supported by fact and  evidence.

More than 20 years ago, choke chains were the norm: Barbara Woodhouse, jerks on the lead, pushing dogs into positions and inflicting generally unpleasant things in the name of training was normal/expected… We didn’t know any better…

Now we do know better and lot’s more beside… The concept of alpha status, derived from studies into captive wolves, has been rescinded by its author (David Mech).  There is a wealth of research into how dogs learn – learning theory is just as applicable to dogs as it is humans.  Pain and fear inhibit learning, NOT promote it.  Despite this the cult of the ‘listener’ or ‘whisperer’ still has many followers…

However, the world is no longer thought of as flat – we know it is round.  The dog is not a wolf just as much as I am not an ape.  Don’t accept the word of a ‘trainer’ as being gospel.  A good trainer will welcome questions and answer them rationally.  If a trainer can’t answer questions about why they recommend a certain approach, or they avoid answering a question - trust your gut.  You know your dog best and are their guardian; your dog cannot speak English and you must act as their interpreter and help them navigate through our world.

There may be a similarity in the spelling but don’t get confused between the word of god and the word of a dog trainer.

20 March 2013

How to find a well run puppy class

Honey & her owner's bond is evident to see

... using the W O W factor!

As you’d expect, being a Puppy School tutor, I’m passionate about providing puppies and their families with the best training and behaviour advice.  Whilst a puppy is often likened to a blank sheet and thought of as being easy to train, it’s important to remember that a mistake with a puppy’s training can be like an indelible ink blot on the blank sheet - it leaves its mark.

Puppy training classes should provide you with the tools to bond with your puppy and help educate them (and you) to grow into a well mannered and sociable adult dog.

I’ve experienced at first hand the behaviour problems that can result from lack of appropriate training and positive experiences as a puppy.  All three of my dogs are rescues.  Mina was found as a stray puppy and as such, probably didn’t have the best start in life. As a result, I believe a lot of Mina’s behaviour problems (now conquered) stemmed from a lack of positive experiences and training as a pup.

And for the majority of racing greyhounds, socialisation isn’t particularly high up on the agenda for most kennels.  This means that many of the day to day activities and experiences that pet puppies become accustomed to, and most pet dogs take in their stride, can be daunting experiences for some retired greyhounds.

Puppy School
Instructors are trained to high standards

A chat and catch-up with Gwen Bailey

When I was at Crufts, I managed to catch up with Gwen Bailey, the founder and director of Puppy School.  I asked Gwen about the importance of puppy training, as well as how to find a good puppy class.  Gwen also shared the reasons why she set up Puppy School.
You can listen to the interview below.

Not all puppy classes are the same

If you’re looking for a puppy class, how do you know which is a good class?  There are lots of classes out there and some are better than others.

Naturally, I would suggest a Puppy School class, as all tutors are trained to high standards in dog behaviour and training.  However, if there isn’t a Puppy School class near you, here are some tips to help you find the right class for you and your puppy, handily summarised as the WOW (Which? Observe. What?) factor!

1.    Which class?

Do your research.  Ask your vet if they can recommend any classes and ask any friends or colleagues who have had puppies which classes they attended.  Don’t just take their word for it though, if you’ve found some classes you like the sound of, ring and ask if you can go along and watch a class (without your puppy). 

Go along and watch a class
I’m happy for anyone to come along and view my classes – and actively encourage prospective clients to come along and watch.  If a trainer won’t allow you to go and watch their class, ask yourself why? What do they have to hide?  Any trainer, worth their salt, won’t mind you coming along to watch a class.

2.    Observe

When you’re at the class watch what’s going on. It can be tempting just to focus on the cute puppies, but you need to look past this.  

How are the puppies and their families enjoying class?  Are they relaxed and having fun, or are they stressed?  Are the puppies barking lots, or are any of the puppies looking nervous and trying to hide?  How many puppies are there in class? Is it a free for all, or are the classes structured?  Does the instructor engage the class?  How does the instructor deal with any problems?  Is any puppy play monitored and interrupted regularly so that puppies learn appropriate play? 

Charlie learns to relax with the help of a
pizzle stick and a Kong

If you see lots of ‘man-handling’ of puppies, for example: pushing bums down to achieve a ‘sit’, harsh lead jerks to walk on a loose lead or ‘alpha-rolling’ puppies who are deemed as ‘misbehaving’, this is a red flag (if it were me, I’d leave - immediately!)

If there are lots of barking puppies and the instructor uses anything like a rattle can (can or bottle full of stones), water sprays, training discs or a pet corrector to interrupt the barking – this is another red flag.  The use of these techniques may stop the barking, as they startle the puppies, but they can make the puppy afraid of loud noises and are certainly not going to help the puppies relax and enjoy the class.

Teaching any dog should not involve any harsh or aversive methods.  On the surface, these methods may appear to work, but more often than not they leave lasting invisible scars and psychological damage.

3.    What? – ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You wouldn’t hire a plumber without making sure they were suitably qualified and experienced.  The same is true for dog training instructors.  Ask about their qualifications and experience.

Monty's owner uses reward based methods
Ask what training methods the instructor uses and recommends (hopefully you should have seen these in action at the ‘observe’ stage).  If the instructor talks about dominance and alpha rolls and poo-poos using reward based methods, this is another red flag.  These training methods are flawed, downright dangerous and outdated (see:  The Dog Welfare Campaign website  for more details).  We know that dogs (and most species) respond to positive reinforcement (also known as reward based training) and learn more quickly this way.

What equipment do they use to train? Choke/check chains, prong collars, shock collars or citronella (anti-bark) collars have no place in dog training.

What is the maximum number of puppies allowed in class? (Both Puppy School and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, UK, recommend no more than 8 puppies per instructor).  A small class means more attention from the instructor and more space for puppies to work in.

Fingal & Rasta enjoy and learn from supervised puppy play
Finally, the biggest question you can ask yourself is: “Would me and my puppy enjoy this class?”  If you’re unsure or the answer’s a no – keep looking or perhaps arrange for some one to one training sessions with a reputable trainer.  It is worth taking the time to find the right class and travel some distance... after all, your puppy’s future is in your hands.

Finding a qualified instructor:

There are a number of organisations that provide details of qualified instructors.  The ones I would recommend are:

Trainers who are Puppy School tutors and/or members of the APDT have gone through rigorous assessments for both their theoretical knowledge and practical skills for running classes.

Let me know what you think...what have been your experiences of puppy classes?

NB: All photos are copyright of Susan McKeon & Puppy School North Lincolnshire

13 March 2013

Crufts round-up & interview with Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club

Well, Crufts is over for another year.  My feet have just about recovered from all the miles I walked through halls one to five of the NEC, Birmingham.  This year, I was only at Crufts for two days, so I needed to make sure that I packed as much in as I could.  It was also the first year that I had my 'official photographer' with me, in the guise of my husband.

So, what were the highlights this year?  There were several new products launched at Crufts and blog posts are going to follow on these.  I also managed to catch up with, and interview, Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, and Gwen Bailey, author, behaviourist, founder and director of Puppy School (interview with Gwen to feature in a later blog post).

Visitor numbers increased at Crufts 2013
Visitor numbers were up this year at Crufts
It seems like the tide is turning for Crufts.  Visitor numbers were up this year - almost 145,900 dog-lovers came through the doors of the NEC; an increase of 3% from 2012 visitors.  Around 1.7 million viewers tuned in to Channel 4 and Channel 4 +1 on Sunday night to see Jilly, the Petit Basset Grifoon Vendeen, be awarded Best in Show and to witness Owen and Haatchi announced as winners of the Friends for Life Award.

When I caught up with Caroline Kisko, I asked her about what the Kennel Club has been up to in the last year, its plans for the coming year and what work it is undertaking to overcome the health difficulties in pedigree dogs.  You can listen to the interview below.

Fabulous flying staffie demonstrates agility
Fabulous Flying Staffie in the agility display
Apart from having the chance to sniff out some new products to try on the hounds, the highlights for me had to be the agility and displays of dogs having fun/being trained (after all, training should be fun) in the main arena and the various rings around the show.

I loved watching the Staffordshire Bull Terrier agility in the main arena.  Staffies get such a bad press (the majority of which is completely undeserved) and it was fantastic to see these dogs enjoying agility so much.

Ashleigh and Ruby compete at staffie agility
Ashleigh & Ruby compete at agility

We were even treated to an agility display from Ashleigh (without Pudsey), working with a lovely Staffie called Ruby.  We were told that Ruby was one of Pudsey's best friends and she certainly seemed as talented as Pudsey - especially when it came to agility.

Samsung Stand at Crufts 2013
Samsung stand in all its splendour
The Samsung stand was also a revelation.  I hadn't realised how long Samsung had been a sponsor of Crufts (20 years) or their links to supporting and working with dog charities.  This year, their stand provided a place to chill out and try out the latest gadgets from tablets, to cameras.  There was even the opportunity to have a free photo postcard taken as a memento of your visit.  Needless to say, I couldn't resist this.

Crufts Samsung donation to Blue Cross
L-R Rosemary Smart, CEO of the Kennel Club,
Kim Hamilton, CEO of the Blue Cross, &
Samsung representatives with donation

The Sunday culminated with Samsung presenting the CEO of the Blue Cross, Kim Hamilton, with the funds for the equivalent of 2,000 health checks for Blue Cross dogs.  The donation was a result of the great Samsung/Crufts Help-a-Dog-a-Thon facebook app, which provided facebook users with the chance to adopt and interact with a 'virtual dog'.  For each virtual dog interacted with, Samsung donated money to help reach the target of 2,000 health checks.

What next?

All in all, I enjoyed my two days at Crufts.  I managed to catch up with friends - both old and new - and have discovered some great products... anyone for a canine cuppa? (Woof and Brew blog post to come in next few days).  

I have to say though, I'm not a huge fan of the showing aspect and much prefer to see dogs in action in doggy disciplines.  I do, however, love the opportunity that Discover Dogs provides for people to meet and see different breeds.  My only concern with Discover Dogs is the long days for the dogs and potential stress that they can be under.  No matter what, one thing's for sure, the dates for next year's Crufts are already in my diary for 6-9 March 2014.

06 March 2013

6 tips for making the most of Crufts*

Well, Crufts is nearly here.  Rather than days to go, it’s more a case of hours remaining before the doors open and the hordes of dog enthusiasts fill Halls 1-5 of the NEC, Birmingham.  Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock and aren’t sure, Crufts starts tomorrow, Thursday 7 March, and will finish on Sunday 10 March with Best in Show.

I love Crufts and have been lucky enough to have had the chance to blog about it each year.  This year is no exception and I’ll be blogging and posting photos thanks to Samsung.

Navigating the 5 halls and making the most of your time at Crufts is a skill in itself – particularly if you’re only there for one day. So, if you want to maximise your time at Crufts, here are my top six tips to ‘survive’ and get the most out of your Crufts’ visit.

Ditch the heels

1. Give the heels a heave-ho… 

Speaking from experience - I have, on one occasion, gone so far as to buy a new pair of flat, comfortable boots whilst working at Crufts – comfortable shoes are a necessity! I only had low heels but they took a right battering – as did my poor aching feet.  Walking through the halls every day is tiring and before you know it you’ve covered a few miles and more than likely achieved the recommended 12,000 steps per day!

2. Layer on the layers…

The halls at Crufts are all air-conditioned.  However, depending on what time of day you arrive the temperature in the halls varies.  First thing in the morning, before the crowds, the halls are cool…. by the afternoon though, it’s a different story.  The halls are packed and it can be rather warm – especially if you’ve been pounding the avenues in search of the ultimate doggy bargain.  My tip is to wear loose layers and remember to keep your cool.

3. Don’t leave the water to the Spanish Water Dogs

Crufts is thirsty work.  There are plenty of places to buy drinks from milkshakes to coffee to good old water, however they do come at a cost and often with long queues.  If you can bring some bottled water, you’ll save yourself from paying over the odds and wasting valuable shopping or spectating time in queues!

4. Navigating the halls

Spread over 5 halls, it can take a while (particularly when it’s busy) to walk through the halls to reach another hall.  One of the best tips I was given was to come out of the halls into the Piazza and then use the Piazza as your main navigation point – providing short cuts to each of the halls. It saves on the shoe leather and can give a much welcome breather from the crowds.

5. Plan your day

Buying a guide to Crufts is well worth the investment.  You can buy them before you enter the halls and they provide a day by day what’s on guide as well as an index to all the trade stands.  If you get the chance, it’s worth stopping for a coffee in the piazza and then planning your day.  Crufts time seems to go by very fast!

6. Enjoy your day

Me & a Borzoi say hello at Crufts 2011
There are so many great things to see and do at Crufts.  It’s not just dog showing – there’s so much more.  The shopping is great, the events in the arena and rings around the halls are amazing - from Staffordshire Bull Terrier agility to KC Canine Good Citizen displays – there’s something for everyone.
This year, on the Samsung stand in Hall 3 (stand 72), the theme is ‘CARE home’ – creating a space to relax and share time with dogs. There’s a chance to see and interact with Samsung products such as: experiencing stress reducing music for dogs, experiencing the 3D SMART TV experience (including playing Angry Birds) or even creating your own photo postcard to email to friends.

Whatever you decide to do at Crufts – enjoy your day, don't forget your purse – and who knows we may even bump into each other.

*Sponsored post.  My tickets, camera and Crufts experience have been provided by Crufts and Samsung

28 February 2013

Final Day for Crufts Giveaway*...

...And 3 more chances to win Crufts tickets

The sun is out (at long last) and it feels like spring is in the air.  This time next week, Crufts will have started and hopefully, I'll be making my way around the Halls to see what new products are on offer.

And as it's hound and terrier day, I'll be paying a visit to the benches to get my annual Crufts fix of sighthounds - followed by a visit to the Discover Dogs area to get up close and personal with my favourite types of dog!

All this spring sunshine has gone to my head, and as today is the last day for a chance to win 2 tickets to Crufts, I thought I'd give you all 3 extra chances to win!

If you leave a comment on any of my February 2013 blog posts, you'll be entered into the draw to win one pair of tickets.  If you'd like more chances to win, why not visit each of my websites and put your best sleuthing hat on to find what's hiding on each site, for another chance to win a pair of tickets...

Celebrating the launch of Happy Hounds Dog Training

Find Mina's pawprint

To celebrate the launch of my new Happy Hounds business, Mina has left a red pawprint on one of the pages.  (picture is not to scale!)

Simply find it and email me the URL for another chance to win tickets.



Find the black dog


It must be puppy love...

And over on my Puppy School North Lincolnshire site, there's a little black dog just begging to be found...(picture is not to scale)

When you find the black dog, simply click on it and email the URL link.

Closing date & time:

You've got until 4pm today (Thursday 28 February, 2013) to enter, so why not give it a go? (Terms & Conditions apply)

Feeling 'appy?

If that's not making you feel 'appy enough (excuse the dreadful pun), why not have a go on the fabulous new Samsung/Crufts app on facebook.  The 'help a dog a thon' is in aid of the Blue Cross.  It allows you to adopt a virtual homeless dog and interact with it to make sure it is happy and healthy.

For each virtual dog that is adopted Samsung will make a contribution towards a vital health check for a Blue Cross rescue dog.  Samsung have a target of 20,000 virtual adoptions (which equates to 2,000 health checks) by the last day of Crufts. Can you help them reach it?

Simply click on the logo to be taken to the app.
Please note: The app has been developed for browser use only. It will NOT work on smart phones or tablets.

Terms & Conditions

  • Giveaway is open to UK residents only.
  • Prize consists of one pair of tickets to Crufts for each of the two winners (tickets are valid for the day of the winner’s choice).
  • The winner is responsible for arranging their own transport to and from the NEC.
  • Closing dates for entries is 4pm (GMT), Thursday 28 February 2012
  • Winners will be notified by email

*Sponsored post.  My tickets, camera and Crufts experience have been provided by Crufts and Samsung. 

26 February 2013

Forget the telethon - meet the help-a-dog-a-thon*

Raising money for charity through telethons started back in the 1940s in the USA. Fast forward several decades and telethons are an ingrained part of the nation's psyche (think Children in Need, Comic Relief etc).

With the advent and growth of the Internet and social media channels, it's not surprising that we now have 'app-a-thons' - different ways of raising money for charities.  These app-a-thons are typically a facebook app or a web page that encourage us to get involved with a certain charity, by interacting with the app.

Often these types of apps are developed and sponsored by large organisations, in support of a charity, under their corporate social responsibility policies.  Sometimes they can be dry, sometimes they can be fun but (generally speaking) they are always in aid of a deserving cause.

This year, Samsung has launched the 'dog-a-thon' app on the Crufts facebook page.  The app is in celebration of Samsung's 20th year of sponsoring Crufts and is in aid of the Blue Cross.  Samsung have a target of 20,000 virtual dogs adoptions, which will equate to a donation of 2,000 individual dog health checks to the Blue Cross.

You get to choose from three types of dogs to adopt: a Labrador, a Cross Breed and a Greyhound (no prizes for guessing which breed I chose)! Then you've the chance to name your dog (I chose, Scout), choose from different activities and finally, share the app with your friends so they can participate.

It's a fun app, with some nice illustrations and a nice level of interactivity. So, if you're on facebook why not give it a go and help some of the dogs in the care of the Blue Cross? Just click on the photo to go to the app.

Don't forget our Crufts ticket giveaway...

To be in with the chance of winning 2 tickets to Crufts (for the day of your choice). Simply leave a comment on any of my blog posts in February (including this one). For terms & conditions, see below.

Terms & Conditions

  • Giveaway is open to UK residents only.
  • Prize consists of one pair of tickets to Crufts for each of the two winners (tickets are valid for the day of the winner’s choice).
  • The winner is responsible for arranging their own transport to and from the NEC.
  • Closing dates for entries is 4pm (GMT), Thursday 28 February 2012
  • Winners will be notified by email

*Sponsored post.  My tickets, camera and Crufts experience have been provided by Crufts and Samsung. 

21 February 2013

Crufts 2013 Ticket Giveaway*

It's official.  I'm on the countdown to Crufts 2013 and several dog-tastic days of shopping, socialising and watching dogs and their handlers in doggy disciplines like agility, heelwork to music and the Good Citizen scheme.

Ticket Giveaway

I've also got 2 tickets to Crufts 2013 to giveaway to readers of my blog - courtesy of the nice folk at Crufts and Samsung.

To be in with a chance of winning (terms & conditions apply), all you need to do is leave a comment on any of my February 2013 blog posts (including Wordless Wednesday posts).

The giveaway is open until 12 noon on 28 February 2013 and winners will be announced/contacted by email on Friday 1 March 2013.

My Crufts shopping list

This year, I'm on the look-out for new products to try on the hounds.  In particular, I'm interested in interactive toys, cereal free foods and supplements for the aging dog.

Over the last few months, Mina has begun to show signs of canine cognitive decline (often referred to as doggy dementia) and I want to do everything I can to help slowdown this decline.  I'm hoping that Crufts will come up trumps with some new toys, suitable for an aging greyhound.

Interactive fun with Mina

Currently, Mina's favourite interactive toy is the Nina Ottosson Dog Brick.  I tend to use this several times a day and hide kibble under the bones and bricks.  Mina loves it and has become a whizz at lifting off the bones and sliding the bricks to discover the kibble lurking beneath.

Mina loves this toy and I hope I can find something just as challenging for her to bring home from Crufts.

Live blogging from Crufts

I'll also be blogging live from Crufts and thanks to Samsung, I'll be able to upload some (hopefully) great photos as they're kindly supplying me with a camera.  

I didn't realise, either, that Samsung has been a sponsor and partner at Crufts for 20 years - beginning their sponsorship in 1993. To begin with, it seemed a tad odd to me that an electronics giant would be involved with dogs.  However, I've subsequently found out that, in Korea, they fund the Samsung Guide Dogs for the Blind - where growing numbers of dogs are trained every year. They also work with the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Guide Dog School, helping to ensure that its trainers are certified to international standards.

So, all in all, I'm gearing up for a fun few days and lots of miles walked in the NEC.  And fingers crossed, I may be able to get the 'inside scoop' on some new product launches too.

Do leave a comment and let me know if you're going to Crufts and what's on your shopping list.

Terms & Conditions

  • Giveaway is open to UK residents only.
  • Prize consists of one pair of tickets to Crufts for each of the two winners (tickets are valid for the day of the winner’s choice).
  • The winner is responsible for arranging their own transport to and from the NEC.
  • Closing dates for entries is 4pm (GMT), Thursday 28 February 2012
  • Winners will be notified by email

*Sponsored post.  My tickets, camera and Crufts' experience have been provided by Crufts and Samsung. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...