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July 5, 2016

I glanced at this phrase whilst researching and it stayed in my thoughts for several days. It set the grey matter off on its own holiday.

incentive 1


This equation is valid for both us and our learners IF the consequence is predictable and under our control. I am motivated to go shopping to a specific store that I know will be able to supply what I am seeking. My incentive is the acquisition of the goods, and with the consequence under my control I am motivated to make the trip. Our dogs will also be motivated when the consequence is reliable and under their control. Greet the person, jump, bark and social interaction is assured.

But if our incentive to train is solely dependent on the consequence we could loose motivation. We train our dog for a event, competition, approval of others. We travel, we compete and we are successful.

We travel, we compete and now we are not successful. Our incentive to train will become diminished. The consequence overwhelms the incentive, and our motivation is at the mercy of the consequence.

incentive 2

We shop and cannot find what we seek, our motivation will diminish because the process of the shopping is entirely wrapped in the success of the find.


The dog trains and has an expectation of a specific reward – a game, the toy, the chase, but instead receives a piece of kibble, or a pat on the head. The next opportunity to perform that behaviour and the motivation is diminished. But if our incentive is independent of the consequence our motivation will stay at peak.

We enter a competition to enjoy the activity and use the opportunity to evaluate our training progress. Consequences of that are reliable, success, wins are a bonus.

Our dogs train to enjoy the connection, the process, the shared activity. This is a reliable consequence, treat, games are the bonus.

If we are training by using the consequence as the incentive, “here is a treat, will you lie down”? The behaviour not only relies on the cue of the consequence to be present, but will lose incentive if the consequence is withheld – for a variety of reasons: slow response, incorrect response etc.

If we enter an event purely to achieve wins and places, which are not under our control, then our motivation is dependent on the behaviour and values of other people.

If we complete assignments to achieve grades and endorsement then the benefit of doing the work for that assignment is drowned in the consequence. Our incentive begins with seeing the benefits of doing the project. Getting the grades and feedback is important, but not our sole incentive.

Chickens peck and scratch a thousand times a day, because the incentive to peck is in the pleasure of the activity, sharing the activity and exploring. The additional consequence of A Find is the bonus that stretches the pecking beyond 250. We could label it as an intermittent schedule, but then we are (arrogantly) assuming that incentive is solely managed by the consequence.

I think not.


I hear too often blame being attributed to failure because there was no treat, no toy, to play. No motivation.

I cut the grass and work hard to find the incentive in the activity, getting exercise, enjoying the garden. Not the consequence of finishing, or the negative consequence of procrastinating – a continual visual reminder of overgrown lawn. By “re-modelling” my incentive, I find the default procrastination is becoming a memory. Of course a small portion of the incentive is in the consequence, the outcome.

incentive 3

I train my dogs because of the shared process, the activity, the pleasure. Not for any other consequence, likes on YouTube, drawers of rosettes or peer approval. The pleasure is intrinsically wrapped in the pleasure my dogs demonstrate that evolves from constructional, positive training. No confusion, no frustrations, no failures.

If our motivation is low perhaps we have tied our incentive too closely to a consequence that is not under our control or is unreliable?


incentive gareden


If as trainers, we place our motivation entirely in the consequences, then we are likely to consider that the same model for our dogs. Sometimes we need to let the obvious consequences step aside and allow the incentive, that we can influence, inspire our motivation.

Positive training has every opportunity to motivate itself through a clear incentive and bonus consequences.

About Time

February 2, 2016

One Special Boy

beloved nan

Quiz and her beloved Grandson, Time. She doted on him, making sure he grew up to be all that he could be.

Time is a son of Flink, who is a daughter of Quiz, who was a daughter of Kiwi, who was a daughter of Flite, who was a daughter of Abacab, who was a son of Purdie, who was a daughter of Bob.

Bob was my first collie and started me in competition Obedience. He took me to Crufts Championships in the main ring in 1979. Not a green carpet in those days.


Crufts, no green carpet, extremely cold in February, and yes, I had dark hair, but still a collie!

Crufts 2016 I will walk the main ring with Time, his g-g-g-g-grandson, in the Heelwork To Music competition finals.


Heelwork sings to me right at the heart. I always experience a quickening beat. It is an experience of synchronised balance in movement. It brings a touch of dance, a touch of musicality, and always a smile and warmth.

Training for a sport focuses the mind and discipline. I consider it requires us to study, practice and study some more. The learning never ends.

When you have a passion for something it takes you along paths you never dreamed would be a part of your future. Paths that have lead to studies across many fields that come together and contribute to the whole.


We can not be satisfied with being “just trainers” we need to learn how to analyse behaviour, build a teaching curriculum, study stimulus control, experience disciplines of performance arts.


Time is trained without correction. He is taught with reinforcement, in his case this is food and contact.

He has a very strong “eye” which is the classic collie predatory state. Toys and anticipation of games sets off the eye which would put him into conflict for heelwork behaviours.


We play, we plays lots, but not for heelwork training.

I build heelwork with physical fitness, from the foundation of standing in balance, through walk, trot, rotations and lateral movements. He is always correct, he is always reinforced.


He has only ever tried to be what I want him to be. He is the culmination of training many, many dogs in activities that taught me more about dogs.

He knows no error. Error is only feedback letting me know what training, cues or changes I need to make.



He is a product of breeding dogs balanced for the sport:

with a sound structure that won’t be stressed by the extremes and minute stresses of repetitive actions that sport practising demands.

with a temperament that blossoms in the performance environment. Collies are not always suited to noisy, indoor venues surrounded by spectators.




Genabacab Light Merlot.


Wonderful boy, carrying the heritage in his blood and in his heart


A little fun with the camera: enjoying training


Ah. I hadn’t thought about that ….

December 28, 2015

Sometimes we are force to appreciate that our own understanding of something is far ahead of the common thinking on a subject. Sometimes, it smacks us right between the eyes.

For example: the common courtesy of not allowing your dog, who is very friendly, (aren’t you lucky?)  to run up to other dogs that you know nothing about. Parking your car where it causes other road uses inconvenience. We could call this “being stupid”, “thoughtless” and this certainly applies to a small percentage of the population. I have faith in the majority of people who do want to be considerate and live harmoniously in their community. How do we become considerate and thoughtful? We need information and we need to know what information we need to know to become informed.

Many of the rules and guidelines that are an integral part of driving are designed to keep people safe. Speed limits are there for good reason, warnings about “do not change lanes” on motorways, are there for a good reason. In the experience of the combined road managers, these restrictions, rules or guidelines are implemented as a result of a potential or serious consequence.

One motorway I drive regularly has multiple junctions where motorways combine. Very fast moving traffic that has to merge. Two key components of high risk of accidents. If you then add “adverse weather” such as fog, heavy rain, or freezing conditions the risk components multiply.

I read a detailed report of a serious multiple traffic collision at a junction that made my hair stand up on end. The outcome was recommendations that all motorway junctions have lighting. I read this 40 years ago and it still stays in my mind. When I see “do not change lanes” my frustration is quickly built by the drivers who ignore this (and of course use the space I have left in front of me as the perfect slot for them  ….grrrrr). But then the question becomes are they actually aware of the risk and potential consequences? Would they still take this risk if they were? Do we have frighten people into take care and consideration, or is that just knowledge?

Does the person who lets their dog run into your dog have the knowledge of the consequences of their (non) action and do they have the skills to make a change?

The common practice of bagging your dog’s faeces is a “modern” change, mostly bought about as a reaction to the infection risk with the toxocara canis. Most thoughtful dog owners are going to walk their dogs, be prepared and are willing to clear up.

But there will always be a percentage that does not comply with this element of living in a community:

  1. They consider it does not relate to them (“after all it is out of the way ….under a tree”)
  2. They cannot be bothered (“what am I supposed to do with it”, “there are no bins, so I shan’t bother”, “they pay other people to do this”). There are always good reasons to be found to not bother. I wonder if they put as much energy into the solutions as they do to the avoidance …..?
  3. They like to defy the common policy, simply because they can, the risk of punishment is small enough.
  4. They are not “in the moment”. Day dreaming, worry about a life situation, over stressed. Bag-less …..

But perhaps we can reach those border line people who simply were not aware of the consequences or had not considered them. The wheelchairs users who have their wheels coated in faeces and then want to go into a restaurant, the pushchair with poo-wheels where the child can run their hands, and of course the driver on the motorway who now has a shoe full of poo warming nicely in the car heater.

Ah. I hadn’t thought about that. When the consequence is likely to relate to them, we can expect more consideration. Often as teachers we need to explore their world to find a consequence that they can relate to. Poo-on-a-shoe is an everyday consequence, poo on wheel-chairs are not.

We have to consider different tactics to combat thoughtlessness, and of course seek to reinforce thoughtfulness.

Many of us are directly or indirectly involved with training dogs “on the social fringes”. For whatever reason they do not appreciate unsolicited social advances from either people or dogs.

These advances can vary from being completely unacceptable, potentially life changing, to just selfish.

When Merrick was about 16 weeks old I was faced with an oncoming situation that had the potential to be life changing for her. I was coming along a tow path by a canal. This is only about a meter/yard wide, with fencing on my left and canal on my right. Coming towards me was a guy with two boys on bikes, one with training wheels. The older one was quite a way ahead, the younger one being supervised (Really? Training wheels alongside a canal …. that should give you an idea of his risk assessment abilities). Additionally the family was made up with two large, boisterous lurchers. These were jumping in and out of the canal barges where people were eating.
On viewing this and within 3 seconds I sought avoidance. My puppy bitch was NOT going to be exposed to this selfish use of community space. My route for avoidance was to open a gate into someone’s back garden and let myself in. I was prepared to risk that embarrassment for me than the potential fallout from a full-on, unescapable assault from bikes and dogs.

This type of skill assessment process needs practice. Would that we could have a freeze button to have the time to assess the components speeding towards us and then sort through the possible solutions.

I doubt the guy was actually that thoughtless. He was taking his kids and dogs out (at 12am on a Tuesday morning). He chose an area where it was safe from traffic, but he may have not considered barges containing picnickers. He may have considered that he had enough control of both kids and dogs to manage any situation (don’t we all). Sometimes we do not know what we cannot manage until it occurs. That’s one of the reasons we do fire drills.

Maybe, if I could have had his full attention for a moment and explained the consequences of his behaviours he would have changed the situation. I would then wonder if he had the training in place for an appropriate response from both kids and dogs – that would take considerable preparation.

When we have a situation that continues to build our frustration it takes thoughtful effort to bring about a change. That thoughtful effort will make you feel a little better than dwelling on the negative frustration, but sometimes that level of frustration has to drive us to the point of encouraging change for the better.

Our dog communities share space. A pre-license to make use of shared space should be earned.

Dog folk have to be aware of the non-dog folk using that space. Equally dog-folk have to be aware of other dog-folk. How can we make the changes:

Avoid it. This tactic is excellent for the days when the frustration level is going to spill over. We can also do a short term avoidance by simply escaping in the moment if it is available to us.

Education. Are we making a judgement that this is deliberate thoughtlessness or simply an “I really did not know, my apologies” situations. If a person has a friendly dog, do they fully appreciate:

~ that not all dogs are friendly and the actions of their dog can have life changing consequences on your dog?

~ that you have been working for weeks on this dog with a good program to be able to walk down the road and not cause issues for other dogs, and that their moment of inconsideration has set you back months.

~ if this becomes the norm for this park / woodland / beach, then the local council may draw up a byelaw that requires all dogs to be on lead AND under control.

~ that blasting up to another dog is a discourtesy. Dogs would not normally do this*

*dogs would greet each other with a more cautionary protocol of standing off at some distance and enquiring about closing that distance. If the opening enquiring did not receive a positive response a diversionary tactic of marking the nearest object is often employed and the dogs then go their own way. But because we walk with dogs on leads directly towards each other without this courteous stand-off dogs have not learned to develop this normal dog protocols, it has been overridden by human protocols.

If you have to explore consequences that relate to the individuals try the “have you any children / grandchildren” approach. Would you like a 12 year old child in your care, to be exposed to inappropriate behaviour from an adult?   It should bring consideration to the moment – remember the “excuse” for inappropriate behaviour is often “I was just being friendly


Put your energy into change, not complaints. Seek solutions and let’s reinforce the thoughtfulness.

Changes can happen and will happen when we add our collective ideas, actions and energy together. Recycling is becoming the norm, not the exception. Dog diets have become “grown up” and for dogs, not just re-purposing unwanted human foods.

We have all experienced the feeling of learning and changing – something we did in the past because we considered it the right thing to do at that time. We can view it retrospectively and appreciate that we did not know what we didn’t know, at that time. So let’s give strangers that consideration – an innocent lack of knowledge.

How you open their eyes to this is another story.

Learning something new

November 24, 2015

A Joy or a chore? 

That rather depends on how steep that mountain is perceived to be eh?

I was blessed for a while to be able to live and work in the most astonishing place – up on the Brecon Beacons. Several times a year we gathered great flocks of sheep off the hills, and just for fun instead of work, we trained for search and rescue on the same hills.

photo Jeremy Bolwell

These hills were curved, pudding shaped, what you thought was the top often deceived you as you approached the false summit to realise you had only survived the first 25%. The rest of the hill was out of sight.

Hay Bluff, Black Mountain and The Offa's Dyke path from Capel-y-ffin

Hay Bluff, Black Mountain and The Offa’s Dyke path from Capel-y-ffin. Photo: Martin Mackey (3)

At times we traveled to North Wales and, for fun remember, stomped up and down the sides of Snowdon. Scared the crap out me – the top was always on view (weather permitting), hostile and far too far away.

Quite oddly the Snowdon guys used to feel most uncomfortable on the grass slopes of the Brecons – aka The Ankle breakers!

Learning something new can present us with motivating challenges or hostile threats. The threats can be felt because we are presented with an overwhelming amount of stuff. The peak of Snowdon for the lone traveler, unfamiliar with the territory or the easier routes, can resist the experience. But accompanied by regular climbers the journey can be mutually enjoyed and achievement shared.

One day trip to Snowdon we were faced with a quite evil route dropping off steeply on both sides. This did not fill me with confidence since I was under tow of an enthusiastic Gordon and I spent most of my time with my head focused on the next stone in front of me. But when one of my companions started to point out the small vegetation, microscopically hiding for self preservation, the journey started to change. We did make the summit, slept over night with Gordon firmly tied to me and enjoyed a dawn of all dawns, then the clag came down and we descended in cloud for the next 5 hours!

Depending on our comfort zones – somewhere between pure academia or pure practical we find ourselves learning something new. An academic can explain in language we do not understand (for me that hostile Snowdon landscape) but find a common interest that brings the journey alive. The practitioner full of skills and experience can see more than ankle breaking grass slopes and teach those easy step techniques that hill shepherds have learned over hundreds of miles.

All our teachers need to remember to turn around and enjoy the views – point out the achievements, see the geography, explain the geology and try to understand the behaviour of sheep!

Whichever hill or mountain you decided to climb, keep your feet in touch with the point of the journey. It is not about getting to the top – that may be a bonus, but keeping yourself mentally fit, taking a side track to look at a waterfall, feel the Roman paved road under your feet and learn something you did not think you would learn.

Come learn with us:

January Training  Thoughtfully: Jesus, Alex and I will begin with a topic, but most likely it will side track to a waterfall. We will all stand around, take pictures, ask questions, taste the water, sit under the Mountain Ash tree, have a sandwich and tea from a flask. Learning will happen.

Often it takes one small nugget of information that can shift the bedrock of your training and everything takes on a slightly different perspective. New thoughts come into view, the horizons comes a bit closer, and underneath that pebble that you have just knocked is a micro-fern.

More details on the topics:

January also begins the two-year online course. This may be your Snowdon, but the journey will be traveled with wonderful companions.

One of this year’s students sums it up:

I had a long drive today and was thinking about how much I am enjoying this course.( I started by really puzzling and struggling to think of a better way to teach poorly paw) I am enjoying how much it is pushing me to think through the topics at hand. Think and re-think, take in and ponder all of the generous comments and videos. It is not easy, but so different and so much more fulfilling than classes that teach a formula, or “how to”.  It feels so luxurious to have the time to thoughtfully experiment. I feel like I am slowly building a scaffolding of understanding which underpins all of my training.

I am rather amazed that this all has taken place in this “Moodle world”.  Although it would be most wonderful to be able to meet in person…when I see each of your names and posts I do feel that I have come to know you and your terrific dogs

Enrollment and more info on the online course. Christmas Gifts can arrive as learning packages – education is never wasted!

If you are attracted to learning-mountains take a good map along with you. Research your possible routes and options, meet fellow travelers and make sure they want to share the journey at your speed and will enjoy stopping and looking at the view. I do not remember any pleasure from the days of climbing hills with the super fit speed merchants that only wanted to get to the top first.

The type of mountain you take on is your choice, be comfortable with the learning style, walking or climbing or a mixture of both, a sense of achievement should be guaranteed.

Still laughing

April 5, 2015


Dreaming of new dramas?

Dreaming of new dramas?

Just a year since M arrived with us. I recall that first week of her innocently sleeping besides my bed in her puppy crate. I have fond memories of wondering how life will pan out over the next few years …

”On my toes” is the answer.

Yes, indeed Madam.

We can all have plans as to how we would secure certain behaviours, and then along comes a learner who throws out the book. She likes to learn her own way. She certainly ensures I go with the grain not against it.

After sharing videos of her tutoring, my learning, I think more folk at the Spring Conferences – ORCA, Expo, are “wise” about Gordon Setters. I now have my licence for surviving teenagers.

I took her along to a breed championship show in January. The entry fee is modest when considering how much learning and experience we gain. She gets to see an enormous collection of different breeds, some close up and some at far distance. All were viewed with fascination of course. To reach the Gordon ring we need to pass the Irish Setters.

Dogs at breeds show are shown in the morning, bitches in the afternoon; you can show a bitch in season, hence the second billing. Many of the dogs waiting for the Irish ring were young male boys in full Spring vigour. She thought heaven had arrived. Folk are standing around catching up after the Christmas break and certainly not paying attention to this Fit n Fertile Thing selling her wares by a mere raise of eyebrow. She handed out her FB details to everything she saw flashing her single status.

It took some nifty wrapping to make a string basket out of my 6 foot lead to manipulate her past and thankfully I found another way to escape the building.

One of the difficulties that youngsters experience when growing up is the ability to manage energy. This does not only mean understanding how to stop to avoid crashing into things, but also when to reserve energy for a later needs and adventures.

She can now, with the help of dark Winter mornings, start the day with a short garden challenge spotting every essence of the overnight visitors, and then come inside to settle down whilst I breakfast. This was not the case 6 months ago, when we needed at least an hour of adventure before we could settle. This involved a visit to the chickens ensuring the eggs were of respectable quality, apple tossing as we went around the orchard, chases with the nannies, first breakfast and supervising my turd-collection skills. A cold, frosty lawn assisted in shortening the outsides needs.

Frosty morning in the orchard

Frosty morning in the orchard

Through the day I mix short bursts of play and energy expenditure and schedule rest times directly afterwards. Six months ago evenings were often high energy opportunities to fly around the back of the sofa and fling toys.

Nature’s sedative, dinner, is at 4pm during the Winter, as soon as it becomes dark she does settle quickly for the evening and then is completely gone for the rest of the night. Nothing sleeps quite as deeply as a Gordon. The only evenings she stayed alert was to watch Crufts on the TV. Dinner will slide on now the clock’s have move forward so that her feed time is about 1 hour before dark to ensure I have some peace for part of the day.

As much as possible I avoid extremes highs of excitement and extremes of energy needs – such as long distance exercise. I also avoid long periods of enforced rest. Even when I am in the Barn for workshops she usually has access to the garden, unless extremely cold or wet, and the company of her nannies, Flink and Time.

Time overseeing his charge


She will travel with me on errands with occasional outings around car parks, or our local villages and garden centres. But most errands are 40-50 minutes of resting in her crate in the van. I like to think variation and the avoidance of extremes builds her flexibility of tolerating these energy changes. Adults have learned when to value sleep, rest up for later energy needs and enjoy naps when the sun is shinning. I wish we could “pre-sleep”, that would be more than useful.

It has certainly be an exciting year and also very, very precious. She is a wonderful companion and teacher, full of the minute-to-minute happiness and makes me laugh every day.

Her bedtime ritual is a drama of her own making. She has of course, a luxury Orvis bed that was tailor made for her body and it is her preferred choice for the night. But we begin with the stage being set as I potter around the nightly rituals. She rests on my bed waiting for me to dive in. Well, not so much dive these days as shuffle down.

As my feet explore under the cover they creep up onto her waiting place of leisure. Surprise washes over her body, not only ONE burrowing beastie, but TWO sneak up on her. We then have a passionate story unfold of stalking, hunting, pouncing and defeating the under-sheet army.

Every night. Really …… ?

Fortunately after her final curtain call she retires to Orvis and lets the “defeated” army rest for another night.

To drive or not to drive?

December 18, 2014


Drive is one of those words with multiple meanings, different understanding and one thousands uses and misuses. I may be perceived as getting a little too fussy over the words we use. I do not desire to be a grammar queen but will suck teeth when told “I do clicking”, or that I am a “clickerer”. Misuse that affects what we are doing or what we believe we are doing does not move our training forward. Misunderstanding of a word or protocol can shut out many beneficial options and misuse can lead to a confused learner and a disappointed trainer.

Drive flips between its use in respect of people and in respect of dogs and they can have similar or quite different meanings. We may be driven to work excessively hard, by our own ambitions or by others, or be driven to a state of despair. We can use it in sport: golf-balls can be hit by a driver, birds can be driven from cover. We can drive a hard bargain, drive home a key point.

Add our activities with transport and I count no less than 21 different definitions in a standard dictionary.

The ones of relevance in this case are the nouns: “energy, ambition or initiative”, and “a motive or interest, such as sex or ambition”. These have morphed to our field of training into a descriptive blend of the two for dogs that are “high drive” in their behaviours such as running in agility, heelwork or playing with toys. It also leaps into the field of aggression associated with high prey drive, neither of which should be assumed to have any connection.

On several occasions I have been asked to assist with increasing a dog’s “drive” for a particular behaviour or in general relation to training. This is similar as being asked to teaching a dog to “be nice”, or “be friendly”. The unspecific nature of such terms cannot provide us with a clear intention of what to train, what to mark, or click, and what to reinforce.

We may reduce our language necessities by using this short hand term when considering the dog or the behaviour globally but it serves us poorly as trainers when precision is essential to find successful solutions.

In the anatomical sense a dog with “good drive” is a motion that is powered from the action of the rear end. The dog appears to be moving with ease and lightness at the front and can carry themselves in balance because of the highly desired “good drive”. A dog lacking this structure will appear to pull itself forward from the front end, particularly in the faster gaits, often dropping their head to do so. It can indicate poor structure or a discomfort in using the power from the rear assembly. To describe this action in detail may be tedious by measuring the length of bone, angulation of specific joints, alignment of the hips and pelvis. But if we were attempting to resolve why drive is lacking we need to know exactly what angle is lacking, or why a dog is struggling to use the apparent structure with strength.

To explore drive and lack of it in training we need to find precision in our terms and description to allow us to focus on the necessary training.

I would prefer the use of several terms:

 1. Confidence

The dog has confidence in:

a) The Cue. When they hear this cue they are confident that they can remember it and respond without hesitation. This comes from extensive practice of comparison to allow ease of discrimination and keep the memory of the cue association fresh.

b) Knowing what to do. How to carry out the behaviour(s). This is based on careful construction of the learning and the components of the behaviour. When given the cue is should act as a release to begin the behaviour and the dog will set about the task with confidence knowing exactly what is required with no uncertainty. Teaching this confidence is based on a programme that suits this specific learner and the way they can learn without any stress.

c) Always being right. Knowing that when they respond there will no stress, uncertainty, anxiety or confusion. No punishment for getting it wrong, or being too slow, or going slightly off track by adding a bark, or paw lift or other behaviour.

d) Their effort will be appreciated. It will always receive reinforcement in one form or another. There is no fear that punishment plays any part of the effort. No “Yes you are right but …”

e) The environment. That if they respond to the cue the environment will not contradict the behaviour. If the dog is heeling with their eyes on the trainer they can trust they will not be walked into an obstacle. If the dog walks with you pass another dog they will not receive hostile advances or unwanted petting from people.

We are also part of the environmental support and cannot become a rule changer because of where we are, who is watching, our own nerves or inattention. We should be trusted not to become another person because of perceived embarrassment.

2. Preparation

a) They have had the physical preparation. They are on top form for the tasks and behaviours. Muscle development is thoughtfully constructed, fluent and easily achieved behaviours, stamina is achieved and there are no underlying injuries.

b) They have been mentally prepared. Training has included focus, mental stamina to reject unwanted stimuli, control of arousal and energy channelled at the right time towards the right goal. Excess energy is not wasted. The dog can discriminate between intense focus and relaxed focus.

c) Training above and beyond. The training plan has given the dog experience to a level well beyond that expected in performance or successful completion of the tasks. The training has included sufficient mental stimulation to keep the dog engaged and mentally active.

3. Foundations

These are the underpinning physical and mental skills necessary for the final tasks.

For a dog expected to perform they need experience of multi-environments that give stability in cues, reinforcement and chance of performance success. Reliable equipment that will not fail the dog when engaging, surfaces that do not present a hazard. The dog will build a trust in the environment and have generalised their skills.

A layered learning pathway that has built up component behaviours on a clear understanding. When expecting performance in the final behaviours which may be short and intense or maintaining a lower intensity for longer periods, any gaps in the underpinning learning will be exposed.

Experience that gives the dog many, many different and varied memories of success to call upon when challenged. Flexibility in training building strength, not uncertainty.


I have been told on more than one occasion that I am lucky to have such drivey dogs. [Teeth sucked, nostrils flared]. These dogs did not just land on my door step or drop from the sky in a drivey state.

Yes, they are easy to arouse to specific stimuli. This can be either and advantage or a disadvantage. I spend most of my training time channelling their arousal to a mutually beneficial output. Which means arousal can explode once they have run into the field but not before they have been released.

Yes, they are intensely driven to succeed at what they are learning. This is the blessing of training in the World of Always Reinforcing. Always. They cannot be wrong. In one way or another all learning, all effort, all discoveries are reinforced. This gives them lots of personal confidence to strive, explore, remember and listen to their learning.

Yes, they are always eager to train. This is partly the benefit of being naturally competitive with their house mates and because they enjoy their individual time with me that is the special sauce when training. Learning to be training mates has been part of our every day getting to know each other, becoming friends, finding what they like and what they don’t like.

I do not over train, 2-3 formal sessions a week with spontaneous moments of play and actions. Sessions are short and very sweet and at the pace of the individual. I do not compare the dogs or expect them to train to a specific time frame or agenda. I may be motivated by a point in the calendar but the dogs are only motivated by the immediate moment.

Yes, they trust their environment. I would not ask them to carry out a behaviour that had risk of discomfort or without being fully prepared. If I inverted my brain and took them to a school for a petting fest then they would be given plenty of preparation.

Yes, they look fit, fluent and balanced. I will invest my time and experience in building their fitness, no short cuts or rushed expectations. No unnatural movements and they are deliberately developed in what they are good at, not what they would struggle to achieve.

Given these ingredients and a good dollop to time drive will emerge naturally.

The dogs that I train now are lucky to ride on the shoulders of all my dogs that I have trained in the past. The dogs that I expected too much of in conditions for which I lacked giving the proper preparation. The dogs that carried me over my shortcomings of which I am now aware of and appreciative. The dogs that needed me to be consistent in all environments and trained me to manage my own emotional responses.

There is no short cut to building amazing dogs that can share a performance, a task or every day jobs with us. Confidence in each other is a two-way channel and a direct result of the time invested in training and learning with each other. There is a unique feeling of partnership with a dog, whether it is on a mountain side with snow looming over your shoulder, in front of an audience of 300 or making a video locked forever in time.

Forced, or pseudo, training for “drive” may result in paper-thin arousal combined with stress which is not comfortable to watch or ask in performance.

Train for supreme confidence, with comprehensive preparation based on good foundations.

Let confidence, time and experience rise the dog’s natural skills and abilities to the surface. They will not fail you in this.



The Age of Objection

August 14, 2014

We are now rising 6 months and there are signs that all the carefully, thoughtfully taught behaviours are falling apart. Despite maintaining and increasing the reinforcement “mass”, the behaviours such as:

speed control: “Merrick” = run towards me and plan to stop
responding to cues: “off to bed”= in your crate
separation: “you stay there” = as I walkout through the gate

are deteriorating.

As to be expected. We are growing up. This is the onset of becoming aware of “cost” to responding.

Cues are opportunities for reinforcement. Recognition and compliance is desired, but she is now able to make a choice between compliance: which may result in a loss or a cost to her, and non-compliance. Decision making is an essential part of growing up. It is a skill that needs regular practice, lots of extensive opportunities to explore the results of her decisions.

She can run towards me and stop, she has done this 500 times. Now she runs towards me with building enthusiasm and skills for a powerful launch. The disruption and response that follows is, to her, greater than the previously established controlled affection. Yesterday when I returned from a morning in the Barn I waited 12 minutes for her greeting enthusiasm to reduce to a level that allowed me to walk towards the house I was were effectively “pinned-by-enthusiasm” to the gate. Fortunately it wasn’t raining.

Me ... digging?

Me … digging?

I notice this launch mostly happens when I am not fully prepared. I am sending out different cues to the “I am prepared for launch” when I look rather like a goalie in a hockey game. I absolutely have to have both hands free and full concentration.

When I work at the kitchen table I make habit of “sitting up” to clearly give the cues that I am busy and this is a time for you to do your own stuff. For the last 3 months when I am preparing to be busy I empty her toy box to the floor to facilitate “doing you own stuff”. The opportunity to play with Toy Box B (we have 3, each containing about 15-18 toys & Items of Interest, aka rubbish) is usually sufficient to divert her away from seeking interaction. What I now get is punch with toy “Hey …Play?”

My left thigh is covered in bruises as this is the only point of access. I have upped the do-stuff opportunities with more interactive toys.

There are several times a day where she cannot accompany me. I may be taking the collies out for a run, which is too fast and furious for young Gordon legs. I may be taking the very elderly Gordon, Tessie for an orchard potter and she does not appreciate the fly pasts from Merrick. I may be cutting grass. I may even be leaving home. In anticipation of these occasions she has been accustomed to good bones to chew, scattered food on the floor to search for or a food ball to roll around. In addition I have worked carefully on the process of going through a door-gate without doing battle around my legs. All quite successful.

The change is occurring as her needs change. As a 12 week old pup the food occasions were Seriously Important. As her priorities change, coming out with the group is rising up her list of importance. What was once an acceptable substitute is no longer sufficient. Food is gobbled in preparation of Serious Objection.

There is a fine line in the process where serious objection converts to serious distress. My plan is to shorten the periods she is left, but increase the frequency. With Flink timing her season as well, she is able to have company rather than isolation as they are both left behind. I would like to think Flink is modelling good behaviour. (Hopeful thinking?)

The strategy of diversion from the process of abandonment is running out. Abandon will have more impact on her as her need to be included in group activities increases – more than a need, her pleasure. Exclusion is as difficult for a dog as it is for a child.

The reality is that life has to continue at times without her. I would be seriously upset if separation did not bother her at all. We choose to bring dogs into our lives, not cats, because they enjoy our company and resist separation. This separation needs to be handled extremely carefully and empathically. The fallout is a lifetime of distress for the dog.

I would suggest the stronger the connection the harder the separation. When I travel I have “distractions” to bypass the feelings of separation. I would hate to be left in my home and have all the dogs go away for several hours without knowing when they would return.

Trust is part of being left – the pups must trust you to return. Even if they cannot understand it. She has learned there are different types of separation. If I go upstairs I tend to return quite quickly, there is no escape from an upstairs window. If I go out the front gate, it may sometime before I return. She is learning to discriminate between the two “left behinds”.

Separation can also be received as punitive, a rejection from the group. Second hand dogs may carry trauma from separation for the rest of their lives.

The strategies include:

  • As much as possible I arrange for alternative entertainment that is of value to her. This may be a special large bone to enjoy that I have saved for the worst occasions, when the other dogs go out for a run.
  • I try to vary the other dogs that stay with her. She finds different companionship in different dogs. But I appreciate that these adult Merrick-sitters are subject to some fairly tough treatment when they are the sole target of her “affection”. This is normally a shared activity.
  • Good stuff will happen in a moment. This is the group learning where a treat or dinner will be delivered to each dog one at a time. I use the Your Name protocol for the recipient. This teaches the other dogs, for whom it is not their name, to wait for their turn. This happens at least 5 times a day for dinner, treats, bedtime biscuits, coming through a gate, coming out of the van. It is an understanding that she is part of a group that is not centric to her. A key element to transitioning to an adult.
  • Many more short absences from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. I may need to pop upstairs to collect a pair of glasses. Carry a plant pot to the other room. Previously I would have included these activities as part of her learning curriculum to follow me, learning climbing stairs and engage in novel outings. I would have taken the time to see this as an investment in training, associating many words with the behaviours. Now her learning is about waiting quietly, I will be back shortly and learning to trust that exclusion is not personal, not a punishment, not time out, but simply a “you-will-be-OK-here” moment. I did consider beginning with this separation protocol, but I viewed the exclusion, as a 8-18 week old puppy, would have been considerably more stressful than as the adolescent puppy. As an adolescent she is very obviously choosing to spend time away from me – hanging out in the garden with the other dogs. This choice and confidence was not present until about 16 weeks.
  • Super training. This is an increase in her activity level within her developing physique. No heavy tugging, bouncing, fast running or excessive repetition. Walking along planks and having to turn around or sit, searching for treats on the staircase and in the garden, running towards a target mat and stopping with both feet on it. Outings to busy high streets negotiating many novel stimulus. Learning is very physically based, not focussed on remembering cues or puzzle solving. Her body is changing fast and activities that she handled 8 weeks ago are now not the same. Legs are longer and take more folding. Bodies take more turning around. Running through doorways has got more complicated.

I am building a relationship, not a piece of furniture. At the same time these stresses are being loaded by the kilo I increase the connection opportunities exponentially. This is often the missing component. “You are still loved, but your enthusiasm for life has to undergo changes, but you are still loved”.

No, that cannot happen: running into the house, leaping onto the sofa with a shovel full of wet mud and grass. But I still love you.

No, that cannot happen: running around hanging on the washing flapping on the rotary line. Why don’t you play with this instead.

No, that cannot happen: herding the collie that she loves so much he can hardly move with her hanging off his neck, tail, coat, ears. Being such a gentle lad with no effective way of communicating “give me a break” he needs protection. But we can play together in this game.

“When she is 3 years old you will love her again”.

I remember this advice when reading our Gordoner newsletter. I understand the changing physique and maturing brain will impact on her behaviour, her capacities and motivations.

This is the age, 6-16 months, that most people will begin to despair. The age when dogs are relinquished to shelters. The age that most people have serious doubts about their training competence, their decision to have a puppy in the first place and how they are going to survive. Despite investing 3-4 months of positive reinforcement into their puppy it can all evaporate in one teenage week.

This is the age when people need support groups, carefully structured physical activities (that do not include letting an adolescent dog run free across the landscape), determination to see puberty as “normal” and not a failure, bad dog, or loss of respect. If you work with the growing youngster during this period you will both survive with a strong relationship and the sort of connection that will last a lifetime.

Parenting this adolescent is a learning process to be regarded as a gift. It is the time you will learn more than you could imagine about rearing dogs. It is the hardest time, the testing time but a privilege to share the journey of an emerging personality.


We now have a workshop for adolescents:

Support and tea in great quantities.