Archive for dogs police dogs

Puppy. Week 3

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2016 by guy2932

After the chaos of the pup arriving, this week has felt relatively easy. The toilet training is going well and as long as I let him out when he wakes, after playing and roughly every half an hour all goes well. We have had two accidents both because I didn’t follow the rules. I merely cleaned it up and made more effort next time. Telling him off, punishing him or freaking out may well have created a bad association and he may well then try and avoid me to toilet in peace. Aside from that it was all over by the time I noticed and punishment needs to arrive at the time or within 0.5 seconds which for most people is as good as at the time. It also needs to be connected to the environment rather than with you or the pup will just associate the punishment with you and try and avoid you. Therefore trying to punish a dog when toilet training is actually quite difficult and therefore not worth worrying about given that teaching good habits is so effective. As it is he is quite happy for me to hover (ready to pick it up before he eats his pooh). He is not eating his pooh so much now but is far more likely to first thing in the morning. Knowing this I am with him ready to distract with some cheese whilst I pick up immediately.


Everything else feels pretty routine now. He is happily sleeping through the night now and when we wake he is straight out for a wee and pooh. He has is food and then goes nuts trying to bite legs so we distract onto towels. When he calms down we explore the garden and maybe retrieve some balls. His interest in balls is limited. Some he likes and some he doesn’t. He quite often will chase and then ignore. This is a process and his desire for balls will grow as he learns they are fun. There is no such thing as ‘ball drive’ so don’t let people panic you if your pup isn’t interested in them at this stage. If your pup isn’t interested you may be better off just finding other objects that he is interested in at this stage rather than risk making bad associations. I normally give him about half an hour or so attention then place him in the crate whilst I get myself ready. Sometimes I will give him a cardboard box from the recycling or whatever else he can safely chew up. A bit of cream cheese or pate on it guarantees he is distracted and prevents any bad habits in the crate whilst I get ready.

I have made no efforts to take him to new places or see new things this week although there is always an opportunity. Just letting him in the front room at home is a new experience. Seeing a few new things is good but don’t overdo it. It is easy to forget at this stage that they have been through a lot and this week is a great time to take stock of your progress and start planning the coming weeks.

He is due his second booster on Thursday so I know I’ve got a big day that day. Friday will be a quiet day at home just in case there are any side effects. Being overly tired, ill or injured can lower the dogs tolerance and make anything feel scarier than it would otherwise be.

He met his brother Marshy and my mums dog and cat again last week and also had a sleepover with his handler and met his Great Dane again. This coming week could be time to meet a new dog so I will seek out a nice puppy friendly specimen for him. He isn’t yet protected by his vaccinations so we are risk managing by meeting dogs we know to be fit and healthy and only going places where dog walkers don’t routinely go. Whilst the vets may disagree, the benefits from early socialisation cannot be over emphasised. It is especially important that he learn to meet not just dogs that he knows but learns how to deal with meeting new dogs as this is a separate skill. He will quickly become a very confident, large dog and if his social skills aren’t good, the tendency will be to withdraw from new interactions and the problem will get worse. It is much better to be proactive at this stage and prevent any possible issues before they

Whilst paying with him I am always thinking about the end game and how what I am doing is working towards that goal. He has a good recall and will happily chase towels and rags, legs and brushes. At this stage we will play with anything that gets him excited but I will gradually play less and less with things like brushes as the intensity to play with rags increases. I also throw things and encourage him to bring them back. Again, at this stage we are limited to whatever he will pick up but I will again move him towards balls as that will be my toy of choice. It is all about making him chase and bite at this stage.


I am also encouraging barking and when he is excited will happily bark in response to a bah! sound. I have also started to feed him in the plastic pot so he needs to push and knock it around and use his nose to find the food. This all helps to increase his problem solving, tenacity and determination as well as using up some of that brain power to tire him out rather than having to exercise his rapidly growing body.

Everything I do will always be about encouraging or discouraging future behaviour. Whilst there is no need to panic and try and stop unwanted behaviour at this stage I am conscious of them and taking steps to distract, divert or manage them so as to not let them develop into habits with a long reinforcement history. Equally I am using the same technique to encourage desirable behaviour but there is no requirement to worry about commands and control positions or any kind of ‘formal’ training just yet. The aim is to make a well rounded individual that has all the drive and enthusiasm to do the job. Teaching sit, down and stand can come much, much later. It is all about prioritising your time in line with the puppys developmental stages  at the moment.


Puppy. Day 2

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2016 by guy2932

Up at 0645hrs today. That’s a lie in by normal standards let alone with a puppy! If you overlook the fact that I was out in the garden with him at 0100hrs in the cold drizzle, this puppy lark seems easy. When we came back in he slept on me again but seems to prefer the feet end. I’m trying not to get paranoid about my breath.

So 0645hrs it was. Up and out (remember the crocs and jacket by the back door). You need to try and make life as easy for yourself as possible if you are going to do things this way. He is getting very good at going out now to the same area in the garden and we have still only had the one accident which was my fault. I have learnt my lesson though. Whilst writing this and watching the big bang theory and entertaining the puppy and having to give constant feedback  on the girls doing handstands, I did notice that familiar single whine that lets me know it’s time. So out we go, “be quick” and like magic, a wee on command. I know he was going to do it anyway but you have to celebrate small victories.P1020011

Food was served in the van at 0700hrs. Just long enough in there to eat and make a good association and then back into the house. He went to the back door and whined. I let him into the garden for…. wait for it…..a pooh in the normal spot. I took the opportunity to make the association with a few “be quick” commands as he was going. Then, having made sure he had finished, praise, and we played a little game of chase the luggage strap. A real favourite of his at the moment.

We then hung around the house investigating and I took him back out to the van a few times where he seemed to enjoy playing with the brush. Most of the toys I have are a bit too big and hard for him at the moment so we play with whatever he likes. I will direct his attention onto my chosen items as we progress. For now, whatever works. I am going to visit Lee, his future handler later and so continuing to make a good association with the van is this mornings priority.


By 0730hrs he was getting tired and took himself into the crate for a sleep. I took the opportunity to shut the cage door (more on that process tomorrow when that becomes the priority).

A short nap is all that was required and at 0745 he woke. I let him out even though he was still lying quietly because I know what was going to happen next. He was going to vocalise and scratch the cage door. That is a habit I don’t want to start so I made a pre-emptive strike (good management).

This time we went into a new bit of garden. He was bold and confident until he saw a big white football on the grass. He stopped and stared. His ears pulled back and he stepped cautiously forward, then back then forward. I however just walked on. After a few seconds he followed. After 10 minutes we returned the way we had come he ran straight up to the ball and sniffed it before moving on. Everything is new to him and new things are potentially dangerous and so this cautious approach is not unusual or worrying at all. Kicking the ball or making a big deal out of it may have made the situation worse. So too could coaxing or encouraging the dog to approach when he didn’t want to. The second time he saw it the ball was now familiar. Its location and existence were known and the dog had prior knowledge of the fact that last time it did him no harm. This process is called habituation. The process of learning to ignore stuff in essence.  Footballs do not require a fear response. We can now tick that off the list. The kids later tested this process by kicking this and numerous other balls around the garden whilst the pup chased (that is a habit I won’t allow to develop either).

At 0900 hrs I placed the pup in the van ready for the journey. I locked the cage door and went out of sight and returned immediately. I opened the door and fussed him. I repeated this process two more times before committing to the journey. He vocalised a bit but seemed to take some comfort from my voice. Whilst I have made efforts to make a good association with the van, it was heavily involved in his abduction and so it may take time for this to subside. The journey was only 10 minutes and whilst not ideal I do have to get things done and so try to make judgements on the stress levels of the pup and balance what needs to be done with what I think he can cope with.

He came out the other end looking full of confidence however and was happy to go off with Lee. He happily checked out the new environment of Lees garden and was unphased by the guinea pig and took himself off into the house.


Lee has a 10 month old great Dane who was at the time in a very large crate in the front room. The pup (Vader) approached cautiously and then began to bark. He darted forward and back and not wanting the Dane to reciprocate I called Vader away. We then approached and Vader soon calmed and approached for a sniff. It wasn’t the intention to let them meet but seeing how settled Vader became and how keen the Dane seemed we thought we would give it a go. I held Vader to keep him safe and elevate him to a less intimidating height. Lee was on standby to assist with the Dane if required. They sniffed and investigated and had Vader not been so small and fragile I would happily have let them interact. That is for a time when he is big enough to cope with being stomped on though. For now sniffs is as good as it gets.

Having met Lee and his family it was time for home. Lunch and a rest after a busty morning. The rest of the day was spent playing, investigating the garden, sleeping in the crate and continuing with toileting in the dog garden.

I was careful not to repeat the previous nights mistake of letting him sleep al evening. Having had a relatively quiet afternoon I kept him busy playing to try and help the night time routine. After a final wee at 2330hrs I placed him in the crate, switched out the lights and settled onto the sofa. After a few half hearted whimpers I heard the thud as he plonked himself down and we both drifted off to sleep. He stirred at 0400hrs so I took him out for a wee and then thought I would try him back in the crate. To my surprise we managed another 2 hours sleep. I am hopeful tonight we may do a whole night. Fingers crossed.





Impact time again

Posted in News, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2016 by guy2932

It’s that time gain, so smash open your piggy banks and book your spaces now.

The bridge to bitework

Posted in Training Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2015 by guy2932

For anyone training a dog to bite there are many considerations. From assessing the dogs’ suitability for the chosen role to the route you will take. What equipment you will need, what your rules of engagement will be, who you have available to help you, your time scale. They are all considerations that could warrant an article or even a book on their own but they are not what I am talking about today.

Jump forward to the dog being almost at the end of its training. The dog understands the bite command. You have worked on and have the perfect out (please share how you achieved that) and the dog will bite all the sleeves you have or need it to bite. The dog can also perform this in any location in any circumstances. For some sport applications your job may now be done. You can enjoy the fruits of your labour or torture yourself by entering competitions. ernie PSU edit

For those of you training for law enforcement, military applications or personal protection then there is one last hurdle. It is the hurdle that is sometimes so insurmountable that the dog doesn’t actually do it and that is a live bite (real bite – no sleeve). Whilst there can be other reasons such as environmental issues, confusion due to the novel situation or other differences from training to real life, there is also the very obvious lack of a sleeve. The thing the dog has been taught to bite!!

Whilst there are some dogs that are just so fast that they are likely to bite before they have even considered what they are biting or dogs so confident they never really cared about the sleeve anyway, the majority of dogs don’t appear to be in either of those groups.

My route to biting, starting with puppies usually goes along the lines of towels, small tuggers, bite pillows, soft sleeve, hard sleeve, bite jacket. Yes I am working on the dogs attitude and yes I make sure they are interested in the man not just the equipment but I also know that dogs are incredibly smart and they are under no illusion that the sleeve is part of the equation and so I try as best I can to help them over the gap between sleeves and their first real bite. This is what I call the bridge to bitework.

Others may have a different method, and if it works better than this then I will steal, no, borrow it. But this is how I attempt to bridge that gap. I don’t do this with weak biting dogs or use this as a method to improve motivation or to cause frustration. I am merely trying to overcome the equipment issue and let the dog know that it is ok to bite for real and to convince myself that the dog will and is street ready.

When the dog is motivated and capable of biting as I like and has a reliable, motivated out I am ready for these steps. I introduce the dog to what will be my covert sleeve. Not covered at this stage. An overt covert! The dog has to bite this sleeve as well as everything else because this is going to be his first step with no visual sleeve. If he doesn’t like or can’t bite this sleeve then that is going to transfer into the covert bite and work against our goal not make it more likely.

Once I am happy that he will bite this sleeve as well as the other sleeves we are ready for the first covert bite. I prefer to do this on a line so that I can control the angle of the dogs approach to stop him getting a visual on the sleeved arm. I find it is very difficult to fool dogs.  Whether it be a front attack or run off just have the dog approach from the unsleeved arm and leave it as late as you dare to change direction or turn so that the dog gets the sleeve (get it wrong and you could have your first real bite and skip the next step). Praise the dog and let him enjoy the bite. Make it a good experience (don’t get your helper to go super crazy or introduce weird events during this exercise). Assuming all goes well then I would try a few other scenarios just to make sure but that is it. Do it too much and the dog is sure to work out you are wearing a sleeve and the surprise is lost. It is also worth noting that I don’t use covert sleeves on helpers in search exercises for the same reason. You can proof the dog in the search in other ways.

belgian-malinoise-leather-dog-muzzle-basket-leather-muzzle (1)The next step towards the real bite is a muzzle bite. The dog will have been conditioned to wearing a muzzle a long time ago so prior planning is required. It is worth taking your time with this process because if the dog is uncomfortable wearing the muzzle it will detract from the job in hand. Make a good association by giving food for touching the muzzle and then for allowing it to be placed on the dogs muzzle. Let the dog eat a few bits of food from inside the muzzle before attempting to do the muzzle up. Put it on and immediately take it off and build up slowly. If the dog is scratching to get it off you have gone too fast. Take days rather than minutes. Next the dog must get used to wearing the muzzle for longer periods and then to do other exercises in muzzle. Go for a walk, do heel work, property search etc. DO NOT ONLY WEAR A MUZZLE FOR BITEWORK.

When the dog is happy wearing a muzzle to do other jobs AND has successfully made several covert bites you are ready for your first muzzle bite. YOU must make a choice here. The first bite should be set up in a way that is well within your dogs comfort zone not some new crazy scenario set up to test the dogs mettle (that can come later). This is about making sure the dog isn’t relying on there being a sleeve to make a bite. You can either have the dog make his first muzzle bite on a helper wearing a bite suit or on naked arms. You can make a good argument for doing it either way and I have done both with no noticeable difference. At this stage I am drawn to going naked as this is ultimately what I am working on and I feel that you have a very small window before the dog works out that he can’t actually bite in muzzle. Equally if the first bite is on a bite jacket which the dog is familiar with then if something goes wrong you haven’t tarnished your first sleeveless bite with some technical issue caused by the muzzle. It’s your call.

With all things being equal, if your dog is in the right frame of mind prior to being sent on his first muzzle bite, the scenario looks the same as it does in other training, the helper acts the same then when the dog is sent he should be intending to bite. When he hits the helper, the helper  can even act as if he has been bitten and you should be able to conclude between yourself and the helper whether that would have been a real bite. Again, this is an exercise that I prefer to do on a line so that after the dog hits the target I can restrain him rather than the dog have a chance to experiment and discover his inability to bite lies in the muzzle.leather-basket-dog-muzzle-basket-malinoies-training

I again would only do a few at most in differing scenarios just to make sure but not enough that you start to lose the surprise factor.

I then prefer to save the muzzle for scenarios that can be performed safely without equipment than go down the road to repeated muzzle bites, muzzle fighting  etc. With a mature dog that I know bites, the muzzle can be a great way of doing safe scenario training without having to rely on bite jackets and other clues that this is training not real life.

There are other ways of using the muzzle and it is about finding a way that works for you and your goals. Of course that leads on to a whole new article about which muzzle is best for the job!

Trip to Finland

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2015 by guy2932

If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.

I love sayings that are passed on from generation to generation because they contain wisdom that you can just acquire and use for your own benefit. The experiences, hard work and trial and error that went into gaining that wisdom is yours for the taking if only you are open to it.


This saying suggests trying new things may bring better results. Or you could be satisfied with the results you are getting in whatever it is you are doing. In that respect the saying should give you some sort of comfort. For me it is the former as I know that things rarely stay the same. What worked in the past may not work now due to changing culture, attitudes and even the climate of our planet. Nothing stays the same and so doing the same thing will eventually leave you outdated and lacking.

Self analysis and, if your ego can take it, external analysis can provide some useful insights into what is currently working and what is not. The latter provides information to which we are often blind and can be difficult to accept. But when the pursuit of excellence is your goal, analysis is vital. Just as important is what you then do about it.

I like to think of myself as a bit of an innovator. I was always creative as a child and I love to imagine different versions of everyday things and am constantly looking for better ways to do things. It is that desire that leads me to look to others for inspiration because I am not too stupid to realise or too proud to accept that in a population of 7.3 billion on our planet, minds far superior to mine have probably already found and implemented a solution to the problem I am looking to solve.

finland policeFinally to the point of the article. To that end I have just returned from a trip to the National Police dog training school in Finland. They kindly hosted me for 4 days during which I realised what I already knew. If you are professional, organised and have a plan then attaining a high standard is achievable.  Being a National school it is easier for them to achieve the pinnacle of any training department and that is singing from the same hymn sheet. Yes, everyone has a different voice and some people know the words better than others but that is human nature.  The point is I was left with an impression of a professional school that provided the training necessary for their dog handlers to perform their role in a way that would make most dog schools envious. In addition to that, dog handlers are held in the utmost regard throughout the Police force and are the go to unit when there is a serious situation.

Perhaps aspiring to that level of professionalism may see UK dog sections numbers stabilise rather than fall in these times of austerity where you really do need to earn your keep.

A massive thank you to the Chief of the school for allowing my visit and to Illka, Harri, Antti and Tortsi for their time, effort and friendship. My mind is buzzing so stand by for a flood of articles. If you would like to find out more about Police dogs in Finland then click HERE.



Posted in Training Theory with tags , , on July 17, 2015 by guy2932

Applying human characteristics to dogs can be very unhelpful. We have grown up on a diet of films and cartoons that portray dogs and other animals as having the full human repertoire of emotions and logic. Whilst studies are animal_human_dogface2beginning to show that dogs are capable of feeling a wider range of emotions than the scientific community had previously thought, when it comes to many everyday folk they often attribute far too much rationale and understanding to their dogs.

I remember an incident back in the day when an instructor told me my dog was ‘taking the piss’. I replied ” dogs don’t take the piss, they either don’t understand the command or have a more rewarding alternative.” Whilst I stand by that comment I can see now that I could have been quite a tricky student to deal with! It is a good example though of how giving dogs reasoning beyond their ability can draw you down a road that is unhelpful at best. My experience is that dogs are quite straightforward and honest. They are trying to understand our crazy world and do what works for them.

Whilst I am not advocating a ban on anthropomorphic cartoons I think it is worth bearing in mind that for many reasons it is easy to get drawn in to thinking things are more complicated than they are.


How puppys become social

Posted in Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2013 by guy2932

When puppies are first born the only thing motivating them is self preservation. Instinctive urges cause them to crawl towards warmth. Fixed motor patterns cause them to paw at teats when hunger motivates them to feed.

At this stage the pups are not social animals. Far from it. Evoultion has given them a genetic predisposition to become social but there is a process the pup must go through in order to fulfill this potential.

This process is called socialisation. The clue is in the name! It is only through the process of interacting with it’s siblings and parent/s that the pups will grow to be fully functioning, social adults.

P1000895The pups very quickly start to initiate aggressive interactions, sometimes over resources but at times it appears to be for no reason at all. It may be over proximity to something too abstract for us to observe but these fights can be very rough. They are rough because what we are seeing is real aggression and real fear and real pain. It is through this process that the pups learn about bite inhibition, their ability to inflict and receive pain and more importantly their ability to placate the aggressor through their posture and vocal communication. They also learn to cease hostilities on seeing these appeasing and submissive gestures.

Through this process the pups are learning the art of being social. The ability to get and maintain resources by posturing and communication alone and the ability to acknowledge others dominant behaviour and show submissive behaviour in response, safe in the knowledge this will work.IMG_2999

Through repeated encounters the pups will start to recognize when they are likely to win an encounter with a sibling or not and will not invest energy wasting their time. We then tend to describe those individuals as ‘dominant’ or ‘submissive’ but we must remember that dominance and submission are behaviour traits not character traits and are subject to change depending on social circumstance.

The aim of dominance/submission is to prevent aggression and provide a stable environment for the dogs to live. In the dogs ancestor the wolf, family life is largely harmonious. Most encounters can be dealt with through communication and conflict is avoided through dominant/submissive posturing. Even when fighting does break out it is very ritualised and rarely causes injury.

So far the pup has only encountered members of its own family. If we want our pup to be social with strange dogs when out on walks etc then the process of socialisation needs to continue to include new, straP1010018nge dogs. These dogs should include the many types of dog around from the very big to the very small. It is worth making the effort to meet dogs that look very different from the pup as well. Dogs with longer coats or shorter coats, ears pricked or floppy, pointed faces and flat faces.

There is even scope for adding in different species too. Dogs, humans, cats, goats. There is no limit but it has to happen within the socialisation period. This is generally the first 12 weeks of life although constant encounters are required to ensure the highest levels of socialisation.

Although aggression plays a part in the very early stages of socialisation it does not follow that it plays any real part in forming or maintaining adult relationships. Much of the unwavering dominant behaviour the pups have seen comes from the parents who must naturally adopt a leadership role. This leadership role is a given from parents to offspring as the young are so dependant upon them and learning the rules of life from them. Us humans can maintain our ‘dominant’ position merely by adopting the leadership role. By teaching our dogs the rules and enforcing them consistently we can avoid conflict. There is no requirement to be aggressive or to use physical reprimands.

If we remember that dominance is a mechanism for overcoming aggression then if we see actual aggression it should tell us not that the dog is being dominant (and trying to take over the universe) but that something is going wrong. That is the subject for another post though. If you have a puppy or are getting one soon just remember that to be social the dog will need to be socialised. This is your responsibility and although you may suffer the consequences of a poorly socialised dog in the short term, it is the dog that will pay in the long run, often with his life. black puppy