Archive for police dog training

Mission statement

Posted in Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2016 by guy2932

I’ve been training Police dogs for 15 years and at the time felt the need to differentiate myself from other, more traditional Police dog training which contained not only a lot of physical corrections but was also structured in such a way (or not structured) that it was causing many of the problems it was trying to resolve or just not making the most efficient use of time and energy, both commodities in limited supply.

ernie face bw

Whilst there has been much progress in our understanding of dogs and their capabilities in that time, the training methodology is lagging behind. There appears to be a wealth of confusion about what is and isn’t true and hot debates about what is or isn’t an acceptable training technique. Whilst the phrases positive trainer and force free trainer are a nod towards a style of training, there are many trying to use semantics to undermine the efforts. I therefore felt it was time to set out my stall. To explain just what I am looking to achieve.

My aim is to train Police dogs to the highest standards possible in the most humane way possible . I will not sacrifice dog welfare for performance but clearly have standards to meet. I am often under time pressure and so need the most efficient way of training I can find. I am also aware that there are no quick fixes or shortcuts and good foundation training is paramount to future success. Attempts to take shortcuts almost always come back to bite you (literally) and often end up taking far more time to rectify than if you had done it properly in the first place.

My aim is to set the dog up for success and to positively reinforce the behaviours I want. I use careful management to prevent the learning of unwanted behaviours. My aim is to get the dog to want to perform the behaviours I want and to perform them reliably on cue (command). That way he is working with me not against me and it is surprising how much easier that makes things. Most knowledgeable trainers work like this these days.

I am not permissive as many seem to believe. In fact, I am probably one of the strictest  trainers I know in that I am so aware of my rules, of the dogs behaviour and where I am in the training process that I very rarely let anything slide.

Where I deviate from many trainers is when to comes to consequences. All behaviour is affected by the consequences and whilst I make my desired behaviours highly reinforcing for the dog, it is my treatment of unwanted behaviours that often causes people concern or that people can’t quite believe is sufficient to have any reliable effect.

I have attempted quite successfully to remove all physical punishments, pain and threats of the aforementioned methods and maintained the desired standards. In some areas I would say I actually exceed the standard attained by some more traditionally trained dogs especially in relation to self control around bite related elements although this is as much a part of the overall big picture as being attributable to the removal of physical punishment.

The reason I even started trying to remove physical corrections (punishment) was because it was obvious to me that it was responsible for creating a lot of stress in the dog. Stress is a block to learning and so slowed up training but it was also at the heart of nearly all incidents of aggression toward the handler. Many of the dogs subject to such treatment folded under the pressure and were washed out of the training programme. huge amounts of time and effort were lost, looking for new dogs and starting the process again. Others fought back causing harm to their handlers and in more than a few cases, resulting in the euthanasia of the dog.

I now find myself in a position where the structure of our training allows me to train the dog in a way whereby the withholding of rewards and time outs communicated through a conditioned negative punisher (quitting signal) is all that is required. So clearly my training is not positive only as anyone who understands the quadrants knows such a scenario is probably not possible even under the strictest laboratory conditions.

I also use force in that I physically hold my dogs, I put them on a lead and clearly if they lunge or pull I will use what could be described as force to hold onto them. Just as the force of gravity is always upon us, it is impossible to touch another being without that touch technically being force. What I don’t do though is deliberately apply force in a manner that would cause pain or discomfort or rely these methods in training. When I write a lesson plan for training (yes, that is what I have to do), nowhere in the lesson plan will anybody ever be asked by me to administer what would generally be known as a physical correction.

The methods used by the handler on their dog are only part of the picture for Police dogs. The role of the agitators (helpers) are also vital. Whilst close inspection of the training would show that some of the training involving the helper would fit within the negative reinforcement quadrant, the manner of the training is such that the aversive is small enough that the dog is never far from it’s comfort zone. The aim after all is to reinforce the behaviour we desire and not to push the dog into avoidance. In the same way that a trained fighter relishes the chance to pit their training against an adversary, so the aim is to produce a dog with the same attitude. Whilst some may not condone fighting or the use of dogs for law enforcement, they should console themselves in the fact that the dogs are selected because they have the required qualities and combined with appropriate training, scenarios that some dogs would find distressing are to the Police dog the eustress inducing situations that adrenaline junkies work so hard to achieve.

I feel strongly that dogs should be treated with respect and this includes training them in a manner which puts their welfare above performance. This invariably means seeking ways to ensure training methods are as humane as they can be and as such the ethos of all training regimes should be to strip out any training that could be achieved in a less intrusive way. Only by being as professional and ethical as we can be in training dogs for military and law enforcement can we justify placing dogs in harms way whilst they live out their lives in servitude to us.

That’s where I’m at. That’s what I’m trying to achieve. That’s what I’m trying to encourage others to aspire to as well. Ask yourself this question. If you were a dog, would you be happy being YOUR dog?

HierarchyofDogNeeds this one

This great visual by Linda Michaels really captures my approach to living with and training dogs.


Puppy. Week 2

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2016 by guy2932

I had from Thursday evening until Monday morning to get done all the things I usually like to take a week or two to do. Crate train, toilet train, teach isolation, travel and of course bond and get the pup feeling comfortable. Whilst I had less time than usual I know that the early days are the foundations for all future training and development so rather than cut corners I just gave the task in hand my undivided attention. No gym, no out with the boys. Everything was geared around what the pup needed including in the early days letting him out for a wee every 15 minutes and after every play session and whenever the pup wakes.

All this hard work has paid off because we have had only three accidents in the house with the pup now whining if he needs to go out to the toilet. He is sleeping through the night and had my bed not been full of sick kids I could have left him alone sooner than I did.

I needed all this done because once I return to work the routine begins and if the pup can’t travel, can’t be left and isn’t toilet trained it doesn’t take a genius to see the sort of problems I may have to start dealing with (toileting in the crate, anxiety at being left, mat chewing, whining/howling, sickness and drooling, and a general unwillingness to get in the van).


The day starts with the dog going out for a wee as usual. I then scatter fed him whilst I had my shower. I then played tug for a few minutes because he always gets bitey after food. I then smeared some cheese in the dips in the bottom of an egg box. I placed him in the crate with this whilst I sorted out my food and had breakfast. It is all about management and trying to prevent unwanted behaviour. If I don’t occupy himself and you can bet that won’t be a behaviour I want. Barking and biting whilst I try not to wake the rest of the household. This bought me enough time to get ready. Eventually the dog will become more self contained  and I won’t have to bother entertaining him like this. But for now, he is a puppy and needs guidance (benevolent leadership as Linda Michaels calls it in her Hierarchy of dog needs).

As it was everything went well. The journey to work on day one was slightly vocal but soon settled. Arrival back at base obviously reminded the pup of the feelings he had when he arrived there the previous week. He was noticeably subdued but settled within half an hour.  I sat in the back of the van with him on our journey to the training venue and again after some vocalisation he settled. I did give him attention because as I have stated before you can’t reinforce emotions, so if he was scared then the attention would hopefully allay his fears and resolve the problem at root cause. He settled down and I fed him some happen, reinforcing being quiet and hopefully making a good association with the journey. The rest of the week the travel has been absolutely fine and like most of our dogs he will soon start to associate the van with going places and really enjoy it.

Pretty much everything about day 1 was new and so we did very little. It is important to bear this in mind as pups can get easily overwhelmed. I very much try to balance busy days with quiet days to avoid stress trigger stacking and give the pup to regain his composure between exposure. This is how we build resilience.

The week included the first trip to the vets. This is somewhere that it is important the pup have good experience. Later I will teach him to stand and lie for examination as there is no way we will go through life without needing to come to the vets. It is so much easier for the vet and less stressful for the dog if it knows what is expected of it and just as importantly it is comfortable in the environment. Being ill or injured often lowers a dogs tolerance and without training, visits to the vets can become traumatic for all involved. Prevention is better than a cure as Grandma used to say.


The work routine is now well established and I couldn’t be happier at this stage.

A lovely day for training!!





Pup, now renamed as Kylo is very confident. I had an industrial team of tree surgeons working in my garden on Friday and was careful to take him to the front of the house for a wee etc so as to not spook him. He wasn’t bothered though and scratched at the back door to get to them. I let him out and he approached them (chainsaws only going in the trees so no danger). He was not bothered at all.


That being said, all things come at a cost and so we remained home that day and did very little. I entertained him by trying to encourage him to retrieve a ball. He will happily chase anything but only really likes the feel of tennis balls at the moment. I assume this is a texture thing, it is then strange to see him pick up metal objects and carry them. Either way, no concern.

We also spent more time locked in the crate than usual whilst not tired. This is a fundamental change needs to be given some time and attention. Perfect timing as I was home making coffee for the army of tree men anyway. There was some vocalisation but it very much felt like protesting at being locked in. Combined with pushing at the door it was very different from his initial cries when he was distressed at being away from his siblings and then in the next phase, away from me. This is the time to be aware of reinforcing unwanted behaviour.

I know the pup is watered, fed, can cope with being alone for small periods, is familiar with the crate and so wanting to get out of the crate is the most likely explanation. Whilst I am trying not to create a situation where he does this, it is almost inevitable at some point. What was nice is that it lasted only seconds before he settled down quietly watching me. So I let him out. Then a few minutes later I put him back and he lay down straight away. I threw him some ham.

This process has continued over the weekend and I can now confidently leave him locked in the crate whilst wide awake for short periods of time. I will still give him things to occupy him from time to time, especially if he hasn’t done much and is likely to be a bit more energetic (it is still early days and preventing unwanted behaviour is still at the forefront of my mind).

So with the settling in period done successfully and the working week routine established, what a fitting end to the week than a last minute call to go and work the stand at Crufts. Being such a confident little thing I knew he would cope with the crowds but peoples love to tickle a puppy rapidly became too much even for him and when I saw him give a little yawn which can often be a stress signal I rather abruptly announced my departure. It is often necessary to be abrupt when protecting a puppy as people often oblivious to the pups body language and their desires to greet the little furry thing are often strong. Your loyalty is to the welfare of the pup though.

We managed three short visits of around 5 minutes where he coped well, even wanting to get down and explore. As always though, a busy day is followed by a quiet day and today has been a day in the garden biting the kids. Fun for the puppy but not so much for the kids. More on that next time.


Puppy. Day 3. Brothers reunited.

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2016 by guy2932

Following our 0400hrs wee, the day started in earnest at 0600hrs. Up and out for a wee in the usual spot. This works for me at the moment because I am trying to get into a routine ready for work on Monday. I am aware however that he is always toileting on the same type of surface. In this case it is a pile of leaves/mud under a laurel tree. It is sheltered when raining and he has been using that spot from day 1. I will soon give him the opportunity to toilet in different locations and can encourage this with my classically conditioned “be quick” which if he is able, will help him go. It is easy not to realize that your pup only toilets on concrete or grass, or will only do it at home. Most people don’t give this a thought until they have a problem so I thought I would give it a mention. Police work is all about generalization in terms of dog training and toilet training is no exception.

Breakfast was served at 0620hrs today, in the van as making a good association is still a priority. Slightly earlier again today because I will want him to have his first feed before I leave for work. My trip to work is often shorter than my journey to the training venue and I can use my arrival at work to socialise with the horses, other trainers dogs and all the other novel stimuli that can be found there. After breakfast he explored and I encouraged him to play with a ball of screwed up paper rather than bite my trouser leg. Biting will be an important part of his life and so I do not want to punish or discourage biting at all. I will teach rules later but for now I simply distract and divert onto something more appropriate. This is in essence the ‘dead for live’ routine which we will look at later and is how I will progress the biting but just as importantly the ‘out’. For now though, I simply keep still and make the other item more interesting. Pups are easily distracted at this stage.

At 0730hrs I placed him in the crate and shut the door (the crate in the photo is too small and belongs to my mums dog). He was quite aroused (stimulated not horny) due to his energy burst from food and the games we had been playing. He whined a few times and pushed the door with his paw. He then turned and circled before lying down. I immediately went and opened the door and smoothed him. After a minute I returned him to the crate and shut the door again. He immediately lay down.


When he first arrived home he was in the middle of a trauma and my aim was to do whatever I could to ease his pain. His cries were desperate and answering them was the only course of action that would help. Allowing him to cry himself out would eventually see him be quiet but for all the wrong reasons. Nobody could predict accurately exactly what or how much damage would be done but it is best not to find out. He is now much more settled, sees me as a safe attachment figure and has his crate as a safe haven. He is also looking very comfortable around my kids and in the house generally. He has been very slowly exposed to small but increasing amounts of isolation and so his vocalisation in the crate when I shut the door now was very different. It was short, quiet and nothing like as intense. The crate is his safe haven and on occasions he has voluntarily gone in there and lay down. When I shut the door he gets up and whines.  I see this as being more about the loss of options and choice than an isolation issue as clearly I am right next to him. Whilst I also don’t want to rush this phase or create undue distress by simply locking him in, it is something which I have put time and effort into and is a valuable step. He likes the crate, finds it a safe place and appears to be content in there when he is tired and to sleep in there.

Being placed in there when he is slightly more lively is a similar process but different. I clearly can’t be around to supervise him 24/7 and so need to be able to put him somewhere safe when I can’t even if he isn’t due for a sleep. At this stage the process is quite easy because after about half an hour of adventure he is generally tired if not sleepy. This makes the process of placing him in the crate easier and which is why I like to do it now, as soon as we are past the initial separation trauma.

If you leave it later the puppy will be less easily tired, will have developed the habit of sleeping in other places around the house and will be more wilful and may fight against the process more than he will now.

Just as I initially gave attention in the crate just for going in there, I am now going to repeat the process with the door closed. The intention is to place him in the crate when is tired, after exercise and is less active or with something enjoyable to do. I don’t want him to cry and vocalise or attempt to escape. I want him to want to be in the crate and to enjoy it.P1020004

I will start with just a few seconds if required and build up systematically but as rapidly as I can get away with (remember I am under tremendous time pressure) but never cutting corners. That is a mistake that will cost either you or the puppy at some stage.

Place the dog in the crate, shut the door and wait. If he is quiet and relaxed open the door and fuss him. You can give treats or toys or whatever works. If he is eating his food you can lock the door. Open it before he finishes initially but you can wait until after he has finished but before he makes any attempts to get out.

It is like all other things I have done, I am looking to make the desired habit before any bad habits have a chance to develop.  Whilst this sounds time consuming, I have done it a few times on day 2 and 20+ times on day 3 and the pup is as happy in there now when awake with the door open as he is when he is tired. If I become complacent and leave it too long etc then I am asking for trouble but with the foundation work done, progress is straightforward.

Initially I was in sight and sound of the pup but as I see progress I can move out of sight (even for just a second) bearing in mind I am trying not to create bad habits which in this case would be vocalising or scratching the cage. Initially progress may be in very small increments of seconds and minutes but once you have good foundations, as with house building, progress can then be rapid.

It is worth remembering that dogs are good at learning things in context. Therefore being comfortable and sleeping quietly through the night in the crate doesn’t mean the pup will be happy to spend 8 hours in the crate during the day. The context is different. At night the pup is sleepy. In the day not so much. At night it is dark, quieter and there are less interesting things happening. Being in the crate in the day is a very different context and needs treating as a separate exercise.  Likewise with the vehicle. Whilst the process should get quicker in each new situation, you may need to go through this process in numerous situations before the dog generalises that being left in the crate is a safe and tolerable experience.

Our routine of in the crate, out for a wee, in the van, out for a wee, sleep, out for  a wee continued until 1040hrs when it was time to go on a road trip. We were off to see Paul the handler with Vaders brother to see how he was getting on and it was a chance for the brothers to renew their bonds.


Vader needed no invitation to enter the house and investigate and showed no concerns about meeting Paul’s pet dog. Marshy (his brother) appeared and as you can imagine the reunion was energetic and involved plenty of chasing and biting. So much so that we intervened and took them into the garden. Here he met guinea pigs (already met them) chickens which provided not much more than mild interest and Paul’s work dogs. Vader was pretty much unphased and play soon recommenced with Marshy. Both pups are confident and tenacious and again we called time on their play as they were becoming over aroused and playing in a manner that you will probably only get away with towards your own brother. Whilst this is good experience and they learned a lot about pain (how it feels and how to dish it out) and other communication skills, I am always cautious not to allow it to escalate too far or too often as I don’t want that level of enthusiastic play transferring onto all dogs but more importantly, I don’t want the pup thinking that the most fun in the world can be had with other dogs. His life is now a balancing act between socialising in order for him to be a stable, confident individual around other dogs and being able to work despite the presence of other dogs. Get the balance wrong and he may well prefer to play with dogs if you over socialise or be fearful if you under do it. Get the balance right and the he will be what we call dog neutral which is our goal. Social and able to interact appropriately with other dogs but neither overly excited nor worried by their presence and preferring to work.


Being Mothers day the trip to Paul’s was not our only destination. The car journey from Paul’s to my mums was unsurprisingly a quiet one as the tired pup caught up on some well-earned sleep. Having been fed and toileted in my mums garden it was time to meet yet another new dog. My mums Cavalier is about the same size as the pup and the initial caution on both sides was soon replaced with chase albeit a much more subdued version than with Marshy. No ear biting here which was good.  Some time in the crate with us in the front room was chance for the cat to investigate. Being a Maine coon he was considerably bigger than the pup and a good cat to meet first to instil that ‘don’t chase cats’ attitude. Whilst he didn’t look like he would try, I didn’t give Vader the chance to chase the cat and they respectfully sniffed each other as I held him. I don’t want bad habits developing or eyes being sliced by claws so our initial meeting with the age old rivals was calm and mutually respectful.

maine coon

Having stayed longer than expected Vader came home tired and whilst I made sure he still had some evening activity, by 2330hrs he was more than ready for sleep. So much so that I didn’t hear a peep until 0400hrs when he needed a pooh. Once again he went back in the crate until I got up at 0545hrs ready for work.

It has been a very labour intensive weekend. From the long trip up and back to collect him last Thursday my life has been puppy 24/7. Whilst not everyone will have the time, patience or desire to put this much effort into the first few days, hopefully it shows two things. Firstly that if you do you can achieve results very quickly and secondly it has hopefully highlighted that even if you can’t dedicate your entire life to doing it the way I have, many of the things I have done are required in order to produce a well rounded individual. Whilst it may take more time, there are no corners to be cut. Cutting corners is taking risks and may have consequences for the pups future development and if this pup is to be your future working dog then you are setting yourself up for potential problems for the next 8 years.

One weekend of hard work has seen the pup recover from a major trauma, bond with me and my family, settle in to our home and develop the safe haven of the crate where he can sleep happily and be left for short periods alone. He is toilet trained and is well on his way to being a good traveller. He has met numerous species and encountered an endless list of novel stimuli all of which have been encountered in positive, confidence building way. I have the beginnings of a recall and have started to encourage his interest in ragging various items and chasing and retrieving. We have developed toileting, feeding and bedtime routines.

I have also so far prevented the unwanted habits of toileting in the house, crate and van. I have prevented the separation anxiety from his removal from the litter transferring into his new home. I have prevented him developing the habit of biting me and the kids and diverted his attention onto toys. I have prevented mat chewing, vocalisation and destructive behaviours when left and have prevented the neural pathways to anxiety and stress from forming.

I am now set up for training in earnest with a dog that is confident, secure, is mobile and able to be left for short periods. My priorities are now in shaping the dogs attitudes and behaviour toward becoming people neutral, dog neutral and environmentally neutral.





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.





Puppy. First full day

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2016 by guy2932

Having awoken in the early hours and settled to sleep with me rather than in the crate, I felt the bond was developing well. The pup who has now been named Vader by his handler to be, was clearly drawing comfort from my presence in stark contrast to the journey home. If you want to read about the journey home and first night click HERE.

As is the case whenever he wakes our first stop was the garden for a wee.  Not after breakfast, or after I have sorted myself out. Immediately. My crocs are by the back door and my jacket on top of his crate. Shoes on, jacket on and out. Reassuringly he went straight to the area of the garden we have been using and started to wee. I took the opportunity to continue to make the association and repeated the phrase “be quick” AS he was weeing. Once finished I praised him and allowed him time to investigate.

05.03.16 exploring garden

To date we have had only one accident in the house and the moral of the story is when he is squeaking constantly, don’t ignore him and carry on reading Facebook, get up and let him out!! Having learned my lesson we have continued our success with toilet training. I give him the opportunity every time he wakes, after eating, after playing and around every 15 minutes from the time we arrived home. This has two benefits. Firstly it prevents unwanted habits like weeing in the house which in turn makes less cleaning and secondly it develops the correct habit and helps to familiarise him with the new environment and routines. The sooner he habituates to the new environment the sooner he will feel more relaxed.

As he gets older and I become more familiar with his habits, I can predict more accurately when he is likely to need to go and will have the advantage of being able to influence to some degree the process, by use of my classically conditioned “be quick”.

I generally like to take a week or two off work so that I can concentrate on getting things right from the start but I am back to work on Monday so have just three days to bond, habituate to the home, toilet train, habituate to my van and travel and teach isolation for around an hour. The ability to get a good nights sleep would be a welcome bonus.

To this end the crate training continues. In the crate, fuss, out the crate and repeat. If he falls asleep somewhere else I scoop him up and place him in the crate. I frequently return to smooth and provide reassurance. This is working well and he is frequently returning to the crate either to sleep or sometimes just to check in (safe haven from which exploration takes place much like the den in a wild animal).

05.03.16 sleeping in crate

He is given an opportunity to investigate the house and garden. At this stage EVERYTHING is new and cautious behaviour is inevitable. Don’t panic. This doesn’t mean your dog is weak or scared. It is perfectly normal, age and situation appropriate behaviour. I let him investigate at his own pace and he merely returns to me if he is unsure (safe attachment figure from where exploration takes place like the mother figure in a wild animal). Each time he ventures slightly further afield.

Now is also a good opportunity to work on recall. He generally follows me everywhere but when he does venture is aware of where I am. When he looks to check in I crouch down, clap and call “Vader come”. I am already adding the cue because I have done this enough to know that his response is pretty predictable. When he arrives I fuss him and then he ventures off. At the moment I don’t really worry about food or toys as a reward. He is responding to being called which at this age is a natural response. I’m not his mother and neither one of us thinks I am but I am his primary care giver and as such can take advantage of this inherent response to my advantage.

As his confidence increases and it is increasing by the hour, he will be less willing to return merely because I call. I will soon need to start thinking about food or when I have got his interest in one a ball or favourite tugger.

He is eating although not huge amounts and I am feeding either in the crate or in the van to make a good association. Remember the van is associated with the trauma of the journey home and so extra work is required to undo this bad association. We are making a trip to the van around every 2 hours and literally spending a few seconds in there or minutes if he is eating.

His first full day at home is about setting up routines, getting to know each other and habituating to the new environment. I have no guests over to see the new arrival. No parties, no day trips, no taking him down town to socialise, no DIY. Everything is about the puppy.  Every minute spent getting it right now will save months of training to rectify faults, ensures the dog recovers from the separation trauma as quickly as possible and prevents further damage when the time comes to leave for work on Monday. Future you will be thankful to the effort you put in now (that’s a Bill and Ted reference for you film spotters).

The first full day was busy but successful. He is actively going in the crate and out to the toilet area. He is bonding well and generally looks much more relaxed. During the morning he was actively investigating but occasionally whining. Even when sat with me he would whine. The afternoon was very different. He was noticeably less vocal, more playful and ventured further afield. Only one toilet training accident and lots of good experiences in both the crate and the van.

By the evening I was tired and got a little slack. Sat down watching a film with my wife I was aware that the pup was sleeping ALL evening. I just couldn’t motivate myself to play with him any more or to take him out other than for his regular wee trips. Whilst he clearly needed the sleep interrupting him occasionally would have set me up better for the night shift.

Sure enough bedtime came with whole new vigour for life and I ended up spending an extended period in the garden letting him explore (working at night is on the to do list so another tick in the box). I settled him into his crate and then listened to his vocalisation that seemed to say “I told you so”. A case of past me not looking after future me’s interests!

He did settle after a few minutes but woke at 0100 hrs wanting a wee. I again let him sleep on the sofa with me and we drifted into a peaceful sleep dreaming of catching baddies!


Puppy. The first night.

Posted in Training Articles, Training Theory with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2016 by guy2932

Prior to our arrival the pups were happy and healthy in their surroundings. They had been gradually weaned off their mother both in terms of food and attention and by 7 weeks were having little contact with her, instead living as a group with their siblings. Everything else remained the same whilst the puppys experienced these changes which whilst fundamental in terms of development, were gradual enough that the pups could cope with the changes and remain emotionally stable.03.03.16 two new onesUnderstanding what happened to them when we arrived explains why such care needs to be taken with pups when they arrive home. We are strangers arriving in their environment. Anything novel is a potential threat. When you’re that young everything is novel and there are many emotional processes that must be worked through whilst the pup learns what is safe and what is not.They are confident pups and all saw our arrival as a novelty worth investigating but such novelty is a stress on the pups no matter how well they cope.

We then started to interact with the pups and separated the dogs from the rest of the group. The stress levels are now potentially growing as there is less comfort from the group and more novelty from interaction from strangers. Again, at this stage the pups looked confident and were happily engaging and exploring.

Having made our selection the pups were carried by relative strangers (us) to the van which was another novel environment. They were then left in the crate in this vehicle, for only a few seconds before we joined them and despite there being two pups, the stresses were beginning to stack sufficiently that the dogs were starting to feel emotionally uncomfortable and unable to cope. This was evident in their body language, pacing and vocalisations.

As we began our journey the novelty of the situation added to the vibration from the engine, the unusual movement experienced for the first time and the isolation from the group and everything else the pups knew and were comfortable with became evident. The pups had reached their limits.

The vocalisations we could hear were obviously born from distress. We all recognised that. The dogs were experiencing emotional trauma. It is now understood that all mammals share a similar set up in terms of emotional responses in the brain and the panic response being evoked in these pups is no different to that of a baby crying for its mother or to get its needs met in some other way.

What social animals need to feel safe is a safe attachment figure and a safe haven. These pups were lacking this at the moment and things were about to get worse for them. We made some stops along the way and held them for a while but as we were strangers all these things were likely to be adding to the stress even though the bonding process was beginning. At this stage the pups had each other and as they huddled together we could see the comfort they were drawing from each other.

Arrival back at base saw this comfort end. The pups were separated and introduced to yet another novel environment, another vehicle and now, isolation. We reintroduced the pups after only a minute or so before making the final journey to their new homes.

The vocalisation was louder and more desperate. I talked to the pup, stopped frequently to offer comfort but being a stranger at this time he appeared to draw only a little comfort from my attention. The bond between us would now start to develop in earnest as I become the new safe attachment figure. This however will take time.

Arrival home presents yet another novel environment. The kids know to be quiet and respectful. Everything has been picked up off the floor but the pup at this stage is in no mood for biting. He refuses food and water and whilst confident enough to explore, returns frequently to me.

We explore the garden and the house and I take every opportunity to encourage him into the crate as this is going to be his first safe haven. We return to it at every opportunity and the kids take turns to go into the crate and calmly smooth the dog whilst he is in there.

The pup is starting to seek comfort in both me and the kids and is returning either to me or to the crate which is exactly what I want to see.

By bedtime we had a few wees in the garden and he had a few small drinks. Again all good signs.  As I settled on the sofa to sleep, the crate, with the door closed at this stage was right next to me with the pup fast asleep.

He woke at around 0200hrs and became vocal. I let him out and we went into the garden for a wee. When we returned he was unable to settle in the crate and was restless and vocalising. He spent the rest of the night asleep on the sofa by my feet (his choice).

I know it is often stated that you shouldn’t let them out of the crate or pay them attention when they are whining and this is a good point later in the process. At this stage though I am acutely aware of the trauma this pup has gone through and his emotional state which is one of panic from being unfamiliar and unable to cope effectively with his separation from his known universe. It is this emotional state that is driving this behaviour and by alleviating the emotional need I remove the unwanted behaviour. You cannot reinforce emotions only behaviour. Whilst I may have reinforced the behaviour by answering his call, I also tackled the issue at root cause by addressing his emotional needs and the fact that he was able to seek comfort in my presence tells me that the bonding process is under way. That led to a restful sleep for both of us. I will be mindful not to reinforce the behaviour of vocalising as I progress but will be attempting to prevent it feeling the need anyway.

Day 2 started at 0615 hrs with some vocalising and exploration. We went outside and he had a wee in the dog garden. We then played some chase with a screwed up ball of paper and a drink and a small amount of food. All good signs. He then whined at the back door and so we went outside for a pooh. All functions returning. A good sign that he is returning to a state of allostasis.

For the next few hours he explored, played with me or the kids who have now arrived downstairs or returned to the crate for a lie down.

My aim upon picking the pup up was to limit the stress and trauma and to provide the safe haven and attachment figure as quickly as possible as I know this is the only way to reduce his suffering and prevent opening up neural pathways that may lead to stress or anxiety disorders later in life or even worse, cause the dog to shut down through emotional overload or learned helplessness in specific situations.

Having returned the dog to a state of allostasis where all is well and providing him with everything he needs to satisfy his biological needs and a safe haven and attachment for his emotional needs I then need to teach the puppy how to cope without me.


I had very little choice in creating the trauma of his removal from his previous life due to practical issue like distance from the breeder and perhaps the breeder not being willing to gradually expose the dog to isolation, allowing me to visit daily and bond with the pup before his collection. If you could do those things that would be advantageous.

I can however control everything about this pups life from this point forward. That places a tremendous responsibility on me to not only understand what the pups needs are but to then take ownership and responsibility for delivering them and preparing the pup for his future.HierarchyofDogNeeds_WebEmailFB-1

The hierarchy of dog needs by Linda Michaels is a great visual of the concepts I am talking about.

Whilst the future will hopefully be working as a Police dog, even if that doesn’t work out (it will) he still needs to learn some basic life skills. The first of those is how to cope with isolation because whilst he will spend a lot of time with me he cannot spend all his time with me.

It may sound bizarre having just spent the time bonding with him but now that appears to have happened I now need to remove his reliance on that bond if only in the short term. That means leaving his side but not his sight for perhaps only seconds. Building up slowly to minutes and then leaving his sight as well again for perhaps only seconds and building up to minutes and even hours at a time. My aim is to develop the pup into a dog who is so secure in his own skin and with the attachment he has with his handler that he can not only endure but thrive whilst experiencing long periods of isolation. Whining, howling, destructive behaviour, pacing and self mutilation are all really obvious signs that a dog is in distress and not happy being isolated but equally dogs that shut down, hardly move and don’t eat or drink or engage in normal behaviours are equally likely to be suffering.

That level of confidence can only come through a systematic approach to exposure which places the welfare of the dog at the heart of the training. How long will this take? Only the dog has the answer to that question. It takes longer for some than for others. Some will never attain that level. How much effort the handler puts in and their ability to read the dogs body language and have empathy with the dog are also influencing factors.

By taking this approach though you are almost guaranteed success. There will be no casualties who don’t cope with your training style because this training style has the individual dogs needs at the fore front at all times. Only by not recognizing or ignoring the dogs needs can you go wrong.

04.03.16 taken self to crate

There are of course other ways to go about things. The phrase “start as you mean to go on” is often used to describe the process of leaving the dog to cope with isolation and not answering his pleas for help. This can often work in so far as some dogs do eventually learn to cope. Many others though do not. Also being blind or ignorant to the dogs poor state of emotional health does not alter the underlying truth of what is happening.

There are many people who will have adopted this very approach to their own babies and will see me as sentimental or soft. To them I would merely ask them to take a little time to look into the literature surrounding mental health in human and you will discover that attachment trauma is at the heart of nearly every mental ailment and disorder we suffer.

As for adding punitive or aversive methods to address the pups cries for help…..Lets not even go there. Thanks for reading and I hope it helped you. If it didn’t then just park it for a week or two before you dismiss it out of hand. Sometimes new concepts take time to unravel in our brains.


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.

Problem solving

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

I recently saw a student trying to jump a small ravine by leaving the dog on one side, jumping themselves and then calling the dog over. It didn’t go right and every time the student jumped, the dog jumped. This was repeated about 6 times before I intervened. This isn’t a debate about whether I should have stepped in sooner. This was an experienced handler and I was curious to see if they would break the situation down to problem solve and gain success. At the point it became obvious they wouldn’t I intervened.Image result for dog jumping

I started by asking for the handlers understanding of the situation and expectations in case I had misread the situation. The intention was as I had assumed, to leave the dog on one side, jump and then call the dog over.

Whilst the handler is experienced this is their first contact with me and like any alien encounter there is a degree of fear, suspicion and intrigue and I tried hard to evoke the latter whilst simultaneously subdue the two former. This is vital in my experience in helping handlers crossover from old school handing methods to a new way of thinking. It is hard changing your thoughts and processes when you have been doing things for a long time and what you don’t need is some patronising know it all chipping in from the side lines. Taking that risk though, I waded in.

First we talked about the commands being used and whether the dog understands them. I was assured that the dog ‘knows’ the “wait” command that was being used. We discussed the idea that if dogs don’t perform a command they either don’t understand them or have a more rewarding alternative. From here we established that the dog was quite willing to jump and obviously enjoyed jumping because she was happily jumping from one side to the other as we spoke. The act of jumping needed neither teaching nor rewarding as it was rewarding in and of its self for this dog.

Therefore the issue was connected with the “wait” command. The more rewarding alternative to waiting appeared to be jumping. So does the dog understand the “wait” command? We talked about how that command had been taught and was used. The handler believed it to mean simply ‘don’t do anything yet’. That is quite an abstract concept for a dog to understand and would take a degree of generalisation if the dog stood any chance of getting it. I use a similar command to discourage the dog from taking action but it is limited to certain contexts. My dogs are free to get in or out of the vehicle when the door is open unless I say “wait”. They were initially clicked and rewarded for waiting and then allowed to continue with getting in or out the vehicle. Once understood getting in or out is the reward. I also use it at doorways or gates if I simply don’t want the dog to follow me. The wait is then ended by the (universal) end command. The dog understands this in the few specific contexts that I use it but would probably struggle to understand the concept if I suddenly used it whilst heeling for instance.

In the case of this handler the command was used in a similar way but there had been no real effort to reward the act of waiting and it wasn’t particularly reliable. The dog would often have to be physically blocked from moving forward. This in its self suggests the dog doesn’t understand the command.

The handler also believed that the dog learned the command in static positions where a down or sit command would be followed by a “wait”. I explained that we had taught the dog the concept of down means down until it is given the end command or another command and that this is the concept that the dog understands. The “wait” is obsolete and is a hangover from previous training where there was no end command and no clear way for the dog to know when the exercise was over. In that context the repeated use of wait probably served to help the dog understand not to move and it may have gained a wider understanding of its intended use. With the way we now train the dog isn’t learning any particular meaning to the use of the word wait and if anything it may actually be more likely to be a tertiary reinforcer as it may often be followed by the end command (a secondary reinforcer) even though handlers are not taught and actively discouraged from using “wait” as a command on control positions.

Image result for thoughtful german shepherd

In our scenario of jumping the ravine the dog clearly didn’t understand the use of the wait command AND had a more rewarding alternative therefore repeated attempts were doomed to failure. My solution was to simply use a control position followed by the end command as the dog understands the control positions and the handler jumping the ravine is simply a distraction which should be well within the dogs abilities to ignore. Once safely over the end command would release the dog and the reward would be the chance to jump and join the handler.

If the handler really wanted the dog to understand a “wait” command then it could be done but there was definitely some work to be done before it could be used in that scenario. Whilst this may sound really obvious to some trainers, to others this way of thinking is new. Old school training used to rely on threats and intimidation and an assumption that if you were assertive enough then the dog would just do it. Whilst I’m not saying this handler was using threats or intimidation the concept of breaking behaviours down into small achievable parts and rewarding those before asking for more complex versions is still alien to many handlers. I am constantly encouraging handlers to reward sooner and more frequently. I find younger handlers much more willing to accept this idea and wonder if in some way it is because the old dominance theories of dog ownership and training are starting to finally die out in favour of a better understanding of the relationship between man (kind) and dog. I can but hope.

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.