The Big Bang!

The Big Bang!

Dealing with the Noise Sensitive dog!


Firework season is all but past for another year but its truly heart breaking to once again hear all the stories of dogs bolting, getting lost and generally either running scared or shaking in a corner whilst the bangs continue.


Whilst there are some things we can do, like keeping pets inside, playing loud music, staying home for support, and even checking in with a vet for medical supplementation if things are really bad, in all honesty if your dog is suffering with the bangs this year, you are just going to be holding tight and waiting for it to be over.


The most difficult aspect of fireworks is that we all have so little control over when they go off and no way really to get away from them. So if you and your dog have suffered this year (and in all likelihood will suffer more for days to come yet) what can be done to make next year less fearful for your pets?


Desensitisation plan –  once things die down this year and your pet has recovered, this is the time to start making a training plan so that next year will be less difficult.


What does a training plan look like?



It can be as simple as a piece of paper where we jot down notes on what we do day to day and how our dog responds, however, you might find that using a google spreadsheet can work particularly well. You can share results with a vet or trainer and always know where to access it so data doesn’t get lost.


Data about what? The kind of data you might log would be determining your dogs emotional state based on body language. Some body language is obvious like shaking, hiding, panting and/or pacing. Other kinds of body language is subtle like yawning more often that usual or lip licking. It can be useful in fact to simply write down all the things you se your dog normally do when you consider him in a good state of mind and then you can compare with that behaviour you see after or during a training session.


So … What do we do?  Essentially we want to try to desensitise our dogs to small approximations of exposure to bangs and cracks. Initially this might be a recording play so very quietly that it is barely audible. We might also want to list other noises that might approximate those of fireworks… the rumble of a truck or drums for instance. The internet is a great resource for sound effects and although audio isn’t the only component to fireworks, its at least a start.


Under Threshold?  Once we have a better idea of our own dogs body language we can use that to determine if and when our dog might be reaching their threshold. That means the point at which the noise may begin to be aversive (or aversive enough that the dog doesn’t respond normally or maybe not at all). For desensitisation, ideally we want to stay under that threshold as much as possibly and occasionally ‘surf’ just underneath it.


Threshold… is a border between two different states. People talk about a dog’s threshold in relation to a variety of things. We might say that when a dog stops responding to our cues, stops taking food or playing freely, especially when that seems due in most part to the engagement of an environment change (but not always) that this is when he is over threshold.
Other people may not define their dogs threshold at that point and wait for some sort of emotional and extreme physical display like when a dog barks and lunges at another as going over threshold.


Denise Fenzi provides some brilliant feedback and thoughts on Thresholds in this ‘blog post’! It’s well worth a read.


Dogs need to feel safe and not be aroused (over threshold) in order to undertake :-

–        Personal play

–        Toy play

–        Sustained focused eye contact

–        Food consumption

–        Cued behaviours

These things can be used as indications on whether your dog is coping well or not so well.

These indications are what we can use as trainers and as owners to gather information about how your dog is coping generally.


Confidence Building –     



Ambiguous stimuli interpreted negatively by dogs lacking in confidence.

We can make a huge impact on how a dog thinks and reacts to things by working regularly with games that concentrate on confidence building and Flexibility as concept.

It’s also important to remember that learning just about anything provides skills that allows the brain to learn new things better and easier.


Not responding – Find a Trainer and/or Vet Behaviourist? 


If you have set up a training plan, observed your dog and done a bit of research on body language but you just don’t seem to be making headway it might be time to seek out some help!

Experienced trainers and behaviourists can help to define early thresholds, create a proactive training plan, help you to implement that and can iron out speed bumps along the way.

You are NOT ALONE! – Don’t forget you are not alone. The behaviour isn’t anybody’s fault. It’s quite common and can be worked out, so reach out…

Bringing Puppy Home!

Bringing Puppy Home!

Bringing puppy home.

I remember so distinctly bringing puppy home! Every single one of of my babies journeys home is vivid in my mind as a special and significant event. My human baby was hard! It has to be said that it was physically, emotionally and completely on another level but those puppies that were met, collected, planned for and brought home although less physically challenging (at least for me) were also very special… each and every one.
For all those considering driving, flying or otherwise journeying to get a new puppy, I hope that a collection of my puppy collection stories might help you plan and prepare for bringing puppy home …


Aimee :

An spca special! She was 11 weeks when I met her. Surprising me by splitting from the group to join me at the fence line. All the others were battling each other at the gate as the handler arrived. Yet she chose me. I recognized this as, very likely, as a fluke.

My second visit and still not won over. I saw her once more break from the group to greet me. She did it again!

“Do you want to hold her?” the spca worker said. When I picked her up and held her, she relaxed into my arms as if she were home. She was! A week later I was bringing puppy home.


Bringing puppy home – the Journey

The trip home was short. A cardboard box in the passenger foot-well. Puppy too small to scale the cardboard wall. It took around fifteen minutes to get home. Just a little longer before we couldn’t imagine life without her.

I lost Aimee at 11 years old to an aggressive muscle cancer usually found in horses. Within 10 days she went from all to nothing but the wag of a tail. Her eyes still connected. She didn’t want to be left at home for that final car ride. We carried her to the car. She was glad and had always loved the vet. It isn’t something to be underestimated and it brought me some comfort at the end.


Sputnik :

I saw this puppy picture when they were 6 weeks. A little tri-colour poppet with a couple of his black n tan siblings. Mum (a Welsh Springer Spaniel) had had her pelvis broken by a kick from a cow whilst on a break from her pups. She didn’t come back to her puppies. All we knew about Dad was that he was next-door dairy farmers dog.

Nine in total… eight after the tractor reversed. A farmer unprepared but kind. The remaining puppies were transferred to Happy Tails (baby) animal sanctuary. I asked for the pick of the litter. Telling them about my lifestyle. I wanted a dog that was smart but also responsive, keen to work with his person. My other dog was a dog-reactive dog and needed a pup that I could train for a great recall and wasn’t too focused on other distractions. Really lucky with this family, they socialized the pups by having friends around, having little get-togethers where the puppies could mingle, get used to lots of noise. At the end of the day they got used to quiet time in a crate (I had asked them to help condition him to a crate for the journey as that was my biggest worry).

They pointed me toward a pretty tri-colour puppy they had called Bronson. This had always been the dog they had in mind for me although now he had been joined by the rest of his litter.

The other seven were a collection of variants of black, white and tan but only Bronson possessed all of the colours in one.  Impressively he led the entire litter around the garden and the farm. He ran, they followed … into the poop heap, under the small hole in the fence. “how long has he been up” I asked. “we knew you were coming so he’s been up since 8am. It was 2.20pm. This puppy was a machine. I recall feeling both impressed and a little bit scared but there was no way I could leave without this phenomenon.


Bringing puppy home – the journey

The journey home was funny and eventful. Two and a half hours drive to the airport. We stopped often (about every 30-60minutes) but the horse poop that was consumed came forth before the first pit stop. Luckily it was confined to the crate and I had plastic bags and changes of bedding. Unfortunately there is little you can do if your puppy throws up except be prepared to clean up, have extra towels and bedding and feed just a little and often rather than filling up the puppy and losing it all. If you stop for a longer break allowing the pup to eat a bit whilst he’s feeling more settled might deem better success.

Puppies need to have water available a much as possible, so offering a drink at each stop point kept the puppy hydrated and also stimulated the need for a wee. I carried a towel to place the puppy on to pee so that his little un-vaccinated feet weren’t exposed to anything that might lurk in the ground. It was a big beach towel and although the pup would have sprinted right off, because he was fairly desperate and secured, he peed pretty quickly given the opportunity.  It was a challenge and took a lot of wrangling. In addition to the towel, I tried to limit his exposure to unpopulated verges where not many dogs or people would be likely to frequent, so that the odd foot slip up wasn’t too high a risk. This boy had energy to burn even now.

Once at the airport it seemed unlikely that many dogs wandered and we took advantage of small grass verges near the car rental places to toilet him before the flight. When the time came to watch him be wheeled away, I worried the whole flight. Surely the noise would be terrible, I thought. At the other end I saw the small crate on the conveyer-belt. Sputnik (as he was subsequently named for his tendency to bark/beep and run round in circles), still trying to get that last piece of kibble from his Kong. Relief washed over me. Quickly, I picked him up and cuddled him. Fifteen minutes to drive home. We’d made it! Now for intros!


Toto Scrumpy Sox :

This would be our longest driving endeavour. Seven hours and seven minutes was the estimation to travel the 530km and then of course we had to come back.

I decided that we would need a break on the journey home and we booked in with a small back packers who were happy for me to bring the puppy along to sleep in the crate and fine for us to use their private garden for getting up through the night for toileting. We booked a room for ourselves to make it easier.

When I drove into the property that day a dog came barking out to meet us. Once the initial ‘greeting’ subsided however, I realized quickly that she was a very friendly and social dog. She was the mum as it happens and taking a well-deserved break from the pups.

I was taken to a small enclosure where all the pups were hanging out. The sire over by the house in the back garden, seemed proud and upright, no doubt wondering who this was.

Since we had been in contact for some weeks the puppy was already selected. I’d have the biggest boy, the first one born. He had 4 white socks and a little white flash on his chest. I don’t recall a lot more about that visit except that I left with a puppy sitting in a crate beside me.


Bringing puppy home – the journey

Again, we travelled along with a towel for pee stops. We offered water each stop and a little food allowing it to settle before getting back in the car. Remember that right after water and food is the time the puppy will most likely poop and pee, so it’s good to give the dog a little time before resuming the drive.

This time there was little to no activity from the puppy. He drank a little and ate a little but appeared almost shell-shocked at times. Driving for an hour or two, then stopping, pulling out the towel and popping him in the middle, he would dutifully pee but not move at all otherwise. Eating at cafes, stopping briefly at gas stations and taking little walks. We got to the backpackers before night fall and everyone was watching television in the communal area, so we toileted him in the garden and joined them before heading to bed. I think I got up twice that night. Toto slept in a crate next to my bed. I probably trailed my hand through the bars of the little cat carrier he was in.

The next morning, it was as if someone flicked a switch in the wee puppies head. Almost 24hours after we met and after he left his ‘familiar’, he suddenly flicked his head, looked at me and started to bounce around the garden, sniffing, jumping and rolling. Relieved that I hadn’t in fact bought a ‘lemon’, we got back on the road for the rest of the trip. He was still very good about peeing on his towel but by now I think he had got used to that routine.

About an hour from home I picked up the other two dogs who had been staying at a kennels they knew well and we headed home where the careful work of introducing everyone to everyone began again.


Make your own story

I hope these stories help you to plan and consider your first journey with your new pup. Whenever possible it really pays to be in touch with your breeder or caregiver and ask them to help with any preparations that might help. Sputnik’s caregivers told me that they often popped him in his crate with dinner whilst they vacuumed and I think that was a well thought out plan for the short 50 minute plane ride. Not only did they help build a positive association to the crate but also got him used to the noises and hums like those present on a plane. I was very lucky that with every puppy there was a person (or group) who was helping to find the best ‘match’ possible for what would be a long and happy partnership. When you bring your puppy home you will be making your own story. Hopefully that story will be a long and happy one.

puppies in a row

Aimee sadly passed 4 years ago but was my ‘heart dog’, with all her issues, it felt like a part of me died with her.
Sputnik (aka Bronson) will have his 13th birthday next week. He still enjoys his walks, rolls in the grass, digs in the puddles and generally loves life. He is my ‘goodest’ boy!
Toto will be 10 this year! He is my happy idiot, my clown and sometimes he’s a bit of a dick, but we love him for his cuddles and full body waggling. No matter what he does, he is always forgiven.

Home Alone and Happy

Home Alone and Happy

How to teach my puppy … to be Home Alone and Happy!

It must be puppy season! Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a fair few pups, just getting settled in their new homes. A common thread (and I’m quite thrilled about this) is that puppy parents are thinking actively about Home Alone Time Training and really wanting to make an effort to ‘get it right’!

Unfortunately there is still a little confusion on exactly HOW to go about this. Although there is no one-size-fits-all, here are a few tips on where to start…

1. Create a good association to pup’s new co
nfinement area!

To avoid unnecessary disaster, its a good idea to limit your pup to an area which is puppy
-proofed both for his safety and your own sanity. It’s absolutely essential that he ‘loves’ his area so ensure it has some good chew toys, food toys, a comfy bed and an area that he can potty.

2. Start Home Alone Training without leaving the house.

You don’t need to leave the house to start training. Teaching the pup to have some quiet time on his own doesnt have to be immediately paired with leaving. You will need to get dressed, get a shower and do other things which mean you are not actively watching your pup, so getting him used to small periods in his area , without leaving the house first is a good first step. Start small and build up.

3. Ensure his/her needs are met.

new puppy early weeks

Pups can quickly become frustrated if they have a lot of energy and the need to run about, play with you and generally explore their new environment. Get up early with them and guide them on their way. Alone time is far less frustrating once pup has had an ample opportunity to explore, pee, poop and play!

4. Don’t wait til your pup is falling asleep.

sleeping puppy

You will find that after about 30-60 minutes your pup will start to slow down. Dont wait for him to collapse into a puppy coma before transferring him into his pen. If you regularly do this he will just wake up in the pen rather than understand the process. He should be slowing down but still awake and aware.

5. Actually leaving the house!

So here we go, the actual leaving part! 
Again, pup should be fully aware before you start.
Go through the ‘motions’ of leaving first.
Put on shoes, pick up bag, open and close the door, then back track and maybe have a cup of tea, go thru the motions again going out the door for a few seconds and back again. Increase the time you leave very gradually.

6. Throw in some easy one

Don’t just increase duration in a straight line. Throw in some easy absences!. You want a puppy that is frankly a bit bored at whatever this game is you are playing.

7. If in doubt, Video … and reach out for help!

If you have any doubt at all in your mind about how your puppy is behaving in your absences, flip up your laptop and record him. There are a lot of body language resources available or you can get a professional to take a look and interpret it for you! Personally, I’m utterly thrilled to have the opportunity to be training towards Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer status.

Get in touch at …
or drop me an email on
Guiding a pup through Home Alone Training is an important and essential task and I’m so happy that people are really thinking about it BEFORE it becomes a problem!
Sonia Calvert is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and a Fear Free Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She is a fully endorsed trainer with APDTNZ and is working towards full Certification as a Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) to help deal with home alone training, and is currently working heading up ‘Pet Pro Trainer’.
Nailing it from the start!

Nailing it from the start!

Nailing it from the start!


The other day I visited the cutest 11week old puppy! At one point, when she was being held securely by her owner, I touched her little paw! Giving each toe a light squeeze in turn, I reflected.There was no pulling away and there was a complete absence of any kind of anxiety-related body language. There was utter trust and seemingly no learning history(good or bad). It struck me that we should be looking at this now and ‘nailing it from the start’!

In short she was a clean, blank slate!

That wee puppy had never yet had the experience of nail filing and I realized just how life changing ‘getting it right’ at this tender age really is.


Nailing it when its an up-hill battle


Most of the world is filled with dogs who have had at least one (if not more) negative events in relation to nail filing. When we start our training, there is already a lot of learning history to make up for.

We might need to go slowly and it might take a bit longer but how exactly do we Nail it right from the get go?


1. Consider a comfortable position.


– Your puppy may be small now and we might be able to work with her on our laps but thinking about her eventual size and the position you might be able to cope with later on needs to be a factor. Getting a dog cosy on their side might work for some or even choosing a slightly more restrained option on or between your legs as you sit on the floor could be a good option for solo nail trimmers (as I have been). Practice marking and rewarding for still and settled behavior in that position regularly.


2. Work on handling first!


– Once in a good position for you, work on handling the pups (or dogs) feet.  Mark and reward for still, calm behavior and for the dog allowing her paw to sit in your hand for a small duration. As she gets comfortable,  start to take each toe in turn and apply the lightest pressure hold with your fingers.
Increase the pressure until it reflects the secure hold you would need to do, to secure the toes when clipping or filing the nail


3. Positively condition your tools


– Whether you decide to use a nail board, a Dremel, a hand file, nail clippers or a combination of them all, introduce your dog to them all in a positive way. Pairing the tools presence with food, treats, play, etc. will induce a positive emotion in the dog when they see them coming out. When using a Dremel, also ensure the dog is desensitized to the noise by switching it on and off and offering the treat (or toy) right after.


Toto doing dremel nail file training

Toto learns that dremel noises bring good things


4.Check your dog’s body language


– If you go too fast you will notice a change in body language. The dog might start to shy away or walk away, may pull away or avoid you. If this happens you are moving too fast and need to back track and reduce criteria (ie. ask for less). Below are a few great resources on Canine Body Language.


5.  Fear doesn’t mean Manageable fear 


– When dealing with anxieties (or prevention thereof) we are looking to progress when the dog shows no fear at each level. No fear doesn’t mean slight fear or manageable fear, so be careful not to push on It will eventually mean that you ‘sensitize’ the dog rather than the opposite.


6. Giving choice!


– Allowing your dog the choice to walk away, will actually build trust and co-operation in the longer term. If you get one nail done and your dog chooses to walk away, let him and make a note that you may have pushed too hard or for too long. When dogs have the choice to participate and you take each step slowly enough, you will end up with a willing participant rather than a restrained prisoner.


7. I’m sorry but… (the ‘not negotiable’ cue)


 – What about when you simply have to just get something done and revoke that choice? We want the dog to have as much choice as possible but it’s not always practical. There will be times when the dog won’t have a choice due to an emergency or situation when you need to intervene even if training hasn’t progressed to that stage. Thinking of a cue for this early on and being consistent in delivering it on those unavoidable occasions will help to retain your progress during regular training. A trainer friend stated recently that in this situation, she always says, “I’m sorry, I love you but…”


8. Clipping the first nail


 It may seem daunting once you get to that first nail clip (or file) but remember the small steps. Before taking the first clip you will have…

  1. Practiced the nail hold
  2. Repeated ‘clippers touch to the nail’ many times
  3. Practiced ‘clippers clip air in front of the nail’
  4. Repeated ‘scraping the clippers over the end of the nail’
  5. Practiced applying pressure around the nail with the clippers


All these steps plus the fact that the first ‘cut’ can take the smallest slither of nail possible will allow for little to no reaction from your dog.
Ensure you follow each step with a yummy treat and don’t miss out steps!


9. Don’t go crazy!


 – You will likely be pretty pleased with yourself after your first clip or file touch (and so you should be!). However, don’t go crazy and think the job is done!
Stop after one nail and back track once more with some easy exercises before continuing another day with nail number two. I’d suggest doing one nail every 2-3 days to start with and only once you see utter comfort after one nail increase it to two at one sitting, etc.


10. Dog Nail Anatomy


 – Before you progress any further do a little research on dog nail anatomy.
Before you start trying to take larger chunks of nail, you need to be fully aware of where the quick is.The ‘quick’ is the soft bundle of nerves and blood vessels in the inner nail. If your dogs nails are white, then the quick will show up as pink and is easier to see. However if your dogs nails are black, then it’s much harder to locate. Many people find the Dremel file easier to use for this reason.For more info …


11. Teach your dog to file his own


nailing it on a nail board

Pax ‘nailing it’ learning how to file his own nails on a nail board!

 Lastly but not least! I find this an extremely useful option to incorporate early in training.
Make a Nail board by sticking a piece of sandpaper to a board.
Secure the edges with duct tape and fastening a handle to the rear.
It takes most dogs less than 5 minutes to start to get successful paw swipes onto a nail board. Working with them for 10 minutes (once or twice a week) can make a significant difference to their front nails. If nothing else this cuts your job down by almost 50% .

It also builds a valuable, positive association with the scraping feeling, so that they are more likely to be comfortable with manual filing on the back nails or dew claws if that seems necessary.

To learn more check out my grooming and co-operative care info page here… subscribe to my newsletter!


Finding Contentment

Finding Contentment

Finding Contentment: Changing your thinking, adapting your behavior, turning your struggles into strengths! …and it works for your dog too!

This was the job I dedicated my life to at that tender and youthful age of 25.

After finishing a media production degree and then taking a year off to travel, I ‘landed’ back in London and I strived to make my way up a career ladder.
Retaining contentment in a job for that long is rare but to begin with, it was exciting and it all started well!

Exactly 50 days ago, after a quarter of a decade in the industry, I quit my well-paid job!

So what happened? It had all gone quite well for a number of years starting as trainee assistant and then moving into demo artist, software trainer and finally compositor, then ‘lead’ then ‘senior’.
I started to collect a string of credits on films that I was, at first, very proud of.

Going nowhere and shifting priorities…

At some point however I just stopped moving up! I stopped moving forward.
Co-incidentally, it was the exact time I stopped traveling to find work and the same time I decided to move forward with trying to have a baby. Shifting my priorities, I decided to become a single mom by choice. After 4 years of class 101 at the fertility clinic, it finally happened for me. I had a healthy baby girl.

You know what its like when you are so absorbed and involved in a difficult process!
There is little time to think. You grab whatever sleep you can and in between, you try to keep everyone alive!
Bringing up a baby alone with 3 dogs in the house was a challenge but an essential one. Not at one point did I consider it an option ‘not’ to cope!

Time moved on, I returned to my job. Finally, baby goes to daycare, then school and suddenly, as if by magic, you have a walking, talking, opinionated, self-sufficient human.

However, after nearly 19 years at one company (slowly sliding backwards rather than forwards) and around 25 years total in one industry, you see a lot of change. The real stand out thing for me, however, was that it just wasn’t ‘giving back’ anymore.

Its easy, isnt it? Easy to accept the paycheck, to keep going in every morning, to press the same buttons, to learn the correct responses (i.e.what people want you to say). Its the safe option but it can become soul destroying.

New Passions

Throughout this entire process, what I left out was that I had been striving once more but in a different area. My first dog had brought me huge challenges, many questions and had set me off on a pursuit of knowledge into Canine Behavior and most importantly how the heck you change it.
In short, a deep delve into Dog Training !

Today I turned 50!   Just 50 days after quitting that well-paid job!
Honestly, I’m not sure what the future holds…hopefully another 50 years.

So, what’s my plan? Oddly enough I’m looking at my own situation in a very similar way to how I view the dogs I have worked with.

Finding contentment!

Home is where the heart is…

Feeling comfortable and at ease in your surroundings is essential to setting good foundations on which to build. That’s where I’d start with a dog and it turns out a lot of this stuff is not species specific.

For me…

veggie gardenStarting with the home, I tidied, I changed things, I re-planned, I switched furniture. I created a living space I was happy and comfortable or at least I’m still actively working on it 🙂 I set up the spare room extension to rent out which eased financial concerns. I set up a veggie garden!

For the dogs…

Mirroring that advice for dog owners, I suggest you limit access or visibility to the outside street if motorbikes, passersby and other distractions might keep your dog barking and bouncing at the windows. In addition to easing the stress, adding enrichment (interesting things for the dog to do), especially when left alone is essential.enrichment slow bowl

Enrichment and Purpose

When you do a google search on ‘purpose’ and ‘enrichment’, it comes up with two kinds of results. One is centered on enrichment in respect to people(often children) and one with respect to animals.

Check out how similar they are. Enrichment is ‘providing opportunities to pursue their own area of interests and strengths’. ‘…a principle that seeks to enhance the quality of life…’

For me…

I find new hobbies! An hour long walk each day (weather allowing), time to fill in a crossword or similar and a swim on Fridays with my best girl! I enjoy a project (or 10) so starting a new dog training business creates opportunities to work through many, many challenges. I grow vegetables and set a weight goal with a new lifestyle change and diet!

For the dogs…

Turns out dogs benefit from enriching activities and puzzles too! Adding a Kong and another food puzzle to the day whilst saying goodbye to the boring food bowl that last 30seconds. Creating opportunities to ‘think’ and be challenged mentally as well as physically by throwing in some training sessions into the walk.

Changing your thinking!

Its easy to get stuck, not only in your behavioral habits but also in your thinking habits. You need to adapt the way you think, or at least challenge it, before you can get more flexible with your habits!

For me…

When you have been stuck in a bit of a rut for some time its hard to step back and be more flexible with your thinking. I’m not just talking about positive thinking either. I’m speaking of flexibility! Finding it within yourself to let go of preconceptions and re-examine what is working and what isn’t.
Can we recognize that different approaches might yield positive results? Keep data!
In short, don’t just do and think as you always have just because you always have!

For the dogs…

Again with the dogs!
A reactive dog (one that may bark and lunge upon the sight of another) has been stuck in a rut … behaviorally.

It’s a hard habit to break!

One of the really creative approaches to this was introduced to me in a training course by Absolute Dogs. Teaching ‘concepts’ as well as specific behavior changes can go a long way towards adapting how a dog thinks generally.
Let’s look at games which enhance a flexible approach!
What does a dog chose to do upon approach to a novel object?
We can reward him for a different more flexible choice each time.
The first time he is rewarded for 2 feet on, the second for a nose touch, the third for knocking it over, etc,etc. The dog learns that flexibility can also be rewarded and he can practice that in a context away from the habitual reactivity first.

Turning struggles into strengths.

Now is the time to start looking at specifics, those little every day struggles.
The things that challenge us can be looked at from two directions, as a problem OR as an opportunity to learn and conquer!

For me…

How do I become financially secure whilst still doing the stuff I love?
Can I create a habit of scheduling EVERYTHING!
If its not in the schedule, it doesn’t get done!
Finding the endurance to create solutions both in business and personal life.

look at meFor dogs…

Can they learn to approach an old problem with a new solution?
Rather than barking and lunging at the sight of another dog, can they learn to adapt that behaviour and still feel ok about things?

Finding contentment is an essential part of life!
Changing your thinking and finding it within yourself to feel empowered enough to find new solutions to old problems can be life changing!

Doing so lays the most solid foundation upon which to build, both from a personal level and as a basis for a dog training behavior modification program turning struggles into strengths!

Little Dog, Big Feelings!

Little Dog, Big Feelings!

10 ways to help your dog self-regulate when prone to over-arousal!


Even though over-arousal in dogs has had a fair bit of attention in some training circles in recent years , in terms of actually considering it strongly in a training programme, it is far too many times overlooked.

In fact when I hear comments or posts where people say, “oh ‘this method’ or ‘that technique’ just didn’t work for me, my first thought is whether it was due to over-arousal (or under-arousal) being in play.

Over-Arousal in environment

Winnie the Pooh – we adopted as her third home when she was 2years old

It is certainly something I can relate to given that I adopted a little BC cross dog a couple of years ago. Winnie the Pooh is a little dog who has really BIG feelings! Her tendency is to flip into over-arousal at the very slightest changes in the environment.
We have been experimenting with various methods and documenting patterns in her behaviour in an effort to really incorporate arousal manipulation into a training plan.

Ok, so firstly, let’s just define the term!


Definition of Over-Arousal


Arousal is the physiological and psychological state of being awoken or of sense organs stimulated to a point of perception.
Over-Arousal is excessive arousal!

If you consider the definition above, arousal is indeed necessary for every single task we (and our dogs) perform.
When arousal is at its optimum levels we are ‘firing on all four cylinders’ if I may use a rather old metaphor from an internal – combustion engine origin. At optimal arousal we will be performing at our peak, our greatest level of efficiency, speed or productivity.

So, arousal is necessary but where does it need to be, to be at this ‘magical’ optimum level and how do we get it there and help reduce the times our dogs tip into over-arousal?


Optimal Arousal


…  Yerkes-Dodson Law – Inverted U-model (or bell curve) clearly shows the correlation between arousal and performance.

… there is an optimal level of arousal which corresponds to peak performance but if arousal is too low, performance suffers.
At this end of the bell curve we often associate fatigue, disengagement, disinterest and inactivity.

At the higher end of arousal curve, over-arousal is associated with over-excitement, anxiety, panic and fear. Again performance is reduced!

In short, if we want to illicit good performance from our dogs, we need to be aware of where he(or she) is sitting in respect to arousal upon this curve.

Equally, if we can find ways of manipulating that arousal level, we can be directly influential in setting a perfect foundation for effective learning and good performance.


Manipulating Arousal


If we can find and adopt ways to manipulate arousal in the animal we are training, then we not only increase performance, we set our dogs and ourselves up to succeed as well!

Now every dog is different, so at any point where one exercise works perfectly to reduce arousal for one dog, it may induce frustration for another, so be cautious and observant.

A great ‘test’ for arousal is to pick a ‘default’ trick that the dog knows how to do very, very well. Ask him to perform it and rate the performance. If its sloppy, slow or worse, the dog can’t perform it at all, then chances are high, that over-arousal is in play!


Methods which may often decrease arousal include (but are not limited to) :


1. Distant Antecedents

Practicing calm at home! If a dog is barking at passers-by for instance for many hours a day when you are out, then you’d do well to manage the environment to allow the dog to stay calm for more of that time.  Feeding Kongs, blocking street window access, etc. For the amount of time the dog is engaged in high arousal, he also needs an equal amount of downtime to recover.

2. Scatter feeding

This encourages the dog to go into a scent search using his nose.

3. Find it!

Throw one treat to the ground and cue your dog to ‘find it’

4. Patterning

Simply pattern feeding. Feeding one treat by your left ankle and then another by your right ankle with dog facing you. I was introduced to this by Sarah Stremming who incidentally also coined the phrase ‘Big Feelings’ which I just love because it sums up our little bc cross perfectly!

5. Allow your dog to sniff

Heck! Encourage it!  If your dog is a sniffer on walks, he could be doing well to help regulate himself. Sniffing is a great activity for dogs with some people rating it so highly, they term their walks ‘sniffaris’!

6. Increase rate of rewards 

In short, reward your dog more for the behaviour you want especially in difficult situations. Just the actual act of eating can decrease arousal (assuming your dog ‘can’ eat : in extreme arousal or anxiety a dog may refuse to eat, which is a good indicator in and of itself that something in the environment may be pushing your dog above the arousal optimal level).

7. Fine Dining

This game (coined/named by Absolute Dogs) encourages and rewards stillness in the close presence of a treat. When the dog is still the treat comes to them. Bouncing and lunging makes the treat retreat!

8. Slow feeding

If your dog is over aroused then slow feeding might help. Nibblers can lick and nibble at a treat in your hand or you could try feeding from a squeezy tube that the dog needs to lick at to receive a reward.

9. Temporarily avoiding triggers

I’m defining ‘triggers’ here as anything a dog alerts to so strongly that he appears to be unable to respond to anything else. Allowing some downtime from such events and then re introducing them in a more controlled way can be a good way to set foundations for a desensitization program.

10. Decreasing Anxiety

Some dogs’ behaviour can become intense when they feel anxious. Where some dogs be withdraw, others will lash out, lunge and bark. There are various methods to reducing anxiety from medications, to T-touch ‘wraps’ to full and controlled desensitization with a professional.


Alternatively methods which may often increase arousal are :

Delivering treats actively, so tossing or cuing the dog to catch the treats rather than delivering to his mouth directly. Playing with a toy : Any game which mimics a part of the dogs natural prey drive, chasing (a ball), catching, running, tugging can increase arousal. Decreasing Anxiety : What may appear as under arousal could be inhibited behaviour due to anxiety. Determining what might cause the anxiety and ensuring the dog feels better about it will go a long way to improve the situation.

So the moral of this story … if a technique or method isn’t working for you but has clearly worked for others… and if you are certain that you are implementing it correctly…

…then check your dog’s arousal levels.

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