A Day of Learning

by | Apr 26, 2021

Cool boy

For as long as I have shared my life with dogs, training for particular activities, tasks, or program it is a daily event. It begins with planning, chopping of treats, working through the sessions, videoing, taking notes and more planning. It is often the hi-light of the day: a chance to connect with an individual and share their learning journey.

Recent weeks have pushed this aside, mostly due to a shortage of “energy” but also a desire to avoid that urgency and hurry to get the dog trained. Remember, training is something that we do TO the dog. A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Learning is defined as a measurable change in behaviour. Something that is a change from yesterday and the recent history. A change that may be of direct benefit for both for good and for bad. A way of doing something new, a novel experience to process, or routine needing less support and prompts.

The purpose of learning, or change, is to gain “more and better rewards” (Schultz). Since my training, and their learning, centres around rewards, when I observe learning happening I note the change but also try to detect what rewards are gained, or what rewards are increased. This provides me with significant and critical information for future use.

This day began at 5.10am, sunrise when the local wildlife made a tremendous drama about leaving the garden. Their chosen exit route was not their chosen entry point, so much squealing and panic caused an early rise for all concerned.

Jeez, it’s only 5.15 ?

The early morning pattern follows its usual course with the girls enjoying their private garden leisure without a randy teenager in hot pursuit, so Himself comes into the kitchen for a 5 minute quality time as the kettle goes into action. Significant learning was the self-collecting of his person-play-toy, not requiring me to find it under the sofa for him. We have been discriminating between balls, which are dumped at my feet for future sheepball games, and all other soft toys which are to hand, for catch and eye co-ordination games. This morning 10 out of 10 hand-dumped correctly.

Reward? Instant consequence from me, no delay, catch and repeat.

No more helicopter rotor blade, but learning the stand still and turn his head. 

Their breakfast follows mine and I see he is learning to turn his head around the bowl to scoop out the corners. Up to now he has needed to circle the bowl like a helicopter rotor blade rivetted by the nose shoving the bowl in every direction.

Reward? Not sure, possibly he can transfer the food to stomach faster? (and then get a chance to check out the other empty bowls)

First walks are race-and-run to the horizon variety. Gate stillness is very strong. Zip is the sheep and he rolls up his sleeves and takes out the work-book to Be The Collie.

Reward? Delicious high quality dopamine and the rest

This work only happens on the outbound path. Once we turn for home, Zip likes to follow at my side, and that Working Boy turns into Thug Boy biting her legs, and harassing her into a stop.

Reward? Controlling her.

A joyful, but important first race and run

This is not acceptable, so we divert this with a focus to a ball from my pocket giving her a chance to break free. Today he began to seek the ball as soon as the walk changed from outbound to inbound. No prompting required.

Reward? Ball games began early, and continued for longer.

Diversion tactic that ends the urge to herd his sheep …. poor Zip. 

Note to self: I will vary the field patterns so that outbound and inbound are not predictable, change directions and wander purposelessly to avoid the pattern. I do not want to become the Sheep-who-carries-Balls.

The morning was spent in the garden, enjoying the warm sunshine and generally amusing himself with the toys, some of which are old heavy mats he seems to enjoy carting around at full speed ???

Repeated regularly, evidence of rewarding activity.

Joining me for lunch I see he has used his early proprioception training to seek a new resting place now that his puppy bed is too small. Although there seems to be reward, we have more learning before this is completed.

uncool teenager

A typical uncool teenager not sure of
the function of A Chair. 

Today is a venture out day. This is a regular, twice weekly, event, which may include solo walks to new places, or a car ride. Today was supermarket car park, with a short stop to watch ewes and lambs. We both learned that a ewe can bark like a dog!

New locations begin with familiarisation from inside the car before short See The World exploration. Today’s new wonder was the long train of trolley collection, which promptly stimulated The Sit of Thinking. A pose common to young men that can think better when their tackle is correctly earthed.

Reward: information filing of weird human activities from a safe distance.

I learned that electric cars can come at you when you least expect them ….. creepy beasts.

Home required him to assist me in wheelie bin collection, a new experience which he filed away with his usual shrug and enquiry for sausage. This is a 5 minute walk back around the buildings and I was rewarded to see full connection every 2-3 seconds. The noisy bin did not disturb the self-initiated connection.

That’s my boy.

I think that was a full load for an 8 month old brain to process so a quiet evening followed. One new reaction of note was a super sensitivity of foot touch. He is quite sofa hugger and sleeps deeply half-on and half-off my lap. From very early days I have fondled his ears, feet, coat, and various body parts when he is this relaxed and it has the appearance of pleasure. Tonite he thought I was sticking hot pins in his toes …. I shall need to note if this was a single event or a significant change.

Cool boy

Practising becoming Mr Cool,
despite the struggles of puberty. 

No training today, but learning was progressing fast. My note book contains at least 13 significant changes in his behaviour or novel events that were calmly observed and processed. I am sure his brain was processing an entire cabinet of stuff he needs to file away, remember, anticipate, observe, explore, detect, analyse and conclude. Hopefully this brain work will keep him needing a full 10 hours of deep, overnight sleep.

7am please?


I processed learning as well, I still find a sense of guilt for not “doing some training”, but am content to let the small daily changes fill his learning capacity. These small birds will come home to roost in the future.

Perhaps this is the “modern training”?



Build the Learning

Lifelong skills built in activities and play. A dog that is curious, confident, resilient with a natural enthusiasm for learning.

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Learn about the fascinating landscape of rewards and how to make them the centre of your training and relationship.

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Key Reading

What Words Conceal

The language across all kinds of media paints a picture of dogs and our relationships with them.

Location is Their Cue

We begin teaching the dog to go to a target, such as a mat or platform and in this process our focus is on the outcome – the dog can place feet on the object or settle down. But at the same time this learning is happening the dog is also noting the location: where this is happening in this room, in the house, relative to the food-machine (you).

Cue Seeking is Connection

Connection is very individual and to be authentic we have to observe, slow down, understand our dogs and meet them where they are.

The Right Bed in the Right Spot

Resting and sleeping are not necessarily the same state. Good sleep where we feel safe and comfortable is important for us all.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

The Whole of The Dog

We cannot divide training into compartments of fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs is interrelated.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.

1 Comment

  1. Cheryll Bradford

    I recently rescued a 10 month, or so, female Australian Shepherd. I had nearly hit her while driving driving around a corner. She had run directly in front of me from a deep overgrown ditch. I stopped to make sure she was okay and spoke to her from my open window. She was dirty and appeared to have been on her own for awhile. We made an immediate connection. After a two day stay at the vets and a search to find her people, I brought her home.
    I am a graduate of Karen Prior Academy and have been training for the past 8 years. I love reading Kays blogs and have learned much from them. I very much resonate regarding her philosophy on working with dogs.


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