Don’t Let Them Learn

by | Feb 24, 2023

Commendation for Garden patrol

Becoming aware that we share our lives with premier learners, dogs, is about saving you frustration, despair, anxiety and endless hours further down the road. As much as we are students of dog behaviour dogs are students of human behaviour. They spend more hours studying us than we do of them even though we may think we have the upper hand in shared learning.

These super learners watch us with exquisite attention. They are looking for the merest suggestions of our behaviour patterns and of the world around them that will predict events of interest. As they register the first signs of a dawning cascade of promising clues their arousal begins to surge. Too often this escalates with frightening speed and before we turn around we are faced with:

Dogs that SCREAM at full volume as you turn into the car park for The Woodland Walk.

You could be even sharing your life with a super learner that begins the screaming 4 miles prior to the turn off and at the same time can spin and layer gobs of slime around the interior of the vehicle.

Dogs that hurl themselves against the door to the garden

Which urges you to take more haste to preserve the remaining woodwork and open the door so that they can launch themselves around the garden and clear it of invading pigeons and  squirrels that have absolutely no rights whatsoever.

Dogs that launch to eye level around you whilst prepping their dinner and sing loudly out of tune

Because they have not eaten for at least 3 hours and are likely to die unless they get this super slow feeding machine to GET A WRIGGLE ON.

Dogs that hit you mid-chest when you take the toy out of your pocket

Prey should never have the time to set off for an escape, the minute they show their nose out of the den is the moment of most satisfactory KILL.

Dogs that consider deliveries should be deposited at a centre in the village because THEIR gate is sacred territory and should never be invaded.

After all it is every dog’s job to protect and serve as the Boundary Police. All vans, bikes, passing walkers, children, are potential threats to the comfort and safety of their pack. Parcel deliveries will be consider DEFCON 1* and regarded as missiles that need direct interception before invading air space.

DefCon stages

*DEFensive CONdition

  • DEFCON 5 is sleeping time with one ear open
  • DEFCON 4 is monitoring all defences from indoors
  • DEFCON 3 is patrolling defence boundaries in readiness
  • DEFCON 2 is vocal alarms of incoming threats
  • DEFCON 1 is maximum defensive protocols of body launching, screaming, boundary racing.

Nothing here is not normal, satisfying and very rewarding behaviour for your dog.


We live in the World By Rewards.

Learning is the route to more and better rewards.

Your dog IS going to learn, we cannot stop that learning happening, we cannot slow it down, we cannot turn it off.

We cannot make these events unimportant or prevent the dogs from taking notes and looking forward to them.

The Woodland Walk

Is extremely stimulating with the quantity and quality of the scent of prey and other dogs. It requires high level of adrenaline and arousal to be fully enjoyed. It demands fast tracking, running, jumping, hunting skills that super boost active pleasures.

Pigeons and Squirrels

Are only on this earth to be chased. They are not even very tasty or worth the effort of learning how to climb trees but they will continually want to wind up all dogs and fart in their faces as they make feeble attempts to catch them. Hah. Hah.

Chase is Good, Chase is Satisfying. Empty Gardens are Badges of Honour.

Slow People

Goodness me they can be SO irritating as they potter here and there collecting some of this and a bit of that and arranging everything in a line and open those packets really slowly, especially the ones with blood in them. They chop each item one at a time didn’t you know you could use a machine to do this so much quicker woman?

Medal of Valour Delivery GuysIt is our duty to harry and herd them into faster actions and block all movements around the Bowl Room so that Food arrives pronto. If I have to learn the full Halleluiah Chorus then so be it, but DO hurry along.

Duties of Defensive Forces

Dogs are gifted with supreme hearing, vision and scent skills to be able to fulfil their honourable duties as the Defence Guard. Medals are awarded for early alerts, satisfactory levels of threat that turn away incoming armies. Women and Children regularly shout their praise and applaud their soldiers for heroic actions.

Good Job. Immense pride. Much Satisfaction.

Training is something that is done TO the dog. Learning is something that happens FOR the dog.

Alert Duties can begin at an early age 

Here we hit the conundrum: these arousing events are filled with reward during the anticipatory arousal and during the actual event. The longer the anticipatory phase the more pleasure is likely to be experienced.

Sadly once these system are in full drive there is little we can do and although there are many well-intentioned suggestions of management they will at best only tickle the surface. Any inattentiveness will allow the flood gates to open again.

Wake Up People

Unless they are in deep sleep – the type of sleep that allows you to pick them up bodily without waking them – then they are learning, taking extensive notes, sharing them between the group and engaging in a cooperative Global University of Managing People.

The only way this does not become a full take over is to be really awake and aware of your own patterns, routines and habits.

Single Event Learning is a Thing

Honours Degree CertificteThe second time the event follows the same pattern the recording is switched on:

You take your socks, boots, dog-coat, harness, leads, whistle, hat out of the cupboard and stow them in the car. The dog watches and notes: recording mode is on. You load the dog and begin the journey to The Woodland.

That evening the recording is reviewed and studied. Next time any of the “we’re going out clobber” is touched the arousal level begins to surge. Arousal spiking will occur as the Woodland Scent comes through the car vents, the indicator as the car turns and the sound of the car park gravel confirm the dog’s analysis.

Silly Person

You became a person of predictable behaviour following organised patterns. This needs to stop.

  1. Walk-clobber should be loaded without any following events.
  2. Dogs should enjoy car rides to no specific places, with no specific outcomes except naps and observations of People With Shopping Trolleys.
  3. Door handles that guard squirrel access should be regularly checked for functionality but not operated. The ratio should be 15:1. Fifteen times a day the door is touched, cleaned, dusted, locked, unlocked to the one time it is opened.
  4. Kitchen Sports should be organised so that dog-bowl potentials are disguised within other games and well camouflaged by many scents, many sounds, much clinking and chopping.
  5. Potential invasion threats require good drama skills that put the audience back into DEFCON 5. Deliveries ignored, reading continued as people pass by, TV watched as cars draw up. It is OUR responses to the threats that hyper activate the dog’s defence duties.

Be unpredictable. Avoid routine patterns

This can save you countless hours of work, reduce the stress of trying and failing to reduce over aroused dogs. Over arousal is incredibly difficult to manage or control internally or externally. If it is inevitable then it should be cultivated in a directed fashion alongside the dog’s own mechanism for self-management. When there are multiple dogs present the more likely the arousal is going to escalate beyond reasonable. Someone will get bitten.

Some events we cannot control but we need to be aware of our response to them. To be calm when we hear delivery drivers pulling up, no excitement, no anxiety. We may even suggest that the garden needs squirrel patrol?

When arriving at an event, take out the phone, read a book. The car coming to rest and park is a predictor of snoozing and quiet observations for the post-grad course in the habit of shoppers.

Our anticipation of exciting events will transmit to the dogs; they do not need to be aroused unnecessarily, for long periods or without an appropriate outlet or beyond their abilities to de-arouse. You know that it takes an enormous amount of deep breathing and reasoning to come down after a much anticipated event is cancelled. There will then be a long tail of disappointment to deal with. We cannot even teach this to our children let alone another species.

Far better to have a few small Birthday parties that are semi-spontaneous than extreme, unfulfilled highs several times a week. The long periods of hyper arousal serve no benefit to either the dog or the people around them. They can cause physiological harm to the dog and collapse relationships.

Avoidance, prevention, good strategies and planning will pay dividends.

Be constantly on the alert. Divert, distract, dissemble, pretend, dissimulate, disguise, camouflage, conceal, obscure are your strategic tools in the war against hyperarousal.

Be aware. They want to learn. They will learn.

They are studying YOU.

Never let them learn guideliness

learn well
learn it once

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Key Reading

Dogs are Born To Learn

We can build tremendous learners when we get beyond the idea that “dogs are trained”.

Heartbeat of living with dogs

I like to regard a “teacher of dogs” as someone who meets dogs in their world and teaches them how to be their best whilst living alongside us in our world.

Think carefully

We cannot presume a cue is a reinforcer unless we can shape a new behaviour using that cue as the marker. Read carefully. Think carefully. Consider multiple perspectives. Sometimes it seems easier to let someone else do the thinking for you and just copy, but we need to become thoughtful trainers.

What is a Trainer?

I know what I am, as a trainer. But does my view of “A Trainer” coincide with, or even overlap with yours?

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

The Fade-in Protocol

Even though today we are surrounded by many available protocols for teaching with positive reinforcement, there is still a persistence that a dog should be set-up to make an error. An error is simply the difference between my expectation and the dog’s response. No more “distractions”, but faded-in environments.

What’s Cooking? A Warning About Recipes

Recipes for “training” dogs are so prevalent in how we live with and talk about them that their existence often goes unquestioned.

Why add fun?

When an activity gives intrinsic pleasure we do not need to add fun.

Construction or suppression

Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the considerations.

Ethos: A Personal Trust Pilot

Experience changes our ethos. There are many pathways that will broaden our choices.

Top Training

Duration: sustaining movement

Continuing and maintaining a specific movement

Nose Target. No thanks

Nose target is a popular behaviour taught to many dogs, and other animals. It seems easy to teach and have practical application, but it is often not such a pleasant experience for all dogs. There are many other options available that give the same practical benefit, without the unpleasant extremes.

Going Shopping

This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.

Remote lures

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

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.

Release cue or stay cue

Many of us begin with teaching sit or down, and this is one of the earliest experiences of training with reinforcement. Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?

Stop doing that ….

Can we teach an effective Cease That Behaviour? Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead.

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.

Duration or is it Breakfast in Bed?

Teaching duration has become a very muddied understanding or what it is and how to teach it. This is partly due to how we use words that are the same but have entirely different meanings.

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


  1. Joy Knowles

    brilliant article, thank you Kay

  2. Murielle GALTIER

    Excellent comme d’habitude !


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