The Whole of The Dog

by | Nov 21, 2023

sleeping dog

 . . . and all that they do.


We are beginning to realise that we cannot separate different elements of the way we live into unrelated compartments. What we eat has an effect on our stamina; a daily stress of driving impacts on our posture, the shoes we choose, for fashion or comfort, affects our mobility.

The first dog that takes us into the world of training affects what we learn and how we apply it.

This understanding of how all that we do, learn, eat or wear applies equally to our dogs. We cannot divide training into compartments of really fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs, and they ask of us, is interrelated.

Our growing understanding of reward systems will not only be applied in delivering treats for appreciation but also employed through the diverse range of rewards that are shaping our dogs and our relationships throughout the day. These rewards are often in conflict and dynamically changing throughout the dog’s life: what works today will change. Reward habits need refreshment and update.

Young animals learn proprioceptive skills: they negotiate staircases, rearrange bedding, counter surfing and aerial pigeon catches. Their individual fitness and stamina levels will develop and without careful monitoring and conscious shaping can have a direct effect on the simple everyday movements. A regular repertoire can be seen to become reluctant, or stiffness increase, responses slow down. This can be as a result of the games we play, the repetitive movements for sports training or simply the new flooring.

The inherited genetic package of our dogs is always going to be present. It may be the daily delight we enjoy: the affectionate nature, the good companion or it may be the protectiveness that is increasing or the sensitivity to unpredictable sound. Their desires and experience of self-reward will be rooted in this inheritance and may be an avenue of pleasure to enjoy as they track and search or the most challenging free spirited hunter that never sleeps. This package will underpin much of their day in how they do it, what they find stimulating and their needs to a fulfilling life.

A dog’s structure will affect their movement. We must question whether our demand for a particularly walking style is within this dog’s physical ability. Does our demand for a loose lead and personal comfort compromise the dog’s natural gait? Is our speed suitable for the dog? Does the length of the lead affect their movement and their outlook?

Can our chosen walking routes impact on the health of their bodies? A walk for the dog will affect their physical well-being as well as their mental balance. The wrong sort of walk can become a nightmare. Does your dog need to toilet where they feel safe or can your evening stroll cause more discomfort?

The games we play are more than a series of run around to tire the dog. Play is nature’s classroom and what they learn in play will seep into every other part of their lives. The dog that launches into your body for a toy will launch into your visitors, or your dinner on a tray. Does that “game” that builds entertainment for spectators build a dog with super-fast grab skills?

Dog sports are for people. People enjoy the social aspects, the challenges and the exploration into training for better outcomes. One foot must be kept on the ground of reality and an awareness of how that development spills over into their world living alongside us. There is still a persistent sense of superiority that sports dogs are better trained than pet dogs but highly trained in very specific exercises held under specific conditions does not equate to life on the street or in the busy park. The dog that can perform exquisite, controlled heelwork or jumps elegantly but cannot walk past a sandwich bar or browsing hen. The over training in a narrow channel can often be at the expense of lifeskills.

We can be easily persuaded to seek solutions for issues that offer short-term success. By the time that issue becomes noticeable and demands our attention it is because we have failed to notice the small indicators elsewhere in the dog’s life.

The explosive hyper-excitement in anticipation of an outing will be present throughout the day in a similar form and often we can live with those small incidents. When it becomes a major issue to put the dog on the lead, screaming whilst travelling in the car, or a struggle on the walk and it demands our attention.

Gaps in the dog’s skills can mostly be identified and developed in the smaller isolated behaviours that occur around us. Our own skills can be upgraded through deeper understanding and empathy and directly impact on our relationship with the dog.

A narrow focus of learning can gives us the illusion that we have done the work but without  applying our learning globally across all the dog’s activities and interactions the investment of time and money has limited returns.

Dogs are masters at detecting conditions under which rewards are promised, discriminating who in their lives can be trusted to deliver and moments when people are distracted or the goal posts evaporate.

Key Reading

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.

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.

Ethos: A Personal Trust Pilot

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

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.

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

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?

Dogs are Born To Learn

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

And Why Can’t He Refuse?

I bristle at the insistence that a dog will assent to any request we make if they understand what we’re asking and if the rewards we offer are of sufficient value

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.

The choice of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

Top Training

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.

A Day of Learning

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.

Cue Seeking

Being an active learner and seeking opportunities for more rewards

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.

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.

Going Shopping

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


Preparing before you train and the final check list

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.

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……

Reasons to use a clicker

The concept of “being a clicker trainer” is always going to lead to argument and misunderstanding because it cannot exist alongside the science and technology. It is a “fakery” of our time. The clicker itself is a simple tool that when used in conjunction with technology provides clarity and understanding in teaching.


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