Wonderful Willow - teaching a puppy to settle

Willow is only 19 weeks old here. She started her puppy training at 13 weeks old and is ridiculously quick to learn; we had only begun training this exercise ten minutes before the video was taken.

Here we are teaching her to settle on a mat. Notice we’re not telling her to go to the mat, to lie down, to stay on there. As soon as we release her she races to the mat and lies down. This is because the mat itself is the cue, it’s what we call an “environmental cue” and here at Mr Bones we’re big fans of this. We don’t have to keep telling the dog what to do, they know what’s desired and what’s going to bring good things. Our aim is to work towards relaxation and building the length of time spent on the blanket before we need to reward Willow. Can you see that, in less than ten minutes, she’s worked out that if she lowers her head to the blanket, instead of concentrating on us, that this brings rewards? The idea is that we can take the blanket with us anywhere, pop it down, and we have a puppy that dives on there to chill out. I’d say she’ll be ready to hit the cafés of Balham in no time.

Lessons from Ray


Those who train with me will often hear me talk about Ray. I use him as an example of how we need to find the right rewards in our dog training, and how it's the dog who decides what's rewarding, not us. I found his picture on my phone from way back and thought I'd share how Ray's story continues to help owners train their dogs joyfully.

Greyhounds are often generalised as having poor recall. We were working on creating a great recall for Ray. We were rewarding him with chicken when he came back to us. Ray would amble over and take the chicken, he'd sometimes stop on the way and have a sniff. Ray liked chicken, but he didn't LOVE chicken. As we trained we discovered that Ray enjoyed a good game of tuggy, however, he flipped his greyhound lid at the chance to chase a frisbee. You see, chasing a fast moving object is hardwired into greyhounds, it's what they were bred to do and it delighted Ray to use all of his natural instincts.

So, we headed off to Brockwell Park in Brixton, armed with pockets full of chicken, we had tuggy toys up our sleeves, and frisbees hidden up our jumpers. We started doing some recalling with Ray and rewarding him with the usual chicken. We then surprised him with the odd game of tuggy when he came back to us. Already his recall started to come a bit faster. Imagine his elation when a frisbee appeared from nowhere and was thrown in return for another recall. By mixing up these different rewards we became unpredictable and exciting to Ray. He became a gambler, addicted to the game of recall, wondering what delights would appear in return for rushing back to us when called.

My challenge to you is to think creatively with your dogs. Can you think of one new reward that might tap into your dogs natural instincts? Or can you come up with a novel food treat that may beat everything else hands down? Are you really rewarding your dog for coming back to you? Because a pat on the head and 'good boy' isn't really up there on your dog's lists of priorities.

Brilliant Bella

Meet Bella, she is an adorable, and VERY energetic, twenty-week old Cockapoo puppy who is currently completing our 'Chump to Champ' puppy training course.

Her mum had told us that she pulled so hard on the lead that she would choke herself. Here she is on week four of her training and her loose lead walking is now amazing. We've taught her that staying close and checking in is more rewarding than pulling like a train! 

I'd say that her recall in a busy park is also pretty spectacular! We were at Wandsworth Common on a sunny Saturday morning with lots of other dogs around. By teaching and building her recall in low-distraction environments we were able to gradually move it to where we need it.

Puppy Training, Life Skills... and Tortoises!

Barry with Olly the Tortoise

Barry with Olly the Tortoise

As a dog trainer and behaviourist it's essential to keep up to date with the newest techniques, to keep honing our skills and develop our knowledge. In this pursuit, I spent all of last week at the University of Lincoln, renowned as one of the leading institutions in expanding research in animal behaviour. Here they developed the Life Skills for Puppies concept and have worked over the past few years fine-tuning it. I was there to learn what they had developed and how it's implemented. You'll be pleased to hear that some great new techniques are now being integrated into the Mr Bones courses and training sessions.

Among all that intense learning there was still time for some fun. Did you know that, scientifically, all animals learn the same way? The techniques used for dog and puppy training at Mr Bones are also used around the world on wild animals. They are used to teach calm behaviours when blood samples are being taken, injections given or handling is required in conservation scenarios. With this in mind we spent an evening, after class, training tortoises! Within an hour we'd taught Olly the Tortoise to go to the green triangle. We used the word 'good' to tell him that he'd got it right, the same way that we use a clicker in our dog training. He learnt to ignore other shapes and colours as the reward was only delivered for going to the green triangle. Take a look at him go in this short video.

Olly the Tortoise learns that the green triangle brings rewards!

Loose Lead Walking with Otis

Otis loved to pull on the lead! He'd go like a truck, rushing everywhere, even choking himself if on his collar. Heck, he tugged so hard that he pulled a muscle in his mum's arm as she was walking him.

Mr Bones carried out a 'Loose Lead Walking' training session, this video was taken after just one and a half hours of putting some self control techniques in place, then building up to walking outside. Note how focused Otis is, better yet, see how happy he looks! The turns and stops are put in to keep him on his toes, wondering what is going to happen next and ensure he's taking direction from his mum. The next stage will be to reduce the frequency of the rewards, asking for more work in return for less pay.

The Generalisation Game!

“But he does it at home!" This is a phrase that we hear frequently. Usually as a dog totally ignores a request from his owner. So, why do dogs follow commands at home then turn off as soon as they are elsewhere?

To understand this we have to go inside the dog’s brain. You see, dogs are very literal in how they think. If we only train in one location then the dog associates performing the requested behaviour solely in that specific place. Equally, if we always train wearing the same item, e.g. a treat pouch, then the dog only associates performing the behaviour when we have that treat pouch visible. When we have initially trained something we can't assume that our dog really knows it and will perform it anywhere, any how. Have a try now. Do you think your dog really knows what ‘sit’ means? Turn your back on your dog and ask them to sit. Touch your toes while asking your dog to sit. Jump up and down and try again. Did your dog do it? Are you too out of breath to answer?

The inside secret to ensuring your dog does as she is asked everywhere is called ‘generalisation’. This means training the behaviour in lots of different locations. You will need to go back a few steps when you try somewhere new. For example, if you have trained a thirty second 'stay' at home then you shouldn’t expect your dog to instantly do the same when you are at the park with lots of distractions. Go back to trying a one second 'stay' and build it up again, second by second. Add distractions gradually from a distance. You may want to see if you can progress to a ten second 'stay' while you are twenty feet away from some dogs. If successful, take a step closer to the dogs and see if you can deliver a five second 'stay' and work up to ten again. If you’re not successful then put some more distance between you and the dogs and try again. Remember, every time you add something that makes it more challenging for your dog you will want to ask for less and build up incrementally. Give it a go and tell Mr Bones how you get on.

The Scavenging Terrier.

This is the first of our new 'Ask Mr Bones' features. We select one of the many questions that we've been asked on social media and answer it here on our hints and tips page.

Our first question comes from Diana, this is what she had to say:

'Dear Mr Bones, how can I stop my very naughty and food obsessed Norwich Terrier from constantly running over to the cafe on the common? I try to avoid the area near it, but lately he just runs across half the common to get to the pasta on the floor! Any advice would be appreciated as he's becoming a real nuisance.'

Mr Bones replies:

Thanks for a great question, Diana. I’m sure this is a predicament with which many dog owners empathise. Behavioural science shows us that a behaviour that is rewarded will continue. Your little Norwich Terrier continues to race to the café as doing so is rewarded by the bounty that he finds under the tables. As all dogs are scavengers his behaviour is totally natural rather than naughty.

So, how do you prevent this? Well, put simply, it needs to be much more fun and rewarding to be with you than it is at the café! Constructive play, interaction and fun training should all be part of a walk. There are many great training games that I would recommend. For example, playing ‘Find it’ games that encourage him to use his super terrier nose to scent out treats that you’ve hidden in the grass. I’d recommend unpredictably starting play with any toys that he likes, such as balls or tug toys, so he keeps checking in with you to see what sort of fun is going to happen next. Hide behind a tree when he's not looking and call him, praise and play with him when he finds you. After a few of these he'll keep looking to see where you are. A ‘Close’ command, where he’s rewarded for walking next to you and focusing on you, is a great tool that you can employ while walking past the café. Finally, a rock-solid recall is essential so you can call him back if he does decide to head in that direction. Remember, recall should always be rewarding for the dog. If he’s used to being called back and always put on lead then he’s not going to bother returning.

Happy Training, Diana!

Feel free to 'Ask Mr Bones' via Twitter or Facebook and your question could be featured.


How valuable is your dog to you?

A few weeks ago I was surprised to see a woman tying up a tiny pedigree puppy outside the supermarket. I stopped and asked her if she was really planning on leaving her puppy there unattended. She had no idea of the huge number of dogs being stolen. So, I gave her my card so she knew who I was, and waited with her puppy while she grabbed the bits of shopping she needed. Really, it's simple, leave your dog safe at home if you're going somewhere that doesn't allow dogs inside. It's just not worth the risk.

Puppy Love

Little Freddie

Little Freddie

This morning was spent puppy training in Clapham. Mr Bones caught up with the adorable Freddie who is now a big ten weeks old. We first carried out one of our 'Puppy Love' home visits with him when he was only eight weeks old, to help his amazing owner learn everything needed to settle him in. Freddie had been adopted from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, having been hand reared as his poor mum was a stray who had died giving birth to the litter. He was the only boy in a litter of seven. The foster home had done an amazing job with him.

Mr Bones was so proud of his progress upon returning today. He is now house trained and widdles on command! He knows his sit, down, give a paw, nose touches, leave it, settle and a host of other useful tricks. Your puppy is never too young to start training, allowing you to bring up a well adjusted, happy, stimulated dog. A short burst of training and playing brain games also has the benefit of absolutely tiring a puppy out as Freddie so beautifully demonstrates here.

Learning 'Leave It' through play

Learning 'Leave It' through play

Pooped after a hard day's work!

Pooped after a hard day's work!

‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’… or is it?

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”, sang Julie Andrews in ‘The Sound of Music’. Now, I’m not one to start a row with Dame Julie but the beginning isn’t always the best place to start when it comes to dog training. In fact, it’s often better to start right at the very end!

Let me explain. I was reading some posts on a Facebook group about dogs that would go up stairs but couldn’t come back down again. You see, the view from the top was probably pretty scary to those little fellas. I had the same situation with one of my dogs. We quickly got over this by starting at the finish line. I popped him onto the very bottom stair and produced a tasty piece of roast chicken. Well, he hopped off that stair and was rewarded with lots of praise and a delicious snacky. I then popped him onto the second stair and presented the chicken again, he ran down the two stairs, was praised and rewarded. We gradually moved to the top of the stairs, taking time to ensure he was totally confident before moving to the next step. If he wasn’t, we moved down a couple of stairs to make it easy again and built our way back up. Within no time he was hurtling up the stairs, and back down again, to be rewarded with the chicken.

This technique works with all sorts of other behaviours that we want to teach, such as playing fetch. Just start by rewarding your pooch for giving you the ball, before you even think about throwing it.

So, you see, apologies to Dame Julie but sometimes the very end is the very best place to start!

Shut that door...

Sometimes it's just fun to have fun! Our dogs love to use their brains and learn new things as much as we do. Therefore, it's great to teach them something simply for the sheer pleasure, and even better if it makes you laugh.

Clicker training is a great way to teach new tricks or behaviours. It allows us to work in small increments so our dogs stay motivated and keep being rewarded. It is very stimulating for the dogs and will totally tire them out.

Here's Sonny the Pug helping round the kitchen. It took half an hour to teach this. Why not think about booking Mr Bones for a clicker course so you can teach your dog fun, or practical, skills.?

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want...

This should be the anthem for dogs the world over. So often we humans seem to have the needle stuck on the word 'no'. Don't do this, don't do that, no, no, no!

Can you imagine living in a world where you're always told what not to do but never receiving feedback when you get it right?

So, if your dog is doing something you don't like. Instead of saying 'no', think to yourself 'what would I like him to do instead?'. Then ask for that behaviour if it's been trained, or train it if it hasn't!

Think of all those times your dogs does make the right choice but is never told. How about we start looking for opportunities to give feedback and praise? When they sit quietly and relax, 'good boy!' Should they decide to go to bed, instead of sitting under your feet while making dinner, 'good girl!'. When they chew on a toy to entertain themselves instead of noshing down on the furniture, 'good puppy!'.

Remember, behaviour that receives reinforcement is going to be repeated. So keep rewarding and praising for all the good things your dog does and they will be sure to choose that option more.

So go on, tell 'em what you want, what you really, really want...