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.

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 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!

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