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Remember to breathe

21/10/2022 - Training Tips and Principles

Top tips for training with your dog.

If I had a penny for the times I have said to a client to breathe!

It is amazing how, when put under even just a little bit of stress when out with our dog how our behaviour changes. The key is to PLAN.

I was out yesterday with a lovely client and her dog Ben, and I wrote up some notes to help her plan her sessions which I thought were a very useful summary and I have added to here. Ben reacts around other dogs. In other words, dog pop out in the environment to him and he might bark or pull towards. He is not fearful, just excited. He has no issues with cats, horses, sheep or any other livestock, and his owner has become cautious of taking him out locally because of the reaction his barking gets.

This list could be just as applicable for a bouncy teenager or a new rescue who has not had much exposure to the outside world.

This is not a definitive list or a training plan, it is just a list of tips to help you think about your training sessions. I would always recommend that you work with a qualified professional who understands and explains the correct tactics for you and your dog.

Here are my top tips for planning an effective training session:

  • Keep it short and sweet. This is not a walk, this is a short training session and the likelihood is that you and your dog will not be able to concentrate for very long. Also, it is HARD WORK, so don't push yourself too hard too soon.
  • Set up for success and where you can relax. Choose a place to visit that you know will not over stress you or your dog. For example, if going out locally you may feel you will be judged by neighbours, get in the car and drive somewhere where you can relax.
  • Risk Assess. This could be about where you park, understanding the exit routes, making sure there are clear sight lines, and so on. Prepare for as many eventualities and then you will be able to act smoothly and confidently.
  • Practice first. Have a little go at any foundation exercises in a safe space with no triggers so that you get you skills in place.
  • Don't go too far. You don't want to be 15 minutes away from the car or house, you have done brilliantly, but then you need to get the 15 minutes back and you are tired and your dog is spent. I tend to remain in sight of the car, and know at any time I can go back, pop him in, and have a rest.
  • Reinforce what you want. This is about being proactive. It depends what you are working on as to what you are going to reinforce, but it goes a bit like this. He looks at a dog, 'well done', piece of sausage. He looks away from a car passing, 'well done', piece of sausage. He sniffs, well done, probably leave him to it. He looks at you as if asking for help, maybe a “this way” as he may be asking for some space.
  • If in doubt, create more distance. You see a dog approaching, you are not sure how he is going to react, then get yourself to a space where you can be more sure that he and you are comfortable.
  • Choose carefully. Go places where you are not going to have too many surprises. For example if you are working on behaviours around other dogs, dogs on leads ideally, or more likely to be on leads or concentrating on their owners. Car parks and their outskirts can be good as dogs tend to get out on lead, keen to get going, then get let off lead once in a safe area.
  • Think progress rather than perfection. You are looking for a good ratio of good sessions. Maximum five out of seven days practicing, once a day is enough. If you only manage two sessions a week, that's fine.
  • Be aware of your own behaviour. You will know what happens if you get tense. You may forget to breath. You may either become rigid or start fidgeting around. You may tighten the lead. Relax and breathe, and if you can’t, you may be in the wrong place.
  • Keep a loose lead. A loose lead does not have to be a long lead. It can be short and loose, or long and loose. Keep the connection with your dog, but unless you need to remove him, ensure that you are not trying to control him with the lead.

And most of all have fun 😊