Rules for Training

Some rules for training from ‘The Clicked Retrieve’ by Lana Mitchell

  1. Keep training sessions short and frequent
  2. Only introduce a cue after the behaviour exists.
  3. Allow your dog to learn on his own by experiencing which behaviours get rewarded and which are not.
  4. Start by rewarding for accuracy then raise criteria in small increments by adding the 3 D’s – distance duration and distraction
  5. Remain quiet when training to let the dog concentrate
  6. Remain calm – don’t get frustrated and lower criteria if training isn’t progressing.
  7. When your dog gets it – move ahead.
  8. End on a good note
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The “4 I’s” Framework: Core Motives

What motivates our dogs?  Four core motives have been identified that guide decision making in social dilemmas (Fiske, 2009).  These have been applied in environmental conservation but can equally apply to understanding motivations in dogs.

INFORMATION (Understanding)

Dogs (as do humans) have ‘a fundamental need to understand their environment to predict what will happen in case of uncertainties’ (Van Vugt, 2009).  Understanding their environment and the actions of humans around them is important for dogs.  Predictability and the availability of coping strategies when things are unpredictable, is important to reduce anxiety about what will happen next.

IDENTITY (Belonging)

Dogs are a social species and the native habitat of the domestic dog is alongside and with humans.  Dogs form strong bonds and even attachment relationships with humans and with oher dogs and species with whom they live.  In that sense, dogs identify with their family group, it gives them a sense of belonging, which affects their behaviour towards those within, and outside, the group.


Dogs need human guides and leaders that they can trust to look after their best interests. We owe it to them to be fair, respectful and clear.  Any rules imposed must reflect the dog’s interest as well as our own and others.  Trust must be given freely, it cannot be demanded.

INCENTIVES (Self-enhancing)

We all want to seek rewards and avoid punishment.  Incentives can work to motivate dogs with the following considerations.

  1. Take individual differences into account: dogs are different and what one dog considers an incentive, the next might not.
  2.  An incentive that fulfils other core motives simultaneously is most likely to be successful.  So a reward that enhances feelings of trust, belonging and understanding will work better than an isolated ‘appetitive stimulus’.
  3. Incentives may not work if the undermine other core needs.  So an incentive that undermines trust or does not increase understanding, may not motivate.


Background:Van Vugt (2009) applied the “4 I’s” framework in identifying the four key components of successful strategies for environmental resource management.  The four components: Information, Identity, Institution and Incentives correspond to four core motives for decision making in social dilemmas.  They can also be applied as a framework to understand what motivates our dogs.


Fiske, S. T. (2009). Social beings: Core motives in social psychology. John Wiley & Sons.

Van Vugt, M. (2009). Averting the tragedy of the commons: Using social psychological science to protect the environment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(3), 169-173.

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Aggression in Dogs

There are many different promoted ‘methods’ or ‘recipes’ for treating aggression in dogs.  All sound techniques are grounded in the scientific principles of learning theory (classical conditioning and operant conditioning) and will take into account physical, physiological and ethological principles as well as reflect the ethical stance and moral viewpoint of the trainer/behaviourist.

Aggression can be defined as ‘intent to do harm’ but that is not what we normally see – in fact signals that appear aggressive are intended to repel the perceived threat and reduce the need to do harm.

The 4 primary ways of dealing with aggression are through consequences, association, access and brain chemistry.

Operant conditioning changes the consequences of showing behaviour.

Calm looking, move away, recall, stay in one place while something passes are all examples of alternative behaviours that can be trained.

Classical counterconditioning alters the association with the object, person or situation that now provokes aggression.  The dog learns to associate good feelings with the presence of the thing , without unwanted interactions with it.

Observation, timing (of reinforcement and feedback), sequence of execution and managing the animal at the right level of arousal are all important.

Management to prevent or limit access to the aggression-provoking thing is an essential part of most behaviour plans to treat aggression

And medication or dietary change can sometimes be used to alter brain chemistry and help animals learn and be calmer.


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The process of behaviour change

Behaviour change is not a single event but a process.  Perhaps it can be thought of as a series of observable events but underneath it is continuous and constant – even in between and after we have stopped deliberate and targetted behaviour modification.

Sometimes just one or two small changes in the way you interact with your dog or in their daily routine or lifestyle will change your dog’s behaviour considerably.

For other more complex or long-standing behaviour problems – or where there are multiple issues with your dog’s behaviour that are causing problems for you , your dog or others that your dog comes into contact with – then you will need to commit yourself to the process of behaviour change with your dog.

Because after all, changing our dog’s behaviour starts with changing our own behaviour.

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Leading through communication

“When a leader understands the power of communication, each interaction can become intentional and always respectful regardless of the reason. Respectful communication is achieved by maintaining a ‘heart at peace’ and seeing the other as a person.”

(Source unknown: from Choice Dynamic International management course notes)

Every interaction is an opportunity to lead and influence.

Trust and mutual respect can be shown through thoughtful communication.

These are what builds relationships.

Recognise, appreciate and reinforce what matters.

Build confidence and stimulate new ideas.

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Top 10 tips for new rescue dogs (Finding Furever Homes)

Finding Furever Home’s Advice for settling a new rescue dog into your home.  These tips were published in an article in the Staffordshire News originally (with permission to share):

1. Initially, restrict access to just certain areas of the house – a big open space after a kennel existence can be daunting and offer opportunities for things to go wrong.

2. Sofas, beds and furniture is for another day – for now we are establishing boundaries and a few basic rules and that means giving the dog its own comfy space – bed, crate, quilt – something on the floor and where it can be in peace and quiet and learn that it is your house and allow it to fit into your rules.

3. Keep children away from the dog for periods of time and do not let children smother the dog – it deserves time, space and respect from all family members especially the youngest ones.

4. Make walks quiet, calm and on the lead – don’t let your dog run off the lead until you have built a bond and trained and tested recall in an enclosed space.

5. Keep the same routine the rescue had as much as possible with times for meals and food etc. – gradually alter the times slowly to fit with your own routine

6. Keep meal times quiet, calm and allow the dog to eat in peace at its own pace with no hassle or hindrance. Stick to the food it had at rescue and do not be tempted to feed it too many rich treats. Any change in diet should be introduced slowly.

7. Be clear on the rules you intend to enforce – don’t “feel sorry for the rescue dog” and allow it all sorts of liberties that you will not allow it later. Be consistent.

8. Start to leave the dog home alone for short periods and gradually build up the time it is left alone.

9. Take your time. Do not ask too much of the dog. It does not know you, your expectations, your family or even why it has left the routine and security of kennels.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask the rescue for help and support if you need and don’t just ignore the perceived problem and then decide to give up.

Read more:

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Safety Signals in training


Dogs need us to provide them with safety.  Safety as a need and reinforcer for behaviour, and our role in providing it, is vastly under-considered in dog training and what we demand of our dogs throughout their lives.

Dogs need safety:

  • in place
  • in rituals (including interactions)
  • in people

They need us to provide emotional leadership and guidance on how to respond to the environment.

Safety signals

Safety signals are things that tell an animal they are safe.

Examples of things that are safety signals for humans are:

  • Home
  • Teddy Bear
  • “Comfort blanket” (or the equivalent for us adults, our favourite big sloppy jumper)
  • Your Mum. (whatever age you are!)

Examples of things that are safety signals for dogs:

  • Doggy den (crate or bed – or they may choose the sofa as the place where they feel safe!)
  • Blanket or something that smells of home or their owner
  • Home/the car – familiar places where they spend a lot of time with you
  • Their owners

Safety signals need not just be concrete objects or people.  They can also be actions, rituals or routines, that help one feel safe.  Like shaking hands, or offering someone a cup of tea.

For dogs, asking them to perform an action that they have been taught using reward-based methods, are confident and comfortable in doing, and enjoy doing, such as a Sit, can be a safety signal.  Your regular morning or night-time routine with them can be a safety signal.

If the dog doesn’t feel comfortable in the routine, if there are conflicting demands on him, if he feels unsafe or uncertain whether there will be a predictable outcome, it won’t be a safety signal.

Dogs owners and the interactions they have with them can provide signals of safety that help in training.

There is a Welsh word ‘cwtch’ that has no literal translation in English but can be broadly translated as 1) a cupboard or cubby-hole or 2) a hug or cuddle.

The Urban Dictionary describes it is ‘the Welsh word for an affectionate hug. There’s no literal English translation, but its nearest equivalent is “safe place”. So if you give someone a cwtch, you’re giving them a “safe place”.’

Other descriptions given include

‘ Snuggling and cuddling and loving and protecting and safeguarding and claiming, all rolled into one.’


‘A cwtch creates a private safe place in a room or in two peoples hearts.’

How apt!

Be the cwtch for your dog


To read further about the use of safety signals in animal training:

McGreevy, P. D., Henshall, C., Starling, M. J., McLean, A. N., & Boakes, R. A. (2014). The importance of safety signals in animal handling and training.Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9(6), 382-387.

Payne, E., Boot, M., Starling, M., Henshall, C., McLean, A., Bennett, P., & McGreevy, P. (2015). Evidence of horsemanship and dogmanship and their application in veterinary contexts. The Veterinary Journal, 204(3), 247-254.



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