Learning Blog

learner (2)

The boys and I have been on a pretty steep learning curve over the past few years as I have striven to address our many problems, both mine as their ‘guardian’ and them as a pair of strays with a tonne load of baggage.

In seeking to find ways to resolve all our issues I have become interested in training and behaviour to a point at which I have decided to set myself the goal of becoming a KCAI.  This blog is about some of my experiences and my sources of help; not about telling others how to do it.  I hope that by sharing others may find some help but every dog is different and you will have to weigh up and evaluate my sources in the light of your own circumstances.

For anyone coming to this blog without knowing me I am starting on the road to becoming a KCAI having retired from a previous career so my focus is more on the journey than the end.  I want to learn all I can and deepen my understanding of dogs and how to share this with those who have responsibility for their well-being.  I hope that in time the qualification will follow it is not my raison d’être.

Please note – I am not an expert.  In posting this blog I seek to give people with problems hope that they too can find a solution to their difficulties but, with the exception of the mildest problems I would certainly advise seeking professional help.


15th April 2013   (draft)

Barking – an experience of changing a behaviour using force-free methods

Some months ago Arnie started barking excitedly when I got up in the morning; while I am not in favour of stopping every display of excitement this was loud, prolonged and likely to disturb the neighbours.  He would start while I was getting dressed, which often sparked George off, and this would continue until I freed them from their sleeping area. The issue had to be addressed.

Learning theory says that if a dog (or one of us for that matter) finds any action is reinforced (rewarded) it is more likely to be repeated.  An action that is not reinforced is less likely to be repeated. 

In view of the theory I looked at Arnie’s behaviour and what might or might not be reinforcing.  I decided that he was asking for attention, so that could be used to provide or deny an element of reward.  Petting/praise/release would provide the ultimate reinforcement along with food rewards (food always being a top reward for A).  I was also aware that barking is, for many dogs, its own reward and that the ultimate success might depend on the comparative value that Arnie placed on barking compared with the rewards I could offer.  I was  confident however that the later would eventually prove to be the more reinforcing.

For weeks, as I went down the stairs (he could see me the whole way from the bedroom to the gate that kept them in at night) if he barked I turned away (withdrew attention) and stood still until there was a break in the barking.  At that instant I would resume my progress down stairs, often only achieving one stair at a time.

This continued for a number of weeks and at times I did feel despairing but stuck with my faith that learning theory would eventually win the day. 

Suddenly, out of the blue, having until that point only had small and somewhat erratic improvements, he let me get downstairs without a peep.  As soon as I reached the gate, I gave a load of treats (they had been left handy in preparation) and praised and petted him. 

I was thrilled with what I saw a breakthrough but was firmly returned to earth the next morning when all was back to square one.  It was probably about two weeks before we had another silent day but from that time on they came with increasing frequency until, within another few weeks, he was quiet more often than not. 

Now he just stays in bed until I get downstairs and there is rarely a peep out of him.

Review of the training processes used

I should just like to remind people that I am not an expert but this is my understanding of that was going on:

The attention, praise, petting and food are all positive rewards, which represent my preferred method of training

Taking my attention away, ie ensuring Arnie was not getting rewarded for a bad behaviour is, I think, classified as negative punishment, i.e. I have taken something away that he wanted.  While I would always rather teach an alternative, incompatable behaviour, sometimes it is necessary to use a process such as turning away to ensure that reinforcement of an unwanted behaviour does not occur.  For dogs almost any attention may be reinforcing.  (I was interested that a friend who has been learning about child-care said that young children are also unable to differentiate properly between good and bad attention) Punishment will not necessarily change a behaviour but it may very well break down the trust between dog and owner.  A high price to pay for something that may not work when the use of rewards and teaching alternative behaviours will both resolve problems and enhance the relationship between dog and owner 

My final comment is that behavioural change can take time to achieve.  Consistency and patience are key to change.  If however you have safety concerns or behaviour deteriorates while you are training please consult a professional.  (ABPC, CAPBT)

 The video below looks at the use of positive training and teaching alternative behaviours


The effect of chastisement/punishment

Barking, the Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas may also  be helpful to anyone reading this blog who is having problems with a barking dog


Have finishes both the Ahimsa Training Manual and the BAT book – would strongly recommend both.  I found the BAT book  particularly interesting in as much as it covered a wider range of issues than I had anticipated.  I think that along with the BAT website it has greatly underpinned my understanding of how to make Bat work (though whether I can do it is another matter)

Talking about cognitive dissonance (?) on the Human Zoo today – one of the issues touched on by GS in considering why people find changing their views difficult (not explained well better in the book)

February 2013

Have got a copy of the Ahimsa training manual and BAT book – lots of reading to do


December 2012

So much for maintaining a learning blog!

Have found brilliant new behaviourist for George

Worked hard all day

Prepared range of treats of different values – kibble, cheese, cold roast meat, fish (hot smoked salmon flakes top fav)

Jo great – positioned herself so George had access to all the exits without having to go too close to her – didn’t understand this at the time

Jo explained about stress and alerting and increasing levels of reactivity (refers to books I have read and suggests more inc Coppingers)

I explain what I have done and that it was after reading Click to Calm (Emma Parsons) that I realized G could be better calmer and happier with more work and Jo agreed

We worked outside with ‘dummy dog’ so she could assess George and show me what to do (she calls it dirty BAT) and we work on BAT with George and her pit bull/mastiff cross.  With BAT he is able to work up to walking past him.  Then George is the one to stay still while Stnley approaches.  He can do that too with ‘Look at That’ and S gets within a few feet.

Need to keep doing set ups at alone now

October 2012


Reinforcement – a  behaviour that is reinforced is more likely to be repeated while a behaviour that is not reinforced is less likely to be repeated


1st January 2012

Today we had visitors and the dogs had had Christmas presents – walking-stick shaped chews with coloured strips wrapped round them.

Perhaps because it was easier to eat or more highly flavoured Arnie had already chewed the bright strip off his, while George’s had remained barely nibbled.  What ever the reason Arnie while sitting on the settee with George and on of the visitors noticed George’s chew was still complete so he went to his bed, got his own chew leaped onto the settee and dangled it in front of George’s nose until he showed interest then he dropped it.   As George picked it up he (Arnie) grabbed the whole one, jumped back into his bed and proceeded to gnaw the coloured strip off it.

Arnie is over all the dominant dog – in as much as he always chooses which bed/crate he wants at night and while George will approach Arnie’s day bed he will never get up in it – he just invites Arnie ot come and play or run in the garden, albeit in his bossy, noisy terrier way.  Likewise on the rare occasions Arnie is nearer me on the settee George will not push in.  What he often does though is run to the window and bark so that Arnie goes to investigate.  George will then take advantage and jump up to take Arnie’s place by me.  Arnie doesn’t argue – he will either lie by my feet until a better opportunity presents itself or goes to his daybed.

From this it can be seen that among themselves dogs will use ‘exchanging’ and ‘distraction’ to get what they want while avoiding confrontation.







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