Environment for Learning

Environment for LearningWelcome to the latest newsletter from Dog Training Naturally!

With the launch of the new website, there have been a couple of technical hitches for which I apologise.  If you signed up to receive these newsletters by email then I am afraid they got lost in space so please, please make sure you sign up again and I am assured that all will work efficiently now!

The Shooting Gazette April 2014 issue published my article How to Think Like a Dog (not my title I hasten to add!) which invites readers to address dog training problems by revisiting and re-building foundation training as opposed to using positive punishment and negative reinforcement.  If you missed the article, pop over to the Dog Training Naturally facebook page where I have posted a copy.

Environment for Learning

Whether you are training your dog to be a well-behaved companion, a working gundog or you are training to overcome behavioural issues, it is crucial that there is a healthy learning environment at home as well as in a class situation.  I am sure you have seen the classic picture of the very well behaved dog in the village hall, only to be seen carting its handler all the way to the car!

Visualise how you would like to see your dog in the long term, for example, chilled out on his bed when you are out, offering an enthusiastic yet polite greeting upon your return, walking beside you on a loose lead, coming when called and happy and friendly to all he meets – even the most modest ambitions you may have for your dog require training.  you may also want a dog that plays your games, enjoys various sports and activities or works as an assistance dog.

House rules and preparation of your training sessions contribute to a healthy learning environment for you and your puppy.  Notice that these house rules are really for the humans in the household (!) and need to be established from the moment you get your dog.  He does not understand right from wrong, he will only understand whether an action or behaviour produces good results or bad results.  In training terms, positive does not mean permissive so we need to implement boundaries in order to avoid anarchy!

Ensure that all members of the household agree to stick with house rules whilst your puppy (or new older dog) is learning.  Here are some of my house rules:-

*Use stairgates and ensure people close doors behind them.

*Dogs not encouraged onto furniture or beds (maybe later when trained).

*Be tidy – if you leave items lying around expect them to be lost, stolen, chewed or trashed!

*When housetraining make sure that puppy is taken outside whenever he has just woken, eaten, come out of crate, had a game, some training or exercise.

*Doorways – puppy should sit before being called through a doorway, out of crate, etc

*Food – puppy should sit politely for meals

*Always supervise puppy in the garden.

*Always supervise puppy in the home when he is not in his crate/pen.

*Greeting behaviour – four (feet) on the floor = reward and attention.

*Re-direct chewing/mouthing behaviour to alternative toy.

*Do not wind the puppy up – they need plenty of rest and a calm environment so if there is a lot going on then put him in his crate for a rest.

Environment for Learning NB: Do not shout, push, slap the puppy or do anything unkind.  I know this states the obvious but remember their sharp teeth do have a habit of making us squeak quite loudly and sometimes we have an inclination to shout ‘off’ or ‘down’ when he jumps up at us.  None of this will teach him desirable behaviour so we must exercise our own self-control at these times.

When you want to teach something to your dog, make a plan:-

  1. What do you want to teach?  Be specific and break down exercises into the smallest possible parts.  Bear in mind how long you plan to work for (I suggest only a few minutes for each exercise) and how many exercises (say three maximum).  Keep your sessions short but frequent.
  2. Make sure you have all the equipment you need as well as plenty of treats, toys and your clicker if you use one.
  3. Location.  Learning cannot take place if your puppy is distracted, over-stimulated or frightened so pay close attention to your training environment.  Unless you are at the stage of working with increasing distractions, make sure that you are in a distraction-free environment.  This includes noise, smells, weather, people, traffic, other animals.

And finally after your training session make a note of what you did and how it went so that your next session can be a planned progression.

If you have not worked like this before it can seem quite stilted at first but you will be surprised how quickly you automatically plan your training sessions and gather what you need – as you train yourself your behaviour will become instinctive!  The best trainers automatically plan out their sessions in their minds and know exactly what they want to address and how to get there in each session – it won’t be long until you are working this way too!


Sarah Whitehead is an extremely well known trainer and behaviourist as well as author, speaker and trainer of trainers!  She recently launched a short on-line course on the subject of pre-emptive aggression.

Don’t be put off by the title, this is not just a course for those who have reactive/aggressive/fearful dogs – it is training for all because it shows in detail how a dog’s body language and signals can give us so much information on how they are feeling (from the obvious to the most subtle).  Why do I think this is important?  Because we will come across people with dogs giving out this information.  We might need to make our dog feel safe or we might want to help the other handler by giving their dog more space or less eye contact or calling our dog back at the right time.

Sarah has very kindly given me permission to give you the link to the pre-emptive aggression preview.  It is free and I hope you take the opportunity to watch it.  If you find it helpful, I can highly recommend that you sign up for the course which will give you great insight and tuition on reading body language and micro-signals.

Here’s the link to “Signs of Pre-Emptive Aggression” 

I hope you enjoy it – I certainly did!  Happy training!  Jules

Jules Morgan

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