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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Noisy Neighbours

Having spoken to a contact from the council's office, it was clear that we certainly aren't alone in our troubles!
This one particular council receives literally hundreds of similar complaints every year. The issue is described as a 'Statutory Nuisance' under the Environmental Protection Act. Although it is a criminal matter, the problems are enforced by Councils rather than the Police.
There are lots and lots of reasons for dogs barking, with the major one being that the owners are just not aware of them barking. Many owners are out & don't hear the noise. However, there are also a large proportion of cases where the owner just does not care!
As he says, in the first instance the Council usually asks the complainant to speak to & try to reason with the neighbour. Usually when a formal complaint goes in, 'the gloves come off' and generally the matter gets worse.
So there lies our problem . . how do you approach the subject with a neighbour whom you have a friendly & neighbourly relationship with?

The 'prior to formal complaint grey area'

Based on the comments we had on Twitter and the conversations I've had with the council, I know that there's quite a few people in my situation, racking their brains on what to do next!
However, the local council can only really get involved when a 'formal complaint' is made. So there's this real 'grey area' between where, although the barking is annoying,you can just about tolerate it but ideally would much prefer the owners to act responsibly with their dog and; making a formal complaint.

I just wanted something to give the owners a gentle & clear 'hint' that the barking is becoming a little unacceptable and for them to think about seeking some help, advice or training to help them stop the dog from barking. In my case, I'd even help them personally with the issue if they asked me!
So I Googled information on the issue to see if there were any leaflets etc I could obtain to pop 'annonymously' through their door. However, it took me an absolute age to sift through various sites in a bid to find something useful. I managed to get a couple of leaflets which will 'polietly' highlight the issue & by posting them through the letterbox it lets the owners know that people are a little unhappy about the dog barking.
Hopefully this gives them enough of a 'wake up call' to act responsibly with their dog's issue.

Formal Complaint 

If you've tried resolving the problem amicably then you're left with no other option than to report the issue to your local Environmental Health Office at your local council.
I really feel for the team that deal with this type of social issue. It really is a thankless task on both fronts. They get it in the neck from the complainant and also in the neck from the person being complained about! Double barrelled!!
The Council's always have to remain transparent, so although it is kept anonymous, they always write out to both parties.
For the Council to be able to take action, they have to witness the nuisance. This involves the team having to sit in your home or nearby and listen & very often with the cases they deal with this would be at night. A thankless task indeed!
If the council witnesses the 'persistent public nuisance' they serve a Statutory Abatement Notice. This requires the owner to abate the nuisance and ensure they act to quieten the dog.
If the problem persists, the Environmental Health team once again have to gather & witness these incidents, before they are then able to go to Magistrates Court with 'several witnessed breaches of the Notice.' So there's more 'listening' needed by the Council.

Once they issue the Notice the owners would be summoned to court.
However, once the case goes to court, often the owner doesn't turn up or simply goes, pays the fine & the process starts all over again!!
That said, they do have good results and in many cases the process works.

Problems for the Council

In defence of the Councils, their work is extremely difficult in matters such as these. I asked about whether they could install noise monitors or other recording devices to 'witness' the noise issue. However, in many cases where these have been installed, the complainants are prone to falsify the recordings by making noise of their own!
Very often complaints are also made in spite, so very often the complaint is made just to get an official involved. There's a real catch 22 situation occurring.
Before Councils can act they have to be 110% sure of what is going on before they can take hard action to punish persistent noise.

What is Statutory Nuisance

If you are in this situation, first off, you have my sympathy. I'm a dog lover, but owners do need to be responsible and aware of their responsibilities as dog owners. As I say it all boils down to this term . . .responsible owners.

So in defence of dogs & owners, and before anyone starts going out posting things through people's door or contacting councils to complain, lets just understand what is classed as a Statutory Nuisance, in my eyes.

As I said, just because a dog barks now & again throughout the day I wouldn't personally say it's a nuisance. My dogs will bark a handful of times, like when the postman comes, or the bins are emptied, a delivery comes etc.

What we're talking about when we say Statutory Nuisance is persistent barking for prolonged periods of time.

In legal terms, the barking would have to be "excessive & unreasonable whilst interfering significantly with how someone uses & enjoys their home"

Where to go for help

We ended up printing off this leaflet from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and then posted the leaflet through the door.

In fact, if you Google 'Statutory Nuisance - Dog Barking' and then your local council - many of them also have a leaflet too. East Northamptonshire Council have some great information & leaflets available on their website.

Making a Complaint Leaflet
Does Your Dog Bark Too Much

So I would suggest that a good approach would be to get the DEFRA leaflet along with your local council leaflet (if they have them) - if they don't you could always use these above - and pop them both through the neighbour's door.

Hopefully this should be enough for the dog owner to start to make improvements in the dog's behaviour. Remember to stay patient, if there's a dog barking problem it's not going to be an over night fix.

But if the problem persists for a prolonged period and there's no imporvement it's the time to make your complaint official. But again, unfortauntely, it's a long and slow process - there's no quick fix!

Noisy Neighbours - Preface

There is a big problem with noisy neighbours - especially where there's a dog involved. We posted something on Twitter a month or so ago about a dog which barks often by us, and the Tweets we got about people having the same problem were quite remarkable.

You may be wondering why, as a dog person, I moan about dogs barking? However, the barking I'm talking about, is the consistent & unsociable barking from a dog.

Dog owners also need to consider people who aren't 'dog people'. Although dogs are extrememly popular with dog ownership increasing, there are people out there who don't like dogs and people who certainly don't like dogs barking all of the time.

Having experienced it myself, we looked around for advice/help of what to do in this situation, and to be quite honest we struggled.

Now, let me make one thing absolutely clear. I'm not against dogs barking!! In fact, I actively train my dogs - even Taylor - to bark in certain situations.

For example, if someone comes towards my house, I want my dogs to bark. If the dogs are in the house, I want them to bark right in the front window. If they are outside, I want them barking at the outside door. They are defending their family against intruders, and I expect them to bark until the 'threat' has gone. Whether this by me telling them it's OK & everything is safe, or if I am out, they should stop barking when the person moves away from our house.

The noisy dog neighbour issue, once again, comes down to irresponsible owners. It's not the dog's fault - it's the owners!

My Story

I probably find myself in a situation many, many people may find themselves in - especially judging from the responses & Tweets we received.

We have a dog by us which barks. . . . a LOT!! It can sometimes bark for half an hour non stop. I've known it bark for an hour previously! It can sometimes start as early as 6am. Like I say, I don't mind dogs barking, but for an owner to allow a dog to do this is unacceptable. To make matters worse, the owner is sometimes in whilst the dog is in the garden barking!

PetSafe Logo

The problem we have, is that we get on really well with the neighbours. I know them really well & they drink in the same pub as me. So it's a pretty difficult thing to bring up! In fact, I actually think it's more difficult when you get on with your neighbours. If it was someone I didn't like or didn't get on with, I'd have absolutely no hesitation in going round, knocking on the door & telling them exactly what I think.

However, in this situation I don't want to offend them. We've made a few remarks and the barking has been mentioned, however the continuous barking still occurs. Albeit it has got slightly better over the past few weeks. At one point though, I nearly did march round to tell them to shut the dog up.

Not only is continuous barking rather annoying, it also affects sleeping. Shift work is becoming more & more common, not only in the emergency/health services but a lot of private companies are now starting to operate in a 24/7 manner. So during the day when people try to sleep, dogs barking is also disrupting sleep.

Let me make this clear - my dogs are not silent. As I say, I encourage them to bark in certain scenarios, so sometimes during the course of a day you'll hear our dogs bark a handful of times. The difference however, is that it is a short couple of barks, not a sustained period of constant barking.

At this point, I don't want to go down a 'formal complaint' route. Like I say, I don't want to fall out with my neighbours, nor do I want to cause them all the stress and hassle of having people breathing down their neck about their dog barking.

I haven't got a problem with the dog barking, but I do have an issue when it barks constantly non stop for no reason other than it's making a noise.

So I wanted something to help 'encourage' the owners to think about their dog barking. I wanted to be able to drop something through their door or for my local council to drop a 'polite' letter to them with some information on dogs barking.

So, just what can be done if you find yourself in this scenario?

I got in touch with a member of our local council's Environmental Health Office, to try and put together some help! Click the link below . . .


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Clicker Training - The Basics

So as I mentioned previously, this will give a very quick & basic introduction to Clicker training. I'll try and keep away from any technical, doggy jargon and keep it simple.
There are many 'technical' words & phrases used in Clicker Training - Classical Conditioning, Operant Conditioning, Pairing, Primary Reinforcer, Secondary Reinforcer . . . .bored yet?!
I always work along the K.I.S.S method with anything I do - Keep, It, Simple, Stupid.
So I'll try not to use any jargon and stick to good old fashioned, understandable, plain (Black Country) English!
As I said previously, if you want more information on Clicker Training - take a look at the material Karen Pryor has produced. This really is a top resource for clicker training.

Why A Clicker

The reason a clicker is used is because it gives a continuous sound with no variation to the sound.

There is no change in the tone, pitch or excitement in the click. Clicking is also a lot quicker than saying Good Dog and can also be used in a split second. So the very moment the dog performs the correct behaviour - you can click instantly. 
With relying soley on your voice, there are so many variations that come into the voice. If you're having a bad day your tone will sound differently, if you've just got out of bed your voice sounds differently etc etc - all of which a dog can pick up on.

Step 1 - Click & Reward

So as the title might suggest, the very first thing you need to do is to get your dog to understand that whenever you CLICK, he's done well & will get a treat.

Only ever click once, never multiple clicks. Just one single click.
With all of our pups I always use food rewards initially - especially whilst they are puppies. Initially, although they like their ball, I won't use it as a reward until they absolutely LOVE their ball. As they get older, I'll still use food rewards for training certain exercises too.
Hot dog sausages are fantastic food rewards for dogs! Cheap, easy to manage, tasty & quick for the dogs to eat.
So initially, every time I click the dog will get a treat. Slowly the dog will soon learn & understand that every time I click he gets a reward. Click & reward!
They key is to be close to your dog, click & then instantly give him the treat. Just walk around the house, dog following, then click & reward.
Don't rush this phase, you cannot do this enough times!! Click & reward. Click & reward.
During this stage, don't ask you dog to perform anything. All you are doing is teaching the dog a very simple rule . . yep you guessed it . . . click & reward.

Every time you click, he's getting a hot dog sausage!

Step 2 - Teaching the Action

Sorry I know this a tiny hint of jargon, but I must mention this! You'll read a lot of stuff about 'capturing', 'luring' & 'cuing' behaviour. I don't really work with the 'capturing' behaviour stage. Whenever I move onto Step 2, I always lure the dog into the behaviour I want him to do.
The 'capturing behaviour' bit is when you simply wait for the dog to perform an action of his own accord. When he does it, you click & reward.
The other thing I do at step 2 is 'cue' the dog. When you cue the dog it means you are giving him a command, for example telling the dog to sit is a cue.
If you read the manuals etc, it will say that you should really have a 'capturing' stage, a 'luring' stage and then a 'cuing' stage.
At step 2 I tend to roll 'luring & cuing' into one. Again, not the text book "correct way"  - but this is the way I do it with my pups.
The reason I do this is because I want the dog to only perform the action when I tell it too. I don't want the dog thinking that if he goes & sits down of his own accord he should get a treat. In addition, there are only so many actions a dog will perform of his own accord. Your dog doesn't just randomly come up to you one day & do 'shake a paw'! 
Once the dog understands the Click & Reward bit, you can move onto actually teaching your dog actions & behaviour. So Step 2....
The very first time you do this the dog hasn't got a clue what you are telling it. He doesn't understand a word of what you're saying. It's like telling a new born baby to smile & say cheese for his first ever photo - he hasn't got a scooby do what you are telling him! (Not very Black Country English I know!)

The dog only learns what sit means by association. The dog doesn't understand the meaning & definition of the word sit. His mind works; dad says this weird word "sit", my bum hits the floor & I get a treat. Simples.
You can now start luring & cuing the dog into performing the required behaviour, and as soon as he demonstrates the behaviour you want, you instantly click & reward.
For example, this is how the lure & cue works when teaching the sit.
Place a treat in your hand & place it at the end of your dog's nose (don't let him eat it!!). Slowly lift the treat up & raise it towards the top & back of his head, whilst telling the dog to "Sit". As soon, as the dog's bottom hits the floor - Click & reward instantly. You'll be surprised how many dogs naturally go into a sit at this point!

Here you have 'lured' the dog into a sit with the food reward, 'cued' the dog by telling it to sit & then click & rewarded the dog because he performed the behaviour/action you wanted.
The principle is exactly the same for any behaviour or action you want the dog to perform.
They key to all training is repetition. Concentrate on one command at a time, with lots & lots of repetitions. But keep the sessions short otherwise your dog will get bored!

Eventually over time, the dog will soon learn that when you say sit, he knows his bum has got to hit the floor. You'll notice that his bum hits the floor when you say sit, without you needing to move food above his head.
So now you have used the clicker to effectively teach your dog commands. 

Step 3 - Testing & Reinforcing

Once your dog consistently delivers the behaviour you're looking for, you start to test the command. Using exactly the same principle - click & reward, you now test your dog.

This time there is no 'lure' involved whatsoever. Simply cue the dog by telling him the command and when he performs the action, click & reward instantly. I also give lots of fuss & praise at this point too. So that the dog really knows he's done well.

Ask the dog to perform a selection of different commands, all without a lure. Sit - click & reward. Lie - click & reward etc etc

If the dog performs the command great. If there's a command he struggles with go back to Step 2 & just reinforce the behaviour.

Keep testing the dog in a whole host of different environments. At home, in the park, in the street, at the vets - all using the same principle - as soon as he performs the behaviour click & reward. No matter where you go with your dog, take your clicker. Give him commands at random times, click & reward.

If there's an environment he doesn't do the command as well as expected, go back to Stage 2 but do it in the environment he struggled in. Recreate the scenario he struggled in.

You'll soon have a dog that does as he's asked, no matter where he is. His understanding is; when dad asks me to do something, I do it & get a nice reward.

You've successfully clicker trained your dog!!


As I said, this is a VERY brief overview & introduction to clicker training, but it gives you the real basics of how you actually use a clicker to teach your dog commands or tricks. The method is the same for any command or action you wish to teach.

Once you see the desired behaviour; you click & reward.

Some commands & complex 'tricks', require you to break down the stages of the behaviour. 

So for example if you wanted to teach your dog to shake a paw, you would break it all down into tiny blocks which each represent a part of the behaviour.

You'd initially click & reward the very moment the dog took his paw off the ground. Then once he does this, the next stage would be to only click once he moved his paw towards you etc etc.

The possibilities of clicker training are endless and the things you can get a dog (or any animal) to do by using this technique is phenomenal!

If you don't use a clicker with your dog, I'd highly recommend going out and getting one. I've just brought 3 clicker/whistles off eBay for around a fiver. They are truly invaluable!


Clicker Training - Preface

You'll notice that whenever I write any kind of training information on here, I'll always say that it's not the "right way" or "only way". Everything I Blog about has come from personal & first hand experience. I'll always talk about the ways I've done things and how I've managed to get our pups doing what I want.

There's ALWAYS ways you can improve in everything - especially dog training. I'll go and watch people train dogs, watch videos, speak to people - anything I can  do to try and learn something. I wouldn't say I'll always copy someone or something exactly, but even if I can take just 1 second of their training and implement it into my method, which then goes into  improving the dog, then it's been worthwhile. I've sat through full day seminars & taken just 5 minutes worth of material - but it's all worth it. I've been to seminars and completely disagreed with 99.99% of everything the person has said, but taken away the 0.01% which will improve me & my training. I've also talked to people & completely scrapped my training method & used theirs!

You can ALWAYS  improve & learn.

I don't think I've ever gone away from a seminar, talk, presentation or someone else's training session and thought "I can't use even 1 second of their method". I defy anyone to say that they've got the "best" or the "only" way of training a dog.

Every single dog is different, since 2005 we've been developing potential Police Dog puppies and not one of our puppies have been exactly the same. Each has had their own traits and I've had to constantly tweak, change & modify my methods to continue getting results. You can never rest on your laurels and say you've perfected dog training - I know I'm a long way off!

So when I write these Blogs, you too may have to tweak or modify things to motivate & suit your dog. What motivates Sear is completely different to what motivates Taylor - however the general principle of the training is pretty similar.

Clicker Training - Preface

Another reason why I'm not saying my way is the "right way" or "only way" is because if someone had seen me using a clicker when I first had Taylor, they could have said I wasn't using it "correctly".

When I had Taylor, I used the click as a recall sign rather than a signal to 'mark' the correct behaviour. Rather than calling him back to me & clicking when he came, I used the clicker so that when he heard it he came running back.

Now, some people would say that I used the clicker in the "wrong way" - however at the time, the clicker did exactly what I wanted it to. It was a tool for ensuring Taylor came back to me when I wanted him to.

Yes, I may not have used the clicker as the text books tell you to do so, but for me it did the job. I had a dog, not just any dog - a Beagle!!, with a perfect recall. What is "wrong" with that?

So please don't think that if you are using a clicker in a different way than my Blog, it's not "correct" - if your dog is doing what you want it to do, I'd say you're doing a great job!

A clicker trained Rabbit

Obviously over time I've started using the clicker to mark behaviour rather than instigate it, but for me, if you are using a tool to get a dog to do what you want it to do (within reason!!!) - there's absolutely nothing wrong in that.

I'll try and explain the basics of clicker training and how I use the clicker to teach the very young pups the basic commands & behaviour. As the pups get older I modify the use of the clicker for different exercises but for the sake of the Blog (& keeping it short & readable!!) I'll stick to the very initial basics.

The Blog should give you a plain, understandable way to use a clicker with your dog.

If anyone wants to read some in depth information & the technical bits around clicker training - I highly recommend Karen Pryor. Her material is really worth looking at - the stuff you can get dogs doing, simply by using a clicker is phenomenal!!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Time Flies

I realised today that our last Blog was from the 14th August - so apologies for the delay. I can't actually believe it's been that long since I sat & wrote the last one!

It makes you realise just how quickly time flies. It also brings it home just how quickly time has flown with Sear, it seems to fly past quicker & quicker with each pup we have.

So it's been a busy, eventful & time flying few weeks, so thought I'd give you all a 'catch up' . .


Sear sporting the Ancol Timberwolf Coat

Sear's now coming upto the 9 month old stage, so we're slowly starting to think & plan for his departure. It's a really strange stage when we get to this point, because as well as our efforts going into his development, we're also starting to look at getting him lined up with a potential handler, and then there's the added realisation that we'll soon be Searless.

I always try and put the feelers out about which handler is possibly looking for a dog. I try and get Sear around the Dog Training Centre as much as possible so that he 'gets noticed'. He was in the kennels over Puppy Sunday weekend and when I picked him we bumped into one of the Sergeants, who said "oh this is Sear, I've heard a lot about him". It's great when you hear stuff like that - knowing that people are obviously looking at him to get him out to work.

At the same time though, I never get complacent. Although I'm delighted with Sear and the way he works, anything could make him go backwards and any bad experience could affect him, so I never take my foot off the gas. My other driver is that I always want to make the pups better & better and do more & more. I'm a real bugger for pushing them too much sometimes and I have to reign myself in! I just get excited when I see him starting to do something well - sad, yes I know!!

I know there's a few handlers potentially looking at him, so that's really great & it's great to know that when the time comes for him to move on, he won't be left lingering in the kennels for weeks waiting for someone to see him. I've been lucky that all of our pups have been fixed up with a handler pretty much as soon as they left us.

Police Dog Mambo

We had some great news last week when I bumped into Mambo's handler - albeit he had just sliced his paw open & was on his way to the vets! He's had a few pretty good jobs and results, which is great to hear. You can never really call a dog a Police Dog until it's out there catching the bad guys, and Mambo's managed to get himself some nice doggy
prisoners already.

Police Dog Mambo

Next Blogs

The next few Blogs I'm looking to write are going to be about Clicker Training - a few people have asked both on Twitter and face to face about clicker training, so I'm finally going to get round to putting a bit of info about clicker training. on the Blog. As I always say, the Blog won't be the "right way" or "only way" to clicker train, but I'll tell you how I've clicker trained most of our pups.

I'm also working with a local council to put something together on noisey dogs. We have a real problem by us with a noisey dog, and when Sear posted something on Twitter the other week, we had lots of comments, questions and responses. So hopefully people will find it useful.

Thanks for reading folks!