Winners of 'Public Choice' Award

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Pilgrim Bandits

The Pilgrim Bandits

Many of you will know that our latest pup is named Bandit (you can follow him on Twitter too!).

He is named in honour of a fantastic charity - The Pilgrim Bandits. You will notice that every Bandit update Blog will carry the Pilgrim Bandit banner, as above.

Our last pup, Sear was named in honour of a retiring Chief Superintendant who was Commander of Operations & was in charge of the Dog Section when he retired.

It's a great honour for us having a pup who's been named in honour of someone or something. Although, it gives us a little extra pressure to make sure the pup makes it!! It will be great if Sear gets his license & then goes on to have a really successful career, as it will continue the legacy of Superintendant Sear for a few extra years.

We'll be hoping for the same with Bandit. It's not only a great honour to have Bandit, having been named after such a fantastic Charity, but it's also a fantastic way to get the Charity a little extra exposure. Police Dog jobs get some good press coverage, certainly locally, so having PD 'Pilgrim' Bandit in the news for a great job would be fantastic for everyone.

The Pilgrim Bandit's slogan is "Always a Little Further", & you can guarantee that we will also be going that little further to make sure PD 'Pilgrim' Bandit is up to the job ahead.

There's so many charities out there these days (in fact I'm working on putting something together myself in the not to distant future!), added to the fact we are continually bombarded for donations - it's hard to know who to support.
This week's Children In Need TV show raised a fantastic amount of money for Charity, which was so closely on the back of another Charity fundraising event for the Royal British Legion. Yet we are, as a whole nation, struggling day to day with a 'tough economic climate' - if I had a pound for every time David Cameron et al spouted this term I'd have raised more cash than Children In Need!!!!

The Government seem to hide behind this excuse 'tough economic climate' when making decisions on cost cutting etc, yet as a nation, the fine people of Great Britain continue to donate & raise fantastic amounts of money for Charity. We, as citizens, certainly don't hide behind the 'tough economic climate' excuse - we are at the forefront of giving & supporting our fellow citizens.

There's so many worthy causes out there to give to, & there are more and more Charities popping up, as things get tougher & tougher. You only have to look at the number of food banks popping up in the UK to realise things aren't getting any better for many people.

Sometimes, because of the number of charities & the constant requests for donations we sometimes switch off. But in doing so we can miss out on some worthwhile & fantastic Charities - non other than the Pilgrim Bandits!

We got involved in the Charity thanks to our Local Area Co-Ordinator Terry Arnett, who does a fantastic job of promoting the Charity & it's events. You can contact Terry via email.

Pilgrim Bandits

So just who are the Pilgrim Bandits & what do they do . . .

Local Area Co-Ordinator Terry Arnett with PD 'Pilgrim' Bandit

"The Pilgrim Bandits will never ask for your charity… but, we will ask for your support"

The Pilgrim Bandits were started by a group of Special Forces veterans back in 2007, with the goal of helping & inspiring wounded soldiers to live life to the full.

Very often people may forget, that it's not only the physical side to an injury, but it's also the mental side which sometimes places the obstacles in front of someone. The Pilgrim Bandits help to break down those mental barriers & give soldiers the chance to enjoy life to the full.

I've got a few friends who have been & who are in the Forces, & I know that to take away their ability to chase after a goal or challenge would absolutely destroy them. They go seeking thrills, challenges & go above & beyond what any 'normal everyday' person would do. One of my good friends is a Royal Marine, a real top lad, but . .  .we always joke he's a bit of a nutter!! Hey Stug?! But to take away that mental toughness, to stop them going out doing things above & beyond what a 'normal everyday' person would do, would completely destroy them. These people really do have something 'extra'.

It's not just about providing them with the medical care & attention they need to get back up to full fitness. Yes it plays a massive part, but the mental side, the things people enjoyed doing before their injuries is what makes a person.

"Our primary aim is to help those in need directly, with no compromise. Soon, those who needed help become those that give it.

How do we all do this? ...... The only way we know how ...... by pushing injured men and women into physically and mentally demanding situations that they would not have dreamed possible; climbing mountains, jumping from aircraft, running races, trekking across inhospitable terrain – and always a little further. 

We push those that have already endured too much to go beyond endurance – to embrace life again and in so doing inspire others."

It's wrong to single out one person connected to the Charity or one serviceman, however one person who epitomises this mantra, to me, is Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson. People talk about Hero's or Legend's a lot - to place footballers in the same 'hero' category as this man is bonkers!

Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson with PD 'Pilgrim' Bandit

Ben is a Patron of the Pilgrim Bandits, & if you don't know who he is, here's a little snapshot from the Pilgrim Bandits website.

Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson 7 (Para) RHA lost both legs in Afghanistan and was once dubbed the most seriously injured serviceman ever to survive the battlefield. His injuries were so appalling doctors said he would never walk or talk again, however they didn’t take into account the  determination of a 26 yr old Yorkshire man who has gone on to inspire others by his achievements including carrying the Olympic torch in his home town of Doncaster.

“I’m very proud to be Patron of the Pilgrim Bandits Charity.
They don’t do sympathy and when they say get up to the top of that hill you get up there as quickly as possible ” said Ben

To watch Ben carry that Olympic flame was sensational - what a true inspiration to everyone. If there's one role model our youngsters of today could follow, they wouldn't go far wrong with this man.

Ben Parkinson carrying the Olympic torch

As well as the 'everyday' fundraising events like dinners, attending events, stalls etc, the Pilgrims go 'a little further' in their fundraising efforts. They have the 'Pilgrim Challenges' which are also very often supported by the people who the charity has supported.

Injured servicemen & women also take part in the Pilgrim Challenges too.  Here's one of the Challenges that will be done next year.

I've seen first hand what these soldiers go through when they enter back into the UK. Sarah is an Intensive Care Trauma nurse, & worked at Selly Oak & now the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She's looked after & cared for a lot of the soldiers who came back into the UK.

I would very often go over to Selly Oak & meet her for lunch or a coffee when she was on her breaks. I can honestly say, I'd walk around the place with a tear in my eye. It's unbelieveable what these people go through. Not just them, but their families & everyone connected with them. Some of the things I saw at Selly Oak, were enough to reduce a grown man to tears. No one should have to go through what those families do.

There's no way in this world, a parent of a 30+ year old man should have to sit there feeding their son because he's lost his arms. It's honestly heartbreaking. It brings a tear to my eye, just thinking about it.

The effect these injuries have on people is enormous. So many people are affected by the aftermath of an injured serviceman or woman, not just those injured & their families - even the nurses, Dr's & support staff who help try to rebuild their lives are affected. It can't not affect you.

And for that very reason, I'm honoured to have PD 'Pilgrim' Bandit & to have some connection with the Pilgrim Bandits. We'll be doing as much as we can to help support the Charity & also to help raise some funds for this Charity. We'll be working with our local Area Co-ordinator Terry Arnett to get some support for the Charity.

"Always a Little Further"

Keep your eyes peeled to Twitter - because between us & Terry Arnett there's some great things lined up!!

How much further can you go . . . .?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The 'Pilgrim' Bandit Bond

The Pilgrim Bandits
It's hard to believe that it's only been just over 3 weeks since we picked up Bandit from the Police Dog Training Centre - it seems like he's been with us for ages, yet it's still really early days for him.

If you missed the 'Bandit Story' in our previous Blogs have a read of our fist 2 Bandit Blogs:-
1. The New Project - PD Bandit
2. A Week With A Bandit

If you're new readers, you can also follow what Bandit is getting upto on Twitter.

What's made it seem like he's been here for ages is the fact that he's settled in so well & his 'work' has really come on leaps & bounds over the past couple of weeks.

Leaps & bounds quite literally

As I said in the very first 'Bandit Blog', most of our initial time was spent bonding with him & teaching him a few very simple basic commands. You really can't underestimate the need for a bond with your dog.

I'm currently reading a book at the moment by Victoria Schade it's called "Bonding With Your Dog: A Trainer's Secrets for Building A Better Relationship". In it, she makes a fantastic statement which we can relate to our working Police Dogs . . .
"As much as we'd all like to believe the romantic notion that our dogs are so bonded to us that they'd save our lives without thinking twice....Odds are, most of us will never need to know whether our dogs would give their own lives for our"

Fortunately, I'm also in the position where I would (well I certainly hope I would) never be in a position for one of dogs to have to give their life for me. However, one thing I do absolutely guarantee you, is that at some point in their lives there is an extremely strong likely hood that one of our pups WILL be put in a position where this could be a real scenario. If we were living in the States, I'd say that sadly, it was a certainty that at some point in their working lives the dogs would definitely be in a position like this.

That's the sort of bond with a dog you can never test as 'normal' dog owners. When I talk about having a bond with our dogs, I can't even begin to replicate the bond they'll eventually have with their handlers. It's an unexplainable bond between dog & handler who put their lives on the line together, day in, day out, to help keep people safe - whether it be Police or Military. You just don't get that sort of bond with your dog as a 'normal' dog owner.

One of my favourite photos

Some people may wonder why I read so many 'dog' related books. However, thinking that you know everything or thinking that you have 'mastered' the art of dog training is a real danger. People who have worked with & studied dogs for 50+ years still manage to learn new things. So I'm always reading books, attending seminars & watching other trainers - in a bid to continually raise the bar in terms of the quality & ability of our pups. It makes me smile when people put themselves out as 'the best'.

Building a bond is a natural occurrence when we have a baby 6 week old puppy. It's something which develops over time. At the start of their life, we are the puppy's world, we are the sole provider of everything for that puppy, so building a strong bond is, to some extent, easy & comes naturally.

With Bandit it was a little different. We had a 5 & a bit month old pup that had been to a couple of people & had been in & out of the Training Centre kennels. So it was important that we purely concentrated on building a bond. We needed to know that we could trust Bandit & that he could also trust us. So the first week I had him, he came everywhere with me. We'd be out 3 or 4 times a day just playing in the park & acting stupid together. To some degree I let him carry on his 'tear away' antics & just let him be a puppy. He needed to know that together we can have fun.

Bandit loves nothing more than to have a run

So having built a really nice bond with Bandit, we were ready to start the next phase of his development. I try to make things as fun & positive as possible, but the overriding factor for me, as to why our pups do so well, is that they actually want to do what we're asking them to do. The overriding reason they want to work for us, is to please us. I'm now at a point where I can ask Bandit to do the 5 basic everyday commands, & he'll do it with the reward of simply pleasing me. Naturally however, I still reward him with his toys like it's the very first time he's ever performed the exercises, but if I wanted to he'd get plenty of reward simply from me.

Giving him plenty of fuss, loves, cuddles & telling him he's a good boy in a high pitched ridiculous voice, gives him enough of a reward to enjoy performing his tasks. Had I not built such a strong bond with him, we just wouldn't have that sort of working relationship.

Bandit - 3 weeks on

Having concentrated on teaching Bandit some basic manners & some basic commands, he's soon mastered them.

The sit, down, stay, out & recall, all form the basis of pretty much every exercise he'll ever do in his 'Police Work'. There's obviously the more practical exercises like biting, searching, tracking etc - but without having a steady & strong foundation we can't even to begin to move onto these exercises.


So the first 2 weeks were spent on the basics, & he's picked them up brilliantly! We've got a really great foundation to work on, which has meant we can move onto exercises which challenge & stimulate him even more.

That said, every single day we'll still work on his 5 basic commands. Throughout our sessions, he'll get lots of sits, downs, waits etc etc so that we're constantly getting them better & better. We make his waits, longer & longer & we are starting to put some distance between us when we're doing his sits & downs etc. His distance control is really coming on.

The past week we've really concentrated on his property searching, & he's picked it up amazingly well! I'd go so far as to say that he works his nose on a property search better than Sear. You can see him pick up the sent in the wind, & he zig zags in all the way to the article. It's absolutely brilliant to watch!! I'd actually say that he has a basic licenseable property search now.

I noticed how he searched during the first couple of weeks, if he lost or dropped his ball & I sent him to find it, you could see the way he worked with his nose.

When we look at property searching as an exercise, it's vitally important that the we are in control of our pups & that they understand the clicker. Having distance control over the pup means we can eventually get him to down over the property. Without having distance control & the dog having a strong down command, we just could train the property search effectively. It's a matter of 'chaining' exercises together to produce the final result. A property search is also a prime example of using building blocks to complete a full exercise. (Chaining & building block is a whole new Blog topic in itself!!)

Waiting until he can fetch his ball

I love watching dogs work with their nose, there's nothing better. I know people love watching criminal work & seeing dogs bite etc but for me watching them work their nose is amazing. It's the most powerful tool a dog has - when you look at what they can find & where they can find it - it's absolutely fascinating.

I spend lots & lots of time working with the dog's noses. It plays a massive part of their day to day working life. Most of their operational work & most of the best Police Dog results have come from their nose. Being able to find people whether criminal or vulnerable where people have tried & failed to find them - it's just the best!!

As his property searching is so great, we've started to make things a little bit trickier for him. We've started to hide property under things, up trees & inside holes etc, so that he needs to start searching a variety of areas & not just the ground. We've only started doing this over the past couple of days, so it's early days, but already he's starting to think about looking in other areas to try to locate the scent.

What's Next

We're still working on his manners in the house, although he's got 100 times better already.

He still takes a while to settle in the house in the evening, but he's starting to learn that he needs to switch off as well. These dogs aren't family pets, they are high drive, energetic dogs, so it's easy for them to be 'on the go' all the time if you let them. With the work we're doing during the day/evening he also needs to time to rest, relax & recharge his batteries for the next day. So it's important for him to rest & chill out at the right time too.

Chilling by the sofa

He also is starting to learn that when we're preparing our food it's not his cue to try to steal it!!! But again, he's getting better. It's just a matter of taking your time & reinforcing the behaviour you want him to show. You can't expect him not to steal food if you only prepare food once or twice a day. It'll take a long time for him to learn not to jump up, if he only gets a single opportunity once or twice a day.

So I'm spending lots of time, putting food out on our kitchen surface, leaving it at the edge so that he can smell it & telling him no. We're doing lots of repetitions so that the penny drops that food on the counter is not his!! I'll put his food dish outside to feed him, & make him wait until I say it's OK to dive in & eat it.

Not everything on the kitchen surface is his

Again, he's doing really well. You don't have to watch him every single second with eyes in the back of your head. But you do have to 'remind him' that it's not his food now & again.

'Work' wise, we're going to continue to develop his property searching, and we're now starting to introduce him to tracking. I don't tend to teach tracking & property searching together as it can become confused. It can cause the dog to try to track to a piece of property, or open search for a track. Eventually he'll need to combine both exercises together, but until he's got a solid property search & a solid track we keep them completely separated.

Now he completely understand the property exercises we can move onto tracking. I always use a tracking harness, so that he gets a clear association that having the harness on, indicates a completely different exercise to a property search.

So these next few weeks will concentrate mainly on tracking. We'll still also continue to do property searches & continue to enhance his over control & basic commands.

I must also say a MASSIVE thank you to Sandwell Council too. This week they have sorted us out with some facilities which will really help us work with Bandit & develop him. It's invaluable having the support of local communities, whether it be allowing pups into places of work, using factories or building sites & visiting hotels etc, all of which play such a crucial part in a puppy's development. The more places we can work in & train our dogs makes them more successful & ultimately play a better part in keeping those communities safe.

Bandit's doing really really well, & I'm really pleased with how he's progressing. Most of all he is a REALLY lovely dog!! His overall nature is great (when he finally switches off,) & he's been great around my nieces & nephews too. Most of all he's absolutely brilliant with Taylor.

Added to that . . . I'm also regularly told 'how cute' he looks!!

Bandit's 'camera pose'

Sear Update

Sorry for the very long winded Blog!!! But I couldn't sign off without giving you all an update on Sear.

I went out with his training crew last week, to see how he was getting on & it also gave me a chance to work against him!! So this time I was on the other end of the lead, with him & his handler bearing down on me!!

He's doing brilliantly, I'm absolutely over the moon with how well him & his handler are doing. Initially the plan was for him to run alongside an initial course & look to license early in the New Year, however he's doing so well the instructor is looking to license him before the end of the Year.

It would be absolutely brilliant if he did get his licence this side of the New Year, as it would also mean that 2 of our pups would have been licensed in the same year. Hopefully by the end of 2012 we'll be celebrating a fully licensed PD Sear working alongside PD Mambo!!

PD Mambo

I'm in touch with Sear's handler loads & he's really settled in with his other 2 dogs - & even shares his kennel with a Spaniel.

We'll keep you posted on how both Bandit progress & how Sear's course goes - there's still a long way to go, so keep everything crossed!!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Benefits of Crate Training

Those of you who read our Blog about our recent trip to Church Court Cottages, will know we are always out & about with our dogs, along with always taking them on at least one annual doggy holiday somewhere in the UK.

One of the things we've noticed in recent years is, that the quality of 'dog friendly' accommodation is getting much, much better. We follow a few people on Twitter who have 'dog friendly' accommodation which looks really great.

Without doubt, the joys of owning dogs is becoming greater. I remember as a child, we got our very first dog (Baggie the Beagle) which prompted a real shift in the types of holidays we went on. Long gone were the days of spending 6 weeks in the South of France during the summer holidays, instead, we had to stay UK based - but more importantly somewhere we could take our Beagle.

The arrival of our first dog prompted the purchase of a caravan, so for the next 10 or so years we holidayed in the UK in our caravan. We went to some absolutely fabulous & beautiful parts of the country, but we did also rock up once or twice to some really bad sites!

Things have moved on a hell of a lot, especially in recent times. Despite the awfully bad press dog owners get - thanks to the minority of idiots owning dogs - many owners are extremely responsible & strive for a well balanced & behaved dog. Dog ownership is on the increase, and with it has seen an increase in 'dog friendly' accommodation.

But what exactly does dog friendly accommodation actually mean? I personally think they should market the accommodation as 'responsible dog owner' accommodation, because, let's face it, it's the owners not the dogs, accommodation owners should worry about.

During our stay at Church Court Cottages, one thing which stood out was just how clean, tidy & non 'dog' the accommodation was. You didn't have a smell of 'dog', there were no dog hairs around & the furniture was in pristine condition. The owners were extremely 'pro dog' & they owned 2 of their own dogs. However, one thing they had in the accommodation was a, 'no dog on the sofa or in the bedroom' rule.

High quality & clean furniture at Church Court Cottages

Just because the accommodation is listed as 'dog friendly', it doesn't mean to say that only dog owners can stay there. Accommodation owners also need to ensure a high standard of accommodation for everyone, including non dog owners. So it's vitally important dog owners are responsible when staying in such places.

As I mentioned in our Blog about Church Court Cottages, we also have the 'no furniture, no upstairs' rule in our own home. However, how do people enforce this rule while in 'dog friendly' accommodation at night or if they go out? In accommodation dog's aren't used to it can be very difficult.

But with the use of a crate, you know your dogs are safe & secure at all times, and as a result you don't have the worry whilst you are out.

We went out for a couple of nice meals without the dogs while we were on holiday. Had it not have been for the crate, we'd be constantly mindful of wonderfing what the dogs were or weren't getting up to. The crate gave us peace of mind to relax & unwind, whilst also providing the dogs with a safe & comfortable environment to rest in whilst we were out.

Abiding by Accomodation Rules

One of the benefits of crate training is the fact that you actually create a safe, secure & comfortable environment for the dog to be in.

A crate is able to give your dog his own little space, away from all of the hustle & bustle of everyday life. Similarly it also gives owners an area to put the dog, in times of need. For example if workmen come round or visitors who are scared of dogs. Being able to safely house the dog away from vulnerable situations is a massive benefit both to the dog & owners. It alleviates a lot of stress away from the dog in situations like these, as the crate is 'their' comfortable & safe environment.

We packed our 48" crate for our trip to Church Court Cottages, as it would be big enough to fit both dogs in. There's more than enough room for both our dogs to be comfortable in. As the accomdation was open plan, we couldn't just leave the dogs roaming around if we weren't in the same room e.g having a shower or getting ready to go out. So we could easily pop the dogs into the crate & never have to worry about what they - well what Taylor actually was getting up to!

Crate at Church Court Cottages

When you go on holiday & stay in different surroundings, it's a massive change in environment for a dog. Most dogs will naturally want to explore this new environment & seek to find a place to settle down. It's very difficult for dogs to adjust to new surroundings quickly. However, with a crate you are effectively bringing the dog's secure & comfortable area with you - the dog's home from home.

The dog will be used to his crate & if you also use a cover over the crate - the dog feels completely safe & comfortable even in the new surroundings. It's a complete home from home for the dog.

The added benefit of a crate on holiday, is the safety & security of your dog. There's no danger of them jumping on furniture whilst you're not looking or, in the case of Church Court Cottages, the house was very open plan so the dogs could in affect go anywhere they pleased whilst you were out. You don't have the worry of wondering if the dogs are here, there or anywhere.

Maybe the chocolate crate cover would have been better here

Could they escape? Could they chew something? Could they get trapped behind something? Dogs can get up to a while host of mischief whilst you're not there watching them, added to the fact they are in new surroundings, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Bonfire Night & Fireworks

This time of year is notorious for fireworks, bonfires & people dressed up knocking on your door. All things which can cause a great deal of stress & anxiety in dogs.

I'm fortunate that all of my dogs really don't get stressed or care about fireworks. Taylor could quite happily sit outside with us during a firework display & he wouldn't care. Our puppies actually get excited at load bangs as they think it's part of their training!!

However, I have seen first hand the stress & anxiety these times cause dogs. My parents Staffordshire Bull Terrier is absolutely petrified at this time of year.

So the other benefit of having a crate, is around these times of the year. There's lots of events throughout the year which have fireworks - weddings, religious festivals, Christmas, New Years eve, bonfire night all to name a few.

As I mentioned, the crate is the dog's secure, comfortable & safe environment. By giving the dog somewhere he feels absolutely secure in, it will help to alleviate the stress & anxiety of these situations.

There are a whole host of things to do to help your dog around these times of the year, but a big one is giving your dog somewhere he feels secure, safe & comfortable with. My parent's Staffordshire Bull Terrier, will literally pace around, hiding behind the sofa, running up stairs in a bid to try to find a safe haven. He's 13 now & has never been in a crate, so to put him in one now would only make things worse.

Had he have been crate trained, his first port of call for a safe, secure & comfortable environment would have been his crate.

The Crate

Crate's receive a fair amount of bad public perception, & as I mentioned in my crate training Blog, a long time ago I too would have been in this boat. However, over time I have seen first hand the benefits of crate training.

Not only the speed in which you can toilet train a puppy, but also the ongoing benefits of giving your dog a safe, secure & comfortable environment. Throughout a dog's life of 9+ years, there will be countless times a crate will be invaluable.

Taylor doesn't have a crate of his own per say anymore, he sleeps on a memory foam dog mat/bed. However, he will quite happily & very often does, take himself off into our pup's crate & settle down in there.

Taylor in crate despite his memory foam bed next to it

He doesn't view the crate as an area of punishment nor see it as a metal caged cell for dogs. He see's it as a dark, comfortable, safe & secure area for him to settle down out of the way of everyday hustle & bustle. Very often we'll be in the lounge watching TV, our pup will be right next to our feet & Taylor will be at the other side of the house, in a completely separate room in (or sometimes even on top of) his crate.

Taylor's other favourite crate position

I do completely understand people's hesitation in getting a crate. However, I can whole heartidly assure people that crate training & having a crate for your dog is an absolutely invaluable piece of equipment.

If you agree with the use of a crate, but hate the look of them - just like Sarah - then there's now a whole host of things you can do with crates. We purchased a Crate Cover, which also helps when taking the crate on holiday etc. It's almost like your taking your very own doggy tent!

Bandit quite happy to chill out in his crate

Keep your parachute open - & explore the real benefits of crates & crate training. You really will not be dissapointed & I'm absolutely sure, your dog will thank you for it.