Winners of 'Public Choice' Award

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A Dog Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas

It's coming upto Christmas & it's a time when the old saying "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas" becomes ever more important. Children up & down the country are no doubt pleading for a puppy for Christmas - just as I did every year to my parents!

So as people no doubt rush out to purchase their latest Christmas present & impending family addition, there's some real serious issues that need to be considered when it comes to entering  the 'Dog World'.

"We're just not getting it right" - that was the very clear message which rang around the room during the last John Rogerson course I attended.

The UK has - according to John Rogerson - rapidly climbed the league table, but sadly it is a league table of shame & not the football FIFA ranking table!

We now sit embarrassingly at the top of the tree for having the most frequent number of dog attacks in the world. (I am trying to find some statistics to back this claim up)

The stats I have found, don't exactly cover the 'dog world' in glory. Here are just a couple of them. . . .

  • 100 people each WEEK are bitten by dogs leading to 999 emergency calls
  • Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that there were 6,302 hospital admissions between 2012-13
  • In 8 years - 17 people have been killed as a result of a dog attack
We can't hide from this fact - It's not great reading at all. There's no better nation than the UK at developing aggressive & anti social dogs - and that is a fact.

Don't just think that it's pitt bulls, Staffies and such like - make no mistake about it, some of the worst 'behavioural' cases involve many other breeds of dogs other Staffies etc.

Yet here we are at a time where the 'dog world' is growing in popularity. The numbers of dogs now in the UK has reached 8 million.

So how can it be that with more & more 'dog trainers' & 'dog behaviourists' etc entering 'The Dog World' - more & more of our dogs are displaying such anti social behaviours? 

Coincidence or not, one message is very clear - whatever we're all doing, we're just not getting it right (& I put every single 'dog person into that statement - myself included)

As with dog legislation, sadly I nor anyone else seems to have come up with something effective & the same can be said about the situation we, as dog lovers, now find ourselves in - & lets not kid ourselves, we're suffering an epidemic of poor dog behaviour right across the UK.

I don't have the exact answers to the problem - nor do I have a magic wand that can suddenly decrease the number of dog attacks etc. There are however, some interesting areas we need to consider to try & establish why the UK has suddenly accelerated itself into pole position within the Doggy Hall of Shame.

It's hard to know where to start & for the purposes of keeping the Blog short & readable, I'll cover just a small part of what I believe is a problem.

Breed Selection

Probably the most talked about subject in the dog world centres around breeds of dog. Conduct a Google search of "breed specific legislation" & you're inundated with results - mainly centering on pitt bulls. 
The problems in the 'dog world' haven't just come from the influx of pitt bulls.

As I said, there's so much talk around breeds of dogs & it is without doubt the most talked about topic when it comes to dogs, but what has happened to our historic breeds of family dogs?

What do people actually look for when they chose to own a "family" pet dog? A dog who is going to come & live in your family home, who will become a friendly companion for the family, a dog who is well mannered, well behaved & 'safe' to be around other family members & friends.

Going out & getting a dog is not just about simply giving into a children's plea for a puppy for Christmas. There's so much to consider before you even make the decision to buy a dog. However, once the decision is made to get a dog the next step is to chose the 'right' dog for your family & your day to day family life.

Character & temperament of dogs takes more than choosing a dog which simply looks 'nice'.

For example, who would want a dog which could display characteristics like these?:-
  • The breed are very needy dogs & do not like being alone - often leading to separation anxiety
  • The breed can be dominant
  • The breed can be easily stressed
  • Requires many hours of grooming & brushing PER WEEK
  • Highly energetic leading to boredom which turns into mischievousness
  • Their intelligence can turn into stubbornness
What do you think? Would the traits above make for a perfect family pet for an inexperienced owner?

Guess what - I've just described the possible traits you could get in the UK's latest 'Designer Dog' . . . . . the cockerpoo or as it was once known . . . . . a mongrel.

Would anyone really want a dog to become part of the family which is described as the above? Would this dog suit a 9-5, 2.4 family?

Here's the interesting thing.How does a dog with these traits sound for a family dog?:-

  • Highly affectionate, playful, extremely patient & eager to please
  • Good with children & other dogs - not shy about socialising with large dogs
  • Adapt quickly to almost any environment, family & location
  • Very versatile dog & great with people of all ages
  • Enjoy cuddling up on a lap or cusion
  • Regards all strangers as friends
Personally, I would suggest that the dog described above has the PERFECT temperament & traits to become a family dog. What do you think?

Surely a dog described in such a way would be a dog every family would be clamouring over to get?

The dog described above was in fact . . . . . a cavalier king charles spaniel. When was the last time you saw one of those being walked?

Sadly the effect of breeding in the 'Show World' meant the Cavalier started to develop serious health issues, which I think put people off buying dogs like the Cavalier.

The distressing report on Cavalier King Charles Spaniel health issues can be seen here. It doesn't make pleasant viewing.

So despite having seemingly perfect 'family dogs', here we are in today's world surrounded by families going out to purchase a whole host of different sounding, but more importantly, different looking dogs.

The Cockerpoo, labradoodle, sprocker, mocker, locker, hobbydoodles & pollymolly's - the list could go on - & yes obviously the last few were made up, but then again so were the first, second & third!

The nation has gone crazy over buying mongrels which sound great & look like nice dogs. 

We've gone the full circle! Back in the early 'pet dog' days nearly everyone owned mongrels, yet a very clever marketing company generated the obsession with 'Pedigree' dogs. Anyone guess which company started the 'Pedigree' obsession . . . . . Spratts. Their very first employee was called Charles Cruft & the rest, as they say, is history.

At that point everyone wanted to get a 'Pedigree' dog, yet here we are now in a situation where some more clever marketing has generated a new national obsession . . .the 'Designer Dog'. Even Crufts have now recognised the phenomenon & came up with Scrufts.

A mongrel is no longer know as a mongrel or cross breed, it's now known as a Cockerpoo or a labradoodle etc.

We've moved away from making sensible, informed decisions about the breed of dog we want as a family pet & are now heavily influenced by the latest fashionable name of mongrel - without paying any attention to the behavioural traits of each breed which makes up the whatever-a-doodle dog.

There doesn't seem to be any consideration for the characteristics, temperament & more importantly the genetics of the dog families want to bring into their homes.

Why would anyone who's looking for a nice family pet, not consider having something like a King Charles Spaniel? I just don't get it.


I'm no expert on genetics etc, however it's vital that when you're selecting a dog that not only the breed is considered but also the genetics & characteristics/temperament of the dog.

It's impossible for a dog trainer or dog behaviourist to change the colour of a dogs coat - because it's down to genetics.

If someone turned up at a dog behaviourists with a black dog & the family wanted a white dog - guess what . . . . the behaviourist won't be able to help!

Are you ever going to stop a retriever from retrieving? Could you ever change a whippet from being very sight orientated?

In exactly the same way as it being impossible to change the dog's colour - it's impossible for a dog trainer or dog behaviourist to change the genetic behaviour of dog. 

And here is the crucial part - who can ever 100% identify whether the dog is displaying poor behaviour or in fact being controlled by their genetics?

How much research into genetics, temperament & bloodlines do pet owners really do? Do people really understand the breed they are taking on & the history behind the breed? Is there enough help & guidance for people looking for a dog? 

Like I said at the start, I haven't got the answers & judging by the stats nor has anyone else. If we had the answers the UK wouldn't be the experts in developing dogs with poor behaviour. 

Let's not forget - we really are the best at developing anti-social dogs.

I'm going to pick on a dog to highlight the point about genetics & whether we can truly ever know whether genetics are taking over a dog's behaviour.

I'm not anti any breed. I'm a dog lover, a dog enthusiast. I'm certainly not anti bull breeds. My parents have a 14 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier & my views on breed specific legislation are well documented. However, for the purposes of highlighting the point regarding genetics & temperament, I'm going to use an American Bull Dog.

This is why it's vitally important to not only select the right breed of 'family' dog but to also ensure that we understand a dog's history & what it was 'originally' bred for.

So lets briefly consider the history & genetic make up of the American Bull Dog, but specifically the John D. Johnson type American Bulldog. Taken directly from a website:-

"The Johnson American Bulldog is a breed of dog unlike any other; their sheer strength and courage coupled with their undying loyalty and devotion make them the ultimate breed of dog. 

Dogs resembling today’s American Bulldogs were used in Europe, specifically England, as "butcher dogs" and guardians. These dogs were by no means pets, but rather utility dogs bred and raised for specific duties. These duties included baiting unruly cattle and swine along with guarding property against thievery. These tasks required a dog that feared no man or beast alive.

These traits still exist with the Johnson American Bulldog."

"These traits still exist with the Johnson American Bulldog" - that's a really powerful closing line. 

There are dogs being bred to retain the traits described above. Traits which made Johnson American Bulldogs such brilliant "butcher dogs". They can also be described as "catch dogs"

The dogs were used to catch big livestock like boars. Catch dogs physically take hold of the boar. Once the catch dogs have physical control of the boar, they will hold it down by the head indefinitely until the hunter arrives.

Dogs are still being bred to retain characteristics to enable them perform this sort of role. Would you really want a dog as a 'family pet' which could potentially display such behaviours?

So what are some of the traits of an American Bulldog?

  • It is not uncommon for an American Bulldog to require a high level of attention due to their highly emotional personality
  • They are capable of jumping in excess of seven feet vertical due to the dense muscle build of the breed
  • The goal of the breed was originally to produce a working farm utility dog that could catch and hold wild boar and cattle, kill vermin, and guard an owner's property
  • As livestock dogs, catch dogs use their weight and teeth to immobilize live animals
  • A dog that is designed to bite a bull on the face & not let go
  • A dog that can weigh in excess of 55kg - not far off 9 stone
  • A breed who 'tolerates' children providing they are socialised well

I struggle to understand the real reasons for people's choice of dog breeds? Whatever happened to picking a dog that would fit in with family life?

Why would someone want a family pet which only 'tolerates' children providing they've been well socialised - especially when you could have a dog who is described as being good with children, highly affectionate, playful, extremely patient & eager to please?

Don't get me wrong, I've met some absolutely beautiful, friendly & great American Bulldogs. My friend has one & we occasionally bump into a couple in our local park. But how would you ever be 100% confident that it didn't have the some of genetics/temperament listed above?

Are people even aware of the history of a dog breed & the importance of their genetic make up? Will we ever breed a retriever not to retrieve - & could we ever breed an American Bull Dog which didn't somewhere have the chromosome for one of the traits listed above?

If a family with 3 children wanted a nice family car, they wouldn't go out & buy an Audi TT - because it wouldn't fit in with their family requirement. The same needs to be considered when we're looking for our family pet.

It's easy to pick out the good temperamental features of a dog breed - these won't cause you & your family an issue. It is the flaws & faults in a breeds temperament & genetics which will cause you the problems - sadly not all flaws & faults can be fixed by training. 

So when we say "A dog is for life & not just for Christmas" could you really cope with a dog for the rest of it's life that displays the flaws in the temperament?

Jack Russells tend to be extremely intelligent, athletic, fearless, and vocal dogs. It is not uncommon for these dogs to become moody or destructive if not properly stimulated and exercised, as they have a tendency to bore easily and will often create their own fun when left alone to entertain themselves.

Could you cope with the vocal issue? Could you cope with destructiveness if not properly stimulated? 

Are we really doing enough to understand the dog we're introducing to our family?

I'll leave you with this thought . . . . 
"22% of parents are happy to buy a puppy . . . . ONLINE!"

Sunday, 17 November 2013


There could only ever be one title for the 'Fully Fledged Police Dog Bandit' Blog and Police Dog Bandit will always be known as #heisthebandit.

Puppy Bandit

These Blogs always seem to go along the same sort of lines, however the interaction 'Bandit' got on Twitter during the short time he was with us was really heart warming. The number of people who came up to see him whilst he was at Crufts was crazy! And in true Bandit style he managed to be the talk of the Police Dog demo after managing to slip out of his harness.

Bandit managing to stay IN his harness at Crufts

It really was typical Bandit behaviour! 

It's always a great feeling knowing that all of the hard work (& tears) you go through in getting the dogs ready for a course has paid off. It's what makes the awful experience of D-Day all worthwhile. I must admit that whenever we hear that our pups are now licensed Police Dogs it does bring a little tear of joy into our eyes.

I know there's a few puppy walkers who've experienced D-Day for the first time recently & it really is a horrible day. I always try & tell people that they really don't realise just how bad D-Day is, honestly you just can't put into words how you will feel. Even after doing what we've done for so long, let me assure you, D-Day doesn't get any easier - and anyone who say's anything different is lying!

Bandit was a completely different project for us, having taken him on when he was around 5 months old. It was the first time we'd not had a dog from 6 weeks old, so it was a nice challenge to take on a 'difficult' dog who'd come back into the kennels from a puppy walker. 

Bandit with 'his' door mat he liked to sit on

At the time Sear went back, because it was unexpected, we hadn't got anything lined up for our next puppy and because of our trip out to the Far East we weren't in a position to take on another baby puppy. We'd only got 11 weeks before we flew out to Thailand, so we took a trip upto the kennels to see what we could work with & this is where Bandit stood out.

From the very first time I saw Bandit, the one thing he had in abundance was 'character' & throughout all of the time we had him his character was always shining through. He was a little bugger & without doubt the noisiest dog we've ever had! Thankfully we have extremely understanding neighbours & to be fair the only time he ever barked was when he heard or saw something.

Bandit with the inspirational Ben Parkinson MBE

What has made it rewarding for us was that in just a short space of time we took Bandit on and quickly instilled the foundations to help get him through a course. From day 1, Bandit had the desire to chase & play with a ball, which made life a lot easier.

Ball mad

By the time he left us, we felt Bandit had enough about him to work with in order to get him through a course.It was really rewarding to take him on & put enough time & work into him to give him a solid foundation & platform to get through a course.

It's been 9 months since we penned our 'Bandit Bye-Byes' Blog, but it's been great that he's been able to mature & spend some time with his handler without having to go straight out onto the streets as a young dog.

A lot of the work to get Bandit through his course has come from his handler. Whilst we'd laid the foundations he was nowhere near upto a Sear or Izzy standard, so a lot of credit has to go to Bandit's handler for putting the time into him. At the end of the day it is the handler who goes on the course with him & works day in, day out with the pups to get them licensed.

People often label us a 'Police Dog Trainers' however I'm always quick to try to play down that label. I've seen lots of comments around the internet about what we do & we're often described as Police Dog Trainers, however for me, there's only 1 person who can ever train a dog to become a 'Police Dog' and that's his handler.

Property searches

So much is made of dogs passing a licensing course & being given the license to become an operational Police Dog, however there's so much more to becoming a Police Dog than passing a licensing course.

All of the hard work that goes into the puppies, followed by the training they do during an initial course means very little when the dog is out on there on the streets. It's absolutely impossible to recreate real life. We saw in the last few weeks the story of Police Dog Fuzz being beaten with a metal baton during an incident, Police Dog Gino fighting with a criminal intent on strangling him to death and a few years ago Police Dog Stig who was stabbed in the face with a pair of scissors.

Life working the streets is a lot different to puppyhood

This is the harsh reality of what our puppies go out and do, & whilst all of the foundation work we do & all of the training they do on an initial course prepares them for operational duties, it is the handlers who really have to teach them to be Police Dogs.

You just can't create the sort of scenarios, the adrenaline etc in training. It's like footballer's practicing taking penalties - you just cannot recreate the tension of taking a potential tournament winning penalty. It's exactly the same in Police Dog training.

The view of a future criminal

Someone could get Izzy through a licensing course now but she's nowhere near being a Police Dog - so whilst we're delighted & proud that Bandit & his handler have maintained our proud & longstanding 100% record of developing Police Dog puppies, there's a long way to go to him becoming a valuable & consistent performer in the dog section.

He is of course named after the Pilgrim Bandits & therefore we have no doubts that he will go "Always a little further" to protect & serve the community of the West Midlands well.

Police Dog Bandit!

For all of those Tweeps who followed Bandit on Twitter, you will know that we heavily support the Pilgrim Bandits charity. Next year Breed Scheme Manager Terry Arnett will be taking part in the WOLF RUN on 27th April 2014 in aid of the Pilgrim Bandits Charity. Please feel free to donate to the Pilgrim Bandits in honour of PD Bandit via Terry's Just Giving page. Here is Terry pictured below with future PD 'Pilgrim' & of course fully fledged Police Dog 'Bandit'

Puppy Pilgrim & PD Bandit

"Always a little further"

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Animal Hero Awards - "Animal Enthusiast of the Year"

We received some fantastic news today which still hasn't really sunk in - I've been nominated by someone for the "Animal Enthusiast of the Year" Award at this years prestigious Daily Mirror Animal Hero Awards.

Having scooped the "Public Choice" award at the Midland Media Awards earlier this year, it's still really hard to believe that the work we do with the dogs & more recently with the Retired WM Police Dog Benevolent Fund is being recognised by our fellow dog professional peers and the wider general public.

Just being nominated for such a prestigious Animal Hero Award is a massive achievement and we're extremely grateful to whoever put my name forward & felt we were worthy candidates for it.

It's great when things like this come up because it gives a great platform to get the message out about the Retired WM Police Dog Benevolent Fund. There's a lot of work going on behind the scenes of the fund, not just by myself but by a huge amount of people from the Committee Members, fellow puppy walkers, dog handlers & other fabulous members of the public who are really getting behind what the fund is trying to achieve - ultimately ensuring those hard working dogs get the very best lives in retirement.

It was a great honour receiving the Midland Media Award earlier this year, especially as we won purely down to the readers of our Blog & our (sorry Izzy's) followers on Twitter. It's great that so many people follow what we do both with the pups and also alongside the breed scheme at West Mids Police. The Retired WM Police Dog Benevolent Fund is a fantastic initiative and one in which many people are striving to make a success. I must admit I've been completely overwhelmed by the amount of interest & support the fund is receiving & we're really grateful for everyone who is getting behind the cause.

Alongside my nomination for the "Animal Enthusiast of the Year", I also received notification that one of our fantastic #policedogpensioners Retired PD Janus has also been nominated for 2 of the highest awards of the night. Retired PD Janus has been nominated for "Hero Animal of the Year" and also "Service Animal of the Year" in recognition of the fantastic job Janus did serving & protecting member of the West Midlands region.

Earlier this year Janus was also nominated for an award at Crufts where he was a finalist in the "Friends For Life" category, narrowly missing out to the fantastic & worthy winner Owen & Haatchi.

Without giving too much away Janus has been nominated for the awards at the Animal Hero Awards 2013 for his fantastic work as an operational Police Dog, who despite fighting cancer returned to full health & continued working for & serving the people of the West Midlands.

Throughout his career Janus has been a fantastic member of the Police Force & has worked in some extremely dangerous situations - no more so than when Janus & his handler were shot at during the riots in Birmingham.

Sadly whilst Janus was enjoying his retirement he suffered a cruciate ligament injury which meant his handler PC Dan Thomas faced a bill of over £1,000 of veterinary care to put it right. Yet as his faithful friend, partner & member of the family, Dan covered the cost of his treatment without any hesitation. No amount of money could repay Janus for his hard work, dedication & commitment towards his handler over the 10+ years they have spent together. Highlighted no moreso than in this video

For both myself & for Dan & Janus, simply receiving a nomination into the awards & being considered by someone to be worthy of an entry is an extremely high honour and it's a fantastic way for the Retired WM Police Dog Benevolent Fund to receive some publicity as we strive to give dogs like Janus the very best quality of life in retirement.

Thanks again to the people or person who nominated me in the "Animal Enthusiast of the Year Award" it's a real privilege but ultimately everything we do we're "doing for the dogs"

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Negative reinforcement & Punishment

This is a long Blog people, but on a vitally important subject. So grab yourself a cuppa & set aside a few minutes for this one!

It was whilst on holiday in Thailand earlier this year that something gave me the biggest demonstration of how positive reinforcement really does work wonders. I'll try & cut a long story down as best I can to give you the full effect. There's probably a whole Blog topic in itself with the elephant ride!

So, here we were sat on an enormous elephant where the positive reinforcement demonstration unfolded. A lot is made of 'passed down' training techniques, whether it be dogs, dolphins, elephants - even children. Culture & family history play a huge part in how people act & the training of animals is no different. The people in Thailand certainly haven't had a huge exposure to Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor and the likes, so their training methods are very much based on what their parents & grandparents did.

I touched a little on the difference in culture between us & the Thai people when it comes to dogs generally, in my Blog 'Are We Really That Different?' - and maybe we too could learn something from their approach.

However, what happened during our elephant ride really hammered home the positive reinforcement theory.

When we sat on this huge elephant, the Thai man couldn't speak much English & my Thai was non-existent - other than please, thank you, hello etc - so we were having an extremely broken conversation as it was. We were sat in this basket whilst the Thai man "drove" the elephant. What occurred over the next 15 minutes will be something that will stick in my mind forever.

We'd purchased some pineapple which we could use to feed the elephants with once we'd finished our trek, so we sat with our basket of pineapple on our lap. Our Thai guide had in his lap a wooden stick with a metal hook at the end of it - this was to be his 'steering wheel'. 

His method of driving the elephant was via the use of 'negative reinforcement' with a touch of 'positive punishment' at times too. He would continually tap on the elephant's head with this stick to get the elephant to do what he wanted him to do. When the elephant started moving where the Thai man wanted, the tapping stopped.

If the elephant didn't move he would resort to 'positive punishment' verging on a touch of abuse.

After a short while the elephant decided she just wanted to do her own thing - and at the size that she was, she could do exactly that! It did not matter how many more taps the Thai man gave her, if the elephant wanted to do something, quite frankly, you were not going to stop her!

I must point out, that the Thai man was a very happy man & did seem to actually care for this fantastic creature. He was sat there laughing at the elephant not wanting to move at one point & he just sat there stroking her MASSIVE head like she was his pet dog.

Despite this seemingly loving relationship, I was a little uncomfortable with the way in which things were going. It was a really hot day & I managed to use this as an excuse to cut short the ride - we'd paid for a 1 hour trek - and we decided to just let the elephant head back to her resting place. I said to the Thai man that the money wasn't an issue & we'd happily just cut the ride short. To be fair to him, I think he was in agreement too - I got the impression that he did genuinely care for the elephant.

Then came the moment of sheer delight! I somehow managed to suggest to the Thai man that it may perhaps be better if he jumped off the elephant & used our pineapple to encourage the elephant to follow him. Between our broken communication we seemed to ascertain that someone needed to sit on the elephant's head. So he invited me to sit on her head, Sarah was in the basket & the Thai man was now walking in front of the elephant with our pineapple.

Now I'm not sure if it was my suggestion or not - I somehow naively thought that surely someone would have thought of this idea before me? It's not really rocket science is it - or actually to the Thai man, was it? I honestly don't know and I'm certainly not going to try to claim that I educated the Thai man. Maybe it was a bit of luck & quite possibly he's done something like this before, but due to his 'hand me down' training, he prefers to stick to his 'old method' of driving the elephant. Like I say, I don't know.

However, what I do know is that the elephant soon got moving & we were happily taking the elephant back to her resting place - without the need for any negative punishment in order to 'drive' her.

I'm hoping the positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement & positive punishment was hopefully a great lesson to the Thai man! One can but hope.

More recently, I've seen a fair few comments & articles written on the use of punishment & aversives in dog training. It's a really contentious topic!

When it comes to dog training there's so much jargon banded around that for everyday dog owners who just want a happy & well mannered dog it can sometimes be a bit mind blowing.

Everyone who reads our Blogs & sees what we do with our pups will no doubt know that we are heavily into clicker training & ensuring all of our training is fun & rewarding for our pups. We have some fantastic results & all of our pups have a great, fun & rewarding time.

But is it possible for dog trainers to really claim that they use only positive based methods? What happens when things go wrong? Is there a place or even a need for negative reinforcement, punishment & aversives in training?

Aversives, negative reinforcement, negative punishment, positive punishment, corrections - the list can go on & one, but what does it all mean?


Let's start off by looking at aversives, because it's probably one of the quickest things to cover within the 'Negative reinforcement & punishment topic'. A quick Wikipedia search gives the brief definition:-
"In psychology, aversives are unpleasant stimuli that induce changes in behavior through punishment"

Basically put, an aversive is something which is unpleasant for your dog. However, it's important to understand that an aversive in itself is not necessarily punishment. 

You often hear 'Aversive Based Training', 'Traditional  Training', 'Compulsion Training' or 'Old School Training' - and all of it, by enlarge, groups this type of training into a method which involves either applying or removing something which the dog finds unpleasant (the aversive)

I would say that the most 'famous' dog trainer who uses this sort of technique quite often is Cesar Milan.

What is classed as an aversive?

Aversives generally fall into 3 main categories & are based around a dog's senses - touch, sound & taste.

Many people instantly think of electric shock collars when you mention aversives, an electric collar centers on the dog's sense of touch. The following aversives fall into the 3 main sensory categories:-

Touch: E-collar, prong collar, check chain, water bottle spray, 'Pet Corrector' spray

Taste: Bitter apple spray, 'no-chew' spray, pepper, vinegar, citrus

Sound: air horns, rattle bottles, 'Dog-e-Walk' collar, rattle discs

How are aversives used in dog training?

Most dog people will have seen the way in which Cesar Milan trains most of his dog clients, the use of E-collars & prong collars are used extensively. I've also seen footage of him using tennis rackets, punch dogs, kick dogs etc - all the in name of using an aversive.

There's hundreds of videos on YouTube of Cesar Milan, this one is quite a powerful one.

Cesar Milan got an absolute grilling on the Alan Tichmarsh show for his training techniques because as a nation, we're moving on from the 'Old School' styles of training dogs. It's no longer acceptable to use aversive techniques to the point of animal abuse in the name of training. 

This isn't a 'get at' Cesar Milan Blog either, because after the Alan Tichmarsh show I actually penned a Blog with a bit of perspective on Cesar Milan - 'Cesar Millan A View of Balance'

The most important sentence above is "it's no longer acceptable to use aversive techniques to the point of animal abuse in the name of training".

Aversive based training relies on 2 major components - negative reinforcement & positive punishment.

Negative Reinforcement

When it comes to dog training, it's vital to understand that 'positive' & 'negative' do not have the same meaning as the mathematical or scientific terms - just as the word 'socialisation' doesn't have the same meaning for dog training as it does for humans. We covered this more in our 'Dog Socialisation' Blog. 

Many people shy away from anything which has the words 'negative' or 'punishment' in them when it comes to dog training, simply due to the misunderstanding of the meaning of the word when used in a dog training context.

What is negative reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement is when the unpleasant sensation for the dog (the aversive) is turned off. Think of our elephant ride.

The Thai man continually tapped on the elephant's head to make her move. So when she moved forward, the tapping stopped. When the elephant stopped, the man started tapping.

The aversive (tapping on elephant's head) was removed when the elephant displayed the behavior the Thai man was looking for (elephant walking forward).

The reason the word 'negative' is used is because something is removed when the correct behavior is performed. (The reason we use positive reinforcement is because something is introduced when the correct behavior is performed i.e a treat is presented)

It really is simple . . . . .Negative = removal

Negative reinforcement = removal of aversive.

When is negative reinforcement used?

Negative reinforcement is used a hell of a lot in horse training, although as with dog training more people are now moving towards a more positive reinforcement based method. You want the horse to turn left so you pull on the left rein, when the horse turns & walks to the left you release the tension on the left rein. You've negatively reinforced the horse.

We use negative reinforcement all the time in day to day life. How many people give their children 'the look' in order for them to stop the unwanted behavior they are presenting? You have produced something unpleasant to your child ('the look') & upon ceasing the unwanted behaviour you remove 'the look' (negative reinforcement)

So let's consider the "I've never used negative methods in training" . . . . 

How many people have pushed down on their dogs bottom when teaching them to perform the 'sit'? 

Well, you have just negatively reinforced your dog. You have presented pressure on your dog's bottom (which is probably unpleasant for your dog) & he has performed the sit. Upon performing the sit you have released the pressure on his bottom. That is negative reinforcement.

The use of any kind of 'reinforcement' whether positive (giving treats) or negative (removing unpleasant) is to encourage & increase the desired behavior. 

Many people claim to be 'positive only' trainers by saying that they always 'positively reinforce' the behavior afterwards, but the fact of the matter is, the dog has only performed the action because you have initially instigated negative reinforcement.

There's a very common phrase amongst 'positive' dog trainers "reward the desired behavior & ignore the unwanted behavior"

Is it simply effective enough to ignore little Rover's behavior when he is running off in the park? Can we simply ignore Bonnie barking & wait for the silence in order for us to reward the quiet behavior?  

So where does punishment come into all of this?


There are times where dogs do need to be punished. If the dog is doing something which is highly dangerous we need to ensure that this dangerous behavior is reduced & eliminated.

If we take the mathematical meaning you may think that Positive Punishment is a good thing & Negative punishment is a bad thing, right?

If you mention the word 'punishment' in any form of dog training the first things that come into people's minds are check chains, E-collars & rolled up newspaper!

Very often the word 'correction' is used when discussing punishment because many people deem this more 'politically correct' & less harsh in terms of the mental images it creates. However, no matter what you want to call it, the use of punishment in dog training is designed to decrease the likelihood of unwanted behavior.

I don't really  agree with the mantra that it is possible to train a dog without using any form of punishment. Everything we do with our pups is all about fun, games & enjoyment. We use clicker training & a huge amount of positive reinforcement with our pups & I always describe myself as a reward based dog trainer - reward 'based' being the key word.

Take this example. When Izzy is in the car crate & I pull up at the park she goes mad. She is 100% ready to fly out of the car & into action. So when I lift up the crate door she'd quite happily fly out of the car at 100mph. However, I do not want her to do this, so I ask her to sit & stay. If she sits & stays I open up the crate door & let her jump out.

If however, when I open the door half way shes trying to barge past & jump out of the crate, I shut the door & ask her sit & wait. The door can end up getting open & shut a few times until she waits for me to open to crate door fully & invite her to jump out.

By me closing the door on her whilst she is trying to barge & jump out, I'm using a form of punishment. I am negatively punishing her, because I am removing (negative = removal) her ability to be rewarded by the excitement of running around like a loony in the park

For someone to claim that as a 'reward based' trainer they do not use punishment suggests to me that they don't really understand the link between reinforcement & punishment.

So what are the differences in punishment?

Negative Punishment

Negative punishment is the removal of something the dog desires in order to decrease any unwanted behavior.

In the example above, I removed Izzy's ability to run around like a loony in order to decrease the barging & charging out of the car crate. Shock & horror - quite clearly I have used punishment in Izzy's training, I must be a 'bad trainer'.

It's important to really understand the use of negative punishment because in many instances people inadvertently use this form of punishment on their dog without even realising it.

How many people have called their dog back to them whilst their dog was enjoying a run around the park & quickly clipped on their lead? You've just negatively punished your dog. There they were happily running around & you have just removed their ability & desire to run freely in the park.

Another common example in the use of negative punishment is teaching dogs to walk on a lead loosely. How many people have used the technique of stopping every time your dog pulls too much on a lead? Everytime you stop, you are removing the dog's reward of walking forward.

To employ effective negative punishment in order to decrease the unwanted behavior you need to take away something the dog values highly. 

In Izzy's case the desire to run around in the park is massive & therefore by stopping her doing this is a punishment.

Negative punishment is a hugely effective training method when coupled with positive reinforcement (clicker training). Our 'Clicker Training - Preface' Blog gives some more information on this subject.

Positive Punishment

The most common source of debate amongst dog people is the use of 'Positive Punishment' in dog training. There's not a day goes by where I don't see or hear a debate in relation to the use of Positive Punishment - but what does it actually mean?

Many people lump the word 'punishment' together, however as I highlighted above it's vitally important to be able to distinguish between Negative & Positive Punishment. As we said earlier, the word 'positive' doesn't always mean something good or enjoyable.

Positive is simply used because we are introducing something. 

Positive Punishment is the introduction of an aversive (something unpleasant) to punish the dogs behavior. The term 'positive' is used because we are introducing something.


Negative = removal
Positive = introduce

Positive punishment is used in order to make the dogs unwanted behavior to decrease & the key to it's effectiveness is to ensure that the behavior is decreasing.

Examples of positive punishment include the use of E-collars, prong collars & smacking the dog.

This type of training is very much in the Cesar Milan mould - "do what is say or else". If the dog runs off & doesn't come back it gets shocked with an E-collar. If the dog tries to bite you, you smack it in the face.

It's these types of actions that have caused such a stir in the dog training world. 

Positive punishment doesn't just equate to physical punishment though. Creating a loud rattle with a rattle bottle is an example of positive punishment. The dog barks so you shake a bottle full of stones to startle the dog.

The reason so much is spoken & written about punishment is because of the use of positive punishment such as E-collars & prong collars etc, and when they are used incorrectly the positive punishment equates to animal abuse.

Without doubt, one of the main causes of animal suffering during training is by people trying to adopt Cesar Milan's approach to dog training & doing it badly. 

Dog training is all about timing and the reason many people prefer to use positive reinforcement is because of the consequences of getting your timing wrong. What's the worst that can happen with positive reinforcement? Your dog gets a few extra treats & ends up with an over enforced behavior - possibly getting fat!

With positive punishment, get your timing wrong & you're into the animal abuse territory.

There's so much to consider when utilising positive punishment & for punishment to have just a tiny affect on behavior there are a few conditions that need to be met, highlighted no better than in "Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson", in that she states that in order for punishment to be effective it needs to be:-
  1. Punishment must be immediate
  2. Punishment must be sufficiently aversive
  3. Punishment must follow each & every attempt at the unwanted behavior
So if you get your timing wrong, do not apply the right level of punishment & miss a dog performing the behavior just once - the punishment is deemed ineffective.

Those are 3 MASSIVE rules to have to follow to the letter in order to make your punishment effective - and let's not forget if your punishment is not effective you're bordering on animal abuse!

There's a huge amount written about the use of positive punishment & the pitfalls of positive punishment - especially in comparison to positive reinforcement, however that's not to say that there isn't a place for it in dog training.

Providing the conditions above are met then positive punishment could potentially be a very effective form of training your dog - but only when done right. 

There's such a fine line between positive punishment & abuse that many people (quite rightly) shy away from this form of training. When positive punishment is not done right the pitfalls are huge. Pat Miller, CPDT and author of "The Power of Positive Dog Training" produced the list of '12 Pitfalls of Positive Punishment' highlighting the following dangers of employing a positive punishment method:-
  1. You can cause physical pain/damage to your dog. 
  2. It is difficult to gauge the appropriate intensity. 
  3. The dog can develop a "punishment callous". 
  4. The behavior may return when punishment stops. 
  5. It is difficult to have perfect timing. 
  6. It is difficult to be perfectly consistent. 
  7. It can suppress desired behaviors; inhibit offered behaviors. 
  8. It doesn't teach the dog what to do. 
  9. The suppressive effect of the punisher is limited to the presence of the discriminative stimuli. 
  10. It is rewarding to the punisher. 
  11. It can damage the dog's confidence, trust in the trainer, relationship between dog and human. 
  12. Violence begets violence.

Every element of positive punishment has an effect on a dog whether to 'correct' the dog's behavior or to effect the dog's relationship with you as an owner. Careful consideration needs to be taken before deciding on a positive punishment programme.

Things really do go wrong when dealing with positive punishment - just ask Cesar Millan . . . 

What do you think - effective dog training or animal abuse?


As we always say, there's no right or wrong way to train a dog. The only thing two dog trainers will agree on is that the third trainer is wrong.

There's so much jargon out there for everyday owners to contend with and many trainers who use this 'positive' word so often. All people want is a well behaved & well mannered family pet, so people very often look towards the 'positive' message for help.

But ask yourself a question, what exactly does 'positive' only training mean? Is a positive trainer therefore utilising positive punishment? Does a positive trainer never use negative reinforcement?

It's very easy to get drawn into the word 'positive' but as with the word 'socialisation' it has a very different meaning in the world of dogs to it's meaning in the world of humans. 

And I'll leave you with this thought . . 

Karen Pryor says "Punishers, like reinforcers, are defined by the receiver, not the giver"

Therefore, how does one really categorise themselves as a 'positive only' trainer, when it is in fact the individual dog who determines this & not the trainer? 

What one dog deems as a reward another may deem as a punishment.

If you think this Blog was a bit harsh on Cesar Millan - take another read of my Blog "Cesar Millan - A View Of Balance"