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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"

Dog Manners & Chill Out Times

They say that a change is as good as a rest, however when it comes to dogs - certainly puppies - it's the rest & 'chill out' time that is one of the most crucial components in their development.

Many people often comment about Taylor & the role he plays in developing the puppies. Taylor is a massive part in their development & a lot of what he does & the way he his rubs off onto the puppies. He is a calming influence on the pups & when it's time to chill out in the house they have no better role model than Taylor. There's a recurring theme amongst the pictures within this Blog.

Izzy & Taylor enjoying a chill out time
I'm massively hot on 'dog manners', I mention dog manners a fair bit throughout our Blogs. I expect a lot from our pups both in terms of their work ethic but also their general behavior when they are not 'working'.

All of our pups are brought up to be first & foremost good family orientated dogs. We've covered a little about the training phases we go through with our pup. Initially, all of the stuff we do with our pups is just what you'd expect a family pet dog to go through. Ensuring the pups are 'sociable' (there's that word again!) is a crucial part of their Police Dog development.

Contrary to what you read in the papers, it's vital that Police Dogs are sociable dogs.Those of you who came to the Launch of the Retired WM Police Dog Benevolent fund will have seen first hand just how sociable the dogs at West Midlands Police are. It's not all about the biting, Police Dogs do an invaluable job which also includes searching for missing people - children  adults, elderly people - so they have to be able to be comfortable & happy around people of all shapes, sizes & backgrounds. Similarly  search dogs often have to work in close proximity with the general public & around other people, so it's vitally important they are comfortable & happy working around people. It's no good having a fantastic search dog if it's scared of people or worse still a dog who bites!

We work the pups really hard & as part of this they also have plenty of opportunity to run around, play & do all the things happy puppies should do. Everything we do is all about having fun with our pups & alongside this fun, is where we start to develop & work on their Police Dog skills.

As well as the pup's work & training, we also need to ensure they have 'good manners' in the house & that they have an 'off switch'.

Bandit was happiest chilling out in the kitchen on 'his' door mat
I'm fairly strict on how I expect the dogs to behave, not only when we're out but also when we're at home. Whilst the dogs are allowed in the house, there are certain rules that must be adhered to. That's not down to some outdated notion that dogs in the house or on the furniture is some strange dominance theory - I've covered that previously too!

I certainly don't think it's acceptable for dogs to be running about the house, constantly 'on the go' and looking to play all of the time. There needs to be a time & a place for the dogs to enjoy life and also a time for them to chill out.

The dogs are not allowed to be in the house if we're not there. The only time they'll be allowed in the house on their own is if they are in their crates. They're not allowed upstairs full stop & they're only allowed in the lounge if we are in the lounge. Whenever we let the dogs into the lounge it's time for them to settle down & chill out.

If we're at home, then the dogs can happily come into the house. I spend a fair bit of time in the family room/kitchen diner - it's where I'm sat when I'm writing these Blogs. When we're in here I'm quite OK with the dogs having a Kong to mess about with. Often I'll sit next to the window to the garden & throw the Kong out of the window for them to fetch, whilst I sit typing. I've got no problem with the dogs having a bit of fun whilst I'm here & engaged with them.

If however, I don't want the dogs messing around in this room, I'll take away their toys & I expect them to settle down & not cause any 'doggery'!

As I said, when it comes to being in the lounge the dogs are expected to settle down. Generally we'll only be in the lounge when it's our time to chill out, so if the dogs are with us then I fully expect them to settle down & switch off as well.

Under no circumstances are the dogs allowed to play ball, jump around on the sofa & generally cause havoc in the house and definitely NOT when they are in the lounge. When they're in the house, they're expected to behave & show 'good manners'. We do let the dogs on the sofa to chill out, however it's only when they're invited onto the sofa are they allowed up. The only time they're invited is when we've got the cover over the sofa to protect it from hairs & the smell of dog.

Usha & Taylor chill out on the sofa

Because we had Bandit when he was a little older, he was an absolute nightmare for settling down in the house. He was always on the go at 1,000 miles an hour. In the beginning he'd never settle down at all. He'd pace up & down the room, jump on & off the sofa, kitchen counter surf & was generally causing a nuisance to not only us but also himself. 

Here's the Blog about Bandit's lack of manners one week after we had him. Slowly but surely, he did start to settle down - however just as he was getting better and started to understand what was required, it was time for him to move to pastures new!

As I said, it's vitally important for dogs to have an 'off switch' - even more so working dogs and especially puppies. It's absolutely no use having them running around all day everyday, doing whatever they please & whenever they like, burning themselves out. As always with these Blogs, this is just my way & my opinion, but over the years I've noticed a real difference in the dog's working ability when they have 'down time'.     

If the dogs are 'on the go' all of time, frantically messing about & causing general 'doggery' (as Sarah calls it) then when it comes to them working they're not going to be as fresh & as sharp. One of the big things we've done with Izzy to increase her drive & focus was to completely remove any kind of stimulation & toys when she was at home. No toys, no playing, nothing. The only time she got any kind of high energy play was when it was time for her to start working & training. Had she been allowed to just play & do whatever she liked at home, her 'work' would have been nowhere near where it is now. Down time is absolutely crucial to the dogs development. 

Typically 'Mad' Ozzy much preferred chill out times in his kennel

This doesn't necessarily mean that all down time occurs in the house either. We have a kennel set up for the dogs at home, so if the dogs go into the kennel, I don't expect them to be messing about, barking or generally causing a nuisance. When they're in the kennel it's time for them to chill out just as they would in the house. Some of our pups have preferred going into their kennel to chill out rather than staying in the house. We always give the dogs enough time & space for them to relax in their own way. Effective crate training is absolutely vital to ensure your dog has somewhere secure, safe & aware from the hustle & bustle of everyday life in a household.

Taylor helping with the crate training
When we're looking at puppies, it's also vitally important that they get plenty of rest. They do most of their growing whilst they are sleeping, and with such rapid growth spurts it's vitally important they get plenty of rest.

Very often people will ask us how long we are out 'training' for with our pups & certainly whilst they are young the actual time we're out working them is fairly small. Everything we do is in short, sharp bursts of training, so that they get time to recover & rest. 

Whilst everyone strives for a happy, playful dog - especially a high drive working dog - it's also absolutely vital that the dog has good manners & knows how to switch off. For working dogs especially, they need their down time just as much as their handlers do, so it's vital we put in the ground work to make sure they are ready to do the job but also relax and chill out when it's time to do so.

Arragon down time on the sofa
It's a massive thing for the dogs, they'll be on shift for between 8-12 hours when they're out working, so when they're at home they need their rest as much as the humans do. Dogs have stressful days at work too. Things like public order jobs (football matches, riots etc) really take their toll on the dogs because they need to remain highly alert & ready for action for the whole shift. It's no good for the dog if, when they are at home, they are still on the go after such a long & stressful day.

Certainly for our pups, as they start getting to the age & ability Izzy is at now, we can be out 3 times a day doing bits of training, so when we get home in between those sessions it's vital she takes time to rest, relax and chill out ready for the next training session.

Resting & chilling out is as vital & important as any of the other training we do with our pups. Each component of what we do feeds into another & is what helps makes the pups rounded, sociable & great working dogs.

Never underestimate the need to develop your dog's 'off switch'. As well as giving you the time to chill out & relax, it also gives the dogs the chance to do the same. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

When is a dog toy, a dog toy?

And the answer . . . . .when your dog tells you it is!!

If I had a £1 for every time someone says "he won't play with a toy" I'd be, well perhaps a couple of quid up. No actually I'd probably have a fair few extra £1's. It's a phrase we used when Izzy first came to us - she just did not want to play with a toy.

I remember the first time we went to look at her in the kennels & the first thing I did was to get a toy out to see what she did. She did absolutely nothing & I remember coming away from the kennels with Sarah & I said "she's a lovely little dog but not really into her toy at all" - oh how times change!!!

Check out our "Izzy Update - 11 weeks on" Blog

Izzy on the day we first went to see her

With a whole host of places selling 'dog toys' it's sometimes hard to consider that it is in fact your dog who chooses what he (or in Izzy's case - she) likes to play with most & not the marketeers at pet toy manufactures.

Very often the simplest of things gives your dog the most satisfaction. One of the most common things I'll do when people tell me their dog won't play is I'll either get a piece of paper, screw it up & get the dog to play with it or I'll get the owner to take off their socks & let them see how much their dog plays with them. On the odd occasion though, I will look a bit of a wally when the dog decides not to play with either of them! 

But the fact of the matter is, going to your local Pets At Home to buy a new 'dog toy' often doesn't solve the "dog isn't playing" issue, because it's you choosing the 'dog toy' and not your dog!

Before you head off to your local store to chose a new 'dog toy' use your imagination. Perhaps your dog's favourite toy is staring you right in the face. When we get baby pups we use things like plastic bottles (with the lids, ring & packaging removed), the cardboard out of the toilet roll or old tea towels etc. Everyday items that are right there in front of you.

It's crucial for you to work out what your dog's favourite toy is as it will play such an important role in the training of your dog. Whilst we do lots of training with food rewards, a favourite toy for a dog lasts forever, won't put weight on your dog & will enable you to deliver a reward much more effectively. 

Some dogs however aren't toy orientated - beagles are a prime example. However despite this, Taylor will play fetch or chasing games with a toy. He wouldn't play with something like a ball on a rope, he prefers a soft teddy bear type toy like 'Justin'! It's just a matter of working out what your dog chooses as his toy.

Justin Beaver

In the early days with our pups a lot of our training is done via food rewards, however when we move onto the more 'Police Dog' orientated training it's vitally important that the dogs are extremely motivated by a toy reward. One thing  puppy walkers are always encouraged to do is get their puppy "ball pissed". The dog should want to go through walls to get at their ball. 

Since the arrival of Izzy, many of you who follow her on Twitter will know that in the early days of having her we really struggled to get her to play with anything. Fortunately we have a whole host of different dog toys & items we can use to interact with our pups. Izzy certainly made us think outside of the 'dog toy' box.

What's in the Izzy toy box?

A lot of what we did with Izzy in the early part involved food & food is a really great way to train dogs. Most, if not all dogs, can be motivated for food. However we really needed to bring out Izzy's drive & needed her to really start playing with her toys. For the type of training we do, we want really a high drive, energetic & enthusiastic work ethic.

We quite literally tried everything to get Izzy to play. We were constantly chopping & changing items to see which motivated her the most - and those who've read the Blogs about her will know we were struggling at the start.

Thankfully we had a fantastic supply of equipment from Kong & their dog toys really did help bring on Izzy's play (alongside the ever trusty supply of sheepskin!). 

We've evolved through the whole Kong range of toys as Izzy has become more & more toy interested.

Plenty of Kong toys to choose from

The great thing about the Kong range is that they literally have something for every dog & you can transition the toys all the way from puppyhood to adult hood. All of their toys come in a whole host of shapes, sizes & designs.

That said, it's vitally important you get the right Kong for your dog. Those who follow the pups on Twitter will have seen that Bandit managed to bite off the top a Kong, so it's important you get the right Kong for you dog. Bandit needed the big black Kong Extreme whereas Izzy at the moment is still playing around with her puppy Kong. Different dogs need different strengths.

Initially Izzy's favourite Kong toy was the Kong Wubba. She's a real shredder & loves to try & rip things up (door matts, Taylor's bed etc have all had the Izzy treatment!!). The Kong Wubba was brilliant for her because she loved chasing the tassels on the end of the Kong. Because it had the fabric type outer layer it was great for her & she'd chase it, pick it up & throw it around by the tassels.

Puppy Izzy with the Kong Wubba

Then we moved onto the Kong Air Ball and she was soon chasing this around the park, squeaking the ball as she went. We've used Air Kong balls extensively with all of our pups. They're a brilliant toy for young dogs as they do them in 3 different sizes. They're effectively a squeaky tennis ball & they've played a massive part in all of our pup's development. They're absolutely brilliant for the younger dogs.

Izzy chasing her Kong Air Dog ball
As her jaws started to get a bit stronger we moved onto the Kong Sqeeez Ball which is a fantastic ball. It's a plastic ball which has the squeaker injected into the middle of the plastic ball. The squeaker can't actually pop out & because it's plastic you don't get the 'wet tennis ball issue' in your pocket either.

We've only come across these new Kong Squeez balls recently, Bandit being the first pup who used them and again they've been instrumental in our training ever since. They're a brilliant move up from the Air Kong balls as they're a bit more sturdy & the squeak lasts forever. The Squeez balls are a lot 'cleaner' too as they are made from plastic & don't absorb dog slobber!

Eventually we'd moved through the various Kong toys & have now got a toy which Izzy is totally obsessed with!! The Aqua Kong. The Aqua Kong now comes EVERYWHERE with us & she'll now do everything for her Kong reward.

All of her obedience, heelwork, property searching & tracking is now done with the Aqua Kong as her reward. She's massively into her Kong's.

Izzy's favourite toy

At home we'll mess about with a normal Kong & she'll play for hours non stop with the Kong toy - thankfully she's not managed to get through the Kong thanks to us ensuring we have the right Kong for her. If we let her have her Kong at home, she'll mess around, chase it & play with it all day! 

It's been a massive change in her behaviour since day 1 when we had her. She's now a really drivey, boisterous puppy who loves nothing more than to work for her toys. We've been really lucky that we've been able to have all of these toys on hand to help with Izzy's development & Kong have played a huge role in all of the pup's we've developed over the years.

So, if you really have the urge to go out & get your dog a toy - we'd have to say that you can't go too wrong looking at the fantastic range of toys Kong have. There really is something for every dog.