Enriching the lives of dogs when left at home – Steve Goward

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This seminar was hosted by the Dogs Trust and discussed the importance of enrichment in the lives of dogs. Steve mainly talked about how they used enrichment to help improve the welfare of dogs within the Dogs Trust. However, the same principles also apply for our dogs at home!

Through enriching the environment we can help to address physiological needs that aren’t being met. This can help to reduce any unwanted behaviours. Steve provided some lovely examples of enrichment being used in zoos, my favourite was using food hidden in ice and plastic toys for polar bears…or tucking into a frozen birthday cake! (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/picturesoftheday/8193693/Pictures-of-the-day-10-December-2010.html?image=13)



Animate types of enrichment include,

  • Training – depending on the type of training we carry out, we can use this to help enrich our dogs lives. If it is positive then this helps to take advantage of every possibility to improve interactions and assocations.
  • Dog-dog interactions – socialising can also help to enrich a dogs life though it is important that this is controlled. Many dogs become less social as they get older, so meeting lots of strange dogs at that point may not be enriching, but allowing them to see familiar dogs that they can play with could be important.

Inanimate types of enrichment include,

  • Furniture – this is something the Dogs Trust do through increasing the amount of furniture and comfy spaces available for their dogs.
  • Toys – similar to the polar bears at the zoo, dogs also need things to help them stimulate their brains and satisfy their inquisitive natures. Toys are a great way to do this and the type of play each dog likes will be very dependent on the individual. Because of this it is important that we know what they enjoy best (tug, chase, sniffing, digging!).

CHOICE is something that can hugely help with enrichment. Even something as simple as bed choice gives the dog the ability to control their own lives. For example, having a comfy bed, a flat bed and also different surfaces that are either cooler or warmer. I know that Mossy will change where she sleeps depending on how warm it is, if it’s too noisy or the brightness of the room!


Steve talked about how it is important to utilise all areas to help enrichment and a space that is often forgotten about is the garden. I really love the idea of a sensory garden for dogs. This is something that many rescue centres are now trying to incorporate to help engage and relax dogs.

This can involve growing dog friendly types of plant which they can either use for having a munch on, running about it or just enjoying the different smells. Here is a list of the safe plants which can be used,

  • Birch — known to help with muscular and inflammatory pain.
  • Catnip — good for its relaxing properties and stimulates playfulness in dogs.
  • Lavender — known to encourage scar tissue regeneration.
  • Marigold — often selected by animals experiencing grief or emotional distress.
  • Meadowsweet — often selected by animals with digestive problems, arthritis, and rheumatic conditions.
  • Peppermint — good for its cooling properties and often selected by animals with skin irritations. It can also be offered as an aid for training.
  • Valerian — often selected by anxious dogs for its calming effect.
  • Wheat grass — animals who are nervous, anxious, and exhibit hyper behaviours often select wheat grass.
  • Willow — animals in pain often select willow bark.

There are also loads of DIY things you can do to create outdoor activities and games.


You could use sticks, branches or logs with holes drilled in them for putting treats or things to sniff. This picture was taken from https://themayhew.org/about/news/sensorygarden/.


You could use different textures and heights of objects for them to sniff and explore. A great tip Steve gave us for short haired dogs that like a scratch is to use a hard brush mat which they can rub themselves on (Emma and Louise I can see Herc loving that!). This could also be used indoors too to give different surfaces to scratch themselves on during the day. (Photo from http://www.yourdog.co.uk/Dog-Health-and-Care/can-i-create-a-sensory-garden-for-my-dog.html).


A cheap way to create more interesting smells is to use bird feeders filled with different things to sniff, you could then change these things regularly. Some examples of fillers could be sheeps wool or hay. I have even started to collect bits of seaweed and other things from the beach to hang around our garden for Mossy to sniff! (Picture taken from http://pin.it/QoE5BMD)


There are loads of ways that we can keep our dogs entertained in the house, the majority of which don’t take much time or money to do.

Feeding – the way we feed our dogs can also be used as a way to enrich there lives!

  • Treat balls and activity puzzles
  • Stuffed kongs
  • Slow feeders
  • Snuffle mats
  • Hiding treats and playing ‘go find’
  • Scrunched up newspaper with treats hidden inside
  • Toilet rolls with paper and treats inside
  • Cardboard boxes

This can really help to mentally stimulate our dogs especially when they would normally only spend a few minutes out of their whole day eating from their bowls!


Because training involves dogs using their brains to solve problems this can also be used as an opportunity to improve enrichment! The best way to do this is use positive reinforcement throughout the day to reward the behaviours you want. This may involve just asking your dog for a sit before doing something (e.g eating, going outside) or rewarding them for walking nicely on the lead or not barking at something they are nervous of. It doesn’t always have to be treats, other rewards like verbal praise, toys and play can also be used.

HOWEVER for all case of enrichment it is essential that we listen to what the dog wants. Make sure you keep an eye out for any signs that they may be getting over stimulated, stressed or tired and let them have a break or remove the object that is causing the issue. Some dogs may also just ignore the sensory things you put out and that is also OK. There are loads of fun things we can do to enrich our dogs lives so I hope this helps to provide some inspiration on how to start!




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Chin targeting – take one!

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This is Mossy’s third chin targeting session. The first challenge we had was that as I put my hand out she thought I was asking for her paw. Mossy was also a bit wary of me putting my hand under her chin at first but is now picking it up really well!

I’m hoping that I can build this up so that she will rest her chin in my palm for prolonged periods. This should be a good way to distract her if we end up being confronted with a situation that puts her over threshold and we can’t move away.

There are loads of benefits associated with targeting so I’m hoping this will help to build her confidence and strengthen our bond.

Sorry about the lack of sound…apparently the radio in the background means I was breaking copyright laws!! If you watch closely you can see when I am clicking. I will post another clip with sound soon to show how we are progressing!





The Passion of Play – Alasdair Bunyan

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“We do not stop playing because we grow old…we grow old because we stop playing” ( Benjamin Franklin)

I can put my hands up and admit that since the arrival of my daughter 8 months ago, Mossy has not been given the attention she deserves. While she has been fed, watered, sheltered, given security and allowed to be a dog (the most important one I think), our relationship has been frayed due to my lack of effort in maintaining and strengthening our bond. This was one of the main points that came across during Alasdair Bunyan’s seminar, too many people are relying on other dogs to be the main play focus of their dogs and human-dog play is being missed out. As a dog walker, this is definitely something that I have been using as my get out of jail card when it comes to play.

Alasdair Bunyan is the senior training and behaviour advisor for the Dogs Trust and his extensive knowledge and wit really made this seminar stand out. I left feeling totally invigorated and motivated to go home and give Mossy a big hug (yeah yeah I know dogs don’t enjoy them) and figure out a plan on how we could both get the best out of our relationship.

Never above you

Never below you

Always beside you

Alasdair put huge emphasis on the importance of relationship between dogs and their owner. The main components of this have to be trust and respect in order for good training and play relations to develop. He mentioned a study carried out recently in Hungary which found that dogs emotions are very much tied to human emotions. The study showed that the area of the human brain which is used for empathy and love also lights up in dogs when the same sounds are played.


So why should we train our dogs?

Training is important for a number of things, including exercise, stimulation, enrichment and communication. Alasdair believes that no dog is fully trained, there is always something new we could be teaching them. This helps to build a dog’s confidence and strengthens the bond they have with their owner.

Training also allows us to help our dogs make the most appropriate choices when in certain situations. Because dogs, like all animals, seek to control their environments, we have to make sure that their choices are the rights ones and are also conducive to the human society that they live in. When a dog reacts impulsively to situation, if allowed to happen enough times, it becomes muscle memory. If this occurs then triggers will set off this default behaviour. In order to reverse this we need to build new pathways to help the dog create a new default behaviour.

When looking to change default behaviours the most important question to ask is what is the dog’s main drive and motivation. In order to do this we need to have a good relationship with the dog so that we can get a clear understanding of what may be affecting the dog’s actions.

Once the motivation and drive have been understood these can be used to change the emotional reaction a dog has to its triggers. Shaping, capturing and luring can then be used then to train new behaviours.

  1. What do you want the end behaviour to look like (if we are not clear about this how can the dog be!)
  2. Build up the behaviour slowly
  3. Add a cue
  4. Build up the speed at which the dog performs the behaviour
  5. Add distractions

When looking at reinforcers we have to examine all aspects of food, play and environment. A dog that may take food really well in the house may be more motivated by play when outside. Some treats may be too high value for the types of training, creating too much of a distraction. Because of this, the use of reinforcers should carefully thought about.

Alasdair created a list of prime behaviours that he feels all dogs should have. A behaviour which really caught my attention was the use of chin targeting. Alasdair showed clips of how he used targeting to distract his collie from a group of joggers. Targeting can be used for an endless number of behaviours which can be taken in any direction wanted…even to the point that you can train you dog to pretend to lift its leg on deserving victims! As soon as I got home I started practising this with Mossy and she is picking it up with great speed! I am hoping that as the owner of a nervous dog this will help me to distract her if we get caught in a situation that tips her over threshold and I can’t get away.


For play to be carried out it requires familiarity and emotional security in a known and safe environment. This is something I try to create on my dog walks in order for the dogs to fun with each other and explore the smells and sounds of the world.


herc fly


ted down


  • Biting and grabs
  • Paw movements
  • Play bows
  • Pouncing
  • Vocalisations

When dogs become more familiar it also allows them to push the boundaries and they will display play behaviours that would be inappropriate if done with a new dog. Alasdair talked about how this is OK and that as long as the play is fun and voluntary with lots of breaks there is no issue with rough play. However, this does make play quite hard to define as it mimics serious aggression, which is why to an outsider it can sound like clash of the cujos!!! Because it is so close to real aggression it can easily tip over the line if not kept in check. Another factor which affects this is the different play styles of the dogs. If they are incompatible this can also create friction.


Supporters club or fun police – nip in and out, barking on the fringes, usually herding breeds.

Gladiators – love high physical play, lots of slamming and pinning, can be an issue to done to other play styles.

Tuggers – love tugging and rough play!

Softies – will squeal at the slightest sniff of rough play!

Chasers – can prefer certain roles (chaser or to be chased) but can be an issue if predatory drift arises!

Because there is always the potential for emotions to change it is essential that we act as the best referees ever. If play is getting too rough then call the dogs away, reward and then let them return to play. I should change my dog title to ‘dog referee’ instead of walker!


This is the most important part of play because without this we risk neglecting the relationship we have with our dogs! Alasdair talked about needing to understand the play drives of our dogs so that we can get the most out of our play sessions.

An issue which I have with Mossy is that she is ball obsessed. I don’t know if this is something that I created or whether the nature of her breed (collie cross) means that it would have manifested anyway. However, anyone who knows me also knows that I hate ball chucking! Mossy is a declared ball addict, though she has been in recovery for some time. While throwing a ball is not the worst thing we could do to a dog, in fact some people may think it would be cruel not to, the ball turns Mossy into beast! She has resource guarding tendencies anyway but if shes been chasing a ball it really brings out her possessiveness and she becomes very anti-social.

I feel that in a lot of cases the ball can become a social crutch for dogs. Mossy is normally terrified of wheeled things, her most feared wheeled thing is a dog with wheels! The ball is such a distraction that once when I was chucking it for her a disabled dog, normally her ultimate nemesis, was able to wheel around without her flickering an eye. If that’s the case, then what is the point of even walking a ball obsessed dog because they aren’t even aware of their surroundings.

Alasdair also pointed out that he had known of 5 deaths over his career caused by tennis balls getting stuck in the dog’s airway. If we are going to chuck balls, he recommends to get balls with ropes attached.

Mossy’s ball addiction creates a conflict for me because while I know that she loves it, it isn’t very healthy for her. She is an all or nothing dog so even throwing it for a short sessions means she will bring me every stone, stick or bit of rubbish to chuck for her. I asked Alasdair what I should do and he recommended that I change the game to something that keeps her under threshold and gradually work up towards more higher value games.

I have now got rid of the balls in the house and working on only playing tug games. A new rule is that Mossy also has to deliver the toy to my hand, as she has a habit of just spitting it out and racing backwards in anticipation of the chase.

I found Alasidar seminar hugely helpful and informative. This has only given a taste of what he talked about so if you are interested keep your eyes peeled for more talks carried out by the Dogs Trust…I am now off to spend all my money on new toys!!














Dog Aggression – its Causes and its Treatment

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John McGugian

Last night I attended an evening with John McGuigan (The Glasgow Dog Trainer) who gave a talk on dog aggression, its causes and its treatment. This is something I am fascinated in since dog aggression is becoming increasingly common. As well as this, one of the dogs I currently work with is leash reactive and I wanted to get some more information on how best to deal with this.

What I found most interesting about John was that he openly admitted that he started dog training using dominance methods and said that this destroyed his dogs. Through constantly correcting his dogs using leash jerks and dominating behaviour he created fear based aggression in both of them. It was this that led him to positive reinforcement training and being so passionate about advocating this method. John also put a lot of emphasise on the need for more scientific research on dog behaviour, because the more we understand why they do certain things the easier it will be to training them effectively!


If you have a reactive dog it is important that you don’t set them up for failures by continuously putting them in situations that tips them over threshold. This means managing your environment, so if you have a dog that is fearful of people or other dogs, take them to quiet places where you are less likely to run into trouble. Since life is full of unexpected surprises, if your dog does end up confronting something that makes them reactive get them out of there to re-group.

John also talked about how each situation that leads to reactivity increasingly puts your dog on edge, and big reactions can take up to 24 hours to cool down. This means that when training your dog you don’t want to have dedicated sessions more than 3 or 4 times a week. Also be aware that if your dog has had a big reaction to something then give them time to cool off before starting training again.


As John said, dog training is not rocket science, it is made up of simple things…but it is tricky to get right!

The main method that he uses is classical conditioning. This is based on the theory that everything we do is made up of simple patterns of stimulus and response. A famous example of this is the study by Pavlov where he rang a bell before feeding a dog and eventually the sound of the bell itself caused the dog to salivate as it associated it with the appearance of food. In this case the bell is the stimulus and the response is the dog salivating. This is exactly how clicker training works, where the click signals that something good is coming.

Classical conditioning is something that we can do by mistake, which is how many aggression cases start. So if every time your dog sees another dog and you jerk the lead, either to stop them pulling towards them or barking, eventually your dog will associate the negative feelings from the leash jerk with another dog approaching. This is how fear based aggression begins and it can become a vicious cycle where you jerk more because your dog is becoming more reactive.


  • Get the threshold right (start at a distance where your dog is not over threshold)
  • If your dog barks move further away
  • Click and treat for looking at dog
  • Eventually move to click and treat for looking at you
  • Click and treat for giving you more attention

This has the same format as Grisha Stewart’s Behaviour Adjustment Training (BAT) methods.



John also talked about operant conditioning. This is where adding or taking away a reward is used to modify the dogs behaviour. In case of frustrated dogs that pull to greet other dogs, moving further away from the other dogs acts as removing a reward. Or for fearful dogs, the reward is to move away from the scary stimulus.


John emphasised the importance of having a loose lead when do these training exercises, he demonstrates this really well on his youtube clips. He believes that the majority of reactivity cases can be greatly reduced just through good lead handling skills.



He finished off by discrediting some of the poor training techniques used by certain famous dog trainers (and unfortunately many others!!). I’ve mentioned the most commonly used one below.

Snapping dog out using leash pops and corrections 

People that use this technique believe that this breaks the dogs focus on whatever they are reacting to. However, this fails to properly understand dog behaviour and the effects of classical conditioning. While this technique does work in the short term, as it corrects the dogs behaviour at that moment, what it is really doing is building up a negative association to whatever the dog was reacting too, leading to fear based aggression.

Anyone who has a leash reactive dog or a dog that has dog-dog aggression I would definitely recommend to get in touch with John, or if not make sure you use a trainer that only uses positive methods. Dogs are man’s best friend and they deserve that we use the most up to date and human methods to train them!







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Last weekend I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend Jane Arden’s level 1 workshop on clicker training a reliable recall and controlling chase behaviour. This is something close to my heart as Mossy is a be fan of chasing fast moving objects (cyclists, joggers…even prams!). While I have managed to get this under control using high value treats I was still curious about why she did this.


Jane gave a very interesting and informative talk with a practical element in the afternoon where the training exercises could be practised with those who brought their dogs along.

Predatory Chase

Jane talked about predatory chase and the motor patterns that are involved in this, eye-stalk-chase-grab bite-kill bite-dissect-consume. Luckily most dogs stop the sequence before kill bite! She then went on to talk about breed specific differences for herders, terriers, gundogs and mixed breeds. In relation to Mossy (a collie cross) this would explain her chasing behaviour as border collies tend to have a motor pattern of eye-stalk-chase! This reiterates the work of Raymond and Lorna Coppinger in their book ‘Dogs’ which is well worth a read as it looks at dog behaviour from the point of view of a biologist.



Two types of rewards were discussed, our rewards which are used to reinforce behaviour (like treats ect) and environmental rewards (which most people would call distractions). Environmental rewards involve the chase of deer and hare, as well as other less appealing things like eating animal poo! Because these environmental rewards (especially chase) can be so enjoyable it is hard to reinforce recall using our rewards. Jane provided a different way of looking at how to increase our rewards by trying to incorporate predatory games. This could be done by chucking treats and allowing the dog to sniff it out or throwing it and getting them to catch it, helping to tap into their motor patterns of sniffing and chasing.

Building a Strong Reward System 

  • Test rewards for effectiveness (what rewards work best…ball, cheese, ham, fish??)
  • Have a varied set of rewards
  • Spend time strengthening rewards
  • Try to make your rewards predatory (chucking and allowing to sniff out or catch)
  • Use conditioning to increase your set of rewards
  • Toys can be paired with predatory games
  • Add duration to rewards (longer play or giving more than one treat)

This is just a small taster of the things that jane talked about so if you are interested in knowing more keep an eye out for her workshops!




Fun in the sun (finally!!!)

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Enjoying our first day of lovely weather for the year at a balmy 10 degrees (woop woop!). A trip to Arthur’s seat in the morning and at the end of the day and a stroll around the braids to break it up.

It was great to have all the gang back out and especially when the weather was so nice…I could get use to this dog walking malarky! I managed to get a great pic of Harris taking Mossy down, it’s about time someone put her in her place ;)








Snow Dogs in Spring!

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Spring is finally here…hahaha! Well at least there is some benefit of snow in March, lots of happy dogs running about the Pentlands! We had 2 new additions to the walk today, both black labs and both called Jackson…now named Jackson junior and Jackson senior (luckily there’s quite a noticeable size difference). Both dogs were lovely additions to the group and we all had a great walk up to the reservoir. Frank and Jackson (snr) braved the sub-artic temperature and went for a swim…the rest of us were sensible and stayed on dry land! I managed to get some nice pics when the sun finally came out. I especially love the one of Mossy buried in the snow…all you can see is her tail sticking out and Tess wondering what the hell is going on!