Dog Behaviour and Leadership by Nick Jones

I am often asked about the subject of leadership, because it does seem to be a current ‘buzz word’ at present. So, I would like to address some of the areas that may help if you are experiencing any difficulties with your dog.

My work is at the more pressurised end of what might be termed as dog training and people come to me when things are at a low ebb, having tried everything else. This is normally called behavioural work and I come across all sorts of job descriptions, anything from ‘dog behaviourist’ to ‘dog listener’ or ‘dog whisperer’. I don’t claim to be any of the above; call me what you like, but I do it every day, have a passion for my work and strive for excellence in all I do.

So, to dogs. I recall working with a chocolate Labrador not so long ago, which decided to ensconce itself against the dishwasher (dirty plates and food scraps!) that was at the far end of a narrow kitchen. Not initially aware of how much he prided himself on this secure location, I approached and calmly slipped a hand under his collar to remove him…at which point he gave a low guttural growl as if to say “you move me one more inch and I’ll have you”. The look in his eyes confirmed the growl and I decided that to move away was prudent. I soon returned with a slip lead and he walked away without aggression. We put in place some new rules to show him what was available to him in terms of movement about the home and prevented access to the kitchen later on. He is now doing well with a caring family.

The vast majority of dogs are just great, BUT they require from you leadership, consistency within the family and the best start possible in early life. What do I mean by these words exactly? Well, it’s impossible for me to go into depth for every aspect of dog training and problem resolution here, because it would turn into a book, but I would like to expand a little more…

Leadership is an on-going (birth to death even) approach that will protect, guide and reassure any dog. There is not a single thing that you do to show leadership, but a combination of setting reasonable boundaries for a dog that allows it to relax and enjoy a calm life as a part of your family. Some of the components to develop good positive leadership would include…

Obedience training
Classes can be good, but in my experience I see too many dogs that have been through the classes and found everything too stressful. Too many barking anxious dogs, anxious owners over-correcting and over issuing of commands. Too much food on the floor and generally a little bit chaotic.

This is not what we want our young dogs to experience in terms of relating to other dogs at an early age. Too stressful. As I say, classes can be good, but I urge you to check them out before hand and to even stop if your dog (or you) finds it all too much. Meeting well-balanced dogs in an open-air environment free from these pressures will be far better. A few hours with a respected local trainer in your local parks and streets would be far more valuable as it’s geared towards real life situations.

Managing your dog
By this I mean things you can do in the home in particular to ensure your dog is being watched (more the younger the dog is…a little like children) to ensure his actions are acceptable whilst in your home. A very young dog that has complete freedom to go where it likes (inside or out) is heading for trouble. As the dog matures and it gains your trust, you can then allow him more liberty. Too many owners start off the other way round and then have to work to pull things back. I see the first two years as crucial in shaping a dog’s behaviour and maintaining boundaries is essential. With slower maturing breeds you may need to add twelve months to that!

Good manners
Another area to maintain with any dog in the early years is ensuring that your dog is well mannered. Again, just like children, once you have a foundation of well-mannered behaviour, you can begin to enjoy what life has to offer more, because you know you can enter into almost any situation and come out the other side with your nerves in tact, your head held high. Aspects to address to ensure your dog is respectful and calm in the home and outside:

  • Calm homecomings – reward calm behaviour, not over excitability. Sit = Hello
  • Feeding manners – feed a good brand of food, a ‘Wait’ prior to allowing the dog to eat and respect around you when you are eating.
  • Sleep and rest areas – allow the dog on furniture only on your say so and ensure that the dog sleeps away from you to encourage an independent dog.
  • Doorways – calm and respectful leaving of the home at doorways and re entry. Train a simple ‘Sit and Wait’ for example. The same goes for car entry/exit.
  • Heelwork – an essential component to ensure the dog is exercising self-control and following you. Head and body harnesses should only be seen as a stepping-stone to walking on a relaxed lead and broad fixed collar. Seek one to one guidance if you are struggling with this aspect.

The recall – suffice to say that a dog that does not recall is a worry to you as an owner and a potential nuisance to other walkers when outside. Worst-case scenario is that your dog causes an accident on a public road. Poor recall can also lead to an exuberant dog getting embroiled with other dogs in conflict…possibly leading your own dog becoming reactive to others as time passes. Not wishing to place a negative slant on everything, but I see it so often, so I am keen to address things on a preventative level where possible.

Exercise – a well-exercised dog is a relaxed dog and a relaxed dog is far less likely to spend that same energy on being destructive, dominant or indulging in any other unwanted behaviours. Work on finding the right level of exercise for your dog’s breed and age. This alone can save you a great deal of trouble.

This means that you are doing your best within the family at all times to ensure that you are all singing from the same song sheet. Children will need constant supervision and gentle guidance to begin with (age depending) to ensure that they too are doing their bit to show calm behaviour with the dog. Consistency between the man and woman in the home can be harder to achieve at times, as both can have their own ideas on how something should be dealt with. Suffice to say, that it is worthwhile to sit down early on and agree the way things are going to be done around the areas I describe under “good manners” for example; this needs to be extended across the dog’s routine.

Best start
With a rescue dog, much of this early training time may have passed already and you will be working with this in mind. However, should you obtain a puppy at 8 weeks of age, then you have a huge responsibility to go out of your way to socialise your dog. This single-minded approach can in itself take away most future problems, as you will be removing the element of risk of developing fear. Even though you dog may not receive the ‘all clear’ to mix with other dogs after it’s injections at about 12 weeks, it is essential that you are creative in introducing your dog to as many things as possible (dogs included!) to make them seem normal and acceptable right from day one in your care. This period closes down at approximately 16 weeks of age; so you can see that you only have a couple of months to go about this process. It doesn’t close completely, so intend to maintain positive meetings with all sorts for the first two years at least.

Prior to the ‘all clear’ of the second injection, you can allow the dog to mix with other calm, healthy dogs in friends’ and neighbours’ gardens for example. Keep your pup on a lead or long line to allow intervention if needed. To avoid this can be a mistake, as you will then only have approximately 4 weeks to socialise your new dog, this is simply not enough for some. Introduce as much variety as possible: Dogs and people of all ages, shapes and sizes etc.

Some keywords for you to consider: Dogs, people, cars, buses, livestock, pubs, towns, traffic, your local vet…simply drop in for a pleasant hello and leave again!

I am well aware that it’s easy to talk theory and that no single article or book will resolve the concerns you may be experiencing. It’s not unusual for me to visit a home and to see they have a number of popular books, they watch all the programmes (not always a good thing!) and they have done their level best to resolve things on their own. What can often make a difference is a trained eye can that see what particularly need addressing and to work with what we have in front of us. Dogs have a super ability to change and adapt in a very short space of time; this often leaves me both touched and impressed.

There is help available out there folks, you just need to make a number of phone calls, ask some direct questions to find out how the trainer works and handles dogs, then to make a well balanced decision that will benefit both you and the dog. I hope this article prompts some thoughts in you regarding leadership in particular, because all dogs require this as a foundation to leading a balanced life.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Nick Jones, for the CFBA, the CIDBT and their students of Dog Behaviour & Training

A Guide to Taking Your Dog on the Train By Colin Tennant

Colin Tennant, a leading expert in dog behaviour and training, has worked with East Midlands Trains to create a guide on taking your pooch on the train. Along with the guide, East Midlands Trains is rolling out drinking bowls at main line stations and serving up doggie treats on board selected services to ensure every dog has its day!

Em-Bark On A Short Journey First
Before taking your canine companion on a lengthy train trip, go on a shorter trial train journey to help acclimatise your dog to travelling. A preparatory trip is also a really good indicator of how your four-legged friend will fare on a long-distance journey.

Make Sure You’re All Set-ter For Your Trip
Think ahead and remember some people may not be used to having dogs around them. Look to book a seat in an area which is likely to be less busy, a good spot is the area close to the doors where there is more space.

Before setting off on a long journey, take your dog on a walk in a local park or green area. This will make your pup less energetic in the train carriage and more likely to have a nap.

Teaching Your Pooch To Sit…But Where?
Although it may be tempting to have your four-legged friend sit next to you on a seat, remember that seats are for people! For smaller dogs, sitting under a seat is ideal – or a carrier cage for a longer journey helps ensure your pooch has sufficient space and is away from foot traffic.

For larger dogs, there may still be ample space underneath the table but be mindful of others sat around. If there is no room under the table, it may be best to stay near the doorway where there is more space for your dog to lie down.

Avoid keeping your pooch in crowded areas where passengers are likely to be passing through.

Dogs love to lounge but it is important to ensure your pet keeps a level of decorum. Remember there are some things passengers just don’t want to see!

Boarding Your Dog
Setting your dog at ease should begin before the train journey. We would recommend arriving 15 minutes before your train is due to depart and sit on a seat well away from the edge of the platform. This will allow your four legged friend to take in the station environment and relax before the journey.

Small dogs should be lifted and carried onto the train; this will allow you to find your seat quickly and easily. It will also prevent your four-legged friend’s paws from being trodden on!

Clearly, the loo on the train is for humans so it is best to make sure your pooch has been to the toilet before the journey. Preparation is key but we always recommend carrying a doggy poo bag in case of an emergency.

Reach Fur The Treats
No matter the length of the journey, it is always useful to have a small doggy bag containing a water bottle as well as treats for a distraction. We all know dogs can drool, especially with such delicious treats in close proximity, a cloth or small towel to wipe the dog’s face or paws is essential.

Another distraction is to take dog toys with you but avoid the temptation to bring your pet’s favourite squeaky toy as the squeaking may not be everyone’s cup of tea!

If you don’t have treats to hand or you step out without your doggie bag, East Midlands Trains has dog drinking bowls at main line stations and doggie treats (donuts bespoke for canine consumption) on board selected services, to make travelling with pooches even easier.

Although treating your dog to snacks can provide a distraction, feeding your Frenchie a more substantial meal on the train is not advised because it could bring on a swift need to go to the loo and expose your fellow passengers to the smell of dog food.

Follow The Lead-er
The lead is a dog owner’s essential item and it will come as no surprise this remains true on the train. If you have a choice of leads, we recommend a non-extendable version.

Always remember to keep hold of the lead and don’t tie or secure to train furniture.

Make sure your dog is with you at all times and not left alone to their own devices. This will ensure your dog knows to behave and will make the journey more comfortable for you and your dog.

Man’s Best Friend, But be Mindful of Other Passengers
Remember some people may not be dog friendly so make sure your dog stays close to you.

Be mindful and attentive of other passengers’ signals. If they make it known they are comfortable or try to pet your dog it is okay to
let your dog interact.

So now you are all set to take an adventure with your furry, four-legged friend!

For more information, contact Toby Leston, Natalie Smith or Ed Walton on 0203 950 7566 or

Dog Train-ing – East Midlands Trains By Colin Tennant

“The average pooch ventures 500 miles every year, a third of dogs have been to a dog-friendly health spa (31%) and nearly a fifth (18%) have even attended a festival”

Half of British dog owners (51%) refuse to go on holiday without their pets according to new research. And, a further 32% insist their dog is as much part of the family as their children.

In addition, a staggering 54% would prefer to go on holiday with their dog than their partner, claiming they are better company (48%), better behaved (39%), don’t snore (30%) and don’t hog the bed (26%).

The study of 1,000 British dog owners, commissioned by East Midlands Trains to celebrate the launch of a new range of pup-friendly provisions on selected routes, found that our four-legged friends are surprisingly well travelled. The average pooch ventures 500 miles every year, a third of dogs have been to a dog-friendly health spa (31%) and nearly a fifth (18%) have even attended a festival.

However, many owners are unsure about rail travel, with 59% admitting they don’t know the rules concerning taking dogs on board. A third of people (30%) believe dogs aren’t actually allowed on trains, with nerves being the main reason for the majority of dog owners to avoid rail travel (55%) with their furry friends. Despite this, half (50%) of those polled said they would take their dogs on the train if they understood the on board rules.

In response, East Midlands Trains has partnered with canine behaviourist, Colin Tennant, to devise the ‘Dog Train-ing’ guide specifically designed to help make travelling with four-legged friends as easy and as passenger-friendly as possible. 

Dog-owning passenger’s biggest travel concerns are addressed in the handy guide and video which sees Colin showing how our pooches can actually be the perfect train traveller. Major worries include the likes of dogs being too big to travel on board (36%), drooling (31%) and getting too excited (55%).  

The rail operator is also rolling out a range of pup-friendly provisions, including dog bowls at main stations and doggie treats (donuts bespoke for canine consumption) on board, to make travelling with pooches even easier.

Jake Kelly, Managing Director of East Midlands Trains says: “We welcome well-behaved pets on board and know there are plenty of advantages to travelling by train with your pet. However, it’s clear that some owners are unsure of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to bringing a dog on board. To help out, we’ve created a handy guide and are launching brand new doggy provisions on selected routes so that your dog, you and all other passengers are as comfortable as possible when using our services.” 

The research also discovered that most (69%) dog owners believe their fellow passengers are friendlier when they have their four-legged friend in tow, with two thirds (68%) polled revealing they have more conversations with their fellow passengers (68%) when accompanied by their pooch. Half of male dog owners even went as far to say that they could see these conversations leading to a date, compared to just 38% of women.

Male dog owners also thought their pooch travelled better than their partner (32%) – twice as much as women (15%). So, it seems dogs really are a man’s best friend.

Elsewhere in the research, the study found that the average pooch had visited three countries in its lifetime, so it’s not surprising that more than half (56%) of owners aged 18-29 year old owners said their dogs are more seasoned travellers than their parents.

Whilst a third (31%) of British dog owners admit to taking their dogs abroad with them, 14% confess they only take a UK staycation where they know their pooch is welcome. Blackpool Pier (16%), Stonehenge (16%), Land’s End (15%) and Big Ben (14%) are amongst the top tourist hotspots Brits love to visit with their dogs.

For more information, contact Toby Leston, Natalie Smith or Ed Walton on 0203 950 7566 or

Dominance in Dogs is Correct! by Dr. Joaquin Perez-Guisado

“some of the factors that cause aggressiveness in dogs are: first-time dog ownership; failure to subject the dog to basic obedience training; spoiling or pampering the dog; not using physical discipline when it is required; buying a dog as a present, as a guard dog or on impulse; spaying female dogs;”

Dogs are aggressive if they are trained badly
Many dogs are put down or abandoned due to their violent nature, but contrary to popular belief, breed has little to do with a dog’s aggressive behaviour compared with all the owner-dependant factors. This is shown in a new study from the University of Córdoba, which includes breeds that are considered aggressive by nature, such as the Rottweiler or the Pit Bull. The conclusions, however, are surprising: it is the owners who are primarily responsible for attacks due to dominance or the competitive nature of their pets.

The research team from the University of Córdoba has determined a series of external factors that are inherent to the dogs in order to understand their aggressiveness and they have observed that external, modifiable and owner-dependent factors have a greater influence on the animals.

According to Dr Joaquín Pérez-Guisado, the main author of the study and a researcher from the University of Cordoba, some of the factors that cause aggressiveness in dogs are: first-time dog ownership; failure to subject the dog to basic obedience training; spoiling or pampering the dog; not using physical discipline when it is required; buying a dog as a present, as a guard dog or on impulse; spaying female dogs; leaving the dog with a constant supply of food, or spending very little time with the dog in general and on its walks.

To correct the animal’s behaviour, the owner should handle it appropriately and “re-establish dominance over the dog”, the researcher adds. In terms of physical discipline, Pérez-Guisado points out that “this method cannot be used with all dogs given the danger involved, although it could be used to re-establish dominance over puppies or small and easy-to-control dogs”. However, “it should never be used as justification for treating a dog brutally, since physical discipline should be used more as a way to frighten and demonstrate the dominance we have over the dog rather than to inflict great suffering on the animal”, the vet states.

Full bibliographic information Pérez-Guisado, Joaquín; Muñoz-Serrano, Andrés. “Factors Linked to Dominance Aggression in Dogs” Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances 8(2): 336-342, 2009 By Dr Joaquin Perez-Guisado

Dominance is Dominant! by Roger Tabor

“It has long been recognised by both research and practical experience of trainers that not only have some animals a tendency to be dominant with regard to others, but that some breeds similarly have a tendency to be dominant”

The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association believes that in accord with established behavioural and ethological studies across a wide range of species, and particularly in dogs, the concept of relative dominance to recognise current rank is a useful tool in safe dog training and behaviour assessment.

When professional dog trainers and behavioural practitioners comment that a dog they are training is a “dominant animal” it is an evaluation giving advice to owners that for the safety of their children and the neighbour’s children that particular attention to proper training for that animal is essential. Failure to recognise such risk and to properly act upon it can lead to injury and the euthanasia of the dog.

It has long been recognised by both research and practical experience of trainers that not only have some animals a tendency to be dominant with regard to others, but that some breeds similarly have a tendency to be dominant. Dominance is not fixed, if it were, training or experience would not have the effects that they do to mitigate or control a dog’s behaviour.

Whilst aggression can be a feature of dominance, and certainly a reason to address it, it is only an aspect of interactions relating to dominance. An established wolf pack is not full of fighting as the leader making good choices is followed, and he is dominant, as the submissive postures of the rest of the pack reveal. Being dominant should not make you a bully, but by attending to proper training, you dog will recognise that you make the choices, that you are in charge, that you are dominant relative to him. If you are not, safety for people and your dog can become an issue. This should not make you a bully, but by attending to proper training, you dog will recognise that you make the choices, that you are in charge, that you are dominant relative to him. If you are not, safety for people and your dog becomes an issue.

This is why the Association is concerned that the academic speculation by a recent study that suggests the concept of a dominant dog is “meaningless”. The researchers have made this case as an extension of the assertion that dominance can only be applied to the interactions of 2 individuals. This is not only to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but does not reflect reality.

A particular rank can be scored between two wolves, two dogs or even two people, but that does not mean that a whole range of other relative rank positions between other individuals beyond that cannot be taken into account. In technical terms a “workable transitive dominance hierarchy” is present, and in constant revision. You may have just gone down the relative peck order with Smith or Jones because your boss barked at you, – but these are still issues of relative dominance!

As an association we not only recognise, but encourage research into a better understanding of pet behaviour, and recognise that it is right that academic exploration and review of terms is necessary. However, we are concerned when untried semantic speculation is disproportionately promoted against well established research and long established practical experience if that results in confusing owners and even trainers and in any way decreases the public’s safety with dogs. The concept of dominance shouldn’t be sidelined! Rescue dogs rising because of lack of education & discipline in dogs

2009 This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Roger Tabor.

Dominance is Dominant! By Roger Tabor CBiol FSB MPhil FCFBA HonFBNA FLS

Early Neurological Stimulation by Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia

Surprising as it may seem, it isn’t capacity that explains the differences that exist between individuals, because most seem to have far more capacity than they will ever use. The differences that exist between individuals seem to be related to something else. The ones who achieve and outperform others seem to have within themselves the ability to use hidden resources. In other words, it’s what they are able to do with what they have that makes the difference.

In many animal breeding programmes, the entire process of selection and management is founded on the belief that performance is inherited. Attempts to analyse the genetics of performance in a systematic way have involved some distinguished names such as Charles Darwin and Francis Galton, but it has only been in recent decades that good estimates of heritability of performance have been based on adequate data. Cunningham, (1991) in his study of horses, found that only by using Timeform data and measuring groups of half brothers and half sisters could good estimates of performance be determined. His data shows that performance for speed is about 35% heritable. In other words, only about 35% of all the variation that is observed in track performance is controlled by heritable factors, the remaining 65% is attributable to other influences, such as training, management and nutrition. Cunningham’s work, while limited to horses, provides a good basis for understanding how much breeders can attribute to the genetics and the pedigrees.

Researchers have studied these phenomena and have looked for new ways to stimulate individuals in order to improve their natural abilities. Some of the methods discovered have produced life long lasting effects. Today many of the differences between individuals can be explained by the use of early stimulation methods.

Introduction: Man for centuries has tried various methods to improve performance; some of the methods have stood the test of time, others have not. Those who first conducted research on this topic believed that the period of early age was a most important time for stimulation, because of its rapid growth and development. Today, we know that early life is a time when the physical immaturity of an organism is susceptible and responsive to a restricted, but important class of stimuli; because of its importance many studies have focused their efforts on the first few months of life.

Newborn pups are uniquely different from adults in several respects. When born, their eyes are closed and their digestive system has a limited capacity requiring periodic stimulation by their dam who routinely licks them in order to promote digestion. At this age they are only able to smell, suck, and crawl. Body temperature is maintained by snuggling close to their mother or by crawling into piles with other litter mates. During these first few weeks of immobility, researchers noted that these immature and under-developed dogs are sensitive to a restricted class of stimuli, which includes thermal and tactile stimulation, motion and locomotion.

Other mammals, such as mice and rats, are also born with limitations and they have been found to demonstrate a similar sensitivity to the effects of early stimulation. Studies show that removing them from their nest for three minutes each day during the first five to ten days of life causes body temperatures to fall below normal. This mild form of stress is sufficient to stimulate hormonal, adrenal and pituitary systems. When tested later as adults, these same animals were better able to withstand stress than litter mates who were not exposed to the same early stress exercises. As adults, they responded to stress in “a graded” fashion, while their non-stressed litter mates responded in an “all or nothing way.”

Data involving laboratory mice and rats also shows that stress in small amounts can produce adults who respond maximally. On the other hand, the results gathered from non-stressed litter mates show that they become easily exhausted and are near death if exposed to intense prolonged stress. When tied down so they were unable to move for twenty-four hours, rats developed severe stomach ulcers, but litter mates exposed to early stress handling were found to be more resistant to stress tests and did not show evidence of ulcers. A secondary affect was also noticed.

Sexual maturity was attained sooner in the litter mates given early stress exercises. When tested for differences in health and disease, the stressed animals were found to be more resistant to certain forms of cancer and infectious diseases and could withstand terminal starvation and exposure to cold for longer periods than their non-stressed litter mates.

Other studies involving early stimulation exercises have been successfully performed on both cats and dogs. In these studies, the Electrical Encephalogram (EEG) was found to be ideal for measuring the electrical activity in the brain, because of its extreme sensitivity to changes in excitement, emotional stress, muscle tension, changes in oxygen and breathing. EEG measures show that pups and kittens when given early stimulation exercises mature at faster rates and perform better in certain problem solving tests than non-stimulated mates.

In the higher-level animals the effect of early stimulation exercises has also been studied. Using young chimpanzees, the use of surrogate mothers and familiar objects were tested by both Kelloggs and Dr. Yearkes. Their pioneer research shows that the more primates were deprived of stimulation and interaction during early development, the less able they were to cope, adjust and later adapt to situations as adults.

While experiments have not yet produced specific information about the optimal amounts of stress needed to make young animals psychologically or physiologically superior, researchers agree that stress has value. What also is known is that a certain amount of stress for one may be too intense for another and that too much stress can retard development. The results show that early stimulation exercises can have positive results, but must be used with caution. In other words, too much stress can cause pathological adversities rather than physical or psychological superiority.

Methods of Stimulation: The U.S. Military in their dog program developed a method that still serves as a guide to what works. In an effort to improve the performance of dogs used for military purposes, a program called “Bio Sensor” was developed; later, it became known to the public as the “Super Dog Program”. Based on years of research, the military learned that early neurological stimulation exercises could have important and lasting effects. Their studies confirmed that there are specific time periods early in life when neurological stimulation has optimum results. The first period involves a window of time that begins at the third day of life and lasts until the sixteenth day. It is believed that this interval of time is a period of rapid neurological growth and development and is, therefore, of great importance to the individual. The “Bio Sensor” program was also concerned with early neurological stimulation in order to give the dog a superior advantage. Its development utilised six exercises, which were designed to stimulate the neurological system. Each workout involved handling puppies once each day. The workouts required handling them one at a time while performing a series of five exercises. Listed in order of preference, the handler starts with one pup and stimulates it using each of the five exercises. The handler completes the series from beginning to end before starting with the next pup. The handling of each pup once per day involves the following exercises:

1. Tactical stimulation (between toes)
2. Head held erect
3. Head pointed down
4. Supine position
5. Thermal stimulation

1. Tactile stimulation – holding the pup in one hand, the handler gently stimulates (tickles) the pup between the toes on any one foot using a Q-tip. It is not necessary to see that the pup is feeling the tickle. Time of stimulation 3 – 5 seconds.

2. Head held erect – using both hands, the pup is held perpendicular to the ground (straight up) so that its head is directly above its tail. This is an upward position. Time of stimulation 3 – 5 seconds.

3. Head pointed down – holding the pup firmly with both hands the head is reversed and is pointed downward so that it is pointing towards the ground. Time of stimulation 3 – 5 seconds.

4. Supine position – hold the pup so that its back is resting in the palm of both hands with its muzzle facing the ceiling. The pup while on its back is allowed to sleep. Time of stimulation 3-5 seconds.

5. Thermal stimulation — use a damp towel that has been cooled in a refrigerator for at least five minutes. Place the pup on the towel, feet down. Do not restrain it from moving. Time of stimulation 3-5 seconds.

These five exercises will produce neurological stimulation’s, none of which naturally occur during this early period of life. Experience shows that some pups will resist these exercises whilst others will appear unconcerned. In either case a caution is offered to those who plan to use them. Do not repeat them more than once per day and do not extend the time beyond that recommended for each exercise. Over stimulation of the neurological system can have adverse and detrimental results. These exercises impact the neurological system by kicking it into action earlier than would be normally expected, the result being an increased capacity that later will help to make the difference in its performance. Those who play with their pups and routinely handle them should continue to do so, because the neurological exercises are not substitutions for routine handling, play socialisation or bonding.

Benefits of Stimulation
Five benefits have been observed in dogs that were exposed to the Bio Sensor stimulation exercises. The benefits noted were:

1. Improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate)
2. Stronger heart beats
3. Stronger adrenal glands
4. More tolerance to stress
5. Greater resistance to disease

In tests of learning, stimulated pups were found to be more active and more exploratory than their non-stimulated litter mates over which they were dominant in competitive situations. Secondary effects were also noted regarding test performance. In simple problem solving tests using detours in a maze, the non-stimulated pups became extremely aroused, whined a great deal and made many errors. Their stimulated litter mates were less disturbed or upset by test conditions and when comparisons were made, the stimulated litter mates were calmer in the test environment, made fewer errors and gave only an occasional distress sound when stressed.

As each animal grows and develops, three kinds of stimulation have been identified that impact and influence how it will develop and be shaped as an individual. The first stage is called early neurological stimulation and the second stage is called socialisation. The first two (early neurological stimulation and socialisation) have in common a window of limited time. When Lorenz, (1935) first wrote about the importance of the stimulation process, he wrote about imprinting during early life and its influence on the later development of the individual. He states that it was different from conditioning in that it occurred early in life and took place very rapidly, producing results that seemed to be permanent. One of the first and perhaps the most noted, research effort involving the larger animals was achieved by Kellogg & Kellogg (1933). As a student of Dr. Kellogg’s, I found him and his wife to have an uncanny interest in children and young animals and the changes and the differences that occurred during early development. Their history-making study involved raising their own newborn child with a newborn primate. Both infants were raised together as if they were twins. This study, like others that followed attempted to demonstrate that among the mammals, there are great differences in their speed of physical and mental development. Some are born relatively mature and quickly capable of motion and locomotion, while others are very immature, immobile and slow to develop. For example, the Rhesus monkey shows rapid and precocious development at birth, while the chimpanzee and the other “great apes” take much longer. Last and slowest is the human infant. One of the earliest efforts to investigate and look for the existence of socialisation in dogs was undertaken by Scott-Fuller, (1965). In their early studies, they were able to demonstrate that the basic technique for testing the existence of socialisation was to show how readily adult animals would foster young animals or accept one from another species. They observed that, with the higher-level animals, it is easiest done by hand rearing. When the foster animal transfers its social relationships to the new species, researchers conclude that socialisation has taken place. Most researchers agree that among all species, a lack of adequate socialisation generally results in unacceptable behaviour and often times produces undesirable aggression, excessiveness, fearfulness, sexual inadequacy and indifference toward partners. Socialisation studies confirm that one of the critical periods for (infant) humans to be stimulated is generally between three weeks and twelve months of age. For dogs the period is shorter, between the fourth and sixteenth weeks of age. The lack of adequate social stimulation, such as handling, mothering and contact with others, adversely affects social and psychological development in both humans and animals. In humans, the absence of love and cuddling increases the risk of an aloof, distant, asocial or sociopathic individual. Over-mothering also has its detrimental effects by preventing sufficient exposure to other individuals and situations that have an important influence on growth and development. It occurs when a parent insulates the child from outside contacts or keeps the apron strings tight, thus limiting opportunities to explore and interact with the outside world. In the end, over-mothering generally produces a dependent, socially maladjusted and sometimes emotionally disturbed individual.

Protected youngsters who grow up in an insulated environment often become sickly, despondent, lacking in flexibility and unable to make simple social adjustments. Generally, they are unable to function productively or to interact successfully when they become adults. Owners who have busy lifestyles with long, tiring work and social schedules often cause pets to be neglected. Left to themselves with only an occasional trip out of the house or off the property, they seldom see other dogs or strangers and generally suffer from poor stimulation and socialisation. For many, the side effects of loneliness and boredom set-in. The resulting behaviour manifests itself in the form of chewing, digging and hard-to-control behaviour (Battaglia).

It seems clear that small amounts of stress followed by early socialisation can produce beneficial results. The danger seems to be in not knowing where the thresholds are for over and under stimulation. Many improperly socialised youngsters develop into older individuals unprepared for adult life, unable to cope with its challenges and interactions. Attempts to re-socialise them as adults have only produced small gains. These failures confirm the notion that the window of time open for early neurological and social stimulation only comes once. After it passes, little or nothing can be done to overcome the negative effects of too much or too little stimulation. The third and final stage in the process of growth and development is called enrichment. Unlike the first two stages it has no time limit and by comparison, covers a very long period of time. Enrichment is a term that has come to mean the positive sum of experiences that have a cumulative effect upon the individual. Enrichment experiences typically involve exposure to a wide variety of interesting, novel and exciting experiences with regular opportunities to freely investigate, manipulate and interact with them. When measured in later life, the results show that those reared in an enriched environment tend to be more inquisitive and are more able to perform difficult tasks. The educational TV program called “Sesame Street” is perhaps the best-known example of a children’s enrichment program. The results show that when tested, children who regularly watched this program performed better than playmates who did not. Follow-up studies show that those who regularly watch “Sesame Street” tend to seek a college education and when enrolled, performed better than playmates who were not regular watchers of the “Sesame Street” program. There are numerous children’s studies that show the benefits of enrichment techniques and programs. Most focus on improving self-esteem and self-talk. Follow-up studies show that the enriched “Sesame Street” students, when later tested, were brighter and scored above average and most often were found to be the products of environments that contributed to their superior test scores. On the other hand, those whose test scores were generally below average, (labelled as dull) and the products of underprivileged or non-enriched environments, often had little or only small amounts of stimulation during early childhood and only minimal amounts of enrichment during their developmental and formative years. Many were characterised as children who grew up with little interaction with others, poor parenting, few toys, no books and a steady diet of TV soap operas. A similar analogy can be found among dogs. All the time they are growing they are learning, because their nervous systems are developing and storing information that may be of inestimable use at a later date. Studies by Scott and Fuller confirm that non-enriched pups, when given free choice, preferred to stay in their kennels. Other litter mates who were given only small amounts of outside stimulation between five and eight weeks of age were found to be very inquisitive and very active. When kennel doors were left open, the enriched pups would come bounding out, while litter mates who were not exposed to enrichment would remain behind. The non-stimulated pups would typically be fearful of unfamiliar objects and generally preferred to withdraw rather than investigate. Even well bred pups of superior pedigrees would not explore or leave their kennels and many were found difficult to train as adults. These pups, in many respects, were similar to deprived children. They acted as if they had become institutionalised, preferring the routine and safe environment of their kennel to the stimulating world outside their immediate place of residence.

Regular trips to the park, shopping centres, obedience and agility classes serve as good examples of enrichment activities. Chasing and retrieving a ball on the surface seems to be enriching, because it provides exercise and includes rewards. While repeated attempts to retrieve a ball provide much physical activity, it should not be confused with enrichment exercises. Such playful activities should be used for exercise and play or as a reward after returning from a trip or training session. Roadwork and chasing balls are not substitutes for trips to the shopping mall, outings or obedience classes, most of which provide many opportunities for interaction and investigation.

Finally, it seems clear that stress early in life can produce beneficial results. The danger seems to be in not knowing where the thresholds are for over and under stimulation. The absence or the lack of adequate amounts of stimulation generally will produce negative and undesirable results. Based on the above, it is fair to say that the performance of most individuals can be improved, including the techniques described above. Each contributes in a cumulative way and supports the next stage of development.

Breeders can now take advantage of the information available to improve and enhance performance. Generally, genetics account for about 35% of the performance, but the remaining 65% (management, training, nutrition) can make the difference. In the management category, it has been shown that breeders should be guided by the rule that it is generally considered prudent to guard against under and over stimulation. Short of ignoring pups during their first two months of life, a conservative approach would be to expose them to children, people, toys and other animals on a regular basis. Handling and touching all parts of their anatomy is also a necessary part of their learning, which can be started as early as the third day of life. Pups that are handled early and on a regular basis generally do not become hand-shy as adults. In view of the risks involved in under-stimulation, a conservative approach to using the benefits of the three stages has been suggested based primarily on the works of Arskeusky, Kellogg, Yearkes and the “Bio Sensor” program (later known as the “Super Dog Program”). Both experience and research have dominated the beneficial effects that can be achieved via early neurological stimulation, socialisation and enrichment experiences. Each has been used to improve performance and to explain the differences that occur between individuals, their train-ability, health and potential. The cumulative effects of the three stages have been well documented. They best serve the interests of owners who seek high levels of performance when properly used. Each has a cumulative effect and contributes to the development and the potential for individual performance.

References:1. Battaglia, C.L., “Loneliness and Boredom” Doberman Quarterly, 1982.

2. Kellogg, W.N. & Kellogg, The Ape and the Child, New York: McGraw Hill.

Scott & Fuller, (1965) Dog Behaviour -The Genetic Basics, University Chicago Press.

Scott, J.P., Ross, S., A.E. and King D.K. (1959) The Effects of Early Enforced Weaning Behaviour of Puppies, J. Genetics Psychologist, p 5: 261-81.

Early Stimulation Exercises Figure # 1 Tactical stimulation Figure # 2 Head held erect Figure # 3 Head pointed down Figure # 4 Figure Supine position Figure # 5 Thermal stimulation

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Dr. Carmelo L. Battaglia for the CFBA, the CIDBT and their students of Dog Behaviour & Training

About the author
Carmen L Battaglia holds a Ph.D. and Masters Degree from Florida State University. As an AKC judge, researcher and writer, he has been a leader in promotion of breeding better dogs and has written many articles and several books. Dr. Battaglia is also a popular TV and radio talk show speaker. His seminars on breeding dogs, selecting sires and choosing puppies have been well received by the breed clubs all over the country. Those interested in learning more about his seminars should contact him directly. Visit his website at

Face to Face by Colin Tennant

A psychological insight between owner and dog
What tempted me to write on this subject was the amount of behavioural problems that beset so many owners. They have brought their dogs to my practice in the hundreds each year and as part of my work, I explain to owners what makes their particular dog tick. Part of any consultation that I undertake is giving an insight into the dog’s mind. Dog ownership is about rules, consequences and relationships, not too dissimilar to people hence why dogs are the most successful export from the wild to the domestic human environment. They learn, are adaptable, omnivorous in behaviour repertoire as well as nutrition.

The Dog learning jigsaw
Dog-owner relationships can be very mixed up, resulting in the owner’s belief system conflicting with their dog’s behaviour; if the owner has a belief system concerning his dog and how to control it, which lacks true understanding of the dog’s actual instincts and capabilities, then the chance of trouble lying ahead is high. It is of great concern how owners have difficulty getting solid advice in the internet jumble of mixed up and often fanatical belief systems to which they are exposed, telling them that they are bad or wrong if they don’t do what the armchair hobbyist tells them to despite this person being no wiser than most people. Experienced dog owners tend to accumulate acquired knowledge by trial and error; in time the relationship forms into equilibrium of give and take. Not very different to what we do in social interactions with other people.

Little Humans
I accept that it is difficult not to see our dogs as little humans; they often seem to understand our lives and problems and to provide comfort when needed. It’s all too easy to imagine that they feel in the same way as we do and that they think and reason just like us. I, too, sometimes talk to my dogs, explaining my feelings or delivering a diatribe to them about the day’s events. They listen, look at me and wag their tails as if in understanding. In fact they are reactions to my body language and direct attention to them. From the dogs’ view something exciting may happen other than me babbling about the traffic queues today. Many of us do this and it can be beneficially therapeutic. The problem is when we stop viewing it merely as a form of release and start to believe that our dog really understands what we’re saying. When owners cannot discern their dog’s real limits of reasoning then they can become frustrated or feel let down by their furry friend when their dog in other circumstances appears to be difficult.

All dog training is link learning
Many of my clients relate stories to me of their dog’s amazing abilities and the fact that their dog knows their mind or intentions before the owner does. So let’s explore how dogs learn and like a chain, add more links with each accumulative experience and/or interaction between dog and owner.

How Dogs Learn
Dogs learn by association: that is why they react to the sound of the lead being rattled or the car keys and really spring to attention when the tin opener appears at meal times. They don’t, however, relate backwards or forwards in time to a behaviour in the way we do, apply reasoning or rational thought. A dog that has chewed your best shoes ten minutes ago won’t understand if you show him the shoes and then rant on. Dogs’ minds simply don’t function that way; if you catch your dog while he’s chewing he may associate your displeasure with the act of chewing, however, he may equally associate chewing shoes as being wrong only if it’s done in front of you; after all, if he chews when you’re not around he isn’t reprimanded, alternatively he may feel you want his possession (the shoes) so you can have a good chew. The dog decides what he has learnt from the incident no matter what we might want or presume to impose; that is why most effective training methods work by teaching dogs what we wish them to learn as opposed to waiting for them to develop bad habits.

Instinctive Drives
A dog’s behaviour is basically governed by instinctive survival drives for living in the wild like their cousins the Grey Wolf. These inherited modes of behaviour regulate how a dog will relate with humans and other dogs; usually it doesn’t take dogs and owners long to come to an amicable arrangement for a peaceful co-existence, but this process is ongoing. It’s up to us – as the supposedly more intelligent species – to try to understand our dog’s mind: How it functions and what we can do to accommodate its natural needs and produce a relationship that is smooth and mutually enjoyable. Whatever you do, don’t stop talking to your dog. They love it and we love it, but do bear in mind that we are different species with limits of communication.

Key Body Language
My dog Dieter, a German Shepherd, has learnt an array of body language communications from me by formal dog training and from observational signals I may unwittingly communicate. I have taught him that if I get on all fours in my attempt to be doggy my physical nudges for play and games are the trigger (link) for this play, which only happens when I get down on the floor. No verbal commands are issued.

He has also learnt like most dogs that the Kong on a rope is to play retrieve, scent search and have investigative fun and games, which he enjoys because it’s fun time. Dogs, similar to children aged about two years old, do not get bored with repetitive entertainment and as the pack leader, time with him is a big plus too. This conditioning to a very high degree is not simply for play, but to help me focus his mind on what I want him to learn through a toy. Conditioning responses are a powerful vehicle for learning. I will use that same toy as a focus point for teaching tracking (scent work), recall and basic obedience commands too. It becomes a primary motivator.

Now let us look at other learning of Dieter’s own volition. When I switch the TV off by remote in the evening, he reacts to the electronic sound as a prelude for a quick tickle – link one – this he has learnt by initial sound association and the remaining links in this chain are me rising from the chair, opening a specific door to the garden and – the final link – his freedom to roam in the garden before bedtime.

Chauffeur service
Another sound and observation combined is the prelude to an adventure, me putting my shoes on, followed by a coat and finally car keys collected; Dieter himself has placed these sound and actions into a chronological order for an exciting walk. As a puppy all these actions were unknown to him. After a year I decided to alter the order of the sound and observational links and examine how he would cope.

I now put my coat on first, after a few days practice, he reassembled the links and now reacts excitedly to the coat first. Whichever, order I follow and providing I am consistent for about seven lessons, he learns that the new order of links equals his walk via the car. Dieter has adapted the links in the new order that bring his walk as the highlight of his day. This is also an example why dogs can change bad behaviours to good behaviours by re-training and providing the motivation, which has to be more potent than the links to the bad behaviours learnt and already established.

Like most dogs and I am sure your own dog, Dieter has made further links to the arrival of visitors and what that means. Some greet him more enthusiastically than others and he has decided who are close and who are more remote pack members; they each receive relevant doggy greetings and vocal responses, which are reciprocated according to the visitor’s view of a 90 pound dog saying hello.
Many clients complain about their dog’s over effusive greetings to visitors, reciprocated or not. The dog’s behaviour often is simply a learnt result of the visitors’ responses, control visitors’ responses and over friendly dog behaviour is easily modified. The subliminal first link the dog learnt here was the doorbell or knocker.

Lunch is served
Food delivery is probably the most powerful learnt link and you will know which set of actions sets off your dog for excitement at dinnertime. Talking of time, I always feed at different times, but dogs do have an inbuilt clock and if you feed at a certain time they begin to become active or give you that look – nudge nudge wink – of anticipation, especially if you go past the regular clock time for food delivery. Yes, they truly enjoy reminding us of what they want!

Walking my local woods, which has about 1000 deer within, I often see people struggling with their dog’s chase/predatory behaviours and one day walked alongside an owner and his dog that was firmly on a lead. When, as happens on most walks, a herd of deer suddenly rushed by at full speed his dog began to yap and want to chase, whilst Dieter off lead and nearer the deer immediately looked at the deer then turned on cue and looked immediately at me. This occurred twice more on the same walk. The man naturally enquired how I had achieved this control. I explained through dog training, but moreover that Dieter learnt at 12 weeks on a long line that running off was not what I wanted and looking at me was more rewarding. This embedded through training and the odd tug on the line produced a well-trained dog at the critical learning point in his mind’s development. In essence I had trained him to ignore his natural (normal) innate chase/predatory behaviour and respond to an alien abnormal behaviour that we call “recall training”. I replaced the natural chase innate link reward within my reward and maybe a throw of a Kong to chase and not the deer. He was still chasing, but rubber was the focus not fur.

Really Clever dogs
I have had only one dog in my kennels that could unbolt a gate and knock the bolt to the left with his nose, then pull the gate backwards toward him to escape the kennels and bingo get his reward – enter my office for company. All my staff were amazed by his intelligence; unfortunately, I had to point out to them that out of perhaps ten thousand dogs we had kept he was the only one, so was he really so intelligent? Of course I was being mischievous in one sense, but I wanted them to critically examine this dog’s action, cleverness and what he had learnt. Moreover, why was he the only one, though many dogs had tried?

The first time I saw him do this he approached the locked gate with learnt specific intention not puzzlement. He executed a number of tried and tested actions with his nose and paws on the lock and gate that indicated previous experience. In other words, past links to success were already learnt, however, the difficulty with our gate was that once the bolt had been knocked to the left with his nose it opened inward towards him; this was not a learnt link in his mind and he failed initially. He was puzzled. A gate he had previously conquered must have been opening away from him, because once he unbolted our gate he pushed the gate away by jumping up on it – this did not work, a link was missing from the dog enigma of link learning. He never approached the gate like other dogs, just jumping up and yapping. He went through a set of tried and tested actions that had produced results in his past, thus he was defeated by a gate opening towards him. Eventually he mastered this link and once learnt, we could not keep him in as the final link and success gave him freedom and access to us, which was his intention. I simply added another security device to the gate for his own safety, unfortunately for him, that he could not master. It did not stop him trying though.

I have dealt with dogs that have learnt to open fridge doors, that, thereafter, owners have added more complex locking features and their dogs have mastered them too. In fact if the reward is sufficient, clever dogs can work out all sorts of complex solutions in the home, including opening boxes with food in them, otherwise known as bins. Of course this adaptable link learning behaviour in the wild would be and is, of great benefit to wolves that apparently are much superior to domestic dogs at problem solving. Our dogs simply use that wolf intelligence to their own ends and to gain as many benefits that they want in our company. Not all are what we want, for example, scaling a six foot garden fence and running off, but that’s a dog being a dog.

Are dogs not fantastic? Let me know your dog’s clever antics and I will put the best ten on my web site for others to enjoy.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA, the CIDBT, and their students of Animal Behaviour

Further Thoughts on Dog Training by David Cavill

Further thoughts on dog training, behaviour modification and accreditation by David Cavill

Complications continue to abound within the world of dog training and behaviour modification and as chairman of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council I have been asked several times over the last few months for an update.  I hope that this article will answer some of the questions being posed.

It is many years since the family dog ran free and worked off its energy and frustrations running the streets and countryside. Society has become more sophisticated and regulated and ‘the dog’ is now expected to ‘fit in’ after thousands of generations just ‘being’. We should not be surprised that the transition is confusing for the dog and difficult and uncomfortable for us. We demand much of our ‘best friend’ and are concerned and disappointed when he is found lacking in the social and personal skills we have come to expect via Fred Basset, Lassie Come Home and Lady and the Tramp. Puppies still have enormous appeal to all ages, but many are square pegs that find it difficult being forced into the convenient round holes of modern life. When they present a problem we want an ‘expert’ to solve it as we do when a tap leaks or the lights fuse.

It is therefore not surprising that the demand for dog trainers and those who set themselves up as being able to modify dog behaviour has soared.

Over the past fifteen years many hundreds of books have been written and published on training dogs and an immense amount of related material is available. Some is very sensible and useful to dog owners, but much is confusing and buried in jargon: a jumble of ideas, techniques and unproven ‘experience’ moulded into a convenient and sometimes flashy ‘package’ of smoke and mirrors that conceal rather than illuminates.

The result is that much dog training consists of a range of either vague aspirations or formulaic, prescribed and mechanical processes delivered by those who only partly understand the basis of their techniques – and misunderstand the rest. It is not surprising that much behaviour modification is unsuccessful and it is no accident that many ineffective methods wrapped and ‘spun’ with unrealistic promises of success abound on web pages. The result has been that over the past 15 years there has been a huge increase in dogs being dumped in rescue and being designated as un-trainable. The theory extremists frown upon the word ‘discipline’, thus the number of dogs being euthanized is constantly rising. Other organisations have a more modern, balanced intelligent training approach, have much more success and prevent hundreds of dogs from being rejected and put down.

As a result, the world of training dogs and those who are involved in the modification of their behaviour is in turmoil. In fact, although a report in 2008 by the respected Companion Animal Welfare Council in the UK does not actually use the word ‘chaos’, even the briefest scan of its 52 pages can leave the reader in little doubt that the situation is thoroughly unsatisfactory and this is reflected throughout the western world, wherever dogs are expected to ‘conform’ to the standards set by humans and their regulatory regimes.

Current situation
It is because of the wide range of ideas, theories, processes and techniques, which have gained an adherence over the last 30 years that many organisations have been established that purport to represent the best methods and practitioners of dog training and behaviour modification. Most are member organisations of like-minded people and each seeks to establish its authority through a series of stated aims, objectives and ethical standards. The situation has been complicated by the involvement of the major charities whose role is no longer to just re home dogs, but to rehabilitate them as well. Some have instituted research to help them achieve this objective, but there is general agreement among dog trainers with experience that this research has not been sound, which has led to even more disagreements between the varying factions.

One reason why there is so much bad blood and disinformation between groups is the decision by the pet insurance companies to accept claims regarding pet behaviour. The insurance companies, understandably, want to ensure that claims are dealt with quickly and effectively; the mechanism that they have introduced is that of referral by a veterinary surgeon. Vets are busy people – they do not have the time to assess the quality of practitioners so it is easier to select someone with a ‘qualification’ even if that qualification is irrelevant or spurious and the practical experience of the ‘expert’ is minimal. In addition, the political ramifications within the competing organisations have often led to their focus being on their status and influence as an organisation rather than what is best for the dog.

The report by the Companion Animal Welfare Counsel referred to above, suggested that there should be one registration organisation for practitioners and a series of meetings was held in 2009/10 to try and achieve this worthy objective. Those present recognised that this was likely to be very difficult and probably impossible. In practice this has proved to be the case.

Standards and accreditation
In their attempt to establish themselves as the prime group, each organisation has set themselves standards to which they expect their members to adhere. Some are fiercely academic, insisting on a science degree for all their members and stressing their ‘clinical’ qualifications (qualifications which do not exist in dog behaviour – a fly on the wall while the definition of ‘clinical’ was discussed at the meetings called by CAWC would have wept!) – whilst others emphasise their professionalism, vocational study, experience and dedication. A perennial problem is that there is confusion between the undoubtedly important and valuable academic study of animal behaviour and that of dog training and dog specific behaviour modification. There is an assumption that a degree or postgraduate general study in animal behaviour gives some extra insight into dog behaviour/training and practical modification skills.

This is not the case, not just because dogs form no part of most animal behaviour degrees, but what little is taught is only theory; this critical fact is not explained to the public by people using these general animal behaviour degrees. The Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council promotes a more transparent and open classification of experience so the public can choose their ‘expert’ from relevant, credible and reliable information about the qualifications of any individuals, rather than irrelevant ‘animal behaviour’ degrees, which do not provide an appropriate knowledge base.

Choosing a trainer or behaviourist is not rocket science but it requires a degree of common sense, which balances experience, personality and dedication. Qualifications are relevant, but it is certainly not just about academic expertise; if a student wishes to obtain a Degree, two are available in Britain specifically in dog behaviour, thus solving the problem for those wishing to attain a high level of knowledge. The questions that need to be asked about anyone purporting to be a dog behaviour specialist are:

  • Are they successful?
  • Is their web site transparent and open about their expertise, experience and specific specialised dog qualification?
  • Does the owner of the dog with a problem behaviour feel confident in their ability?
  • Is there a change in the behaviour of their dog when the expert is present and post consultation?
  • Do they use kind, balanced and practical methods?
  • Do they spend time with the owner, helping them understand the circumstances (that they have often created) that led to the dog’s fear, distress or recalcitrance?
  • Does the expert try to blind the owner with irrelevant jargon and complex scientific concepts or do they take a common sense, practical approach?
  • In dog behaviour cases does the expert provide a report and assessment which reflects the consultation process?
  • Can the expert practically handle the dog, especially in aggression cases when the owner is in difficulty and in real situations not theoretical.
  • Are they recommended by owners, whose dogs they have successfully treated?

All groups struggle with the problem that there is no satisfactory definition, status or fully professional designation for a person who trains and/or modifies the behaviour of dogs. There is an increasing number of qualifications, both work-based and theoretical, that are available but until last year when the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council published ‘Defining Roles for Dog Behaviour and Training Professionals’ there has been no common consensus of the various roles of those involved. This was written in consultation with many organisations including the police. It is now the widely accepted model and standard.

Most organisations have developed some form of internal accreditation system to justify the status of their members. In fact, there is a deliberate intention to mislead by some organisations that state they have ‘created’ an independent organisation that accredits them. Clearly if that organisation has no history or knowledge base or has the very people on their board from the organisation they are supposed to be accrediting, their role can only be described as fraudulent.

As a result, the whole concept of the term ‘accreditation’ has become devalued. The dictionary definition is ‘the act of granting credit or recognition (especially with respect to educational institution that maintains suitable standards)’, but the most important and key element is that the accreditation of any person or organisation should be truly separate and independent from the person or organisation accredited. There is a number of organisations in Britain that carry out this task and you can find a full list by accessing the National Database of Accrediting.

Organisations on the Internet: unless an accrediting body is a recognised university or on this list, then it will have been set up specifically to give credence to standards, which are not genuinely independently audited. Whatever the claims of separateness and independence, any accrediting body worthy of the name will be on the National Database of Accrediting Organisations.

‘The only thing two dog trainers can agree about is what a third trainer is doing wrong’ Steve White, Vice-president of the USA Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers.

Back in the 1940s, a psychologist called BF Skinner did a great deal of work on animal behaviour. He argued that it is pointless to imagine what is going on in an animal’s head. It was better to treat its mind as a black box, closed and unknowable, with inputs that lead to predictable outputs. He identified four ways to manipulate behaviour: these were – positive reinforcement (good dog – have a biscuit), positive punishment (bad dog – administer physical punishment), negative reinforcement good dog – stop punishment) and negative punishment (bad dog – take away the biscuit). He argued that by connecting an action to its outcome almost any behaviour can be trained. Skinner called this ‘operant conditioning’ and considered it as effective for people as for their pets!

There is no doubt that these processes work, but over the years, new ideas have been introduced, which emphasise the positive and eliminate the brutal. Curiously, this change did not come from dog trainers, but from marine parks and aquariums. In the 1960s an animal behaviourist called Karen Pryor discovered that rather than punishing bad behaviour, dolphins and killer whales loved rewards and, more importantly, if a reward were available they would repeat the good behaviour. She found that all she needed to do was wait for the behaviour she wanted, give a reward. Very quickly, the animal would repeat the behaviour, because it wanted the satisfaction and pleasure of the extra food. She also discovered that even if you replaced the reward of food with a whistle, the behaviour would be repeated. She once taught a goldfish to swim through a tiny hoop in response to the flicker of a flashlight! ‘Its easy’, she said. ‘You just have to have a healthy, hungry goldfish.’ Karen developed what we now know as ’clicker’ training; most advanced training and obedience work with dogs uses the ‘clicker’.

There will be many demonstrations of Heelwork to Music at Crufts and I would be very surprised if any of those dog trainers did not use a clicker. Certainly Mary Ray, who will once again be putting her dogs through their paces in the big ring, uses the technique and if you ever have a chance to attend one of her demonstrations of how she trains her dogs you will see how effective it is. This does not mean it is easy: the trainer needs intelligent, amenable dogs who are willing to please and must exercise considerable personal discipline and patience to achieve those displays, which look so easy.

Karen Pryor, her colleagues and followers have wrought immense change in the way in which dogs are trained. Heelwork to Music is a wonderful spectacle, but the principle is being used in many ways by dog trainers to make use of the fantastic powers that dogs have to make our lives safer and better. The dog has immense and useful abilities, which can improve our lives and alert us to danger. Working dogs can jump higher, run faster, see further and hear better as well as being equipped for subduing the most fractious of men, but these are nothing compared with the sensitivity of their sense of smell, that can detect a few particles of a specific substance per trillion, with ease. So, apart from being wonderful companions for families and individuals who are also able to take part in our leisure activities, whether it be racing, agility, flyball, obedience, hunting or pointing game, dogs have further, more professional roles. There are three primary areas of their activity: They are the helping hand (as with herding, guide dogs or dogs for the disabled), detection, protection and pursuit.

It is in the interest of all pet dogs to be well trained: to ‘walk to heel’, ‘sit’, ‘wait’ and ‘come’ when told to do so are simple commands well within the training capabilities of most pet owners. Problems arise when the dogs are, usually inadvertently, spoiled – for once they are adults and have bad habits, it is very difficult to modify their behaviour. Such problems require specialist skills as does the formal training for leisure pursuits and the higher levels of training required for working dogs. To have some understanding of the expertise and the knowledge required go to and click on to the cover of the booklet at the bottom of the homepage called ‘Defining Roles for Dog Behaviour and Training Professionals’. If you have not thought about it, you will be amazed at the dedication and patience of those involved, the complexity and range of the skills required.

However, let me get back to the development of the modern techniques of dog training. By the 1940s when Skinner was putting forward his ideas, Guide Dogs for the Blind (as they were then called in the UK) and Seeing Eye (in the USA) were already well established, but it was not until the 60s onwards that Hearing Dogs for the Deaf and Dogs for the Disabled (among many other charitable training groups) were established. During the last 40 years there has also been a much greater demand for pet dogs to be well trained and in the Kennel Club’s words be ‘good citizens’. This has led to an explosion of dog trainers at every level – and when there is an explosion there is nearly always collateral damage.

In this case that damage was caused by some trainers and charities being so seduced by the concept of positive reinforcement (the first of Skinners conditioning operants) which they, rightly, perceived as ‘kind’, that they forgot that in the domestic situation there have to be rules and an element of discipline. This requires a degree of negative reinforcement, but this does not, repeat not, mean ‘cruelty’ or hurting the dog in any way. There is no doubt at all that given the right conditions and an amenable dog which wants to please, positive reinforcement is very effective, but the enthusiasts for this approach have, as enthusiasts tend to do, taken the idea to the extreme and even used it to distort our understanding of the way in which the mind of the dog works.

You will remember that Skinner felt that the dog’s mind was a black box that we could not begin to understand. This is no longer the case. Over the past 60 years we have learned a great deal about how the brains and minds of animals work and an enormous amount of research has gone into trying to understand precisely the way in which developmental, evolutionary, environmental and genetic factors have combined to provide the behaviours that we see in all animals and particularly in dogs. It is unfortunate that much of this research is contradictory and it has led to a significant schism between dog trainers. I have written in the past that this divide is more a question of semantics then of real differences in approach; nevertheless those at either end of the spectrum (especially those at the ‘kind’ end of the spectrum) see themselves as being at war!

The key to all this is in the way in which we understand some of the words used to define the various interrelationships between animals of the same species. Skinner and many of those working with dogs and animals at the time believed that man had to behave in a way that asserted his authority over the animals he wished to train. They drew parallels with what they said was the standard model of relationships in the wild. This implied a ‘pack’ and a ‘pack leader’, who was in ‘control’ of the group. The words used to describe these relationships were ‘dominance’ and ‘alpha’ among others designed to emphasise and establish power and authority. Those committed to using only positive reinforcement techniques believed that this theory was not relevant and that research showed that such ‘packs’ were equivalent to ‘family groups’; the idea that control was being exercised was both wrong and misleading. They also suggest that those who do not concur with their view are themselves cruel in the techniques that they use.

Those trainers who see themselves as realists (and recognise that a measure of discipline within society and family groups, which has uncomfortable consequences, is essential if it is to be well ordered) see the first group as ‘bunny huggers’. They suggest that many of the problems of dogs in society (specifically the increase in dog bites that we have seen over the last few years) is a result of ground rules not being applied. There have been similar discussions among psychologists regarding the upbringing of children for as long as I can remember – and I began teaching back in 1963!

Who is right? I do not believe that there is any need to treat dogs cruelly (and no trainer worth their salt does so), but I am a realist and I was pleased to read a recent article by somebody who should know that rather supports my view.

Roger Abrantes is very well known in the world of dog training. He holds a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology and another in Ethology; he is the author of seventeen books many of which have become standard works. He is a world-renowned lecturer on animal behaviour and the drawings of dog positions and expressions he has published are generally agreed to be the clearest and most definitive of the many available. The article is called ‘Dominance – Making Sense of the Nonsense’ and in it he says: ‘The discussion on dominance has run away with us’.

He explains that the word has ‘so many meanings and connotations that it is difficult to know how to use it as a precise scientific term in the behavioural sciences’.

The article is the first of a series and if you are interested you should certainly follow them through. You will find them at The detail of his discussion is too long to discuss in Speakers’ Corner, but in my view his arguments are convincing and should be studied by everyone who has any interest in dogs and why they behave in the way they do. This does not just mean dog trainers – it means anyone who feels it important to have a better understanding of dog psychology.

David Cavill is Chairman of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of David Cavill and the PETbc.

Golden Cocker, Golden Retriever or Gold Fish? – Ross McCarthy

Monday morning at nine am, I received a frantic phone call from a lady with a ten week old Cocker Spaniel Puppy who was biting her, pulling her trousers and attacking her whilst out on walks in the park, the dog was terrorising the family and “we need to see you today” demanded the woman. There was nothing unusual about the problem or her frantic manner on the telephone, but unbeknown to me at the time, this would evolve in to a most bizarre and unusual case.

Janet arrived at the centre for her consultation with her little Cocker Spaniel, Mango, who was jumping about in the car. Janet lives in Oxfordshire and so travelled in excess of one hour to see me. Mango led the way into the consulting room and as one would expect from a puppy, he loved the experience; meeting the people and the dogs, jumping around excitedly and grabbing toys to play with. Janet was not quite so excited at the prospect, I felt.

We sat together drinking coffee and I began to question Janet about the problems that she was encountering with Mango; of course, prior to her arrival I had a list of possible causes and problems in my mind and asked her specific questions to enable me to assess the problem.

She began her tale and informed me of little Mango’s reign of terror from the age of seven weeks and continued her story of the last three weeks with this puppy, there was no stopping her. She is an experienced dog owner, by her description, but had never encountered such a calculating, manipulative, difficult and downright aggressive dog. In short, she was quite exhausted with her daily interactions and confrontations with Mango – all 2.7 kgs of him!

This problem was most difficult to diagnose due to the inconsistency of Janet’s description. She had firmly made up her mind that this was ‘Cocker Rage’ and that Mango was a time bomb waiting to explode. After spending two hours in consultation with her, I did not believe that this aggression was idiopathic or ‘rage syndrome’ and felt that although the dog was confident and perhaps could be described as ‘dominant’ this problem was little more than rough play biting.

I gave her my advice and off she went with little Mango still excited about life; Janet was a little more positive too and almost managed a smile as she left. I telephoned Janet three days later and she proclaimed life was fantastic; there had been no further aggression towards her or her husband.

After two weeks, as I had requested, Janet telephoned me to advise me of her progress. Life was somewhat less fantastic now and Mango had begun to become aggressive and unmanageable again.

The following day Janet arrived at the centre for a second assessment in company with Mango and her husband Derek. I quizzed them both on their consistency in implementing my advice. There were numerous inconsistencies and neither Derek nor Janet could agree on, well, anything, although the problem had improved. There had been no aggression or the like for almost two weeks, the dog had become even more calculating and began jumping on the sofa to terrorise them – by now all 4.1 kgs of him.

Of course, if they had been following my advice properly the dog would not be jumping on the sofa in the first place. Mango had also started attacking Derek and Janet when out on walks. So off we went for a walk. No attack took place and Derek and Janet were amazed at my skill in preventing such a traumatic attack – I was more amazed at the owners’ behaviour than that of the dog – both owners displayed fear of Mango by jumping in the air or huddling together when approached by him – one of those occasions when a smile unwittingly creeps over your face!

I again reiterated my initial advice, proffered some further techniques, which I demonstrated and arranged for them to come to a training course with the dog the following day for a little consistency and for me to observe the owners in greater depth – this whole problem just did not fit. They had to drive for over an hour again to attend the class, but they were willing to do this.

I began the lesson at 10am, but Janet had not arrived so I began without her assuming that the distance may have deterred them. At 10.20 in walked Janet, Derek and Mango. Janet did look rather stressed, Mango looked as excited as ever and Derek just did as he was told by Janet. The explanation for lateness was that it had taken fifteen minutes to wrestle with the dog to attach the lead. Derek had been summoned for back-up and to aid with the 4.1 kg monster. The other dog owners, with their Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Akitas watched in amazement as Janet and Derek conveyed Mango across the room together, taking care not to put themselves in a position of risk – one of those occasions again when the smiles creep in, this time by the other nine people on the course.

The morning passed with no attacks and the obedience was excellent – particularly that of Derek who did a sit stay on Janet’s command of over an hour!

The following week, Janet arrived on her own with Mango, how brave I thought – things must be improving. Again the day passed without incident although Mango had been on an apparent hate campaign all week. At the end of the training session, Janet asked for some advice on how to handle Mango around the house. She was unable to get into the kitchen or certainly unable to get out of the kitchen unscathed. Mango would grab her and ruin her tights. I began to offer her information and advice on managing this problem – until I heard what I was saying. I had been lead into a discussion about walking through a kitchen using a lead for restraint on a tiny puppy. I stopped myself and discussed that this dog was possibly not compatible with her experience or lifestyle. She agreed and went off with her expensive puppy to try a little harder.

I felt quite disheartened. On my numerous encounters and tests with this cute puppy, I had never seen any aggressive attacks or any sign of one. I began to think that the longer Mango was in the care of Janet, the less chance we had of creating a normal tempered adult dog.

Two days later, I arrived at the office and my associate had just taken a call from Janet. The dog had savagely attacked her in the park on the previous day. She was so traumatised and the attack was so aggressive that she tried to call the police to assist until Mango knocked the mobile telephone out of her hand. She had spoken to the vet and he had informed her without seeing the dog that it was idiopathic aggression and an appointment had been booked to euthanise the dog that morning.

Thankfully, my colleague stepped in, spoke to the vet and arranged for Janet to drop Mango off at the centre for further testing and assessment.

Janet brought Mango in with a couple of old blankets and his food bowls. I asked to see the bites. I expected Janet to start rolling up her trouser leg to reveal the damage, but instead she began to unbutton her cardigan. The dog had bitten her arm right from the top down to her wrist – how bizarre – one would assume that a dog standing no higher than ten inches from the ground would be unable to grab her arm. Janet’s forearm was covered in scratches – much the same as one would have after pruning a rose bush. How this had occurred, to me is a mystery. The dog clearly had not made these marks in one lunge and so Janet must have kept her arm in the same place whilst being bitten. I had given up hope of finding the ‘missing link’ in this puzzling relationship and now focused on little Mango.

I took the dog home for seven days to asses and record the behaviour displayed to prepare the relevant reports before suggesting an outcome of returning the dog to Janet, re-homing the dog or euthanasing the dog.

The observations went well. There was a very mild display of aggression in conjunction with much mouthing and play biting over the first day. This was dealt with promptly and little Mango became a loving addition to the household and after seven days, he was taken to his new home. He has settled in well and his obedience training is coming along nicely with his new owners. He loves his interaction with their two children and the other dog in their home. The new owners were previously clients of mine; they have worked hard with their other dog to reform his behaviour. Mango’s new owners will train him for working trials in the future and he now has a fabulous lifestyle.

Janet is currently looking to obtain a Golden Retriever and try her luck with that – I did suggest that a goldfish maybe more suitable, but my advice (again) was not followed. I spotted Janet out walking three weeks ago with not one, but two Golden Retriever puppies – frying Pan and fire spring to mind, I’ll await her call

Grooming Aggressive Cats by Anita Kelsey

The difficulties involved and how to move forward
I have been a mobile cat groomer for three years now and can honestly say that 95% of semi/long haired cats either dislike but tolerate the grooming process, are indifferent to it and let the groomer do what is necessary, or are nice and relaxed, used to being combed and bathed and generally seem to outwardly enjoy their time on the grooming table.

Cat grooming typically involves nails being clipped, fur being combed through, maybe some matts shaved out, trimming around problem areas such as around the bottom, and occasionally a bath. A groomer can expect hissing and grumbling from some cats that dislike being handled. However, there are a minority of cats that are extremely aggressive towards their owner and groomer when approached with a view to combing their fur and these are the ones I’d like to talk about now.

This aggressive reaction can stem from fear, a bad grooming experience in the past, dislike of being handled, fear of pain from a badly matted coat, through to phobias of the grooming process, or even fear of the groomer’s table, some which can resemble a vet’s table as does mine.

The way forward is a very difficult path for the groomer and one I find myself treading very carefully whenever presented with the scenario of an aggressive cat, especially one that needs to be de-matted.

On the one hand, the cat must not get the upper hand and control the situation, especially when it’s coat is matted and the job needs to get done. On the other hand, having to muzzle a cat and hold it down on a grooming table when it’s in ‘fight or flight’ mode doesn’t bode well for future positive grooming sessions . A cat has a good memory and may associate firm grooming with a negative experience. It will react aggressively again when meeting the groomer or when the owner approaches it with a comb in hand.

Sedating a cat every time it needs to be combed isn’t realistic either. So, you can see how difficult each case is when having to groom the coat of a cat that doesn’t want it!

I am going to talk through some situations I have been through with various cats, the path I took during the groom, and the advice given to the owners. Each cat and situation is different and decisions have to be made step by step. It’s upsetting seeing an owner at their wit’s end because they cannot see a way forward with the upkeep of their cat’s coat, especially when it hates being handled. It’s also very unsettling as well as upsetting seeing a cat so aggressive and agitated, lashing out at whoever it can reach, including the owner!

The vocal warnings in themselves can send shivers down one’s spine. Chinchilla Persians are masters at this. Some Chinchillas howl even when my hands are just resting on their bodies to reassure them. It’s quite bizarre!

For difficult cats the lion cut (shaved all over apart from the head, paws and feet) is an option, but this can cause major distress for an aggressive cat and has to be done either under sedation on a regular basis, or at the very least under stress from the groomer. Both solutions are likely to leave the cat quite traumatised. Removing most of the fur from a cat is not a natural state but it could be seen as the only way to move forward with difficult cats. A vicious circle! As a cat behaviourist who does mobile cat grooms, I walk a very fine line as to the right decision to make for the cat, as well as the owner.

Murphy watching me pack up after the groom
A typical lion cut

So…let me introduce you to to our first case – A beautiful Maine Coon called Murphy.
I received an email from the owner who was clearly concerned with the matting on Murphy’s coat. She explained that Murphy didn’t like to be groomed and had several large matts on his tummy and around his private parts. By the time a coat gets to matting like this, very tight to the skin, it is useless to try combing out. Try to put a comb to a coat like this and the cat will react badly. As usual on grooms like this, I arrive expecting to shave out the matts and the cat to be a tad unhappy and a little intolerant.

Clients never really know how aggressive their cat is going to be. Either that, or they never tell you honestly!! The owner told me Murphy doesn’t much like being combed. That was putting it mildly!! From the start Murphy was out to have me for lunch. His nails were extremely long and trying to cut them down, mainly so that I didn’t get scratched, was hard enough. Within seconds I knew that Murphy would bite me the moment he had the chance too. I don’t like to use muzzles and 99% of the time I use a towel as a barrier to protect me and this is usually sufficient, but Murphy made it clear that lunch was my hands or arms and no towel was going to stop him! I put on my dog handling gaiters as a precaution.

A typical Elizabethan collar that I use on grooms to protect me and the client from a cat bite.

No one likes seeing their cat muzzled and neither do I. I believe that face muzzles panic a cat further. An already frightened cat thrust into darkness by way of a hood would be frightening for a human let alone a cat. That kind of heightened fear is dangerous and will make a cat forever frightened of the grooming process. Wearing a muzzle means the practitioner cannot monitor the cats breathing or see if any panting is occurring which is a sign of severe stress.

Instead, if I feel a cat is going to bite then I use two things: an Elizabethan collar (pictured above) or a towel placed around the neck. The Elizabethan collar means that a cat can see and breath with ease. Wearing protective gloves will further protect me from any bites or scratches.

The battle to get Murphy calm enough to shave safely was extremely difficult. He hated the table, was obviously reacting badly to me and the comb as well as being handled or held against his will. This is why his fur had ended up matted in the first place. The way forward in this scenario is very difficult and at one stage I advised the client that the only kindest way to do this was to actually have Murphy sedated to remove the matting and then we could start with a clean slate. I never say this lightly because an owner cannot keep sedating their cat for the whole of its lifetime just to keep the fur in good condition and clearly Murphy’s owner was very upset with the thought of that. Upon seeing the client’s eyes well up with tears I decided to think out of the box to get the job done with the least possible trauma. I had to shave this cat no matter what.

To remove the matts on Murphy’s tummy I decided to remove him from the table and have the owner hold Murphy in her lap. She held Murphy on his back against her stomach and held his two front paws together so he couldn’t lash out at me. His tail was gently tucked between her legs so away from my clippers and I managed to quickly shave the worst matt out before Murphy became unmanageable again. We took lots of 5 minute rests to give Murphy a break. It also gives me time to think of my next move 😉 . Each time we stopped, Murphy was absolutely fine but as soon as the comb or the clippers got anywhere near his body he totally freaked and turned into a feral monster. Shaving out 4 matts took a couple of hours and it was traumatic for him as well as us. The matts were finally removed and the groom was stopped. Murphy didn’t get a comb through. The rest of his fur wasn’t too bad. My main goal was to remove the terrible matting and then just leave him be to recover from the ordeal.

My methods are always geared towards the least possible stress for all concerned.

So – what about the future for Murphy?
In a situation like this, steps have to be taken to get the cat tolerating the combing. In the meantime rather than ignore what’s happening with the cat’s coat the owner was advised to feel EVERY DAY for little knots appearing. The main areas for matting are the arm pits, chest, tummy, bottom, back legs and inner legs. Feel a knot and tease or cut it out. When I say cut it out I mean with scissors BUT with strict safety steps put into place.

How To Remove A Matt Safely With Scissors
NEVER under any circumstances pull up a matt and cut across. Pull up a matt on a cats’ coat and you will be pulling up skin with it too. Cut across and you can cut the skin. Simple as that. Cats skin is like tissue paper and it moves easily and cuts easily. My advice is ALWAYS slide a comb beneath the matt. Once you have the teeth of the comb between the skin and the matt you can then safely cut the mat out. With cats that don’t get any form of regular grooming, owners generally see small matts forming and don’t think anything of it. Leave it for a few days or a week and more fur will form around the matt. Leave it for longer and the matt begins to turn into a tight pelt. Once it has formed into a pelt and is tight to the skin a comb CANNOT slide under it and you then have a problem on your hands. Only shaving can remove a pelt or tight matt.

Look at the photo below. Your comb should slide between the skin and the root of the mat. NEVER EVER use scissors without the comb in place.

The comb should always slide between the skin and the matt

So, now the client is faced with a cat that is going to remember the fight with me during the grooming and react badly when she tries to groom him. So, what’s the answer?

As well as trying not to let the cat ever get matted (checking every day for matts and removing them by gently teasing them out, or cutting out with scissors – NB: best time to do this is when a cat is sleeping or in a nice relaxed state), the next step would be to try and gently get Murphy used to the comb on his body.

Here’s some tips below: I mention the grooming tool ‘brush’ and by this I mean a soft brush or plastic tipped slicker brush as this would be the safest first step and more comfortable for the cat to nuzzle into. You will eventually be moving onto a comb which is the correct grooming tool for semi/long haired breeds.

Teaching a Cat To Tolerate or Enjoy Being Combed
Behaviourists Sarah Ellis and Chriag Patel suggested the following method in the Feb 2013 issue of Your Cat Magazine:

  1. Begin by creating a positive association with your brush. Place near your cat and reward with a treat when he/she starts to investigate it.
  2. Build to holding the brush in your hand, when you are interacting with your cat in a calm way, and allow your cat to sniff and rub against it when they wish.
  3. After a few days doing so, or when you think your cat is ready, stroke your cat with the brush in your hand, so that the brush is not touching the cat but your hand, holding the brush, is. Then hold the brush out for your cat to sniff again. If they rub against it reward with a treat and praise them with more physical attention.
  4. Once your cat is actively seeking the brush you can gently move it against your cats face. Gently and slowly stroke in the direction of the cats coat for 2 minutes a session.
  5. If your cat is relaxed and enjoying the experience try grooming different areas. Cats love the neck and head region and also the back and base of the tail.
  6. Tips: Try rubbing the scent of your cat onto the brush first. For nervous cats link the brush with a reward. Let the cat SEE the brush first and then follow with a treat. Never the other way around. You can even make it into a game. If your cat walks towards the brush then reward him/her!
  7. Never rush any of these steps. Always observe your cat and pick up on what they are telling you. If they appear uncomfortable them take a step back and slowly try again.

The future for Murphy is a tricky one. The absolute key here is to not let Murphys coat get into a state again and to slowly introduce the above steps so that his coat can eventually be combed through a small section at a time. Positive association is the absolute key as well as perseverance from the owner.

I hope Murphy forgives me like I have forgiven him scratching me 😉

Herbie gives up the fight

Herbie gives up the fight
Herbie hissed and growled at his owners whenever they tried to comb him which made them very nervous about any attempts to comb him. I was called when Herbie became extremely matted and the clients did not want him sedated again. I was already warned of Herbie’s aggression so turned up to the groom with my leather gaiters and expected a huge fight on my hands. Instead it was interesting to note that Herbie didn’t like the fact he had met his match. His hissing and growling became louder and louder as he tried to intimidate me into stopping. BUT, I always note when a cat is only hissing and growling, but not attempting to seriously bite or scratch. This meant I had a good chance to complete the groom without too much trauma on both sides.

When a cat is trying to intimidate vocally, the best course of action for a groomer is to not be intimidated and act with confidence and firmness. I positioned a towel at the side of Herbies face so that if he should turn around to bite me he would get a mouthful of towel instead of my flesh!! I didn’t need to use an Elizabethan Collar on Herbie. He soon realised I wasn’t going to stop and that it would be quicker if he just settled down and let me get on with my job. I asked the clients to stay, so that they could talk reassuringly to him and stroke his head whilst I shaved out his pelts. By the end of the groom Herbie lay still and exhausted. This is when I took the above photo. At one stage he seemed to fall asleep – probably from the exhaustion of so much hissing! I checked the clients grooming tools and like 90% of my clients, they had the wrong tools to begin with. The awful ‘furminator’ was put back on Amazon for re-sale and links sent to the correct combs for the long coat Herbie had.

In this situation it was basically down to two hard heads battling for control and I had to win if Herbie was going to regain his lovely coat without having painful knots tight to his skin. Once this control was established, Herbie quietened down. I advised the client to keep Herbie’s problem areas shaved (tummy, arm-pits) and his ‘nethers’ to be kept trimmed with scissors. Once these problem areas are no longer a major hassle for the client, they can start on gentle re-conditioning of the combing process, steps for which I noted above in Murphy’s write up.

As a cat behaviourist who is also a groomer, I have to decide early on what type of reaction I am dealing with. Herbie’s reaction was caused by his dislike of being combed, joined with his ability to always get away with a simple grumble to stop his owner! His learned behaviour meant he could control the situation and get away with never being groomed. This type of behaviour needs to be turned on its head. He didn’t bite and didn’t act in an aggressive or defensive manner out of fear. His body language was not defensive like some cats (ears flattened on the head, body stiff, body positioning so that all weapons are showing). I would never suggest sedation with a cat like Herbie. His feeble attempts to scratch me were minor ones. His bites were mere nibbles. Only his vocalisations were loud and threatening, luckily for me!! The clients were more than happy to see, at least for Herbie, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Most Chinchilla Persians HATE being groomed and will be very vocal during the process

Last but not least please, say hello to SPARKLE. A beautiful, petite Chinchilla Persian with a loud roar!
Sparkle has an extreme reaction to being combed and to being put on a grooming table (same goes when she is taken to the vets).

Her manner is extremely fearful. She pants wildly, gets very hot, almost goes into a fit with dilated pupils. I was quite concerned with how she was behaving and asked the owner to tell me when this started. Once I knew the background it wasn’t too hard to understand.

Sparkle had experienced a badly handled groom in her own home. Already a timid frightened cat, the groomer muzzled her from the start, held her down, didn’t take their time to work with and understand a frightened shy cat and just roughly and quickly completed the groom with a screaming cat who couldn’t see a thing. The cat would have viewed this as an attack on her within her own territory. It’s no wonder I was seeing this reaction to me and this has made the forward journey very very difficult. One which needed a well thought out plan.

On the one hand we have a cat terrified of grooming and on the other hand we have a long haired coat that needs grooming. Luckily Sparkle had no matts, because shaving would have been out of the question on my first visit.

My solution was to find her favourite food and have her associate my table with the food. Sparkle’s grooming sessions were to be split over time, so a groom every three weeks was booked in. Sparkle started her sessions placed on the grooming table, were she was offered her favourite treats as the comb touched her body. I was able to comb through small sections at a time whilst she was preoccupied with eating. I also allowed her to move about the table as she pleased (not ideal, but . When she went into panic mode I let her move about and lie on her back and wriggle around and would just talk to her gently not allowing her to fall or jump off of the table. Then when she sat up again I would gently start combing a section and her owner would offer her more tasty morsels. The owner would have to hold her in her arms for me to complete the tail, which most cats hate to have combed, but I did this as gently as possible. I also cut the under fur of the tail short and her nether regions short so that we didn’t have to worry about any matts forming in these areas.

We took lots of breaks where Sparkle could play with some toys. The photo above is Sparkle playing with a mouse on one of my grooming sessions. Small steps. I couldn’t imagine muzzling Sparkle and roughly holding her down on the table. It would have destroyed any trust and made it near impossible to reach any form of tolerance to the whole process. It doesn’t really matter how Sparkle looks. She is an in-door cat. It doesn’t matter that part of her bushy tail is short. What does matter is that her coat is kept tangle free and the grooming sessions are kept short, simple and with an element of fun on her side and patience on mine. Sparkle’s eyes still bulge with fear when she sees a comb but there’s no question of me thinking I need to win a battle. Kindness, understanding and patience is the key to gaining Sparkles trust again.

Well, there you have it. Three different kinds of situations in a multitude of aggressive/defensive behaviours that I deal with on a regular basis.

I still love my job though and will always be there for owners who have nowhere else to turn and for cats who need to be freed from terrible pelts.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Anita Kelsey for the CFBA.