Dog Training the Reiki Way

Firstly, for those who are only just meeting me, let me explain that my background is in dog training and behaviour.  So before you think I am some kind of ‘floaty, dress your dog in angel wings and all will be well’ kind of gal – I will tell you now that I am not!  What I am is someone who has be benefit of understanding how and why dogs do stuff coupled with an understanding of energy and energy healing and how it affects all aspects of our lives whether we realise it or not and on top of all that an unrivalled passion, love and respect for all animals, but especially dogs.

Living with a dog can be a wonderful experience of man and canine in perfect harmonious partnership, but sadly my work has shown me that this isn’t always the case.  I hope this precursor to my book will help you regain a little more harmony in your relationship with man’s best friend.  Here I will talk about living the ‘Reiki way’ with your dog, don’t panic though you don’t have to know how to do Reiki to achieve this, although it can certainly help.

Most of the problems that develop in the dog / owner relationship are routed in a communication break down.  Please remember dogs are not English speaking animals!  When I said this to one of my behaviour clients a few years ago she said “Ah yes you are right, he is from Spain so he speaks Spanish!”  Not quite Pedro actually spoke DOG!  The communication break down can be split into two main parts; a lack of understanding of what a dog was bred to do and ‘humanising’ the dog; that is placing human expectations of behaviour onto the dog.

Let’s start with the breed specific communication problem.  For example Gundogs like Labrador Retrievers, Spaniels and so on will often like to carry something in their mouths and if appropriately attractive things aren’t available to carry they will bring you the first thing that looks like it fits the bill; slippers, shoes, dirty laundry, they never lack in enthusiasm for finding something to greet you with – it is what they are genetically hard wired to do.  Lurchers, Greyhounds and other hound breeds will like to chase pray and some hounds are very scent focused, everyone knows about Blood Hounds!  Collies and other Shepherd breeds like to herd things which often involves the chasing of a jogger and nipping at their heels! Terriers like to kill things and it is best if this is one of it’s own toys rather than the pet hamster!

When your most precious possession ends up with dog teeth marks in it, your Sunday roast gets taken from the worktop or you once again apologise to a member of the public for a doggy misdemeanour you have a choice you can react with anger, shout at maybe even hit the dog in an attempt to teach it a lesson or you can approach it the Reiki way:  You will not give rise to anger, you won’t succumb to worry, you will remember your many blessings and be grateful for them and you will be kind to your furry companion (4 of the 5 Reiki Principles).  This is step 1 it will then provide a positive learning environment for teaching to begin.  Step 2 is to ask yourself what reward is the dog getting from this behaviour and how can you redirect it in a positive way?  Work at finding another behaviour that is incompatible with the undesirable one that the dog will enjoy.

Here is an example that happened to me just this morning whilst walking one of my dogs;  He is off lead and a lady is approaching, not just any lady, this one had groceries in bags and for all I knew there could have been chicken, sausage, cheese – all his favourites.  I noticed him looking, putting his nose in the air to see what he could smell and before his brain had totally engaged I called him to me, he sat as I had trained him to do and then walked beside me as requested all the while being told how clever he was.  Here is the sequence: “Fido come, good boy.  Fido sit, clever lad (gentle stroke behind the ear).  Fido Heel, good lad”.  Lady passes by as the dog walks at my side. “OH WOW WHAT A GOOD BOY, WELL DONE FELLA” (enthusiastic voice, hand clapping and a food reward of appropriate value). My dog trotted along, head and tail carriage high, having had a confidence boost and a positive interaction.  I didn’t need to tell him off and erode my relationship with him as he had been redirected in positive way and given guidance on what the desirable behaviour was.

Humanising our dogs is something that we are all guilty of at times.  We expect them to not stick there noses up Grandma’s bottom when she comes to visit even though this is a perfectly reasonable way for a dog to greet and fact find about a visitor in the Canine world.  Dogs have a range of emotions just as we do they can get depressed, angry, happy, a bit cheesed off etc, however, this doesn’t mean that the same things trigger those emotions.  One emotion that is very misunderstood is guilt.  The whole ‘he knows he has been bad, just look at the way he is hiding under the table’ scenario.  As I said before if a dog finds something rewarding it is likely to repeat it, but this could be the stress relief that it finds by chewing the sofa when it has been left for an extended period with no prior exercise and no training on how to cope when the social pack animal is left home alone.

Dogs are not naughty, they don’t plot to drive you crazy, but if you ignore them when they are being good, neglect to teach them what are suitably rewarding activities for both dog and owner and here is the big one don’t give them adequate exercise then your human behavioural expectations will not be met.

So where does Universal energy (Reiki) fit into all of this, aside from living by the principles mentioned earlier?  We are energy, so are our dogs in fact all living things are made of energy.  You and your dog have a biomagnetic energy field around you (your aura) and when you have a good understanding bond with your dog the energy will flow freely, love and positivity vibrates at a higher frequency than anger and dislike.  When you sit on the sofa with your dog and have one of those beautiful moments where you look into each others souls, your energy fields merge, you experience an intense loving feeling and a release of the hormone Oxytocin which research has shown that dogs also experience.

When you are angry your energy frequency changes, there will be no opportunity for Oxytocin release and you will not get the strong bond with your dog that you would like.  I have known trainers who use punitive methods of getting a dog to do what they want and the dog responds out of fear because it has been broken.  Dogs are extremely sensitive to their owners emotions, they will know when you are depressed, angry or happy, sometimes before you do!  They are particularly adept and watching your body language, picking up on key ‘trigger’ words and I believe detecting a change in your Aura.  If you would like to know more about the science of energy frequencies and Reiki this is an extremely good scientific document.

In a nutshell what you project out your dog will respond to.  Take a little time to learn what makes him / her tick and tap into those genetic predispositions that most dogs (mongrels too) will have.  Above all try to live with your dog by the Reiki principles. 

This is just a taste of how to begin to live in harmony with your dog.  If you are having problems please seek the advice of a suitably qualified professional who uses positive training methods. Read Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson, Think Dog by John Fisher and Clever Dog by Sarah Whiteheadand of course ‘Train Your Dog the Reiki Way when it is published!

Do Animals Say Thank You?

I have recently had a spate of wild birds coming right up to me, these birds are all poorly in some way or another.  Some just look done in, some have injured legs, wings or eye problems.  I send them healing, say a little blessing for them and off they go.  Some come back the next day and the day after for ‘treatments’ and then fly away.

Something I have noticed over my years working with animals is if you make a ‘heart to heart’ connection with them and help them with either healing, helping them adjust to living with a family or rescuing them from a traumatic or stressful  situation they often will come back to you when they are feeling better and say thank you.  Obviously I don’t mean they speak words, but they will come up and make an acknowledgement.  Wild birds will come really close look right at me chirrup and fly away, dogs tend to do a nose bump to the hand and cats do it in a style that only a cat could!  In my personal experience they come right up  close as with the other animals, give eye contact that seems to come deep from their soul to mine, will invite some physical touch from me before getting on with their lives.  I have also experienced animals that I have tried to help or that I have given healing to as they are passing away spring up in meditations to say thank you, sometimes years after the event.  Of course this could be my imagination, but these are often instances that have been forgotten about and anyone who has had profound meditation experiences will know that you can tell the difference between these and an imagining.

During my time spent dog training and helping with behaviour problems I have visited homes where there has been a complete communication and relationship breakdown between a dog and it’s owner.  After working with them the owner will often come to the realisation that the way they were trying to communicate what was expected of the dog to it was actually causing the problem as the dog didn’t understand the language, shouting, beatings etc.  These were beautiful moments where the owner’s whole way of interacting with the dog changed immediately as we worked together in a way that both human and canine understood.  Often at the end of the session the dog would come over to me, look into my face, nose bump or lick my hand and walk away again.

Those of us privileged enough to share our lives in some way with animals will tell you that they are feeling, thinking beings and it is our duty to respect them.

Be compassionate to yourself and others. 5th Reiki Precept.

The Dog Whisperer

Double pay off: ball and cool muddy water!
Double pay off: ball and cool muddy water!

I have recently been given the title of Dog Whisperer by some lovely ladies who I have been fortunate to meet through my reiki-logo-smlerReiki Practice.  This is not something I have ever called myself as I think it was a shameless copying of Monty Roberts, The Horse Whisperer for whom I have a great deal of respect.  It seems to me that most of the people who call themselves Dog Whisperers are in actual fact dog trainers some of who fail to use, kind, hands off training methods which is really what the term Whisperer refers to, my understanding is that it is about connecting with an animal in a way that it understands.  So I suppose those ladies were right in a way as this is exactly what I do!

I have always called myself a dog trainer, but perhaps I could call myself a Dog Speaker or a Hound Harmonizer?  My whole working life with dogs and their owners has been about helping them gain more effective communication with their pets.  It is my opinion that the majority of training problems are down to one simple factor and that is a breakdown in communication between human and canine.  Methods and scientific research in dog behaviour has moved on over the last 20+ years that I have been doing this and that only serves to make the work easier as the human race gains greater understanding of what makes our canine companions tick.

Living with a dog should be about mutual respect and understanding rather than one species dominating, punishing or abusing another. The way dogs learn is quite simple and it is up to us as a species  to understand this.  If a dog finds something rewarding it will be highly likely to repeat it (not too different from us really) if it is not rewarding the dog is less likely to repeat it, if it is dangerous it will avoid if it is safe it will not.  Here is where the communication break down kicks in, this seems a perfectly simple and logical state of affairs until you begin to understand what is rewarding and not rewarding for a dog.  Here is an extreme example to illustrate my point:-  take the cases of several Border Collies who live in rural communities and have access to the country lanes where they live, being a herding breed with a hard wired chase instinct, in the absence of ‘official work’ these Collies love to chase cars, many of them have been hit by cars and even lost limbs – not rewarding and dangerous I hear you cry and you would be right UNLESS you are a Border Collie who has a very strong genetically programmed urge to chase.  The reward they get from the chase is greater than the possible consequences and therefore if the behaviour is not redirected to something safer many of these dogs will continue to chase vehicles.

So if your dog keeps repeating a behaviour that doesn’t work with your lifestyle ask yourself what reward is he or she getting from it, when you have established what is ‘turning the dog on’ you can then work to redirect the behaviour to a more suitable activity.

For complex behaviour and training issues please always seek professional help.

 

Getting your dog to come back!

Dog Behaviour Matters

It’s no good falling out with your dog when he doesn’t respond to your recall.  Instead of getting hopping mad – think dog!

During a beautiful sunny winter’s walk in the woods this week I witnessed a very stressed dog owner and unbeknownst to her a very stressed dog.  From what the owner was shouting at her dog I gleaned that if it did not return to her immediately she would be late for work (and potentially chastised by her boss) unfortunately what the dog’s body language told me was ‘I am very concerned about returning to you as you are being extremely aggressive!’

One of the most frustrating things for a dog owner is a dog that has selective hearing and will only come back when he feels like it.  It particularly worries owners because they feel so helpless.  Let’s get this straight the dog is not deliberately plotting to make you late for work.  There are a number of factors at play here.

THE SCENARIO

Just imagine a human scenario for a moment.  You are at a party and having a wonderful time, you have only been there a short time and have yet to catch up with your friends, hear all the gossip, have a drink and some food then your partner tells you it’s time to go home.  Not only is it time to go home, but when you get there your partner plans to go straight back out again for a few hours leaving you home alone. Would you willingly return with your partner?

The main reasons that a dog won’t come back are fairly simple; the first one is that the dog has never been taught in a way that it understands what is expected of it when you give your chosen ‘recall’ signal, often too the pay-off for what the dog is currently doing, finding scents, chasing prey, playing with others, is greater than the pay-off for returning to an owner who is not a great deal of fun to be with and having the lead put on.

LIFE ON THE HOME FRONT

If your dog does not willingly come to you in the house and in from the garden when you call then there is little chance of it reliably coming when there is a wealth of exciting distractions in the great outdoors.  If you don’t have control of the dog at home, you are very unlikely to have control on walks.

CONSEQUENCES

Going back to the lady I saw in the woods, from her behaviour it was fairly clear that when she finally got her hands on the dog she was going to be quite aggressive.  The dog knew this and therefore was extremely reluctant to go to her.  Also he had no concept of what the words “you are making me late for work” mean. Time and deadlines are a human invention.  For this dog the negative consequence of returning was actually preventing it from doing the very thing that the owner required.  Assuming for a moment that the dog had been taught exactly what ‘come here’ means and was choosing, for whatever reason, not to return then there needs to be a sliding scale of praise and reward to help the dog understand what is expected of it.  There is no place for physical or verbal violence when training recall it is very counterproductive in most training situations. However, if your dog gets a piece of sausage or liver cake when it returns sluggishly after 10 minutes of you calling then there is no incentive for the dog to do a better job.  If a sliding scale is used it is then possible to begin to ‘shape’ the dog’s behaviour.  For example; a first time recall gets a JACKPOT!  This being whatever the dog loves best.  It could be a handful of sausage, chicken or liver cake or it could be a high intensity game with a favourite toy.

DOGGY DECISIONS

Sometimes when I have called one of my dogs I see them having an internal dialogue which I imagine goes something like this “She has called, I like it when she calls, but what I am doing here is so much fun, this is the best rabbit hole I have ever seen.  Oh she is calling again and clapping AND running around. Aw shucks I love it when she does that.  Ok the rabbit hole can wait. Hold on mum I am coming!”  obviously dogs don’t think in English, but when I have seen my dog struggling with making the decision that is right for me I will treat this very favourably and the dog will be rewarded with sausage and a fuss if it comes to me.  If the dog makes and unfavourable choice then it will get no reward at all.  If the dog has already learned to run in the opposite direction when you call then you will need to enlist the help of a trainer who is well versed in positive training.

BREEDS

Think about the breed of dog that you have chosen and how this will affect their behaviour, for example recall problems with Border Collies are often born out of a need to chase something; jogger, car, cyclist and so on.  Recall problems with a Jack Russell are often caused by a desire to head down a rabbit hole and recall problems with Gun breeds such as Springer Spaniels and Labradors are often caused by the dog getting carried away following the scent of something very interesting like a Pheasant.  What motivates your dog to not respond to your call is the very key to training it. Take the Collie as an example.  Scenario 1:  A cyclist whizzes past on his bike that looks like the best fun ever, the dog can engage in the behaviour that it is genetically hardwired to do and herd the bike, which will probably result in ‘nipping’ at the bike tyres or the ankles of the cyclist.  NOT a desirable behaviour!  Scenario 2: A cyclist is approaching the dog knows that it’s owner will call it because the cyclist is a trigger for a fantastic game of ball.  The end result; the dog gets to ‘herd’ the ball, has great fun, the cyclist passes by unharmed and dog and owner carry on their walk in a happy and harmonious way.

CHOOSING THE CUE

Many people use the dog’s name as a training word.  This results in many confused dogs! Some of the most common things that a dog’s name is used for are:  come here, look at me, stop what you are doing, bad dog and shut up.  All of these commands and just one word for the dog to understand ‘Fido’!  Put yourself in the dog’s paws for a moment.  If someone kept repeating your name but in varying tones you wouldn’t have a clue what they wanted from you.  The words you use are irrelevant, provided that the dog is properly taught what they mean, but one word per command is essential.  It is a good idea to precede the cue with the dog’s name, particularly in multi dog households, in the case of the recall ‘Fido come’ is a good cue.  It gets the dog’s attention but is clear and to the point.  The more words, the more diluted the cue and so the less efficient.  As with most training practice begins in the home. Start by calling your dog to you when you are about to feed it. Or sometimes when you are walking past the dog’s biscuit tin call him from another room, give the treat and send him on his way again.  You can use the same method with a favourite toy.  When you are achieving this then you can begin to practice outdoors with the dog on a lead to begin with.

TIPS

  • Teach your dog what your chosen recall command means, remember they don’t speak English. Enlist a trainer if you need help.
  • Set your dog up for success, if your calling only ever means the end of fun, what is the point of coming?
  • Call your dog to you regularly during walks to either give it a treat or play a short game and then send it on its way.
  • Remember your sliding scale of praise and reward
  • If your dog has developed a recall problem engage a good dog trainer to help you
  • Don’t call the dog to you for something he doesn’t like or is afraid of (ear drops, nails clipped are a couple of common ones although a dog can be taught to accept these, but that is another article!)
  • Using a whistle can be very effective, it doesn’t show emotion and can be transferred to all members of the family.Don’t forget to train the dog what the whistle means!

Clicker Parties

golden-retriever-clicker-trainingHave you heard of ‘Clicker Training’ but are not quite sure what it is or how it can benefit you and your dog?  Why not hold a clicker party?

All you need is a gathering of a few friends and some spare time and you can have a fun introduction to this brilliant, clever, kind training method.

Find out how to modify behaviour, teach obedience and fun stuff too!

To find out more please contact us

Communicating with your Dog

Does Your Dog Speak English?

Just think about this question before you answer.  The reason I say this is because when it is pointed out to people that dogs don’t, in fact, speak English they quite often look totally shocked.  Dogs speak Canine not human and not Wolf.  A high percentage of problem behaviours and training breakdowns are down to the simple fact that the owner doesn’t realise how to communicate effectively with their pet.

A lot of canine communication is done through non-verbal signals – that is to say body language.  When you are out walking your dog and you see another approaching in the distance there will be a conversation going on between the two long before you give your greetings to the other owner.  This is why your dog is perfectly social with some dogs and either aggressive or submissive to others.

People tell me that they know their dog has been naughty because when they come home he runs and hides or looks guilty.  It will only take a split second for a dog to pick up on a change in your body language from happy and relaxed to stressed and angry, he might know you are becoming cross even before you do and certainly will before you have uttered those all too common words “What have you done!” and if you are often cross with him when you come home he will anticipate this.

Many people, myself included, have full blown conversations with their dogs and their beloved companion seems to hang on every word thus giving the impression that every word is understood.  It isn’t!  However, they enjoy the focus that you are giving them and the gentle tone of voice.

The way a dog learns is to form a series of associations between an action and a consequence.  If the consequence is rewarding the dog is more likely to repeat the behaviour and if it is negative the dog is less likely to repeat the behaviour.

Food for thought:

  • Taking the ‘sit’ and ‘down’ commands as a prime example.  Most people successfully teach a dog to sit by raising a food treat over its eye-line (or using clicker training); as the head goes up the bottom automatically goes down and the treat is released.  Usually when the bottom hits the floor the owner will say ‘sit’.  The association is between the raising of the hand and, eventually, the saying of the cue – the consequence is a treat.  Because this is rewarding the dog will want to repeat the experience and will begin to offer ‘sits’ in an attempt to train the owner to give it a treat.  The same applies for the ‘down’ command; the treat is pulled from the dogs nose down to the floor just in front of his feet this will make the front half of the dog drop down to try and access the food, when it doesn’t get it the dog will usually try lying flat on the floor to get better access to the treat, when this happens the food is released and the command ‘down’ or ‘lay down’ given (slightly different with clicker training).  Just as with the sit the association has been formed between a hand signal, a word and a reward.  Taking this into consideration how confusing is it then for a dog to be told to ‘sit down’.  The dog will look at the owner with pleading eyes as if to say ‘which one do you want me to do?’  It is only when the owner shouts the command that the dog thinks ‘oh dear that doesn’t sound good I’d better offer a learned behaviour and see if it calms them down’.  The dog may offer a paw, this is usually met with a smile, if it is lucky it will get it right first time and offer a sit, but if it lies down that is usually enough to appease its owner.
  • What happens then when an owner asks the dog to sit, the dog offers a down and the owner praises the dog?  How confusing must that be!
  • Using the dog’s name is another thing where we not only expect our pet to speak English, but to be psychic as well.  Here are some of the things that the dog’s name often gets used for – remember this is just one word.  ‘Rover’ can mean:  Come here!  Stop doing that, pay attention to me, do not roll in that fox poo, heel, be quiet and numerous other variations.
  • The final thing I will use for this illustration is barking.  A dog barks to alert its pack.  It is either saying ‘come or look at this, wow this is exciting!’, ‘Stranger danger!’, ‘ let’s get rid of the postman!’ and so on.  Taking the scenario of the Postman as an example:  The Postman enters your gate and is spotted by the dog, the dog barks to warn and rally the pack, you as a fellow pack member come rushing through from the kitchen shouting (barking) ‘Be quiet / shut up’ or similar exclamations; the postman having completed his task then retreats down the garden path and the dog thinks he has done a fantastic job of alerting you and as the pack joined together in barking the intruder retreated. Sound familiar?

Dogs should be trained.  I think this is a statement that no one would disagree with, but next time you try and teach your dog something take a step back and see it from his perspective. If you try and teach a sit or a down by pushing and forcing your dog into position it will not wish to repeat the behaviour, if it is a submissive dog it will comply to avoid the negative sensation, if it is confident or over confident you are highly likely to have teeth placed on your hand or arm as a warning that the dog is uncomfortable, this in turn may lead to you feeling the need for discipline and before you know it you have a total relationship breakdown with ‘man’s best friend’.

Footnote:  The training examples used here are based on lure training, when using clickers (operant conditioning) the process is slightly different.  When in doubt seek the advice of a reputable dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement.

Doggie Thought for the Day

Dog pulling tipsDog: “How do you expect me to walk next to you when you keep shouting at me to HEEL and strangling me”

Heelwork can be a challenge, but when attempting to teach your dog to walk next to you keep these three things in mind:

  1. Make yourself interesting to walk with or the smells on the grass and lampposts will win your dog’s attention every time.
  2. Be nice, would you want to walk next to an angry person who keeps choking you?
  3. Change pace and directions and engage with your dog, checking your mobile phone when walking your dog automatically makes you dull to be with!