Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Do you JUST walk your dog?

Most people just walk their dog in the park, happy in the knowledge that they are running around and burning off energy.  What happens though if you have a dog with almost unlimited energy like a Border Collie, working Cocker Spaniel, or a Terrier?  Luckily in Brighton we have the beautiful Sussex South Downs which can be much more stimulating for your dog than just a park walk.

How do I improve my dog's walks and use his brain?


Most people are aware that you can go to agility classes with your dog but your local park probably has much more that you can use to mentally simulate your dog than you realise.  When I go to a city park with a dog I’m always on the lookout for “Urban Agility”.  Urban what!?!  This means anything that a dog can jump on or over, commando crawl under, balance on, weave around etc.  This could be park benches, posts, tree trunks, logs etc.

I particularly like things that slow a dog down like a log or upturned tree.  Jumping on to something and balancing can be a real challenge for an active dog who is only used to running around at full speed.  It forces them to stop and think about what their body is doing, how to balance, turn, sit or lie down etc.  It’s like yoga for dogs!

Next time you go to the park keep a look out for your own Urban Agility course.  Your dog will have to learn to do these tasks but I can guarantee that he will come home more tired if he has had to use his brain on a walk.

Sam shows you how its done:




This is Sam learning to walk slowly along a log.  The first few times he fell off because he had no awareness of what his body was doing.  This was also a great trust exercise for Sam to know I was there with him.

Feel free to contact me about Urban Agility training for your dog which I can either do with you or as a Groundwork Training service.


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Monday, 24 August 2015

HELP! My dog is stressed what should I do?

HELP! My dog is stressed what should I do?


You need to identify:

o   When the dog is stressed?
o   What are the causes (stressors / triggers)?
o   What is the solution?
o   Is the solution working?

First you are going to determine when your dog is stressed.

You may believe your dog is feeling stressed but dogs cannot directly tell us so we need to look for outward signs e.g.:
o   Panting
o   Pacing
o   Trembling
o   Licking
o   Self-mutilation
o   Hyper-vigilance
o   Chewing
o   Eliminating
o   Vocalisation
o   Escape attempts
o   Hackles up
o   Aggression

Next you need to identify what is causing the stress; the stressors or triggers.

The dog’s genetics, early socialisation and subsequent learning may have played a part in his current stress; however the only thing you have some control over is the dog’s current environment e.g.
o   The home of a newly rescued dog
o   The home of a newly adopted puppy
o   A strange place
o   Being alone somewhere
o   A vet
o   A groomer
o   A boarding kennel
o   Travelling in the car
o   Thunder or fireworks outside
o   Strange people
o   Strange dogs
o   A stressed-out owner

Now for the solution

You are not going to focus on the outward signs of stress but instead look at why the dog is feeling stressed.  You need to reduce the feeling of fear and anxiety which should result in less of the outward signs of stress.  The accepted scientific solution is a gradual exposure to the stressor ideally whilst positive things happen.  In technical terms this is known as systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning.  This exposure needs to occur at a very low level that the dog can cope with without becoming stressed.  The level of exposure can then be gradually increased over time therefore increasing the dog’s tolerance.  In practical terms owners often will not have the skills or experience to put this in to practice and therefore should seek out a dog trainer with a sound understanding of dog behaviour.

Finally you need to determine if the solution is working.

This is more difficult than it may sound since you cannot ask the dog if he is feeling better.  It is therefore time to look again at the outward signs.  Have they reduced and only occur in more extreme situations?  Then yes, it is working!   It is likely that work is still needed to increase the dog’s tolerance and decrease his stress further.

What about drugs, holistic remedies, DAP etc?

Only a vet can prescribe drugs.  You may however consider drugs which alter the brain chemistry of your dog to be a last resort.

Many people believe in holistic remedies but this is not backed up with a body of scientific evidence.  Such remedies may help if the owner believes in them; reducing the owner’s stress and consequently the dog’s!

DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) products are a chemical copy of the pheromone that the mother secretes after giving birth to her puppies.  This helps calm the puppy and strengthen attachment during this turbulent period of the puppy’s development.   Numerous clinical trials have provided evidence that DAP can increase feelings of security.  Many of the outward signs of stress are consequently reduced in puppies and adult dogs especially when DAP is used in conjunction with behaviour modification to reduce the feelings of stress.

DAP products are available as a plug-in for a specific environment or as a collar which is especially useful when the dog is outside of his comfort zone.

Adaptil DAP





Please contact us today for help to reduce your dog’s stress.


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Thursday, 14 May 2015

What should I feed my dog?

What should I feed my dog?

I usually answer this question with “this is what you should NOT feed”.

There are hundreds of dog foods on the UK market so it’s not any easy choice.

The following are a few simple things to look out for:

·         Ingredients on the back are more useful than the marketing claims on the front.  When the front packaging mentions a specific ingredient then the ingredient list must specify the percentage e.g. foods that say Chicken on the front often contain just 4% Chicken!
·         Less is more.  A short ingredient list is generally better than a long one with lots of cheap fillers.
·         If you don’t know what an ingredient is or you would not eat it yourself then don’t give it to your dog.  Do you know what animal derivatives are? 
·         Be specific.  Do you know if “meat” in the ingredients is chicken, beef, or horse?  Is the “cereal” wheat or rice?  Choose a food that lists the actual ingredients rather than hides them under a generic term.
·         Don’t blindly follow your vet’s recommendation.  Vets have minimal nutritional training and often sell brands that provide them with large profits but which don’t do well in independent reviews.
·         Buy from a pet shop rather than a supermarket.  Supermarkets tend to stock the low-quality foods.
·         Garbage in, garbage out.  If what comes out the other end is loose and smelly then your dog’s body is not processing it very well.  If it is small and compact then he is using most of it as nutrients.
·         Do your research.  www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk is an excellent resource that reviews specific products and explains what the ingredients mean.  Check out the market leaders to see how they compare.

What about raw food diets or BARF?  Some people will tell you that it is the single most important thing you can do for your dog’s health.  Others will say that the risk of salmonella is too high.  Do lots of research if you plan to change to a raw food diet since you don’t want your dog to have any nutritional deficiencies.

The simple take home message is that there is a massive difference in the quality of commercial dog foods.  Do your research and choose the best you can for your budget.

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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Secrets and Lies – common myths and misconceptions about dogs

Secrets and Lies


As a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton I hear lots of old wives tales regarding dogs and their training; many are harmless but some can cause real damage.

1.       A dog “knows” when he has done wrong.  This one, like so many other misconceptions is an anthropomorphism - applying your beliefs about humans to another species.  In this case we think dogs “know” something is wrong because we think it is wrong.  In reality dogs are amoral, i.e. they have no conception of right and wrong.  They may show submissive body language when they do something we think is wrong, which we perceive as looking guilty, but this is just done to appease us.

2.       You should rub your dog’s nose in it if he goes to the toilet inside.  This is also based on the idea that the dog knows he has done wrong.  In reality he either does not understand where you want him to go to the toilet or he just couldn’t hold it.

3.       You should always go through the door before your dog.  This one is just plain silly.  It is based on the myth that if a dog goes through the door before you then he is trying to dominate you but in reality he is just excited to see what is other the other side of the door.

4.       My dog loves it when little Johnny rides on his back.  This seems to be based on the idea that because the dog has not bitten little Johnny then he must be having a great time.  In reality he is probably just suffering little Johnny and his breaking point is not far off at which point he will bite.

5.       Dogs that wag their tails are happy.  A dog wagging its tail is aroused i.e. adrenaline is running through his body.  This could mean he is happy or ready to fight.  A wagging tail should always be read alongside the rest of his body language.

6.       Dogs that chase their tail are having fun.  In reality they are stressed and performing an OCD behaviour.  They often catch they tail resulting in the need for a partial amputation.

7.       One dog year = seven human years.  Yes, we live longer than dogs.  However dogs often live to be 15 years – you do the math!  Smaller dogs have a lot greater life expectancy that the largest breeds; almost twice as long.  The 1:7 ratio is therefore a very rough figure.

8.       Dogs just need to eat meat because that’s what wolves eat.  This one might appear to make sense but the meat that we feed it likely to be “leans cuts” as opposed to what the wolf would eat which also includes the bones, hair, internal organs, and stomach contents i.e. vegetable matter.

9.       Dogs need regular baths.  Dogs only need occasional baths, if for example they roll in fox poo.  Frequent bathing can dry out your dog’s coat causing skin problems.

10.   Dogs only see in black and white.  This used to be the understanding of dogs’ vision.  Your dog’s visual perception is different to yours but he can in fact see a limited range of colour.

11.   Bitches need to have at least one litter in order to feel content.  A bit more anthropomorphism here.  She will not reminisce about when she had puppies and will not sit and contemplate about what it will be like to have puppies.  Dogs just live in the here and now. 

12.   My dog must be hungry since he will eat as much as I will feed him.  Dog obesity closely mirrors human obesity and it is going in the wrong direction.  You are putting pressure on a dog’s joints and internal organs when he is overweight and therefore potentially taking years off his life.

13.   I’m sure the last time I had a puppy it was not this much hard work?  This is what’s known as selective memory.  The last time you had a puppy was 15 years ago giving you plenty of time to try to block out the memory of all that chewing, mouthing, weeing and pooing!

14.   You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  This is another silly one.  Dogs can in fact learn all through their lives.


The moral of the story is that if your vet, breeder, trainer, or behaviourist tells you something about your dog then ask them to explain it.  If they can’t then they are probably just repeating an old wives tale.


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