Monday, 16 September 2019

Recall with scent work

Recall problems

Owners can find recall difficult due to their dog being distracted by the environment.  The distractions could be people, other dogs, birds, or just following a natural scent.  This is despite the fact that the dog may have a good relationship with their owner and be happy to take treats. 

Scent work

Scent work / nose work involves your dog searching for a scent which they are rewarded for finding. The scent may be food with the reward being the food found. The scent could alternatively be something novel (e.g. catnip or specific essential oils) which is rewarded with food once the scent is found.

Scent work is a great activity since the dog uses its nose which is linked to the olfactory bulb in their brain. Using their brain will tire a dog out much more than just using their legs.

Recall using scent work

It would seem intuitive that coming back for a treat is rewarding, however for a highly motivated dog having to work for that treat can be even more rewarding.

Case study: Mabel the Cockapoo

Mable can get very distracted by everything in her environment including other dogs and birds.  She can also get distracted following a natural scent.

This groundwork training session aimed to get Mabel more focused around her handler by utilising her interest in following a scent.

Getting her to use her nose (and therefore her brain) makes recall more interesting and makes being around her handler more rewarding.

This is the first time Mabel has done scent work so was learning the process as she went along.

Exercise one: Recall and follow the treat

In this exercise the treat is thrown out when the dog comes back so that she has to use her nose to find it.  Working for the treat in this way is more rewarding than just being given it.

Exercise two: Recall and find the treat

In this exercise when the dog comes back, she is sent out to search for the treat.  The treat is hidden when the dog is not looking.  The dog is asked to sit when she comes back to give the exercise some structure, so she is ready to look for the treat when the cue ‘find it’ is given.

Note how easily Mabel gets distracted even once she has come back.  She becomes more focused as the session progresses.

Exercise three: Recall and follow the treat toy to release the treat

In this exercise when the dog comes back, the Clam toy, which contains a treat, is thrown out.  The dog must therefore follow the toy and then work at getting the treat from the toy.

Note how Mabel becomes distracted by a dog in the distance but then goes back to trying to get the treat from the Clam toy.


  • Coming back for a treat is rewarding.  Mabel using her nose to find the treat can be even more rewarding.
  • Scent work exercises are focused around the handler.  This helps strengthen the dog-handler bond. 
  • Mabel using her nose will tire her out much more than just using her legs.

Products used


Groundwork training is where I help train your dog for you. This can be the perfect solution if you are stuck on a specific behavioural problem and don't know how to move on.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist in Brighton & Hove in Sussex.
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Sunday, 27 January 2019

Craig Ogilvie - Interactive Play Workshop

As part of my CPD (continuing professional development) I like to keep up with what others are doing in the dog training world.  I recently attended Craig Ogilvie’s Workshop on Interactive Play.

I was hoping this would be useful since I regularly deal with training clients who have issues with their dogs and play.  Some run around with a toy and won’t bring it back, some bark madly when a toy is produced, and some, to their owner’s amazement don’t want to take hold of the toy at all! 

I went into the workshop with my pre-conceived understanding of what toy play is; a part of the predatory sequence.  So, was I right?  Yes… but the focus also needs to be on the human side of the interaction.  Craig summed this up as “The toy is the bridge between owner and dog”.

Even with the best knowledge of dogs it is not always easy to teach others.  Craig however was not only knowledgeable but also personable and incredibly enthusiastic.  He appreciated that dogs learn best when they are having fun and applied this to his human students too.

Some people can feel a bit silly being seen playing with their dog so it was a big ask to get participants to do this in front of an audience.  Craig’s super-motivating style however seemed to get even the shyer participants running around as if no one else was in the room.

Most of the dogs at the workshop were larger breeds such as Labradors, Boxers, and Rottweilers but there were also mid-sized dogs like Border Collies, Bearded Collies, and Cocker Spaniels.  At the smaller end of the range there was also a Jack Russell Terrier.   Craig adapted each session to the specific needs of dog and owner and used appropriate equipment with each.  The sessions with each dog where kept short since it was physically and mentally demanding for dogs and owners.  Just like any training, little and often is best.

There is an old wives tale in the dog training world that the human should always “win” the toy during play.  This seems to be a throwback to old-fashioned and discredited “dominance” theory.  How much fun is it to play a game and never win?  Craig emphasised that we need to let our dogs have some fun and so win the toy!

I left Craig’s workshop feeling really enthusiastic and ready to try to replicate some of that enthusiasm with my clients and their dogs.

I would highly recommend Craig’s workshop for dog enthusiasts as well as other professions in the dog world.

Craig also has a book out… though obviously it’s not as much fun as attending one of his workshops!

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist in Brighton & Hove in Sussex.
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Tuesday, 1 January 2019

My training method

I often get asked what is my training “method”?

I want to reply that it’s a bit of science, a bit of fun, and a bit of making it up as I go along.

… but the question probably means “do I use dominance-based or science-based training”?

That’s an easy answer since dominance-based training is really just mumbo-jumbo!

Once that question is out the way the next question might be, do I use reward, punishment or a combination of both to train dogs?

The answer to this question could be a little more confusing since the science of behaviourism allows for the use of punishment to change behaviour!

During the development of Psychology, experiments on animals established that if you provided specific consequences (rewarding or punishing) to a behaviour then the behaviour may increase or decrease in future.  The science of behaviourism was born.  It did little, however, to consider what the animal was thinking or feeling since it only considered the behaviour. 

Understanding what an animal is thinking is very difficult (even in humans) and what it is feeling even more so.

Modern Psychology not only studies behaviour but also cognition (perception and processing of information “thinking”) AND emotion.

Considering emotion is important because it is a factor that influences behaviour greatly in both us and our dogs.

Imagine you try to learn a totally new skill, especially something you don’t have a natural aptitude for (e.g. dancing or a new language).  You go to the first class, the teacher asks you to lead with your left foot or to conjugate a verb.  You lead with your right foot or get your verb endings wrong.

How does your teacher respond?  How do your feel?  Embarrassed, angry, defensive, frustrated?

How would your emotional state affect your next attempt?  Would you even come back to the next class if you had a bad experience?

Now imagine you are training your dog to sit.  The dog has learnt this perfectly in your living room.  At the roadside you ask the dog to sit but he doesn’t do it even though he knows how to.  Why not, and what do you do next?

You could push your dog into position or yank up on the lead.  Did that work?  Yes!

It sounds like you have just used pain or discomfort to train him to sit by the roadside.  But… what about his emotions?

The question should have been why did the dog sit at home but not at the roadside?  At home he had practiced sitting many times and hopefully been rewarded for it with treats, toys or even just a happy “good boy”.  He also faced few distractions and hopefully felt safe at home.  Outside there are other considerations.  Cognition being the first.  Could he hear you properly over the traffic noise?  Were you standing by his side rather than in front of him like you do at home?  These “perception” factors make the task much harder for your dog.

The second consideration is emotion.  Is your dog fearful or perhaps just overwhelmed by the sight and sound of the traffic as you ask him to sit by the curb?  Misunderstanding your dog’s emotions at this point is likely to lead you to feel frustrated and emotional yourself.  Take a step back and think about why you dog is not doing what you asked.  He may have understood what you wanted but is his emotional state preventing him from responding as you wanted?

So, what would I do in that situation?

I refer you back to my training method of “…. a bit of making it up as I go along.”

Be adaptable!  In this case I might simply ask the dog to sit a step back from the curb to give him space from the traffic.  If that doesn’t work, I might practice on a quiet street with no traffic.  If that doesn’t work then perhaps the behaviour at home was not as good as I thought it was so I would go back to practicing there first.

Don’t assume that if your dog does not respond as you want, he is being “stubborn”.  He may not understand you or may be stuck in an emotional state.

Using punishment may worsen your dog’s emotional state and cause him to lose trust in your relationship generally.  He may then shut down and become reluctant to try new things.

I set up Rainbow Dogs in 2004 and started studying for a degree in Psychology as a mature student soon after.

I use science-based and reward-based training methods since they work whilst keeping your dog in a healthy emotional state.

I try to consider the thoughts and feelings of my clients as well as their dogs during my training sessions.

Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist in Brighton & Hove in Sussex.
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Wednesday, 10 October 2018


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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

You are doing it all wrong!

What’s the best way to train a new puppy or to work on a dog’s behavioural problem?

The answer is to take unsolicited advice from a random stranger!


How do I deal with those “you are doing it all wrong, you should do it like this” people?

The first thing is to do is stop being so British about it!

Brighton & Hove is generally a lovely friendly place but that doesn’t mean to have to do what any old random person tells you to do.  Take responsibility and remember that your dog is totally dependent on you so if that means getting away from that scary person then do it.

If you are not happy with what someone else is doing then take control.  That means you don’t have to be polite and let a stranger pick up your puppy or stand by as their dog is being too rough with yours.  You can, and should, take control and walk away.

What random advice might you get? 

“Just let him off lead - it will be fine”

It will not be fine if your dog has not learnt recall and runs over to an aggressive dog on lead or a scared child.

“Just let them sort it out”

This is usually what someone says when their over-boisterous dog is terrorising yours.  In this situation trust you instincts and walk away.

“You need to show him who’s boss”

This is someone who “trains” using fear and pain.  They have probably seen a celebrity trainer on TV and now consider themselves equality qualified.

The list of bad advice is endless!

What not to do.

It may be tempting to get into an argument with the other person.  However, this may well cause your dog distress.  People that know it all will not be open to reason.  Just smile, say thank you, and walk away.

My experience.

I constantly get told by clients they are overwhelmed by the contradictory advice they get from random people in the park and on the internet.  I always try to give clients the reasons for my training advice and methods rather than just telling them what to do.

A real life example.

I was working in the park with a client.  I was assessing the dog and working on managing his behaviour and helping improve it.

Behind us is the park expert with her unsolicited advice.  My client says thank you and we walk away.  We walk along further but she catches us up.  More expert advice which would have made the dog’s behaviour far worse.  My client thanks her again and suggests we walk in the other direction.  The expert is now shouting after us how she has had dogs for 20 years and is just trying to help.  She probably did have lots of experience owning her own dogs but that does not make her an expert.  Luckily my client had excellent social skills and could confidently manage the situation.

Take home message.

Having a new dog will mean you get to talk to lots of new people in the park which can be lovely.  You don’t, however have to take on board everything people tell you.  Trust your instincts and get some professional advice if you need help.  

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

How safe is your dog in your car?

Would you drive without a seat belt or allow your passengers or child to do so?

There have been various changes in the law in the UK over the years with attitudes to safer car travel following.  So, the answer is probably no!

You may be breaking the highway code and invalidating your car insurance if you don’t properly secure your dog.

So why do you allow your dog to travel unrestrained or just being held in someone’s arms?

The answer in part is not knowing the best way to keep your dog safe.

Seat belts and child seats undergo rigorous mandatory safety checks.  There is no official requirement for safer dog travel. 

Where should my dog be in my car?

In the boot space

The advantage of this solution is your dog is not going to interfere with your driving and you can still use your seats for people.

The disadvantage is you have limited space for luggage.

Safety-wise if you break suddenly your dog may travel over the top of the backseat through the car hitting the back of your head or the windscreen.  You should therefore consider the option of a crate, car guard or net, or to tether your dog in the boot space.  Most cars have a tether point in the boot space to use.

Your boot is designed to be a crumple zone to keep you safe in an accident.  This may therefore be the least safe place for your dog.

On the back seat

The advantage of this solution is your dog is not going to interfere with your driving and you can still use your boot for luggage.  The disadvantage is you have reduced space for passengers.

Safety-wise if you break suddenly your dog could travel through the car hitting the back of your head or the windscreen.  Tethering your dog will prevent this. 

On the front seat

The disadvantage of this solution is your dog may be a distraction to you potentially causing an accident. 

The advantage is your dog may be calmer being close to you. 

This solution is similar to having your dog on the back seat except for the fact that you may have a front passenger airbag.  Airbags are not designed for dogs and so could do more harm than good in an accident.  You may be able to deactivate your car’s passenger airbag.

What equipment should I use?

A tether

This is the most simple and cheap solution!

It can be used in the boot, back or front seat.

Keeping the tether short will minimise travel in the event of an accident and reduce whiplash.

When the dog is just tethered by its collar in an accident the collar could fail and the force may cause seriously damage the dog’s neck.

A harness

The better option is therefore to use a harness.  In the event of a crash the force would be distributed over the dog’s body.  A loose-fitting harness may allow the dog to get free in an accident.  The harness should therefore fit snug to the dog’s body.  The harness should also be of good construction so no part would not fail in an accident.

A dog car seat with a harness and tether

A car seat helps to keep your dog more contained, it may also be more comfortable, and helps keep your car cleaner.

It can be used in the boot, back or front seat.

This in itself is not safely equipment so a harness and tether should also be used!

A dog crate

This has the advantage of keeping your dog contained during travel.  The disadvantage is some dogs may find crate travel stressful.

In the event of an accident if your dog’s create is not securely tethered then not only will the dog be travelling through the car but the create will too.  You also need to consider that your dog will hit the front of the crate in the event of an accident and the crate may not withstand the force.

Depending on the car, crate, and dog size the crate may be placed in the boot, back seat or front seat.

What’s the safest option?

In the absence of official comparative crash test data, we don’t know!

You can buy a seat belt clip for just a couple of pounds.

However, this crash test video demonstrates the inadequacy of many harnesses in an accident. 

Look for a harness of good construction with sturdy clips.

Sleepypod have crash tested their dog car harnesses at 30mph.

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Monday, 26 February 2018

Cold weather survival guide for you and your dog!

As the first flakes of snow drop in Brighton & Hove it pays to be prepared!

Wrap up warm

This is advice for you rather than your dog!  It means you won’t be in a rush to come home because you are cold.  Your dog already has a fur coat and most do not need an additional coat.  The exception is breeds with low body fat such as greyhounds or whippets.  If your dog is very young or old they may also need a little extra insulation.  If your dog is not well then check with your vet if they are okay to go out in the cold and if they may need a coat.  Perhaps hold off giving your dog a hair cut so he keeps that extra fur for insulation.

Clean your feet when you get home

This is also advice for you so you don’t stomp snow into the carpet!  It can however be a good idea to wash your dogs paws when you get home in case he has walked in salt that has been put down.  The salt could be an irritant for his paws and you would also not want him licking it off since that could make him sick!

Go play in the snow

This can be good fun for the both of you!  Don’t use the cold weather as an excuse to not walk your dog.  He still needs exercise and mental stimulation so as long as you are sensible he will not mind the cold weather.

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