Blog Archives

Understanding of Canine behavior becomes more widespread.

What happens to your puppy in its first 14-16 weeks or life are critical to the personality it will develop as an adult. (Read more here) This is independent of where the puppy may have been born but is particularly important if they have had a less than ideal start in life e.g. as a puppy mill rescue dog. The way dogs are now viewed is considerably different to the way they were when I was growing up over 40 years ago. Dogs are no longer “Just a dog” There is now increasing understanding and treatment for dogs who are fearful, scared, aggressive (dog or human) or phobic. Because of this pet care professionals are now training in pet behavior so that they can appropriately attend to the needs of all pets that come into their care.  No longer are animal and veterinary behaviorists the only pet care professionals looking at canine body language and considering how their actions impact on the pets in their care and how well animals are coping with the procedures that are required to achieve the service. Groomers, trainers, boarding kennel operators and pet walking and sitting professionals are assessing their processes, procedures and knowledge to provided an improved quality of service for all types of dogs.

When a dog first arrives at the groomers, boarding kennel or veterinary practice it is common practice for a client card containing dog details such as age, sex, breed and dietary requirements etc to be filled out. With the increasing knowledge about the effects of adequate or inadequate socialization and the increasing understanding of other factors in dogs it is now not uncommon for pet owners to be asked the following questions as well:

  • Where did your dog come from?
  • What age was he when you got him?
  • Does he react fearfully in any situations?
  • How does he get on with other dogs and humans?
  • Is he on any medications either long or short term, including medications for anxiety?
  • (If at the groomers) Has he ever been clipped and HV dried before and how did he react?
  • Has he been crate trained? (groomers, vets and kennels)
  • How does he like machines such as the washing machine, vacuum cleaner?
  • Is he frightened of thunderstorms?
  • Has he ever been to dog obedience lessons/puppy preschool/private trainer/other trainer?
  • If yes to the one above then – what method of training was used?

This is a large number of questions and you can see that dog groomers, veterinary technicians, kennel operators, even dog walkers and home sitters need to be highly skilled in canine behavior as the world we live in with our best friends is getting more and more complicated as we learn more about their individual behaviors and seek to make the best possible lives for them.

The big questions however are:

  • Is there too many dogs being bred?
  • Is the no kill policy of shelters allowing more damaged dogs to stay in our community?
  • Does the way dogs live now (as against how they lied 40 years ago) leading to dogs who are less well socialized?

All of those issues are for another day and another blog.


Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician   |

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Groomers who chose to use positive methods to groom dogs and cats

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

Confessions of a cross over trainer

I first started training dogs over 43 years ago with a very patient black Labrador named Lisa and a check chain. Poor Lisa she was drilled every walk and I used a leash pop with the check chain as the cue to make her sit. (Sorry Lisa I really wish I knew then what I know now, Please forgive me). Lisa was a garbage guts and the use of food would have revolutionized our training but I was not to know.


Then I got my chow chow called Chi. My first dog that was all mine not the families. I had no experience with a Spitz breed and no understanding that when they didn’t want to do something they just didn’t do it. Neither did the head trainers at the top obedience clubs (who shall remain nameless) that we frequented over her life. More drilling for an hour each day and more leash pops and no food still and very little training at home.  Sorry Chi but you and Lisa must be shaking your heads at me up there in doggy heaven. I did get drops and sits and sort of recalls but never to a competition standard. I just had the wrong dog for obedience I was told as none of the head trainers could work her out either. Barbara Woodhouse was all the rage on TV and “walkies” in a high sing song voice was the catch phrase. Great to get a dog to walk with you but useless for a dog that insisted on pulling me along.


Along came my first Belgian Shepherd called Mistral and by this time we were still leash popping with choke chains now renamed check chains but we had also added alpha rolls and be a pack leader to our techniques. This was back in the mid 80’s and it is a wonder I never got my head bitten off. I decided to try out conformation showing with Mistral as I really didn’t have the hours to devote to obedience training. This introduced me to the use of baiting with food or a toy in the ring to get the dogs attention. That worked well, we came to the line up and used food to get the dog to give good eye contact. Why didn’t I think about food for other uses outside the ring?


Meanwhile Chi was still barging badly on a lead, dragging me all over town on our walks and I had heard of a trainer that had another method that might be helpful for her. Off Chi and I went to a lady call Chris Johnson (or Johnstone) who introduced me to a more positive method of working with my dog not trying to force her into what I wanted. Well that was an amazing about turn and unbeknownst to me I had started on my route as a positive trainer. In a couple of lessons she achieved what hours and hours of obedience club drilling and lease pops had not. Chi was a different dog and we could enjoy lovely walks and I commenced to implement her techniques on hundreds of dogs from that point on.


Many Belgian Shepherds later I am still using food as a bait in the show ring but not so outside the ring. Fast forward to early 2000 and I have Mistral II. Crazy woman, says my ex-husband, why get another dog and call it the name of the first nut case that was Mistral I and expect to be anything other than a handful. Yep he was right Mistral II just refused to get the recall command. A high prey drive that meant she was totally oblivious to even $200 a kg steak waved under her nose when cows were around to chase. I went off and brought Melissa Alexander’s Click for Joy book and a clicker and armed myself with the yummiest of treats. It was OK as a training method if the cows were not around I got much better compliance from Mistral II but I really couldn’t get the hang of clicker training and well old habits die hard. Back to the check chain (which I was fairly well trained in using to check and release) and more hours and hours of obedience club drills. Forward and back, in and out, weaves, sit, drop and stand your dog. She did it but well she never really enjoyed it, neither did Jet or Alexia.

By this time I was also working as a groomer and had gained a reputation of handling very difficult dogs that others were not able to. I had rehabilitated numerous hard to groom dogs and learn many things about what goes on inside a dog’s head. I found out that force achieves nothing but force or aggression back.


I decided to enroll in the Certificate IV companion animal studies with Delta Australia and the second of the one in a million trainers came into my life. Kerrie Haynes-Lovell taught me how to use a clicker correctly and the pivotal moment is still strong in my memory. Over at the RSPCA at Yagoona with Kerrie behind my shoulder and me facing a young lab cross (Lisa reincarnated I believe) who was jumping six feet in the air. With Kerrie’s assistance that dog had stopped jumping in about 2 mins. I was hooked.


Late in this course I had to produce a video showing me training a complex task with a dog and a simple task with another species. Which dog and which species was the issue. After trials and tribulations with the long suffering Nicky the Belgian cross farm dog, Cherry the miniature poodle, Zena the horse and a unnamed ferret I settled on Zena for the simple other species task and Cherry for the complex task. Neither of these animals had ever been clicker trained and I had jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool.


Zena was pretty easy as all I had to go was convince her to touch my hand when she got clicked and rewarded. That took a few sessions as she was being trained with no restraint so when it all got to hard for her she walked off.


Cherry was much harder. She belonged to my business partner and had a number of behavioral issues as a reactive dog. She also had had limited training and I had decided to get her to discriminate between two different margarine container lids called one and two on command.  An inexperienced dog and inexperienced trainer and a deadline for assignment submission to a person who would see all the faults wasn’t fun. But cherry got it and a bonus was for the first time ever this training made her relax and sleep properly. 30 minutes of training and she would then curl up on the lounge and snore for 2 hours. Bliss!


Since then I have started many dogs using reward based training, always off lead where possible. I have trained many dogs who have been trained under force based punishment methods and rehabilitated all of them. I still have not stopped Mistral II from chasing cows as it is not possible to undo hardwired genetic behavior, she is managed so she does not get a chance to chase them.


Would I ever go back to force based punishment methods? No way as using positive reward based methods means I have fun, the dog has fun and my client has fun. It is a delight every time I find a new dog and owner that this wonderful method can be used to change their lives and in a very short few minutes “fix” serious behaviors that owners had not had success fixing before.


BUT I am so sorry I never worked this out 43 years ago.



Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician   |

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Groomers who chose to use positive methods to groom dogs and cats

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.




A Reactive Dog, No Power and No Internet – Help!

The electrical providers are performing major work on the power lines over the last two days so we are into our second day with no electricity. There have also been moderate thunderstorms for the last week so the atmosphere is also electrically charged. When you are in a house out of town with the only sounds being the cows, birds and the very rare passing car when the electricity goes out it demonstrates the type of hum that a normal house has all day every day. This background noise is much more evident to the dogs than us due to their enhanced hearing.


So that would make for a  much more relaxed environment you would think, that is unless you have a reactive miniature poodle that does not cope at all well with any changes to her environment. Poor cherry is not having a good day today reacting to every outside noise by trying to jump up and run down the corridor barking out of control. White noise (background noise) is used as a very effective calming technique for reactive dogs. I use it extensively for her, always leaving a radio or television on so there is an ambient level of noise in her environment. It also works well for me as having PTSD and its associated anxiety I find that I am calmer when there is some noise around me. Not to mention that no computer, no internet, no television and no cup of tea has made me a bit on the stressed side today.


Luckily I have a store of good books to catch up on and Cherry and I are lounging around with her snuggled up next to me getting a nice calming massage while I read about canine body language and, until the phone battery gives out, my iTunes library.


Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician   |

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Groomers who chose to use positive methods to groom dogs and cats

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.


Bill and his love of sauce!


There are a few main tenants of positive reward based dog training:

1)      Dogs continue behaviors because they are rewarded for doing so

2)      Dogs stop behaviors when they are not longer getting rewarded by it.

3)      The reward is determined by the dog.

4)      In order to stop behavior it must stop being rewarded and it will stop in a process known as extinction.

5)      Extinction burst can occur before behavior stops.

6)      Punishment does not stop  behavior it just suppresses it

7)      Positive reward based methods promote new behavior more effectively


But what does this actually mean in human terms?

I would like you to meet Bill.


Bill is an ordinary everyday kind of guy, married and works in a pretty ordinary job. Noting fancy but he is really keen on brand ABC sauce. Nothing tastes OK without this sauce according to Bill but  he has to drive 15 minutes out of his way each time he needs it and his wife refuses to go and buy it for him.


He had tried his hardest to get me to like this sauce but I hate it. So this fulfills point 3. The reward is determined by the person (or animal) being rewarded.


Every time he goes to this shop he buys a bottle of this sauce comes home, puts it on his meal and thoroughly enjoys the taste. He continues to go 15 minutes out of his way each time to get his reward. The behavior of going to the out of the way shop continues as he is rewarded by the shop having his favorite brand of yummy sauce.


All is fine until one day he gets to the shop and the sauce is not there. Not a problem thinks Bill they will have it tomorrow. Tomorrow he finds there is still no sauce. No problem says Bill, I have enough to get by for two more days. Two more days later still no sauce. This is extinction or point 4. So Bill is now getting pretty desperate as his world is not OK without his sauce. He gets up 15 minutes early the next day and goes before work and again after work but sadly there is still no sauce available. (Extinction burst as he tried harder and harder to continue the behavior)


How long Bill will keep attempting to get his sauce we don’t know as extinction can be a quick or slow process depending on how entrenched the behavior was.


Let’s back track a bit and find out what would happen if Bill had stopped at any time in this process to complain to the shop owner. Not an uncommon scenario as most people don’t like their heavily rewarded behaviors being upset. Bill goes up to the shop assistant and asks when his ABC brand of sauce will be in. The shop assistant is dismissive and implies he is being a pest. Bill feels punished for his like of the sauce. He is determined to go back next day and this time talk to the shop manager.


Next day the shop manager tells him to stop annoying them; he gets angry and pushes Bill out the door telling him to go away. Bill is now fuming. How dare this shop treat him say negatively, he has been a good customer for years and his love of ABC sauce is no threat to them. He returns the next day and has another altercation with the manager, who this time calls the police and Bill is arrested for disturbance of the peace. He still does not have his sauce and he is now really angry at being punished so unfairly. This could keep going on for a while with Bill stuck in his need for ABC sauce and the shop stuck in their punishment methods. Not much fun for either of them. A lose / lose scenario for both Bill and the shop as Bill does not have his sauce and the shop has this person annoying them every day.


What would have happened if the store manager had chosen to use a positive reward based method instead?


This time when Bill confronts the manager to complain the manager tells him he is so sorry but that sauce is no longer available and because Bill has been such a good customer he sends him home with 3 complimentary bottles of XYZ sauce to try. So Bill, being Bill, is still not so happy that his regular sauce is not available but hey this is free let’s try it. He does and finds it is almost as good and that given time he could find it as rewarding as the previous brand. Meanwhile he has avoided an ugly confrontation with the shop and the police. A win / win for both parties and Bill and the store manager have both avoided the need for blood pressure medication. The shop has kept a customer and Bill is on the way to a new more acceptable behavior replacing the previous one.


Humans and animals work on the same principles of behavior modification so why not give a more positive method a try next time you want to change an unacceptable behavior your dog is exhibiting. Interactions that result in win/win outcomes are always more fun than those that result in lose/lose.




Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician   |

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training

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Groomers who chose to use positive methods to groom dogs and cats

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors.

Back and blogging

It has been awhile since my last blog due to a combination of factors. Firstly my two laptops both chose to go belly up at the same time and secondly it is the conference / show season in spring in Australia and I needed to check out all the new products at PIAA Pet Expo and also top up my knowledge at the  APDT Australia conference. With Grisha Stewart, Pat Miller and Dr Sophia Yin on the guest list along with 200 or so positive reward based trainers it was a great opportunity to increase my knowledge. This I achieved ten fold with the presentations from Grisha Stewart on BAT for reactive and aggressive dogs plus puppies, Dr Yin discussing low stress handling for dogs and cats and Pat Miller taking about Dog Play. My head is spinning with new ideas and techniques. I brought nearly $500 worth of new books and equipment, all of which needs reading and testing over the next few months.

PIAA Pet Expo on the Gold Coast was also a great event. It was fantastic to see the amount of interactive treat toys for dogs and cats now on offer, of which I had to buy one of each to test of course. The industry has come a long way in the last 10 years. There was as usual a terrific line up of extremely talented groomers who produced very impressive grooms. I also had the chance to catch up with colleagues that I have not seen in some time.

My next big projects are the preparation of a low stress handling outline for Pet Groomers which takes the principles outlined by Dr Sophia Yin in her book “Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behaviour Modification of Dogs and Cats ” and expands them for pet groomers. I am also working on an online module of my Understanding Canine Body Language Course for groomers. These two projects are interlinked as without the understanding of canine and feline body language you can not be aware of how to implement low stress methods.

So my next blog is about the duty of care pet care professionals, such as trainers and groomers have when it comes to interacting with the dogs we handle.

Are assumptions part of your daily routine?

The topic of today’s blog applies to both human and animal behaviour, humans being animals with the ability of more complex thought processes than four legged animals. How often do you hear someone say something about you that demonstrates their knowledge of your behaviour is based on many incorrect assumptions? tells us that the noun Assumption is a very ancient word that in its earliest use meant arrogance, as in this 1814 quote from Sir Walter Scott: “his usual air of haughty assumptions. They define the word as:

“Something taken for granted; a supposition

People who are prone to assumptions, when challenged, are unable to tell you the facts they base their assumptions on but will reply something like “it is true because I believe it to be true”.

Where do the assumptions we make come from?

Our thought processes are based on a complex mix of genetics (nature) which is hardwired into our DNA and environment or learning (nurture) which involves all the situations we have been involved in for our entire life, right back to the millisecond of our conception. Each situation that happens to us is stored away somewhere in our large and mostly poorly understood brain and becomes part of why we do what we do.

The same occurs in our animals, especially the companion dogs and cats that live so closely with us. Their behaviour is influenced by nature and nurture, right back to the time of conception. Certain traits are hard wired in by years of selective breeding for specific behaviours, for example working ability in Australian cattle dogs or kelpies and the cute lapdog laid back temperament seen in most Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

However where four legged animals differ widely from two legged animals is how they process thoughts.

Think about the thought processes that occur each time you perform a simple behaviour such as filling the car with petrol. Mine go something like this:

• How much money do I have?
• How much is petrol today “Groan it has gone up again!”?
• How far do I have to drive until I next fill up?
• The person in front of me looks like they are rich and filling their car full and will take ages.
(Assumption not based on fact)
• What other bills do I have to pay?
• How much time do I have right now?
• And a few other thoughts that occur as you wait in line……

This is a process influenced by every time I have filled up the car in over 30 years of driving, media stories about petrol prices and the state of the economy, my financial situation, my learning experienced from running out of petrol at an inconvenient time and assumptions not based on fact, i.e. the person in the queue ahead of me is slow or rich or the petrol companies are in a conspiracy to make my life as expensive as possible by increasing prices.

Contrast this to the thought processes that go through a dog’s mind during a day to day mundane behaviour:

• I just heard the cupboard open where the food is kept
• I must be getting food.

Processes based on genetics (the need to eat) and prior learning (when the food cupboard door opens I get fed). For each action there is an outcome, some of which are good (food) some of which are not (no food). Their life is much simpler. They will continue to do the behaviours that provide rewards and stop the behaviours that don’t. How they define the reward is not necessarily how we do however.

As owners we complicate the training of our companion animals by anthropomorphism of their behaviour. That is, we attribute human thought processes and behaviour to our animals. The classic case of this occurs when toilet training a puppy. We think a puppy had an accident on the expensive rug because they were annoyed at us or wanted to get back at us. In fact the puppy had an accident on the rug because they needed to wee and that happened to be where they were standing. It really is that simple. As humans we have to add all the assumptions to the interaction, just as we so often add numerous assumptions to the actions we believe we observe in people around us. When challenged with the facts we are prone to state “I believe it is so therefore it must be”

There is an old fashioned but very true saying that goes:
Assuming anything just makes “an ASS of U and ME!”

Next time you think something is true ask yourself if your assumption is actually based in fact. I am sure you will be surprised to find out that so often it has no factual basis. Even better ask the animal or person if what you are about to assume is in fact true.

How many assumptions do you make each day?

Until next time………….

Stay safe and remember to Kiss the dog, hug the cat and tell your goldfish you love them.

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behaviour, training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors

A journey into your dogs thought processes

Have you ever stopped to think about how you and your canine companions make decisions?

The other day I was on my way to Coffs Harbour with a zillion things to do and as usual not nearly enough time to do it all in. I had next to no petrol in the car and so had to stop off at the petrol station. I had that morning been contemplating the difference between how humans act within our world vs how our dogs behave and what influences those actions. This had been prompted by another one of those “my dog did something naughty hours ago to make me upset” type of comments that many pet owners like to say.

As I drove towards the petrol station I started to pay attention to the decision making that was going on automatically inside my head. Please don’t stop reading I know that the talk inside my head can be pretty scary at times.  My internal dialogue was going something like this:

” How much petrol do I need? How much cash is in the bank? Which bank account is it in? What price might the petrol be today {groan}? Where do I have to drive over the next few days and how much petrol might that use up? What food do I need to buy tomorrow, the next day, next week and if I fill the tank will that leave enough money for the bills I have to pay? Have I really considered all the facts I need to? Oh darn, is that really the time? I am running late now.”

     I told you it was scary and that’s just my internal dialogue from the first traffic lights at the start of Mackville to the entrance to the service station, about 400m distance. My head sounds like this all day and most of the night. But the important thing to notice is that I was using strong reasoning skills and had an understanding that the action I was about to undertake had an impact on the present, and the future. My decisions were also based on both positive and negative learning from the past, i.e. running out of petrol in a diesel engine is more complicated that in a petrol driven car vs not totally filling the tank means I can buy some groceries at the shop, maybe even a treat for myself.

Contrast this with how your dog might be thinking at the moment it is contemplating any behaviour:

“I need to wee, OK here is good. Wow that feels so much better”

No reasoning, no concern for the future they just perform the behaviour and move onto the next thing. Dogs live within the moment, sometimes even within the microsecond. They do not reason, in fact I don’t think any animal species has been clearly demonstrated as understanding the reasoning process and that their  behaviours have consequences like humans do but they can learn that behaviour brings rewards. There are some pretty amazing dogs who seem to be almost able to reason they can be seen on various websites selecting a single requested toy from a large group (See links below). Researches are yet to really understand how this happens and if they are in fact reasoning. In my experience the dogs I have worked with do not show much appreciation of the future. beyond that which is fairly immediate.

What is the application of this understanding to companion animal training?

Dogs do what works for them right now and how they define a positive outcome is not necessarily the way we do. Elimination is a highly rewarding behaviour for a dog. They fail to understand the we do not like eliminations on our expensive carpet or on our beds as they are unable to comprehend the reasoning that the carpet is expensive to replace or clean and we sleep in the bed and what they have done is unpleasant to us. They fail to understand being punished for an act that happened hours ago which they have probably long forgotten as their concept of past is hazy at best.  Hence your dog will do the wrong (to us) behaviour over and over again.

We need to find an effective training tool that is capable of marking behaviour that happens within a microsecond in a sea of hundreds of other behaviours that the dog may be exhibiting that we fail to see. A clicker, silent whistle or marker word is a perfect tool to use.We need to develop the ability to give our dogs time to think about what we are asking, especially when we teach a new behaviour to allow for their different way of processing thought.

Napoleon practising his high five

I was doing a training and grooming demonstration last weekend at Pet Barn Coffs Harbour and it was a great opportunity to work one on one with Napoleon, my first ever fully clicker trained dog. I got him at 7 weeks of age and he was never trained with anything other than positive reward based methods. Napoleon is now a clicker savy dog and has an ever expanding list of tricks he can do. I was reinforcing old tricks and also expanding his skills, showing people just how effective clicker training is. What was evident was that when I introduced a  new behaviour he would continue to offer the old one, as that had previously been gaining him yummy treats. He needed time for his brain to process the fact that I was now asking for something different. He was acting in a purely instinctive way and I had to give him as much time as he needed to “think” differently. There was far less processing of what I wanted going on than you would expect. The more distractions and the more tired he got the less he was able to process the new request. I introduced a new command to our training that was “think about it” when I could see the cogs in him mind turning as he was trying to work out what I now wanted. This became his cue to offer me something different.

A clicker savy dog like Napoleon knows to offer behaviours as he has only been trained using positive reward based methods. Dogs that are trained using negative or aversive methods lose this ability and have to be retrained to think and offer behaviours to find out what we might reward. The are operating in shut down mode as all they are taught is what not to do. Rarely are they told what we want them to do.Likewise our dogs who are not ever given any positive reward at home. Don’t bark, don’t wee there, don’t hassle the cat, don’t jump on the lounge. You literally see some dogs lower their heads and try to hide as they shut down, while others bark or get aggressive in frustration.

Has this given you some food for thought. Let me know what your thoughts are on how your pet’s mind operates. Do you agree or not that they cannot reason?

Links to two amazing dogs that appear to understand words:

Happy Mother’s Day to all two and four legged mums. Put your feet up and get all the positive rewards you can next Sunday

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

Training the rarest of the rare- a Tibetan Mastiff

Last week in Australia the media was full of the story of a Tibetan Mastiff puppy that sold for the incredible figure of over $100 k US. In one of those strange six degrees of separation moments, the next day  I was booked to train a six month old Tibetan Mastiff show puppy now living locally. As I live in a small country area of only 20,000 people in NSW Australia, I was amazed that two of the rarest of the rare breeds of  Australian dogs reside locally. The new owners have just embarked on a show career with these two beautiful but unique dogs. There is only a handful of Tibetan Mastiff breeders Australia wide and luckily for me the only NSW breeder lives in my area. To say I am excited about this wonderful opportunity is an understatement.

As a positive reward based trainer and animal communicator I train dogs as individuals, based on what the dog in front of me is telling me via its body language and behaviour (Read about my training philosophy). Pedigree dogs have many years of selective breeding history which usually results in strong breed specific personalities that I can use to get a head start on the information I may be presented with. Having never seen or trained a TM the place to start this training process was an Internet search aimed at  understanding the history of this ancient breed. and the history of the dogs owned by Jangbu Kennels

Tibetan Mastiffs are an ancient Tibetan breed that many consider to be the forerunner of modern mastiff breeds that have been recorded for many centuries, even as far back as the 13th century by Marco Polo. They are a giant breed dog weighing from 90-150 pounds (40-68 kg) originally bred in the Himalayan foothills as a strong working flock guard where the isolation and need for this dog ensured they have remained relatively unchanged. Inherently protective they are also used as a guardian for homes and monasteries. They appear to be gentle giants, naturally reclusive with strangers, mischievous, intelligent, strong willed and independent.

Kathryn Hay of Shanti Soul Tibetan Mastiffs Tasmania Australia summarized the breed in this way,

The Tibetan Mastiff, belonging to the Molosser group of dogs was introduced to the western world in the 19th century and western breeding began in the 1970s. TMs are now owned and loved across the world. The person who respects the breeds’ independence and sense of self will suit the TM character and from there mutual respect and admiration will grow and a very strong bond will endure.


To some people, meeting a TM for the first time can be quite an intimidating experience possibly because of their majestic appearance and air of aloofness. However on further acquaintance they will discover a delightful dog that is sweet natured, affectionate, playful, mischievous, curious and very gentle to both people and other animals.

TMs are very serious about guarding and will bark loudly should someone walk by while they are on duty at the front gate. They may also bark at strangers and sometimes even visitors until they are shown, through the actions of their owner, (with whom they have a solid bond) that there is no threat with which to contend.


Their intelligence is what actually makes any ‘training’ more difficult! I remember that we were the top of the class in our obedience group but after a few weeks, when the other breeds had finally come to realize what was being asked of them and started to rejoice in knowing and doing what their beloved parents wanted from them, our TM was bored, had already learnt that and didn’t see why he had to do it three times in a row!!

You see they know EXACTLY what you want from them, but they don’t necessarily agree that it’s needed. Many other breeds do things by rote learning and not ever questioning. Get prepared to ‘debate’ with your new TM puppy!!! 6

Kathryn Hay’s summary matches the picture I have in my head of a TM following my research. Many years ago I owned a Chow Chow, another of the Asian guarding breeds. With a very similar temperament to what is described for the TM’s Chi was not an easy dog to train or understand, that is until I recognised that positive reward based training was the way to interact with aloof, intelligent, independent guarding breeds.

Sedna Chi Chi – my beautiful Chow Chow

Tomorrow I start the training sessions with this rare breed. I have the video camera set up, my mind open to what I may see as the personality of this dog and a range of rewards that hopefully this dog will also agree is rewarding to her. Watch this space for my blog next week and see how we progress as I report on what did and did not work when it came to training this unusual breed for the show ring.

Hopefully this client will also see the pet care magic that Louise, the Pet Care Magician from Elite Pet Care & Education has become renowned for.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all pet owners and their pets

Our training and education centre will be closed from 23rd December until 4th January while we take a break and spend time kissing our dogs, hugging the cats and hanging out in the paddocks with the cows (as I don’t have fish).

A very merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my clients – two and four legged – and a very big thank you for allowing me the privilege of spending time with you to help provide solutions to your grooming, training and behaviour issues. It has been a pleasure to work with you and such a delight to day after day see the positive changes that the application of our methods has brought about in your pets.
Some of the more challenging case studies we have addressed are outlined.

I look forward to a very interesting 2013 when we have many new and exciting ideas and events to share with you – stay tuned.

How do dogs communicate?

How do dogs communicate both with us and with other dogs? As humans (two legged animals) we are a verbal species that relies heavily on what we say and what we hear for our communication. Body language, tone and intonation are important but are mostly subconsciously absorbed and processed by our brain to add to what we are hearing or saying. Not so our dogs. The primary language of dogs, and in fact all four legged animals is body language. All animals have some degree of vocalization but it is not the primary means of communication. It is mostly, in dogs, a minor part of the interaction and the fact that owners inhibit barking and vocalizations made it even more so.

When I am enrolling a new client into the dog training class I regularly get told that their dog knows how to sit and come, clients tell me their dog knows exactly what it means when they say sit or come. Then we start working and sure enough the interaction goes something like this:

Client: “Fluffy sit, sit fluffy, fluffy sit, come on now sit.. siiiittt……….. sit, sit, fluffy sit”  (tone         becomming   more and more exasperated)

Fluffy: ignores all the sit commands and then eventually sits down as it is far more comfortable than standing up and he figures owner will get around to doing something interesting soon enough. Yawn!

Client: “what a good sit fluffy”

What this interactions tells me is fluffy has about as much understanding of what the word sit means as he understands what the word gdander means. Yes I know gdander is not a word that is my point. What fluffy is more likely to be paying attention to is not the constant noise that comes out of our mouths but what we are doing with our hands, our fingers, our shift of weight, movement of our left big toe or even the slight raise of one eyebrow. He is more than likely paying attention to all of these things simultaneously. Our dogs spend far more time watching us and each other than listening to us. The nuances of dog body language are immense and whole chapters of very large books have been written about what each slight movement of a tail, ear or tongue means.

Parents of teenagers might want to stop and consider this for just a moment. How often do you hear a parent say “My teenager never listens to me”? Dogs are like teenagers both of them stop hearing the words and lump it all into nagging. Many years ago I was training one of my dogs for agility and the poor instructor turned to me and in a very exasperated way asked me to stop the verbal diarrhoea. I didn’t much appreciate his comment at the time but he was right as my dog was not paying the slightest bit of attention to the constant chatter I was making. In fact now when I train dogs I do it silently and they pay far more attention to me as they are forced to watch for what I want them to do. As a natural pointer I let my hands do the work (to borrow a famous Australian add)

We make so much fun of the butt sniffing antics of dogs when they meet up but if you see a dog that does not go and sniff butt but approaches from head on especially with an up-right stance then watch out as more than likely a fight is just about to occur. Likewise if we approach a strange dog from front on, making eye contact with our natural human upright stance then most dogs consider this to be an assertive/aggressive act. No I am not suggesting you crawl in and butt sniff however it is a very effective way to break the ice with some dogs. You will see many experienced trainers and behaviourists get down to the dog’s level; in fact I often sit on the floor turned half on towards the dog and let it come and check me out.

Positive reward based trainers use the dog to dog body language communication to achieve effective and lasting dog training results as do the people doing all the fun tricks like watch my horse count to x when I ask him. This is achieved by using very subtle body language cues to show the animal what is required. To return to our sit example above, it can be as simple as taking a small piece of food in your hand and moving it slowly from in front of the dog’s nose and up over his head. Most dogs naturally sit in order to follow the track the food reward is taking. This is a technique known as luring and it is by far the fastest and most humane way to teach a dog to sit. Chronic non-sitters have the sit down pat very fast using this method and once they understand what you want sit becomes default behaviour, so much so that getting them not to sit becomes our next training challenge.

Dog body language is a fairly large topic as is animal communication. If you want to learn more than check out my free podcasts located here but the best way is to pull up a chair, sit back, relax and watch your dog as it interacts with other animals. You can also become more aware of your body language as you interact with your dog. Try saying nothing next time you are training or just hanging out with your dog and see what reaction you get.

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