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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.

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

My new year wish for all pets worldwide

At 10 am on New Year’s Day 2011 I was lying in bed, unable to get up due to severe pain, when I saw a Facebook post appear from Pat Miller. Pat is a Certified Professional positive dog trainer, Certified Behaviour Consultant, author and owner of peaceable paws dog training 15,383 kms away in Fairplay, Maryland. She travels widely throughout the world educating pet owners and dog trainers. Her dream for 2011 was that

“I think we should make 2011 National Train Your Dog *Year*!!!

My instinctive reaction was sure “that’s never going to happen”. Like many positive reward based animal trainers I often feel that we are fighting a losing battle, unable to shift public awareness from the fact that the only way to interact with our companion animals is in a never ending cycle of yelling at them when they do something wrong and wondering why they constantly hide from us and never seem to behave as we want them to. I like many other animal lovers despair as the millions of dogs and cats euthanized each year in shelters all around the world.

It is so easy to sit back and believe that you can never change these facts. But……… maybe we can. With Facebook reported at having 600 million users worldwide and the growth of other social network sites such as twitter it should be possible for one of the upcoming years to be named National Positively train your dog year. With your help maybe not 2011 but why not 2012 or 2013?

The world media would sit up and listen if a group called

Promoting Positive Reward Based Dog Training went viral and gained 1 million members in only 6 months. (Click on the name to take you to the site)

Is that possible? Sure it is, if every person who trainers or believes in positive reward based pet training goes to the group and hits LIKE and then tells all their friends to do the same we can have an immediate and remarkable impact on dog training worldwide right now. The saying from small things big things grow has never been truer than in this day and age with the impact social media can have and the speed at which the internet can promote good causes. Do you want to bring positive benefits to the lives of pets and their owners? If so then it is as easy as going to the group right now and hitting LIKE then sharing this group with your friends and asking them to do the same. The pets of the world will love you forever and their owners hopefully will find training a dog using a positive reward based method is just so much fun – like many that I have taught have.

Happy New Year to all pets and pet owners.

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.

What is my training philosophy and experience?

Where have I come from as a trainer, what methods do I use to train animals and where am I going in my career as an animal communicator and trainer? These are all important questions that all animal trainers should be able to answer for you as a client.

I first started training animals as a very small child, fascinated by them; I loved to see if I could teach the family budgie to talk and to carry on long involved conversations with the cats and my imaginary animal friend a beautiful black panther. At the age of 8 or so the family got its first dog Lisa, a lovely placid black Labrador. Thankfully she was so placid, as I groomed her for hours and spent day after day making up simple agility courses and taking her for endless walks with never ending sit, wait and say commands. Poor dog I know so many more fun things now. At this age I was obvious to the wonderful world of dog sports that existed, at the time in Australia that was obedience and conformation shows as agility had not really taken off yet. Now there are so many types of dog sports you can participate in including flyball, frisbee, dock diving, lure coursing, sledding and so many more on their way out from the United States such as nose games.

In 1984 i got the first of my dogs, a pedigree Chow Chow called Chi. She is the dog that first introduced me to positive reward based training and learning how to think outside the square when working with a difficult dog. Chi was a wonderful dog in the 16 years she spent with me but she invented the word stubborn and if she didn’t want to do it no amount of jerking on a check chain, dragging her around or forcing her into a sit worked. She just planted her feet and that was that. Searching around I managed to find a private trainer in Sydney that was years ahead of others in the area of training dogs and she taught me so much. Unfortunately my aim to get Chi titled in obedience never eventuated as she had chronic knee ligament issues and spent so much of her life having surgery.  She remained, until senility set in, a wonderful dog to live with, walked like a dream on a lead and was incredibly good at all the basic commands. I remember at one of the very big dog obedience clubs in Sydney (that shall remain nameless) the chief instructor, a dog trainer from the old jerk and check brigade challenged me as to why I had not been able to train this dog. Wordlessly I handled him the lead and stood back to watch darling Chi plant all her feet, look away from him and refuse to do anything he wanted. I was stifling laughter as he handed back her lead and advised me to get another dog as she was un-trainable.

In 1986 I got my first Belgian Shepherd and ventured into the conformational show world was interested to see the great results being gained by a few handlers who used a treat to get the dog to stand where they wanted and behave in the way to best show themselves off in a technique known as baiting. That appealed to me as a far calmer, nicer way of interacting with my dog and hundreds of kilos of dried liver later I showed Belgian Shepherds as much as time permitted until 2009. Never achieving tremendously great heights in show world I did enjoy being with other like minded dog people and being out in the fresh air at weekends with my dogs and learning more and more about other breeds and what made them behave the way they do.

Meanwhile my husband and I split up as a result of a serious car accident I was involved in and as a result I had to leave life as a sales representative working horrendous hours per week in Sydney, move to the Nambucca Valley and re-invent myself personally and professional. What more obvious to do that a little bit of hobby work as a dog groomer while single parenting my daughter. Never content not to improve myself I studied and learn all I could about grooming and of course every time I had a dog on a lead I trained it. Training is in fact not about a set hour training session each week but about doing the same thing the same way over and over and over again.

Shifty a big 8 year old cream Labrador that I have been grooming fortnightly now for 10 years demonstrates this beautifully. Each time I arrive I set up the trailer, water in the bath, door open, lead out, go down to the gate, ask him to sit, open the gate, put the lead on him and lead him up to the trailer. With the words “in you go” he obediently jumps into the bath and turns around to wait for me to take his lead and collar off. When I have finished washing one side I say turn and he turns in the bath to present the other side. As soon as the wash is over he stands waiting for me to pick up his treat, return him to his backyard where he sits automatically to get the treat. Did I teach him any of this? No not deliberately, I just did the same thing the same way with the same cue words every time and he learned the routine about 5 years ago. This is positive reward based training at work.

So many people have asked me for advice on their pets over the ten years and having really enjoyed producing the All Things Animals Program for 2NVR 105.9FM and with my daughter now about to spread her wings and leave home it was time to re-invent myself again and study as a professional dog trainer.

Over the last 42 years of living with dogs and cats I have tried every training technique available, with the exception of prong and shock collars, as I was never convinced that they were humane. But yes I have used jerk and release on check chains, pushing a dog’s rear end down for a sit, standing on the lead to try and get a drop and citronella spray collars to try and stop barking. I never got terribly good results as I have always owned smart dogs that can’t be made to do what they don’t want to do. Time wise I was too busy raising a child, working and then coping with disability to do more than the occasional conformation show (where I always used treats). During this time two dogs I still own were instrumental in moving me towards clicker training as a training method. Mistral (Tervueren) and Cherry (Miniature Poodle) are both reactive dogs, pig headed they bark and carry on at a leaf dropping off a tree. Both of them showed me all the tricks dogs can use to make a citronella collar useless. Both of them used to be a nightmare to live with. Many other people would have placed these two in a shelter for “rehousing – read euthanasia”. Luckily I live on property and these two dogs were just the challenge I needed to develop me as a true dog trainer and to be able to really understand dogs and how they think

I happened across a very interesting book called “Click for Joy” written by a wonderful dog trainer and author, Melissa Alexander. On my own I attempted to work on some of these techniques with Mistral, even brought a clicker but was not successful as it was very hard to untrain my cross over habits. Having decided to train professional as a trainer however I was committed to becoming one that only used positive reward based techniques and that lead me to the Delta Society Australia and their Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services. In this course I have been lucky to have been introduced to some trainers that are true animal communicators. People who have endless patience and skill working with animals, two of which are Kerry Haynes-Lovell and Carmel (aka fudge the dog trainer) and watching these two ladies work with animals is awe inspiring. During this time I also worked on techniques I learned not only with my two problem children, Mistral and Cherry but also with my other dogs and many customers’ dogs I have been employed to train. I also implemented the techniques in my grooming practice and the results have been sensational. Dog after dog is transformed, yes even Cherry and Mistral. I have worked with 4 week old poodle puppies and the results far surpass anything I have ever achieved in 42 years of all the training I have done with many animals. They say there is nothing like a reformed smoker or alcoholic and that’s me a reformed trainer achieving results I never knew were imaginable with problem dogs.

I really wish I had learned these techniques so many years earlier as working with dogs that are clicker trained in a positive reward based training technique is so much fun and ……………… easy to do. The results are so much better than any other training method I have ever used and happen so fast.

Where am I going from here as a trainer? I read extensively on the net and view videos of leading trainers in the US and UK and the science of dog training and animal communication is changing rapidly as more and more knowledge of how to get the best possible lifestyle for our companion animals is explored. There are Animal Behaviour facilities attached to top Universities in America that are undertaking more and more research into how animals learn and how we can better communicate with them. Hopefully my long term goal is to travel to American and work with some of these inspirational people but until then thanks heavens for YouTube and the Internet. In the meantime I have a great time bring these changes to the lives of my clients and their dogs.

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