Re-returning to Old Exercises in your Dog’s Training

imageWhen training your dog(s) you will no doubt come across the occasional type of exercise that just doesn’t seem to ‘click’. It might be the progression of an exercise where you’ve been good at one point but just cannot progress, or it might be trying something completely new and your usually quick to learn dog has a block on understanding, but it can be a real head scratching moment for us owners!

Ive had this with numerous types of exercises; last summer it was Cassie’s ‘Fishing’ tricks she needed as her last trick towards her Expert title. Taylor this month learnt his Playbow without hand signals yet started learning this many years ago intermittently. And last night Merlin and Taylor tried a slow pace treadmill for strengthening and understood completely yet last time we tried 2 months ago it was far too alien for them!

What did I do to suddenly warrant these changes in learning? Left the exercise well alone and came back to when we were all completely fresh! Often when we are ‘this close’ to progressing or achieving what we aim for we just keep pushing and pushing – in a positive manner – which can be tiring and frustrating for us but can really create blocks in learning for our dogs too. Dogs get tired when learning new things or progressing. Dog pick up on our frustrations and see them as stress signs which in turn can upset our dogs. Sometimes we have just gone so far down one route and it looks like we are just 1 or 2 steps away for our goal that backing up and trying another route isn’t even a thought!

As much as regular practise is important when teaching our dogs something new, sometimes having a break can benefit also. Taking some time out from high level Heelwork, coming away from Retrieve or stopping and teaching a trick your dog can do more easily for a few days or weeks can give us a break and help us relax again and in turn our dogs can focus on something new, reap the rewards and celebrations of getting it right and not feel the pressure of almost getting something perfect!

Coming back to that tricky exercise days, weeks or even months later means you may have a fresh look at things to help your or your dog. It could mean in that time you’ve picked up one or two new ideas that you can try. It could be as simple as when going back to it you start back at the beginning as a refresher then spot somewhere an extra step could be put in which helps your dog connect the dots.

There is no actual defeat in returning or even re-returning to an exercise to see how it feels at a later date – you might even discover new ideas that feel better for you or your dog or find you bypass the previous ‘stuck’ area and push on through!!

Yesterday I restarted introducing Taylor and Merlin to my land treadmill which we hadn’t looked at since Christmas. They were fine near it being on, fine if I helped them on and gave them a platform to head to but wouldn’t voluntarily go on. I watched some nice ways of introducing dogs to treadmills using play and toys – something my own dogs do not do. However it gave me some ideas on methods I could adapt to suit my dogs! Going back to the treadmill I worked on fun things like twists and spins and hand targets next to the running treadmill then guided them around the end and onto the treadmill and continued the upbeat exercises which kept them more focused and thrilled to be working – two dogs happily and eager to get on the treadmill themselves and in fact having to be held back to not keep getting on when it wasn’t there turn!! When I left off at Christmas I was reasonably pleased with what they were doing but disappointed in my own skills that we were unable to progress and that I couldn’t see more ways to help my own dogs but having taken time out and re-returned to this fresh and going back a few steps we have actually leapt forward about 5 steps!!!

There is so many different things we can teach our dogs! If you find a block time and time again maybe try time out and do something else for a day or to and see how things are when you come back to it or take a few days or weeks off to focus on other things with your dog and come back all refreshed – it’s not quitting or admitting defeat but taking time to develop your approach and finding methods that can help you progress even more.

Enjoy your training – it’s a fabulous chance to bond with your dog! And if you find you’ve returned to something and achieved your goal I always love to hear what you have been working on and how things are going!



When the unexpected comes along and interferes with your dogs world


Sometimes we get to a point where we know what we are doing with our dogs, happy with feeding and grooming, have found some walks to suit your needs, maybe have even found training to work well for you or dog sport you feel comfortable with.

Then Bam! Something new turns up to turn everything upside down!

Last week Cassie achieved a Merit for her first ever Heekwork to Music Progress Award, for submissions done in December.  This week Cassie started new medication as per new vet plus advice from a neurologist to help the irritation and discomfort she has had in her ear and neck for over 2 years (we have been trying to get to the bottom of this during that time). The meds main side effect of ataxia and this hit Cassie hard 3 days into starting the meds.

If you don’t know what ataxia is, put simply your dog looses control of their legs and look like they are drunk. They stumble, fall over nothing, walk into walls and in Cassies case can’t even stand still and up to toilet without help being held off the floor. Very disturbing for dogs to experience and quite a shock for owners when the day before the same dog was running, training etc!

So, what can I do for my dog? First thing was to get upset. I’m giving her these meds that are causing this so we had guilt also. Next thing was feel sorry for her.

Then I got pro-active – my little dog needs my help! All the previous conditioning work has meant she was already strong. So go back to the beginning and let’s look at real basic leg awareness exercises – stepping over the smallest pole on the ground, standing still, walking slowly, standing on solid items for a few seconds. Cassie loved it – we did everything slowly and I supported her throughout but after the first small session she wasn’t banging into things as much. Today, 3 days later, she is holding herself up to toilet and using the ramp for the garden!!

Dogs do get used to meds and the side effects – they ‘learn to cope’ – but helping your dog with something gentle yet familiar can help take away some of the confusion and help the brain and body remember what it CAN do. You can’t push your dog to bounce straight back and Cassie is way too wobbly to try standing on a balance cushion or do a set of cavaletti but we are maintaining familiar exercises which are helping her body remember plus keeping her level of conditioning good so when she is used to the meds she won’t have lost strength or awareness.

This brings me onto meds themselves. If your dog has a condition or gets ill try joining associations, help groups or forums specially for that condition rather then just looking it up online. Online can be scary and you may find things that upset you more and that may not apply to your dog! By being part of groups created by owners of dogs with the same condition you will hear about how other people cope, how they help their dog, what meds or supplements to be careful with or to try.

Through a group I have been a member of for about 9 years I had learned a lot about the meds Cassie has just started – always fearing she may need it eventually but hoping not! This meant that although the vets didn’t give me all the insider info I already knew the side effects, the best way to give it, how to also support Cassie’s body from the meds’ physical side effects. Info from people who have experienced the same thing – and got through it!

Todays blog isn’t about sympathy for Cassie, or about moaning about vets not having all the info for every illness – that’s impossible to specialise in everything! But it’s intended to highlight how suddenly things can change but can be worked around. So if your dog gets an injury and has to have crate rest for 4 weeks instead of 2 hour daily walks and agility classes that’s a great time to start interactive toys, static training like prolonged nose targets and stays. If your dog has new meds and can’t continue their training for something active, remember their brain will still be active, so a great time to look at training something new that doesn’t require your dog to move much – cross paws? Focus exercises like Watch, working on Hold.

There’s the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ – your dog being benched for days or weeks will be sad and possibly upsetting if you discover a terminal illness, but talk to owners of dogs with the same issue and see how you can help- I’m so glad I did and it’s helped me advise many other dog owners too. In fact my KCAI project is based on 13 years of research in one area of canine illness!

I work with dogs who have had surgery on legs, who are now deaf or blind, who have a life changing illness and each dog has needs and needs to be understood, but they still enjoy interacting and doing fun things with their owners – so please take time to accept your dogs condition and when you’re ready look at what they now can do instead of focusing on what they can’t.

Thursday morning Cassie literally couldn’t stand to toilet and I needed to hold her and help move her away after, today (Sat) she did the weaves in the photo – slowly and with guidance, but she didn’t fall at all and┬áloved it!

Every dog is different, every owner is individual, but we can share our experiences to help each other help our canine companions x