December 2012

New Year’s Resolutions

I love this time of year. Even though I rarely publish any goals or resolutions, I take time to reflect on the past year and to make plans for the next. I am very interested in goal setting and change. What makes the difference between doing something for two weeks in January and changing something for good? What kind of goals are most likely to help us accomplish real change in our lives? I will get back to this, but I wanted to ask all of you about your goals and/or New Year’s Resolutions for 2013.

  • What have you decided to to more of with your dog in 2013?
  • What have you decided to do differently in 2013?
  • What did you decide on a year ago? Did it happen? If not – why not?
  • What do you think can make a resolution a tool for real change?

Please let me know and I’ll get back to you soon with more thoughts.

Epic asleep

Epic is dreaming about a year filled with sheep and dogwalks

Side effects of high value R+ in gundog training

A lot has been written about all the great benefits of reward based dog training. Using positive reinforcement in training gives us happy dogs that love their work. The learning process accelerates as the dog uses 100% of her capacity to learn – and not trying to stay out of trouble or avoiding corrections.

But are there no negative side effects of positive reinforcement?
Why are some over the top aroused when you’re about to start an activity?
Why do they make noise or show other signs of frustration in some exercises?
When does the dog cross the line from being happy and eager to work to being “stressed”?


The more arousing the activity is, like field trial work, schutzhund work or agility, the more important it becomes to prevent unwanted behaviors and too high levels of arousal. A goal of this training is to train the dog to be “thoughtful in drive” – to stay focused even when motivation is high without going over the top.

Of course dogs have different genetic predispositions for how to cope with high expectations and high levels of arousal. But most of us love our dogs and want to train our dogs to reach their potential. So what can we do apart from buying a new puppy?


Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to reward to reward the same behavior over and over, we feed the dog or take it for a walk at the same hours and follow the same routines when training out dogs. Dogs are fast learners and will soon start to predict what’s coming up next. If we meet the dog’s expectations over and over, the dog will start to “claim” its rewards with increasing intensity.


“If you always do as you have always done – you will always get what you have always got”
“The only way to change your dog’s behavior is by changing your own behavior”

These unwanted behaviors and high expectations and arousal can be easily prevented. Here comes a few tips.

  • Vary your rewards
    Vary what kind of rewards you use and how you use them. For example use calm rewards if the dog starts to get pushy about her toy, or use play breaks between sessions with food rewards.
  • Vary your routines in every day life
    Feed the dog at different hours or in different locations. Let the dog sit and wait in situations where she is used to play or chase. Or vary if your puppy is allowed to go and see people or other dogs you meet or if you just walk past them.
  • Look out for “Yo bitch behavior”
    If your dog is claiming attention, any particular type of activity or reward, give her something else to do – or just ignore the behavior. This doesn’t mean that your dog shouldn’t take initiative to any activity, but keep a balance.
  • Relaxation or calm focus as a criteria
    In my opinion it would be crazy to remove all exciting rewards and activities if you have an easily aroused dog. Teach her what to do to start these activities instead.

Preventing too high arousal and the possible unwanted side effects when using high value life rewards are an important part of gun dog foundation training.

Thomas trains spaniels and pointers and has experience with retriever training as well. He will host a Field Trial Foundation Class starting January 21st. He will help you teach she skills needed as well as helping you find the balance between drive, control and relaxation for your gundog. Sign up here.

Unlimited Working Spots?

For the retrieving workshop, we decided to try a system with two different kinds of working spots. The unlimited working spots can submit as many videos as they like, while an ordinary working spot is restricted to four videos (one per week). This is because we see such a difference in the activity between participants – some like to post every day while others only submit a few videos – and we want to have alternatives that suits both learning styles.


New Online Classes

We’re having a blast with the new foundation class that started in November. Many of the working teams come from the same group that I saw IRL in Ohio in the beginning of November, and it’s so much fun to follow their progress. It’s a very advanced group for a foundation class! Right now, we’re on a Christmas break from classes, but we’re not relaxing yet. We’ve tried to give the website a new look and I hope that you find it an improvement. We’ve also planned two new online classes that start in January:

[recent_products per_page=”12″ columns=”4″ orderby=”date” order=”desc”]
Merry Christmas! We hope to see you online next year.

Obedience Class III – Sit Stay

We came back home yesterday. It had started to snow when we came to Sweden on Monday, but we still managed to get home before the chaos started. It’s been snowing a lot today and traffic is just crazy in many places. Yo want to stay home if you can. I don’t look forward to a 5 hour (under normal conditions) drive south on Friday, but hopefully the worst is over by then.

Today, I’m starting a series of posts with videos of training all the exercises in Swedish obedience class III. Why? Because Squid and I need to get more obedience training done. It’s a year and a half since she competed in class II, so it’s about time we get started on class III…

First exercise is the sit stay in a group. This is what our rules say about it:

The handlers sit their dogs next to each other with 5 meters in between and leave walking 20 meters, where they stay visible to and facing the dog. The dogs shall sit for 1 minute without moving. Before the handler leaves the dog he is allowed to use the command “stay”. The handlers return to their dogs at the same time, on the ring stewards command.

Squid and I haven’t really trained the sit stay for this exercise, but I think that she’s got a good understanding of that “sit” means don’t move you’re feet until I tell you to. My first test today was to see how long she would sit for if I just left her and did nothing. Distractions can be challenging, but the biggest distraction is often to do nothing and just wait. I thought that Squid would lie down after a whole, and I decided to use a timer and note how long she would sit for. I expected her to fail, but I also decided that I would reward if she didn’t move her feet in two minutes (it was really cold, so not the time for marathon sit stays). She sat very nicely for two minutes, so I got to reward. Nice to see that her understanding of “sit” is strong.

Next session was on distractions. We did get Squid to fail once here. I don’t think there are many appetizing distractions that would get her out of her sit (dogs running through tunnels close to her not included, that might take us a few more years to master), but she can decide to lie down if she feels uneasy. My training should therefore focus more on getting her to feel safe and happy around some pressure (like dogs very close to her, someone using a harsh voice near her etc.) rather than using thrown toys and food lures.

I did get a question about the criteria for the sit stay. I’m satisfied as long as she doesn’t move her feet at all. She is allowed to move her head to look at a distraction (but I often find that she likes to stare at me when someone tries to distract her, she’s probably found it to be helpful). At the level that I plan to compete with Squid, I don’t think anyone would mind if she looked around as long as it isn’t much. If I feel like it, I don’t think it will be a problem to add criteria for her head later on.


We’ve spent a wonderful week in Wales with Jen, Win and Squid. It’s been a long time since Thomas and I traveled together and I’m very glad that we did. Our main reason for coming here was to breed Win (Epic’s sister) to Kinloch Cian. It looked like the weather would be really bad here, but we’ve had a week of mostly sun. I’m so lucky with the weather this fall. It seems like the sun comes out wherever I go. We’re probably not as fortunate when we get home. It’s been snowing and it seems like it will stay cold. I don’t mind snow, except we can’t do much herding when everything’s covered with it. And that’s terrible right now since this week has brought so much inspiration.

We’ve trained on the hills in the sun and all three dogs have gained both skill and experience. Our male dogs had to stay at home as their rabies vaccination was too recent, but I guess they’re better off at home than in a car/cottage with Win in full heat. Today, we watched the South Wales Nursery Final which was very interesting. Yesterday, we were lucky enough to get to watch some field training with a really good cocker spaniel handler and trainer. Also very inspiring and interesting.

Why use Shaping #3 – Mastering no reward events

One of the hardest things to handle for our dogs in competition is the lack of reward. Not getting an anticipated reward can result in frustration, anxiety or reduced motivation. Those are not feelings that we want in training or competition, so it is critical that we teach the dog to master no reward events.

We want the dog’s reaction to no reward to be to focus and try harder, and we don’t want it to be a big deal to the dog. Shaping teaches the dog this from the start. It is normal in shaping for rewards to be withheld, and the dog has to focus and try again in order to get a reward. Good shaping makes intermittent reinforcement and training for competition easy later on!