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.

What happens in 2012?

Every year since I met Thomas and started working with dogs full time has been amazing, and I’m sure that 2012 won’t be an exception. The challenge is to prioritize. There is so much I want to do, but way too few days. Weekends are especially rare, all weekends until August are booked and that’s before they even published any herding trials. If I want to do herding trials this spring and summer, something else has to go. Probably agility trials. It’s hard decisions to make! I won’t write down any goals for the year, that never worked well for me and things never turn out as expected anyway. But I will share some thoughts on what we’re going to do this year.


Fly (mother of Squid, Epic and Win) was mated with Ids in the middle of December. We’re expecting puppies in February. The latest report from Fly’s owner is that Fly is eating like a horse and steals food. Let’s hope that it’s a sign of pregnancy and that she is getting many puppies this time. She’s only had four puppies in both her previous litters, but one can always hope. We have high hopes for this combination, Fly has given us wonderful dogs and Ids is an amazing working dog that we just love.

…and Pogue becoming a father

Pogue, Thomas working cocker spaniel, is probably going to father two litters this winter, one in Sweden and one in Finland. Very exciting, we like Pogue a lot!

Agility trials

I am really looking forward to this year. Starting in February, I will have four agility dogs to run. Two in medium, two in large. One in class 1 (Epic), one in class 1+2 (Pogue), one in class 2 (Squid) and one in class 3 (Shejpa). I will have my hands full! I will prioritize class 3 with Shejpa to begin, she needs a few more results to qualify for this years Swedish Championship and we will try to qualify for European Open, which is held in Sweden this year. We’re also going to defend our team gold from last years Swedish Championships.

Squid is a little crazy right now after having such a long time away from agility last year. She was away with puppies from June until September, and we have done one trial since then. My hope for 2012 is that we get synched and find some stability. I don’t really know what to expect from her yet, she is much faster than last year, something has definitely happened there. First trial for Squid is on Saturday and that’ll be very interesting. Starting to trial with Epic will be really fun. I count on him finding new gears many times during the year and my job is to keep him as cool as he is now. Doing running contacts with a big, fast dog in competition will be another fun challenge. Pogue has a lot of capacity, but since I don’t train him much (it’s Thomas’ dog) we’ll just have to see what happens.

Obedience and Working Trials

I am not doing a lot of obedience right now, except for a little training for fun and coaching Thomas. I’ve realized that I should do agility while I’m still fairly young and fast. Obedience will always be there the day when the dogs or I can’t do agility any more. I still plan to make Squid an Obedience Trial Champion, but we’ve got plenty of time for that. Thomas is doing class III with Pogue soon and maybe he’ll start Win or Sarek too during the year. Pogue will also do search and rescue trials.


We hope that we’ll find the time to do herding trials as well. We’ve got several dogs with a lot of kapacity and it’s so much fun to learn more all the time. Training is fun and trials are fascinating. I just wish there were more weekends in a year.


I have tried to work less on weekends this year, to be able to compete more. We can hopefully do some more online classes, which will free a lot of time for training and competing. We’re doing some instructing abroad. Thomas will instruct at ClickerCamp in Denmark and I’m booked in Spain. I also hope to be able to go to the U.S. this year. Some places have asked me to come and I would love to. Since it’s a long way to go, I hope to be able to visit a few places in the same trip. Let me know if you’re interested (will probably be in the fall). At home, we’re still doing some weekend seminars and I also have a weekly handling class that I love to teach. We have so much fun.

Attending seminars

We love to learn more! We already have some exciting seminars booked at home. Jo Agnar Hansen from Norway is coming back to teach us more about herding. Vappu Alatalo will come back for a jumping seminar and Jessica Martin (FCI World Champion 2010) from Canada will do a seminar on dog training and handling here.

I’m really looking forward to 2012 and I hope you’ll follow us here.

2011 – A Summary

It’s the end of the year and time to make a summary. These are some of the things we’ve done this year.


Shejpa and I started the year with agility trials at a big dog show in Gothenburg and did well. Shejpa won a international class 3 and got a CACIAG (international certificate of agility). She was also 2:nd and 5:th in jumpers that weekend. A great way to start the year! I went to Norway and did a seminar and we had a lot of snow at home so we trained a lot indoors.


We started February with an obedience seminar with Maria Brandel. Squid did a few trials in agility class 1 and got mostly Q:s. Shejpa also did a local trial and got a second place in jumpers and first and third in open. The snow was still deep and we trained indoors. Epic and Win turned 6 months and we started some herding training.

Mija and Råttan in Kungsör


Squid qualifies for jumpers class 2 and does her debut trial in Rättvik where she wins both class 2 runs. Squid also wins agility class 1 and gets her second Q in standard. She also does her debut trial in obedience and wins with 192,5 points out of 200. At the end of the month we’re starting to see some bare ground and can do some hearding out on the field.


Shejpa begins the month by winning agility class 3 in a trial close to home. We arrange a herding seminar with Jo Agnar Hansen from Norway and we’re getting a lot of lambs at home. Shejpa swallows a sock and has to remove it surgically, which means that she misses some trials. I had to leave her at home for the easter trial in Skåne and brought only Squid. Squid did well, but got no results. Jen got mated to Loki.


Shejpa recovers well and our first trial is the world and nordic team tryouts. We’re doing well, but had a few too many bars down. Squid is mated to Hemp, father of Epic and Win. Thomas and Pogue win a search and rescue trial. I’m doing seminars in Tromsö and Stavanger in Norway. Squid does obedience class II and wins.


Squid gets her final Q in jumpers 1 and goes on maternity leave after that. Pogue does his debut in agility and gets a Q in jumpers. Shejpa wins agility 3 in Frövi. We’re teaching a lot, both at home and away. Shejpa and I win gold in team at the Swedish Championships. Jen gives birth to eight wonderful puppies. We’re attending a herding seminar with Derek Scrimgeour.


Squid gives birth to five puppies and we pick up puppy Tweet from the airport. She’s four months and from Wales. I do some trials with Shejpa and Pogue and Pogue gets a few more Qs. I use our big car as my bedroom when we go to trials and I really like it. We’re attending a herding seminar with Jonas Gustafsson with Epic and Win and I do a few herding trials with Fly (their and Squid’s mother) while Jen and Squid are at home with puppies.

My bedroom on wheels. It’s going to be hard to fit four dogs in there next year.


This month starts with “Obedience Rules” – a big obedience camp with instructors from the Nordic countries. We are just observing and it feels like a vacation. We also arrange a jumping seminar with Vappu Alatalo from Finland.

Epic and Win celebrate their first birthday at Obedience Rules.

Our house is full of puppies that move to their new home in the end of August and the beginning of September. We were going to keep a female puppy from Jen and Loki, but ended up with a boy – Sarek. Seven moved to Stockholm on breeding terms.

For The Win Seven (now “Twix”)


September is a bit calmer and we do a lot of dog training and a few trials (Pogue gets his final Q in jumpers 1). We teach a lot. Squid goes with me to Tromsö where we teach and meet Squid’s daughter Mist. Squid is back in training after the puppies (and very happy about it), while Jen is diagnosed with Anaplasmosis, a tick borne disease, and has to rest and eat a lot of antibiotics.

Squid i Tromsö


October is exciting! I travel to FCI World Championships in France. It was a lot of fun, and the fact that my friend and student Bodil represented Norway this year made it all a lot more exciting. Pogue did his first field trial and got the highest mark. Squid and I went to Belgium for Greg Derrett-seminars. We had a great time and met new friends. Epic turned 14 months and we started training weaves and running contacts.


Shejpa and I go to Rättvik for a trial and finally get a Q in jumpers (we need four to qualify for our national championships). Our team also gets a Q. We arrange a weekend for puppies from our breeding and have a lot of fun. Lots of wonderful puppies and great people. The puppies get to meet sheep and almost all of them are very keen. Jen is finally back and we do a herding trial (novice), where she is placed 3rd, just one point from victory. Shejpa is finally spayed.


December is mild and we can do a lot of herding training on the big field all month. Squid gets hurt and misses both seminar with Greg Derrett and a trial. Epic gets to go to the seminar and does great considering his lack of experience. Fly is mated to Ids. We also do some private lessons with herding guru Bobby Dalziel and Epic and I can take our training to the next level. Win is also doing great with Thomas. Can’t really tell how the year ends, because we’re planning on going to Norway for a herding trial tomorrow…

Herding December 30th

Results 2011:

  • Squid qualified for jumping class 2 (+Two Qs in class 2)
  • Squid qualified for agility class 2
  • Squid won obedience class I
  • Squid won obedience class II
  • Pogue qualified for jumping class 2 (+ Q in agility class 1)
  • Pogue qualified for the third class in SAR
  • Pogue highest price in novice field trial
  • Jen highest price in IK1 (novice herding)
  • Fly second price in IK1 (novice herding)
  • Shejpa wins the Swedish Championship in team
  • Shejpa qualified and started individual at Swedish Championships
  • Shejpa won several trials in class 3.
  • Shejpa CACIAG.



16 – NRM/LRS continued

I’ve spent all day training my dogs and then getting ready for this weekends work. So today I’m going to leave you with two links and I hope to get a discussion on this.

When do you use NRM? Do you use LRS? Does it matter what you are training and how you are training it?

Laura VanArendo on NRM

Laura Romanik on NRM

Also – great news. Fly, mother of Squids and Epic, was mated with Ids yesterday and we’re expecting puppies in nine weeks. Very exciting!

Our winter project

I’ve always found stimulus control very fascinating, but I always have to remind myself to work on it. Squid is by far the best dog I’ve had when it comes to discriminating verbal cues. It makes teaching her new cues much easier and much more fun. Inspired by Chaser, the dog that knows 1022 words (read an interesting article about it here), I’ve started to teach Squid to pick out toys that I have given names. So far, I’ve only worked on two different cues, but I will try to teach her about 20 and see how it goes…

Some videos

We’re having a pretty extreme vinter for the south of Sweden. We have about 85 cm of snow and more coming this weekend. I don’t mind a bit of snow, as it makes everything brighter and cleaner, but this is really too much. We can’t train or teach in our normal riding facility, as it is closed because of the snow (some buildings, like tennis centers and riding facilities, have collapsed because of snow on the roof). Because of that, we had to find a new place for last weekends seminar on jumping. We did, but then it started snowing, and the roads and trains just broke down. Our instructor, Vappu Alatalo, was on a train from Copenhagen to Örebo, but never got here. She spent 24 hours travelling, but got nowhere (she eventually just tried to get back home). So the seminar got cancelled.

As long as my training field was plowed, I was okay. We could do herding, obedience and a lot of foundation work for agility. Now, we’re still waiting for the snow plow to come bye again, but it seems like we’re waiting in vain. I wish we had our own tractor. On the positive side, you can really tell that spring is coming. It’s so much lighter in the afternoons now, and the sun shines on our fields. We didn’t get any sun in the middle of winter, as we’re surrounded by trees that blocked the sun for a couple of months.

Thomas and Pogue did an obedience trial in class II on Valentine’s Day. It was a bit early and not everything was perfect, but they got enough points to be able to move on to the next class. They will focus on search and rescue trials this spring and summer, and then do more obedience (class III and elite) in the fall. They are a wonderful team to watch, you can really tell how much Thomas loves that dog. He is only 16 months old, one month younger than Squid, who hasn’t done any trialing yet.

Here is a video of Thomas and Pogue training scent discrimination, the first step towards the exercise with scented articles in class III and elite:

Here is a video of Squid and I doing some shadow handling:

And we’ve also started training weaves with the 2×2 method:

Adding a Cue

I got a question about how I add a cue to a shaped behavior, and why I do it that way. When you add a cue, you can choose to add the cue before the behavior, as the dog performs the behavior, or after the behavior (just before the click and/or reward). As I pointed out in this post last summer, I choose to add the cue before the behavior. It just makes much more sense to me than any other way of doing it, and it seems like my dogs learn faster than they did before (when I did differently).

A cue, or a discriminative stimulus, is information for the dog. It tells him what behavior will be reinforced (or punished) right there and then. Even before we’ve added a cue, there are discriminative stimuli at work. When there’s a behavior, there is a stimulus preceding it. When we add a verbal cue, there are already stimuli that cue the behavior (our position, what we’ve rewarded recently, the way we reward etc.). Our goal is to get the verbal cue to become the most important one and override the other stimuli. In order to do that, we need to make the new cue valuable to the dog, it needs to give information.

In theory, I think this is the most important thing. I try to make the cue mean something to the dog as soon as possible. When I only reward the behavior if the cue has been given, the cue becomes valuable to the dog. I also want to mix in other cues pretty soon, so that the cue is not only valuable, but also contains information on which behavior I want. I think this is the important part, and it can only be done with the cue happening before the behavior.

Pairing the cue with the behavior for a long time is probably not as important, but I do that as well. I can’t really explain it in theory, but it seems that you can add a cue to an operant behavior, using a procedure more like classical conditioning (pairing the cue with the behavior, not really focusing on the consequence). If we are using a classical conditioning procedure, it is absolutely most efficient if the cue is presented before the behavior (just like we would click before we give the treat, when we want to condition the clicker). In both operant and classical conditioning, the stimulus comes before the behavior.

If we add the cue at the same time, or after the dog performs the behavior, we’re not effectively pairing the cue with the behavior, and other stimuli will still be what gives the dog information about what behavior to perform. Of course, people teach their dogs cues in many different ways, so they all work. I just don’t think that adding the cue when the behavior already is happening is teaching the dog much at all. Eventually, most trainers change the timing and give the cue earlier and earlier, why not do it with perfect timing right from the start?).

Please write a comment and tell me what you think!

Some of my Thoughts on Shaping

Wow! I love that so many have contributed to the discussion on shaping. In total (Swedish and English blog) there are over 50 comments made. This seems to be a topic that needs discussion. I’m going to write some of my own thoughts on the subject, but of course, I don’t have all the answers (no one does). I don’t think that shaping only works for a certain type of dog. Our dogs are all very different, but they are all successfully shaped. Some of them have been easier to train, but that would probably be true regardless of method. I think it’s up to each trainer to decide how they want to train their dog, as long as the method is reward based. I see a lot of great benefits with shaping, compared to luring or targeting, and that’s why I use it a lot.

How ever you choose to train your dog, think twice before making statements like “shaping makes my dog stressed” or “my dog does not like to think for himself”. Of course, dogs are born with different personalities, but we can do a lot to nudge them in the right direction. I will always try to strengthen the weaker sides by building toy drive, socialization, handling etc. In this, I also include shaping how my dog acts in training. I believe that you can get all (with very few exceptions) dogs to be calm and focused in shaping. And that all dogs can learn to love shaping.

It is, of course, a matter of what you feel like spending time doing. Some dog trainers seem to always look for the path of least resistance – if the dog won’t play, they’ll give him treats instead, if the dog won’t retrieve, they won’t use toys, if the dog get’s passive in shaping, they help him out. A trainer like that might feel that she is simplifying things (in contrast to the poor people like me that will “make everything so complicated”), but she will without a doubt get shaped by her dog. That leads to the dog developing his strengths, but he’ll never get a chance to work on his weaker sides. When people ask me where I get the patience to do shaping, I quietly feel that it would require a lot more patience on my part if I had to help my dogs through all their life. Shaping might require some patience for a short period of time when you’re just starting out, but you will gain that time many times in the future. A dog that is shaping wise will learn advanced things so much faster than the dog that always needs guidance.

Champions in any field make a habit of doing things others find boring or uncomfortable

The biggest problem in the Swedish comments, were how people desribed the training. Here is one example: “I’ve heard about dogs shutting down a lot as soon as they are expected to offer behaviors”. The key word being expected. Stop expecting anything from the dog, and you’ll do well. All dogs “offer” behaviors all the time. They stand, sit, lie down, sniff, drink, eat, pee, scratch, turn their heads, walk, yawn, prick their ears, wag their tails… If one of these behaviors start producing a reward that the dog really wants, that behavior will increase in frequency. Voila! – The dog is offering behaviors.

Stop your efforts to influence the dog and start observing to find behaviors to reinforce.

If your dog gets worried while shaping, you shouldn’t be staring at the dog and expect him to offer behaviors. This is a great comment posted in the Swedish blog:

Jessica says:
“I thought that my worried young dog couldn’t be shaped. She never offered behaviors and she would get more and more anxious and finally go lie down somewhere. Not good. But then I tried to click for all movements, as long as she did something. And all of a sudden, she got it. You can really see how proud she gets and how her self confidence is growing. “Look at me! Isn’t this worth a click!”

If you have a dog that gets worried by shaping, try this tonight: Get a bowl of really tasty treats ready. Lock the other dogs away (if you have more than one). Turn on the tv and watch something that is interesting enough for you to have patience, but not so interesting that you forget all about the dog. Choose if you’d like to use a clicker or not (depending on your dog’s previous experiences with the clicker). Watch TV. Reward all movements from the dog by (clicking and) throwing a treat to the dog. Do reward ALL movements to begin with. If your dog starts repeting only one behavior, you can choose to not reward that any more, but wait for something else. It’s a good idea to make sure that the dog has to move to get the treat (if your dog lies down, throw the treat so that he has to get up to get it). If your dog goes to sleep – let him. He will eventually get thirsty, need to pee or get up just to change position. If you don’t get a lot of behaviors tonight, you can put the bowl of treats in the fridge and try again tomorrow.

There is no simple answer to this. But I am convinced that there are a lot of dogs that could enjoy shaping if they only got the chance. There’s so much to write on this subject and I’ll have to come back to it. Especially if you keep discussing it in the commend field!

Is shaping for all dogs?

I posted this question in my Swedish blog, but I would love to get some thoughts from my international readers as well. I’ve got the impression that shaping is less common in the US than it is here. Clicker trainers seem to choose targeting or even luring more often.

Please submit your thoughts on the matter in the comment field, and I will adress this as soon as I feel that I’ve gotten some input from you.

Do you think that shaping suits all kinds of dogs? What kind of dogs should not be shaped? Do you have any related experiences with your own dogs?