Put simply, it is a message we give our dog to tell them that the action that they have completed is the action which we were asking of them, and in completing this action successfully, they have won a reward.

This kind of tallies up to the equivelant of you being given money for completing a job. The money itself has no value - you can't eat it, but when you get it, you know that:

1. You have done a good job, your customer is pleased with you.

2. The job is done, you have completed the task required.

3. You are able to trade this money in for something you want.

We can't send our dogs off to the shops to go choose what they want from their "money", so we make the assumption for them that they would, if they could, most likely spend it on food, play items, fun and grooming / tickles. We should also to grade our rewards for the jobs we ask of them, being aware that even just sitting ight take a lot of effort for a young, excitable dog but should not be too much trouble for an older dog to manage, depending on how well he has been trained and proofed in the past, so when grading, it helps to try and put a price on it - how good was that act in terms of speed, effort and accuracy. Not every job is worth £100, but some jobs well done are worth a bonus!

Escher sitHaving taught Escher his basic hand cue for "sit", it was time to move it on to the whistle.

Its a pretty simple transfer process in the early stages. First of all we teach our dogs to sit using a lure under their noses, raising the lure slowly so that the bottom goes down and the pup finds itself in sitting position, we mark the desired behaviour (the sit), using either the word 'yes' or with the clicker before giving the dog the treat.

Your pup will quickly recognise this movement so long as you are very clear with your reward marker, and so the food is no longer needed as a lure, but produced from "elsewhere" after the act has been marked - ie the treat might be in your pocket, in a hand behind your back or if your really organised, in a pot on a shelf. Practice to the point whereby you only need to slightly raise your hand for your puppy to realise that this gesture means he is to sit but be sure to raise your hand and hold it up high to finish - in the future, he will need to be able to see this gesture from some distance  . Now we can start shifting our cues.

I like the 211.5, Its not so as shrill as the 210.5 and I've always used it. Some say its important, I can't say for sure, I've never had an issue with my dogs not recognising the different pitch and personally believe that the dog is more likely listening to the whistle pattern than the pitch, but its as easy to keep them all the same.

One big consideration is that they aren't very big and easily lost, so get lots!

You can now get them in a variety of bright colours and bright colours tend to be a lot easier to find if dropped into the bottom of a bag, dumped on an overcrowded shelf or otherwise misplaced.

Transferring the cue

Most commonly, we teach the dog the cue word 'sit' to mean sit. You could just as easily use the word 'banana', its really not important - what is important is that you are consistant so that the dog is not in any doubt as to what you mean. Start in a low distraction environment, offer your new cue word 'sit' (that it to say, *say* the word sit) and immediately offer the cue you have previously taught your dog and you have practiced to the point whereby your dog is consitantly sitting on this cue, ie the hand signal of a raised hand.

Please make sure your dog recognises this as a fun thing to so. I really hate to hear owners giving their dogs really angry sounding commands. Happy voices make for more willing co-workers. Who on earth would want to work along side Mr Grouchypants? Would you?

So on to the whistle... 

One big advantage a whistle has over a vocal, word cue is that it doesn't have a "Grouchypants voice", it's a simple, clinical, clear cut noise, however, latest research is showing how amazingly good our dogs are at reading our emotions from simply recognising our facial expressions, so its worth trying your best to pip with a smile! One downside is that the blast from a whistle can be quite a resounding noise, its not really a training exercise that can be practiced indoors!

Away from your dog, you can have a little fun annoying people. Practice that whistle pip. You are aiming for one good strong blast that lasts no less than a second, but for the sake of all ears, no more. Once you are comfortable with this away from your dog, outside, blow your whistle cue, and immediately offer your hand signal, wait it our until your dog sits, and then be sure to use your reward maker and then providse your dog with his justly won reward. Practice no more than 5 times in a row, then be sure to take this game out and about with you. Sunday morning around the housing estates make for fun ;) Joking aside, you really want to be practicing this at least 3 times a day, everywhere you physically can, but take care not to expect too much too soon. Don't be tempted to add distance until you have added duration.

Adding duration

Remember, our 'reward marker' is also a 'release', so in order to add duration, we mucst make it very clear to our dogs that he should not get up, or move until released, as in released - you can get up and go now, or given a follow on cue such as come to heel.

It really helps your dog if you can maintain such a work flow in that your movements are wholly restricted to those that are of direct relevence to him. We do not need to point fingers, add other words such as stay or wait or do anything to give him mixed messages, we want to set him up for success by making our language as clear as possible for him.

Here, a little pre planning can help, ensure you have access to your reward supply from behind you and keep your hands out of the way, behind your back, so he is relying soley on your face for his communication, keep a bit of a smile up to give him confidence, latest scintific research using mri scans show how important our facial expressions are to our dogs. Calmly bring your food hand forward and put the the tiniest peice in his mouth, coming up slightly from under his chin rather than reaching down from above to reduce temptation for him to reach up and for it which might cause him to break his sit, and be ready with your other hand to refuel and follow through with a second reward, and then a third, and then a fourth, then with both hands behind your back, use your reward marker "yes", count 1, 2 and throw either a ball or food or other favoured toy so that he ha to fget up for it, have a little party, whoop whoop, and a round of applause. He should be feeling very, very pleased with himself.

Its a very sad fact that many dogs are rehomed within their first year, usually at about 7 - 9 months old as they hit adolescence and owners were unprepared for how much work this phase could be. No-one ever, I am sure, went out to get a dog with the idea in mind that they'd just give it up and get another if things didn't work out, but most of the dogs in shelters today are there for that very reason, so it really does make sense to take some time to look at how you can avoid things not working out for you before you bring your dog home.

If you and your family are considering getting a dog, please do get in touch. I am more than happy to help you decide on what type of dog might suit you and your family best, and with my experience with many different breeds and canine characters I am well placed to give my unbias opinion on how easily the dogs you are looking at might fit in with you life expectations.

checklistMy top tips to help you choose a dog for life

Before you decide on anything, get out a paper and pen. Get the whole family involved and write a list of what you all want and expect from your dog. Be realistic. Try not to think too much about size or what you want yor dog to look like, just think about what you can and you cannot live with. For example, I quite like mischievous and bouncy, but I could not live with a noisy dog. Persistant barking would drive me insane, and some breeds tend to be barkier than others. Shelties and spitz type dogs are quite notorious noise makers. My current boy Escher is constantly, and I  do mean *constantly* stealling stuff. I cannot put anything down. It's not that he's naughty, it is because he was bred to be a retriever and retrievers like to carry things. Fine for me, I have the time and patience (sometimes just!) to stop and call back stolen goods but I would find that a lot harder if I had children to look after too. 

Northern breeds and herding breeds can really shed. The extra time clearing hair and grooming your dog will come out of your total time allowance for caring for him, what do you want to sacrifice?

So often people say they want a smaller size dog as they believe a smaller size to make a dog more manageable. Yes, sometimes it would be very handy to be able to l pick my dog up and carry him, but smaller dogs can be pretty quick and expecially if you are taller yourself, will involve a lot of bending down for. If you are larger, taller or not so flexible, this really can be a bit difficult. I fostered a working cocker cross for a short while four years ago. He was a tiny little thing compared to the larger dogs I am used to, and I found even when walking on the lead was more difficult. His lower centre of gravity seemed to give him extra pulling power, and he could easily jump onto the kitchen counters and dining table. My larger dogs don't do that.

Think about what you want to do with your dog. Some types of dog are generally easy to go along with the flow and are happy with a moderate walk and a game of ball. Other dogs really need to have a job to do to keep them happy. I personally believe every dog should have a job of some description, even if its just helping with the laundry (loading the basket, picking up clothes for you, finding things for you) for their own mental well being. As much as being a kept woman might really appeal to me, I know I get a lot of satisfaction for the work I do, and in my work with dogs I've learned that they too enjoy a sense of purpose and achievement. Dogs not given a job often find their own jobs to do, and owners rarely apprecite their choices: barking at birds in the garden, raiding bins, chewing furniture and digging carpet.

Here's a good list of activities you might consider doing - not necessarily in a competitive role but just to help give your dog's exercise and training regimes some kind of structure:

https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities/ You might think that some of these activities might need specialist equipment, but healwork to music, nosework exercises and obedience exercises are quite easy to enjoy practicing in the garden or even on your walks.

Once you have worked out what you want to be doing with your dog, and just as importantly what you do not want to be doing with your dog, you are ready to start looking for dogs that fit these criteria.

Adopt or shop?

You've probably seen the slogan "Adopt don't shop!" brandished around on Facebook by people who feel that it is unethical to breed dogs while there are dogs sitting in shelters desperate for homes.

Yes, there are a lot of dogs in rescue, and its a terrible thing, but not all rescues are equal. Not all breeders are equal, and then there is the awful puppy farming business. Its a bit of a minefield really, and its the biggest reason why I've stopped to take a couple of hours to write this article.

The most difficult dogs I have had in my class have all been rescues. Its lovely that people have taken the time and care to try and help these dogs and give them a second chance. What I have found very alarming in all cases I have had to date is how very little aftercare and support any of these owners have been given. All of them, zilch. You have a nice garden, great, here's your dog, goodbye. In most cases the new owners were wholly and totally unprepared for the issues that they have had to deal with, and it really is not at all fun to find yourself hanging on for dear life while Cujo vents his fury at the end of your lead.

I will add here that this is probably not the policy for most adoption shelters to offer no back up or support, but I do know from my own experiences that they can be quite unapproachable and you have to swing through so many hoops to prove your worth that I am sure people might feel uncomfortable about going back for help.

My number 1 absolute top tip

My own dogs from breeders have all come with an enormous support network, not only the breeders but the whole breed club, forums and support from other owners and I've made many, many wonderful friends through the network of support. There are some pretty terrible breeders in weimaraners, just as there are in all breeds, but the breed club is there, and breed rescue work tirelessly to help pick up the pieces. The very first thing I did when I was considering getting my first weimaraner was contact the Weimaraner Club of Great Britain breed rescue, and namely Margarita Booker, who has worked pretty tirelessly for at least 20 years as far as I know, to help rehome dogs when things have gone wrong and try to prevent things going wrong in the first place.

Why? I wanted a puppy not a rescue (for my own reasons).. Here's why:

Breeders who want to sell you a puppy and who are more interested in your money than your suitability to have a puppy are very very good at disguising themselves as good breeders.

They might tell you that all their puppies are lovingly raised in their homes when they are not. Frankly, they could tell you anything, they know if they keep telling you how lovely their puppies are, and they know you are interested because you are asking, you are highly likely to succumb. They know that you've probably read loads of stuff on the internet about what to avoid when buying a dog, and have adjusted their spiel to suit. A good breeder will always want to take our dog back if things don't work out, and they won't let you have a dog if they don't think you are suitable. Breed rescue only take in the dogs that breeders won't take back, so they are very aware of where the dogs that they are taking in are coming from, and who the repeat offenders are. They are also very experienced in dealing with families when things haven't worked out, and why they haven't worked out, so they can help advise you on how well the breed of dog you are interested in might fit to the list you wrote earlier.

With breeds predisposed to genetic health issues (most have some issues that you need to know about and avoid) even good breeders tend to close up. Breed rescue tend to be more interested in the character of the breed rather than the appearance - and after all, beauty is skin deep, its the character you've got to live with.

Tip number two

If you are looking for your first ever dog, and you've never had a dog before, I would most highly recommend speaking to the breed rescue coordinators of whatever breeds you are interested in. If you've decided in your initial planning phase that you want to do some type of sport with your dog, then also search for the clubs involved in those activities and contact them. Let both know that you re speaking to each other so that they both understand what you are looking for, and then look to adopt an older dog who has had some experience and training in that discipline. The chances are unless you are looking at very rare breeds, that there are many dogs in their lists who are looking for homes through absolutely no fault of their own, but through their owners change in circumstances.

Its sad, but its a fact, dogs don't live very long, but in adopting a dog at 7 or 8 years of age through a responsible  breed club, you are getting a dog who already knows how to be a dog, so all you've got to worry about is learning how to be friends with your dog, and a dog is most certainly not old at 7 or 8, as our lovely Echo will tell you (she's 12 and goes swimming and enjoys gundog training every week). You'll by pass all the toilet training, chewy phases, and dreaded adolescence and of course at this age, they will usually be quite happy to accept another pup (or older dog) into their lives should you decide you are now a dog enthusiast - and help train your puppy for you too!

I don't want a pedigree / I want a crossbreed

In the UK, all crossbreed dogs will have come from pedigree dogs that have either been cross bred on purpose or by accident. In the last few years especially we've seen a huge surge in so called designer crossbreeds, and I've had a lot of them in my classes. All have been lovely individual characters but I am pretty sure to say that if every owner who had had one had started off with a pen and paper as I've said above, they would say that they might have thought again, and most cost much more to buy than their individual pedigree parents would have cost. There is a lot of conflicting information, and downright untruths around regarding 'F1' (first cross) hybrid vigor. If one dog with bad hips mates with another dog with bad skin, what you are very likely to end up with is a dog with bad hips and bad skin no matter what the cross breeding is.

Then there are accidents. Most responsible owners will seek to avoid accidents but they can happen. My boy is entire. I am pretty darn sure I can prevent accidents by understanding his behaviour patterns and keeping him restrained if I think he's just a little too excited and we've done just that for the last 3.5 years, but I cannot stop other people walking their inseason bitch into the field where I am expecting him to be able to run safely and freely. If you are looking at an accidental litter, ask to meet both parents, the owners should generally know who they are as they most likely live in the same neighbourhood. If they say that's impossible and the price tag is over a couple of hundred pounds, walk away. You would be paying someone a lot of money being a downright lazy and irresponsible owner. That does't really wash right, does it?

If you really want a crossbred dog then this is where the rescue shelters can help, but just as before, keep that check list with you and at the forefront of all decision making.

One of my biggest gripes with rescue is all the emphasis they put on 'gardens'. Indeed I have been turned down rescue dogs myself from shelters for my garden lack of 6' fencing. I question who they expect to be looking after a dog - the humans or the garden, and no one should ever leave a dog unsupervised in any garden anyway. Fence chasing and nuisance barking are almost guaranteed if you regularly leave your dog in a garden, not to mention leaving your dog vulnerable to theft.

However, there are many lovely dog in rescue desperate for a home today, and if you find your criteria list is pretty relaxed, then a shelter might just be the best place for you to get your dog from.

Things to ask the rescue coordinator:

  • Has this dog undergone any training since coming into your care?
  • What sort of training did they receive? (Some training methods can seriously compound behavioural problems, especially when spray cans, bags of coins, spray collars and physical punishments are used.)
  • Do you know if this dog has any issues with reactivity towards strange dogs or people, or anything else?
  • If I start to experience problems with my dog's behaviour, what sort of help and support will you be willing to offer us?

And if you get any negativity from these questions, then look elsewhere. See this page for the problems people can and do face from dogs from even seemingly good rescue organisations.

pexels photo 264206Doodles and poos

The 'selling point' here, and it was very much a selling point at first, was that anything crossed with a poodle would have hypoallergenic fur that was low maintenance and did not shed. The problem is, that its not necessarily true. I've met some lovely dogs with absolutely dreadful coats that were neither non shedding or easy care. If they don't shed, grooming costs for a cockerpoo to be professionally bathed and clipped is about £40 every 6 weeks, I wouldn't pay that for my own hair and they will still need a lot of regular brushing to prevent matting and tangles. 

I like poodles. People tend to think of them as being a bit sissy with their fancy show clips, but they don't have to be clipped like that. The origins of the show clip were practical. The poodle was developed as a water retriever and so fur was clipped off where the weight of the water in its coat might be an encumbrance, but left on in areas where the dog would benefit from extra insulation from cold water - i.e. around the chest joints and kidneys.

As characters, they tend to be a little less gregarious than the other dogs of retrieving origin, but I really don't see that you are getting any extra advantages in crossing a poodle with a spaniel. They aren't generally as bouncy as spaniels, so if you want a bouncier dog, I'd look at a spaniel, if I wanted a quieter dog, I'd look at a poodle. If I wanted the best in both health and temperament, I'd go straight back to top tip number 1 and ask the advice of the respective rescue divisions of the breed clubs. The same is true of labradors. Labrador and even more so Golden Retrievers can be very very bouncy as puppies. Poodles generally calmer.

pexels photo 139520Corkies, Puggles and Jackachi's (and other tinies).

Whatever you cross, what you are getting is a cross of two dogs. Both the best and the worst aspects (depending on what your best and worst scenarios are, everyone is different). My biggest concern here, as always is health and temperament. Luxating patella is very, very common in smaller breeds, especially jack russells, and yet shockingly, the vast majority of people I've ever spoken to about the Jack Russell skip have thought it was perfectly natural, its just what they did. If ever you've experienced chronic knee pain, you might think again. You can read more about this here. Good breeders and breed club rescue coordinators again will know about these conditions. Breeders who just bred from their pets and puppy farmers won't know, or won't care. That to me, is very, very sad.

Overshot, undershot and brachycephalic

It is shocking and sad that some breed clubs have put looks before health at top of their agenda but recent exposure has made a big impact and show judges are wary of awarding dogs places if they show any extreme conformity defects, and again, the breed rescue divisions are usually fold who are more interested in the characters of the dogs than the physical looks and so if you ask them where you might find a breeder who is breeding to a lesser degree of extremity, then they should be able to point you in the right direction. People just breeding and selling puppies from their pets have absolutely no one to monitor or judge the health and quality of their dogs at all.

If buying a puppy, check that it can close its mouth properly, and consider the wider the nostrils, the more air the dog can inhale, the smaller the nostrils, the harder the dog will struggle to breed. Remember back to the last nasty cold you had where your throat was sore and you struggled to breathe, and how glad you were when your cold cleared up. What if instead, you were stuck there forever? Dogs with these issues really can suffer. Its simply unethical to continue buying a dog that cannot be fit, healthy and active.

pexels photo 192550The staffie

Staffies are undoubtedly the most popular non-registered (therefore not pedigree) breed today and they are the breed most likely to be destroyed in shelters and council pounds. Many shelters won't take them anymore because there are simply not enough homes, and because they aren't associated with the breed clubs, and there are so many of them, they sadly don't benefit from the network of support that other breeds get from their breed clubs.

In the 3.5 years I've been working as a dog trainer, I have only had one staffie in my classes, which given how many I see when I walk around is vastly disproportionate to the number of other breeds I have had. There is a reason for this, and I am quite sure the reason is simply that they are one of the easiest breeds to live with. The reason they tend to make the headlines for being 'bad dogs' is not because they are bad dogs, but because they are generally very very easy dogs and people don't realise that even very easy dogs need training too. After all, why take a dog to class to teach a dog to do all the things it is already doing? 

That is where I believe the problem lies. Training is not necessarily about teaching your dog what not to do. If you have a dog that jumps up or pulls on lead you might want to take it to class to teach it not to. If your dog doesn't jump up or pull on the lead, you might not bother with the time and expense, which is all very well if your life is very insular and nothing ever changes. But life does change. If you don't teach your dog what to do when strange situations occur, you're dog will not naturally know.

Imagine yourself starting a new job. You walk into the office and you see an empty desk. You make the assumption that it must be your desk, so you sit down and everyone says you are very good, you don't need any training because you are very smart, you just know these things. Half way through the morning, a woman comes up to your desk and starts moving your things around. Presuming that thy must know what they were doing, you allowed them to continue. Good choice, th was the cleaning staff. Clever you. An hour later someone else comes in and starts shffling around your desk. He stole your lunch. The next time someone starts suffling around your desk, you become a little more wary. That doesn't seem right, you tell them to back off. Now you are very bad, because this is the office maintenence person who's been asked to fix a fault on your computer. No one told you that - how where you to know what she was going to do or what you were expected to do?

I hope this gives you a better understanding now.

If you want a dog just as a family mucker, a good dog with the kids to go on hikes at weekends, you really aren't going to go too far wrong adopting a staffie from a good rescue shelter. A staffie might not be your best choice if you want to comppete in agility or gundog work,  but they are generall a happy go lucky low maintencance dog, and if you go to a good breed rescue, you will most certainly be saving a life but please just make sure in your training regime you ensure you teach your dog what to do. Say "Yes" not "No!" when training your dog.