Tag Archives: training


Do we have a nation of unemployed dogs?

Spike's World

Last weekend was the fantastic SPARCS conference, an annual gathering of some of the finest minds in canine science. This event brings together researchers from a wide range of canine related fields, but if Twitter was anything to go by, it was clear that there was one standout word on the lips of everyone involved this year – EUSTRESS.

Eustress in essence means ‘good stress’ and was initially explored in model looking at stress in its many forms (Lazarus 1974). We often consider stress to be a negative emotion, yet many of us fail to recognise that the feelings of anticipation and even the joy at meeting a friend can all be considered stress, in terms of the physiological release of cortisol. Stress is managed through the activation of the HPA (hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal) axis which is a group of organs that regulate the response to stress.



Responsible breeders strive to expose puppies to small stressors as they develop which helps in the deployment of this stress system. Experiencing an appropriate level of stress allows the HPA axis to develop resilience, stopping an overreaction to stress in adult life. However, too much stress can swing the pendulum too far into distress, so this must be carefully managed to not cause more harm than good.

How do modern dogs experience eustress?

Many dogs live very different lives from the lives their breed ancestors would have had. Very few pet Labradors spend hours retrieving game in our modern age and most border collies don’t have access to sheep – these dogs are unemployed. A study by the Kennel Club found 20% of dog owners do not even give their dogs a daily walk!

Lack of exercise and stimulation leads to obesity which has become all too commonplace in many of our animal companions, We have become accustomed to assuming Labradors must be overweight whereas this is far from the truth. Compare these two labradors, both of working type.

The lack of a job to do and the boredom that goes along with living an unstimulated existence swings the stress pendulum to the realms of chronic distress rather than eustress and can result in physical and behavioural abnormalities.

It’s important to understand that even dogs that do not show obvious outward signs of stress may be suffering – chronic boredom may result in general depression.

Small stressors may help build resilience. One of the most important gifts we can give our canine companions is the ability to cope in new and novel situations. How many of us know dogs that are happy and content at home but bark and new and novel sounds or objects? How many of us have dogs that startle easily when out of the home even though the same stressor may have been tolerated on familiar ground?

Resilience is a key life skill, particularly if a dog has to go into kennels in an emergency or has to stay at the veterinarian for treatment. Dogs that have never left the confines of a house and garden are likely to find this transition very stressful at the one time in life that they need to be kept calm and stress free.

So what’s the answer?

If you have an unemployed dog then it’s time to get them on the payroll.

Look at what motivates your dog and find them a job to do. Try obedience, dock diving, agility, lure coursing (chasing an artificial lure just to be clear!), scent trials, or just getting out and exploring somewhere new and exciting, GIVE THEM A CHALLENGE! Isn’t that why you got a dog anyway?

Dogs deserve to feel fulfilled and to have a life purpose. They have amazing senses adapted to see the world in ways we can only dream of and it’s sad that so many do not get to fulfill their full potential.

Give your dog a job and let’s stem the tide of unemployed dogs.



Lazarus R.S. (1974). Psychological Stress and Coping in Adaptation and Illness. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 5, 321-333.

Belly lifts

Giving your puppy the Magic TTouch

Spike's World

Everybody loves puppies!  With their playful ways and cute appearance you can’t help but want to wrap them in cotton wool with many of the maternal feelings we have for our own children.  However in all too short a length of time they grow to become adult dogs and it is our duty to give them as good a start as we can.  In addition to puppy classes the Tellington TTouch can be extremely helpful in raising a well adjusted adult dog.

The Tellington TTouch is a unique and rewarding way of working with all animals. Developed over 30 years ago by Linda Tellington Jones, TTouch offers ways to help animals overcome a wide variety of behavioural problems without the use of dominance, fear or force.  Using a combination of bodywork and ground exercises the TTouch aims to improve the physical balance of the animal, as physical balance is achieved so mental and emotion balance follows.  The behaviour of an animal can be linked to its posture in many ways, animals with tension through the hindquarters can often be afraid of loud noises such as fireworks, they may be reluctant to being picked up and placed on a veterinarians table and may be badly behaved in the car.  With the use of TTouch these patterns of tension can be removed along with the unwanted behaviour.

Puppy brains are like sponges yet are beginning to show adult brain waves by the age of 8 weeks. Socialisation not only helps to influence emotional responses but also has been shown to increase the numbers of neural connections made within the brain, thus increasing the dog’s potential for learning.  A study was carried out with horses whereby their brain wave pattern were measured whilst being TTouched, consistently it was shown that all four brain waves (alpha, beta theta and delta) were produced when being TTouched.  Petting, stroking and brushing produced no change, only the circular TTouched produced this amazing change in the animal’s brain waves.  It has been proven that puppies raised in a stimulating environment have an increased ability to cope with stress in later life, so if we are able to stimulate our puppy’s brains with TTouch then the potential to increase their ability to learn is enormous!

Just like children, puppies have little idea of what the world expects of them and how to behave, ‘bad’ puppies are often showing signs of worry or anxiety or possibly reacting to pain or discomfort in their own bodies.  These behaviours are reactive and instinctive; nature governs how each animal will respond to the situation.  Some puppies will roll over in a submissive type gesture others will run away while others will mouth or bite.  By using TTouch it is possible to bring animals into a state of awareness whereby the animal is brought into a thinking state rather than the instinctive reactive mode normally seen.  This ‘thinking’ state does away with the need for the harsh, negative behaviour modification methods we are all trying to move away from.

As well as learning all about the world around them, puppies are also on a voyage of self discovery, if one considers how long a human baby has to learn how to coordinate its limbs of it’s own will it is amazing that a puppy can do all it can in such a shot space of time.  It is no wonder therefore ,that in the process some body parts get left behind of forgotten about, resulting in rather bumbling gangly puppies!  With the use of TTouch bodywork we can give the body feedback as to what is where allowing the animal to achieve a much more balanced posture and mind from day one.

Ear TTouch

Taking the ear in the direction it grows (Upwards for pointy eared dogs or horizontal for floppy eared dogs) and gently stroking from base to tip, with each stroke covering a different part of the ear you can soon help to calm an excitable or nervous puppy.  This is especially useful when you first take your puppy home to calm it without promoting an unhealthy attachment which will prove hard to rectify later in life.

Ear TTouch

Notice how this puppy is being settled with another hand, the use of the second hand helps to give a feeling of containment.  It is very important not to hold the puppy down at any time as it should always have the opportunity to move if it wishes.

Mouth TTouch

Many puppies will be mouthy or licky and most will go through a chewing stage.  Licking and mouthing are often emotional responses to fear or anxiety as can chewing objects. Mouth TTouches involve making small, light circular movements of the outside of the dogs mouth, with persistence you should soon be able to make the same light, circular movements on the INSIDE of the puppy’s mouth on the gums (Your fingers may need to be moistened with a little water first) This helps to calm to anxious, emotional behaviour commonly seen in new puppies.  The mouth TTouch also helps reduce the irritation caused during teething, reducing the puppy’s wish to chew every hard object you own!

Mouth work

This puppy is lying down enjoying the Mouth TTouch; however she still finds it rather unusual.  The Mouth TTouch is very light and not uncomfortable; dogs will often push you away to start with simply because it’s a strange sensation.  The Mouth TTouch is all the more important for puppies to learn to accept having their mouths handled for tooth brushing and vet visits.

Tail TTouch

As I sad puppies have to learn about their bodies in a relatively short space of time, often they are still unsure where they start and where they end!  By using the Tail TTouch we can give a puppy information as to where it is in space not only helping the puppy to balance but helping to prevent the usual clumsiness so common in adolescent dogs.

The tail TTouch involves very gently moving each vertebra from the base to the tip. I can’t stress enough how gentle these movements are as the tail is very delicate.  The Tail may also be gently circled at the base.  The aim isn’t to see how far the tail can be moved but to gently give the body information as to where its tail is and what it does!  It is also said that certain endorphins, or ‘happy hormones’ are released when the tail is moved in this way, helping to calm a puppy.

An overly anxious puppy with a continually wagging tail can be calmed by gently holding the tail, causing the dog to stop wagging, rather like a hysterical person made to sit to calm down, stopping the movement of the tail often results in an instantly calm puppy.

Tail TTouch

After an initial confusion, most puppies love the Tail TTouch, this puppy has become totally relaxed at the gentle movements.  When the Tail TTouches is being done, it is useful to feel for kinks and bumps as these can indicate levels of tension in other places.

Belly lifts

Have you ever noticed how you get ‘butterflies in your stomach’ when you feel worried? Puppies can suffer the same, often holding a great deal of tension in their abdomen often resulting in vomiting especially in the car.  Ideally we would like a puppy’s experience of the car to be as positive as possible to prevent problems in later life.  By using a small towel or your clasped hands to make slow, gentle lifting movements, you can work to reduce the tension through the abdomen.

Belly liftsBelly lifts

This puppy is having gentle Belly lifts with a piece of kitchen towel, the lifting movement is tiny, only 10mm of so.  Notice how, in picture two, the puppy has relaxed his spine allowing his back to be much more flexible, also he is now standing more squarely with both hind feet being level, as apposed to having one foot behind him as in picture one.

The TTouch offers a fun opportunity for the whole family to have a positive influence of the life of their new family member.  Children take to the TTouch movements with ease and it can be a fantastic way to teach a young child to interact with a puppy, counteracting their instinctive need to grab and cuddle!  Each TTouch movement is complete and every TTouch will make a difference.

Above all remembering that your puppy is often behaving instinctively and knows no other way,  with guidance, a lot of patience and the power of TTouch we can work to make the puppy phase run as smoothly and be as fun as possible, with a well adjusted adult dog at the end of it!


Clicker Training for rabbits

Spike's World

Many people are familiar with the concept of clicker training for our canine friends but not many people are aware that rabbits and other small animals can benefit as well.

Clicker training was developed in the early 1970’s as a training method for marine mammals. The trainers realised that they would not be able to train whales and dolphins through force as they would simply swim away. They soon realised that if they ignored the wrong behaviours and gave appropriate praise and reward for the behaviours they wanted, the animals would quickly learn to do exactly what they wanted. The most exciting discovery was the fact that the whales and dolphins enjoyed the training sessions immensely and developed a love of learning.

Clicker training is a simple concept for both you and your pet to learn and is one that is sure to have many rewards in the future. Even if your pet has no behavioural issues and lives a fulfi lled and stimulated life, clicker training is a useful concept to teach your pet as you never know when it may be needed in the future. As an example, a good friend of mine owned an older rabbit that needed regular urine tests due to medical problems. Fortunately she had spent lots of time using clicker training with him and he was very familiar with the concept. Within a week she had taught her pet to urinate on command, making things so much easier for them both. It also prevented the extra stress that can be caused by the vet having to express his bladder instead.

 Clicker training rabbits

As rabbits increase in popularity, so does the understanding of their behavioural needs. It has come to light that rabbits are intelligent animals and as such need lots of stimulation. For those who keep their rabbits indoors, boredom can present itself in the form of destructive and antisocial behaviour.

Although teaching your rabbit to urinate on command would make an amusing party trick, there are many more savoury behaviours you can teach your pet to perform. As long as it is physically possible for your pet and does not risk injury then you can try pretty much anything. The most common behaviours to teach are, sitting, standing, running into an enclosure or carrier, jumping over a pole or through a hoop and nudging a ball.

Where do I start?


Clicker training a rabbit - Adam the vet - Vetschooldiary - vet school diary - student - Adam Rogers

Rabbits are highly intelligent creatures that crave mental stimulation. Clicker training can fulfill this need as well as helping to develop a bond between rabbit and owner.


To start clicker training, you need some tasty treats, in small enough pieces to be just one mouthful,

and a clicker (you can even use the clicker part of a pen!) The clicking noise made by the clicker or pen is a method of marking the behaviour that you want. In your pet’s mind, the click grows to mean “Yes! That’s exactly what I want you to do! Well done!”

Your pet does not instinctively know what the clicker means, and therefore before anything else, you must teach it what it represents. This is known by some as ‘charging the clicker’.

To begin with, prepare twenty bite sized treats. Click the clicker and feed your pet a treat. Once your pet has finished the treat, give another click and feed it another. Repeat this exercise until all the treats are gone. Whilst teaching your rabbit the meaning of the clicker, it’s important to watch out for signs of recognition that they understand that a click means food. This can be as simple as looking at you expectantly, a change in the ear set or with some greedy rabbits, jumping at you like a wild beast in order to get the treat as quickly as they can. If you feel your pet has not learned the meaning of the clicker during the first session then continue with this training until you are sure your pet has got the idea.

At your next session, start as you did previously by giving a treat and a click at the same time. After a few treats, give a click and pause for two seconds and give the treat. Hopefully, your pet will by now associate the click with the treat and upon hearing the click, will look at you expectantly. Don’t be tempted to wait too long before giving the treat. Rabbits are not dogs and can become incredibly offended if they feel they are being teased. An offended rabbit will stamp its feet at you or worst still, hop away whilst kicking out its hind feet as if kicking dust in your face.

Once your rabbit has reached this stage and you are confident it knows what the clicker means, you can then move on to putting this into practice.

The next step I call ‘teaching your rabbit to love to learn’. Up to now, your rabbit has learned that a click means a tasty treat is on the way, but he simply sees you as a treat dispenser. We now need to teach your rabbit that he needs to do something to get a treat and to persuade him this can be just as fun as eating!

We can all remember how stressful hard exams were and equally how much fun pre school was! Rabbits are just the same. If they are to develop a love of learning, clicker training must be kept fun, and to start with, the behaviours must be very easily achievable.

The first behaviour to teach is known as target training. Take a piece of dowel, some tissue, a square of brightly coloured cloth and an elastic band. Wrap the tissue around the end of the dowel so it forms a small round ball, cover with the brightly coloured cloth and secure with the elastic band. , cover with the brightly coloured cloth and secure with the elastic band. You now have a target stick.

Your aim is to teach your rabbit to touch the cloth end of the target stick with his nose. Start by holding the target stick just in front and slightly to the side of your rabbit’s face. The reason you should start to the side is that rabbits have very poor eyesight to the front and behind them. When your rabbit looks at the stick, click and then treat. Repeat this twenty times, moving the target stick to the other side and to the front of your rabbit’s face. Every time your pet looks at the clicker, click and treat. In no time at all, your rabbit is likely to touch the stick with its nose. At this point, give your rabbit a treat and from that moment, begin to reward your rabbit only for touching the target stick.


When your rabbit is making an effort to touch the target stick at least 85% of the time, start to move the target stick a little further away. Continue to click and treat until you can move the target stick even further away. If your rabbit starts to appear to forget the behaviour then you have moved too far too quickly. Take a step back and start again. In no time at all, your rabbit will learn to follow the target stick. This is great for moving your pet from one place to another!

Once your rabbit has learned to follow and touch the target stick at least 90% of the time, you can begin to use it to teach other behaviours.

Teaching your rabbit to sit is a fun and rewarding behaviour that can give you both a sense of achievement.  Start by raising the target stick upwards, click and treat your rabbit for stretching up to follow the stick. Due to their physical build your rabbit will naturally fall into a sitting position once the target is lifted high enough. Ensure each step is given a click and treat.

Repeat this exercise with the stick until your rabbit is moving into a sitting position with no hesitation on almost every occasion. Then, start to introduce the clue word ‘sit’. Each time your rabbit follows the stick into the sitting position, say the word sit in a clear and calm voice as he moves into position.

Ensure you still click and treat. In no time at all your rabbit will learn what ‘sit’ means so you will no longer need to use the target stick.

Target stick - Clicker training a rabbit - Adam the vet - Vetschooldiary - vet school diary - student - Adam Rogers

Many rabbits learn to touch the target stick in a very short space of time. Don’t be disheartened if your rabbit takes a while to learn, remember clicker training is supposed to be fun for both you and your pet


Many people, especially those that have clicker trained dogs, will fi nd it awful that a treat is used throughout the process and that the treat has not been phased out and replaced with a stroke or affection. Rabbits are not dogs and as such, most have very different motivational factors than our canine friends. As much as they love to learn, they need a reason to. How many people choose to go to work for free? Rabbits are more like people that dogs. They love a challenge but most will not work hard if the reward at the end is not worth their while.

The principles of clicker training can be used for any situation your rabbit is physically capable of. These can be both practical and just for fun but all help to develop a deep bond and rapport between you and your pet. I encourage all rabbit owners to teach their pet to run to its hutch on command as a safety measure and to be rewarded for eating from hand also. Rabbits are prone to digestive problems and can stop eating. A well trained rabbit will often be tempted to eat even when not hungry. This can be a lifesaver! Clicker training can prove an invaluable way of teaching your rabbit to accept medical examinations and routine nail trimming and grooming.

There are also lots of fun uses for clicker training, from teaching your rabbit to play fetch, to jumping an obstacle in a rabbit agility course. The possibilities are endless, just remember to make sure you both stay safe and that everything is kept as much fun as possible.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Socialisation for the genes

Today’s post is kindly sponsored by Spike’s World – food and accessories that are out of this world!

The domestic dog is arguably one of the most genetically diverse species on the planet, in fact the World Canine Organisation recognises over 300 individual breeds. Thousands of years of artificially selecting and breeding only the individuals most suited to the needs of humanity, rapidly produced a multitude of breeds with a body plan and temperament for every aspect of human society.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Whilst in the main our requirement for dogs as working companions has lessened (assistance dogs aside), our obsession with pedigree and improving canine genetics is still just as prevalent as ever. The recent controversy and media coverage surrounding a spate of television documentaries highlighting the potential genetic difficulties inherent in the breeding of pedigree dogs demonstrates the emotive nature of canine genetics.

Even for those not involved in the dog-showing scene, purchasing a new puppy often involves a great deal of research into the family history of the new arrival to ensure its ancestors were as healthy as possible. It is well documented that many of the most common conditions found in our canine companions, such as hip dysplasia and allergies can have a genetic basis.

With all this knowledge and careful breeding, it might be thought that such issues would soon be confined to the past, however, research shows that our classic view of inheritance may not be as it seems, putting into question the way we breed our dogs.

Classically it was known that each parent in a breeding pair passed on its own ‘blueprint’ of genes to its offspring, so each puppy inherited half its genes from its mother and half from its father. Therefore, as long as each parent was healthy and free of behavioural issues, it was thought each puppy would all be born as a clean slate with the perfect set of genetic instructions that when nurtured with correct nutrition and socialisation, would produce equally perfect adults.

However, research has found that the blueprint of genes passed on to the next generation can be affected by the experiences (such as stress or diet) of the parents, both before and during pregnancy. Known as epigenetics (literally “on top of genetics”), the blueprint has genetic markers added to it which markedly effect the way any future offspring develop. These genetic markers can also be added to offspring as they develop in the womb, potentially moulding the young before they are even born.

The bitch may change the genetic switches of her unborn puppies whilst they are in the womb.

The bitch may change the genetic switches of her unborn puppies whilst they are in the womb.

This is not confined to animals, parents of a Swiss town who endured famine were found to produce children with a greater chance of developing diabetes in adulthood. More recently, children who were in the womb in the vicinity of the atrocities of 9/11 are now presenting with a host of terrible stress disorders, despite not even being born at the time.

These findings suggest relying on good genes and socialisation may not always be enough to ensure our dogs develop into well-rounded individuals. Potentially, the diet, everyday experiences, stresses and socialisation of a dog’s parents, grandparents and even great grandparents, may influence its health and temperament.

Such epigenetic changes to the genetic blueprint may explain the seemingly increasing prevalence of canine allergies; atopic dermatitis, for example, has become a massive problem in the Labrador retriever, despite careful selective breeding.

The link with stress may have implications for those breeders who choose to breed in a kennel environment and certainly for the rightly maligned puppy farm. A highly stressed bitch is likely to produce puppies with lower stress tolerance as adults, despite careful socialisation. The quality of the care the bitch provides her pups may affect their brain development; research with rats found that pups that did not receive regular licking from their mothers, were anxious and had ‘anxious brains’.

The prevention of stressful experiences in the pregnant mother may also prove a challenge for those who breed in a home environment; it is well documented that hormones related to stress rise when dogs are left alone and may be influenced by the interaction of other family members. Every dog owner has, at some point, witnessed his or her dog’s upset while watching a heated family discussion or argument.

Firework season may also present an issue for even the most well socialised canine, as today’s fireworks become progressively louder. If fearful experiences felt by the bitch during pregnancy can cause negative long-term changes in the puppies, it might be preferable not to breed during these months or for those looking for a new puppy to take into account exactly when their new arrival was in utero.

The move towards more biologically appropriate nutrition for our canine companions is certainly a move in the right direction, however, it is known the absence of particular nutrients, especially during pregnancy, can have a profound effect on the genetic markers the young receive. In effect, a dog’s health may not just be determined by the food it eats but by the food its mother ate too.  Can the legacy of a previously poor quality, allergen and preservative laden diet have already left its mark on our dogs’ health?

The lifestyle and upbringing of a puppy's grandparents may influence its behaviour and health. Should a puppy's family history become just as important as its family tree?

The lifestyle and upbringing of a puppy’s grandparents may influence its behaviour and health. Should a puppy’s family history become just as important as its family tree?

It is clear that changes to the genetic blueprint may occur with the experiences a dog has over its lifetime and that these experiences can be passed to the next generation. Whilst any thought of a genetic pill to wipe clean the legacy of the past is light years away, should we question the criteria we use when selecting a breeder or puppy? When asking to see the parents of a new puppy, should we in fact be asking to see their grandparents and great grandparents?  Should we be asking for records of the diet, birth date and home environment of not just the parents but also the preceding generations?

Only time will tell, but it is true to say that in light of new genetic research, the science of dog breeding may never be the same again.