How to train your dog positively, study research, tips / perfect cocker spaniel / english cocker spaniel training, grooming, advice, puppy / world kindness day blog post / (C) Natalia Ashton / dog paw in human hand photo

Be kind

A few days ago I shared a link to a study on my Facebook page. It discussed the connection between our choice of training and its short- and long-term effects on dog’s mental health. The results clearly showed that aversive-based methods (positive punishment and negative reinforcement – in other words, commonly used practices such as yelling, using training gadgets or any other form of punishment that make the dog do something to avoid pain or discomfort) not only lead to immediate stress and anxiety symptoms (lip licking, panting, yawning), but caused higher levels of cortisol and made the pups more “pessimistic” leaving them in “perpetual stress” in the long run.

If you allow me to take a step back from the study, I would like to quickly show you why the damage hidden under a simple word “stress” is far more dangerous than many would imagine. As the cortisol levels rise, the body has to dip into its own resources reserved for other systems (think nutrients, hormones, neurones etc.) – and swiftly relocate them to manage the stress levels and ensure that the adrenal glands that secret the hormone remain as functional as possible. This causes a chain reaction when the deprived systems and hormones including brain, heart, pancreas, nervous, reproductive, digestive and immune systems begin to suffer. In addition, the adrenals that don’t get a much needed break become exhausted and eventually turn a perfectly “normal” dog into a fearful pet that suffers from anxiety, reactivity and aggression simply because his body cannot cope with the external stressors effectively any longer.

On the other hand, the study demonstrated that the group of dogs trained through positive reward-based training remained happy, bouncy and, even though this wasn’t measured, full of endorphins. Even better, the dogs felt emotionally connected to their human companions.

The analysis was the first of its kind (though I do like the one from 2014, too) and I was very grateful to see these outcomes as a proof that kindness can go a long, long way when it comes to dogs.

Even though this seems very obvious, this simple rule of treating your dog with love and kindness no matter what is easy to forget at times. Life can get in the way. Things can become stressful causing us to react out of frustration. Not because we don’t love dogs, but simply because we are imperfect impulse-driven species.

And even though we cannot completely change the imperfections in us – we can alter our attitude towards our beautiful practically perfect dogs. So next time you feel like “losing it” and yelling at your pooch, stop for a second and look at him… Look into his eyes… see how they are still full of affection… Think of how much your dog wants to please you… And remind yourself that he is, after all, an animal and your communication is more like a chat between you and a 5-year old foreign baby who has absolutely no idea what you are talking about (which can be rather scary for a kid!)

Then breathe, hug your dog and see him gazing back at you. This feeling alone can cure any pain and stress you’re dealing with. And if you do feel like screaming – there is always a little cloak room to lock yourself in for a moment. It’s a perfect place for flushing our all the verbal negativity once and for all.

And don’t forget to give your pup a treat when you come out… Because kindness comes in all sorts of forms – chicken and biscuits included.

 

Photo source: image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

 

what to do with cocker spaniel dog when the weather is bad and rainy / indoor puzzle games for dogs ideas / puppy tips / all about English cocker spaniel training and keeping calm / Perfect cocker spaniel book and blog / (C) Natalia Ashton

Making the most of the rainy days

We got soaked this morning. Again. The weather has not been kind to us lately. It warmly gifted a glorious Sunday as if trying to justify a week worth of showers, but threw us back into wet and gloomy reality of wet paws and endless blow-dries in the early hours of Monday.

We returned from our walk looking like three seals. Not that anyone cared. Pups were happy – and I was pleased that we got out and stuck to the routine. By the time the blow-dry was over, the soft sun bounced out from the frothy clouds and things suddenly felt optimistic.

The pups settled down for a nap and I decided to write a little post about dealing with bad weather in the most productive way and ensure that your cocker spaniel is happy and satisfied.

Start your day by stepping outside. Even if it seems totally insane, do your best to have a walk in the morning. Your cocker will be grateful for every minute spent checking the neighbourhood, sniffing the grass and splashing through the puddles. Be mentally prepared for a long blow dry that will follow and if necessary, set yourself some extra time to have it done without messing up the rest of plans for the day.

Break your day into chunks and add 2-3 15-minute training sessions. Let your dog learn something new or practise the tricks he already knows.

Play the “find food” game. Hide pieces of kibble around the room (on the floor, in corners, hidden under scattered toys or towels, or left on chairs and sofa) and let your dog hunt for them.

Use brain and puzzle toys. They are created to suit different levels of difficulty, so you can get a few and swap them around. Start with level 1 to get the pup an idea of what to do, get to level 2 when he feels comfortable (and perhaps slightly bored) with the level 1 and move onto level 3 if your dog becomes an expert! Then you can alternate between all three – some can be used as feeders, others – to tire the brain and boost your dog’s confidence.

Choose between treat dispensing toys like Bob-a-Lot,  Wobbler, Turn Around or Busy Buddy, puzzle toys including Tornado Treat Toy, Puzzle Wheel, Brick Board or Dog Casino, or simply DIY by hiding treats inside empty boxes, egg containers, rolled towel. inside scrunched up wrapping paper, or even a muffin baking tin when you cover each  piece of kibble with a tennis ball.

Play the “magic” trick by hiding a piece of kibble in one of your hands and letting your dog sniff it out. Alternatively, hide the treat under three identical cups and ask your cocker find it.

Name your toys together! Pick a toy to play with your pup and remember to always name it when you hold it or throw it or ask the spaniel to find it. Eventually your dog will associate each toy with a name, so you can progress by asking him to go and get “ducky” or “teddy” from the toy basket.

Organise a pup date. Invite your dog’s best fur friend and his or her parents around for a play date. You can enjoy a conversation and a cup of tea while the pups will entertain each other.

Have a cuddle. Even the most energetic dog would enjoy a quiet moment spent next to you on a sofa. Make a cosy “nest” of blankets and pillows, choose a movie or a book and let your baby sleep on your lap.

After all, you just had a day of fun together – whatever the weather. Now it’s time to relax…

 

Photo source: Coop photographed by me

 

Fred, my chocolate and tan english cocker spaniel pup / Perfect cocker spaniel blog & book / English cocker spaniel grooming, training, advice, health, puppy tips / Natalia Ashton (C)

The world according to Fred

Fred fascinates me… Watching him is like getting through a mind-boggling puzzle where every little step in the right direction feels like a huge victory. Fred isn’t the easiest pup, he is… complicated. And I love it about my boy. He teaches me “stuff” about myself and I learn to see the world “according to Fred” in return.

Oh, the world… I think, in Fred’s mind the world is a very, very smelly place indeed. And that’s what makes it so captivating for him. The boy’s sense of smell is nothing I’ve ever seen in any of my dogs before. It’s like his brain is wired to follow the scent in the most sophisticated manner.

Fred sees through his olfactory. At home the pup loves to sit in the middle of the garden, nose into the sky – soaking up the scents and watching, observing, learning…

Every time we are off for a walk he runs out of the house and knows that a bird is hiding in a nearby hedge, somebody he likes recently walked down the street, the dog he isn’t keen on – has been for a walk already, some cat will soon appear from around the corner, the bunnies are hopping through the field and a family of daft pheasants has just been out for their wonky promenade.

We often let him lead otherwise he gets a little bored with the rest of the “pack”. We are too ordinary, even Coop… Once done, Fred glances back at me waiting for a praise and a little treat, which he’s been aware of (obviously!) since it got hidden in my pocket.

And then we smile at each other and continue our journey through the world that, according to Fred, is filled with a rainbow of smells.

 

Photo source: taken by me