South Australia: Don’t Copy Victoria’s BSL!

After my breed specific legislation letter writing spree, I just received a extremely concerning letter from The Hon. Brendan O’Connor MP (via Amanda Rishworth MP) regarding dangerous dog legislation is South Australia.

Photos © Ruthless Photos

This post is a call to action.  Now is the time to immediately write a letter of protest to Brendan O’Connor. We do not want South Australia to replicate the mistakes of Victoria’s breed specific dog legislation.

Letter from Brendan O'Connor - click to enlarge

The most fundamental aspect of the letter is this:

…the Australian Government … is taking steps to protect Australians from dangerous dogs… The Attorney-General and I have written to our State and Territory counterparts to encourage them to develop nationally consistent laws relating to the registration and management of dangerous dogs, including offences and penalties.

To me, there is no doubt, that these ‘nationally consistent laws’ mean copying the flawed and devastating laws hurriedly passed in Victoria, as a knee jerk reaction to the tragic death of Ayen Chol.  Already, Dr Karen Davies has described how “for the first time in 20 years I am questioning if I still want to do this job” euthanasing a sweet natured dog that unfortunately met the current description of a ‘pit bull’.  Then there stories of councils refusing to register dogs of pit bull type, leaving them vulnerable to euthanasia.  And rangers being abused while seizing unregistered pitties and systematically doorknocking to ensure annihilation of pitbulls in some council areas.

And, amongst this, dog bites are still happening in Victoria.

All dog savvy people know that this is only the beginning of the ‘epic fail’ that is Breed Specific Legislation.  Sadly, it seems that politics is more interested in looking sexy than reducing dog bites.

I have a letter written to both Brendan O’Connor and John Rau (the Attorney-General), and they’re provided in a more general fashion below.  You are most welcome to copy and paste these, word for word, or write similar letters to these individuals.  Please, please do something.  We can only try. Continue reading


McGreevy on ‘The Keys’ to Dog Training

This post is part of the McGreevy seminar series. Click here for the index.


Paul McGreevy wrote a book, Carrots and Sticks (2nd edition to be released soon), where he interviewed a number of animal trainers internationally.  Consequently, he identified two key components to animal training: Timing and consistency.

Photos © Ruthless Photos

Good timing is imperative to effective training.  This means appropriately rewarding and punishing animals, at the right moment. (Or using a marker to do so.)

Consistency was also important to animal training.  He argued that inconsistency impedes training and learning, and increases confusion for the animal.  McGreevy explained that, if different people were training an animal, then the animal would have to generalise the training methods and so confusion could occur.  He also explained the value in isolation, in order to teach the animal to value human attention, and allow the trainer to be entirely consistent when they do interact with the animal.

Timing and consistency are considered important across all species.

Though it was only mentioned in passing, I think both timing and consistency as a whole could be described by schedules of reinforcement.  Schedules of reinforcement are almost ‘rules’ that explain how varying delivery of reinforcement can product different results in the animal’s response.  Reinforcement can be based either on ‘all or nothing’ (continuous reinforcement, or no reinforcement seeking extinction), or after a fixed or variable amount of time, or after a fixed or variable amount of responses/behaviours.

More McGreevy seminar based posts to come!


This post is part of the McGreevy seminar series. Click here for the index.


Clover Heelwork – 20th November

I frequently post critiques on other people’s videos around the blogosphere, so I thought I was well over due to upload a training video for others to critique. However, I am probably my own worst critique.

Below is a two and a half minute video of Clover doing some heeling training.

My own comments:

Overall, I am happy with her attitude and willingness to work, especially considering she still has a bit of ‘baby brain’ (her puppy was born 4 weeks ago!).

I am not sure, after watching this video, if I should conduct tug-rewards on this slippery surface. Clover doesn’t seem unhappy about her lack of traction, but I am not sure if it’s great for her body.

I didn’t realise how wonky I am on my feet! There are a few times I look like I’m going to fall over, and my feet go weird ways. Some of this is probably due to the hypermobility of my joints, but I am going to be more conscious of having clear body cues. I think at the moment, Clover has to make some guesses about where I was going next.

I am not quite happy with some of my reward points.I should’ve rewarded her eye contact more, and sometimes she was out of position. Next session will be a food session to help try to pinpoint the heel position.

Keep in mind, we haven’t done any training sessions for at least 2 months! So I am pretty happy with her comeback performance here.


McGreevy on Rewarding Dogs

This post is part of the McGreevy seminar series. Click here for the index.


McGreevy had a lot to say about rewarding dogs.  Reward training is his preferred method of training for dogs.

Most importantly, to know what a dog wants and likes can help us in our training.  Dogs value a range of things, and each can be used as reward.  However, what a dog wants and likes varies in different contexts.  McGreevy was big on appreciating animals as individuals in order to get the best out of them.

McGreevy believes in allowing dogs to pick their own rewards, and allow dogs to be ‘creative’ in their reward choice.  The speed and strength of a dog’s learning can indicate how attractive the reward is.

Rewards can be innate (i.e. a primary reinforcer) or learned (i.e. a secondary reinforcer).

We can also influence the value of rewards.  For example, if we play with a ball before we throw it, it may act as a greater reinforcer.  Also, by fasting a dog, they have a higher drive for food.

He listed a number of things that could be used as reinforcers.  They are what dogs consider to be resources, and so they value them and will work for them.

Fun, surprises, and play

Dogs like fun surprises, like unpredictable or concealed rewards. Dogs like the ‘fun’ of being rewarded with magically appearing stuff.

Dogs are opportunistic and playful.  They like to play, and it can take time to play with dogs effectively (he mentioned Steve Austin as ‘great at playing with dogs’).  Dogs can value each other as resources and play companions.  (He mentioned Alexandra Horowitz book, Inside of a Dog, for more insights on dog play.)

McGreevy emphasised that, when playing with dogs, we need to avoid dogs putting teeth on humans.  Chasing and using teeth are innately rewarding for dogs, and we need to prevent the opportunity for them to learn that humans are appropriate to chase and teeth.



McGreevy called a bowl of dog food “a bowlful of training opportunities”.  He did note that some people, however, are of them the mindset that it is ‘wrong’ to make dogs work for meals and instead the dogs should have an innate ability to please.


Other Rewards

Dogs, as a domesticated animal are social, so they can be rewarded with social interaction.

Some dogs can also be rewarded with exercise, training, water, sex, liberty, sanctuary, and comfort.


Personal Experiences

I have found so much diversity in my dogs and what they find rewarding. I think this has made me a better trainer, in having to work  with dogs as individuals and not taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

With Clover I spent a lot of time with her to ensure that she would work well for both food and toys.  She loves her tennis ball, but she sometimes gets over-aroused and stops thinking when training.  For this reason, I normally use food rewards with her as it keeps her motivated but not over-aroused.  She does, however, receive a tennis ball reward at the end of tracking.

Chip is a dog that I can reward with a pat, praise, and a cuddle. He likes food, and he likes toys, but he often gets over aroused with both of these rewards.  For Chip, when we track, he has a reward of a cuddle and praise at the end of the track.  He must like it, otherwise he wouldn’t track!

So do your dogs find rewarding? What are your more ‘creative’ rewards?


Further reading: Ian Dunbar on Reward Training Techniques
This post is part of the McGreevy seminar series. Click here for the index. Continue reading


Steve Austin on Wikipedia

Readers, just a quick note to draw your attention to a Wikipedia article I have been creating over the last few days. Well-renowned Australian dog trainer, Steve Austin, did not have a Wikipedia page, or indeed, any general information page in the first few pages of Google! So I made him one, and I very much hope it does him justice. The beauty of Wikipedia is that, very likely, in a year’s time, none of my original text will be in his article, but my original ideas will be extended, elaborated, and refined. I look forward to that day.

Steve Austin (the dog trainer) on Wikipedia.

I have also discovered the Wikipedia dog community and I am a little concerned I have found my next time waster… Time will tell.