Bonfire night: fireworks and puppies! – Cambridge Puppy Training

fireworks cambridge puppy training

I really wouldn’t be any kind of puppy trainer if I didn’t say something about firework night! I have seen a multitude of dog-related posts across social media, detailing how to deal with your dogs fears or worries about firework night, also advice regarding what NOT to do. Some I agree with, some is simply ‘what everyone says’ and accepted as fact. However, not many have simply focused on puppies…..and what am I? I am a puppy trainer! So, what should we be doing with our puppies on firework night??

Firstly, I must start by stating that I am working on the assumption that your puppy has had no prior negative experience with fireworks. If you DO have a puppy or dog who has an already established fear or phobia, please seek professional advice on how to deal with this.

I am speaking with the assumption that none of your puppies have had any experience of fireworks, and this is their very first night exposed to the big bangs! So, what should we do? Nothing. Yes, I said nothing. If per chance, you have been exceptionally well prepared you may have invested in some cd’s with fireworks or thunder sounds, and your puppy will be fairly relaxed with these sounds by now, so your evening should be pretty peaceful! If you haven’t done this, do not despair, there is absolutely NO real reason for your puppy to be fearful or worried providing you have been positively socialising your puppy thus far. Above all else, do not sit there all evening presuming your puppy is about to have a minor meltdown with every bang, he may well cope just fine!

However, it can help to have a few handy hints and tips, just to cover yourself exceptionally well and to give you a few new ideas:

1. Environmental management – now just because your pup may have a fairly relaxed emotional response to fireworks, it doesn’t mean he wants them literally right outside his window! Consider environmental management, shut the curtains? Have the tv and radio a notch or two louder? Block off access to the garden if you know there are fireworks nearby?

2. Train – nothing can beat a bit of classical conditioning on firework night, pairing the sound of fireworks with something very positive like food! A bit of yummy food whilst doing some fun training will be not only good for your pup, but fun for you too!

3. Distract – if you find your pup is a bit bemused by this strange sound, not to worry, distract with a new toy or game, and have some fun! Distraction and redirection may help your pup to settle and desensitize him to this strange sound.

4. Calming aids – as I said earlier, I am working on the assumption your pup has never experienced fireworks before, so calming aids may well not even be needed. However, some feel they help (research proving scientific efficacy of such aids is fairly non-existent, however I know people who do swear by these thing!).

5. Relax!! – your pup may well be just fine! Enjoy your evening, have fun with your pup, have lots of available toys and activities planned, a stuffed kong? A new yummy treat to give? A new interactive toy? Enjoy it and certainly don’t panic before your puppy does.

How many of you have heard “you have to ignore your puppy because otherwise you reinforce the fear”?? Lots of you I don’t doubt. It seems to be a common line of thought, but it is actually not true. This simply isn’t how learning takes place, you can only reinforce a behaviour, not an emotional response. Fear is an emotion, there is no thought in fear it is not a ‘doing’ behaviour, not an operant behaviour, no thinking or learning or planned action takes place, (if you want to get really scientific, strong/intense emotions such as fear bypass the cortex), therefore no learning will be taking place. If something is to be reinforced, something needs to be learned or an association needs to be made and a behaviour needs to increase in frequency, intensity or duration. You COULD feasibly, in theory, reinforce the behaviours shown ie. going behind a chair, or laying under your legs, this is a ‘doing’ behaviour borne out of the emotional response to the fireworks. However if we really think about it, a puppy or dog in that emotional state is highly unlikely to be able to learn under such circumstances. Studies show a puppy or dog experiencing a high degree of stress will have a huge decrease in learning abilities. Remember, there is a huge difference between reinforcing behaviour (operant actions), and conditioning emotions ie. I’m going to pair the sight of a cat with some sausage every time my dog sees a cat, so he starts to have a positive emotional response to cats because of the emotional response associated with sausage! A silly example, but you get my point.

Just FYI, research has actually shown that stroking can even decrease the stress response and fear! (Hennesey et al. 1998). So, stroke your puppy if you want, it won’t make a bit of difference. At best it may be calming for your puppy, at worst it just won’t make any difference.

Remember the 3 P’s!!
PREPARE – interactive games, toys, training fun, stuffed kong?
PREVENT – environmental management, curtains? Tv? Cosy pen/crate?
PRESUME – presume there won’t be an issue, there probably won’t be!

You may not want to go and watch the fireworks but you will at least have a LOT of fun with your puppy staying in and enjoying yourselves!

If you need more information or advice just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Humping (or mounting) in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

puppy mounting and humping

Puppy humping, the very shame of it. You have a guest over and before you know it your adorable little ball of fluff is attached to your guests leg and humping away like crazy…mortifying! As our dogs grow we may start to feel less ‘surprised’ by it, reaching sexual maturity can forgive all manner of sins! However, in a young puppy, why is this behaviour being performed? And what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to say, that humping (or mounting), is not uncommon. If you do have a ‘humper’, please don’t think you are alone as it is a very common behaviour shown. Male and female pups may hump, so again don’t feel if you have a female pup that it is ‘strange’ that they hump, it’s not.

Humping is a topic which is actually still being researched to this day, and if you do your own research you will find a LOT of varying opinions as to why dogs (and puppies) do it. Lots of these opinions are scientifically shown to be untrue, and some are in the process of being researched. Many people will throw ideas around as to why it occurs, but largely many people are still fairly unaware as to why this behaviour occurs in the first place. A lot of assumptions are made with regards to mounting behaviour, but how much do we really know?

Humping is a behaviour which can be seen in relation to ANY object or being. A dog may mount another dog, another animal ie. family cat, an object like a cushion or bedding, a persons leg or arm, or indeed objects like toys. Mounting, whilst not the most pleasant behaviour to witness for an owner, is in fact a perfectly normal part of a dogs behavioural repertoire. Whilst we don’t necessarily want our dogs or puppies to do it, it is, in fact, normal canine behaviour.

Largely we see mounting or humping as a sexual behaviour, a reproductive behaviour which we may believe should only be displayed in that context. However, there are many other contexts in which mounting and humping can occur, such as play.

For example, some common instances of mounting or humping may be seen during:

  • Play
  • An anxious emotional state
  • A high arousal/excitement level
  • During stress
  • As a displacement behaviour

For puppies, the key reasons we should be looking at are play and high arousal/excitement levels. This is not ALWAYS the case with puppies, anxiety may well play a part, but certainly in my experience it is most common. Puppy play is not always pretty and may include barging, jumping and indeed mounting, so all of these can be motivated by play and social interactions in those early days, exploring via various displays of different behaviours.

I have talked about arousal levels before and the behaviours high arousal levels can elicit, well mounting is one such behaviour. If a puppy is super excited, because for example you have a guest over, this excitement is going to be released and directed into a behaviour be it biting, running, jumping, or indeed mounting. It must also be remembered that mounting can also, in itself, quite simply be enjoyable! A puppy can, believe it or not, find it fun and it’s as simple as that! However, I would hazard a guess that largely a puppy mounting is either play, or arousal.

Additionally it is important to remember that your reaction to a puppy mounting, can increase the likelihood it will be repeated. As with all behaviours your pup displays, if you reinforce it, it becomes a great behaviour to perform and will be seen again at any opportunity!

If you look up puppy mounting and humping you may well find many an article suggesting puppy mounting is a display of dominance over another dog, person or animal. An attempt to gain a higher status level. This is not true, research has vastly shown this to be inaccurate, for example Peter Borchelt PhD found “mounting could be part of a suite of behaviours associated with aggression, such as high posture, resource guarding, direct stares, and standing over. But mounting, in and of itself, doesn’t indicate a status issue”. Furthermore Marc Bekoff Phd found in his research of social behaviour in young dogs, coyotes and wolves, that mounting, clasping and humping were not directly related to dominance.

Really, more research is needed as to why dogs (and puppies) display mounting or humping behaviour, not enough has been done to reliably determine a common cause. Some have other ideas as to the reason a dog may mount or hump, for example as a calming gesture, to calm another over-exuberant dog down for example.

However, what can we do about it? What if we have a puppy who is a humper?

  • Determine the cause – why is your dog/pup doing it? Is it play? Over excitement? Or a mix of the two? Anxiety? Look at why the behaviour occurs in the first place.
  • Is it a problem? – if the humping is occurring very briefly, very infrequently, do we really need to do anything about it?
  • Antecedents – what is happening just prior to the humping or mounting? If we can determine the cause or activity which elicits the behaviour, we can alter/modify to elicit a different response.
  • Teach a ‘settle’ – more practically speaking, keep excitement levels as low as possible and encourage a ‘settle’ behaviour. There are other training based techniques you can use, get in touch for more information on these.

To be honest, whilst WE may find mounting and humping hugely unpleasant, it’s NOT an abnormal canine behaviour, so do not fret. Dog are, at the end of the day, dogs, and they will perform behaviours which sometimes don’t necessarily cause any harm, but we just do not like. Pick your battles, is it hugely disrupting your life or anybody else’s? Is it becoming excessive? Is it something that is causing a problem to you, or others around you? If so, work through the above. If not, let them be dogs.

For more information about any of the services I offer just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Antecedents in puppy training – Cambridge Puppy Training


Most of us follow a few general and rather loose rules when dog training. We know dogs learn by association, so we teach cues to associate a certain behaviour with. Secondly, the consequence of the actions our dog perform, whether this is a pleasant or unpleasant consequence largely dictates if the behaviour will be repeated. So we can (very generally!) say that behaviour is based around these two aspects. But, what of the ‘event’ or ‘stimulus’ prior to the behaviour? Is this not just as important as the behaviour itself, how it actually came about?

I am going to introduce you to the ABC’s! Yes, I know, it sounds crazy but bear with me.
A = antecedent
B = behaviour
C = consequence

So, the antecedent is the stimulus or catalyst for WHY that behaviour happens in the first place. To define “a preceding occurrence, cause or event”. So often, the antecedent is either overlooked, or not given enough consideration. It is essential you are aware of the antecedent (or antecedents, plural!) before approaching any kind of behaviour or consider altering the consequences of such behaviours.

Often it can be better to look at an example to really see how this works!
We can assume that:
Antecedent → Behaviour → Consequence

So, for example if you have a counter surfer!
The antecedent = seeing/smelling food on the counter
The behaviour = paws up on the counter and grabbing food
The consequence = eating yummy food! Yay!

When you break ANY behaviour down into these small steps, it’s far easier to tackle them. Now, there is a bit of grey area with antecedents. Unfortunately antecedents are not all equal, so then we have a bit of a problem! We face the issue of ‘blocking’ or ‘overshadowing’.

Overshadowing is essentially presenting lots of antecedents, of varying value, whereby one will overshadow another. One will be ‘winning’ and it may well be an unintended one. So, for example, you are luring your pup into a sit with a treat (one antecedent) on his nose. At the same time you are saying ‘sit’ (second antecedent). Your verbal cue is far overshadowed by the food on the nose so will likely be ‘drowned out’ by the more powerful antecedent of the treat.

Blocking is essentially TWO antecedents being present at once, thereby one being blocked by the other. For example, if I ask my dog to ‘down’ using a hand and verbal cue, one will likely not be learned or improved if it is being blocked by the other. Say, for arguments sake, I am wanting to improve my hand signal, it likely WON’T be improved as it will be blocked out by the more powerful antecedent, the verbal cue.

Think of how many antecedents are in this scenario of asking for a down via a verbal cue and hand signal:
1. verbal cue
2. hand signal
3. hand in treat pouch
4. treat in other hand
5. my body may lean forward slightly
6. my leg my step forward too

That’s SIX antecedents! A huge amount. Now, is there anything wrong with this? No there may well not be, however if you then expect your pup will understand how to sit/down with only the verbal cue minus the other 5 antecedents, we could have a bit of a problem. I am hugely guilty of always having a treat in my hand, it’s quick, it’s easy, I like my reward delivery to be fast so I rush rush rush! Will I stop doing this? Probably not. Would it help my training if I did? Maybe. However, I try to position my hands in such a way they that they don’t become an overshadowing antecedent.

So, how can we combat this? How we can use antecedents to our advantage when training?

  • Antecedent arrangement – set up scenarios and situations so the STRONGEST antecedent wins out, and the behaviour we want is more likely to be offered (especially important for puppy training!)
  • Try to have ONE antecedent going at any time – ask for ‘sit’, pause for half-second, use your hand signal
  • Be clear – make it easy for your dog, be obvious in what you are asking, don’t ‘muddy the waters’ or make it confusing
  • Keep hand out of treat bag!! (This one is for me!) A hand going into a treat pouch is one antecedent that will block out all others!!

So have a think, what is the antecedent to some of your pups behaviours? And how can you simplify your training to minimise all the excess antecedents? It’s quite interesting to come up with some new ideas!

For more information about the 1-2-1’s I offer just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Noise sensitivity in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

noise sensitivity in dogs

Any kind of noise sensitivity for a dog may not only be hugely traumatic for the dog involved, it’s distressing for the owner to witness too. This fear response to certain noises may be linked to various different sounds, one or two, or span a wide range of different noises. But why do dogs develop such anxiety about sounds? And what can we do with our pups to prevent noise sensitivity developing?

Studies have shown approximately 80% of pet suffer with some kind of noise sensitivity or noise phobia (Maddison, 2016). It is hugely distressing for a dog, or indeed any animal, to display a fear response to sounds so it’s hugely important we set our pups up to confidently accept any kind of novel or familiar sound well. Sound phobias are not uncommon, they will largely develop due to lack of habituation to a particular sound or noise, or due to over-exposure causing distress or anxiety. They can be associated with ANY sound, from a siren to fireworks to thunder, there is no standard ‘sound’ which will induce a fear response. Of course, the ones we are likely all most familiar with is indeed fireworks. I will not delve too much into how to deal with an already noise phobic dog, more focus on puppies!

For reference, what are the physiological signs we may see when a dog is noise phobic?

  • increased HR
  • urination
  • panting
  • lip licking
  • dilated pupils
  • tensing of muscles

These are a broad and general range of physical changes you may see, however the behavioural signs may be easier to spot, these may include:

  • pacing
  • escaping behaviour
  • barking/whining/vocalising
  • self-harm
  • hiding

Of course, some of these are descriptive of severe cases. Often, you may see a dog simply seeming ‘uneasy’ and being particularly clingy to you, seeking reassurance for example.

The key point to remember with noise phobia is that we can set our pups up from very early on to be relaxed around any kind of noise. We encourage our pup to be relaxed and tolerant of lots of different types of sensory manipulation, for example:

  • touch/handling – we work on trading a touch for a treat
  • sight – we work on not racing after every moving object ie. rabbits/birds etc
  • sound – we can work on instilling calmness in our pups around all types of noises
  • fans/wind – we work on habituating our pups to ‘blustery weather’ and bags flapping in the wind etc
  • animals on tv – we play videos of animals/dogs on tv to habituate our pups to the sight of them in our living rooms!

So how can we go about all this? We can start with some sensory education! We expose our pups to many different sounds whilst pairing them with something good. We would start off very gradually, for example having some sounds playing very quietly, whilst doing our training sessions for example. We would then in time be raising the volume bit by bit. We would keep our pups busy whilst this is going on, so the noise of the sounds very quickly transfers to ‘background noise’. The more a puppy hears a certain sound/noise and is exposed to it positively the better, by pairing it with something GOOD we will build up positive associations with the offending sound.

Breeders are often quite on the ball with this! You may find your breeder has already been playing audio cd’s of various noises prior to your pup moving in with you, and you simply need to continue the process. However, if your breeder hasn’t done this, do not panic you can buy many cd’s online which are specifically designed for gradual exposure to sounds for puppies. Victoria Stillwell does a ‘noise phobia’ series of cd’s for example. You can start off with simply ‘relaxation’ sounds (some say puppies relax to classical music!) and then as your pup becomes comfortable with this via associating these sounds with something positive and reinforcing, you can gradually ‘up’ the level of cd’s until you are listening to fireworks or thunderstorms.

So, some tips:

  • gradual exposure to MANY different sounds
  • invest in audio cd’s ie. Victoria Stillwell series
  • pair potentially ‘scary’ sounds with something positive
  • repeated exposure, so noise becomes background noise, passively heard rather than actively listening
  • try to ensure pup has been exposed positively to many different sounds he will encounter during life by approximately 14-16 weeks old
  • start with ‘calming’ sounds, build up to more ‘offending’ sounds ie. fireworks
  • watch your pup and ensure he is comfortable throughout any noise exposure

If your pup DOES develop noise sensitivity later on, please don’t think you have done something ‘wrong’. The likelihood is you haven’t. You can do everything right, and still find there is one tiny issue which your pup develops. Remember your pup does have a genetic make-up too! There are medications available depending on the severity of the problem, ask your vet for advice. It must be remembered that whilst these may work, they do not treat the underlying cause they will simply ‘mask’ the problem. However, in severe cases, it is a necessity. Often medication is prescribed alongside a behaviour modification programme.

There are a multitude of natural remedies out there too, all claiming to help with anxiety relating to things such as noise phobias, travel, kennelling etc. I must state I have not looked into scientific studies relating to the effectiveness of various herbal products, feel free to though if you are interested! There are pheromone products like adaptil collars and plug ins, rescue remedy drops, skullcap valerian products, the list goes on.

Try and remember with regards to our pups, gradual habituation to ALL kinds of sounds will hugely reduce the risk of your pup developing a noise phobia long term. It won’t completely eradicate it, but it will set your pup up with a better chance. Look into sound sensitivity cd’s, you may find them hugely beneficial!

I do cover habituation to objects and sounds in my 1-2-1’s, and talk about how best to go about exposing your pup to these. For more information just get in touch!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining