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

Using ‘bridges’ in dog training – Cambridge Puppy Training


Bridges!! What on earth are they I hear you ask? Well, let me explain. They are a way of communicating with your dog, a way of telling your dog it is doing the RIGHT thing and to keep going, or conversely telling him it’s not the right thing so try again. With all the techniques I have discussed on my blog, largely, they are all about communication in some form, providing feedback for a dog thereby increasing the chance of successful and fast learning. Bridges, are no different, let’s see what they’re all about!

There are two types of bridges, one is a “finishing'”or “terminal bridge”, which effectively ends the behaviour signalling it has been done successfully. The other is a “mid way” bridge, or an “intermediate bridge”. This tells your pup they’re on the right track and getting the task done well.

These are additional signals to your dog, extra feedback, which aim to speed up learning and provide more information for the dog during the teaching of new behaviours. They can keep focus, work to encourage a pup to keep going, and provide that added communication we sometimes need.

Often people will use the clicker or verbal marker (ie. Yes!) as a ‘terminal bridge’, a completion and ending of the behaviour signalling to the dog ‘that was right’ and reinforcement is coming. As we know, this terminal bridge is a great way of marking the behaviour the exact second it is completed correctly.

The intermediate bridge however is slightly different, and quite interesting. I have not used intermediate bridges myself with my own dog, however I do find the subject fascinating and I do know dogs who have used this technique with huge success. If I had a plan to teach a hugely complex behaviour, I may well consider using this kind of communication with my dog however. It may SOUND incredibly complicated, however it isn’t. An intermediate bridge is a continual audible sound, which signals to the dog they are going down the right path and to keep going! Whilst a clicker or terminal bridge will mark and effectively end a behaviour and signal reinforcement is coming, the intermediate bridge will merely tell the dog to keep going down the route it is going because it’s RIGHT.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the game hot/cold? We keep signalling to someone ‘warmer, warmer, colder, warmer, colder’ as the person gets closer and closer to the correct behaviour! Well, the intermediate bridge is remarkably similar to that. The continuous sound will increase in volume or tempo or indeed pitch the nearer the dog gets to the final behaviour, but will cease if the dog makes the wrong choice. Thereby, providing feedback to the dog on what is, and indeed isn’t, the correct path to go down for reinforcement.

These intermediate bridges or ‘noises’ vary, I have seen trainers using ‘chichichichichichi’, I do believe a wonderful border collie I know uses ‘g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g’ or similar! (Nat and Button!). There is debate out there as to whether ‘good’ is simply enough, however ‘good’ is used so indiscriminately in our everyday lives, a more distinctive and ‘unusual’ sound is said to be more effective.

So we can see how and why these intermediate bridges work, offering additional feedback to a dog that they’re going down the right path, also signalling when they’re NOT. So, more feedback, that’s great isn’t it? But…….can’t we just shape using a clicker??

Well, yes we can. However bear in mind a clicker does and usually will end a behaviour. We can build up duration of certain behaviours very nicely with a clicker, but when thinking of complex behaviours, for example target training using body parts, or reverse weaving, or other such intricate and challenging movements, this intermediate bridge is a great way to provide feedback, encouragement, keep interest and most importantly KEEP the behaviour going.

So, are we all going to start using bridges?? Or maybe, like me, you’re open to most (not all!) types of training and willing to have a go! Not all techniques and methods suit all people, or dogs for that matter…………so many techniques and methods and so little time.

For more information about anything discussed, just get in touch!


Teaching ‘manners’ to puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

training puppy manners

We often talk about teaching our pups ‘manners’, basic manners which we aim for our pups to establish fairly early on, thereby resulting in them being  a joy to live with throughout life. However, the term ‘manners’ is fairly broad, what exactly do we mean? And how do we sift through the basic manners to find what is essential, fairly important, and just plain personal choice?

When we define the term ‘manners’, we can say “the way in which things are done, being done, or happening; mode of action or occurrence”. So the way in which dogs DO things, the way in which they go about behaviours and the way in which they act on their impulses in varying situations. Largely, the ‘manners’ you teach your puppy will be dependent on what you see as acceptable or not, some people have far higher/lower standards of precision when asking for behaviours from their dogs. Some want a dog who will walk at heel consistently, others are happy to have a dog sniffing about on a loose lead. Some require their dog to be reliable off lead at all times, others are happy with a long line in the park. We all aim for the best, but ‘the best’ is subjective and our commitment to teaching certain manners is dependent hugely on us and how much we ‘care’ if our dogs are highly obedience trained or not.

For example, my dog gets hugely excited when she sees her friends and people she knows, does she jump about? Yes! Do I care? No. But, if she was jumping about in that way to everybody she sees in the street, or when I am preparing her dinner, or trying to put her lead on, I might have something to say about it! So, largely the behaviours we want to see are context dependent and we are more relaxed in certain situations. Does this create confusion for our pups? Possibly. We can try to avoid this confusion by teaching for example an ‘up’ and ‘off’ cue, so ‘up’ signals you can put your paws up for a cuddle, ‘off’ signals all 4 on the floor. There’s a lot to be said for working with a typical puppy behaviour and turning it into a trick/behaviour on cue. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t want my dog to lose her enthusiasm for seeing people she knows or her excitement at seeing her ‘dog friends’, however I wouldn’t want her to leap at people in the street. So, we find a happy medium and ensure she has cue words for tucking in next to me at heel and keeping all 4 on the floor. I don’t want to diminish or dampen her personality, but I don’t want her running riot either.

Manners are often associated with impulse control, and self-reinforcing behaviours. When we think about ‘bad manners’, what behaviours do we think of? We think of jumping up, counter surfing, pulling on the lead, barging through doorways, or over the top begging for our food! Teaching our pups to have some self control, or to perform alternative or incompatible behaviours, can really help with general manners. We often expect our pups to STOP doing what they’re doing, but don’t give them an alternative, a rewarding alternative behaviour to perform.

Let’s have a look at some common puppy behaviours which we would say lack manners!

  • Sitting/waiting for collar/lead – We can’t spend 20 minutes trying to get our pups to calm down for a collar and lead to be put on every time we go out! Practice when you’re not going out, pick lead up/put lead down, lead on/lead off throughout the day etc. Teach your pup to ‘retrieve’ his lead? Thereby associating the lead with something other than ‘walkies’? Make it a fun training game.
  • Door-way manners – We don’t want to be pushed out the way (especially if you have a large breed!) every time we go through a door! Start to encourage a ‘watch’ before opening the door, build it up so your pup knows to watch you before going out, thereby gaining a slower/calmer exit.
  • Patience/control around food – We don’t need to go over the top, but we need to teach some ‘calmness’ or relaxation around food ie. when we are cooking, eating etc. Teach a ‘leave’, change where reinforcement is coming from, scatter feed outside when you’re cooking? Provide a kong in his crate when you’re eating? If he can’t perform the behaviour, it can’t be reinforced!
  • Car control – We need to ensure our pups travel safely, also ensuring they don’t leap out and run the second the door/boot is open! Teach an in/out cue. The pup only gets out with the ‘out’ cue. Or a sit or watch before getting out?
  • Greeting new people – We need/expect our pups to learn that not all people are going to appreciate their enthusiastic advances. Teach an incompatible behaviour when you have guests, or walk by people on walks, work on your ‘settle’ cue, teach your pup to tuck in next to (or behind) you, ensure people don’t interact with your pup until he is calm, think about what you WANT your puppy to do instead? Teach it!

These are just a few of the basic ‘manners’ (or lack of!) we usually require from our dogs. ALL of these are perfectly do-able with a bit of training and teaching a few new cues. There are so many ways to encourage the behaviours we DO want to see, especially when dealing with young pups who are still very much learning about the world and the environment they live in. We all have varying standards of what is and isn’t expected from our pups, some have very high standards and require impeccable control, others are more relaxed in their approach, whichever you are, ensuring you have taught basic training exercises including those listed above will undoubtedly help your pup with regards to safety at home and general control in public places. The term ‘manners’ is so wide-ranging and very open to interpretation, think about what you require from your dog and what you don’t, write a short list and make sure everybody in the house is aware of what training is going on at any one time to teach all of the behaviours. Make teaching these things fun for your puppy! None of the above are about ‘controlling’ your pups desires or needs, or ‘forcing’ him to do anything he isn’t comfortable with, it’s merely training your pup thereby resulting in the increase of the behaviours we want to see; patience, calmness, focus, and control of his impulses.

For more information about anything discussed just get in touch!