Can puppies seek revenge or ‘protest’? – Cambridge Puppy Training

emotions in dogs

I was having an interesting chat with a puppy owner the other day, he said that when their pup is denied something, it will pee in ‘protest’. He believed the puppy was trying to ‘get him back’, show his annoyance after the event, ‘get even’ if you like, by urinating on the floor. This got me thinking, I have heard owners before saying their pups will ‘protest’, either via toileting or vocalising etc, but is this really what these pups are doing? Protesting? Getting their owners back and showing their annoyance at an event which has actually passed? Are pups capable of that kind of memory and indeed thought? And more so, that feeling of needing or wanting revenge, and actually gaining revenge? Anthropomorphism, and canine emotion generally, may help us to see.

Anthropomorphism, is quite simply, attributing a human emotion to an animal, inanimate object or concept. I’m certain you have all done this, have you ever said of the weather, it is ‘fierce’? We have ascribed a human quality or emotion, to something non-human. Much like if we say of our dogs, if they do something we perceive as naughty, we say they are ‘guilty’ and have a look of ‘guilt’. We sometimes even think this is quite sweet and funny, however all we are really doing is attributing to that puppy what WE think they SHOULD be feeling at that moment. Are they actually feeling bad about what they did? Feeling guilty? Unlikely. We need to be really careful when doing this, if we assume our pups are feeling emotions which firstly, they may not be and secondly, may not even be capable of, we will then treat them how we feel they SHOULD be treated due to this perceived emotion. If we are wrong, this is a dangerous place to be, treating our puppy in such a way which is not appropriate to the emotion they are actually feeling. For example, we see ‘guilt’, when in fact it is fear.

When looking at the situation with the owner I mentioned, the pup was peeing, the owner believed, due to protest. A ‘I am going to do this to you, because you did that to me’. If we break this down a bit, what thought process does the pup have to go through to achieve this goal of ‘revenge’.

  • Firstly, he needs what we may term ‘theory of mind’ to be able to recognise that YOU (another individual) had the intent to wrong him in some way, and to take it in that context, so he needs to be able to predict other individuals thoughts
  • The puppy would need to gain some form of reinforcement or satisfaction from ‘gaining revenge’
  • The puppy would need to have the complexity of thought to be able to recognise thoughts and emotions in others, thereby predicting how the owner will feel after he has ‘protested’ and recognise when his owner DOES feel this way

So, if this puppy were indeed protesting, or ‘getting the owner back’, he would need to be aware that this wee, a normal bodily function, was ‘wrong’, that the owner perceives it as ‘wrong’, that if he does it his owner will feel ‘hurt’, and that his owner will associate this wee, with the event prior to the wee taking place. That is a LOT for a puppy to be capable of don’t you think? I would hazard a guess this urination is anxiety based, derived from frustration in a given situation of being unable to communicate his desire effectively to gain a resource and being denied an object/item he feels is essential to survival.

If we look at children, their emotional development is something which changes over time, they are not born with a set list of emotions which are present and functioning from birth. As children age, they are able to feel more and more emotional states, largely gaining in complexity as they grow. Studies have suggested that dogs have the same mind, or emotional capabilities, of a 2.5 year old child. So certainly dogs do indeed have emotions, but certainly not on the same scale as you and I.

So, if we are basing our dogs emotions on a 2.5 year old child, what emotional range do they have ?

  • Calm/arousal – a range of excitement levels
  • Contentment/distress
  • Fear/anger
  • Shy/suspicious
  • Affection/love

Children generally do not experience emotions such as shame, pride or guilt until after the 2.5 year period, so we can somewhat presume dogs do not possess these emotions. We must remember that the rate in which our dogs will experience all the above emotions is QUICK, they will have felt all the emotions they will feel throughout life by around 6 months old.

So, what emotions will your dog likely NOT feel?

  • guilt
  • pride
  • shame

Have you ever spoken to someone and they tell you their pup raided the bin whilst they were out, or went to the loo in the house, and they came home to this unpleasantness! They then explain that they came in and saw the mess and ‘she knew what she’d done she looked really guilty about it, she knew it was naughty’. Well this is just not the case. The behaviours you see, the hiding, the tail tucked under the body, the wide eyes and the ears back, are all fear related. The dog has learned, when there is rubbish on the floor, or wee on the floor, when you walk in, punishment ensues (please remember ‘punishment’ does NOT always mean aversive treatment). A dog does not know that wee/poo is ‘bad’, it’s just a normal bodily function, they have no concept of it being ‘horrible’. Why would they feel guilty for going to the toilet?? It is a learned behaviour due to prior punishment for the same event occurring.

The world of canine (or animal!) emotion is a fascinating one and there is SO much scientific research being done as we speak, trying to find out more all the time. Canine behaviour is a fast paced subject!

I realise this article isn’t so much ‘training’ related, but I still felt it was important that we looked at emotion in our dogs, and what they do/don’t feel and are/aren’t capable of. Generally speaking, it may well not do our dogs any harm for us to attribute OUR emotion in a certain context to a dog, but be aware of it and be cautious of actively changing how you treat your dog due to how YOU perceive it may feel.

If you would like more information about this subject, or about the 1-2-1’s I offer, just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining


Car sickness in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

car sickness in puppies

Car sickness in puppies is relatively common, and whilst it is largely something they will ‘grow out’ of, it can be unpleasant for them, and us! Not every puppy will suffer with car sickness, however many do. But why does it happen? And what can we do about it?

Firstly, what exactly is it? Well motion sickness is the feeling of nausea, resulting in vomiting due to the motion of ie. a vehicle. It does not always present itself as actual vomiting, other symptoms may include dizziness or general feeling of nausea. Motion sickness is more prevalent in younger dogs than older, and generally it will have subsided by the time a dog is around one year old.

But why does it occur in puppies? Well there could be a few reasons:

1. Ear development – there is a possibility the parts of the inner ear relating to balance aren’t fully developed, resulting in a feeling of nausea
2. Anxiety – our pups have spent the first weeks of their little lives in a stationary, home environment with their mum and siblings, without prior conditioning it may feel hugely overwhelming to travel in a car/van
3. Conditioned emotional response – if the journey home involved vomiting etc, the likelihood is the pup now associates the car with something quite distressing, thereby heightening the anxiety level
4. Ear problems – there could be a slight infection within the ear, or some kind of medical problem relating to the auditory senses causing sickness when in motion

These are just a few ideas. Motion sickness is something us humans suffer with too, and largely it is seen more in children and ‘grown out’ of just as with puppies. With humans, motion sickness can occur when there’s a vast difference between what is being seen through the eyes , and what is being heard by the auditory senses. In simple terms (because I am no doctor!) the conflict between sight and sound is confusing the brain and the result is a feeling of sickness. For your puppy, the trauma of leaving all it has ever known, his littermates and mum, may well be associated with a car journey when you left the breeder. If the stress of this causes sickness during the journey too, we now have a puppy who not only found the car distressing due to the loss of his family but also a place which made him feel quite poorly! We can see why cars may become a bit of a ‘scary place’ to our pups.

Gradual habituation to travel is essential. As stated above not ALL puppies will suffer with car sickness, however if we at least condition our pup to travel in a calm and relaxed way, we minimise the possibility of any stress when travelling. Once your pup is home, you can really start to work on introducing your pup to the car in a positive and gradual manner, showing your pup that the car does not always move, good things happen in the car, and if we get in the car it certainly doesn’t always mean we are going to the vets (something which is so often the case when we have a pup!).

So, what measures can we take to ensure a smooth and positive exposure to travel?

  • Know the signs – motion sickness is not purely about vomiting, there are other signs to look out for such as whining, drooling, licking lips and panting. Watch out for these, if you feel your pup may be about to vomit, just pull over and give your pup some air.
  • Gradual exposure – don’t attempt 30 minute drives to start off with, start with very short journeys in the car, a few minutes at a time preferably. Start by simply putting your pup in the car without even switching the engine on, reward for calmness and any settling behaviours offered, repeat a few times. The next day maybe switch the engine on but don’t travel anywhere, the next day possibly drive to the end of the road and back etc etc. Ensure your pup is RELAXED throughout the process.
  • Use a secure crate/carrier – not only to provide a stable and calm environment for your pup, but also for safety, an anxious pup will likely move about a lot more!
  • Stillness – keeping as still as possible is advised for us humans when we have motion sickness, so ensuring your pup has more of a chance of keeping ‘still’ is a good idea!
  • No food prior – try not to feed your pup for a couple of hours before journeys.
  • Keep windows open – fresh air and a breeze may help.
  • Toilet! – make sure your pup has had adequate opportunity to go to the loo before journeys.
  • Have a special ‘car toy’ – try to have a special toy which your pup only has on car journeys, really showing him that the car is a fun place to be after all!
  • Anxiety aids – there are such items ie. Adaptil collars for helping to calm anxiety in dogs, the scientific evidence showing the efficacy of such products is varied and certainly not conclusive, however there are people who swear by them so worth a go I feel!
  • Water – ensure you have water readily available for your pup.
  • Drive well! – ensure you take corners and roundabouts gently and be mindful of sudden stopping or accelerating too harshly!
  • Not ALWAYS the vets – ensure we don’t get into the habit of only taking our pups out in the car to go somewhere ‘bad’! It’s easily done, but be sure to go to places your pup takes pleasure from in the car too,

If you feel your pup suffers with severe motion sickness, I would advise seeking veterinary advice. There are medications which can help if you feel your pup is struggling beyond the ‘normal’ realms of a bit of car sickness. Your vet will be able to guide you through the medications, and indeed advise as to whether or not it is needed.

Most pups do, as I said, grow out of car sickness. It is not pleasant, but by following the above guidelines hopefully your little pup will start to not only build up more of a positive association with the car, but even learn to enjoy car rides due to the added fun of his ‘car toy’.

For more information, just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Puppy barking! – Cambridge Puppy Training

puppy barking

Barking is a very normal and useful part of canine communication, it serves many purposes for a dog and is one of the key ways in which a dog will express their emotions about any given situation. However, as normal as it is, it can become a problem, quickly. Dogs may bark when someone rings the door bell, or due to excitement in play, these may not be such a problem to us however when a dog incessantly barks, it can cause big issues for us their owners, and for our neighbours!

Dogs vocalise for a multitude of reasons, there is no ONE reason why a dog will bark, however we can generalise slightly by saying that largely they are communicating something to either us, or each other. Barking can become a ‘self-soothing’ behaviour, for example in shelter situations this can occur, however for the purposes of this article and puppy behaviour, we can assume that your pups are not isolated for most of the day therefore not barking in this way!

So why do dogs bark? Here’s a few possibilities:

  • alert/guard barking – door bell rings, someone unfamiliar approaching the house etc
  • excitement barking – upon seeing/playing with friends, when you arrive home etc
  • fear/anxiety – other dogs, people, anything seen as a PERCEIVED threat
  • reactivity barking – often seen in on-lead reactivity, at anything within the environment ie. dogs, people, bikes etc
  • boredom – as simple as it sounds! Not enough activity, physical or mental will result in a bored dog!
  • demand barking – as simple as it sounds again! Vocalising to gain something, ie. food, walk, game, or simply attention

There are more, but this is just a small list of the common reasons behind vocalising of any sort. The one we are looking at today is demand barking. It is MUCH more common than you may realise and will often present itself during those early juvenile months.

Demand barking is SO easily developed because to begin with, it ISN’T demand barking, it’s simply a small amount of vocalising. Our little pup barks, we either pick him up or put our hands down saying ‘shhhhh calm down’ etc, and suddenly we have reinforced that barking. We have shown our pups that if you make that sound, you get lots of attention from me. Or, we try to work out what it is they are demanding and offer a plethora of goodies! Oh is he hungry? Let’s offer some food. Oh is he bored? Let’s play a game. Oh is he tired? I’ll give him a cuddle. And thus demand barking is born. It’s SO so easy for this behaviour to develop.

Demand barking is difficult to tackle, because largely we simply can’t ignore it. Shouting at your pup will not work as at best he will think you are joining in and thus find it reinforcing, and at worst you will cause distress and ruin the bond you are aiming to build at this young age. So, how CAN we deal with demand barking?

I offer advice regarding barking in many contexts during my 1-2-1’s, however let’s go over some general advice regarding demand barking and ways to tackle it:

1. Why is the dog barking – first and foremost, look at the context in which the vocalising occurs. If you can not pinpoint WHY and WHEN the barking occurs you can not tackle it.
2. What kind of barking is it – what we may see as demand barking may not be so, again look at the context of the bark, dogs do bark and it’s not always a bad thing!
3. If you find it IS demand barking – can you ignore it? Are you in a position to be able to ignore it? If yes, make sure above all else you do not ignore for 20 mins, and then cave and interact with your pup. Next time, your pup will bark for 25 mins! If you’re going to use extinction (removal of reinforcement until the behaviour ceases) then be sure you 100% stick to it at ALL times (this is not easy to do!).

Now we come to the tricky bit, most of us can’t use extinction because we have neighbours! And probably a headache by this point. What a lovely world we would live in if we could ignore barking, however it’s just not the case. So what can we do?

Here’s some tips:

  • Ensure adequate mental and physical exercise is provided – a tired, fulfilled dog is less likely to display this behaviour. Ensure exercise requirements are met, and ensure the brain is being used to it’s full capacity every day! (Be mindful of exercise limitations with puppies).
  • Remove yourself – take yourself out of the situation, removal of YOU is in itself a negative consequence, return/interact only when your pup is quiet.
  • Teach a ‘quiet’ cue – some teach their dog to ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’ on cue, believing the ‘quiet’ can then be used when needed.
  • Scent work – try some scatter feeding every day, or some interactive games where they need to sniff out treats, scent work can be tiring, fun and hugely fulfilling for a dog!
  • Ask for an incompatible behaviour – if you ask for a ‘sit’, or a ‘down’, you may gain attention and focus and the dog may stop barking, however a dog can still sit and bark! If possible, try to ask for an incompatible behaviour BEFORE the barking starts. For example ‘touch’, ‘hold’ a toy, a dog can not bark and perform these behaviours at the same time.
  • Teach a ‘settle’ cue – encouraging calm passive behaviours from an early age will help in keeping a pups excitement level low, limiting over-stimulating activities is a good idea!
  • Teach a ‘bed’ cue – asking your pup to DO something is beneficial, we may ask for a ‘quiet’ and that may work well, but if we just then ignore our pup they will likely continue afterwards!
  • Sleep – ensure your pup is getting enough sleep!
  • Capture good behaviour! – we leap on our pups when they do something we don’t like, and ignore them when they are polite and performing well! If your pup is settled, relaxed and laying down, reward that.

The main thing is to NOT reinforce it, ever. It’s difficult, very difficult. Prevention is always better than cure so set your pup up to succeed, make sure you are left with something to reinforce. Try to work out approximate times of day your pup is more likely to demand bark, it will usually be at a certain time so prepare for these time! Prepare a stuffed kong for your pup in his crate, cut up some tiny treats to scatter, prepare some interactive toys, go on a nice walk, plan ahead and don’t wait for the barking to begin before deciding how to tackle it.

It is essential with any demand barking that it is dealt with consistently. If one day we ignore, the next day ask for a ‘quiet’, the next we pick the dog up, we have NO consistency and the barking will continue. The dog will keep seeking reinforcement from barking due to it’s sporadic success! Try and remember interaction isn’t just touching your puppy, it’s eye contact, it’s talking. So, if you are ignoring the barking simply stand up and walk into another room and completely ignore your puppy, don’t look at him and don’t say a word.

Try and remember if a behaviour is reinforced it will likely be repeated, remove reinforcement or ask for a different behaviour that you DO want and you set yourself up for success. Try to prevent it even starting, and if the behaviour does develop set your pup up in situations where he is LEAST likely to perform it, thus giving you something to reward. If dealt with EARLY, it will never become habit. If left, it will progress and be harder reverse later down the line.

For more information just get in touch!


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!