Stephen Harrison

Apr 292018

I’ve often thought that the puppies and small dogs I train seem to be a bit lost on the full size boards we use. So I thought I’d have a crack at designing and making some boards just for our smaller dogs! 

Here’s my first effort in time for tomorrow’s lesson with a 9 week old Golden Retriever. Compact, interlocking, lightweight and small, they should be ideal to encourage the pup or small dog to maintain a steady sit, stay and straight line recall.

I’ll try and post a video of the pup using the boards!



Mar 232018

Many people choose Spring time to get a new puppy. It’s an exciting time with lots to organise. One of the key considerations will always be where your new bundle of joy will sleep. Here’s my take.

We recommend using a puppy crate in an enclosed, small room. If you start by having him in your bedroom, you are potentially creating a habit that will be difficult and stressful to break later on. Start as you mean to go on. 

Humans tend to view a crate as mini prisons, but to puppies, it can and should be a place of warmth, security and sanctuary. It is not cruel or unkind to use a crate, quite the opposite. That’s why you should never use a crate as a place of punishment. Here are some other things to consider:

Dont make the mistake of buying a crate too large. It should be big enough for the pup to stand up, turn around and lie down outstretched, but no bigger. If it is, you run the risk of pup going to the end of the crate to relieve himself. He is less likely to do this in a smaller area and it will help develop bladder control. Of course, we have to ensure he empties before going to bed and he is let out every few hours during the night for the first few weeks.

Place the crate in a warm, draft-free area and have a blanket to completely cover the crate at night. This creates a little warm den, free of any distractions and will add to his sense of security.

Keep the crate closed at night until he is house-trained. Apart from helping with toilet training, he will not be able to cause mischief elsewhere in the house!

I use a puppy hot pad under his blankets to keep him warm. I leave something safe for him to chew on and I have a radio on a talk channel at very low volume all night. 

I follow Dima Yeremenko’s methods of helping the pup to associate the crate as a great place to be. Take a look at:

Don’t be tempted to respond to the inevitable crying when you put him to bed. I know it’ll be heart-wrenching – it’s a stressful time for pup having just left his Mum and litter mates. But if you respond to his cries, you will only encourage him to cry more. Tough love is required here, so steel yourselves. Go in to him as soon as he stops crying. The message is “if you cry, you don’t get my attention, but if you’re quiet, I’ll be there for you”. In time, he will settle and be perfectly happy in his new den!

There’s so much more to consider when getting a puppy, but get the sleeping arrangements right and you’ll be a long way towards having a contented pup. It works, I promise!

Mar 192018

If your Fairy Godmother could grant you one dog training wish, what would it be?

A reliable recall perhaps, stop pulling on the lead, a solid sit/stay, stop chewing the Postman or barking? All these would be good, but I think I would opt for something else.

I would ask my Fairy Godmother to get Fido to focus on me!

Because if Fido focuses on me, he is listening to me. If Fido is listening, I can teach him. Whereas if Fido ignores me or is distracted or just doesn’t want to look at me, he’s never going to learn from me.

There are many ways to get Fido to focus on you, including using treats for training & making your training sessions short, unpredictable and full of fun. But one of the best ways is for you not to talk to Fido during training apart from using words of praise, correction or words he knows. Anything else and you just become white noise and Fido quickly switches off to your voice.

One of the quickest ways to teach Fido that you are not worth focussing on is to allow him to run free off lead too early in the big outdoors where he learns to find his own rewards that Mother Nature offers. Allowing Fido to run free before we have cemented in a reliable sit, stay, heel work and recall is the single biggest killer of focus and obedience.

So, my advice to you is to work silently on Fido’s focus so that he sees you as the source of all that is fun and interesting. The rest will follow.

As for waiting for Fairy Godmothers, I think I’ve got more chance of buying a winning lottery ticket.




Feb 232018

I’ve had 3 clients in the last 2 years whose dogs were nipping or mouthing family members, not in anger but in play. It had reached the stage that the play bites were beginning to hurt, in one case they had broken skin. Fortunately, we managed to sort the issues out, by teaching inhibition, distraction and deterrence techniques. But a contributing factor in all 3 cases was that all the dogs had squeaky toys! 

Of course Fido should have toys, but beware of buying squeaky toys, particularly if you intend to work Fido in the shooting field at some stage. Why? Because Fido will quickly learn that in order to get the reward of the squeak, he has to bite down hard. 

This can have unintended consequences if the dog is not taught bite inhibition at an early age. You can’t blame Fido for thinking it’s fun and ok to bite down hard on anything: another dog, a bird (in the case of a working dog) or, worse still, human skin.

Of course, removing squeaky toys will not, on its own, stop a dog mouthing. But it’ll be part of the solution.  To leave Fido with squeaky toys will be inadvertently to encourage him to continue biting down. In all cases, we should try and develop a “soft” mouth in Fido. As well as teaching a young pup bite inhibition, what I do with my dogs is remove the squeaker from any toys I give them, so that they can enjoy carrying around a toy pheasant without learning to bite down hard to get a squeaky reward!