Stephen Harrison

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! 

Feb 122018

Having a solid recall is, in my opinion, one of the basic skills required of any dog. There are many ways to recall your dog, but one of the most popular, particularly if your dog is far away from you, is by using a whistle. Many people say to me that their dog recalls well to the whistle. Assuming that you have taught Fido the recall whistle, I find that a good way of finding out if Fido really is what is called “on the whistle” is to attempt what we call “the blind recall”.

If Fido is 100 yards away in thick woods or even somewhere nearby where he can’t see or isn’t looking at you, we need to teach him to respond immediately to the sound of the recall whistle. It is, in my books, a must for any dog, whether a companion pet that needs to come back when chasing a cat towards a road or a gundog 100 yards away in thick woodland. Safety aside, it’s part of the skills set we teach all our clients’ dogs as part of what we call our “steering and brakes” package – being able to stop and recall Fido using a whistle alone.

Here’s how we proof the blind recall.  Simply leave Fido at sit/stay and walk 20 yards away from him, keeping your back to him. Pause for a few seconds and fold your arms across your chest so that Fido cannot see your hands. Without turning to face him or offering any visual cues, blow the recall whistle. If Fido comes immediately, in a straight line and sits down next to you, congratulations! Fido is indeed “on the whistle“. But if Fido doesn’t come immediately, it’s probably because he is used to some additional form of visual or audible cue e.g. opening your arms, clapping your hands, calling him, bending down, making eye contact etc. 

If Fido does not respond first time to the blind recall whistle, here’s how you can layer the exercise up to achieve your goal. Do the exercise as described, but once you are stationary facing away from Fido, turn your head to look at him, tap your thigh and blow the recall whistle simultaneously; he should come with all these visual and audible cues. Once this has been mastered, cut out the turning of the head, simply pat your thigh and blow the recall whistle. Eventually cut out the thigh pat and blow the whistle only. Vary distances and length of time before recalling.

Soon you’ll have Fido recalling to the whistle no matter if he’s in the next field or just a few yards away!

Good luck and keeeeeep training!


Feb 012018

I have just received this from a lady who attended the training workshop I held a couple of weeks ago. She had approached me afterwards and was desperate for help with one of her dogs who was displaying aggression to her other dog and to other dogs that she encountered when out walking. Jazz had become a liability, a constant source of worry and unpleasant to be with. It had reached the point that she was no longer able to enjoy living with her dogs. I spoke at length to her and then sent her a comprehensive list of exercises to help realign Jazz’s behaviour, to re-establish the house hierarchy and to reintroduce calm. Here’s the result:

“No words can explain how grateful we are for your advice. I have read books etc but hearing it from you has made it so much easier to understand. Both Jazz and Tilly are totally calm already when we come into the house – it’s a pleasure coming in now. I feel as if a weight has been lifted from all our shoulders!
I can’t thank you enough.”
This is what makes what I do all worth while. I’ve never done the training for the money. In fact, the help I gave this lady (and most others) was totally free of charge. For me, it’s all about seeing dogs and owners lead more balanced, happier lives together. Result!
Jan 232018

With only 2 weeks of the shooting season left, I was beginning to count my blessings that, for the first time in 8 years, none of the dogs had sustained injuries this year – other than the normal cuts and grazes. Counted too soon …………

  • Poppy picked up a UTI infection and cystitis which saw her needing to wee every 5 minutes. Metacam and antibiotics.
  • Poppy ripped open her nose yesterday. Metacam, hibiscrub and antibiotics.
  • Daisy spiked herself on barbed wire causing an arterial bleed with blood pumping out of a leg wound. Managed to stem the flow. Sickness, lethargy, temperature. You guessed it, Metacam antibiotics and hibiscrub.
  • Just to add to the financial joy of pet ownership, Sparky the boy cat clocked in with a cool £340 bill for heart and liver issues! 

I feel as if I live at the vet’s surgery at the moment. Manor Farm Veterinary Surgery in Codford is just across the road from where we live: they have been superb with us for many years, specialising in working animals, so I am very grateful to all the nurses and vets.

Whilst the significant costs are unwelcome, I am more than happy to spend whatever it takes to keep my pets healthy. For me, it’s part of the deal when you take on any animal. If you can’t afford to care for it, don’t get it.

One more day’s work left for the dogs. I could keep them home, wrap them in cotton wool and keep them out of harm’s way. But they love what they do, they don’t complain when they’re hurt and they live to work. So here’s hoping Saturday evening doesn’t see me once again at the vet’s surgery collecting more  …. yes, you guessed it – Metacam and antibiotics!