Our ethos and commitment
Group Classes in Birchanger Woods
All of our group classes are designed to promote owner responsibility and the importance of keeping dogs under control so that they are not a nuisance to either other dogs or people.
To achieve this we use kind and fair training methods that reward the dog for making good choices while preventing the dogs from making mistakes by means of management, i.e. we keep the dog on a lead or training line for all exercises, and our classes offer opportunities for discussion and quizzes so that owners are encouraged to learn about different aspects of dog ownership beyond simple commands, such as dog cognition and ethology, the law relating to dogs and owner responsibility, how different breed types evolved and different breed characteristics – which can influence how different dogs interact with both their dogs and people.
The Poop Problem
On community group pages across the country one of the most common complaints is dog mess left either on pavements and in open spaces or in bags dumped for ‘the poo fairy’ to magically collect.
It can cause a great deal of tension and even lead to false accusation and confrontation between neighbours. It’s unpleasant all round, and its pretty demotivating for good owners to be accused and even verbally abused for the shortcomings of others.
How can we address this?
How can good owners demonstrate that they are responsible, while at the same time encouraging the less diligent that maybe they should up their game?
Why do some people not bother to pick up after their dogs?
Why do people leave bags on branches or by gate posts?
One very simple reason people don’t pick up after their dogs is that most people don’t want to be carrying their smelly bags of poo around with them. It can be difficult and impractical to do so, especially while holding the lead of one or more dogs. Bags sold for the poo purpose tend to be quite flimsy and easily split, which makes it not so desirable to put them in coat pockets.
Some owners carry bag dispensers on their leads, but it’s rare to see owners actually carrying any means of carrying used bags away.
A very simple solution is to actively promote the idea that we should be seen to be carrying a shoulder bag in which to put our ‘deposits’. It really does make things much easier.
A simple canvas messenger bag is unobtrusive and easy to wear no matter how many other things you have to occupy your hands. They are inexpensive and easy to wash, and in honesty I really wonder why this is not more widely seen as an every day solution.
All paws4me owners will be expected to wear their messenger bag while training, and encouraged to see this as a standard piece of equipment that they take out with them wherever they take their dogs.
These bags are means of demonstrating to the wider public that our owners are actively intent on managing dog waste responsibly. There is no reason at all to leave your poo by a post to collect later if you physically have a convenient means of carrying it with you now.
Nuisance behaviour in public places
Everyone has equal right to enjoy open spaces and we must acknowledge that some people are fearful of dogs, some people have allergies, and no one really wants to have a strange wet muddy dog jumping at them. Other dogs might be recuperating from illness or injury, or may have had bad experiences, and of course we may come across wildlife and livestock on our walks which could come to harm if our dogs were to give chase.
Dogs are naturally curious and can be easily excited by the presence of other dogs and people, especially if there is a lot of action and movement going on, and some will find chasing to be intrinsically rewarding, and often much more rewarding than anything that their owners have to offer.
People like to see their dogs enjoying themselves off lead, and they like to think that their dogs have a good ‘social life’, and sometimes do not appreciate how others passing the same way might not appreciate their dogs ‘joining in’ with their walks.
Some owners have a much inflated opinion of their dog’s reliability off lead, while some have a misguided belief that their dogs have a right to be free to run regardless of their responsiveness to recall.
Dogs cannot understand for themselves why others might not appreciate their friendly advances and must be taught to ignore anyone or anything unless given express permission to ‘play’, and even if given permission, they must also be ready and quick to come away again if recalled.
How we address this in our lesson plans
‘Force-free’ dog training is often also referred to as r+ and positive reinforcement training. It’s a proactive method of training whereby we teach our dogs to carry out behaviours we want from them while we have little or no distractions around us, and ensure that should distractions occur, that our dogs are unable to respond to them by means of keeping them on lead or long line. We then gradually proof our training by gradually increasing the amount of distraction around us and the distance between us and our dogs (while still maintaining physical control with a long line) until such a time that our dogs responsiveness to our cue / command is consistently reliable.
At the same time, we use our experiences while working together to look at how our dogs are communicating back to us and teach owners to look at how each others dogs, dogs of different breed types and personalities to their own, are communicating, so that in real life they can better judge when it might be OK to let their dogs play, and when it might not.
This method of teaching dogs is highly effective as the dogs learn that good behaviour makes good things happen, without the fallout that the more common place approach of allowing the dog free range to make mistakes, like running up to a stranger and punishing them for doing so, which can leave a dog unsure of exactly what it did wrong and diminish trust between a dog and its owner – and even cause a dog to become fearful of strangers which can lead to aggression.
How do we encourage owners to commit to actively working with their dogs?
How do we set a clear standard?
The way we work through training stages does take considerable commitment on behalf of the owner to follow each step through until such a time that their dog is reliable to their cue (command) in any environment. In order to maintain momentum, and keep owners motivated, we aim to make our classes fun and ensure that the training method is ‘the journey’ to be enjoyed, as much as the satisfaction in achieving the end goal, and provide achievable goals in their training plan to aim for.
Looking at various schemes already promoted by various dog related organisations, and with some inspiration from the badges we earned in Brownies and Scouts etc., as children, we are in the process of setting a number of different exercises, starting with key skills such as recall, stay and stop, for which we can set a grading scheme from which successful attainment of the standard required will earn badges which people can then attach to their dog bags.
An example of this might be level one recall: have your dog recall from 30 mtrs while someone is actively playing ball or tug with another dog in that 30 mtr space.
Most people think of their dogs as family members. Some refer to their dogs as ‘fur-kids’. Just as most parents take pride in their childrens’ successes, most owners enjoy demonstrating their love and commitment to their dogs. While there are many dog sports and activities that allow people opportunities to achieve, like showing and competitive sports, they can demand a considerable amount of free time, which many people do not have.
The opportunity to earn badges for single behaviours means that people need spend no more than a few minutes a day practicing and can keep focused working on one aspect at a time rather than grouping several skills together (as most graded schemes require), makes training easier for our dogs and owners, as owners are inclined to move from one aspect to another before the dog is really ready, which can confuse the dog. Dogs, like us, learn more effectively in simple incremental steps.