In the kennel with … Carolyn Menteith

Clickety Clips interiagiews top dog trainers

Photo: Your Dog magazine

Carolyn Menteith KCAI (CDA), DipCAPT is a dog trainer, behaviourist and writer about all things canine. As an internationally renowned dog expert and experienced broadcaster, she will be familiar to many from her appearances on TV in shows such as Top Dog, What’s Up Dog? and Celebrity Dog School.

She writes a monthly column for Your Dog magazine, and has written and presented a series of dog training films (many of which are on Clickety Clips) and an app for Dogs Trust. She is the originator of The Puppy Plan, backed by both the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust – you can read more about this important scheme below.

She is one of four finalists for the UK Kennel Club’s Trainer of the Year Award. The winner, voted for by the public (to vote, click here) will be announced at this year’s Crufts Show in March.

How would you advise owners on the best way to bond with their dog?

CM: There is no substitute for spending time with your dog. From day one make sure you are clear, consistent and make sure your dog knows what is expected of him. Too many people don’t reward the dog when he gets things right, and only punish him when he gets it wrong. Can you imagine living like that? Give him loads of ways to succeed every day – even in small things – and reward him when he does.

Train him using reward-based methods. Training improves the bond between you like nothing else does as you learn together.

Have fun together. Too many people forget that we have dogs for fun. Let yourself be a child again and play!!

Remember you are responsible for that dog – and for giving him what he needs. Every single breed of dog has been bred to do a specific job – and those hard-wired instincts remain in our dogs today. What that job is will determine what that dog is like to live with and what he needs to be happy. You need to be able to give him an appropriate outlet for those behaviours (whether that is endless exercise, chasing, sniffing, hunting, digging, barking…) otherwise he will be constantly frustrated – and you can’t build a bond with someone who is unhappy and frustrated. If you can understand this, and give your dog what he needs, have it under your control (rather than your dog going self-employed and getting his breed-specific outlets in ways you don’t want!) and reward him for doing it, you are going to be able to bond closely to your dog and have the relationship that other dog owners will envy.

CC-vsmll-logo-pple What would be your 3 top tips for owners wanting to be a good dog trainer?

CM: Use positive reward methods. Dogs repeat things that have had a positive outcome – that is how training works (it is also how they learn the stuff we would rather they didn’t!). If he does what you want – anytime, anywhere – reward him and it is more likely to happen next time. Training really is that simple!

When you are training specific exercises, make sure you know what you want, set your dog up to succeed and reward him when he gets it right. If your dog doesn’t succeed, it is your fault for either not ‘explaining it’ properly or expecting too much too quickly.

Once you think your dog knows an exercise, do it everywhere. At home, in the garden, on walks… First in quiet places, and then with mounting distractions. Dogs don’t generalise (I have forgotten how many times I have heard ‘but he can do it at home’).

Enjoy your training – if you make it a chore, you and your dog won’t stick at it. Find things to do that make it fun (agility, tricks, life skills…). Training isn’t about marching around doing heel work and shouting a lot!!

Whoops. That might be four things!

CC-vsmll-logo-pple And your advice on 3 things owners should never do when training their dog?

CM: Don’t punish your dog or use aversive methods or equipment. Training should be positive and should build the bond between you. You want a dog who does what you ask him because he wants to, not because he is too scared not to.

That’s it….. Just one! If you really want something more, make sure your dog has enough exercise and outlets for their breed-specific behaviours. A dog can’t learn if his brain is fizzing with energy and frustration.

Oh – and don’t expect your young dog to have a off switch when you can’t be bothered with him. While a well-exercised, well-trained dog can be happy to rest and sleep (and you can use baby gates etc to manage his access), an under-exercised, under-stimulated, bored dog has every right to be a nightmare!

CC-vsmll-logo-pple In your experience, what do owners find most difficult about dog training?

CM: They make it too complicated – and worry about it too much. Training dogs is simple. Reward the good stuff, don’t reward the stuff you don’t want (easier said than done), and set your dog up to succeed all the time. Relax – and find a good trainer to help you if you are struggling.

 CC-vsmll-logo-pple And, finally, what do you envisage the greatest challenges will be for pet dogs – and their owners – over the next 10-20 years?

CM: Life for dogs in the UK has changed beyond measure. Being a companion dog is the hardest job we ever ask a dog to do as our expectations are so high. We expect our dogs to be friendly and social to everyone (no matter how strange!), not to chase the children or knock over granny, not to chase the cat or eat the postman, to come everywhere with us when we want them to but to stay at home for hours on end when we don’t, and all the time to put up with household chaos, fireworks, thunder storms and much much more….

And, like it or not, we are not getting it right. Despite all the fantastic work done by dog organisations and professionals, the biggest cause of death in dogs under two years old is euthanasia because of behaviour problems. What makes that statistic worse, however, is that these are generally problems that the dog should never have developed because they are preventable.

Despite calls for ‘something to be done’ about dangerous dogs and dogs who are problematic, we already have the knowledge and the skills needed to breed and rear dogs who don’t feel the need to bite, fight or behave through fear and frustration. Behaviour problems are hard to cure but very simple to prevent, and the majority of this prevention happens if you get the first four months of a dog’s life right.

With this prevention in mind, I developed the Puppy Plan. The Puppy Plan is a 16 week socialisation, habituation and early education programme that starts from the moment a puppy is born, and that pulls together all the scientific learning we currently have on canine development. With its weekly tasks, the breeder or early care-giver does the first eight weeks of the Plan, and then the new owner takes over and does the next eight weeks.

The Puppy Plan is my passion, and I am delighted that Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club share this passion – so much so they have adopted the <a title=”The Puppy Plan” href=”” target=”_blank”>Puppy Plan and launched it at Crufts last year, and it is now set to expand much more. It has also been launched in Malta and it is already making a huge difference to dogs there.

So, while increased expectations for companion dogs (coupled with reduced tolerance) is the problem, the Puppy Plan could well be a big part of the solution.


If you’re a breeder or planning to get a new puppy, do visit The Puppy Plan and to find books by Carolyn Menteith visit our book store

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