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The Dog Ate My Homework is a collection of revisited essays and thoughts on training from Jan Irving. Jan’s main experience with dog training is with Clumber Spaniels but she has also been involved in show training with a number of breeds.

This book is put together to inspire the reader’s own thoughts and imagination, it is not a manual or a ‘how to’ nor ‘step by step’ instruction manual … there are many, many of those out on the store shelves already.

The underlying concept of training adopted is “You should treat others as you like to be treated yourself”, and that applies when we are trying to train and live with our dogs too. This is a tenet in many of the philosophies over the centuries. If we claim to respect life, then we must respect the life of our canine companions. Bullying and overpowering an animal is not training nor does it show respect, it does show undeveloped social skills.
This book forms part of the “Thoughts On” series of titles by Jan Irving. Other titles will reflect on breed type, breeding, showing, and conformation. All are based on her extensive experience with the white knight of the dog breeds: the Clumber Spaniel.

Keep an eye out for other releases at

Table of Contents

Introduction    11
The aim    13
I have come to realize my aim in training is to produce a dog that is responsive, thinking dog – a great companion, a socially polite dog, so this is the ultimate aim I have in all my dog training. I won’t necessarily achieve it with every dog, I may not even attempt to achieve it due to the excellent personality of one or other of the dogs that I live with.
Communicating    14
There are a huge number of books on training dogs, many tackle specialized areas such as gundog and field work, and others conformation competition. I have read and watched a number of titles in recent years because I wanted to be able to say to you that such and such a book or DVD is an excellent title, get that, and follow the advice, and you can’t go wrong. I persist in buying and reviewing these titles, but to date cannot recommend a specific single title. I can recommend a number, but you will need to combine the information – this book will introduce you to many of these titles.
No Bullying    16
I find the best teachers, those able to penetrate my way of doing things and elicit better behaviours or skills, are those who guide and nurture my first attempts at a new skill. It has never, never been those that dash a lesson before me, throw me to the task of practicing, and then snapping off my head if I seek more instruction or present the lesson poorly or badly completed.
Brass Tacks    18
Rapport and empathy are at the heart of a good relationship, a good relationship is at the core of successful and easy training. Yet so few books seem to take these concepts and present the idea to the readers, and that is why I have this at the start of my book.
The best trainers are you & me    20
Wow, now that is how I want my dogs to behave … where am I going wrong … why can’t I achieve that … with all my reading … and even lessons … and plenty of opportunity to practice with a number of dogs? I will bet you a heap of dosh that this gentleman had not been to any training schools, obedience classes, or read more than a small book, if that.
A Plan to the Lesson    22
Simplify, Small, Short, Slow
You as Teacher    23
You are the sculptor just moulding the behaviour you want from the cue you give. And you are part of the team, the one with the vision of what is required, so you have to create the situation that will yield it, even if you and your pupil do not speak the same language.
Teacher, trainer, coach, developer, director, instructor, shower, tutor, communicator, mentor, guru, enlightener, guide, imparter, nurturer … most of the time we are these things for our dog/s, but we are never the sole source of information and development.
Train in Real Life    25
However, if you teach your dog everything in a sterile environment you then have teach or reteach or proof these same things in the real world – adding a step, but that is acceptable if it suits you.
Chapter 9
Take the pressure off    27
So, until we and/or our dog are comfortable with the task (when it is no longer a challenge but a task), take the pressure off.
The obvious example that comes to mind is ‘against the clock’; don’t try anything at any pace until you and your dog are comfortable doing something at the step by step and slower pace stage; walk before you run, or fall over! If you ‘fall over’ then that becomes the consequence of the exercise and can be a bad reward so discouraging you or your dog to try again.
Use the environment    29
I find that many of the training books and articles I have read overlook another point, the environment is actually a huge asset; yes, it is infuriating when something in the environment distracts your dog or scares him, but you live in that environment and so does your dog.
The environment offers three great benefits, if we use them:
Perceptions    35
We need to be always mindful of what seems like a happy and normal environment to us as people or the experienced member of the team may not seem so to our four legged canine friend.
Taking a leap of faith    36
Sometimes we come across an idea that just sounds completely implausible or perhaps impossible. But if we take each part of the session one step at a time, and we follow a logical progression we can succeed
Words won’t work    38
There are several methods, and trainers adopt and use parts of each singularly and in combination, and quite often while they are uttering unintelligible words at their dogs … perhaps more as an aide to themselves as the words at this stage won’t mean the action required to the dog.
Don’t correct    40
In training there aren’t any real corrections, we may guide a dog to do something we want. We can’t waste time by ‘correcting’ as a correction can be seen as a reward/response to the situation the dog has taken the opportunity to set up or has chosen as his line of communication with us. If it is a line of communication that we do not think socially acceptable (eg barking or jumping on us) then to respond is to reward that behaviour, to reward a behaviour is mostly likely going to reinforce that behaviour.
Reward the behaviour you want    42
This sentence is the heart of all training, whatever scientific label it takes. It is the crux of the matter.
The true reward    43
The number one, best, true reward is the feeling of contentment, satisfaction, exhilaration.
Reward and cue    50
Dogs, too, can find the answer they are looking for, the reward, the acknowledgment, that what they have done is right. You may want a ‘sit’ they give a sit but they know they have done what you wanted not by the contact of their butt with the ground but by the relaxing of your shoulders, the hand dropping back down beside you, or even that wisp of a grin on your cheeks.
Take care take time    51
I didn’t want you to lose the concept of how important it is to REWARD THE BEHAVIOUR YOU WANT in a recent chapter, so I didn’t illustrate my comment about taking care to REWARD THE BEHAVIOUR YOU WANT and not to actually reward some other behaviour. This chapter I am going to do this, it is a simple mistake we will all make or fall into many times.
When not to train    53
You learn best when you are well, not troubled with being less than 100%, nor in a relatively unusual environment with strong smells and other parts of your routine thrown out – so respect these conditions in your dog’s life too!
Reins & leads are for cheats    54
If we use the length of the lead as the boundary of how far a dog can be away from us, he will look for ‘contact’ to discern the boundary which he can do each and every time he has a firm contact  (leans into or on the lead).
Encouragement & release    56
‘Good boy’ for many handlers is obviously, mostly, an inadvertent release, not a dedicated release, as it is used when the handler straightens up and moves. If there is no release other than ‘good boy’ what words are you going to use to encourage a dog to hold a position/exercise, what words of praise and encouragement and endorsement?
Interspecies communication    58
I suspect dogs aren’t hampered by thinking and working with words, they limit their communication skills to plain observation and response. And human ability to read other species usually is excellent when we are young and then we lose it and have to rebuild it as we grow older. We usually have to relearn how to read other species body language, and I have given you some basic examples and reference resources in the chapter Dog Body Language 101.
Communicating    59
Sure, many dogs are wizs at training us but that is at least proof that communication has been established, successfully, between individuals of two species and as communication is a two way process we can soon get it going in the direction we’d rather it went.
Good reception    63
We need excellent reception by the dog because we as humans are poor communicators (at least until we refocus and concentrate). Your dog is picking up all sorts of signals and information from the environment, it is a cacophony of material, and much of it irrelevant, blocking out the relevant material, or even highly distracting – just try training a dog a new procedure while the stew is slow cooking next to him and he is hungry!
Visualization    65
Some ‘animal communicators’ rely on visualization for two way communication – what I achieved could only be one way communication (me to Dean), although I did appreciate how much calmer he already felt but I did not get any mental flashes of what he was thinking (maybe he wasn’t thinking an image, just enjoying himself, a warm fuzzy feeling did rush over me, maybe that was Dean’s feelings).
Canine body expression, and language, is now the realm of a great number of titles – basically it isn’t mind blowingly difficult to read your dog, you all ready do it, time after time, day to day. Sure, you may misinterpret some things, but do you ALWAYS understand what a family member is feeling or even saying?
Gaining Focus    75
As with all training, and exercises, and learning experiences, there are a thousands ways you can hold your dog’s attention – but each scenario requires you to be pliable and flexible enough to react to how your dog is behaving and step up and meet the match of his mind. Your dog is an individual, he is thinking, and ever so keen to interact with you – even on your terms of heeling, sitting, etc, IF it is fun, rewarding, and fulfilling for him. Do you actually go to classes and community events you loath and detest and find dull and repetitious – why would you expect your dog to do so!
Attention Getters    82
Time to consider what may be of use if your wit and charming personality isn’t making that connection with your impenetrable dog. We want your dog’s focus magically locked on to you … no matter what (psst, welcome to the world of being human and having a thinking dog!). I do, of course, exaggerate the degree of lock on, I want the dog to focus on me but be aware of the surroundings … just in case evasive or other action needs to be taken if a comet is arriving, or something.
We’re half way    85
Teaching ‘focus’ is about clearing the area for great communication and respect – a partner (your dog) who can respect you is a willing partner. A willing partner is bright and alert, a child that is bright and alert, in a comfortable environment, receiving clear information, able to test the waters or ask questions without fear of berating or been sniggered at – is a child ever so keen and able to learn, and the same applies to your mate, your dog! Give him the skills he needs to succeed, and he will succeed. Teaching ‘focus’ is a form of socialization, having been taught ‘focus’ he can handle the world so much better, because you make his world safe. As his experience of the human world develops from more interaction, so the magic continues to mould a fabulous and even better adapted dog – your dog, a credit to you, to his parents, to his breed, to our modern society.
Stepping it up    88
So, back to my backyard or exercise area, how do I build and confirm commitment to what I want from my dog?
Focus on you …    91
There is no point getting your dog to focus SOLELY on you, you want his focus, but you want his intellect to problem solve too.
Tools & Equipment    92
Much of this book is written from the day to day aspect, not from a course of X number of sessions – it is about what I do every (well nearly) day, and what I do with a group of dogs free exercising at the same time.
Lead training    97
Lead training is now not a focussed set of lessons, generally, I can, come the time, pop on a lead and the puppy heels beautifully. Occasionally there may be a tug away, but I move with the puppy and lure him back into the line I want to travel, with little issue.
Good heeling    99
This time I want to describe what good heeling is … technically for the show and obedience rings it is different, but overall, it is the same too, and it should be replicated when heeling off lead.
Lure training    102
Lure training involves using a treat (or in show parlance, bait) to encourage the dog to take up the position required with minimal other physical guidance from the handler. So for a sit, raising the treat over the dog’s normal level of sight and guiding the dog’s head up and back, the dog drops their butt in and under and so forms a sit. A lure doesn’t have to be a treat, you can use your hand, toy, or something like that instead.
Bribery & play    105
It is so easy to fall into the trap of letting the lure end up as the reward: don’t , if you are luring you need a REWARD as well as the lure, or be guilty of two ‘crimes’ : 1) bribery 2) rewarding the behaviour you did not want (following the lure rather than attaining the position you seek)
Jackpots    107
When I talk of mega-rewards I am thinking of a jackpot type reward that is actually really deeply keyed into your dog’s basic desires and needs, so in reality a mega-reward can be even of more value to your dog than a jackpot, even though I use it for the jackpot. So the mega-rewards are likely to included:
Mega-rewards are the things that make your dog comfortable, nurtured, and secure.
Dare you!    109
The heeling pattern humans have opted as ideal, mirrors what dogs do naturally: when they want to control another being – here we are, humans, succumbing to a very basic skill from the dog. The truly magnificent thing is that MOST dogs don’t take this further and in fact just bowl along and accept our next out of the blue and unexplainable requirement. I bet there are some dogs that don’t just accept what we think up for ‘next’ and who do believe that by having that heeling position, which they choose, and we then reinforce because we believe it is a good position, these are the exception but also they will win many battles with their owners. And frankly I haven’t seen one like this in Clumbers, but I can now see the potential.
Too much?    110
Remember the four Ss: Simplify, Small, Short and Slow; neat thoughts about any lesson session or plan which should overcome expecting too many things to be learned at a time. See the chapter A Plan to the Lesson, and don’t hold yourself or your dog back from gentle steps forward by overwhelming him or a lesson.
Dangers of pulling    111
Pulling is dangerous It is dangerous for you or anyone on the upper end of the lead, and it is dangerous for the dog, and as such the handler is at least neglecting their duty of care, and probably leading to heartache, if they do not train their dog not to lean on a lead.
Enthusiasm, excitement … hysteria    113
Excitement displays itself in many forms, a happy panting and wagging of tail, a gleeful leap and bounce off you, a mad swirly dash around the yard, or a more controlled sit and happy yap with eye contact. Likewise, hysteria or frantic excitement can display itself in many ways, and dare I say in the same ways as regular excitement, to the point where even old hands can sometimes overlook hysteria for excitement – I have, and no doubt will do so again.
Snappy adult and pups    117
I read a friend’s thoughts on a forum not long ago about how she felt she should handle an older bitch that was being rough with the new generation. She felt the ‘alpha roll’ would probably be the way to go but confessed she may not be strong enough to achieve it. The ‘alpha roll’ is overrated and cited. I say this because, I rarely see any of my own dogs employ an alpha roll, and even in the situation mentioned here I don’t know that the owner actually needs to go that ‘far’.
Small dog syndrome    118
In 2013 McGreevy and research colleagues provided a comprehensive analysis of breed heights, body weights and skull shape based on database research; the popular Aussie media decided to feature the fact that “small dogs are more likely to be unruly, aggressive, noisy and prone to ‘humping’” and “33 of 36 undesirable behaviours in dogs could be associated with height, body weight and skull shape” irrespective of breed. (Herald Sun December 18, 2013), McGreevy’s paper does give a much more detailed report on various behavioural characteristics and ‘vices’, so is worth reading.
I saw magic happen today … Twice!    119
Anyway, the absolute highlight number one of this session was watching Rosemary and River go out and back at a brisk pace and so smartly, all because I took the time to get River onto the same agenda as his handler, by rewarding the behaviour we wanted, not by correcting his bad behaviour (the leaning and pulling).
Approaching a shy dog    123
Now consider how human individuals approach a shy boy or a shy animal … so my thought for the day is: stop and think how we interact before we just do, and then we can avoid some issues which we obviously create by rushing a situation.
Wolves & Alpha Status    127
The wolf analogy is probably only as useful as comparing our own human ways of living to the dog’s life. How many cultures and ways of living does the human species have anyway! What wolves, people, and dogs do have in common are the need to live life, and preferably comfortably. If the means to achieve comfort are not there, then individuals will seek beyond their immediate community. Individuals however, are born, nurtured, exposed to educational chances, they need to eat, to be loved or cherish or at least respected, to play, and they need to relieve themselves, and there comes a time when they seek reproductive mates – this all three species share in common.
The Alpha Roll … NO    130
The ‘alpha’ Clumber will walk in between two sparing dogs and guide off the ‘aggressor’, even to the extent of herding the aggressor away.
Please stop doing that    132
I just feel, and I am handling a number of dogs at a time, that I expect my dogs to think things through and find the accepted activity. The greatest teacher of all, the litter’s dam, is hardly likely to say “Don’t do that … do THIS instead”, she seems to me to simply say “Don’t do that”. Guidance, where guidance is required, rather than correction.
The recall    133
For me, a recall is a response to my verbal or body request to come, so that’s when I praise. Newbies will be drawn in on a verbal line of reward. Old hands have the pleasure of a hard run and coming into me, and maybe their meal, at least some sort of activity at home base.
Why are you barking?    136
Humans are very vocal, yet it is something so many of us detest in our own dogs.
Hats    138
Hats, caps, change of hair style, hoods, all of these can change your silhouette and dogs seem to recognize people by their silhouette. I don’t think it is an issue, but exposure to different silhouettes is something to incorporate in your puppy socialization classes so they are less spooked by changes of head outline later in life.
Horses, cats, and dogs    139
I often find myself comparing how horses handle learning to the dogs, well my Welsh Cob Dudley compared to the Clumbers and Corgis, and now also the cat who is just a cat, or as the vet likes to call her a domestic shorthair.
The electric collar    140
The use of electronic collars is frowned upon in Australia, it is in fact, as I write this section, banned in three states in Australia. I don’t even use the anti-barking version, be it shock or spray deterrent.
Halters & Harnesses    142
As with electronic collars, I am not a fan, yet halters and harnesses seem not to raise the ire of many nor the lawmakers. I guess if this is the only way you ‘can’ control your dog, then you should be allowed to use them … for my and my dogs’ protection.
Chapter 55
Reviews of some outstanding books and DVDs    148
Here I have compiled old and new reviews on many of the titles I refer to in this book, and you  can find other titles here too.