Gut & brain health for total behaviour transformation

Using lock-down as time for research

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the links between gut health, brain health and behaviour in dogs. How do you get a total behaviour transformation? For years I’ve been interested in human nutrition and so I was always going to extend that to dogs. It turns out, there are a lot of similarities.

There’s growing evidence that we need to look at a dog’s behaviour in a more holistic way. The right training is very important, but gut health and brain health also can have a significant impact and it’s often over-looked.

Poor gut health = poor mental health

Much like us, animal studies have shown a link between poor gut health and poor mental wellness. Quite simply – a happy gut equals a happier human or animal.

Then there are brain chemicals, like serotonin, that influence mood, calmness, energy levels, appetite and the choices made.

The brain (central nervous system) and the gut (gastrointestinal nervous system) are closely linked. And the interaction between the two influences stress-related conditions like over-excitement, fear and anxiety.

How to get a total behaviour transformation

Each of these three elements (behaviour, gut and brain) influences the other two, and it creates a cycle. The cycle can be a positive or negative one. So the right training, plus good brain health, plus good gut health is how to get a total transformation.

your training + brain wellness + gut wellness
Total transformation = your training + brain wellness + gut wellness

My dog’s struggles

We’ve had Bodie for ten months and we’ve made so much progress, especially in the last few months. He is still a bit over-excitable and what I would call a ‘busy dog’. (He is a Collie Cross after all). The doorbell and noises outside the flat will set him off barking (not good at 3am!) and he would still jump up at strangers for a ‘face wash’ if we gave him the chance.

But, the improvements are noticeable. He used to bark at birds that were just sat in the trees around our garden. Now he only barks if they start flapping – it’s important to celebrate the small improvements!

We have noticed a real difference in his ability to listen to us when we’re out in parks. His recall is now looking very reliable (but we still have the long-line on just to make sure!). But he’s not trying to taking off to go and meet other dogs. He’s so much more engaged with us.

We’re doing everything I know to help all the behaviour struggles he came with. As a rescue dog, his first eight months of training was obviously non-existent. But I also knew that training is not the whole picture. So for the last four months I’ve had him on a supplement called Calm K9, by A-OK9. And now we’re really seeing the changes in him.

Plus occasional episodes of a dodgy tummy are now a very rare event. And his black coat is absolutely gleaming.

What’s in Calm K9?

Because I’m quite the ‘dog geek’ I wanted to know about the key ingredients. Skip on if you’re not in a geeky mood!

  • Tryptophan: an essential amino acid involved in the neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are linked with increased depression, anxiety and aggressive behaviours.
  • Passiflora: or passion flower, traditionally used for anxiety and to promote calmness.
  • Lemon balm: shown to improve negative mood, increase calmness and alertness.
  • L-glutamic acid: an amino acid that’s a source of energy for cells in the intestines and the immune system.

How do you use it?

I just mix the powder in to any of Bodie’s food – wet food or natural yoghurt/kefir – on a lick mat is the easiest way for me But there’s lots of other ways to incorporate it into Kongs, stuffed bones and chews. You can freeze them to make them longer lasting.

Bodie is a 25 kilo dog so he gets 1 teaspoon on food, twice a day. The K9 Calm lick mats are my favourite for a double hit of calming licking activity before a walk or to help him chill out in the evenings.

We’re definitely seeing progress with Bodie. I can’t wait to see what the next six months bring.

Is it right for my dog?

So if you’ve got a dog that is prone to reacting to other dogs/people, reacting to noises at home, pulling on the lead, over-excitable, generally nervous, lacks energy or enthusiasm or shows aggression, you might want to take a look at the Calm K9 supplement.

If you’ve got any questions to do with existing medication, please talk to your veterinary.

Fancy trying it with 10% off?

Because I’m a Pro Dog Trainer I have a 10% discount code if you wanted to try any of the A-OK9 products. This is the link you need and just enter the code PUPTALK in the discount code box. (They do have a ‘Subscribe & Save’ service which is already discounted so the 10% doesn’t apply there.)

There’s also an amazing free e-book to download called ‘I Am My Dog’s Health Hero’. It’s a really easy read and explains how to get a total behaviour transformation.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is I-Am-My-Dogs-Health-Hero-cover.jpg
Free e-book – click the image to download

FAQs – Frequency Asked Questions

A few questions that I’ve been asked about Calm K-9 recently:

Is it ok to give to puppies? – Yes it’s fine for dogs from 8 weeks of age.

Can you freeze it? Yes, there is no impact on the ingredients.

Will is help my dogs joints? A-OK9 makes other products and ‘Flexi’ would probably be more suitable (or in addition) to Calm K9.

What research is all of this based on? Calm K-9 has been developed by Trainers, Veterinary Behaviourists and team of Nutritionists. There are various studies on humans, dogs, cats, rodents etc. A list is of references is available in the free e-book ‘I Am My Dog’s Health Hero

Is shipping still happening with COVID-19? Yes, orders are being shipped as normal.

Are you doing training at the moment? Yes! On-line training is a great option as is easy using zoom video calls. To find out more use this contact form or just WhatsApp me on 07770 581882

Netflix for dogs doors are open!

Absolute Dogs Training Academy join today banner

Training games have changed how my pup’s brain works, and to start with, Bodie was a very bouncy, excitable rescue pup. We got him from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home last summer. He was a rather shy lad with us, because we were strangers, and lacked a lot of early training.

He’s a Collie Lurcher X (we think!) and, at eight months old, had been in and out of Battersea twice. He’d try and jump up at everyone he’d meet. Paws up on the kitchen worktop and barking at everything that flapped and flew in the garden. Wanting to play wrestle with every dog in the park and pulling on the lead to get at each exciting new smell on the footpath. Basically he was a 21 kilo handful! And nine months later we’re well on the way to a calm and happy dog. All of this has come from playing easy training games with him, using the ‘Netflix for dogs’.

Netflix for dogs

As a Pro Dog Trainer, I use the Absolute Dogs Training Academy every day. They are the company that I do all of my training with, and the Training Academy is like Netflix for dogs! There’s over 200 games to play and new games are being developed and added each week. They are at the forefront of modern dog training. That’s how I train Bodie, as well as putting together lesson plans for my clients.

How does it work?

It’s a really exciting time. The doors to the Absolute Dogs Training Academy are about to open and I am giving you a heads up! The Training Academy is so easy to use:

  1. Search by the kind of struggle you’ve got, for instance ‘my dog lunges and barks at other dogs’. Or, in Bodie’s case ‘my dog gets over excited and jumps up at people’!
  2. It brings up all the games that will help you.
  3. Pick one you think sounds fun, click on it, follow the short step-by-step video and start playing!
  4. Then you’re signposted to similar games that will also help, if you want more.
    Each game is designed to be easy to play, fun and to give you really quick results.

I am genuinely excited that the Training Academy doors are open. I think of the Training Academy (TA) as an amazing way for you to keep a positive fire in your belly! For anyone that is trying to ‘home school’ their dogs, this gives you the opportunity to keep some momentum going in your dog training.

The library of games is huge, but so that you are not overwhelmed, I can tailor your home schooling and suggest games and resources to focus your learning on to get real life results, fast.

Join Today!

What you get?

  1. A new game released each week into the brand new online platform.
  2. Weekly #10in10 – ask your questions LIVE to Absolute Dogs Founders – Tom and Lauren.
  3. Hot Topic Bonuses – Webinar recordings, Mini courses and e-Books.
  4. A special, positive online Facebook community… A safe space for dog owners in the Training Academy.
  5. Plus I provide support for any specific struggles in my Facebook group – Pup Talk.

It’s £30/month, and there’s no lock-in period. So you are free to come in, binge watch for a couple of months and come out again if you need to or don’t feel it’s right for you. If you’re like me, your earnings are down at the moment, but I’m not spending as much because I’m not going out. I think £1/day is so worth the value that I get to help me be my dog’s best owner/trainer.

The TA doors only open a couple of times a year and the doors are open now until the 26th April. This truly is an exciting time and one that I want to share with you. We are in this, with our pups, together! Time to sit back and watch the Netflix for dogs – one short game at a time.
Look for the purple box under the video to join.

Hopefully see you on the inside!

P.S. If you’ve got any questions at all about the Training Academy, just drop me a message. We can jump on a video call and I can answer questions and/or give you a sneak peek of what it looks like on the inside.

Click here for my contact details

Niki French and her rescue pup Bodie by lake
Battersea Cats and Dog Home rescue pup Bodie – living his best life!

Forty dogs and counting

Last week I had three new clients which meant I reached a total of forty dogs that I’ve worked with since starting my own business last year. It got me thinking about how varied they are and how they all teach me something new.

I started with dog walking while I was studying to be a dog trainer. I wanted to learn as much as possible so I specifically took on clients’ dogs that mostly couldn’t be walked as part of a larger pack walk. Or cope in doggy day care. It’s much more lucrative to walk more than one or two dogs at a time, but I wasn’t going to learn much by doing that.

Nervous and reactive dogs

I’ve found that I love working with nervous dogs, and dogs that struggle with other dogs. It means I work with quite a few rescue dogs and I love this. Patience with animals is never something I’m short of, and patience has a big role to play in helping the dogs get to know you, to trust you. And the rewards you get back are incredible. Seeing nervous or reactive dogs grow in confidence and become more playful and responsive to you (and everyday life around them) is amazing.

At the same time I’m making steady progress studying for my Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour. Anyone who’s studying whilst working or running a business full time, knows this is a challenge. It will probably be two years before I finish this.

Always learning

Plus I’m learning new games to play for my clients’ dogs and my own pup each week. Learning all the time is what keeps a job interesting. No matter how experienced or inexperienced you are, I think it’s essential to keep growing and learning. The field of dog training is also changing all the time as we learn more and more about how dogs’ brains work. Many training methods I see now are so out of date. I find it hard to stand back and watch people telling their dogs off for something, without giving the dog any idea what it’s supposed to do instead. Hopefully I can just quietly influence and demonstrate the power of modern, fun, games-based training. I love it when people come up to me in parks and ask about training, when they’ve seen the way a dog is ‘working’ (playing) with me.

This job is so interesting because the dogs are all different. Even dogs that are the same breed are not the same. Very early on in my training I learned that you train the dog in front of you. It’s useful to know about breed characteristics, but this only tells you part of the story.

I’d like to thank all of my clients that have trusted me with their dogs over the last ten months. I look after them as if they are my own.

The value of knowing your dog

Knowing about typical breed (or crossbreed/mongrel) characteristics is all well and good, but the value of knowing your dog is priceless.

This was really brought home to me this week as we’ve had Bodie six months now. And it was time for his six month health check and booster vaccination.

He’s not the best at being handled. He’s an affectionate dog in many ways, but he does still struggle with basic ‘husbandry’. Before we got him, he’d had eye infections as a puppy. So he was very scared of anyone touching his eyes or running their hands going over his head. You could only stroke him from under his chin and chest to start off with. He’s also not good about having his paws touched or held. He’d obviously not had positive experiences of being touched and handled early on and getting them used to this as a puppy is so important.

If you’re not already, start gently doing paw touching, ear sniffing and gum rubbing etc. to get them used to it. Even if they’re not a puppy, you can help them at any age. Just start with what they are comfortable with, give rewards as you’re going and build it up at their pace.

So we’re a step behind with Bodie. But we’ve done a lot of that over the six months we’ve had him. Doing it when he’s in a nice relaxed mood, just stroking his legs, stroking the parts of his body that he’s better with us touching. And then a little bit of paw twiddling and touching between his toes, nails and all that kind of stuff. We’ve been building up slowly, obviously feeding him nice things while we’re doing it. He’s still not great, but it’s getting better. So that’s a work in progress for us.

So I knew the vet check-up would be a little bit challenging for him. To help prepare him we’ve done quite a lot of popping into the vets without doing anything. We go in there and just get him stand on the scales, and hang around for a little while. Or the nurses in reception feed him some dried liver, and we take him out again. So he’s got more used to it, but there’s obviously cats and dogs and lots of strange smells. So it’s still an exciting and stressful place.

I’d been thinking about a backup strategy if he couldn’t cope with what the vet needed to do in the treatment room. A lot of the ‘desensitisation’ work that I’ve done with him is when he’s clipped into the boot of the car after a walk. Once he’s in the boot I’ll use ‘Clean Sheets’ (textured wet wipes) for dogs. And I’ve been stroking his body with them, cleaning his paws, legs and belly. Even up and over his head. With the other hand (or useful boyfriend if he’s with us!), I’ll be feeding him to help distract him and give positive associations to what’s going on.

So I thought as a backup plan, I would see if the vet would do some of the work with him the boot of my car! Bodie did relatively well for most of the appointment. The vet was amazing; he was really sensitive to how Bodie was reacting. He didn’t mind having a face wash from Bodie as he was going in for an ear inspection! His teeth are all lovely and clean as a puppy’s should be, but we do give him lots of natural chews and bones to keep the plaque off his teeth. The vet managed to gently feel his body, while stroking him, he was very good at disguising the fact that that he was getting a check up. The stethoscope was a bit of a challenge, but he spent time letting him sniff it as I fed him dried sprats.

I’ve been doing prep for an injection by picking up the scruff of his neck and just poking him gently with a pen helping him getting used to that feeling. But by now we’ve been in there for 25 minutes and I think Bodie had reached his limits and the sprat/chicken distraction wasn’t working any more. So I suggested we get him back in the boot of the car to do the injection and the vet was totally up for that.

So we take him outside, he hops up into the car nicely now and I was just feeding him chicken and before he’d even noticed, he got the injection and we were done!

I’m so pleased I’d thought about what I was going to do to help him in advance. And because I’d thought it through, I was calmer going in, expecting it to be fine. He would have picked up on me not being worried. In another six months’ time he’ll be even better and it should just get easier.

So all I wanted to say was just the importance of knowing your dog and knowing what knowing what’s right for them. And not being afraid to ask for what they need.

Knickers to New Year resolutions – celebrate little wins all year!

Bodie has been trained to sit calmly in the car
Bodie being a calm pup in the car – definite progress!

It must be the time of year – 29th December as I’m typing this. I’m not one for New Year Resolutions. I think any time of year is a good time to change one thing. Try to do too much and put loads of pressure on a specific time of year, like New Year, and I know I’m more likely to fail. I’m a recent fan of habit stacking – change one little thing, nail that and then tackle something else.

But I do like to step back and think about progress sometimes (when I remember, or my boyfriend reminds me!). Sometimes I give myself a bit of a hard time for not making more progress with Bodie’s training. I’m always thinking ‘oh I should be working on that with him’ or ‘I should have made more progress with this…’. And then I caught myself this week and decided to celebrate all the little things that we’ve made such great progress with. The more I thought about it over the last couple of days, the more things I could think of (#prouddogmum).

We picked Bodie up from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home on the 3rd July – so he’s been with us nearly six months. And its been tough, there’s no doubt about that. He’s a very high energy Collie Lurcher Cross – so we did know what we were letting ourselves in to. But at times we have been exhausted by him – and there’s two of us. Hats off to any solo puppy/rescue/adult dog parents!

1. He used to be very scared of anyone touching his head and especially his eyes. He’d had eye infections as a puppy and had developed a real aversion to hands near his head. We can now stroke his head and get ‘sleepy dogs’ from the corners of his eyes without any stress.

2. He also struggles having his legs and paws held, but we’re making progress with gently touching and stroking them every day. We’re building up to being able to trim his nails. Lots of pavement walking in the meantime to keep them down.

3. Bodie will now hop up into the back of the car or boot and sit ready to be clipped in. Sometimes he gets a treat, sometimes he doesn’t. To start with we always needed food to lure him in with and it took a while somedays! He’s also getting pretty good at doing a sit to have the lead or long line clipped/unclipped, going in or out of park gates and the front door.

4. He used to jump up at the kitchen worktop – a classic counter surfer! He’ll now sit back and wait for something tasty to come his way. Even roast chicken and hot dogs are safe with a little supervision 🙂

5. His recall has got better. We still need to use the long line when we’re out in parks, but he is coming back to us more often than not. And that’s progress!

6. Getting his harness and collar on didn’t used to be easy. Now he’ll pop his head through the harness and stand still while we do the clips, for a piece of kibble without any fuss.

7. Bodie is noticeably calmer at home; he used to bark at noises of neighbours coming and going, passers by in the street and generally get really excited with visitors. These things still happen but not to the same level – small wins!

8. In the last month Bodie has become a lot more affectionate. He now curls up beside us and jumps up on the bed to lie with his head on one of us. It’s the best feeling in the world!

He came to us not having been treated particularly badly, but he’d been re-homed twice and had obviously missed out on a lot of early training. He’s still prone to jumping up at people (any chance to lick someone’s face) and his recall is rather iffy if there’s dogs having fun nearby. But all of that will come in time. Training should be fun and never needs to stop. But he’s just amazing as he is. Right now. And that’s what I’m celebrating.

Do you ever stop to look at the little improvements you can see – in your dog or in you? This coming year is going to be an exciting one, that much I know. If I can change my life so much in the last nine months, what can I do in the next year – who knows!

I hope you had some fun and rest this Christmas. I look forward to sharing 2020 in some way with you.

If you haven’t found it already, I have a free group on Facebook – Pup Talk, for on-line training games, tips and canine enrichment ideas. And a friendly community of dog-minded people. Follow this link and click on the ‘Join group’ button.

Ditch the routine for a calmer, happier pup

Do you have a dog that barks when you’re getting ready to go for a walk? Or that whines when you’re in the car? Or that goes ‘on strike’ when you’re trying to head out of a park and just puts the brakes on? Ditch the routine and this could help.

Old school dog training – things have moved on!

I grew up with ‘old school’ dog trainers and I remember hearing about how it’s good for dogs to have a routine. Basically – ‘they know what’s coming and when, and this is good for them’. Not so!!

The problem is that routine creates a puppy or dog that struggles to be flexible. If they don’t get fed or walked at the time they are used to, they can let anticipation build up and get frustrated. Or anxious or over-excited. And then this can lead to barking, chewing, or other destructive or disruptive behaviours. Or when you do take them out walking, perhaps they are lunging at people or barking at other dogs. Or just not able to walk calmly on the lead beside you.

Creating a flexible pup

A flexible pup is a good thing; sometimes you can’t always do the same things at the same times. Life gets in the way. Plus, how much easier is it to have a pup that isn’t controlling the household timetable. You’ve probably got enough things to deal with in life without a demanding dog! Recently I was chatting to a lady with two Basset Hounds. (When out walking our dogs we always end up talking to other dog people don’t we!) And she said on the dot of 6pm her dogs would woof like crazy if she didn’t have their food out on time. And those are big barks! It’s time to ditch the routine.

Dogs are efficient animals

Dogs are efficient and will try and predict what’s about to happen; this creates anticipation. It might be something exciting that they’re looking forward to. But it also might something that they find stressful (and we might not even be aware of this). Either way, too much anticipation isn’t a good thing. If your pup is prone to pulling on the lead, barking at squirrels, reacting to other dogs or joggers. Or is a bit hit and miss with their recall (or any other behaviour that you’d probably rather they didn’t do), their state of anticipation and increased arousal. (This is a professional term so no need for sniggering 😊) is likely to be a factor. If you can reduce the stress of anticipation, you can help them approach anything in a calmer, more relaxed state. This means they’ll be able to make better decisions.

It’s useful even just not letting them out as soon as you get up, or at the same time. This excludes puppies or any dogs with toilet training needs! Sometimes I’ll let Bodie out when I first get up, sometimes I’ll make tea, go back to bed for a while, or sit down to work. And then let him out a little later. He’ll let me know if he really has to go out, but it means he doesn’t get the chance to get used to any specific patterns so that’s he’s anticipated when it’s about to happen.

Look at visual triggers

There’s a whole series of visual triggers that could be building up your pup’s anticipation of going for a walk or just leaving the house (quite possibly one of the highlights of his or her day). Even if you don’t walk at the same time each day, you might not think of all the little signals that you’re giving before you even pick up a lead or put on their harness. What about the more subtle signs. Such as shutting down the laptop, locking the back door, moving towards your keys, changing your shoes. All signals your pup could well pick up on and be getting them more and more excited about what might be about to happen.

So, what can you do?

  1. There are all sorts of things that you can do to stop your pup picking up on routine signals that lead to getting over-excited before you go out for a walk.
  2. Can you actually change any of the times of day that you go out? I know this can be difficult, if you’re walking before you head to work or go on the school run, but it’s worth thinking about any small ways that you can vary your routine.
  3. In addition to changing the timing of your regular walks, what else can you do differently to ditch the routine?

To ditch the routine here’s a list to get you started, but what else can you add?

  • Picking up keys and putting them down again without anything else happening. Turn this in to a non-event.
  • Picking up your pup’s harness/lead/collar and not putting them on your pup.
  • Picking up the harness/lead/collar and putting them on your pup and taking them off without going anywhere, or just going into the garden.
  • Places to walk to. Think of going in different directions when you leave the house. How much can you chop and change the walking routes?
  • Driving different routes to parks, beaches or woods. Dogs will recognise the routes you take on a regular basis and their anticipation will start to build.
  • Searching out different places to go. It’s so easy to just head the places we know but it’s good for us as well to experience new things. Some of them are hidden treasures. I’ve picked up some great recommendations from other dog owners in each new space I visit with my pups.
  • Get them in the car and get them out again without going anywhere (so that even getting in a car isn’t so much of an event).
  • Types of walks – lead on, lead off, long line on, open spaces, gated dog parks, wooded trails, beaches, canals, pavements, busier areas. What have you got that’s around you and how can you use it?
  • Vary the length of time that you’re out walking or in the park.
  • Taking the lead off at different times when you’re out (and it’s safe to do and you know your pup’s recall is 100% reliable) – not just when you enter the park, you can walk part way before taking it off.
  • Putting the lead (or long line) on part way through your walk for a while and then taking it off again. This stops them thinking that having the lead go on means the end of the ‘fun part of the walk’.
  • Not actually going out for walk at all! Use the time for some tiring training games in the house or the garden. You’ll be really building the relationship you have with your pup. Plus, this can help all sorts of behavioural issues, just contact me if you want any specific recommendations on which games to start with.

Ditch the routine and 24/7 training

Training is something that is happening 24/7. Not just when you go to a puppy or dog training class or make a conscious decision to ‘do some training’. Any of these little steps above can help your pup be more flexible in their thinking, helping them be calmer in lots of different situations.

If you’d like some dog training help in Twickenham, Teddington, Hampton, Hampton Hill, Richmond and surrounding areas, please get in touch.

© 2019 Pup Talk by Niki French

Getting to know a nervous Cocker Spaniel puppy

Roman is a puppy who’s a bit nervous of new people but loves dogs. I wanted to get him out walking as soon as possible but he was too nervous to come straight to me. Reggie the Working Cocker helped me get Cocker Spaniel Roman out for a our first mini pack walk. Dogs know what dogs need 😍🐕😍🐶

Continue reading Getting to know a nervous Cocker Spaniel puppy

Loo roll recycling – canine enrichment

Easy canine enrichment ideas – tire out their noses!

This is Ruby’s first experience of food inside the loo roll inners. If you have a dog, you probably won’t have enough loo rolls – so start saving them up! Just fold the ends of the cardboard over with some of their usual food or treats and let them work for it. Do supervise them though so that they don’t start eating the cardboard because it tastes good too!