Teaching a dog to stay while the handler circles around has some very similar components to the hide’n’seek game. Initially easiest to use the lead it teaches the dog how to feel composed even when it wants to rush forward. In the hide’n’seek exercise the dog is held while the handler disappears away and hides. The feeling of restraint or compression then leads to a rush of energy as the lead is dropped and the dog can race away. This advancing wave of energy then carries the dog to the handler where it can bite a toy and be praised and applauded in its softening.

In the stay exercise this wave of energy is like an advancing and receding wave on the beach, as the handler circles around and then returns the energy rises and falls while the dog remains composed in its place. And like the waves reaching up the beach where you can choose to ride one of those waves and use the energy to come ashore, so can you get the dog to race towards you, leaving the stay to come running to a toy or some food. The preparation for this surge then becomes a useful signal that prompts an eagerness to respond. Following NDT convention I generally use the word “ready” which triggers this alert and watchful state. It can be channelled through more and more enthusiasm, but needs to also be released at the right time. When releasing an arrow from a bow you put tension in the string but you wouldn’t be able to hold that moment for too long, you would need to let fly, and so it is with the dog. The tension of the “ready” moment has to be released at the right time.

Stay on a rock

The rhythm of the exercise helps the dog know whats coming next, the circles are patterns that can be predicted and understood. Each repetition can then include some variation, increasing or decreasing the distance away. I tend to find there is an easy and natural spacing about which closer and further distances are then both more difficult. Stay while orbiting closer to the dog is paving the way for the visit to the cafe, where you might want to step over the dog on the way back to the counter to choose another slice of cake. You don’t always want the dog to move under pressure from passing feet. The larger orbits are turning the game back to hide’n’seek, and you could easily include hiding a toy out on the perimeter, in readiness for a long distance retrieve.

Union of opposites

There are many opposites in NDT that are used in conjunction. A major theme being about discovering the unity of opposites. It’s like viewing the directions to the Natural Dog School and thinking you can approach either from the east, coming through Botley village, and turn left into Brook Lane, or perhaps arriving from the west, driving through Hedge End, passing Sparshatts garage and then turn right into Brook Lane. The two sides will both bring you to the field, you can use either to find the entrance to the school, but they originate from different places.

This can be used with approaching the exercises in NDT too. There are different ways to tackle the skills, which although sometimes seem contradictory, will bring you to the same place. It can sometimes feel awkward accommodating these contradictions but the combination of both extremes brings about a centred and balanced union. The bark for example can be elicited using hunger and desire, coaxing and cajoling, which then brings forth the bark, or by focusing on the pressure and block, the scary hand or admonishing finger. The two approaches are needed to give the right result, balancing the forces so the dog is centred in the middle. It allows an easy cross-over, an intersection, like a motorway junction, giving an obvious connection to another direction. Pressure turns to release, and a problem can be resolved.

The dog’s Dojo

The Natural Dog School was called a school because of my love of learning, and I wanted to create a space for dogs and handlers to do just that. Everything within is a parallel to the world without and can be used to recreate life’s challenges to be met in a safe and secure environment. Creating the challenge is also exploring and pulling apart the essence of the problem, where it can be examined and played through, finding out what lies at the heart of the issue. Understanding and development then comes through this study of the crucial elements.

In the world of Japanese martial arts they practise in a space called a dojo. Literally meaning “place of the way”, this is also what I aim for at the Natural Dog School. It is a place where you can study the natural way that dogs will work, and mastering the forms and exercises at the dojo is then giving you the skills to take out into the world. Martial arts also practise skills in a role play manner, with your training partner or uke bringing their energy to the encounter, a counterbalance or foil against which to rehearse. This is the way Natural Dog Training works, by becoming the energy against which the dog practises its response, moving together, uniting, creating a bond that is stronger than anything outside. The dojo then expands to include everywhere, it is not restricted by the boundary of any designated place. The world becomes your classroom.

The Crucible

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training” – Archilochos… or possibly Bruce Lee…

Training is like using a crucible. It allows you to experiment and heat things up, adding energy but keeping things separate and contained. The crucible is a barrier to the things outside, and inside the energy can be processed and create something new. It separates what goes on outside, essentially the things which are outside our control, with everything inside the barrier, within the crucible. Practising capturing and working with the energy internally is the goal of the training, and prepares the way for dealing with the world outside. If the aim of training is to teach the dog to stop chasing bikes, then we need the same force inside the crucible which can then be processed. The extent of the system can be drawn up anywhere, but essentially the simple system to parallel everything outside is contained between handler and dog. Between the two we can have a parallel with anything outside, which then offers the opportunity to practise the skills required. Part of the challenge is then building the same feeling between dog and owner inside the crucible, to that between dog and bike on the outside. When the same intensity is created internally, everything outside is superfluous, and the reaction inside can be directed and controlled as required. The external problem becomes transformed and solved, through working on a parallel system.

Top tip… “keep it in the pan”

The Art of Dog Training

“It is the writer’s firm conviction that the training of a dog is not so much a matter of rule, as of art. Some people will fail utterly even when trying to accomplish a result in exact accordance with the best rules known. Others will somehow succeed splendidly even though they may proceed in apparently direct opposition to all the accepted standards of practice.” – Horace Lytle

This is from a dog training book written in the 1920’s and although training has undoubtedly changed over the years this remains as true now as it was then. If anything the increasingly scientific approach to most dog training has caused an even greater rift between the two extremes, indirectly fuelling the rise in many of the problems seen today, with phobias and aggression still occurring in dogs that have been to the recommended puppy training classes and received all the certificates.

The art of dog training is where I now concentrate my studies, looking to create a relationship based on cooperation and trust, using exercises to develop these skills without resorting to behaviourism rules. It pays to be rewarding, but rewards are not going to tackle phobias and aggression. The emotional bedrock can only be reached through developing rapport and strengthening the connection, allowing then the problems at the core to soften.

If you have problems with your dog that haven’t been resolved even though you’ve been to class and followed all the usual recommendations you might be ready to study the art of dog training.



One of the best games to play with your dog is hide’n’seek. It gives your dog a chance to run to you with all its drive and enthusiasm. The energy gets a clear channel through which to flow and the destination couldn’t be bettered. Will your dog run to you with all its passion? Or is something better calling?

The Core Exercises

The “Core Exercises” were introduced by Kevin Behan as a way to systematise Natural Dog Training and help handlers focus on a set of skills to practise with their dogs. Initially four exercises; the bark, push, supple and bite – to which was added collection, make five “Core Exercises”. The aim is to be able to practise these “no matter what”. Mastering these exercises may need other challenges to help open the pipework, such as fasting, stalking, balance disruption, and soft mouth mawing.


“Speak” or bark for a biscuit, sometimes starting with a lick of the lips, sitting, stamping foot, snorting, or just exaggerated breathing. Like the big bad wolf, with a huff, and a puff, can your dog bark? The bark, the bite and jumping up are closely linked, so look for crossovers between all three.


Pushing, or striving for food. First ask, will your dog take food? Then follow food? Jumping up too, then push in for food? The effort required for overcoming resistance in all the challenges of NDT.


With slow, smooth strokes, the supple into a down and rollover, pushing the shoulders into the ground. The supple core exercise is the softest of the five and gets the dog to feel sensual rather than sensitised to touch. Use handling of the dog’s neck and top-line, right down to the rear and encourage a softening, curving, curling tactile indulgence.


The hunt is agreeing on what to bite. To bite a toy and then carry it about is emotionally grounding, training the dog to hold on to a good feeling. Can you get your dog to bite what you want him to bite? Will your dog carry the toy around with a swagger, looking for admiration and a touch?


The opposite to pushing in some respects, collection steadies a dog, turning movement energy into potential energy. The potential for movement, but contained and gathered, mainly in the rear. Power and control. The steadiness is resisting the stimulating effects of prey-like movements, watch but don’t run, look don’t touch.

Instill stillness

Today our dogs seem to be more reactive and sensitive to the things that are going on around them. And because there is so much to see and hear they are constantly on the go, buzzing without rest, unable to stop themselves. We have to strive to create calmness, the turbulent environment rarely affords more than moments of respite, and those are fleeting, with the upcoming onset of chaos anticipated with more movement and preparation.

Stillness becomes a habit if we work at it. Progressively presenting an environment that can be watched and ignored. Allowing the sensitivity to flourish in the right context, the action and excitement in the thrill of the game outside. Instilling the habit of stillness occurs at all the other times. The easiest methods, although can be difficult to follow, are simply to use a crate or pen, and a securely tethered lead.

Gradually stillness can extend, like a swimming pool without anyone splashing around, the calmness and inaction can settle things down. As the reaction to things gets swallowed by the quiet, the sensitivity gets tuned to the moment of release, when you are then able to move to the dog, to open the door of the crate, to unclip the lead, to engage the dog with the thrill of movement, the chance to open up and channel the enthusiasm in the right way.

Star Wars Day

On this Star Wars day I thought I’d give you my top 3 villains for channeling into scary-person.

Ok first one is a bit green, although I found this photo of her in B&W. Scores highly with brandishing broom and has got great “claw hands”, it’s the wicked witch.

Second, and my personal favourite, the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Now he scores well with big net for a shovel substitute, and has also gone for a sickle as well as pretty good claw hand. His speciality though is the soften and draw, luring in with Treacle tart and ice cream, free today! Nightmares guaranteed, but is overwhelmed by the children too.

Then there’s the dark shadow himself, Darth Vader. An excellent claw hand with the force choke, and happy to wield a light saber. His main strength though is in the breathy soundtrack, an excellent skill to practise when summoning up an evil character.

Lord Voldermort almost made the cut, but chose to wave a wand instead of a much bigger stick. Clearly not played with either of my two…

May the 4th be with you!