Which Puppy Class is for me?


Puppies, Training,

Life Skills

How to choose the right class for you and your puppy?

Sit, Down, Heal Are these the life skills your puppy needs? 


As a new puppy guardian, you can often feel a little overwhelmed in the first few weeks. Lots of people try to be helpful by making suggestions about the best way to live with your puppy. From feeding, exercise and training. So where can you look to find the right type of class to start you and your puppy off on the right paw?

Annoyingly, it depends, is the best answer we can give you. There are lots of options out there, and it can, like lots of things dog related, feel like a minefield to navigate through.

Group puppy classes have really evolved dramatically over the last decade or two, and there has been a shift to focus more on the skills they need in the environment they live in rather than behaviours ‘we have always taught’, such as sit, down etc.

We are very proud members of organisations which have assessed our experience, knowledge and ability to teach in ‘kind, fair and effective’ methods, using positive reinforcement but we are even more proud of the curriculum we now teach. We focus on connection, between you and your puppy, building trust, giving you skills on how to guide and support them instead of control and punish them.

  • Your puppy learns how to walk with you, not because they have to, but because they want to.
  • Your puppy learns how to become confident.
  • Trust they are listened to and become an active participant in their own health and veterinary care.
  • Not to mention comes back when asked.
  • Most importantly though, you learn to be able to read them effectively and accurately, in order to support them in all aspects fo their life.

How do we achieve this, I hear you ask? We keep our class sizes small, to a maximum of 6, we have an instructor and at least one assistant always, often we have two. We set up your own areas to settle in with activities for your puppy to use to relax within between exercises and above all else we adapt how we train to every single puppy and human handler.

Life Skills

plural noun: life skills
  1. a skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life.
    “sharing with a sibling can help children learn important life skills” 

These are the skills we focus on, and we are not alone. There are so many amazing classes around now. Look for one close to you. Ask what their core skills are they focus on teaching, ask how many puppies can attend and what the ratio is of puppies to instructors, then watch a class, see how you feel, go with your gut (just make sure you’re not hungry at the time or you may rush the decision: True fact).

So how do you find these magic classes we speak of check out the organisations we are part of first, Victoria Stilwell’s Positive Dog Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, then go and have a look and a chat.

  • Ask what they do when dogs get things right?
  • What do they do when you get things right?
  • What do they do when your pup offers something you don’t want?
  • And what happens if you as the handler make a mistake?

All these things are essential for both your learning and your puppy’s.

Good luck. And if you are in our area check out our next classes, https://believeinmagic.dog/dog-training/puppy-classes/  they fill up fast but we get some fantastic feedback from clients on them. 

Finding your place

Finding your place

Finding your place


Such a simple word for huge concept

A human need, but can you find it through dog training? 


A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions, so why, you may ask am I speaking about it here on our Dog Training & Behaviour page?


  1. an affinity for a place or situation.
    “we feel a real sense of belonging

I came to dog training having trained as a horse trainer initially. In fact, I found my first dog Alfie while on one of my horse training courses. When I brought him home and asked for recommendations for puppy classes from my vet every one I called was happy to enrol us and let me know they would supply a ‘choke chain’ when we attended.  I had never heard of such a device but felt anything with ‘choke’ in the title didn’t sit well with my 10 weeks old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I started to google and found someone who said they used only ‘positive methods’ again a phrase I was not familiar with, but with positive in the title, I felt much better. Little did I know this would be the start of not only a journey into the world of training and behaviour but a whole new career path too.

I felt I had found the area of animal training I belonged in. I was curious, passionate and couldn’t ask enough questions, I was, and still, am, a sponge, with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I love to read, research and process theories when it comes to all things dog. I didn’t, however, feel I had yet found an organisation I truly belonged in though. In fact, it took me 9 years before I thought I had found the right place for me and in turn it led me to become a member of other organisations too, each for what they added to me professionally or personally. So why am i sharing this personal journey with you all, you might ask. I am sharing this because when I set up Believe In Magic in South East London and started the classes, I wanted to create a space where people could come to have their questions answered, have support in person and guided on methods for their individual relationship with their unique dog. Today I really felt like we had managed to achieve this. Today we had three classes back to back all exploring methods of training to expand the handlers skill base and supporting the dogs to understand how to live in our crazy human world in South East London. We are so fortunate to have met and guided so many fantastic dog and human relationships.

In October 2016 I had a phone call with Victoria Stilwell, having mentored for her Academy since July I had met some fantastic people virtually. Trainers and behaviourists I felt who were supportive, encouraging and who challenged me too. All the best aspects of a real family. All brought together by a common interest in trying to be the best we can for dogs AND humans. This was the critical aspect of what Victoria had achieved that led me to become one of her licensed trainers. Most of the organisations for dog training or behaviour focus on the methods we use, in most aspects this focus is on how we treat the dogs. So why did I not feel the desire to be part of similar organisations earlier? I hadn’t thought I truly belonged. I knew they were good organisations, but I wanted to feel I belonged within them and would bring something to them by being part of them. When I learnt more about VSPDTs (Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainers), I knew I had found like-minded individuals who all shared a common goal to empower ALL learners, human and dog. This was the key, this was when I finally felt I belonged. When Victoria welcomed me, the first thing I wanted to do was call my mum, I wanted to tell her that the lady who we had watched together on TV all those years ago (sorry Vik), had accepted me as one of her trainers, but not just accepted me, had welcomed me and made me feel I was valued. Sadly I had lost my mum in October 2011, but knowing how happy she would have been for me has stayed with me.

It was my VSPDT family who got me through tough times when I seriously considered stopping my behaviour work all together and it is my VSPDT family who make me laugh all the time. They are a unique bunch of INCREDIBLY talented people. 

This year I am helping organise Crufts to spread the word of Positively (Victoria’s Brand ) as a whole, far and wide, at the largest dog show on the planet. This is a huge privilege to be able to be there promoting the work of all our VSPDTs and the Victoria Stilwell Academy, for which I have mentored 8 students through in 2.5 years. We will be in Hall 2, Stand 28 come along, say hi, learn about what we offer as trainers, an education body and as an incredible family of Trainers and Behaviourists across the world all linked by a common desire to spread the Positively word, empowering dogs and their guardians to learn to live together in this crazy world. 

Rewards, Reinforcers, Treats . . . What is the difference?

Rewards, Reinforcers, Treats . . . What is the difference?


Rewards, Reinforcers, Treats

What is the difference & does it matter? 

Recinforce, Reward, Treat what does it all mean? 


If you are new to training or an old pro these words will be ones you have probably heard bandied about, but what do they mean and does it really matter?

They are all used when training animals. So we thought we would give you a quick rundown of what they mean and whether you feel at the end, it matters to you.

When you first begin to train your dog, and you find a fabulous trainer who uses Kind, Ethical and Science-Based methods you are probably jumping for joy in the sea of trainers who choose to use techniques to the contrary. However, within your first lesson, you are likely to be told to ‘reinforce’ your dog and then handed some pieces of food. Some dry, some moist and in our classes case even salmon paste filled toys. But is this reinforcing, is it bribing, it is rewarding undesired behaviour and if so what it is strengthening?

“A reinforcer is something that increases the likelihood that a specific behaviour or response will occur.”

Let’s break this down into the dictionary definitions.


a thing


in recognition of service, effort, or achievement.
give something to (someone) in recognition of their services, efforts, or achievements.


behave towards or deal with in a certain way.

give medical care or attention to; try to heal or cure.

an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.


an individual or thing that enforces
2. psychology
a stimulus, such as a reward, that increases the chance of producing a desired response by being applied after the desired response

Ok, so even within their definitions reward is used within the definition of the reinforcer, so where does this leave us.

When training using positive reinforcement it is classified under operant conditioning, there are 4 quadrants, and the best way to understand them is to see them as adding or subtracting to increase or decrease behaviour.

Positive Reinforcement

Adding something to increase the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated

When the dog comes back when recalled they are given a toy, playing a game or given food that THEY like. The dogs show they find it reinforcing by repeating the behaviour.



Negative Reinforcement

Taking something away to increase the likelihood of the desired behaviour being repeated

The dog is shocked/vibrations given and it is left on until the dog returns to the handler. Increasing the likelihood of the dog returning when called to avoid the shocks continuing. The negative reinforcer, in this case, the shocks, are taken away once the dog performs the behaviour wanted.


Positive Punishment

Adding something to decrease the likelihood of the unwanted behaviour being repeated

When the dog doesn’t come back when called shouting loud enough and aggressively enough to stop the dog in its tracks, sometimes the use of a bottle filled with stones is also used to make a very loud noise to shock a dog into stopping. Adding a punisher to scare the dog. Decreasing the likelihood of the dog ignoring the recall in order to avoid being shouted at or having a big noise go off again. Punishment stops the behaviour.


Negative Punishment

Taking something away to decrease the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated

When the dog doesn’t come back when called put it back on lead taking away its freedom. This decreases the likelihood that the dog will ignore the recall, in order to avoid being put on a lead. This relies on the dog understanding that ignoring the recall is the reason it is being put on lead and its valuable freedom is taken away.



 Many people choose to use positive reinforcement deliberately to train and maintain a specific behaviour. A dog trainer, for example, might reward a dog with a piece of food every time the animal shakes the trainer’s hand, however, you will only know the dog sees this as reinforcing if the behaviour is strengthened and offered more readily each time. What one learner (dog) finds rewarding may not be what another does. This is why it is so important to take the time to figure out what your dog loves, likes and tolerates. 

Different Types of Positive Reinforcers

Many different types of reinforcers can be used to increase behaviours, but it is important to note that the kind of reinforcer used depends on upon the individual and the situation. While gold stars and stickers might be beneficial reinforcement for a young child, they are not going to necessarily be as reinforcing on a secondary school or college pupil. This must be remembered when working with our individual dogs too. What one dog loves may not be what the other does too. Furthermore what your dog adores inside at home may have no value when outside too. 

Have some fun figuring out what your dog loves, if you aim to use it within training plan your training session with what you are going to train, why, how and which type of reinforcer, where will you place it to encourage repetition of the behaviour too. Do you give ‘treats’ after training sessions, things like toys or chews? Make your own mind up about what is reinforcing and what is rewarding and the language that you are happy to use but above all else if you aren’t having fun, stop, re-group and plan a different session making it easier for both of you to be successful. Sarah Fisher said to me last year ‘Less is more and a special dog doesn’t always mean easy.’ This has changed the way I work and I hope it helps you too. 

What is puppy ‘socialisation’?

What is puppy ‘socialisation’?

What is and isn’t socialisation?

What is Socialisation?

How to make the right choices. .

What is Socialisation Really?

Let’s keep this concise, there are plenty of books, websites, blog posts etc. all on how to socialise your puppy and to drum it into new puppy guardians that they must complete an intense plan of exposing their puppy to everything they can think of within a finite period. If you don’t then you can be sure to be told further down the line, particularly when your puppy hits adolescence, that the reason they are now scared of certain dogs or people is that you didn’t expose them enough to these things early on. WOW! Talk about piling on the guilt.

So this is about helping new guardians understand these phrases and giving you more manageable goals for both yourselves and your puppy. Let’s be honest, it is exhausting bringing a puppy home, the build-up, the anticipation, the shopping (yes we all do it), then finally you bring this bundle of love home, and you are hit, and I mean HIT hard with guilt, worry, overthinking everything you are doing. You want to get this right, you may well have blamed yourself for a previous dog’s fear of something, lack of recall, pulling on the lead, cleaning itself in front of Grandma every time she visited. It could be any number of things, for first-time pup parents, it is often sheer panic that you won’t do the right thing by your puppy. This goes for newly re-homed dogs of any age, the guilt and worry seem universal for a particular type of person. 

What is this ‘socialisation’ that everyone with a dog seems to know about and tell you that you must do?

Socialisation is a term bandied about a lot in the dog world.

So here is the straightforward DICTIONARY DEFINITION of socialisation.

“The activity of mixing socially with others.”


“The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.”

So when we look at this from a puppies point of view what does this mean. Simply that your puppy is leaving its litter and mother where it has been mixing socially with its genetic family members and the humans that care for the puppies mother. It will have learnt body language from its mother and litter mates and determined how to gain attention from the humans caring for it too. It may well have had visitors of differing ages and possibly dogs of different ages too if they lived in the same house and the mother dog. So from 3-8 weeks old your puppy will have already started this mystical socialisation journey without you involved at all.

If this is done in a supportive manner, looking after each individual puppy’s needs, then they will be gaining confidence and growing their trust in humans who care for them. However, if they are inundated with handling, noises, smells etc. then it is also just as likely they can form some negative associations too.

You can’t predict this, you will go and see your puppy, choose the one you feel you like the most based on a relatively short space of time with them, or if you are lucky with the help and guidance of an experienced breeder. But you are still going to be bringing your puppy home to a new home, new smells, new noises.

Some incredible breeders make sure their puppies are set up for the changes, they ask about your lifestyle, whether it is noisy, quiet, whether your puppy will be your only dog and pet or with other animals too. All these things are part of its socialisation picture. I am not blaming breeders in the slightest but do want to help new puppy guardians understand that if their puppy is scared of things within this key developmental window known as the ‘critical period’ open until around 14 weeks old, they don’t need to feel it is their all fault.

There are so many factors that play a part in the sociability of a puppy that all you can actually do is be supportive, avoiding your puppy being overwhelmed by the extra human attention they will undoubtedly attract and ensure that they can always move away if they choose. Enrolling in a suitable Puppy Class in which puppies are taught to be calm around each other and social interactions are carefully monitored by a suitably qualified and experienced practitioner can be very helpful. Puppy parties, where it is essentially a ‘free-for-all’ with uninterrupted, high-arousal play should be avoided, your puppy will either feel overwhelmed and become scared or if your puppy is the confident boisterous one it is very likely they will learn that play like this is ok and sadly learn a very different lesson when in local parks with less tolerant well-socialised dogs, who won’t tolerate a pushy puppy. 

It’s also really important to teach your puppy that they cannot always greet every dog (or person) that they see. There will be times when it is not appropriate to allow your dog to approach others (for example if the other dog is on a lead due to age, injury or fear) so it is essential that they learn to accept this. Try to strike a balance between teaching your puppy to stay focused on you (instead of allowing them to greet) and allowing suitable interactions. If their expectations are not managed from an early age, this can lead to behaviour issues in the future, due to frustration.

The Bucket Game

The Bucket Game

Vet care & Grooming

The Bucket Game

The Game of Choice 

The Bucket Game – The Game of Choice


This game is easy to introduce to any animal and is designed to empower the learners, enabling them to give consent and active participation in their handling, grooming and vet care. By creating an environment where our animals have a choice and can communicate their desire to participate.

The bucket game was designed and brought to the world by Chirag Patel – a training and behaviour expert from Domesticated Manners.

The Bucket Game gives animals the ability to tell us:

  • When they are ready to start
  • When they need to take a break
  • When they want to stop
  • When we need to slow down

The bucket game can be used in many instances, not only for husbandry training and caregiving behaviours but also as a confidence builder, phobia reducer and for fun.

This game uses shaping, targeting, stationing and many other behavioural principles in a way that makes it fun for both the animal and the caregiver.

What you will need:
A bucket (size appropriate for your learner)
Rewards (high-value food or toys)
A bed/mat or safe place
Access to water

Step 1: Teaching manners & impulse control around the bucket (put your reinforcement in the bucket)

Start by holding the bucket out to the side.

Take a piece of food from the Bucket, marking with ‘yes’ for looking at the bucket but maintaining some distance from it (20-50cm).

You can then put the bucket on the ground/chair and reward the animal for looking at it but not jumping in it.

It doesn’t matter what position your animal is in (sit/down/stand).  What you are rewarding for is engagement with the bucket.

Start reinforcing when the animal maintains eye contact with the bucket for longer durations.  Don’t increase your criteria too soon or quickly as this may cause your learner confusion.

The animal is allowed to look around between focusing on the bucket – remember this is a game of choice and a conversation between you and them.  No need to call, shake the bucket, tug on lead.  Let your animal decide to engage in participating in the training program.

Allowing access to a bed/mat and water – will give your animal confidence that they can take a break as needed.


Step 2: Choose what you want to train the animal to do – for this example – A dog having his ears cleaned…



I’m going to wait until he can focus on the bucket (remember it doesn’t matter what position the dog is in – it could be a sit/down/stand).

When he is focused on the bucket and able to hold his focus of a few seconds, I’m going to start moving my hand to his side (not touching him).

At this point, he can choose to continue to look at the bucket – and if he does, he will be rewarded.  If he looks at my hand, he has communicated that he was uncomfortable, and I will stop – remember this is the game of choice.

When he re-engages with the bucket, the game begins again.  This time, don’t move the hand so fast or far.  If he can maintain focus on the bucket – he is rewarded.

The use of the Bucket Game continues building the ability to help the dog consent to have his ear cleaned.


The game of choice will only work if you allow the animal to communicate that they wish to begin, break and stop the game. If the animal looks away from the bucket, the game breaks/stops.  When they re-engage with the bucket, the game continues.

Here is another video showing The Bucket Game being used to introduce Teeth Brushing 


Domesticated Manners. http://www.domesticatedmanners.com/videos
Patel, C. (2015). The Bucket Game. [online] Facebook.com. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/thebucketgame/