An interview with Biker Girl Dog Trainer

Insight into training, behaviour and common misconceptions

Visit Olivia's website

I spotted Olivia straight away with her striking red hair and warm glow about her person. She popped over to tell me what a good job Juno was doing and from then on we have been sharing our career journey - there really is no business like a doggy business!!


Olivia, can you explain who you are and what it is you do?

Hello there! My name is Olivia and I’m a certified and insured dog trainer (CPDT) with a level three qualification in Canine Behaviour and Psychology. I’ve been working with dogs and puppies for a long time and I hold my training classes around the South Manchester area.

I'm an all positive trainer which means I don't use any aversive or balanced methods, I specialise in puppies and some more complex behaviours like reactivity and anxiety.

What exactly is positive reinforcement training and why do you swear by it?

With positive training, we look at finding the cause of the reactivity or behavioural issue, so that we can address it with reward based training, therefore having the dog gain confidence and the ability to make the correct decisions. Whereas balanced trainers may use prong collars or choke chains to prevent aggressive behaviour. The problem with this is that it isn't addressing the reason why the dog reacts this way and can mask the underlying issues. It can seem very appealing as an owner as it is a quick fix and does get results fast, but positive training allows dogs to learn at their own pace and gives you long lasting results and a relationship based on leadership rather than fear.

We both work often with puppies, I personally find them easy to photograph because they look adorable doing anything, BUT.....


Their focus levels can be very fleeting indeed! Especially if they are under 5 months - Once they can go outside, EVERYTHING is interesting and exciting. So the best way to combat their lack of focus is to make sure that YOU are the most interesting thing. A great way to do that is to teach a command called 'watch' and reward that heavilly.


On the flip side, is it true you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

A. Really basic training is ageless. My 'puppy class' is called that based on the majority of doggy students, but I have much older dogs attend too, I currently have a 10 year old cocker spaniel in my class. The training doesn't change, we still find what they are motivated by, and use it!

With my old dog Poppy, before I knew what I was doing, I made ALL the mistakes in training. She was lead reactive amongst other issues. I trained her out of all her bad habits at 11 years old! She then went on to help me train other reactive dogs.

So in answer, yes, you absolutely can teach old dogs new tricks.

Is there any breeds of dog that you find to be more stubborn or harder to train and is there a reason for that??

A. There are dogs that are a lot cleverer than others, often dogs that are bred to have a specific job. Border collies, German shepherds, Labradors, etc.

But this doesn't mean other dogs aren't 'clever' they just might not be a eager to please or as focussed. A lot of the time I hear people calling dogs 'stubborn' and I don't like that label - dogs aren't stubborn, we are just too impatient!

Huskies and Malamutes, for example often get rendered as difficult or headstrong, but they were bred to pull sleds for hours. Their main priority isn't to sit and wait nicely or do agility tricks. So we can't expect them to be on the same level as other breeds when it comes to that sort of training.

What do you find are the most common misconceptions about training?

A. Ooh, good question! I'd have to say lead correction, when a dog is pulling, giving a sharp pull on the lead, this doesn't really work.

A huge one for me is when I tell a client that their 'aggressive' dog is actually scared. A lot of people are completely baffled by this. It's very rare that a dog will bite another dog unless THEY feel like they have no other option.

Another one is when dogs are destructive in the house or have toilet mishaps - people say they are doing it 'on purpose.' This is absolutely not the case, there is always a reason why they are destructive that cam be addressed.


How often should you hold training sessions with your dog, and should that stay the same as they get older? Is it good for them?

A. One of the first things I give out in puppy class is a routine, a list of things you do every day, and a training opportunity for all of them. For example, every time you boil the kettle, do a 'sit.'

Puppies especially need little and often in terms of training, as their attention span will never allow an hour long session, and it should become things that are incorporated into daily life, for example waiting on their mat for food, waiting each time you open the front door etc. Most of the time we are not training for fun, we are training for safety, trust, and boundaries for healthy relationships.

Why is it so important to reward behaviour, and does a reward have to be treats?

A. Most dogs are motivated by food. So treats work really well as a starting point. Sometimes dogs aren't fussed about treats or only want the very best, such as fresh chicken. For this reason it's great to have a back up motivation. For example a ball, or just some fuss and a big happy 'YES' is enough to motivate them to listen.

Ideally, you want your dog to follow commands whether there is a treat or not. So good practice is to master a trick with treats, and then treat every other time, and then every third time etc.

Remember each reward needs to be given immediately for the dog to associate the reward with the corresponding behaviour.


How can you tell if a dog is feeling uncomfortable or distressed during the training?

A. A lot of people think a wagging tail is a happy dog. And generally, this is true. However there is so much more to reading your dogs body language. For example, a wag isn't always a happy wag- the kind of wag you want is a bit like a guy swaggering into a bar, a slow, cool wag. Sometimes a wag can be anxious, so we need to look at other signals too - is their body rigid , are their ears flat down, is it a fast wag? These can be signs of something not so good.

So I have page about my favourite photogenic dog tricks, but what would you say is THE most important 'tricks' for dogs safety

A. Watch!! Every time.
Start with training your dog this from the very beginning. Say 'watch' and hold the treat up to your eye. And then reward when they look at you. You can then start asking them to watch for longer, and without treats every other time, and eventually just with a hand signal and 'yes'

This essentially teaches your dog to focus on you, which is hugely beneficial for SO many different reasons, including your own dogs safety at times.
We use this in training as a gateway to all other training.

Do you have a question for Olivia?

A. You can head to Olivia's webpage right here

Or visit her on Facebook or Instagram @bikergirldogtrainer