Archive for April 2009

Canine behaviour modification – progress towards practitioner accreditation and registration

April 13, 2009

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Through the Animal Care College I have, inevitably, become deeply involved in the politics of canine training, behaviour and modification.I should make it clear that I do not consider myself a dog trainer or a behaviourist other than in the sense that our own dogs are reasonably well behaved in that they are properly socialised and domestically obedient.However, in the research and development that has been necessary over the years for the programmes delivered by the College I have come to understand the basic mechanisms by which dogs and animals behave and learn.

Several things become clear very quickly:the ways in which animals can be effectively trained covers a very wide spectrum, those who do the training are usually totally convinced that they have the only solutions and that dogs are quite different to other wild and domestic animals.

I would like to examine each of these elements in some detail but I must first emphasise that I am giving an overview here.My historical summary does not mean that all trainers were cruel for many will have been, instinctively, just very good at what they were doing.For instance, shepherds, huntsmen and obedience enthusiasts training their puppies by running them with experienced trained dogs so that the responses were learned by example rather than by force is an excellent example of sensible and effective conditioning which never required force.But the general perception of the development of training techniques is at variance with these techniques.

Effective training ranges from fear to what is currently termed ‘positive reinforcement’.If an animal is frightened it will do what its trainer demands because it does not want to be hurt.At the extreme, the animal is cowed and this is a technique has been used for centuries, especially with wild animals and as far as dogs are concerned, with service dogs.I remember early in my teaching career I worked with a very good teacher who had been a dog handler in the air force during his National Service.We had just got our first Finnish Spitz so, to me, he was an expert.Fortunately, I did not put his advice into practice for we moved soon afterwards but the techniques used were those of the circus and based on ensuring the dog was too scared to do anything other than follow the handler’s instructions.The dogs were trained by regular dog training air men using a strict regime that was absolutely meticulous and structured so that every dog was trained in the same way and to the same commands.They were then handed to the national servicemen who, from what I was told, were trained in much the same way using much the same techniques.When the servicemen had competed their two year stint, the dogs were dumped in a compound with no human company for six weeks.They were so pleased to be let out that they immediately identified with their new handler and automatically took up where they left off, obeying the commands and behaving precisely in the way that they had been trained.

Real change began when Konrad Lorenz developed a number of theories and processes within the natural world and began to study imprinting and animal behaviour patterns.This gradually led to more modern approaches to dog training based on pack hierarchy.This rejects ‘fear’ (and therefore pain and misuse) as the prime trigger to force dogs to behave in specific ways for what can best be described as ‘force of personality’ typified by the Barbara Woodhouse approach.This at least stopped dogs being beaten if they did not obey the trainers’ commands and of course, it worked perfectly well (as did the ‘fear’ method, of course).

Then came Karen Prior (among others, certainly, but I believe she was the first to put the idea of ‘positive reinforcement’ into words) who discovered – in her work training killer whales and dolphins – that if you waited until the animal exhibited a behaviour you approved or wanted, you just had to reward it at the right time with a unique signal for that behaviour.. to be quickly learned and repeatedIt works with any species – and this includes animals and birds as well as fish!Karen Priors ideas were developed for dogs by her, John Rogerson, John Fisher and others and the approach was taken up by experienced trainers and obedience enthusiasts such as Mary Ray and enables the advanced training now used in Heelwork to Music and the other canine training disciplines for support dogs in a dozen areas of disability.

So far, so effective but other layers were being added to what had become the incredibly complex and competitive world of what was once, simply ‘dog training’.

This has been largely due to the fact that dogs are quite unlike other animals.Over the centuries they have become integrated into human society in a unique way that has psychologically changed their nature for most never have to fend for themselves in the natural world.The result has been an animal which although incredibly intelligent, sensitive and responsive to human society has a mentality which is in effect, stunted and juvenile compared to its wolf forebears.What is more, the increasingly complexity of modern life in the West has brought with it extra external demands which have resulted in a range of problems from separation anxiety to unstable temperaments.Suddenly there was not just a demand for dog trainers but for canine psychologists and those who could effectively modify canine behaviours so that pet dogs would ‘fit in’ to their family and environment without causing their owners any trouble.

At the same time, it became clear that some dogs had behavioural problems which stemmed from their physiology so a veterinary input was needed to ensure that the dog was not suffering from a dietary problem or a disease.

in just a few years an immense specialisation has been created and the techniques used for behaviour modification in dogs have been sliced and diced to the extent that the current landscape resembles that of the competing and often vitriolic schools of human psychology beginning with John Locke at the end of the 17th Century through Freud and the emergence of psychoanalysis at the turn of the last Century to the detailed research into the working of the human brain today.

For all these reasons, the study of canine psychology and the modification of caninebehaviour cannot be compared to other domestic animals, including the cat and, most certainly, to the behaviour of animals in the wild.This is not to denigrate the study of animal behaviour: it is an important area of science and whether the research involves animals in their natural surroundings of plain, jungle, sea or air or in zoos and wildlife parks the conclusions will have significant effects on the sustainability of the natural living world.

At the same time, the world of canine psychologists and trainers will have a significant effect on the well being of humanity in the Western world, especially if you believe, as I do, that pets in general and dogs in particular, are an important element in both the physical and mental health of our society.However, therein lies a vital feature of any work with dogs – people are an essential factor in this equation.This quite different to the study of animal behaviour in the natural world where, generally, the impact of humanity other than in an environmental sense, is insignificant.

It is therefore surprising that the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) is developing such a strong (and for some, unwelcome, voice) in the discussions generated by the Council for Companion Animal Welfare (CAWC).This series of meetings has been held as a result of their report published last year into the Regulation of Companion Animal Services in Relation to Training and Behaviour Modification of Dogs.They have been fascinating in that for the first time so many differing facets of the world of dog training and behaviour have been gathered round the same table.

I have no quarrel with ASAB. They are a highly esteemed academic organisation and their magazine, newsletter and conferences are hugely influential.However, a survey of their publications, articles and conference presentations reveals that none are about dogs.This is not surprising for only a tiny proportion of their 2000 or so members are involved in the world of dogs.For instance, sixteen people are listed as being certified as ‘Clinical Animal Behaviourists’ in cat and/or dog behaviours (you can see the academic requirements for accreditation at

and there is no doubt that the accreditation process is very thorough – as you would expect of an academic organisation.What is interesting though, is that although I understand some members of ASAB are veterinary surgeons, none are actually listed as Clinical Animal Behaviourists nor are any veterinary surgeons members of the various committees.

A further complication which worries many trainers and behaviourists is that there appears to have been a tendency that as more veterinary surgeons have become involved in this area, some conditions which would respond to normal behaviour modification techniques are being treated with ‘prozac’ type drugs, many of which have not been tested on dogs.I have discussed these difficulties (and those regarding the arrested development of the canine mind) in more detail in the past and I have republished those articles here – just scroll down.

There is no doubt that the world of animal trainers and behaviourists is a tangled mass of conflicting views and ideologies and it needs a structure if it is to be respected and effective.But the academic route, however important it is within its own narrow focus, is not about training dogs – and the vast majority of problems the ordinary pet owner faces is about dog training and there are thousands of effective, worthy and sensible dog trainers and behaviourists in the community who are more than capable of solving 95% of canine problems and training dogs without any academic qualifications (this is not to knock academia – just to put things in perspective).

What is more, the Kennel Club has, without doubt, got the most extensive and comprehensive accreditation scheme already in place.What is required is for all groups and practitioners to sign up to it.I hope that this is achievable.An agreed code of practice, an effective complaints procedure and the KC accreditation scheme is all that is required to get the whole sector working together for the benefit fo dogs and their owners – and in the long term, our society as a whole.

Yes we can!

Alternative views on the modification of canine behaviour

April 13, 2009

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

As many of you will know, the Kennel Club has been developing an accreditation scheme for dog trainers and behaviourists for over two years.The scheme is excellent and comprehensive although it would be fair to say that is progress has not always been smooth and some feel it is much more complicated than it need be.I am not one of them – the accreditation of standards in any field is complex almost by definition – and I feel that those tasked with creating this award have done an excellent job and the first half dozen candidates have just been awarded their certification.

However, there are two issues that have to be addressed.The first appears to be almost solving itself in an entirely unexpected way.It is the question of how dogs are best trained or their behaviour modified.The problems have really arisen because I believe a false dichotomy that been created by the learning processes suggested by some (I emphasise ‘some’) research questioning pack theory.  I am not disputing the findings per se because it shows an evolution in the way in which dogs behave that sounds reasonable and has been successfully demonstrated by many trainers.However, I am saying that other research does not back it up – sometimes partially and sometime completely.  If you go to and click on ‘what is applied canine behaviour’, you will find what I think is a reasonable summary of the ‘old’ perception.

At the same time, I have no problem with the views of Donaldson (both Jean and Ian), Prior, Kerkhove and others, except that their published material is scattered with statements such as ‘if true’, ‘may’, ‘suggests’ and ‘seems’.  You could probably put all those same qualifications into the work done by Lorenz, Trummler and their followers so there is no doubt that the understanding of canine behaviour is not an exact science.

My own view is pragmatic and does not depend on a ‘vision’, ‘research’ or opinion’.  Given that any successful methods employed to train dogs are ‘reasonable’ by any humanitarian standards it does not matter what the theoretical foundation is.  The philosophy and ideas are important, interesting – even fascinating (and should certainly be understood by those involved in any behavioural work) – but they may give rise to a number of approaches to problems of behaviour.But one approach does not necessarily wipe another from the face of the earth and so you would think there is little reason to get upset if there is any disagreement.Not so: most of the proponents of each view are evangelical in their condemnation of the others’ ideas

It seems to me that we have been confused into thinking that there is an enormous gulf between the “old” (harsh and brutal) method, which embraces pack hierarchy and dominance, and the “new” (modern, progressive and gentle) method, which rejects these ideas altogether. Why should we have to choose between one and the other if (and I emphasise ‘if’) both work within those humanitarian parameters on which we all agree?

There appears to be a feeling that if you do not embrace the ‘new’ you are automatically of the ’old’ and therefore are ‘harsh and brutal’.My experience reinforces my belief that this is simply not the case.You may argue that the ‘pack’ approach may give credibility to those who might be harsh and I would take the point if overall attitudes to training had not changed.No one (well, virtually no one) would return to the Barbara Woodhouse ‘school’ despite her methods being very successful.

The reason for all this detail is that as things stand we are not yet in a position to condemn anyone would feels that pack hierarchies provide a reasonable sensible basis for CBM and in our own advanced Canine Psychology course at the Animal Care College we state that serious problems my require ‘rank reduction techniques’ i.e. those based on pack theory.

I took up the dichotomy with Sue Evans who is responsible for the Kennel Club’s accreditation programme.A slow, secretive smile and satisfied smile surfaced.She told me that one of the most interesting aspects of the assessment process was that as assessors had not been ‘screened’ for their views on dog training, many had been assessing candidates from the ‘other’ approach.She said that their faces ‘were a picture’ as they realised that an approach they themselves would not have used and in fact, rejected, worked perfectly well.

This is excellent news.Clearly, the argument is not, as some have suggested, Creationists against Darwinists.In the case of training and behaviour modification there is genuine and palpable evidence on both sides of the argument: much more like two people looking out of the window and one concluding it might rain later and the other concluding that it might clear up and be sunny.

The second may be more difficult.

A recent survey carried out by Pet Plan has revealed that one in four Vets have treated animals, generally dogs, for conditions caused by the ingestion of drugs.Regular readers will remember that I expressed my concern on this issue a month or so back.

Part of the report reads:

‘Whilst mood-enhancing drugs such as cannabis rarely prove fatal for a pet, unpleasant side effects can include dizziness, vomiting and temporary loss of movement.The effects can last up to three or four days and throughout that time; veterinary monitoring is essential to ensure major organs don’t fail. As a result vets bills can run into many hundreds of pounds.’

There was no specific indication as to whether these drugs were introduced by their owners by accident or deliberately by other vets or behaviourists and the assumption in the report surmised accidental ingestion but the possibility that these drugs may have been introduced deliberately highlights once again what is becoming an increasing problem within the world of Canine Behaviour Modification (CBM).

As Studies Co-ordinator of the Animal Care College I have naturally taken an interest in what is going on in the world of CBM and my concern is that those who use psychotropic drugs to calm down unruly dogs either while they treat them for behaviour problems more conventionally or on a permanent basis, are not prepared to listen to the concerns of many experienced trainers, vets and, indeed, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.They have dug themselves into a trench to extent that they cannot see above the parapet (do trenches have parapets or is does it only apply to battlements?).

The Kennel Club must take a view on this matter in relation to their Accreditation Scheme because the recent culture of demanding stress free training (for some) often requires the administration of prescription drugs.

The panels set up under the Animal Welfare Bill, with its provision of a ‘duty of care’ responsibility to animals are now working on defining that duty as part of secondary legislation.I hope that this will give added impetus to the view that stress levels while dog are being trained should be kept as low as possible and that the used of prescription drugs will be seen only as a last resort rather than a catch all ‘quick fix’ solution.In the meantime, I understand that Royal College will be addressing all aspects of the psychotropic dug issue separately.

(January 2006)

The use of psychotropic drugs to modifiy canine behaviour

April 13, 2009

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

This is a very difficult subject and one on which very little research has been done and, as a result, it subject to even more controversy.

The facts are these: in the mater of behaviour modification there has been an increasingly reliance on what are called psychotropic drugs.The word means ‘having an altering effect on perception, emotion, or behaviour’ and they have been developed to help in the treatment of people who have a range of physiological and psychological problems that place their general behaviour outside what society normally expects.These behaviours range from serious mental disorders to generalised depressions and anxieties.There is a great deal of controversy about the use of these drugs.They can be helpful, certainly but most have significant side effects and because they act on the delicate chemistry of the brain their effect can be unpredictable.Many psychologists and psychiatrists believe that for most minor conditions it is better to ‘work through the pain’ than take tablets, which merely suppress the condition for, when you stop taking the medication, the condition remains.

There are drugs for fear related behaviours (agoraphobia for instance), the control of anxiety and aggression and for mood stabilisation.They include buspirone, diazepam, acepromozine (ACP), lithium, carbamazepine, clomipramine and fluoxetine.They all have their place in the doctors and psychiatrists armoury but the time has long gone when doctors would dole out Vallium on demand for it was soon clear that their patients became psychologically addicted to them and their behaviour, although more stable, was still unpredictable.Nowadays, such drugs come with major health and welfare warnings for they affect the workings of the heart, the liver and the kidneys as well as the brain.There is not space to go into the detail here but a Google search will quickly reveal the long list of adverse effects of any of these drugs.

Over the past few years some canine behaviourists with the support of some veterinary surgeons have been recommending these drugs.This includes the Association of Pet behaviour Counsellors and you can see their independent report on cases where psychotropic drugs were used at was compiled in 2003 and I can find no data on psychotropic drugs in the 2004 [latest] report.)

I am concerned that well educated and qualified though many of them are, most canine behaviourists only have the sketchiest understanding of mammalian metabolism and few are qualified to make a judgment any more complex than you make when you make a decision between Beecham’s Powders and Bisodol when you have a headache – either might work but the former is probably more appropriate than the latter.

I should make it clear I am not against the use of drugs.My point is that (like booster vaccines which have finally been recognised as causing some problems for otherwise healthy dogs) they need to be used with care even by qualified professionals.If a doctor puts a patient on insulin (not a psychotropic drug I know but a medication that will be continued throughout the patient’s life) the patient is properly examined, tests are made and a great deal of time is spent ensuring that they thoroughly understand what it does, how it is used and the other nutritional and lifestyle changes that need to be made in order for it to work effectively.Much the same applies to the use of psychotropic drugs.Their doctor should see the patient regularly and they should have physical tests and blood tests to ensure that the medication will not cause more harm than good – it is almost always a long, complicated process.

It seems to me that few of these safeguards are in place when psychotropic drugs are used on our dogs – and on cats too.Firstly, although they have been licensed for human use (and tested on animals) the research on whether they are actually suitable for use in the treatment of animals is minimal.Furthermore, no research has been done into the effects of any given dose.Most humans are roughly the same size – this is not true of canines and as there is no ‘standard’, who is to say at which point a dog is overdosed?

A veterinary surgeon should always do a series of tests before dogs are given any drugs and these must include psychotropic drugs.The problem I have with all this is that vets are prescribing drugs for canine behaviourists on the advice of the behaviourist.Apart from any ethical or professional considerations this is illegal for both parties.And I would ask whether it is helpful?If a dog is exhibiting an unnatural behaviour it takes the time of a professional, preferably within the dog’s home, to seek out the clues to its relationship with its owner and members of the family, and its environment: this is the work for which an experienced canine behaviourist is supposed to do.There are dozens of factors to take into consideration but it appears that sometimes both consultant and owner are tempted to go for a quick, relatively cheap ‘fix’.But if we have the welfare of the dog at the heart of the matter this can seldom be the best way.

I have incontrovertible evidence that one well known behaviourist suggested to a client on the telephone and without having seen the dog, that they see their vet and ask that a specific drug be prescribed for their dog.

I am suggesting readers should take care.Dugs have their place and there may sometimes be a good reason why a veterinary surgeon after fully appraising the situation will want to prescribe a psychotropic drug. On the other hand, the canine behaviourists knowledge of the overall effects of a drug is likely to be limited.You should also know that there are behaviourists who have no need of any sort of psychotropic drug to achieve their objective – a mentally healthy pet giving pleasure to its owner throughout its life.

If anyone suggests that drugs are the answer to a behavioural problem, my advice would be to start with your veterinary surgeon who you should expect to carry out a full physical check-up and a blood test for liver and kidney functions before being prepared to give a prescription for a psychotropic drug.If they propose that a drug may be suitable (and this should be their decision and not the decision of a behaviourist even if that person is their recommendation), your expectation should be that it is for short-term use only.

Drugs are very useful to us and to our pets too.But I believe we should always be cautious in their use and remember the problems they have caused from Thalidomide in the 60s to Vioxx* in 2004.

You might like to go to for further information.

*Just as an example, I was prescribed Vioxx for a damaged joint in my toe and took it for several years.When I ricked my back last year, my physiotherapist suggested that it would help me if the dose were doubled while my discs recovered.I was understandably upset when my doctor refused for I might have been on that double dose for six months – but I am not complaining now for a friend recently had two strokes that look as if they were the result of taking that drug.

(September 2005)

How puppies learn

April 13, 2009

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

In the last thirty-five years my wife and I have owned many dogs.The whole idea was hers so I take no responsibility for what has happened since.Our first was a Finnish Spitz puppy we called Kirri.Her ‘proper name was Cullabine Greta and she became a champion.As an aside I would emphasise that we were absolute novices so it just goes to show that if you have a good dog you can win – although I accept this is much more difficult in breeds such as Golden Retrievers.

Soon after, another bitch joined Kirri and since then our household always had several dogs (ten was the maximum, I think) until we downsized and only one remained.She was already five and well behaved but, sadly, died of cancer eighteen months ago when she was only eight years old.It was a great shock to both of us and we have not been able to face having another dog until now when a puppy from one of her daughters became available.

The reason for the preamble is to explain why for the first time for many years we find ourselves in the position of having to train a puppy!This is not easy – for several generations we have been able to let the older bitches take that responsibility and I can confirm that they did an excellent job.Woe betide the puppy that stepped out of line – which brings me to the subject of the month’s column – the minefield of claim and counter claim by canine trainers and behaviourists as to which approach to canine behavioural modification is ‘the best’.

Regular readers will have noticed in our Canine Behaviour Modification Supplement that we have a range of authors who use a variety of methods to achieve successful results.None, I emphasise, use the old ‘yank and yell’ technique mentioned by Debbie Berriman in her interesting contribution last month.Barbara Woodhouse who I should also emphasise, was also an incredibly successful trainer of dogs brought this approach to millions through her television series’. But we have moved on and John Fisher, John Rogerson, Mary Ray among many others have demonstrated that it is possible to make astonishing progress by working with and re-enforcing the dog’s natural behaviours.However, there are many theories out there and those who advocate them are sometimes quite abusive about any ideas that do not conform to their idea of what is ‘right’ and anyone who reads my musings will know that I am against all forms of offensive discussion.

We have to look at what we know of the facts – some of which may appear to be contradictory because the researcher is anxious to prove a point and so are based on flawed research – and try to come to conclusions and solutions that are successful while placing the welfare of our dogs at the very core of what we do.

I would not pretend to have a deep insight into canine behaviour modification but as Studies Co-ordinator of the Animal Care College an enormous amount of material passes over my desk and therefore, although I may not know the countryside in detail I might have a better appreciation of the landscape.

I think (based on my own experience and my readings of research from Konrad Lorenz, Trummler and those following their foorstps) is that few young mammals are fully equipped to survive entirely by instinct – although instinct is the most powerful survival motivator.  To be successful within their environment they need to be trained/educated about what is acceptable, not acceptable and/or dangerous.  This initial training is usually carried out by the mother until the most respected member of the family/pack is deferred to because experience has shown that he or she is the most likely to take the decisions which will ensure survival.  This seems to be the case in all mammalian communities – even in the world of domestic cats, which are generally thought to be loners but which, in a feral environment, form colonies, as do big cats in the wild.

We also now know that in any given situation the ‘leader’ is not always the same individual and that the ‘evolution’ of the domestic dog provides a much more complex psychological framework within which we must work.This has led a reconsideration of our ideas about the mechanism of the ‘pack’. This does not necessarily ‘disprove’ or undermine the original premises of the structure of wolf behaviour– but it does give us new ways of understanding canine learning processes.

There is no doubt that canines are different in that their development has been arrested by our intervention.  For this reason there are many ways in which canine behaviours can be modified that are not applicable to other pets or domestic animals.  Naturally, good, positive re-enforcement training from the nest is the ideal but many breeders and new owners are not even aware of the processes much less skilled in their use.The result is often dogs that have never been trained to be ‘good citizens’.In these cases where established behaviours are damaging to the relations between the individual dog, other dogs, its owners and other people, then we sometimes have to resort to more basic tactics and it is occasionally necessary to use what have been termed formal rank reduction techniques and negative re-enforcement – an anathema to some.

We must always ensure the welfare of the animal being trained or whose behaviour is being modified.  It should never be necessary to cow it or hurt it – but that is not to say that it cannot be put under some mental pressure or physical restraint (we put dogs on various forms of collars and leads for their own safety – this is no different in principle) to ensure a change of behaviour which it in everyone’s best interests – including the interest of the dog!

Finally, except in extreme cases we should be trying to modify the behaviour of both dog and its owner/family in such a way that improvement it behaviour is permanent.I do not believe that this is likely to be achieved by the use of drugs

(October 2006)

A talk for Savages (members of The Savage Club, that is)

April 1, 2009

Notes for a talk to fellow Savages (who delight in literary oddities)

The wonderful world of Willard Espy.

Willard Espy is an American who has written many books.  Two I own are so well thumbed that they are falling to pieces.  There are hundreds of fascinating linguistic peculiarities, word games, and curiosities of language within their pages and these notes were put together for a talk given to those present at one of the regular members lunches in April 2009.



As a little tease, this clever example of a complex acrostic was written into the menu for the lunch but leaving out the lower case letters after the line for March


JANet was quite ill one day.

FEBrile troubles came her way.

MARtyr-like, she lay in bed;

APRoned nurses softly sped.

MAYbe, said the leech judicial,

JUNket would be beneficial.

JULeps, too, though freely tried,

AUGured ill, for Janet died.

SEPulchre was sadly made;

OCTaves pealed and prayers were said.

NOVices with many a tear

DECorated Janet’s bier.


Acrostics are wonderful.  Willard himself has composed one which is firstly a sonnet – difficult enough to create anyway – which has its hidden message down the lines three times using the first letter of each line, the the first letter of the third word of each line and the first letter of the last word of each line


Incidentally – why are there no synonyms for Thesaurus?

Which are the words which have the greatest number of synonyms?  I have not counted but ‘boat’ and ‘container’ are contenders.  If you want a good word game for Christmas see how many alternatives your guests can think of in ten minutes.



Private. No swimming allowed

Private? No. Swimming allowed

Eats shoots and leaves

A vegetation of greengrocer’s 


Which leads delightfully onto collectives – some are well established such a ‘swarms of… variopus creatures.,’ but why ‘a school of whales’?  On the other hand there are some wonderful inventions such as a ‘squirm of snakes’, ‘a stinking of skunks’ and for ladies of the night, a ‘peal of Jezebels’, ‘a flourish of strumpets’, a jam of tarts and ‘a pride of loins’.


Which leads us to


Palindromes come in several guises:  pure, word, numerical – even musical and visual 

Our last palindromic year was 2002

Dates turn up regularly in shorted form

                3/1/3 (3rd March 2003) or 30/3/03

                But 20/02/2002 is more satisfactory but these are few and far between

‘Reviver’ is the longest word in English that is a palindrome.  The longest word in the Roman alphabet is ‘Saippurakaruppias’ which is Finnish for ‘soap salesman’

There are lots of word palindromes as you will know.  But an unusual one I like is

Girl bathing on Bikini, eying boy, find boy eying bikini on bathing girl and my favourite.

In its pure form there are few common ones : Able was I ere I saw Elba etc   and

Now, Ned, I am a maiden nun; Ned, I am a maiden won

Rise to vote, Sir

but a particularly complex and delightful example is

T. Eliot, top bard, notes putrid tang emanating, is sad. I’d assign it a name: gnat dirt upset on drab pot toilet  (created by Alistair Reid)

There are even palindromic poems

Returning Exquisite desire

Burning, then ashes and smoke

Glowing ember or flaming –oak

Unknowing, unknown secret fire!


Fire, secret unknown, unknowing

Oak flaming or ember glowing.

Smoke and ashes; then burning

Desire, exquisite returning.


English as she is pronounced

‘Telling hearth from earth is tough stuff Suzy’  is a poem created by British officers working with many different nationalities  during the Second World War to help them understand the way in which English is spoken.  It begins


Dearest creature in creation

Spelling’s not pronunciation


And goes on for several fantastic and intricate pages

Hear is another on similar lines (the spelling is deliberate as you will see if you actually read out the poem)


I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble, but not you

On hiccough, thorough, laugh, and through?

I write in case you wish perhaps

To learn of less familiar traps:

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard, and sounds like bird.

And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead;

For goodness’ sake, don’t call it `deed’!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

For goodness’ sake, don’t call it `deed’!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

A moth is not a moth in mother

Nor both in bother, broth in brother

And here is not a match for there

Nor dear for bear, or fear for pear.

There’s dose and rose, there’s also lose

(just look them up) and goose and choose

And cork and work, and card and ward

And font and front, and word and sword

And do and go and thwart and cart

Come, come, I’ve bearly made a start

A dreadful language? Man alive,

eI’d mastered it when I was five!


Double entendres:

Some are unintentional.  Browning read a 17th Century poem which included the lines:

They talk’d of his having a Cardinall’s Hat 
They’d send him as soon an Old Nun’s Twat 

and assumed that ‘twat’ was an article of clothing and, in ‘Pippa Passes’, wrote:

Then owls and bats 
Cowls and twats 
Monks and nuns in a cloister’s moods 
Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry 

I’ve tried to find out whether the following passage was, in fact, deliberate and inspired by Charles Dickens’ extra marital relationship but I do not think so.  It was published in 1843 and he did not meet Ellen Ternan until 1857.  What we do know is that Dickens’s affair with her, which lasted until his death, had several influences on his later fiction which explores sexual passion with an intensity and perceptiveness not previously apparent in the meek, goody-two-shoes heroines of most of his work.’

So in Martin Chuzzlewit, when Dickens describes the infatuation of Tom, the church organist, with a member of the choir I think this was inadvertent:

‘When she spoke, Tom held his breath, so eagerly he listened; when she sang, he sat like one entranced.  She touched his organ and from that bright epoch, even it, the old companion of his happiest hours, incapable as he had thought of elevation, began a new and deified existence.’


And on that note….