When I first met Dodge, I was struck by how quiet he was. He was a 4 year old lurcher who had been rehomed to a dog-free family, having been brought up with two other dogs. Shortly before he came to his new home, a fight had broken out between him and one of the other dogs, which meant that he subsequently felt very uneasy when he came across other dogs on walks.

His reactions had escalated so that his owners felt he wasn’t really safe to be walked anywhere that they may come across other dogs. His response was so severe that he had managed to wriggle out of his harness, and they had become worried that he may bite if another dog got too close. He lunged, barked, growled and became distressed when he saw another dog on a walk, even if it was at quite a distance.

Once the other dog had passed, Dodge still couldn’t calm down and would be on high alert, with eyes on stalks, looking for anything else that might upset him all the way home. Fortunately for him, his owners had sensibly decided to stop taking him for walks because they could see he found them so stressful.


He seemed a shy boy when I first started work with him. His thought processes were quite slow and he wasn’t able to concentrate for long. During those early sessions, we had to keep the actual training exercises very short and give him a lot of breaks, because he lost focus so quickly. Levels of concentration are a real indicator of a dog’s stress levels, and when a dog’s mind wanders, or they seem uninterested in treats, there is always an underlying reason.

His owners and I realised pretty early on that he picked-up on the slightest sense of ‘performance pressure’ from anyone who was working him. If he sensed that somebody wanted him to do something, he would close-off and lose interest, so we needed to keep sessions very short and give him a lot of brain breaks.


Dodge was very lucky, because his owners are completely devoted to him and were determined to help their little lad overcome his fears, no matter how long it may take. They were aware that he lacked confidence and could see that he found a lot of his world scary. Although this was also mixed-up with a very high prey-drive. He loved chasing cats and pigeons in the garden, and yet had a real distrust of the lawn! So, if he saw a cat, he would charge helter-skelter over the lawn to chase it away. But if anyone wanted him to go on the lawn to wee, or if you tried playing a game to get him to go on the grass, he would become stressed and closed-off.

He was happy to be handled and stroked by people he knew, but was uneasy with strangers. Not enough to be reactive with them, but he didn’t really want to get too close to them and he found eye contact challenging with any one new.


Dodge’s general demeanour was a bit Eeyorish! He had a slight air of gloominess about him, although this wasn’t at a level of being completely ‘shut down’, which very fearful dogs may do. This is when they become almost inert, with no eye contact or engagement with either people or surroundings, because any kind of interaction with anything is too frightening. Dodge wasn’t as severe as this, he was simply ‘gloomy’. He would be fairly up-beat and playful with his dad, and he loved cuddles with both his owners. But he never got excited, or really waggy about anything. His most extreme reactions were towards other dogs, including barking at them out of the window. Then he would subside back into a state of quiet glumness.


What he really wanted to do was lounge around in a chair and have cuddles, or watch things out of the window. Mostly he was calm in the house, so his stress-levels didn’t seem very high. But his coat wasn’t very shiny, he had flaky skin and when I first assessed him I noticed that his hind legs weren’t straight. He was very stiff through his hips and his pasterns were bowed. I wondered if this was one of the reasons he didn’t feel easy on grass – anything that was bumpy made him feel physically uncomfortable.

He also had accidents in the house when his dad went away for work, which also pointed to higher stress-levels than first seemed apparent. His owners were very receptive to Thinking-dog methods and had already stopped walking him, as I mentioned earlier. This made it easier to suggest to them that he needed no walks until we had started to work on some of his issues and increase his confidence. They understood that walks needed replacing with other activities in the house and garden which would get both his brain and body working, and so we started on a very intensive programme to help his balance, flexibility and concentration.


Knowing that his reactions to other dogs were severe, I had a feeling that the most we could ever expect from Dodge was to be able to cope with a dog walking past on the other side of the street. I thought it would take months, if not years, for him to be able to feel easy with a dog any closer than that. He was so fearful when we first went out with him that we could barely get him out of the front door and into the passageway. His eyes were almost swivelling and his ears twitched at the slightest sound. Everything made him want to dart back into the house and go and have a quiet lie down!

His owners were just the people he needed. They never pushed him to move any faster than he was able to. It can be so difficult when you have a dog like Dodge, because he is far removed from the dog that many people want to share their lives with. Most of us live with dogs because we want to be able to take them out and about, go on lovely, long rambly walks with them and just enjoy their company outside amongst other dogs and people. No matter how much we love our ‘troubled’ dogs, it can still be very difficult to accept them as they are and to understand that it may take many months (years, in some cases) to get them to a stage where they’re manageable on walks. As for being able to do ‘normal’ with them, it can feel this might never happen with some dogs – and that can be a hard thing for some owners to accept. It’s why some owners go the fast route with muzzles and medication, without understanding that the subsequent stress behaviours they get at home (skin ‘allergies’, ear infections, paw licking, gastric problems etc) are a result of being forced into situations they can’t cope with.


Dodge’s owners were wonderful with him. They completely accepted him for the mixed-up, troubled wee hound that he was, and resolved that they would only ever go at his pace. And sometimes that pace was nearly slower than a snail … They avoided all dogs and people for months and months, while spending their time working on Bodywork and doing the exercises I set them.

Over the following year, we were able to start working with my Buddy-dogs, but always at a real distance. We took our sessions down to once a fortnight, and are now working once every three weeks.


In the last month, Dodge has been able to work at a distance of about 10 ft from both my dogs and with a very special girl belonging to another client. She was also a troubled dog, who could be very uneasy with other dogs. Her mum is another owner who has taken things very slowly with her and has got her to a stage where we can work with her as a Buddy-dog with other reactive dogs. Dodge was fantastic with her last week. He was able to walk calmly behind her at a distance, and was starting to show signs that he might like to approach her. We weren’t ready to let him do that yet – he has so little experience of dogs that we don’t want anything to upskittle him by letting him get too close too soon.

Dodge’s owners are very special. Like all the owners I work with, they love their dog. They’re highly attuned to him and were very quick to be able to read his signals and understand him once they had learned what to look for. I think the reason why they have been able to make so much progress with their boy is because they were able to accept him for the dog that he is, rather than wanting him to be anything different. They understood him, and were prepared to follow Thinking-dog methods to the letter, only putting him in mildly stressful situations that were carefully managed and set-up by me so that he was never so anxious that he couldn’t cope.

Watching his owners develop in terms of their skills at handling both Dodge and other dogs has been as joyful as watching Dodge gain in confidence. They have a real depth of understanding of Dodge and are able to read other dogs in ways that the average owner is often unable to do.


Dodge is now at a stage where we can start to work him in managed situations with dogs that belong to friends and family. This is a huge step for him, and we’re able to be quietly optimistic that these sessions will eventually lead to him meeting some of the other dogs face-to-face. He has been with us for a year at the end of May.

A year ago, walking with and meeting other dogs felt almost like an impossible dream. Now it seems like a real possibility, because of the understanding and hard work his owners have devoted to their very sweet, Eeyorish boy. Who is, by the way, a lot less gloomy than he used to be. He is far more waggy, his coat is beautifully shiny and he no longer has flaky skin. He’s a happy, confident, Thinking-dog kind of hound and I’m very proud of the progress that he and his owners have made.



20170304_144734I spent a lovely afternoon with terriers Dizzy and Tiggy, their housemate daxie x Rufus, and their owner.

Their mum has worked with me for over a year, bringing Dizzy to classes because she loves being around other dogs and really enjoys working.

I worked with them yesterday for a problem that many owners with same-sex terriers encounter: Dizzy and Tiggy had a fight, resulting in Tiggy’s neck being torn.

The session was fascinating because these girls will share a bed while eating cow hooves without any discord between them. In fact, watching them together showed that both dogs were avoiding conflict – when one cow hoof was dropped, Dizzy made a few faces at Tiggy, who gave lots of calming signals and they were happily chewing them next to each other again in seconds.

20170303_141049Their mum has worked with me for many months and knows what her dogs need to keep them calm and happy together. In theory, she and her husband were doing everything they could to produce a harmonious doggy household.

So why did something go wrong enough for the girls to damage each other? After the fight, their owner sensibly got them vet-checked for any underlying health condition or pain, but there was nothing for either dog.

Rufus is getting old and arthriticky and can be a bit grumbly, but he’s been like this for a while and neither of the girls has seemed unduly affected by him.

The only thing that their owner had observed is that Dizzy had become less tolerant of Tiggy trying to lie on her. Tiggy tends to plant herself as close as possible and doesn’t take any notice if either of the other dogs don’t really want her there! Dizzy’s response has been to look tense and move, but she has never resorted to anything more intense.

We narrowed it down to the thing that sparked the fight: it was a cabbage stalk that Tiggy prized highly because she’d managed to steal it from the chicken pen. Their owner didn’t see the start of the fight, so didn’t know if Dizzy had tried to take it off her. It seems likely and, like many terriers, neither dog was prepared to back down.

On top of this, Tiggy can occasionally antagonise Dizzy by snipping and barking at her when she’s feeling excited. She has habit-based barking and a low ability to control her ‘I want’ urges.

In the clip below you can hear me talking about Tiggy’s antics and how laughing at her when she’s barking and spinning can create even more of a ‘Feel Good’ around these behaviours. They feel pretty good to her already, but reinforcing them with any kind of laughter will encourage a dog to do more. It’s hard not to react with a laugh – we all do it, often without even realising it!

In this clip we’re reinforcing Tiggy for each time she chooses not to bark. When you start doing this kind of work, you have to be quick to get-in with Marks and Treats, because there is often a lot more barking than not-barking …

The level of barking at triggers in the garden and things that Tiggy hears outside is moderate to high, which can also raise the stress levels in a home, but none of the 3 dogs were unduly stressed. It was more habit than alarm barking.

Their mum dealt with the fight really well – once she had separated them and could see that they were calm enough, she got out her clicker and Treats and played a game of Ping Pong Puppy with them so that they felt comfortable being near each other, doing something familiar that changes their emotional state.

She knows them well and could see they were able to work closely around food without focusing on each other again. Her response to the fight meant that the girls have been fine together and safe enough to be left alone since, after careful monitoring.

Having dogs fighting in the family home can be upsetting for everyone involved and sometimes it can be difficult to work out why the fight has erupted. Dizzy and Tiggy have never fought over food items before.

But dynamics do change within family groups and owners may never really be able to work out why. What matters is managing situations to ensure that ‘hotspots’ don’t happen.

received_10212867948480335If you have tensions between dogs in your family, be sure to avoid any conflict over food, toys and treats. Feed them separately, even if they seem fine over meals, because most dogs will lurk around a dog who hasn’t finished eating, which tends to make both of them eat too quickly for good digestion.

Avoid handling your dogs when they’re together in confined spaces, such as paw-drying in a small utility room. I never have all 6 dogs in our tiny kitchen at the same time when I’m drying paws because 3 of them are uneasy about having their feet handled and I don’t want too many bodies to make the experience feel worse.

If you need to handle your dog in a way that she finds difficult, shut your other dogs away. Most dogs will approach an uncomfortable dog to sniff their muzzles when they sense that the other dog is uneasy. Some dogs find it reassuring, but most don’t. If I need to do anything with any of my dogs that will make them feel uneasy (such as opening their mouths or inspecting their eyes) I always shut the other dogs out of the room.

fb_img_1481572271294Keep other dogs away when you bring a dog home from the vet. Dogs smell strange after a vet visit. They also invariably have raised cortisol and adrenaline levels, which can raise the tempo in all the family pets. They will be very keen to sniff the dog who has been to tell vet, but she will be likely to find their attentions too much, so keeping them separate for up to 20 mins, then bringing the other dog in on a lead and taking things slowly is the best way to help each of them cope.

Try not to let Fizzy, over-excitable dogs crowd together when they come back from a walk or when family members come home. This is another Hotspot Time when excitement can tip-over into snarlies.

By carefully managing our dogs they can soon settle back into harmonious coexistence after a fight. They’re often far less upset by it and forget about it more quickly than we do. Living in a well-managed home like Tiggy, Rufus and Dizzy do makes all the difference to how quickly they go back to being peaceful together again.


We’ve had quite a few changes in the Paws Den over the last couple of years and our hounds have reacted in different ways. Any kind of change in a dog’s world will affect her, but how quickly she adjusts will depend on how calm and settled she is in her own skin.

Some changes are things that we can anticipate, so it’s possible to gradually acclimatise our dogs to something like a planned move, or a new baby. Other things can be out of our control, such as illness in the family, an injury either to yourself, your dog, or even to another dog in the family. Troubled dogs are always likely to react to these things, even if they’ve become a lot better in terms of their reactivity with triggers.


Mothy helping Bella gain confidence with other dogs

It’s not always easy to be able to see why your dog may struggling, and one of the most difficult things to spot is deteriorating eye sight. Our hounds have coped remarkably well with huge life changes that have happened to them over the last two years, but the one who surprised me was Moth.

If you’ve been following us for long, you may have noticed that Moth is doing far less Buddy-dog work than he was. He started to show signs of being uneasy around dogs and people when we were out walking about 8 months ago, but I couldn’t understand why because there didn’t seem to be any obvious trigger.

Alarm bells started ringing when he barked at a dog at some distance away while he was working as a Buddy-dog. He’d been fine with the dog we were working with, but was troubled by one that walked by. This dog was on-lead, carrying a ball, with relatively ‘low’ body language. Admittedly, it looked at him, and the owner was walking very briskly, but they were passing us at a good distance.


Teaching Indie how to be calm on a long line

I had to sit down and have a really good think about what had gone on for him lately. He’d definitely struggled with the upheaval of the building work we had done last year, in a way that he would never really have bothered when younger. What hadn’t made much sense to me at the time was that we had introduced the builders, both kind and softly-spoken men, really slowly to the dogs. They followed all my instructions about how to behave around the hounds. I couldn’t work out why Moth couldn’t settle when they were around – he’d never bothered about loud noises from tools in the house before and was used to me prancing about with power-tools and whacking holes in walls …

I’d started to notice that he would look very intently at any of us coming home in the evening, as if he didn’t recognise us. Then there would be a sort of ‘oh it’s you’ wag and he would soften.


Helping Bella to Feel Good around other dogs

I was still taking him to work as a Buddy-dog, but started to feel that he wasn’t completely comfortable with it. It’s difficult to explain how I knew, because he wasn’t really displaying anything overt. It was one of those ‘just a feeling’ things. I think the most clear signal I was getting was that he kept putting himself on the other side of me when we were working with certain dogs – but this is something that he has always done to calm a ‘scaredy’. However, I started to sense he was doing it for a different reason.

Then came the day when he started to shake when I put his harness on. He’d been fine the day before when I harnessed him up for his walk, but he knows when he’s going to work and when he’s going for a walk, so the shaking was definitely about not wanting to go to work.

I pretty much retired him on the spot. And berated myself for not listening to my instincts when I first suspected he wasn’t comfortable with some of the work we’d been doing. We began watching him really carefully at home to see what was going on for him. Assessing his sleep patterns, his eating, his movement and gait. Anything that could indicate that he was in pain or ill. Nothing came up, but observing him closely showed that he was uneasy about our other dogs coming towards him too quickly. Any over-excitement between them sent him hiding on the sofa out of the reach of exuberant play. He would look very intently at anyone moving towards him from another room, and it clearly took him a while to be able to process the information he was getting about them.

There were even times when he seemed uncertain looking at me. He’s always watched me closely to work out how I’m feeling, but he was sniffing my face a lot more and looking at me for ages – which was when I started noticing the size of his pupils. They were huge, in anything other than the brightest light.

Pupils dilate in order to let in as much light as possible so that light rays travel down the optic nerve for processing in the brain. Moth’s pupils were working overtime because he was having trouble seeing as clearly as he had done.

There was nothing that showed up on a vet-check. His eyes weren’t cloudy, the usual sign of deterioration in older dogs. He’s also only 8, which is young-middle-age in a whippet (my oldest lived to 18). But there was no question that his eyes were becoming less able to see as well as they used to. And as a sight-hound, it was troubling him.


Working with Nia for the first time in the summer of 2016

Whippets and other ‘running dogs’ rely heavily on their sight, much more than they do on their other senses. Moth had started reacting to people knocking on our neighbour’s door, and barking when they opened and closed their front and back door. His ears were becoming far more attuned to anything that he saw as a threat.

But he wasn’t using his nose to compensate for his deteriorating sight! This is a classic symptom in a reactive dog – troubled dogs rely heavily on sight and hearing, and struggle to use their noses to help them assess situations. One of the first signs I look for in a dog that is making progress and turning from a reactive dog into a Thinking-dog is ‘air-sniffing’. This is exactly what it says: when you see a dog sniffing the air. Their nostrils go in and out, they take short, rapid sniffs and often puff out their cheeks to get a second ‘sniff’ with sensory nodules in their mouths. They almost smell and taste the scents.

When I work with troubled dogs I place a big emphasis on nose work – throwing treats on the floor, pinging them across a garden and letting the dog seek them out, and scattering their morning meal across the grass so that they really need to use their noses to find them. Snuffle mats are also a good way of increasing a dog’s ability to use her nose. Sniffing is the way that dogs interpret the world around them, and a dog that uses her nose is invariably a dog that is able to concentrate and be calm.


Working With Nia Feb 2017 and giving her a calming head turn

The fact that Moth wasn’t using his nose made me realise that he was struggling, because his reactivity improved years ago. He has been calm and well-mannered around other dogs for years, but it became clear that maybe his calmness wasn’t as deep as I’d thought. Because he relied so heavily on his eyes to interpret the world.

I realised that he needed several things to help him adjust to his deteriorating eye sight, not least ways to help him deal with the stress that it was causing him. We put many things in place, and you can find all of them in my leaflet Remedies To Help Anxious Dogs (please contact me if you would like a copy at £2.50)

The thing that I knew would help his confidence the most was learning to use his nose more. He’s always had food scattered in the garden (we call it our daily Sprinkles), but I hadn’t really considered the implication of his slowness in finding the treats. I was aware that he gave-up earlier than the others, but he’d always done that (he’s a wee bit lazy!)

After about a month, he was starting to use his nose much more every day. In the last week he has spent quite a long time down the garden seeking out sprinkles with the rest of the dogs. He’s back to being confident and happier in himself, but it’s taken a while.

In the last two weeks I’ve been able to work with him again, after a long hard look at myself. I missed working with him, he’s my 24/7 boy and part of the reason I love my work is because I love working with him. But I needed to know that I was only working with him for the right reasons – it needed to be about what he needed, not what I needed. He’s a working dog, but he’s my buddy and my family and I wasn’t prepared to ‘use’ him, no matter how good he can be with other dogs and no matter how much I feel my business needs him.


My wee boy when he had 20/20 vision

He started to tell me that he was ready again – putting himself between me and the stairs when I was getting ready to go out to work so that I couldn’t walk down them and wagging his tail when I got a harness out for one of the other dogs to come to work with me.

I realised that he was missing it as much as I missed him, so we slowly started working with Seren, and today with Nia. He’s worked with both of them in the past and is very fond of Seren.

He won’t be used again with new dogs – it wouldn’t be fair on him, but I do miss his experience and calmness around some of our more troubled dogs.
So he’s semi-retired! And he’s happy. Harnessed into the car, he sits-up and looks out of the window with a smile on his face. When he saw Nia on Sunday he wagged his tail and was keen to get out of the car to see her, after months of not seeing her. Today he worked with a little cavvie who is very sweet with other dogs, and Moth asked him to play, which he hasn’t done for a very long time.

I feel like I’ve got my old boy back. And that little smile and tail wag are enough for me to know we’ve got it right. :)


fb_img_1481572199011  I recently received this update from one of my clients, who took-on a troubled stafffy x 2 years ago. When Tia arrived, she was so fearful that she couldn’t even cope with being in the front garden. She was happy in the house and back garden, but also had a lot of body-issues and was fearful of people.

With a lot of patience, Shell, her partner Tez and their resident staffy Keegan worked their magic on this little girl.

I’ll let you read it in Shell’s own words. Her honesty and humour give real insight into what a dog with issues needs – and her update is a great example of how long and slow the rehabilitation of a troubled dog can be. Her final comment is typical of a lot of owners who feel guilty about not giving their dogs everything they feel they should – as I told her, she’s got no reason to feel bad: she’s done amazing things with Tia.

received_10212340443773047Tia and Keegan update Jan 2017-01-02

The 20th Jan will be Tia’s second gottcha day and whilst she still can’t be walked on her own (and probably never will) she has made huge progress in the two years we’ve been lucky enough to have her in our lives. We haven’t taught her to sit or lay down, because we want her to comfortable in her home and asking her to do things which she doesn’t want to do isn’t really fair.
When she first came to live with us, meal times were a very noisy affair and could take us up to half an hour to prepare. Every time she barked or jumped up we stopped, turned away and waited until she was quiet and then started again. Now she lies on her mat in front of her cage and waits very quietly (we’ve never asked her to do this) Both dogs are fed in separate rooms with a baby gate separating them. As Keegan eats so slowly, Tia is always finished first. Again, she just lays quietly on her mat and waits for Keegan to finish, then she goes and cleans his bowl.

Both dogs went to the vets for boosters on Friday. Our new vets are very good with both dogs and understand how nervous Tia is of strangers. She’s been a couple times before just to meet the staff and have a smell of the premises. Each time we go she likes to sit on the weighing scales (which I click and treat) This time she went and said hello to the receptionist (twice) and seemed to enjoy a little fuss from her. She was a little worried in the waiting room, but was still calm enough to take treats. Keegan was having none of it, he knew what was coming and, whilst he was happy to say hello to another lady waiting in the room, he didn’t want to go into the surgery room at all.
In the surgery room, Keegan made it very clear he didn’t want to be there, even refusing treats from Tez. He wouldn’t look at the vet and just stood staring at the door. I’m sure he thought if he couldn’t see the vet, then the vet couldn’t see him. That was until the vet gave Tia a treat, then of course Keegan was back in the room and had to have a biscuit as well! Tia said hello to the vet and wasn’t too worried when he stroked her gently and carefully. He just gave her an injection this time, he wasn’t bothered about doing a full check, as he didn’t want to push her.

We try to walk them (round the duck pond) when we know there wont be many people or dogs about, but today we completely misjudged it and everyone man, woman and child were out with their dogs. Tia had a little grumble at 2 separate dogs but we knew why on both occasions. When we see another dog, I will take Tia to walk on the opposite side of the road. She doesn’t really lie down now, (Fern: she used to lie down and be unable to move when she saw anything that bothered her) but will do a half lay down half stand. She just needs time to see what’s coming. Lots of treats at this point, so she is still feeling calm.

Keegan and Tez will be in front of us (about 4-5ft) Lots of treats and soothing talking and we can walk forwards and pass the other dogs without any problems. Then we stand and she sniffs the air from where the dog has been. This is such a massive improvement from the screaming banshee that would spin round on her lead. If she does have a little grumble, we stand still and wait until she has calmed down and is focused back on me. Normally less than 20 seconds for this to happen. I am sooo proud of her. Our walks are so much more relaxed and this morning she had a little swaying bum and tail with a little spring in her step. She seemed to be enjoying it.
The above also happens when she sees a cat, although this can sometimes cause her to go over the top, but again it takes seconds for her to calm down.
Push bikes can be quiet exciting/scary but now she just turns straight back to me for lots of treats, although today she just stood and looked at a couple of the bikes and didn’t need any treats.
I can’t wait to see what else she brings us in the next twelve months, but as with many dogs: each day, sometimes each hour, can be a tiny paw step forward. Especially for any rescue dog.

All the above has been what you have shared with us and I want to say a massive ‘thank you’. I’ll hold my hands up and say I haven’t done as much with her as I should have done and that’s purely down to me. But I’m hoping to change that this year .



It’s All In The Head Turn

fb_img_1479473042709I’ve discovered an interesting thing since I’ve adapted our Loose Lead walking technique. If you’ve been following our Facebook page, you may have seen that we have stopped waiting for pulling dogs to come back to us, Clicking and Treating, then moving off again.

Instead, by turning and walking away in the opposite direction just before your dog’s lead goes taut, we’re finding that dogs are much calmer. They soon learn to walk nicely on a U shaped lead without getting the Feel Good from pinging to the end of the lead then back again for treats. Which can be a bit of a tendency in fizzy teenagers!

The more I watched owners doing it, the more I started to see that their dogs were becoming increasingly focused on them and a lot less likely to engage with triggers.


Rosco is looking at Finn because my body isn’t turned away. Finn is giving him very clear calming signals

It was using this Loose Lead technique with our Grumbly dogs that made me realise that it was having a profound effect on the triggers as well. By turning away from an off-lead dog which is running into your on-lead Grumbly, you’re giving a very clear message to both dogs: I am not engaging with that dog.

It’s human nature to want to keep your eye on an approaching dog. We tend to feel that we need to know what it’s up to so that we can control the situation.

But does being able to see what it’s doing really mean you can control the situation? Watching it isn’t going to stop it approaching. And what your dog really needs you to do is get her away from it.


Teddy and Seren are both giving each other calming head turns and shoulder turns.

What made increasing sense was that approaching dogs were stopping when we turned away from them. Not all of them – there is always going to be the bad mannered dog that bounces up to others, but in the last fortnight I’ve had only one dog continue to come in. And when the client and I talked things over after the event, she said that she realised she had turned and looked over her shoulder at it, which was when it came up to us.

Not only did it make sense, it almost made me think: It’s so obvious! We’re teaching all our dogs to give calming signals to other dogs and yet WE’RE not giving them. Most of you who read this blog regularly are fluent in reading dogs and know that head turns, shoulder turns and curved bodies are clear ways that our dogs tell others that they don’t want to engage.


My back is turned to another dog – so Archie and I are giving it clear calming signals

And yet what are we doing when our dogs are doing that? We’re actually really muddying the waters for them by turning full-on to the approaching dog and looking at it.

When I’m out with my little gang, if another dog approaches, all of them give calming signals. They all head-turn and body-curve. Because of what I know about dogs, I tend to turn halfway away from the dog, but I’m not sure I can hand-on-heart say I always do. Because I feel my job is to protect mine.

So they’re all throwing out loads of calming ‘back-off’ signals and there am I, the human klutz in the middle of them, with my body directed right at the other dog and looking at it so that I can assess its mood and  work out how safe my dogs are.

My head is always down and turned away, though, no matter what my body is doing. And I give ‘eye-swipes’ rather than look straight at it. But that’s not enough. My body is still saying ‘Yup! Game on! Come and join us!’ Even those eye-swipes are enough for a fizzy, bouncy teenager to see it as encouragement to keep coming forward.

I’ve tried using the full head and body turn with several dogs in the last fortnight and found that one very determined dog (with upright, aroused tail, bristly ears and fixed-stare) actually sat down when my client, her dog and I turned and walked away, and kept looking away from it. Even when were were at a safe distance, we stood and kept our backs turned and it was then that I glanced (under my armpit!) at it and realised that it had sat down.


Goku’s dad is starting to turn away, and you can see from Goku’s stance that he’s about to turn away and refocus on his dad.

It isn’t an easy thing to do. Like I said, it’s in our nature to want to check on what another dog is doing, especially if you live with a Grumbly. I think a lot of us tend to feel very protective of our Grumblies, because we work so hard not to put them in positions where they might feel they need to react. But, really, if you’re looking at an approaching dog, what can you do to help your dog that you can’t do if your back is turned on it?

It isn’t going to stop if you’re looking at it. So looking at it isn’t controlling it, or controlling your dog.

Looking at it doesn’t mean you’re better equipped to help your dog out.

Because the only thing that will ever help your dog in this situation is giving her more distance and getting her away. If your head and body are turned away from the trigger, I’m finding that a natural response seems to be that your dog focuses more intently on you. Your attention is also on your dog – which is exactly where it needs to be when you’re trying to walk her calmly away from a trigger.

You’re better equipped to Mark and Treat her for referring to you instead of looking at the dog, because you’re thinking about her rather than the dog.

Which means youre a whole lot less likely to trip over a tussock of grass than when you’re scurrying away, giving frantic looks over your shoulder …. Much calmer for everyone!


Moth and Indie calmly focusing on me