Quick fixes for separation anxiety in dogs

If you’ve read any of my articles, or indeed if you have been researching dog separation anxiety for any length of time, you have probably already received the message loud and clear that there are no quick fixes for separation anxiety.

It is human nature though to be curious and to hope that somehow you might be one of the people who gets an easy win. In our desperation to help our dogs, the idea of a quick fix can seem incredibly alluring. This is especially true if the source seems credible – a trusted friend for example or a well-regarded trainer.

To help you in your efforts to help your separation anxiety dog, I’d like to share my thoughts on three of the most commonly touted “quick fixes” out there.

“Crating your dog will cure separation anxiety”

Barely a week goes by when I don’t see someone recommend crating your dog as a cure for separation anxiety. But like many quick fixes, it is good to take a moment and think about why this might appear to work.

The one thing crates do very effectively is limit behavioural options. A crated dog can’t chew on your furniture, will hold his bladder and bowels to avoid soiling his sleeping area, and – if out with human earshot – can bark and cry all day without anyone being any the wiser.

It is a sad truth that many dogs with separation anxiety are crated or confined, and it may therefore appear the problem has been solved. But ultimately the problem isn’t the unwanted behaviour, it is the underlying anxiety. More often that not crating does not fix anxiety and can even cause an escalation into all out panic. I often suspect that those dogs that have been “cured” by being crated, never actually suffered from separation anxiety but were maybe engaging in a bit of mischief whilst home alone!

If you’re not sure, and you do try crating your dog as a cure for separation, make sure you use a camera or video call app to watch them in real time if they are crated or confined. This way you can make absolutely sure that your pup is calm and relaxed, and not just anxious but out of behavioural options.  If your dog does appear distressed (barking, whining, panting, digging or trying to chew their way out), you should go back to them immediately, to prevent further emotional trauma.

“Stop separation anxiety with an anti – bark collar”

Anti-bark collars work by applying an aversive stimulus to punish a behaviour. We need to be very clear about what this means. Your dog performs a behaviour and then a stimulus is applied that is uncomfortable or upsetting enough that it discourages them from performing that behaviour again. Whether an electric shock, vibration, spray, or other “stimulus”, in order to be effective, the punishment must be highly distressing in order to effectively supress the behaviour.

I’m sure you don’t need me to spell it out, but just in case: stopping barking does not cure separation anxiety. They are two different things, albeit they are of course related.

If you do attempt to use an anti-bark collar to fix unwanted behaviours, you need to be prepared to cause your dog fear and / or pain (note – many manufacturers of these devices will use words such as “stimulus”, because it sounds nicer, don’t be fooled!). Given that your dog is already very distressed when left alone – does this seem like something that will work in the long run?

We can’t fight fear with more fear. It’s not only unethical but scientifically, it just doesn’t work.  It may address the short-term issue of barking, but you will almost certainly see further unwanted side effects (including potentially dangerous aggressive behaviours) as their mental health unravels. Imagine the most fear-inducing situation you could be in (spiders? Zombies? Needles? Flying?)  and then imagine wearing a collar that shocks you or sprays you in the face every time you try to ask for help. Would you become less afraid of that situation, or more so?

If you really feel you can’t solve the problem without using the anti-bark collar, please reach out for the help of an accredited dog behaviour expert. They won’t judge you, but will be able to guide you away from the anti-bark collar and towards more friendly and effective treatments for your dog’s separation anxiety.

“Leave lots of treats and food & your dog will learn to love being left”

This is another common piece of advice that unfortunately won’t give you a quick solution to your dog’s separation distress.

A dog that is anxious or panicking is in no mood to eat. Think about times when you have been anxious or scared. Often, not only do we not feel hungry, but the very thought of food can also make us queasy.

This is because when the body goes into distress mode, all systems that are not linked with immediate survival are paused or bypassed. There will be time for eating later – but only if we survive the current threat to our survival and wellbeing.

If you have tried leaving your dog with tasty treats or a meal, only to find they don’t touch a single morsel until you get home (at which point they start gobbling it all up!) you have witnessed survival physiology in action already. Some dogs however, will eat when left despite being distressed. If you have a very food motivated dog and are unsure, watch them on a camera when you leave them with food and look out for signs of stress in their body language and overall demeanour.

Just to confound things, this isn’t to say you can’t try using food in your separation training. High value food and treats can also be really useful in training puppies and young dogs to spend time alone – but only if they haven’t already developed a fear of being left. Pair introducing very short absence (a few seconds at a time) with a high value chew or stuffed KONG, but make sure your pup knows you are leaving. Building this gradually over time can help dogs that have never been left to learn that it is nothing to worry about.

So, there you have it! My take on three quick fixes for separation anxiety that maybe aren’t as black and white as they first seem!

Scent Training Made Simple

Step 1

It is widely known that dogs are really good at sniffing. There are dogs who sniff out drugs, dogs who point out bombs, dogs who can smell impending medical crises, and of course, hunting dogs who can sniff out game. Not only does sniffing help us humans in various ways, but it also helps the dogs themselves! Their sense of smell is how dogs “see” the World. Their sense of smell is arguably more important to them than their eyesight. This means that to feel truly fulfilled, to feel truly “dog”, our dogs need to sniff! It exercises their mind and their body; it makes them feel good, it calms them down and can help promote good behaviour.

Most of our dogs will find that stray bit of cheese you dropped on the floor, or the piece of kibble that rolled under the fridge. But how do we teach them to find something that isn’t immediately edible?

It’s very simple, really – dogs will sniff out inedible items for us because they have learnt that the item makes good things happen! Typically, this is food, but for some it might be their favourite toy. Every time they find the item, they get rewarded handsomely.

And this is our first training step!

You will need:

  • Scent item (this can be anything you choose as long as it’s safe; a particular small toy, a tin with a dried clove inside and a few small holes in the lid; there are lots of options!)
  • High-value small treats
  • Clicker or marker word (a marker word may be easier as you’ll have both hands free)

Once or twice a day, for a few minutes, have your treats ready and present your dog with the scent item. As soon as they show any interest, mark, or click, and feed them a couple of treats right above the scent item. Feeding them right above the scent items will encourage your dog to gravitate towards the item. Then, toss a treat to reset your dog, and present the item in a slightly different location. Again, as soon as your dog shows any interest, mark and reward on the item. For the first couple of sessions, hold the item in your hand before you progress to placing the item on the floor in close proximity to where your hand would be in the next sessions.

Note: In between training sessions, keep your scent item in an airtight container, ideally in the freezer! This is to keep the odour distinct and prevent your dog from learning that the odour doesn’t matter.

Step 2

If your dog immediately moves their nose to the scent item in anticipation of the reward every time you present the item on the floor, you are ready for step 2.

You will need:

  • Your scent tin or scent item from Step 1
  • High-value small treats
  • Clicker or marker word (a marker word may be easier as you’ll have both hands free)

Begin your training session with a couple of repetitions of step 1: holding your scent item in your hand and marking and rewarding your dog for moving their nose to it. Then, progress to placing your scent item on the floor and mark and reward your dog for seeking it out with their nose.

If this goes well, you can now progress to adding a little bit of distance between your dog and the scent item by placing it a little bit further away from yourself. You can do this while tossing a treat to reset your dog.

Initially, your dog may look a little perplexed when they discover that the scent item isn’t where it had previously been located. If this happens, simply freeze your body for a few moments and let your dog figure it out by themselves. Their sense of smell should kick in and they should follow their nose to the scent item.

As soon as their nose reaches the item, mark and generously reward your dog above you’re the scent item. Then, toss a treat to reset them and move the tin to a different location.

Over the course of perhaps two or three short sessions, you can move the scent item up to two or three metres away from where you are standing.

When your dog is confidently seeking out the scent item after each reset, you can now introduce a verbal cue like “Find it!” or similar.

As soon as you observe your dog striding towards the scent item, say your cue and wait for your dog to locate the item before marking and rewarding as usual. The first few times you use your verbal cue, your dog might interrupt their search and look at you, wondering why you’ve suddenly spoken to them. As before, simply freeze your body for a moment and allow them to figure it out by themselves.

In preparation for Step 3, your dog should practise confidently locating a visible scent item or tin within a 2 or 3 metre radius of your original location (on verbal cue, if you’ve introduced one).

Step 3

You will need:

  • Your scent tin or scent item
  • High-value small treats
  • Clicker or marker word (a marker word may be easier as you’ll have both hands free)
  • A rug, some cardboard boxes, towels, similar objects

Step 3 will look and feel a lot more like “proper” scent training. This is because we are now fading out the visual cues for your dogs.

As always, start your session with a few repetitions of the previous learning step. If your dog succeeds easily, you can progress to today’s lesson.

Scatter your rug, towels, boxes, and other items around your training area. You will be using them to gradually hide your scent tin or item for your dog to find!

Initially, only hide your scent item partially. Tucking it under the edge of a rug, for example, is a great way to start.

When you first moved your scent item in Step 2, your dog might have been a little bit confused. You might find that they pause for a moment here, too. Freeze your body and let your dog work out where the item is. As soon as their nose reaches your scent item, mark the behaviour, and generously reward your dog on the scent item.

Toss a treat or two to reset your dog and hide the item in a different fairly easily accessible location, then let your dog find the item.

During this training phase it is really beneficial to vary your hides as much as you can. This teaches your dog that the environmental context doesn’t matter – only the odour matters!  Use buckets, chairs, boxes, fabrics, flowerpots…. Just make sure that the scent item is still easily accessible to your dog and that they are able to succeed each time.

Step 4

In Step 4, we are progressing your dog’s ability to locate the target scent item in different hiding places, and we will teach your dog to immediately begin searching an area, even when you’ve left them in a different room while you hide your scent item.

You will need:

  • Your scent tin or scent item
  • High-value small treats
  • Clicker or marker word (a marker word may be easier as you’ll have both hands free)
  • A rug, some cardboard boxes, towels, similar objects

Start your training session with a few repetitions of fairly easy partially hidden scent items, and then a fully hidden scent item (inside an empty box or behind a chair leg, for example). If your dog succeeds, let them wait behind a closed door while you place your next hide.

Ensure that this time, the hiding place is very quickly and easy to locate. Your dog should ideally almost immediately smell and find the target item once you let them into the room.

Repeat this step a couple of times to clearly communicate that being left outside of the search area is now part of the game.

You can now become more creative with your hiding places – vary the height of the placement, vary the objects in/under/among which you hide your target scent item, and begin to challenge your dog!

If your dog struggles, reduce the level of difficulty and allow them to succeed again to keep them enthusiastic.

Odour fills the air of a room pretty quickly, so after the initial couple of searches, your dog will find it harder to locate the strongest concentration of the target odour (your scent item) among all of the residual odour in the room.

You may notice your dog searching where you’ve previously hidden the item. To make it easier for your dog, you can either open windows and doors for a few minutes to clear the air before you let your dog search again or move to a different room and hide your scent item there.


Author: Christina Wells

The Magic U-turn

If you are sharing your life with a dog who exhibits overreactive behaviour towards certain things, you will know that it is super hard to avoid these encounters on your daily walks.

Every time you come across the trigger – whether it’s another dog, a person, or even a vehicle – you feel the anxiety rise inside you and the dread of your dog’s imminent overreaction. But you also know that you need to get through the encounter – after all, your dog won’t ever learn how to behave properly otherwise, right?


Many years ago, this small piece of advice completely blew my mind and changed my world as the owner of a dog-reactive dog. Maybe it will do the same for you.

Instead of gritting your teeth and walking headfirst into yet another overreactive disaster with your dog, you can actually simply turn around and walk the other way before your dog explodes!

Using u-turns can drastically reduce the stress for you and your dog when walking your overreactive dog and they can even help your dog create positive associations with their trigger, too!

Let me explain.

When you first teach your dog the u-turn skill, you reward them every time they turn with you. Soon enough, just the word signalling the imminent turn will bring up feel-good vibes in your dog!

When you then say that word upon spotting your dog’s trigger, your dog will still receive these feel-good vibes associated with the word and can gradually associate the sight of their trigger with those good feelings, too.

If your dog is scared of their trigger (rather than over-excited), moving away from the trigger can further increase their feeling of safety and confidence as they are learning that they won’t be forced into the encounter.

Here is another nugget of gold to transform your walks:  not every u-turn is the same and some are more effective than others! What?

Traditionally, you would probably turn away from your dog and have them follow you around in a semi-circle until you both face the other way. Much like this:

Whilst this way of u-turning will still move your dog away from the trigger and spare you both the stress and embarrassment of a big reaction, it does allow your dog a full 180 degrees of visibility – a.k.a. time to build up stress and still react!

Instead, try turning into your dog! This means that your dog is facing the opposite direction much quicker and has far less time to look at the trigger.

Start training this skill by luring your dog inwards with food initially, and without any actual triggers present, until your dog will easily and happily turn with you as soon as you say the word.

Then, you can start using this magic u-turn whenever you are about to find yourself in a situation that you feel is too challenging for your dog to handle at that moment in time.

Let me say it again for those in the back: you are allowed to opt out of challenging encounters if you want to! It won’t negatively affect your dog’s training progress and it may help to maintain your sanity at times.

Author: Christina Wells

Should I get another dog?

Whilst many behaviour problems (such as barking, separation anxiety and dog reactivity) are not solved simply by getting another dog, dogs are very social animals and there are certainly benefits to both canine and human family members of adding another set of paws to the household. It isn't a decision to take lightly though!

Most people think that having an additional dog will be just the same as their current number of dogs (what’s one more, right?), and it absolutely can run just as smoothly - if you have the right things in place. Here are some things to consider if you're thinking about getting another dog.

Managing multi-dog households

I’ll preface this blog by sharing that my husband and I currently share our lives with six dogs of different ages, sizes, and backgrounds, and the tips given are based on my personal experience and are things that make our large multi-dog household easier to manage.

Generally speaking, the more dogs you have in your household, the less you can let slide. With just one dog, you may not mind so much if your dog changes sides frequently when walking on lead, it may not be such a big deal if one dog gets a bit hyper in the house occasionally, it’s easy to grab one dog if they dash out the door…. But, add one or more dogs to the situation, and it soon becomes a lot less enjoyable.

If your dogs vary significantly in size or age, they may have different needs and preferences that need to be catered for to ensure their safety and comfort. For instance, if you have numerous young large dogs, but also a small senior dog (Like I do!), then it is important to make sure that your senior dog has a safe place to retreat to when the young ones get a bit too rowdy with each other. In addition, it will also fall to you to ensure that the young ones do not cause bother to your older dog.

My top tips for effortless multi-dog households are:

  • Crate training! Having the option to crate your dogs safely and comfortably, means it is so much easier to work with individual dogs on their own, feeding high-value chews without arguments, ensuring adequate rest, and so on.
  • Designated sides for lead walking! If you have two or more dogs, it is so much easier to walk them together when each dog knows on which side of you they are supposed to walk on. This prevents you from being tripped up and tangled and makes so much more pleasant for everyone.
  • Colour-coded leads! This tip is less relevant for those who have just two dogs, but with three or above, I find having colour-coded leads invaluable! This means you know immediately which lead is attached to which dog and especially in emergencies where you need to grab a specific dog as quickly as you can, this can be super helpful.
  • Individual training! This is probably the most valuable tip of all. For any dog to be able to reliably follow instructions and perform desired behaviours in a group, they ideally need to have learned and practised them individually first. It is very easy to let your training slide when you’re handling multiple dogs, and it is a slippery slope. Make sure you regularly train your dogs on a one-on-one basis – your dogs’ skills will be sharper, and their individual confidence will benefit, too.
  • Condition a strong recall cue!  Of course, teaching recall is always a good thing to do, but when you are trying to keep tabs on numerous dogs, it becomes even more important to be able to call them all to you immediately as it’s much harder to “just grab them”.
  • Condition their names well! Most dogs know their names, but often we use their names so often in day-to-day life that the name loses its value as a cue. With larger multi-dog households, it can be very helpful to condition your dogs’ names as individual recall or attention cues. This allows you to recall or get the attention of an individual dog reliably when needed without summoning the whole group.

Author: Christina Wells

Booking for our May dog training classes is live!!

We are super excited to announce that our Puppy and Adolescent dog training classes will start again this Spring!!

Our dog training classes start on Wednesday, May 18th and will run for 6 consecutive weeks. The classes are run and organised by our two fully accredited canine instructors (PACT-KSA ABTC-ATI), Elona and Minas.

Using force-free, positive reinforcement, reward-based training methods we will help you be your dog’s best friend, we will look into the subtle signs that dogs use to tell us how they feel about their environment and interactions in addition to training some of those well sought out behaviours that every dog parent wants!

In our puppy class, we will work through some basic obedience training such as sitting/lying down, engagement and focus work when on and off the lead! We will focus part of our classes on the massive topic of socialisation. Quite often, the term socialisation is only used to describe when our puppies meet new dogs and people, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The only limit to socialisation is our imagination: walking on usual surfaces like stones, a hard floor, sand; hearing new sounds; seeing unusual items like crouches, a person wearing a hat/glasses. We will introduce your puppies to some common “unusual experiences” from a safe setting and we will coach you on how to read your dog and how to help them go through an exciting experience!

In our adolescent dog training classes, we will take things a step further to proof the behaviours your dogs might know already or to teach them new ones. We will work on recall and loose lead walking near other dogs and human distractions; we will play focus games in the exciting class environment to show your dog how much fun they can fun with you rather than the dog next to them! We will work on your dog’s settle behaviour and target mat training.

Our puppy classes are suited for puppies that are up to 6 months old at the start of the class while our teenage trouble class is suited for dogs from 6 months and older. We will tailor the class to the individual dog’s needs so this is the perfect class for young dogs learning new behaviours or for older dogs where you might like to take things to the next level!

We can’t wait to start training with you!

Elona & Minas

The Best Harness For Training Your Dog

y-front harness

Training your dog to walk beautifully on the lead starts with getting the right equipment. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no one harness that will stop pulling and teach your dog to walk on a loose lead, but making sure your dog is comfortable and secure is an important place to start.

Using body harnesses for our dogs has grown in popularity over the years – they keep our dogs’ necks safe when pulling into the lead which is especially good for young puppies who haven’t yet learned how to walk nicely.

With popularity comes choice, and boy, do we have a lot of choice when it comes to buying a new harness for our dog! Different sizes, styles, materials, colours…

Which Harness Style For Your Dog?

Whilst most manufacturers will have brand-specific features in their designs, we generally have two main walking harness styles: The Y-front and the straight-front (also known as a Norwegian harness).

As the names suggest, Y-front harnesses feature a Y-shaped design on the dog’s chest and straight-front designs feature a single strap running horizontally across the chest.

Y-front harnesses come in a lot of variations, but the predominant design remains the same. This style of harness is favoured by most dog trainers, behaviourists, vets, and physiotherapists since it allows free movement of the dog’s shoulder blades. Y-front harnesses typically have one or two fastening buckles on the dog’s back, although brands like Perfect Fit do offer additional buckles on the neck as well. This can be helpful for dogs that don’t like harnesses that go over their heads.

Most brands offer one or more Y-front options, for example, the Ruffwear Front Range Harness, the Hurtta Casual Y-Harness, the Red Dingo Classic Dog Harness, and many more.

y-front harness

Straight-front harnesses have a bit of a tarnished reputation due to the positioning of the chest strap, but they can be good alternatives for dogs who do not like the feeling of the additional strap between their front leg, or who don’t enjoy pushing their heads through the fairly small neck opening. Straight-front harness feature a much larger head opening than Y-fronts and usually only have one buckle on the dog’s back or side, so are very quick and fuss-free to put on and take off.

This harness style can be a great choice for dogs who are in the process of learning to feel comfortable when wearing a harness.

One of the most common straight-front harnesses we currently see is probably the Julius-K9 IDC Powerharness, but many other brands will offer a straight-front option as well. The Hurtta Casual harness or the Hunter Norwegian Racing harness are other examples.

Houdini Hound?

However, if your dog is a bit of a flight-risk – perhaps a new rescue dog, or a dog who is fearful of certain triggers in their environment – a straight-front harness is not the most ideal choice since they are designed to allow a dog to quickly back out of the harness.

Instead, consider an escape-proof double-strap harness for flighty dogs. This style is typically a Y-front harness with an additional tummy strap that fastens behind the dog’s ribcage, thus preventing the possibility of reversing out of the harness when frightened. This style is also brilliant for deep-chested breeds such as Whippets. We love the Ruffwear Flagline harness, but there are quite a few options on the market now.

What If My Dog Hates Their Harness?

Whilst we usually consider harnesses the most comfortable equipment choice, some dogs can find them quite aversive and may avoid having to wear one. We can usually improve a dog’s feelings about wearing a harness by spending some time introducing it gradually with positive reinforcement, but we also recommend checking the harness fit and inspecting for signs of wear and tear every week or two, as ill-fitting or damaged harnesses can chafe, pinch, rub or even cause acute pain.

As your dog grows and develops, they may also change shape and need a different size and fit of harness. For older dogs, there are variations of harnesses that allow you to give extra support and lift your dog’s back end. Our friends at Canine Arthritis Management are a great source of information on equipment for the older dog.

If despite your best efforts your dog still really doesn’t enjoy wearing their harness, consider trying out different styles to see if your dog prefers a different fit, or opt for a collar or even a head collar instead. Every dog has a different preference and it’s okay to choose what your individual dog feels most comfortable in! Do bear in mind that if your dog is a puller, attaching the lead to a collar or headcollar could put severe strain on their neck and back though, so if opting for this, lots of loose lead training (and possibly some expert help!) will be essential!

So, there you have it! A good harness won’t stop your dog from pulling, or cause them to pull, but the right harness for your dog can help them feel happy and comfortable. Happy dogs learn faster and better, so spending the time to find the right equipment for your dog will set your loose lead walking journey up for success!

Author: Christina Wells

New Year’s Resolutions that benefit you AND your dog!

New Year resolutions

The new year is a time for new beginnings and putting good intentions into action. We wanted to share a few ideas that could make 2019 an even more fun and successful year for you and your dog!

dog adventures

1. Go on a new adventure!

Humans are creatures of habit but dogs LOVE to explore. Why not make time for you and your dog to get out and about to some new walking locations? Some of our favourite Edinburgh dog walks are Blackford Hill, Lauriston Castle, Portobello beach and the Water of Leith. If you’re stuck with what’s within walking distance of you, try mixing up your routes, or explore paths you’ve not been down before. Research also shows that going to new places can help combat stress, boost happiness and increase resilience in humans too!

2. Teach your dog a brain game

Despite what people might say, you absolutely can teach a dog of any age new tricks. The challenge of learning new games with your dog will increase your bond and give them a mental work out. We love the shell game as all you need is three containers and some tasty treats and you’ll soon be impressing family and friends! There’s plenty of brain games on the internet though, and in fact, a whole book of ideas if you get stuck!

3. Yup, dogs need diets too

Or more correctly, dogs need us to be “on it” in making sure we’re feeding them the best we can manage, and in the right amounts! Breed, age, size and exercise levels all influence what kind of diet will best suit your furry friend. For many owners, cost is an important factor too. Luckily, the website www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk is on hand to allow you to compare all these factors and more to find the food that is right for your dog. You may also what to discuss options with your veterinarian.

4. Bin that ball chucker (or use it less!)

This one is more of a plea than a suggestion. Whilst it may seem like a great way to exercise your dog, ball chuckers are responsible for creating “adrenaline junkies”, and more and more vets and dog health professionals are recommending they are used sparingly, if at all, to prevent injuries and excessive joint wear and tear. If you don’t want to bin the ball chucker altogether, how about using it to launch treats as part of a challenging game of find it? Have your dog wait for a release cue while you chuck the treats, for the added bonus of teaching impulse control as well as working their brain, nose and body!

5. Be a better communicator

Our relationships are only as good as our ability to communicate, and this is even more important when you don’t share a common language. With terms like “dominance” and “alpha” still firmly in the public imagination, it’s more important than ever we look to science and keep up to date with new developments in our understanding of dogs. Learn more about dog communication through the dog decoder app or silent conversations website, or check out this brilliant Canine Body Language book to get a better insight into what your dog is trying to say.

6. Start a teeth cleaning routine

Believe me, this is largely for your benefit as an owner, since many insurance companies do not cover dental and almost all dogs will need at least one (expensive) procedure in a life time. All you need is 2 minutes, 3 times per week, and with patience and understanding you can work up to cleaning your dog’s teeth. Start with a small amount of enzymatic tooth paste on your finger and let your dog lick it off. Repeat each time, allowing your dog to become familiar and comfortable before starting to gradually touch the teeth and build up to handling the muzzle. As long as you don’t force yourself onto your dog, and allow them to move away when they wish, after a few months you should have a dog that enjoys this process and will start to tolerate a doggy tooth brush as well.

7. Check your equipment

Take 5 minutes to check your dog’s collar, lead, harness etc for wear and tear, and most of all for fit. If you’ve ever had shoes that rub or clothing that is too tight, then you will sympathise with the importance of making sure our dog’s equipment fits comfortably. We recommended harnesses rather than collars for walking dogs on lead, as restricting airflow can cause stress and if your dog is a strong puller they can easily damage the delicate apparatus inside the neck (more vet bills!). Perfect fit and ruffwear make excellent harness that are comfy and secure, and last a long time.

8. Rotate that toy box

If you’re anything like us, your dog’s toy box probably resembles an archaeological record of toy eras, with the most recently played with at the top and a long forgotten, overdue-for-a-wash kong at the bottom (or if you have a collie, severally layers of balls). Tip it all out on the floor! See what your dog chooses and mix things up a little. You can also put toys away from time to time (even the favourite ones, actually, especially the favourite ones!) and bring them out at a later date to keep things fresh and interesting!

9. Address that bad habit

We all have them, dogs included. Whether it is dribbly staring at you while you eat, jumping up when you get home, or running off when they see someone more exciting than you on a walk (or just anyone who isn’t you on a walk), I will be surprised if your dog doesn’t have any! Very few problems fix themselves, so why not get proactive and come up with a training plan? A brilliant pro tip is rather than telling your dog NOT to do something, train them to do something that isn’t compatible with the bad habit, using loads of fun and treats to reinforce the preferred behaviour. Targeting your hand or going to a mat are great examples, and with enough practice, slowly increase the levels of distraction, you can make sure this is your dog’s number one favourite thing to do!

10. Make sure your details are up to date

Last but most important, take 10 minutes this week to check your dog’s microchip details are up to date and that they are in fact registered on a database. Shockingly, a large proportion of dogs found straying each year are chipped but the chip implanter failed to register the details with the microchip company. All that a finder will know in such a case, is that your dog is chipped and where it was chipped. They will not be able to reunite your dog, and you may struggle to even prove the dog is yours if it ends up in the wrong hands. Scary no? Indentibase and Petlog are the two main chip database in the UK, you can call Identibase on 01904 487600 and Petlog on 01296 336579, or check your chip registration through their websites.

We hope these ideas have inspired you, we’d love to find out more about your doggies resolutions on our facebook - https://www.facebook.com/edinburghdogbehaviour/

Wishing you all heaps of love, wiggles, games and adventures in 2019!

Tips for attending “dog friendly” events this summer

puppy training

There are thousands of venues and events across the country that are designated “dog friendly,” from local pubs to music festivals. Here in Scotland, we're doubly lucky because we also have statutory access rights, giving everyone the right to roam across some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, so taking your dog out and about is easy.

But before you decide to bring your dog along to a "dog friendly" festival or other event this summer, ask yourself: Would they really want to go? How will you be able to tell when they might not be enjoying themselves, and how can you make sure they have the best possible time? Read on for a few tips...

Photo courtesy kris krüg on flickr (creative commons)

What does “dog friendly” really mean to a dog?

This will of course depend on the individual dog, their likes and dislikes and what particular things they enjoy (or prefer to avoid).

Take my own two dogs for example – Luke is highly sociable with people, but he can find it stressful being around lots of other dogs. He is also getting on in years and so doesn’t have the stamina for long days out. Mabel is sociable with people and dogs, but finds interacting with lots of them one after another quite stressful. Being deaf, she is hyper-sensitive to movement, and this can get tiring very quickly. She is also sensitive to vibrations: She can panic if a car passes by pounding loud music out of the window, or we encounter one of those awful things people add to their car exhaust to make it even noisier (apparently called a “cherry bomb” – right).

I have attended lots of dog friendly events in my time, and to the trained human eye, it can be a quite a distressing experience. Dogs are brilliant communicators, but most of their signs and signals are quite subtle and can easily go unnoticed, especially if their humans are busy having a good time.

Some signs that a dog might not be sharing in the fun include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive salivating
  • Tense body or face
  • Inability to settle
  • Freezing/staring
  • Ears and/or tail held low
  • Lip smacking
  • Tongue flicks
  • Turning the head away, facing away or trying to walk away
  • Excessive or exaggerated yawning (dogs use this to communicate stress)
  • Licking or jumping at people
  • Whining/barking
  • Shaking
  • Hiding
  • Refusal to take treats (especially if they would normally do so at home)
  • Aggressive behaviours such as growling, snapping, biting

Any of these behaviours, especially for an extended period of time, or if there are several of them in succession, suggest a dog is actually having quite a bad time. Although many dogs will cope with being unhappy, is that really what we want when we take them out and about?

Is it your dog’s first event?

If your dog has no real experience of crowds, noise, or new environments, you will definitely want to introduce them gradually to each of the various aspects, ensuring you can manage things in a way that makes your dog feel safe and relaxed.

Introducing too many things all at once is enough to overwhelm, and can result in ongoing anxiety and behaviour problems.

dog friendly events

Above: This dog is not showing any overtly friendly body language, and has limited behavioural options should she want to avoid being touched by the person reaching towards her. When meeting strangers, your dog should never be restrained, and should be encouraged to move away if they are not feeling sociable.

(Photo courtesy Sunny Wan on Flickr / Creative Commons)

How to make sure you AND your dog have a good time

Before deciding to take your dog along to a “dog friendly” event, think carefully about what you will be asking your dog to put up with at that event, and for how long.

  • Will there be crowds of people?
  • Lots of noise?
  • Will it be too hot or too cold?
  • Will they have to travel?
  • Will they miss, or have delayed meals?
  • Will there be anywhere quiet for them to rest if it all gets too much?

Make a decision as to whether the event really will be something they will enjoy – if not, or if it is going to be a long day, your dog will likely be calmer and happier left at home or with someone who can spoil them with the things they do enjoy.

How to help your dog have a great time

If you decide to take your dog to a "dog friendly" event, the following tips should help ensure they have the best possible time:

  • Pack a bag to ensure you have everything needed to keep your dog comfortable and happy: include plenty of water, something comfy to lie on, favourite toys and some special treats;
  • At the event, monitor your dog regularly for signs of stress, and to see if they are trying to communicate that they would prefer to be elsewhere;
  • Take regular time-outs: find somewhere secluded and quiet where your dog can rest (give them something soft to lie on if the floor is hard);
  • Be your dog’s protector if necessary – don’t let people “force themselves” on your dog. Let your dog approach them and walk away when desired. This is key in preventing aggressive behaviour towards people (how else can your dog tell people to go away?);
  • Do not be surprised if your dog shows different behaviours to those you might expect. S/he will be working hard to monitor and manage interactions with everyone in the vicinity, which can be exhausting even if they are having a good time. We all know that being tired makes us a bit less inhibited, or grouchy, sometimes.

Listen to your dog. Wherever you take them, you are responsible for their welfare. If you think they might be having a bad time, take them home.

Never tell your dog off or use punishment if you don’t like how your dog behaves. Make a note of what went wrong, and find ways to reward alternative behaviours in a less stressful setting. Punishing or shouting at your dog will make them more anxious and less trusting of you and other people.

Do I take my dogs to dog friendly venues and events?

Both my dogs are sociable and do work to assist me with behaviour cases, but I know their limits, and I know that for the vast majority of venues and events they would prefer a nice walk and then a kong and a chill at home rather than a noisy place where they would have to greet everyone in the room and then start again from the top (fun but tiring) as well as monitoring for the things they might find worrying (for Luke – other dogs, for Mabel – fast moving things).

Luke used to love coming to the pub but as an arthritic older man with a much greater requirement for rest he is now more comfortable snoozing at home, although the odd trip to a quiet pub with comfy places to sit is welcome (we love The Espy in Portobello!)

Do I wish I could bring my dogs to more events? Sometimes, but ultimately it isn’t about me, and by leaving them at home I can enjoy myself without worrying about them, knowing they are happy and safe and waiting for me to join them doing the things we love when I get home.

If Your Dog Is Showing Aggression

dog angry
dog angry

Once you have identified what (or who!) is causing your dog to act aggressively, try to ensure that your dog is able to avoid it as much as possible. This will involve carefully managing your and your dog's environment for a while until you can get an appointment with a behaviourist.

  • Plan walks for times of day or areas where you can easily avoid your dog’s triggers – for example, stick to open spaces where you can see other dogs approach and will have plenty of time to move away so your dog does not have to react aggressively to keep another dog away.
  • If aggression is occurring in the home, ensure the dog can retreat away from the trigger of its aggression and always ensure family members are kept safe by teaching everyone how to avoid triggering the aggression, or by containing your dog in a separate room until you can get advice from a behaviourist.

Never, ever, punish a dog for behaviours such as growling – as your dog may simply learn not to growl and may then attack without warning. Use growls as a source of information as to what is making them uncomfortable and respect this until you can start behaviour work to teach the dog a more appropriate way of reacting.