Are some breeds of dog more prone to separation anxiety?

“You can’t teach a beagle recall” said the proud new owner, as her young beagle strained at the end of his extendable lead, ignoring her pleas to steady/ leave and ploughing all his energy into trying to reach the group of dogs at the end of the park.

There are SO many popular myths about certain breeds and what they can and can’t do. The vast majority of them make me cringe inwardly as I realise the self-fulfilling prophecy about to unfold.

Since this was a chance meeting in a park I didn’t mention that I know loads of beagles with excellent recall. Yes, they can be a challenge, but if you know your dog there’s no reason why your beagle can’t enjoy at least some off lead privileges, in the right time and place of course. The same is true for separation anxiety treatment.

Cockapoos, Shih tzus, Maltese and Whippets

As a separation training expert, there are some breeds of dog that I see more of than others. I almost always have at least one poodle cross on my separation training list, for example. Right now, 3 out of the 8 are poodle mixes.

As a scientist, I know to be careful about making false connections between cause and effect. You can’t toss a frisbee in most parks in Scotland without it landing near a “doodle” or “something – poo”. So really the only certain conclusion is that these mixes and types are hugely popular just now, so naturally I would expect to see more of them.

Other breeds that I am regularly asked to help are shit tzus, schnauzers, whippets, Maltese and cocker spaniels, as well as mixes of these. I am yet to see a Labrador or Border collie for separation anxiety and yet they are also popular breeds, and I see them often for other issues. So maybe there is more going on that simply the popularity of a breed when it comes to separation anxiety.

Nature vs Nurture and how it might affect separation anxiety in dogs

At the root of it all, different breeds have been (and continue to be) developed for different purposes. This deliberate selection of physical and behavioural characteristics will of course have an impact on how the dog copes with different types of situations.

Breeds that were developed over hundreds of generations to enjoy human companionship above all else, for example Shih tzus, Maltese and toy poodles likely have a pre-disposition to form closer bonds with humans and therefore struggle more when they aren’t around them.

Companion breeds are also likely to be better at communicating with people, or expressing their needs in a way that allows humans to pick up on them. Compare this to the behaviour profile of hunting or guarding breeds. Many of these breeds have been developed to spend a lot of time alone, in a role where showing you are worried would be a disadvantage and maybe even a risk.

It is worth considering then that some breeds are under-represented in separation anxiety cases because they are stoic, and may be quietly panicking in a way that doesn’t cause the same inconvenience as a dog that howls, soils indoors or wrecks the house.

Similarly, very active breeds of dog that also bond very closely with humans, such as the working cocker spaniel may find being home alone hard, both due to their need for long periods of mental

(not just physical!) stimulation AND their love of being with people. Cross these with a toy poodle and it suddenly maybe isn’t just an issue of cockapoos being the “in” thing!

It’s all about the individual

So, there may be some breeds that might struggle more with spending time alone. Does that mean they are destined to get separation anxiety?

I honestly don’t think so.

Being aware of your dog’s breed disposition is a useful foundation from which you can approach helping them cure their separation anxiety. If you understand where they're coming from with their anxieties, and sympathise, you are much more likely to succeed in helping them to be okay at home alone.

This is the nurture bit of the nature/ nurture debate, and of course, the bit where separation anxiety training comes in.

Life experiences can have profound impacts on the individual. If you have a dog that has been through upheavals such as relationship breakdowns, house moves, transport between countries or ill health, it is natural they might feel shaken and unsure. An older dog may develop separation anxiety as their health fails and their faculties become less reliable. They are aware they are more physically vulnerable and may need security from the owner’s presence, despite having previously been fine when left alone.

If you suspect your dog is likely to be more prone to separation anxiety, the best thing you can do is tread carefully and protect them from any experiences they might find too challenging. Training is still possible, but you may wish to consult with an accredited behaviourist or veterinary behaviourist to make sure you’re on the right path.

Dogs that are naturally more anxious from puppyhood, or those that have experienced a traumatic event may also benefit greatly from medication. Medication for separation anxiety is not a quick fix, but a way of creating space and calm, within which your dog can learn that being alone is safe.

How to avoid choosing a breed that is prone to separation anxiety

  • When choosing a dog breed, try to see past the claims of “easy to train”, “clever”, “good with kids” etc (these are applied to pretty much every breed by their enthusiasts anyway) and do research into what the breed was actually intended for. By this I don’t mean a quick google (this is probably the worst way to research dog breeds), I mean actually get out there, talk to owners and meet dogs that are living the life they were bred for. Meet others that are succeed as pets without presenting with behavioural issues.
  • Seek out people who are willing to share their NEGATIVE experiences and regrets too. What didn’t work and why? This goes for all aspects of behaviour and expectations for the dog you want to share your life with.
  • Be honest with yourself. Huskies are gorgeous, but if you only have time for a big walk on the weekend they aren’t for you. If you fancy a cockapoo but work away from home for more than 40 hours a week, you might be better off choosing a less sociable or more aloof breed, or rescuing an older dog that is used to having less close contact time with people and can be happy home alone.
  • There’s a temptation to try and prove you're “good enough” for the breed/ breeder/ individual dog. It feels good if the club seems like an elite bunch. But like dating, the truth will out in the end and this is a relationship that will last for a lifetime, so you want to get it as right as you can from the start!

Finally, and above all else be ready to train! Whatever your dog’s breed and background, they are going to face challenges and since you control all aspects of their life, they will rely on you to help them deal with things.

Separation anxiety is incredibly tough on both owner and dog, however regardless of your dog’s breed, avoiding and even fixing separation anxiety is completely possible. Please don’t be like the beagle owner and think that there’s nothing you can do to influence your dog’s experiences and behaviour. Where there is a will there is a way, as they say!

How to help a dog with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety causes so much stress and upset, and yet despite the inconvenience and expense, most of the owners coming to me for help have one major question:

“How can I help my dog overcome their separation anxiety?”

I find it so heart-warming that despite all the difficulties the owner is facing – their number one priority is the welfare of their beloved pet.

There is no quick cure for separation anxiety in dogs, and I feel very strongly about being honest about this from the start. If you do see a trainer advertising a quick fix, please be aware that they will be using methods which punish your dog – using fear, intimidation or even pain to try and suppress separation behaviours (such as barking, chewing, house soiling) – but this will not treat the root of the issue.

Treating separation anxiety properly isn’t about finding that one single fix, it is all about the little things you do to help your dog feel more happy, safe, relaxed and ultimately, for them to stop worrying about being left. No one can do all of it straight away, so my best advice is do what you can, and be kind to yourself and your dog!

Here are my top 5 tips for accelerating your separation anxiety training:

My top 5 tips to help a dog with separation anxiety

1. Be understanding: your dog is in crisis and needs your support. As a person who gets easily stressed, I sympathise with the whole range of emotions you may feel as a result of your dog’s separation-related behaviours.

Anger at destroyed furniture or treasured possessions, extreme stress over big bills for day care or vet care, the guilt of knowing your dog is unhappy when you’re gone, and the total overwhelm of trying to find a solution and feeling like you’re failing all take their toll and that is completely natural.

The thing is you have lots of options, but your dog does not. They are not choosing to do these things – they are DRIVEN to do these things by a brain that is set to panic mode when you go. Understanding that your dog is doing their best, just like you can help you start to see that you really are in this together, and will need to work together to overcome the problem.

2. Suspend absences: the physiology of stress and panic play a huge role in your dog’s behavioural development. In an ideal world, once you recognise your dog has separation anxiety, you will never again leave them for longer than they can cope. If you are thinking “impossible!”, I get it and I am with you. But please keep reading!

Why is it important not to leave your separation anxiety dog alone? Well, first of all, if you don’t leave them, they won’t panic and so the problem behaviours you have been seeing won’t happen. This sorts out the short-term problems of destruction, howling, toileting etc.

Most importantly though, the part of the brain that is keeping tabs on “scary” scenarios such as being left, will get some time off and as we were all told again and again at school – “if you don’t use that bit of your brain it will stop working”. Well, this is one situation where that is exactly what we want!

If you can’t stop leaving your dog completely, that is okay. Rather than going “cold turkey”, try to leave them less each week. Enlist the help of family, friends and neighbours if you can, as many dogs will be okay to go out on a walk or hang out with someone else – especially if that person has tasty treats!

3. Talk to your veterinarian: sooner rather than later. There is a huge range of expertise amongst vets, so try to ensure you have a vet on your side who will listen, and who understands what separation anxiety is and more importantly what medications are available to support your separation anxiety training. 

I don’t know any owners who say they wished they’d waited longer to get pharmaceutical help with their dog’s separation anxiety training. Many, however, say they wished they’d tried anti-anxiety meds sooner. A good vet will understand that meds and behaviour training go hand in hand when treating separation-related behaviours, and will help you make the right choices to support your dog.

4. Spread the love & promote happiness

Spending quality time with your dog and engaging their brain and body with fun activities, games and stimulating toys promotes the production of “happy hormones”, enhancing your dog’s wellbeing and helping them feel safe, secure and relaxed. This won’t “cure” their separation anxiety, but it will give you a much better starting point for separation anxiety training. I see many clients who have been on exactly the right track with their training and it hasn’t worked – because their dog needed to unwind and feel safe and happy FIRST!

As nice as it is to be the centre of somebody’s universe, I think we can all agree obsession isn’t healthy! Spreading the love and good times across more than one person will ensure your pup doesn’t see you as the only source of awesome! If you have more than one human at home, try to spread meals, treats, playtime and walks evenly between caregivers. If your pup is hyper-attached to one person, try shifting the balance so that the majority of good things come from another person instead.

If you’re a one-human household, try to get friends and family involved in walks, treats and other things your dog enjoys, or find a caring dog walker or home day care who can get on board with your separation anxiety training and give your dog some special treats and walks that they wouldn’t get with you!

5. Get some expert advice and support

One of the things I hear again and again from my clients is that they find it incredibly confusing trying to pick their way through all of the conflicting advice. It comes from neighbours, friends, family and of course the huge volumes of information we can access online.

There’s good information out there, but also lots of incorrect, outdated and just plain bad advice. What works for one dog may not be appropriate for another dog, or may even make them worse. It is essential that you understand WHY some things will work for you and others won’t so that you can make the choices that will advance your training.

The thing to remember is that good training has good science behind it. If trying to understand the science makes your head sore, or you simply don’t have time, then find a qualified behaviourist to help you. Not only will this person take the hard work out of putting together a training plan, but they will also provide much-needed emotional support and help you realise that you are not alone, that you didn’t cause this problem and you can fix it!

Preparing your separation anxiety dog for fireworks

It’s that time of year again, the season so many pet owners dread as they prepare to pull out all the stops to protect their pets from the anxiety and even terror that many will experience at the sight, sound, and smell of fireworks!

I recommend everyone works on preparing their dog for fireworks season each year (check out the Dogs Trust’s brilliant sound therapy programme here). Even if your dog has previously been fine with fireworks, it pays to check in with them and make sure they will still take it in their stride. Age, ill health, changes in circumstance, and life events can all mean your dog may be more fearful at certain phases in their life so never take it for granted that they will be fine.

If you have a dog with separation anxiety, however, it is even more important that you prepare them and have plans in place to protect them as much as possible from the anxiety fireworks can cause.

Why is it more important to prepare separation anxiety dogs for fireworks?

  1. Your dog already has an anxiety disorder. This means that they are much more likely to find other stimuli anxiety inducing and to show a more extreme reaction to fireworks.
  2. Anxiety works at the chemical level on your dog’s brain and body. Severe stress, or repeated stressful exposures can cause long term or even permanent problems with the way your dog reacts to stressful stimuli and how well / quickly they can recover.
  3. If you have been working hard at your separation training, the last thing you want is to lose all that progress because your dog has panicked at fireworks.

Put simply, the fewer over-threshold experiences your separation anxiety dog has, the better and the more able they will be to progress through separation anxiety training.

How to protect your separation anxiety dog during fireworks season

It pains me to say it, because I know just how many adjustments the owners of separation anxiety dogs already make to keep their pets calm and happy. There’s no way around it though, fireworks season calls for extra care, changes to routines, changes to your home set up and even changes to medication regimens and daily walks and activities.

Here are some of the adjustments that can help your separation anxiety dog through fireworks season:

  1. Plan to stay home. Since you have a separation anxiety dog you’re probably shouting at me now about exactly how many weeks and months you’ve already been staying home. But I need to say it anyway just in case. For obvious firework dates (Nov 5th and Hogmanay here in Scotland) plan to stay home throughout the day and night. If your dog has a preferred human who they feel more secure around, plan for that person to be home. If they need the whole family, get everyone to plan a night in. Be extra present for your dog.

2. Chat to your vet about meds. Yes, that’s right, meds. Not supplements, or herbal remedies. This isn’t the time to try CBD because it helped your mate’s Jack Russell chill their beans. There are tried and tested, licensed meds to help dampen your dog’s stress response and help prevent them going into full panic mode. If our dog is already on medication for their separation anxiety, you can still chat to your vet about whether another, short acting (situational) medication might help or find out if adjusting the dose of their current medication is an option.  If your dog panics at the sound of fireworks, meds could stop that panic and save you and your dog a lot of distress.

3. Set up a den area well in advance & reinforce your dog for choosing it. This one thing can make all the difference. I get it, it’s a hassle and your living room isn’t that big anyway, but get creative! It is only temporary and if it prevents a training set back then it is worth it, in my opinion. Try to insulate the den area against sound and flashes of light from fireworks and spend bit of time training your dog to enjoy relaxing in there with a log lasting chew. This is a license to build a blanket fort and cosy up in it with your dog, what’s not to love (a crate will also work, if your dog likes crates)?! With a bit of planning and preparation it is even possible to hide the fact fireworks have even happened too (I’ve seen it done!).

It is common for people to put the TV on to hide fireworks sounds, but perhaps more effective is pairing the den time with something that more effectively masks sound – a white noise machine or a couple of radios playing classical/ jazz/ reggae can work wonders and become a normal part of the den routine  rather than a potential cue that something is “wrong”.

4. Change your dog’s routine before bonfire night. Whatever night you are expecting fireworks, you will need to change walk times, toilet times and potentially mealtimes to ensure your dog doesn’t need to go outside after dark (at least until after midnight when it should be safer). Change can be upsetting, so gradually phase the changes in a few days before. This way your dog will be more likely to take things in her stride and be more resilient if there is an unintended exposure to fireworks. If your dog is not used to spending time on lead it is a good idea to practice this too, or invest in a long line that you can keep hold of. Sadly many a canine life has been lost after an unexpected firework has caused them to bolt.

5. Set up activities that make your dog feel good. I don’t think there is such a thing as too much enrichment for dogs. They get such a kick out of exploring, using their noses, jaws, tongues and paws that any opportunity to do this boosts wellbeing (engaging in these behaviours releases endorphins – “feel good” hormones). Scent games such as “find it”, snuffle mats, stuffed KONGS, long lasting chews, Licki mats – anything that keeps your dog relaxed and happy – are great choices both for exercising your dog at home during fireworks season and to give them emotionally positive behavioural options on firework night itself. Use your dog’s food allowance or reduce this and supplement with higher value treats if you are worried about weight!

6. Be ready to pause separation anxiety training. You can’t teach someone to swim while they are drowning, so if your dog does have some panicky/ over-threshold experiences during fireworks season, be ready to take a little time off training. A day or two may be sufficient but let them tell you when they are ready. Being left home alone when you were recently terrified for your life is a big ask, and one that most of us would not agree to. Fill training time with enrichment or fun training activities instead – boosting those happy hormones and your dog’s confidence will help them recover more quickly.

7. Remember, whatever happens it is not your dog’s fault. Panic, fear and anxiety are not behavioural choices. Your dog’s reaction to fireworks is a result of a deep and very real sense of danger. They have no way to understand what is happening and with such sensitive noses, eyes and hearing what they are perceiving is likely hundreds, if not thousands of times more intense. Please be patient and understanding with them and take time to comfort them if they “ask” for it.

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!

How to Stop a Dog Jumping Up

Although we specialise in helping owners fix behaviour problems such as aggression and separation anxiety, we are often asked to help solve more common issues as well! Jumping up is dog behaviour that many owners struggle to control, so here are some of our best hints and tips if you are in the process of teaching your dog not to jump at people!

Why do dogs jump on people?

Dogs are naturally agile animals who are easily able to climb or jump in order to access things they desire – from food items to toys to the faces of humans where expressions, eye contact and spoken words come from.

For smaller dogs and puppies, hands are also out of reach and generally viewed as bringers of good things – food, treats, toys, and affection.

Jumping up as such is not an inherently “bad behaviour”, but for various reasons, it can be something you’d rather your dog didn’t do.

Three ways to stop your dog jumping up

If jumping up is an undesirable behaviour to you, you have three main ways to tackle it:

  1. Discourage the jumping
  2. Encourage better alternative behaviours
  3. Manage the behaviour

Since dogs often thrive best when we teach and reward them for succeeding at what we want from them, a combination of all three is the most effective way to stop your dog jumping up at people. Bear in mind different situations might call for different solutions or a mix of techniques.

Discourage your dog from jumping up

You can discourage your dog from jumping up at you by turning away from your dog when they jump. This prevents them from gaining access to the reward they are seeking (your attention!). You can also immediately leave the situation or the room entirely to signal “I don’t want to interact if you behave like that”.

You could also discourage jumping by applying an unpleasant stimulus – however, this may lead to your dog associating yourself or other people with the unpleasant experience, instead of linking it to their jumping up, so we would not recommend this option.

Reward an Alternative Behaviour

Instead, consider what you would like your dog to do instead of jumping when they meet a person. Would a sit be nicer perhaps? Or is just keeping all paws on the floor sufficient?

You can encourage these better alternatives by making proximity to the floor more rewarding. Feed your dog treats on the floor by your (or other people’s) feet to make orientation downwards rather than upwards more interesting (remember, as far as dogs are concerned, usually all of the rewarding stuff from humans comes from above!).

You can also ask your dog to perform a well-known trained behaviour like sitting when they meet a person. Over time, repetition and lots of rewards, your dog will learn that if they sit during greetings, they will earn good things.

Manage your dog’s behavioural options

In addition to teaching your dog what you do want them to do, a very important part of the training process is also to manage the situation to help your dog succeed.

If your dog tends to immediately jump at people in close proximity, then rather than letting them practise this behaviour and then having to wrangle your dog off the person, how about stepping on their lead before the other person approaches so that your dog doesn’t have a chance to get their muddy paws all over your friend’s new dress? Because this management option makes it almost impossible for your dog to make the unwanted choice, it also means that your dog gets much more opportunities for being rewarded for good behaviour!

In your home, how about using a baby gate or room divider to prevent your dog from gaining reinforcement right away when guests come in? Instead, they can calm themselves down behind the barrier, and you can then reward every bit of desired behaviour without your guests being jumped on. Your guests can then move closer while your dog is still managing to remain standing or sitting politely.

If your dog gets overly excited each time a stranger wants to pet them, you can absolutely also simply ask the person not to engage with your dog in order to help with your dog’s training! Instead, ask the person if they would be happy to stand and chat to you while you reward your dog for good choices. This allows your dog to gradually learn what behaviour is expected during these situations without being overwhelmed by the excitement of meeting a new person.

This option is also great for dogs who jump to create space between them and other people. Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs jump up in excitement or because they want interaction……

Jumping up can mean your dog is uncomfortable or anxious

While many dogs jump up in order to gain attention and affection, there are some dogs who jump up when they are uncomfortable as it typically makes the person back away and give them space.  Watch your dog for signs that they might be trying to get a person to back off. For example, they may only jump when someone goes to lean over them or reach over their head, or you might notice subtle signs like tongue flicks or your dog glancing away before they jump up.

These dogs should not be put into situations where they need to begin jumping in order to feel safe, so instead, ask the person to give your dog space and then reward your dog for remaining at a distance. These dogs often welcome a safe space at home (such as a baby gated area or pen) and sometimes need to re-learn to offer a behaviour such as walking away from a person, if they have previously only experienced being “stuck” in a situation and have learned that jumping up is the only effective way to get space.

Whatever your dog’s reasons for jumping up, there is always a solution. Remember that shaping behaviour is all about creating learning opportunities. Be patient and observant with your dog whilst they learn and if things don’t go to plan – reassess and try a different set-up next time.

Author: Christina Wells

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

Welcoming a dog into your home

Do you still remember what it was like when you first decided to welcome a dog into your home? Perhaps you spent weeks researching breeds, perhaps a rescue dog online caught your eye, or perhaps you suddenly found yourself with a dog by sheer chance.

Most of us will have spent days, weeks or even months dreaming up what our life would be like with a new dog in the house. What would they look like? How would they fit into our lifestyle and routines? Which dog training classes would we attend? Where would we take them to socialise? If your dog came from a rescue abroad, you may have only got to know your dog through photos and videos as well – poring over every bit of footage in a bid to get to understand their behaviour and personality traits.

Nevertheless, for most of us, our imagination will fill in the blanks and help us to envisage exactly what life will be like with our new addition.

Then, our dog comes home. They may be tired and stressed from travelling, they may be confused, they may show behaviours you weren’t expecting to see…

They may not match the image your mind created.

And that can be incredibly disappointing and disheartening. You might even find yourself grieving the dog your imagination had dreamed up. You might feel regret towards your new dog because they aren’t what you had anticipated.

Please know that it is normal to feel those emotions and it happens to more new dog owners than you think.

In my personal experience, the first couple of weeks or so are the most challenging. The stress of being in rescue and often the long journey to their new home can mean that your new dog may initially struggle to cope with all of the new experiences. Just like when us humans are stressed out, stressed dogs may also behave in ways that aren’t typical for them.  With new puppies, keep in mind that they have just gone through the separation from their mother and siblings, and they too need time to settle in and learn your routines.

Try to allow your new dog sufficient time to decompress and find their feet in this new life and remember to also allow yourself time and patience to settle into this new normal and get to know the real dog you’ve just welcomed into your family. Training your dog at this point shouldn’t be the priority as you both need time to bond and feel comfortable with each other. Do reach out to a clinical or veterinary behaviourist early however if you see extremely fearful behaviour or any signs of aggression. A qualified and accredited behaviourist will help you understand your dog and get you on the right path much more quickly and easily the earlier you get in touch.

It can feel relentless and the change to your usual routines can be overwhelming and exhausting. Both you and your new dog need periods of time where you can both switch of and relax, so ensuring you both have some quality time without each other can be really helpful. For your dog, this could be a tasty long-lasting chew in their crate, and for you it could be taking the time to have a relaxing bubble bath and some “me time” without your dog.

For some of us (canine and human), this period of settling into the new normal may take just a week or two, for others it may take a month, and for yet others, it may even take a few months. Please don’t be afraid to share your feelings and thoughts with your friends or even with dog professionals – most of us have gone through it once or more as well, and we are here to help you and your dog through it, too.

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