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?

Wrong!

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