The straw that broke the camel’s back – What is Trigger Stacking?

We’ve all experienced it; that moment when we have had many different things piling on us and then one seemingly tiny, insignificant instant and it all comes pouring out.  I will never forget the first time I understood Trigger Stacking.  It was a few years ago and I was having a very busy time at my former job, covering double shifts and taking on more and more responsibilities.  At the same time my husband had been informed that he was suddenly not going to be able to get off the ship he was working on for 4 months. 

I decided one Sunday afternoon that I was going to go for a hike with my dogs and enjoy the lovely day and relax.  I’d planned my route, packed my daysack and gathered my walking boots to put on when I arrived.  After the 40 minute drive I arrived at my destination and groped about for the walking socks I needed to wear as I had driven in sandals.  Only to come up empty.  I had forgotten to stuff socks into my walking boots.

I lost my cool.

I had a break down in the car; screaming, sobbing and hitting the steering wheel and just completely lost my top. 

Over socks.

My poor dogs were silent in the back of the car, not understanding what had changed my mood so suddenly.  After about 5 minutes I managed to calm myself enough reassure my dogs and rethink my walking plans.  I ended up on a quiet forestry walk, not quite the epic hike I had planned but it allowed me to relax enough to think about what had happened.  I later shared my day and the hilarity of loosing it over socks with some friends and one who is a dog behaviourist told me they called that trigger stacking.

I was instantly intrigued and I think it was one of the things that got me to start looking at changing to a dog training career.  I looked up this new phrase and how it was not only relevant to me but to my own dogs.  It started to make complete sense how Bertie could be perfectly fine with a dog one time and then loose his shit the next time he encountered that same dog.

So what is it?

We all have a limit of how much stress we can handle, dogs included.  Like me a few years ago, various events throughout my life had contributed towards this limit until I couldn’t handle the stress anymore and my body went into reaction mode.  Stress can be a lot of things, not necessarily bad, nor induce a dire reaction such as my steaming fit.  In dogs, reactions to a trigger stacking can range from barking, lunging and biting to a sudden case of the ‘zoomies’.  How the dog reacts will vary depending on the situation but it is always sudden and intense. 

One way to think of it for both humans and dogs is in terms of a cup; some have a pint glass, others a tea cup and some a shot glass.  Each of these  ‘cups’ can hold a different volume of stress.  By continually filling the cup with stressful things, eventually the maximum volume is going to be reached until it spills over the edge.  That moment of spillage is the trigger that sets off these intense reactions.  It doesn’t have to be a significant thing to set the spill-over, but as there have been previously stressful things happening, this one event became the trigger that sets it off.

How do we stop the spill-over? 

When a stressful event is occurring, the body reacts to it by releasing adrenaline and cortisol in a huge rush, gearing the body up to react if necessary.  This is sometimes known as fight or flight. But while the release of these hormones is a sudden thing, it can take up to 72 hours for them to reduce and leave the system.  So having a quick culmination of stressful events, gradually builds up the concentration of these hormones until they hit critical mass.  Going back to our cup analogy, the lack of allowance for cup to empty itself (allowing the hormones to leave our system) will see it keep filling up until spillage occurs.

Dogs that live in long-term stress will have a cup that is constantly filling up and so there is less room for more stress to fill it.  Dogs in constant stress will be increasingly likely to start reacting suddenly and intensely far more often.  It is important that when stressful things occur, we allow for the body to calm down and empty its stress cup.  Dogs with long term stress issues need to have what is causing that underlying anxiety addressed.

Teach a dog to learn to relax in the presence of triggers to stress and encourage relaxing occupations such as sniffing.  Take a day off from walking and spent a quiet day at home enjoying doggy massage, nosework, having fun playing or doing some relaxed training.  Allow for them to come down and empty out their stress cups, giving them greater tolerance for future stress events and decrease the likelihood for a trigger stacking event to occur.

Kennel Cough – The in’s and out’s

The Kennal Cough season is upon us, I’ve already heard of a few suspected cases starting up in the South Wales area so thought it was time to get this blog out ASAP so people can learn about the in’s and out’s of the big KC.  I wrote this in my former life working for a Doggy Daycare.  Kennel Cough was the stuff of nightmares for those types of set up when trying to control an outbreak.  I hope you find it informative and gives you better insight as to why pet professionals are very strict when it comes to Kennal Cough.

What is Kennel Cough?
Kennel cough or infectious bronchitis at it is technically known, is a respiratory infection commonly caused by a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica and the Parainfluenza virus.  It is effectively the dog equivalent of the common cold or flu.

How is it transmitted?
Despite the name, kennel cough isn’t solely found in kennels, although due to the confinement and nature of kennels, it spreads prolifically there.  Dogs can pick up kennel cough from anywhere.  It is airborne and highly contagious and can be passed on through shared objects like water bowls or toys.  Dogs greeting each other in the park can easily pass the infection on.  As with humans, dogs that are immune-compromised, old or young, are at higher risk of infection and susceptible to complications, such as pneumonia .

Can humans contract Kennel Cough?
This is a bit of a debated topic among scientists.  Due to the bacterial nature of the respiratory infection, it is thought by some that there is the possibility of KC crossing over to humans, but only those with immune-compromised systems or living in low ventilation environments could be susceptible.  If you are at all worried and have a family member who falls under these categories then it might be a precaution to keep any canines with suspected Kennel Cough away.

Can it be prevented?
A few of the infections that can cause kennel cough (canine adenovirus type two, canine parainfluenza virus, canine distemper, and canine influenza) are part of the standard vaccines every dog has from a pup and are required to come to any Rat Pack Dog Services’ services.  This should also be the case for any of the pet service industry, from walking to grooming.

However, the most common bacteria present in kennel cough is Bordetella bronchiseptica.  This is a separate vaccine that is administered either by nasal drops or injection.  As there are many strains of this bacteria, not all are covered by the vaccine and your dog, even vaccinated, can still potentially catch kennel cough, though the symptoms are usually reduced.

This vaccine is not compulsory for attending any of our services but if you choose to vaccinate your dog against kennel cough, you will need to inform us.  Please be aware that some pet services require this extra vaccine, such as boarders and some walkers/daycares.  Due to the vaccine using ‘live’ cultures, your dog can pass it on to others and give them kennel cough.  Once vaccinated, your dog will have to be kept out of our classes for a period of two weeks to prevent any infection.

What are the symptoms?
The most well known and obvious symptom of kennel cough is the persistent honking and retching cough it induces.  Please look at the YouTube videos we have provided below to give you an idea of the sounds of kennel cough.  The distinctive cough is the main symptom exhibited but other symptoms include:

  • A “reverse sneeze” sound, distinctive to a normal cough
  • Sneezing
  • A dripping nose
  • Sore and inflamed throat
  • Inflamed and runny eyes
  • Loss of appetite and reduced energy levels
  • General lethargy

Kennel cough has an incubation period of two to 14 days, and some dogs can be carriers of the infection for months without developing symptoms.  Your dog could have the infection but not show any signs.  This is easily spotted in multidog households where only one dog may be showing the signs, but all dogs still must be isolated incase they are carrying the infection.

Puppy Showing KC signs – You can also view the video here

Brachycephalic breed with KC – You can also view the video here

More KC symptoms – You can also view the video here

Think your dog has Kennel Cough?
Don’t panic!  Contact your vet for advice.  Like the human cold or flu, a dogs immune system can fight against the infection and vets will usually give medication to help fight the infection.  Humidifiers can also help reduce the severity of the coughing.

Please let us know if you suspect your dog has kennel cough and keep us up to date with the prognosis from the vet.  It is important you inform us as soon as possible because you will need to stay away from classes until your dogs has been symptom free for 2 weeks.  We will also need to contact other clients who might have been in contact with your dog to make them aware of possible infection.  If you have already paid for a course, you will be able to make up the missed classes within 3 months of having the all clear from the vet.

Useful Links

Moving Home

A year ago I moved out from my family home and bought a house with my other half.  The Rack Pack were just 3 at the time and we decided that Tizzy would remain living with my mum (who now has Lottie living with her too).  Bertie and Lulu were to come with us to the new home as they were more attached to me and my partner.  Bertie and Lulu had never known another home beside so moving to a new environment would be as stressful a transition for them as it would be for us.

It’s a whole new (scary) environment that they don’t know the smells, sights or sounds of.  It’s common for dogs in homes that have moved to bark more, toilet inside, act subdued, or even over excited and stressed.  Even though my dogs are used to going and staying in new places as they always come on holiday with us, this was a whole new kettle of fish.

We were lucky to be able to move into this new property gradually and at the same time desensitise, familiarise and build positive experiences with the dogs.  I started with bringing them to visit the house to explore and scope it out.  I left the house open for them to wander freely and left them to it while I decorated.  Surprisingly they soon found themselves sun bathing in the garden.  Not even barking at all the new sounds, including barking dogs!

These short visits extended to longer all day ones and I brought over their toys and puzzle feeders.  I did some trick training and generally played with them while having a break from my painting.  We went for walks during the day to explore the surrounding area as well.  I wanted to leave them to it, to be able to settle themselves and come to me if they needed reassurance.  They rarely did at this point.

The big test was when we finally moved them over permanently.  They’d yet to sleep in the house.  They were restless the first night and it took a week of routine to start to settle themselves in.  They had their happy place in the conservatory and garden, that I made sure they always had access to.  Lulu went back to sleeping between my partner and myself, we allowed this as she needed the security and reassurance and knew she’d eventually return to sleeping in her own bed once she felt secure enough, which she now does.  Bertie’s main display of unsettlement was humping Lulu, something he rarely did in our last house.


Here are some hints and tips for ways to ease the transition for your dogs when moving to a new home.

  • Plan ahead. Where in your new home is your dog going to sleep and spend their time in?  Setting up and safe place for your dog to retreat, with all their familiar things like bed and toys, should be done the first day.
  • Teach your dog to settle on a mat, then take that training to lots of places and encourage the settled behaviour in many settings, indoor place like pubs, cafes, friends and family houses. You’ve got a ready made settle place for your dog in the new home by the time you move.
  • If it’s feasible, bring your dog over to the new home several times before you actually move. Let them familiarise themselves to it over time.
  • Reinforce the right behaviours. Go back to basics and reward heavily for toileting outside, indoor manners and calm behaviour.  You’re in a new place so you want to make sure your dog generalises their training to the new home.
  • If your dog reacts to noise and barks, calm them or distract them from the noise and then reward quiet calm behaviour when the dog doesn’t react anymore. Go out into the back garden and chill with your dog, let them take it all in.
  • Occupy their time with mentally puzzle feeders, interactive play and fun training sessions. Turn your home into a positive and safe place to enjoy spending time in.
  • Take your dog on a walk in the area, let them get used to the sights, sounds and smell of the new environment you’ve moved to. Let them establish themselves with a bit of doggy ‘pee post’ communication with the other local canines.

Above all, my advice to anyone moving home with their pets is to have patience, you need to go at their pace.  Don’t punish them for accidents, destructive behaviour or barking.  Make them feel safe and loved at all times.

Happy and content a year later!

Doggy Tips for Heat Waves

Doggy Tips for Heat Waves

Summer has finally decided to show up and bask us in her balmy weather!  How is everyone coping this heat?  Personally I have been ensconced in my home as much as possible until the evening while the Rat Pack have been content to sun bathe until they are panting.  I am glad this year not to be in my former dog walking job as this time of year was a mixture of sun burn, bug bites and sweat. So much sweat.  It also came with the added stress of making sure my charges were safe from over heating and dehydrating.

As a country, we love to cook ourselves in the limited time the UK has this weather.  But that doesn’t mean we should project that onto our 4 legged friends.  I’ve put together a list of tips and considerations during this period.

Out Walking

  • Change out your walking schedule to early morning or late evening, pick walks that have shade and a natural water supply such as a lake or stream. Take water with you on your walks if there isn’t.
  • Invest in a cool coat. These coats are great for Northern breeds and other dogs that don’t do well in the warm weather. A cool coat can be taken out on their walk for added comfort.
  • Get your car cool before you load your dog in it both before and after a walk. It doesn’t take long for a dog to suffer injury from being in a hot vehicle, even if you are in it.
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended in a car. If you do have to leave your dog in the car, make sure they have water and the car is sufficiently ventilated so it doesn’t heat up in your absence. Personally I wouldn’t bother risking it, things like cooling units can fail.  You also have the pet zealots in your area looking for an excuse to smash your window and abuse you on social media.
  • What colour is your dog? If you have a white dog or thin coated breed then you’ll need to slather them up in sun screen to protect them from burning. Equally bare in mind that darker dogs will absorb the heat more so will by affected quicker.
  • What breed is your dog? Short nosed breeds such as Frenchies and Boxers have a hard time keeping their temperature down and breathing sufficiently so they are likely to suffer faster even from just a jaunt in the garden.
  • This goes for overweight and elderly dogs! They are far more likely to suffer in this weather as well so need to be taken into consideration.
  • Think of the surfaces you are walking your dogs on. Place your hand on the ground, can you keep it there for more than 5 seconds? If not then it’s too hot and can burn your dog’s paws.  Note especially for concrete, tarmac, rock and sand surfaces.
  • Shorten your walks, in this weather, dogs heat up like you do so cutting a walk a big shorter will stop them getting too hot and bothered.
  • Consider not walking your dog at all. Yeah, I know, blasphemy, but I know I sure as hell can’t be bothered to do much in this weather. Your dog might be just as content to while the day away at home and enjoy some enrichment activities.

At Home

  • You can purchase special cool mats for your dog to lay on at home if they aren’t coping with the weather. An alternate to this is to soak towels in water and let the dog lay on it or drape it over them. The evaporation acts to cool the dog.
  • Frozen treats are a great way for a dog to stay cool and enjoy the weather. You can purchase special doggy ice creams to keep in your fridge or make your own. Better yet, freeze you own concoction or the dogs dinner into puzzle feeders like Kongs and get the dual effect of coolness and enrichment!  Take away boxes with water and kibble/treats frozen in it are another idea.
  • Kiddie paddling pools are super cheap and another great way for dogs to keep cool. Add in their toys and enjoy splashing around with them. You can even buy the hard plastic variety to prevent punctures.
  • Bobbing for frozen peas and carrots is a simple and yet engaging activity that you can pull out at short notice. Most households have frozen veg to hand and plonking some in a bowl of water can keep your pooch happily engaged.
  • Set up a shady area in your garden if you don’t have any natural shade already. Being cooped up solely in the house can be boring so by setting up a shady spot outside, it provides another area to enjoy with all the sights, smells and sounds of the neighbourhood.
  • Keep your dog’s coat brushed and not clogged with hair. A dog’s coat is their air con as well, shaving a dog can actually make them feel the heat more.

You need to be aware of the signs that your dog is suffering and at risk of heatstroke.  Look out for the following symptoms:

  • Excessive and ongoing panting
  • Brick-red gums
  • Lethargic, collapsed, seizures
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Everyone loves a greying snoot!

One of my dogs is Tizzy a.k.a. Fatty Boomboom, a Parsons Russell Terrier, she’s known as the ‘queen’ in the household and all the rest of The Rat Pack know not to mess with her.  She is also happy to have a good old rough and tumble with them and often initiates play sessions.  She has one true love, in her squeaky ball.  Overall, Tizzy is a bad ass.  Tizzy is also getting on in her years.  That doesn’t stop her from enjoying walks with the pack or going out Mantrailing in all sorts of places.  I often get comments from people about how she doesn’t look her 14 going on 15 years and how astonished they are about all the things we do with her.

Life’s sweet when you’re a Rat Dog.

And it got me thinking, do people just let their older dogs go out to pasture?  I know Tizzy’s not happy to be put out to pasture.  Yes, she sleeps a lot, as older dogs will, yes she is a little incontinent in her sleep, but medication is managing that.  Tizzy is loving life, is fit and mentally ‘with it’.  I attribute that to maintaining an active lifestyle for her.  How many times have I heard the phrase ‘use it or loose it’ referenced for keeping the human mind sharp and your body trim?  The same can be said for dogs.

Still loving life!

I wonder if by allowing an older dog to just be left to sleep and mooch about the house, we do more harm than good.  Leaving a dog to while the way the hours and not engage them with life and enrichment, gives them nothing to look forward to, to invigorate them, to want to keep going.  I’m not saying to run your older dog ragged, you do need to slow them down gradually as their body allows.  Tizzy was hiking up mountains a few years ago, I won’t take her hiking now as she’s starting to stiffen up.  But instead, I have found other ways to exercise and stimulate her mind.  I’ve created a list of suggestions of things that I do with Tizzy and you can do too:

  • Mantrailing is great for her, it’s a gentle physical workout but a great exercise for the mind with all that sniffing and problem solving,  She didn’t even start this sport until she was 13, and took to it like a duck to water.  She gets a couple walks a week with the rats for an hour plus, then has rest days and shorter walks for the rest of the week.
  • In fact, nosework in general is perfect for the older dog.  Any dog really, but we are here for the oldies today.  The dog sees the world as a cornucopia of smell so engaging that important sense is highly rewarding for them.  It gets that grey matter working hard.  Either take up a Scentwork class, or simply sprinkle their dinner into the grass and have them forage for it.  There are so many games and activities you can do to engage that snooter and as a result, have a mentally sharp older dog.
  • Vary the walks, go somewhere different and let your dog experience the new sights and smells and things going on.  They don’t have to be long walks, but if you think your dog’s fitness has slipped a bit then build them up very slowly and watch for joint issues.
  • Go to places where your dog can do lots of swimming.  Swimming is a great low impact exercise to keep your dog fit and their joints healthy.  Tizzy is a odd terrier in that she loves to swim.  I throw her ball for her and she gets the joy of chasing the ball without the harsh impact of it getting thrown on a grass surface.
  • Play with your dog.  Just because they are older now doesn’t mean they don’t love a good old rough house with you.  I play some gentle tuggy with Tizzy, she also loves ‘attacking’ my hand when I scratch under her chin and massage the folds of her neck.  She likes to run off and come back for a bottom ‘spank’, then run off and so on and so forth.
  • I do proprioception with her with some doggy parkour.  Using things around me to gently work and stretch her muscles while out on a walk.  It’s like a relaxed yoga, just to keep the flexibility in her muscles and maintain suppleness so she doesn’t stiffen up.
  • You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Do some nice short training sessions with your older dog.  Age is just a number and just because they are ‘x’ amount of years, doesn’t mean they can’t learn new tricks.

I hope this blog has given those of you who aren’t too sure how to keep their older pooch engaged and fit, some ideas to implement.  No matter what you do, keep your older dog’s brain switched on and they can live a much more enriching and fulfilling ‘retirement’.  If taking the time to do a bit more means a couple more happy years, I’m all for it.

Choosing the Right Trainer

Picking the right dog trainer for you and your dog can really be a field of landmines.  The career of dog training and behaviour is becoming an increasingly popular one and often a natural progression for some dog walkers.  But how do you know who to trust with your dog’s training?  Unfortunately, the dog training and behaviour industry is an unregulated one, and Joe Bloggs off the street who has never even owned a dog can set up and call themselves a trainer.  The average owner therefore has no one easy way to access all the details of trainers in their area.  So where to even begin?

Firstly, you need to have a look at who is being recommended locally by your friends, family and fellow dog owners.  Once you have a list of names then check out their websites and facebook for reviews, testimonials, but also the content of those pages.  A trainer or behaviourist who is actively engaging with the public and sharing dog training information is likely one who enjoys learning and keeping up to date with modern training methods.

Are any of these trainers accredited with a dog trainer organisation?  As I said earlier, there is no official regulator for the dog training industry but there are respected organisations that train and assess their members.  For example I am training with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) who advocate force-free training methods.  There is also the Institute of Modern Dog Training (IMDT), Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and the Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors (APBC) all who are well respected by many trainers and behaviourists as they advocate ethical and positive training methods. What ever methods used, you at least want someone who is adequately trained and competent in using them.

You also need to like the person who is going to train you and your dog.  Make sure you call and have a chat with the trainer of your choice to get a feel of their personality.  You will be working very closely with this person, so someone that annoys you isn’t going to benefit your dog.  You will find yourself questioning them and unwilling to train and will ultimately find it a waste of money.  You also need someone who will be reliable and follow through with the training programme they lay out and continually support you.  Dog training is an on going process so a trainer that flies in and shows you some tricks then disappears off the face of the Earth is a big red light.

Know that you can say no.  If you go with a trainer and the methods they are using make you feel uncomfortable, or don’t mesh with your thinking, then speak up for yourself and your dog and if needs be, politely walk away.  Some trainers prefer more hands on methods with dogs and use corrections or other ‘aversive’ ways to stop a dog’s problem behaviour, others prefer a hands-off approach and using only positive reinforcement, some use both.  There is a spectrum of ways to train a dog, for me it comes down to two things, ethics and your relationship with your dog.  If the training methods go against your ethics, walk away.  If you think the methods will be detrimental to your relationship with your dog, walk away.

Be  prepared.

I’m serious; there isn’t a timeline on dog training.  This is a sentient being we are talking about, not a robot to programme.  How you progress on your training is ultimately up to you and your dog.  Don’t beat yourself up about it, or get dragged down by the set backs (you will have these).  A good trainer also knows how to work with the person as well as the dog, positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for humans too!

A great sign of a good dog trainer is one who communicates and works with other trainers in their area.  There is a great deal to dog behaviour and training, and trainers have strengths and weaknesses in various areas.  A trainer who will be happy to admit that they aren’t too experienced in that area and are either willing to refer you to someone else or bring in another trainer to help, shows commitment to your dog’s wellbeing over pride and everything else.

I hope this has helped you see the wood through the trees if you are struggling with finding a trainer.  Whether it be myself, or one of my colleagues, make sure that you go with your gut when choosing a trainer and do what’s right for your dog!  Dog trainers are owners and dog lovers too, so we can understand you putting your pooch first.

“Reactive Dogs”

Following on from a live video I made a few weeks ago, I decided to put my thoughts to paper about living life with a reactive dog and what you can do to make your lives more enjoyable.  I also think this as an opportunity to offer those people with non reactive dogs some insight and tips on what you can do to allow everyone to enjoy a public space.

I have a reactive dog myself, Bertie, and he (as I think with most dog professionals) is the reason I got into training and behaviour.  I have been to very dark places when I was first trying to understand and help my dog.  I have cried and screamed and gotten angry over the issues and wondered what the hell I had done to deserve this.  I saw trainers and that got us no where, so I decided to learn for myself what I could do.  Bertie is still reactive but he is becoming a more easier dog to deal with once I had established a training programme for him and set down this set of rules for us to abide by:

1. DON’T blame your dog – I fell into this mistake in my down moments with Bertie’s reactivity. He can’t help acting like a dog and making noise about something he isn’t happy/comfortable/fearful about. Try to empathise with how your dog is feeling, they don’t mean to react out of spite, they are genuinely upset out whatever has triggered them.  His killer urge I used to despair about until I accepted that he was a terrier and hundreds of years of selective breeding wasn’t about to give way to my excuses.

2. DON’T blame yourself! – Another vicious cycle I had a hard time escaping was perpetually blaming myself and wondering why I was being singled out by fate. Blaming yourself gets you no where but continuing to feel like the victim and festering a helpless attitude. I can guarantee your dog is having a much harder time of it than you are.  Fear aggression is a very common form of reactivity, your dog is lunging and barking at something likely because it is scared of it!   Blaming yourself for your dog’s problems accomplishes nothing.  Pulling your socks up and tackling the problem together will.

3. DON’T apologise!!! – People will judge you, that it a fact you will have to get over and focus more on your dog and ensuring their welfare. The looks, the pronounced movement of keeping away, the verbal abuse, the dreaded ‘he’s friendly!’; you will go through this at one point or another. People who have never had a reactive dog find it hard to understand, and that isn’t their fault.  Other people are just judgmental twats.  DON’T apologise.  It’s not yours or your dogs fault, you have a plan, focus on that and let the pressures others put on you slide off your back.  Sometimes dogs don’t recall even when their owners actively try to get them back, that’s not their fault either.  Dogs will be dogs.

4. DO be your dog’s advocate – Stand up for your dog and be proactive in making sure you are not put into a situation. Call ahead and ask politely if people could keep their dogs at a distance or on a lead, if you find yourself with a dog still approaching despite you politely asking otherwise, do all you can to ensure your dog feels safe.
DON’T PANIC (always carry your towel) you are better able to help your dog with a calm head.
shout that your dog is contagious, that usually sends them packing.
turn around and walk away, briskly and happily encouraging your dog to keep focused on you.
throw treats at the approaching dog to distract it long enough to back away.
keep control of your dogs head by feeding it continuously with treats as you retreat.
use your body to block your dogs access/view of what it is reacting to.  This could be simply using your body as a wall or even using your leg to push the encroaching dog away from you.

5. DO set yourselves up for success – don’t take your reactive dog out to a busy dog walking location and high distraction environment. There are plenty of places to walk your dog that won’t involve being bombarded by off lead dogs. Take the time to learn what triggers your dog and the distance that the trigger causes the reaction.  Once you know what the causes are you can better avoid or see ahead of time what you can do to navigate away from a situation.  Don’t push them beyond what they are capable of, don’t push yourself beyond what you are capable of either.

6.DO have a plan – either consult a trainer or behaviourist (see my next blog about choosing the right trainer for you) and come up with a game plan for working with your dog’s problems. Depending on what triggers your dog to react, there are a whole plethora of techniques that can be used to help. Understand that this is not something that can be accomplished on a timeline, your dog decides the pace of the behaviour modification program you’ve been set.  Accept that there will be ups and downs, steps forward and back; give yourself manageable goals to aim for.

7. ENJOY YOUR DOG – they aren’t with us for very long, enjoy the little things and take the time to spend some quality time together without the pressures of what triggers them.

So what if you have a dog who is happy to enjoy life and hasn’t a care in the world? What can you do if you see someone out with a dog on a lead or someone who is clearly working and training their dog?

  • Ask if your dogs are able to greet and don’t be offended if the answer is no.  Dog’s are on leads for a variety of reasons including: training, health concerns, safety, by law.
  • Keep an active eye on your dog and your surroundings while you walk, if you have enough time to react, you can prevent a situation from happening.
  • If someone clearly turns tail and heads away from you, don’t follow after them.  If they are going where you want to go then slow down a little.
  • Pop your own dog on a lead or keep them under close control while you pass a leaded dog.
  • ENJOY YOU DOG TOO!  Be an active part of your dog’s walk, not an afterthought.

Doggy Tips for Cold Snaps

With The Beast from The East and Storm Emma (sorry, not sorry) set to pound at our shores, I thought to write a few tips about safely walking your dog in these conditions and some fun ways to occupy them if you choose to stay indoors.  These extreme weather patterns occur few and far between but it pays to have a plan in place.  Your own safety is paramount in these instances, suffering from hypothermia, getting injured or hazardous driving conditions are not worth risking.

Out Walking

  • Let someone know you’ve gone out, where you’ve gone and what time you’ll be back.  If driving make sure you are equipped for winter conditions i.e. blanket, gloves, thermos, shovel.
  • If you get caught out in a flurry or blizzard of snow, make sure your dog is put on a lead.  Snow can be very disorientating for both you and your pooch.
  • Don’t let dogs wander onto frozen ponds or lakes as you cannot judge the thickness of the ice.  If your dog does fall in, do not be tempted to go after them!  Encourage them to swim to you or call the emergency services.
  • Never leave your dog in the car for extended periods during cold snaps.
  • Dogs can get frost bite on their feet, so be careful how long they spend in the snow and freezing surfaces.  You can buy a pad wax to help protect their paws or invest in some dog boots.
  • Thoroughly wipe down your dogs paws, legs and underbelly after being out as grit from road gritting is an irritant and can contain antifreeze that is poisonous if ingested.
  • Once home, let the dog come back up to temperature slowly and avoid hot water when bathing them.

Rat Dog Lulubell enjoying the snow!

At Home

  • Enjoy a good game of tug or chase in the house with one of your dog’s toys.  If you’ve not played tug with your dog before this comprehensive guide will tell you how.  You can replace the clicker for a verbal ‘yes’ instead!
  • Use food toys with their daily allowance of food so your dog works to earn his dinner and gets worn out in the process.  Stuffed Kongs are a great starter but if you don’t have these to had then you can make some homemade ones!
  • Scatter their kibble or treats onto a tea towel then roll it up for your dog to work out.  Get a muffin tin and put some food in the indentations then place tennis balls on top.  If you have wet food, smear it inside a plant pot for them to lick out or use an ice tray to smear it in and lave them lick it out.
  • Teach your dog ‘find it’ and scatter their food about in hidden places in a room and send you dog in to hunt for their dinner.  Check out this neat guide for tips on ‘find it’ games.
  • There are many great ideas to be had on the Canine Enrichment Facebook group.
  • Do some training with your dog!  Nothing beats a good ol’ engaging training session working on whatever tricks or commands you fancy.  There is a cornucopia of Youtube tutorials out there for all sorts of tricks!

Rat dog Bertie working out how to get his food out of the rolled up tea towel.

Stay safe and warm, everyone!

Family Days Out With Fido

It’s half term and that means having to find activities for the whole family.  I thought I would write this blog to tell you about all my favourite family and dog friendly places in South Wales where you can spend an enjoyable day out.  I’m sure there are loads more, but these are my personal picks.  Do you have somewhere great to take the whole family and dog to?  Please let me know!

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Tourist Attractions

St Fagans
The National Museum of History has been a fabulous family outing for generations.  There is so much to learn and explore here, plus dogs are welcome on leads, just not inside the historical buildings.  With half term here, there will be activities for the kids as well.  I used to love roaming the castle grounds and eating the freshly baked cheesy baps from the bakery.



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Dyffryn Gardens
This National Trust gem was another day out with my family, this time of year the gardens will be just coming to life.  The expansive 55 acres of grounds are great for exploring and getting the kids imagination flowing.  There is also a half term Spotter Trail for the kids to discover some of the plants and animals found at Dyffryn.  The house is a lovely example of Victorian design and currently being restored bit by bit.  Take a picnic or eat at the tearoom on site, dogs are welcome on the grounds on a lead.


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Merthyr Mawr
The sand dunes nature reserve at Merthyr Mawr is well worth a visit for the whole family.  There are plenty of way marked walking trails to choose from or explore the dunes and enjoy extensive games of hide and seek. You can work your way down to Ogmore beach and take in the coastline as it extends down to Newtown.  The whole area is a popular dog walking spot so your pooch can enjoy some play time too.  There is even the Big Dipper dune that is popular for sledding down!  In nearby Ogmore-by-Sea there are plenty of dog friendly pubs to enjoy such as The Pelican in her Piety and the Watermill.


The Giant’s Chair at Garwnant

This Brecon Beacons Visitor Centre has a lot to choose from with puzzle trails and different lengths of walks.  There’s a playground on site and cafe with all the usual facilities, if you fancy you can bring a disposable BBQ as some of the panic benches have frames to house them.  It’s even got some starter mountain biking routes for junior riders to kick up some dirt!  Dogs are welcome and there is plenty of forestry to do some serious sniffing in.


Looking across Whitmore Bay

Barry Island
This historic visitor attraction is on my door step so I get to enjoy it most days.  You’ve get three beaches to choose from depending on the tide, a promenade full of rides, crazy golf and other attractions for the kids including a kids climbing wall!  There are many dog friendly cafes and coffee shops to sit back and have a drink and something to eat.  You can even rent one of the beach huts to set up base and keep all your gear.  The main beach is dog friendly from 1st Oct to 30th April but Jackson’s and Watchtower bays are dog friendly all year round!


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Margam Park
Another stunning bit of Welsh history are the grounds and castle at Margam.  There are trails and walks to explore, adventure playgrounds, mini train, a fairytale village plus the chance to see the famous deer that roam the grounds.  Due to the livestock, your dog will have to be under control around the deer, but there is so much ground to cover you will need to make repeated visits.  The castle and orangery are beautiful bits of architecture surrounded by ornamental gardens.  The courtyard at the castle host cafes and toilet facilities too.


On the barrage

Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay has become a popular tourist destination since the barrage was constructed and it was flooded.  Now a freshwater lake, you can take a boat ride around it or up into the city centre and Bute Park, all the water taxis are dog friendly!  The nature reserve by the St David’s Hotel is great to let the dog off and explore with the kids.  There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in Mermaid Quay to eat, Cadwaladers, Coffi Co and World of Boats are all dog friendly.  Then there is the barrage itself, with skate park and playground and a great walk over to Penarth.


Sgwd Clun-Glyn

Waterfall Country
If you have kids that love a good walk and exploring the outdoors, then a day at Waterfall Country is a must!  There are walks of varying length and difficulty and you can start at either Pontneddfechan or Cwm Porth if you want to walk under the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall!  Pontneddfachan is a great starting point for younger families with mostly stable paths and some lovely waterfalls to admire.  There is a nice picnic ground at the end of the walk or a could of the pubs are dog friendly.  There is the chance of livestock so you might have to lead your dog in places.


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Amelia Trust Farm
Located in the Vale, this lovely care farm has 160 acre of farm and woodland and selection of animals.  Dogs are welcome everywhere, including their cafe!  There are woodland walks and a playground for the kids and a chance to meet the lovely animals that live there.  This half term there is a Betty’s Bird Trail activity to educate the little ones on British bird life and you can even claim a prize at the end!


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Tredegar House
Another popular doggie friendly location, the 90 acre grounds at Tredegar are a variety of woodland, gardens and open space.  There is a lovely circular walk that takes in the lake at Tredegar and the perimeter of the parkland.  There are gift and craft shops and a cafe that has doggie ice cream!  Half term activities at Tredegar include making your own bird box, paper crafts, a family trail and bird watching!

Making dehydrated treats

One of the things I like to do for my dogs is make their treats.  I’ve always struggled with finding the right sized treats due to having smaller dogs.  I was always cutting them down and chopping them up, and that was getting tedious.  I ended up joining a group that was dedicated to dehydrating treats for their dogs and I was instantly hooked.  A lot of the members of that group have dogs with allergies or are strict raw feeders so treats bought off the shelf of a pet shop were out of the question.  The beauty of dehydrating your own treats is you can control exactly what goes into the treat, how you want it shaped and the process itself means you have something with a shelf life of several weeks plus it keeps more of its nutritional value than baked ones.

I started out just reading advice and taking inspiration from what others were making, then I started out with a starter model dehydrator.  Andrew James dehydrators are a great brand to start with before thinking of investing in a more hardcore brand.  I started with simple things at first, strips of chicken and liver.  I am lucky to have a garage to let the thing run for 12 to 14 hours straight, because it stinks.  You need a cast-iron stomach to deal with the smell of some of the things you dehydrate.

Photo from Andrew James website

Once I had gotten the jist of it, I started to experiment with mixes and making them into different shapes, then moved onto using moulds to gain uniform sized treats.  These end up being a nice high value type of reward to use as it’s just dried meat.  I love to use these for scentwork as due to their lack of moisture there is less residue for dogs to scent on and track instead of the targeted scent.  It takes a bit of time to prepare the treats and layer them in the dehydrator but then its just a question of checking them occasionally and rotating the shelves.

Pig kidney sliced up. You get better cuts when semi frozen. I use these to stuff into Kongs.

My latest batch has been a combination of turkey and sweet potato, tuna with beetroot and coconut flour, slices of pig kidney and chicken strips.  I make sure to store them in airtight containers in a cool dark place.  I usually do a batch every few weeks depending on what I am running low on.  If you’re interested in learning more about making your own treats then feel free to ask, I have some recipes for baked homemade treats as well if you just want to use your oven!

The finished propuct. Left: tuna, beetroot and coconut flour. Middle: turkey and sweet potato. Right: pig kidney. Top: chicken strips.