How this family is affording their dream property through renting it hourly to dogs

Thousand Oaks, California has been a safe haven for Sniffspot host, Jen, since childhood. Having grown up in busy Santa Barbara, Jen, an introvert from an early age, would seek out solitude and serenity away from tourists attractions and droves of people visiting from elsewhere. “My grandparents own 60 acres about a 30 minute drive from here, and I grew up spending every summer and every holiday visiting them on the ranch,” Jen explained. “In Santa Barbara, we wouldn’t go to the beach on the weekend because that’s where everybody was, so you’d find places off the beaten path where the tourists weren’t. For me, the ranch was just my happy place.” 

As an adult, Jen married her husband, Hugo, on that very ranch. A city boy born and raised, Hugo didn’t have the same childhood experiences as Jen, but grew to love the mountains pretty quickly. Their dreams of finding a home in the hills to share with their son solidified after years of living in town and spending hours a day commuting to and from work took its toll. Finally, a visit to Jen’s grandparent’s ranch in the mountains led them to a for sale sign on what is now their home, a 10 acre spot in the mountains that’s nearly off grid. 

While their home has been a dream come true in a number of ways, the upkeep requires a lot of work, which isn’t cheap. With a house in the hills that boasts picturesque views, and a willingness and drive to keep improving on their investment, Jen and her family looked to side hustles to bring in some income that could help them facilitate their dream. 

A side hustle with heart 

“I’m one of those people that is always looking for ways to make a little extra money,” Jen said. “There’s a reason we were able to buy this property and afford it, and it’s because it needs work, so we’re always thinking of ways we can make a little bit more extra money so that we can fix things up.” The couple started off renting their space as a location spot for the filming industry, which, while exciting, quickly proved that it wouldn’t meet their goals in the long run. “Our neighbors rented their property out for filming and so that was the first adventure. I started posting on all these websites for filming, and it’s really fun when we actually get one, but you’re lucky if you book anything, plus it’s usually last minute, so that’s not very sustainable and definitely not something you can count on.” 

Back to the drawing board, Jen considered the things that mean the most to her — peace, quiet, solitude, and time with her dogs, and wondered if other people might hold similar values. “To me, walking my dogs on a quiet morning down on our property with no leashes is my favorite thing, because the dogs take their time and I take my time. I just sit on the little benches that we have, and it’s the best,” she said. “So one day I asked my husband if he thought people would pay to come walk their dogs, and he’s like there’s no way people aren’t going to pay for that. I started researching and found Sniffspot and realized people do pay for that.”

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about how your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!

Making things work

While Jen knew that her space was ideal for her own canine friends, she noticed that her property didn’t have what some others did — fencing. However, that didn’t stop her from trying, and she quickly learned that hosting could still work with the right guests. “The ones I could find were in backyards, and we don’t have fences,” she said. “I didn’t think we were very well set up so I don’t know how this was going to work. But we were willing to try it, and then we started getting all these positive reviews, and now I love it.” 

It was then that Quail View Ranch was formed. Spanning 10 acres, Jen’s spot features rolling hills, walking paths, native desert plants, and open areas where dogs can run as their guardians can take in beautiful mountain views. Sharing her space with dedicated dog guardians is a joyous experience for Jen, although certain types of visitors especially touch her heart. “I’ve grown up with dogs my whole life. Our dogs are our kids, so it’s really cool to see other people, especially the ones that write that their dog had never been to somewhere like this because they couldn’t,” she said. “Or people with scared dogs or reactive dogs, or dogs that they can’t take off leash anywhere.” 

Timid, shy, and reactive dogs hold a special place in Jen’s heart thanks to her own personal experiences. Knowing what it’s like to have a dog you may not be able to take just anywhere served as an even greater motivator for her to open her space to visitors who can relate. “All three of our dogs are cattle dog mixes, and they’re not typically very social dogs, they can be really skittish,” she said. “I would take one of mine to the dog park and she would come sit next to my leg and growl at every other dog that came near us — she didn’t want to play or walk around or do all that dog park stuff, she just wanted to be with me. So I get it because I know those breeds. I know those kinds of dogs. It’s so cool to be able to provide a place for those kinds of people and their dogs.”

Implementing feedback to provide exceptional service

In addition to empathizing with others over their dog’s behavioral quirks, Jen’s space has been a success thanks to her drive to provide great service. For her, that starts with highly detailed instructions for finding the area, as her space is off a dirt road, which may not be something everyone is used to. Once guests arrive, a warm welcome awaits them before sending them off to safely explore that area. “There’s a little table I have set out across from the parking area, and on there I put some fun things,” she said. “I took a Google Earth map and it shows them where they are with a pin to give them kind of a visual of the whole area to explore.” 

Additionally, Jen provides dog treats in a small jar, a trash can with pick up bags for guest use, and hand sanitizer. “And that’s about it,” she said. “Then then they just get to go.”

Offering guests an amazing hour or two in the hills is one thing, but Jen prides herself in her ability to constantly improve the user’s experience, which she does by reading feedback left by her quests. “I read everything,” she said. “For instance, there was some talk about there not being a restroom and it is something that’s been on my mind, because we are kind of a destination, so going somewhere with no restroom is taking a big risk. So we actually added a porta potty about a week ago, and I reached out to our previous visitors and one of them actually responded that they were so glad I did that.” 

Of course, upgrades come with a cost, but Jen finds ways to measure which costs are worth it, and why. “Obviously there’s a cost to that, but it’s kind of weighing the cost to the benefit,” she explained. “I also learned that somebody had done a promotional discount, so I actually did that and I sent it out to everyone who has ever visited our spot, and lowered my price from $18 to $15, and it paid off with repeat visitors. I’m not gonna give up on trying new things.”  

Finding the balance

Jen’s entrepreneurial brain will likely not allow her to stop seeking ways to generate extra income via side gigs anytime soon. In the meantime, she and her family have learned how to navigate a good balance between side gigs, and looks for practical ways they can improve on their Sniffspot rental even more. Fencing around the property is something Jen and Hugo are looking into to enhance visitor experiences, and hopefully attract new guests who feel more comfortable letting their dogs roam in an enclosed space. In addition to that, the couple looks forward to hosting weddings on their property, and will continue to rent their space as filming location as well. For anyone in her area, and beyond, looking to host in their own space, Jen encourages folks to look into it. “Having more people is really how it compounds,” she said. “I post on a lot of different Facebook groups and some people say they’d charge less, and I say great. Here’s how you sign up. I like competition.”  

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about how your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!

How this Oregon farmer is making a business from renting her land to dogs

Just 20 minutes outside of the busy city of Portland, Oregon, and settled right on the banks of the Columbia River, you’ll find what countless visitors have flocked to the area in search of — mountain views, crisp, clean air, and running water for miles. What you might not expect to find, however, is a hidden oasis designed just for dogs and their people, owned and operated by a farming couple and enjoyed by visitors on two legs, and four.  

A second generation farmer on her 80-acre property, Jessica spent the last 10 years renting part of the space to hunters, which, while a reliable source of supplemental income, wasn’t exactly something that made her happy. “I’d been doing that for a decade and I just was like, there’s got to be another way to make some extra income,” she stated. Renting the land by the hour as a private dog park was the perfect fit for her and her land.

Living off the land, with room to share 

Located on Sauvie Island, Jessica’s property offers a roaming refuge for dogs and their guardians to run, explore, relax or even get their feet wet among the island’s attractions. “Sauvie Island is really popular, so we’re in a really good location for this. We have beaches and there’s a lot of farms,” she explained. “It’s really popular for hunting and bird watching, including bald eagles, so you get a lot of visitors.”   

The space, which spans acres and rests right on the riverfront, has been more than a home for Jessica’s family, who acquired the place in the mid-80s, and is where the young entrepreneur grew up. While still a fully functioning farm and horse haven, it’s recently been opened to invite new types of guests. “My husband and I are here, and we board and train horses, and grow alfalfa and various types of horse-grade hay,” she said. “But then we also have the beach that is private, so that’s something that the people really get a lot out of going down there, because you’ve got campsites, and the dogs can jump right off into the water. It’s almost a mile long.” 

Finding a good fit 

Knowing that she had the space and time to host, and the desire to create additional income, Jessica and her husband began looking into short-term rental options. “We were looking, and I came across Hipcamp and of course, Airbnb, and I mean it’s kind of a good idea, but I didn’t wanna go that far with hosting people you know, actually putting in the bathrooms and whatnot,” Jessica said. “My husband came across Sniffspot on Portland Craigslist and I was like, you know, I’m just going to go for that, and so we signed up.” 

Hosting her space on a very short-term basis ended up working out wonderfully, both for Jessica and her visitors, many of whom are repeat guests. “Just about every one of our clients is a regular,” she said. “I think it works well thanks to the social aspect of my business background, which is in nightclub and bar management. I’m very good at social organization and since we work from home I think a lot of our repeats come because we interact with the clients. I encourage them to send me happy dog pictures. It’s been doing really well.” 

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!

Setting the scene 

For Jessica, the service she offers starts with a short tour of the property once new guests arrive. “I always acknowledge them when they’re coming up — I need to be home and present, and on their first visit here we go out and we introduce some of the property. We show them everything from the top of the road,” she explained. “They’re all comfortable contacting me throughout the visit, you know, if they need anything.”

Once guests arrive, they’re welcomed into a sprawling space made comfortable, with picturesque views to enjoy while their dogs are able to run and have the time of their lives. “We built picnic tables and graveled down by the riverfront area, which helps during the muddy season,” she explained. “We keep the space clean and mow the area, and put in a rope handrail so people who get down the slope area easier. We maintain the campsite too, which people can also rent if they want, and they can fish if they have their license.”

For dogs or guardians who may feel a bit more at ease in somewhat enclosed spaces, the farm offers a solution for them as well. “We do have a fenced in area, which we started offering,” she said. “We realized that some people were a little nervous about the expansiveness, and so when people request it, we move the horses out of a four acre fenced area and we let people go in there if they want to.” 

How to go above and beyond 

With expansive, private land for dogs to exercise on for miles, Jessica does price her rental accordingly. With a clientele composed almost entirely of repeat customers, “you get what you pay for” seems to be an apt expression, and this host makes sure it’s worth every penny. For starters, privacy for miles is something not everyone can offer. “The other side of the island is just packed, just for people to walk their dogs. And it has natural lakes that come up from under, so during the winter when our land was not in harvest people were able to go out and do the lake thing with their dogs,” she said. “So people are looking at this place like it’s a little bit of treasure that they found on Sauvie Island, because you just can’t find anything. Not here, not that’s private.” 

Ultimately, Jessica is willing and able to provide exceptional service because she believes in what she does, and connects over her appreciation for canines with her guests. “I’ve worked with people a lot in all my jobs, but I’ve been really happy with dog people,” she said. “Anybody that’s willing to to pay and engage with these types of experiences for their dogs have been really good.” Jessica also adds that communication, both through detailed directions to the property and accessibility to her, helps people feel assured. “99% of my clients are women, and a big piece of feedback is that they’re grateful to have someplace safe to walk. They always check in with me before they leave if they’re out here alone and tell me they’re OK, so that’s something I’m really grateful about. I think, like any good business, it’s being willing and able to engage and actually care.” 

Plans for the future 

With near-immediate success since she’s been hosting, Jessica is looking forward to seeing what the warmer weather will bring for guests at the farm. “I’ve only been on it since November, so we’re really looking forward to seeing how the nice weather pans out. Was actually pretty good for us through the winter, though,” she said. In addition to a steady increase in bookings, Jessica aims to make the space available for pet care professionals to conduct business safely and with privacy. “We have horse trainers come and videotape lessons in the official arenas, and I’ve also offered that to the dog trainers because there are a lot of people that need to film a video in an isolated area for training sessions or whatever, especially since COVID,” she said. A zipline for dogs who don’t need enclosure is something the pair is considering adding to allow people who may not be comfortable with total freedom to be out in the open field with their dogs. 

While making supplemental income was her initial goal, the thing that truly keeps Jessica and her husband going, and their enterprise thriving, is the joy that she gets from sharing her space with others, and watching them enjoy something that may not be easy for everyone to find. “I think that there are a lot of people that I’ve never even been to a property of this size, and we are really grateful to share this with them and make them feel welcome,” she explained. “I want them to know that I care, and I want them to feel safe, and to be able to text me if anything is wrong without feeling like they’re invading someone’s privacy. But my favorite part has been the dogs. They’re really happy to come here and we’ve actually had someone that asked us for help because their dog wouldn’t leave — they couldn’t get him in the car! I really enjoy the happy dogs.”

Happy clients and happy dogs makes for one host who’s greatest satisfaction is to serve the experience, one visit at a time. “We’re big animal people, so it’s just like I feel like people. 

found someplace nice and private and that cares, and it makes them and their family members, like the dogs, genuinely happy,” she said. “And that makes me happy because there’s not a lot of that in the world anymore. I’m glad that I can be a part of that little bit of piece of niceness.” 

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!

How this retired special agent created a dog paradise from an empty lot

Maurice has always poured tremendous energy into helping those in need.

He chose a career that took on some of the most difficult challenges anywhere as a special agent with Homeland Security investigations. He was supervisory special agent of the child exploitation group for 13 years, after working as a narcotics agent, and serving seven years in the military. Over time the difficult investigations really weighed on him. A series of serendipitous events brought Maurice to his next cause.

“Investigations were getting to me a little bit and I was just getting a little burnt out,” Maurice explained. “I was talking to some people and they were like, you know, you need a dog!” 

Still, Maurice wasn’t convinced, until he heard about a local animal abuse case that he couldn’t get out of his head. After telling his daughter about it, she asked if they could rescue the dog, to which Maurice agreed under one major stipulation: that she contact those involved and find out what it would take to bring the dog home. To his surprise, she did just that, and a short time later Maurice met June, now Junebug, who he fell in love with at first sight.

When you know something’s meant to be

From there, a string of unfolding events occurred, including finding a dream location, and hearing about Sniffspot, which connects him with potential visitors. While looking for a home to share together with enough room for their daughters and three dogs, Maurice and his girlfriend were amazed to visit a property with a pleasant surprise in store for them. “I find this place. And the part of my property which is the dog part wasn’t even in the advertisement for the house,” Maurice said. “There was this whole other quarter acre behind the house — it was an open area just covered in weeds and dog crap from the former owner. And you know, I loved it, I just saw all the potential in it.” 

The pair put in an offer but after being outbid began to move on, assuming it just wasn’t meant to be. A short time later Maurice got a call saying that the other offer fell through, and the house was theirs if they still wanted it. They confirmed immediately!

Providing an alternative option to dog parks

Meanwhile, Maurice was adding to his dog family and was having non-ideal experiences at a nearby dog park. “We have a bunch of dogs now and I want to socialize them, so I was taking them to dog parks,” Maurice said. “But Junebug got attacked a couple of times, and I thought, wait, I have a big enough yard, we have other dogs, I really don’t need to take her to dog parks anymore.” This realization, and the access to newfound, wide open space, came early on into the pandemic, which limited socializing in all areas of life anyhow. The timing of everything made his future plans crystal clear. “The pandemic was happening, and we saw Sniffspot, kind of like, within months of each other,” he added. “So we were here and I was like, you know what I can do that? Right? And then it just started.” 

And so, Phuggly’s was born. Clearing was done a little at a time, trash was hauled out by the truck load, and fencing around the perimeter of the property was put up. His updates to the space include a small cabin, a gym, and two gazebos with seating in the shade, one of which has lighting to keep the space illuminated. Noticing that some of his neighbors with dogs suddenly didn’t have an open space to run and exercise their dogs amid the pandemic, Maurice and his crew looked into ideas that might make a dog park attractive to people, searching Pinterest and Sniffspot to see what other petcare facilitators offer, and asking those around them what they value in a space, and making those adjustments over time. “It was a huge project,” Maurice explained. “I’m retired so you know for me, every day was a work day. I was probably at Home Depot every day.”

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!

Creating a Disneyland for dogs   

One thing that Maurice noticed was that dog parks didn’t offer the most comfortable seating for canine guardians to rest in while their dogs played. “I would go to a dog park and it wasn’t really comfortable,” he said. “The chairs weren’t that comfortable or you know, there just really weren’t amenities, and places you could sit were usually out in the sun.” Using his own experience as a dog park patron, Maurice made sure to provide comfortable seating with options in the shade for people to enjoy a number of things, from eating lunch to taking Zoom calls, all while their dogs exercise around them. 

A volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Maurice also shopped at their Re-Store for a few staple items at affordable prices, including a picnic table, which he refurbished. Stairs enforced with handrails were added to allow for easy commuting up and down the hill on the property, and fun toys for the dogs, like a teeter totter, was built by him to enhance the space. Additionally, entrances marked with signs in both English and Spanish makes the area welcoming and easy for visitors to spot. 

Maurice credits a lot of his success to the fact that he can offer a fairly secluded spot for dog owners to bring their pets, which can look and feel as if they were enjoying an afternoon in their own backyard. “Because it’s so secluded and I think they really feel like it’s their place,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll see people in the shade and they have their kids and they have their lunch and it’s a place that I would want to be, especially if I had an apartment and didn’t have anywhere to go enjoy peace and quiet with my dog.” 

The benefits of Sniffspot 

Before opening up for business, Maurice was caught up on one thing — liability. After considering renting his cleared space for personal trainers to host hourly sessions, which he ultimately decided against. “The thing holding me back really was the insurance,” he explained. “I called my insurance agent and I said hey, I’m thinking about doing this, and then I read more into Sniffspot’s policy and you guys provide $2,000,000 insurance.” The coverage allowed Maurice to rest assured that all visits would be safe and enjoyable for all, offering him the ultimate peace of mind.

Once he opened his doors to visitors, he found the experience to be relatively seamless, collaborative, and mutually beneficial for everyone, canine friends included. “It’s a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” he said, of the ease in booking, and general hands-off service most of his visitors seem to prefer. People have been super nice, cleaning up after themselves, you know, and taking care of the place. I’m down here every day to clean, I clean up after my own dog and make sure everything is ready for them to come. And people have been understanding, especially when I first started doing it. You know, I would make mistakes, but I got a lot of the bugs figured out, and little by little, just trying to improve it.” 

Thanks to a few hard rules listed by Sniffspot, Maurice hasn’t had to worry much about keeping his investment, and home, in stellar shape. “I think that it comes back to you guys, I think the way you advertise,” Maurice said, of how he ensures that his space is treated with care and respect. “The rules are right there, it’s it’s, and it’s pretty plain to see. I haven’t had any problems with that.” Making things easy for visitors to succeed, like providing a trash can and waste bags, has only made things easier for everyone. 

Plans for the future 

With a lot of changes to his space, and a few solid months of hosting under his belt, Maurice has plans to add amenities, just in time for summer 2021. “I’ll make sure I have the little doggie wading pool, you know, available all the time,” he said. Maurice plans to add even more seating and lighting, and also offers Bluetooth speakers for guests to use if they want to enjoy a little music outside. He also aims to continue to offer personal touches for his visitors that set him apart, like displaying welcome signs with the names of his guests, canine visitors included, written clearly, as if to say “you’re home.” 

Maurice will continue to help dogs by providing a safe, secluded space for dogs to play, and for their guardians to rest easy amid peace and quiet. After leaving a career where he had to deal with dark situations, it’s beautiful to be able to be involved the positive energy of Sniffspot. The reward for him, as Maurice puts it: “I’m getting the feedback from people, just seeing the reviews and how happy people are is the best.”

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!

The Pocket Guide to Flyball for Dogs

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Ever wished your dog could spend an afternoon running as fast as they can, jump over obstacles, and retrieve balls alongside other canine friends? It may sound like an unbelievably specific set of criteria, but anyone with a flyball dog knows just how rewarding all of these elements put together can be. If you’re looking for a great way to exercise an active dog with a knack for remaining focused and driven under pressure, flyball racing may be a fun and effective way to meet your dog’s physical and mental needs. 

How flyball works

Flyball is a relay-racing sport where teams of dogs complete a straight-forward set of obstacles in order to reach the finish line. To begin, two competing dogs run the length of a course, jumping over a number of hurdles along the way. Once they reach the end of the course section, the dogs will then touch a spring-loaded flyball box with one of their paws in order to release a ball. The dogs grab the ball with their mouths, then run back down the course in the opposite direction from which they came. When they reach their initial starting point, another dog on that dog’s team will repeat the same activity — jumping hurdles, releasing a ball, and carrying that ball back to the relay point where another dog on their team enters the race. 

The winning team is decided by the fastest times in three out of five races, and all four dogs must complete the entire course with zero errors made. 

Flyball teams are made up of:

  • Four dogs to compete in the relay race
  • Four handlers to guide and encourage the racing dogs, and release dogs onto the course following a series of yellow and green flashing lights, which signal the start of a heat
  • One ball loader to replace balls for dogs to retrieve
  • One or two runners to collect any loose balls
  • The reserve crew — this consists of two additional dogs and their two handlers 
dog playing flyball

Flyball is an incredibly physical sport. According to the North American Flyball Association standard, flyball courses are 51 feet in length and feature four hurdles which all racing dogs must scale both to and from the springboard that holds the ball. 

Because all breeds and sizes of dogs are encouraged to compete in flyball races, the height of the hurdles is determined by the smallest dog on a team. The hurdles measure five inches lower than the shortest dog’s shoulder blades, and hurdles max out at a height of 14 inches. The relatively low height of the hurdles allow competing dogs to retain top speeds while still requiring them to focus and time their jumps properly. 

Is flyball right for me and my dog? 

Because flyball is an activity that involves athletic capability, focus, and determination, the sport is generally better suited for dogs who need to be stimulated both physically and mentally in order to feel their best. Like many sports which rely on a dog’s agility, flyball as a competitive sport is great for dogs in good physical health. 

Dogs who participate in flyball competitions should also be non-aggressive and not leash reactive toward other dogs, are not easily stressed or agitated in a fast-paced and loud environment, and who have strong recall abilities and take commands and directions well. A dog and their handler generally work as a unit within the team, and communication, trust, and a strong bond is an important aspect of scoring well in flyball competitions. 

dog playing flyball

How to get started 

If you think flyball may be a good fit for your dog, the best way to get started is to attend a flyball event in your area in order to see for yourself what your canine is expected to do at competitions. To locate the flyball community in your area, there are a few things you can try: 

  • Search Facebook for flyball groups, clubs, and teams nearby
  • Research flyball online by searching for phrases like “flyball near me” and “flyball dog training near me
  • Ask a local trainer or pet care professional if they have any information or experience with flyball

Like any dog sporting event, finding a community of dog guardians immersed in the sport can provide a great resource for answering any questions you may have, learning about future competitions, and finding out what it takes to train a flyball dog. The North American Flyball Association sanctions over 300 competitions annually in various locations. 

If you can’t find a flyball community near you, or if you simply want to see if your dog would even enjoy participating in such an activity, there are some things you can do at home to assess your dog’s interest. One way to do this is to have your dog return a ball to you. The ball should be stationary, so try laying a tennis ball on the floor and encourage your dog to pick it up and deliver it to you rather than drop it onto the ground. This will discourage a dog from dropping a ball during a flyball race, and is usually done via positive reward training, where a high value treat is offered to your dog each time they return the ball to you. 

dog playing flyball

Jumping should also be practiced and successful attempts should be rewarded, and can be taught using any household item tall enough for your dog to step over. To practice jumping, start with something very low to the ground and easy to scale at first, and reward your dog each time they step over it. Over time, add height to the item and continue to offer rewards and encouragement, eventually adding running before and after the jump. A relatively private, outdoor space, like a Sniffspot location near you, are great options for teaching a dog to retrieve or jump in preparation for flyball racing. 

In addition to focus, recall, and racing, resting is a huge part of flyball tournaments. Teaching your dog to become comfortable at rest in a crate is highly encouraged so that they won’t be disruptive or overly excited while other teams are competing during their downtime. 

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Lindy Langum
Founder – K9 Fun Club
Staff Trainer – Summit Assistance Dogs
Certified in Canine Studies (CSS), ​NW School of Canine Studies

Food Aggression: How To Handle It

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Does your dog get possessive whenever it’s dinnertime, or when given a treat? They may be displaying food aggression. In this article, we’ll cover what food aggression is, situations it may arise in, how to prevent it, and how to train a dog with food aggression.

What is food aggression?

Food aggression is a type of resource guarding. Resource guarding is when a dog “guards” a valuable resource, such as a toy or a bowl of food, through behaviors like running away with the item, growling, or biting. Food aggression is a type of resource guarding that is specific to food.

Food aggression is quite common in dogs. It is a natural behavior inherited from their wild ancestors. Wild dogs (and other animals) are competing with other dogs for food and other resources. In the wild, a dog who has more food has a better chance of survival. Although your domestic dog does not need to guard their food in this way, the instinct to do so may still be there.

Food aggression, as the name implies, is specific to food. If your dog is displaying “aggressive” behaviors, like growling, lunging or biting, in non-food situations, then something else is going on (and you’ll want to call your vet and most likely a qualified trainer).

dog eating from bowl

Specific situations in which food aggression may occur

Puppy food aggression: It’s common for puppies to guard food because they often feel they are in competition with their littermates for food, especially if they came from a breeder who fed them from a communal dish. You can help prevent this in your puppy by hand-feeding them their first few meals while speaking calmly and offering pets with your other hand (if the dog seems comfortable with it). Eventually, move the bowl to your lap, and then to the floor, each time speaking soothingly and petting the dog. This will teach your puppy that you are not a threat to their food. 

Sudden food aggression: If your dog is suddenly displaying food aggression when they didn’t before, first, take them to a vet. They may have an injury or ailment that is making them feel physically bad.

Food aggression toward other dogs or cats: Dogs may also develop food aggression in response to their environment. If you have other dogs who eat at the same time, or you have cats who like to steal bites of dog food, your dog may develop food aggression as a response. If you have multiple pets, feed them in different rooms if possible, or feed one dog while taking the other for a walk, etc. Make sure each pet has their own individual food bowl—communal feeding is more likely to lead to food aggression.

Food aggression with children: Similarly, dogs may feel that children loitering around them while they eat are a threat to their food. If possible, keep any children out of the room (or at least out of the immediate space) whenever the dog is eating. Creating a peaceful “food zone” free of people and other pets is the ideal scenario. The feasibility of this will vary depending on your home, but doing this to the best of your ability should help. If your home doesn’t have the space for this, dog dinnertime is a great time to take the kids for a walk.

Food aggression with biting: If you think your dog may bite you, the ASPCA recommends that you do not try to deal with their food aggression on your own. They recommend consulting with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). (Our article When And How to Think About Medication for Anxious Dogs has a breakdown of the difference between vets, Veterinary Behaviorists, and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists.) In the meantime, give your dog as much space and peace during mealtimes as possible, and make sure everyone in your household knows not to go near the dog during feeding times, for their safety.

puppies sharing a bowl

Preventing food aggression 

As we mentioned above (under “Puppy food aggression”), you can prevent food aggression in puppies by hand-feeding them meals while talking to them softly and gently petting them, then transitioning their meals to your lap, then to the floor, all while performing the same gentle talking and petting. (The ASPCA has more detailed instructions.) The same should be done with any dog who is new to your household and who does not guard food. While you may feel it’s not necessary because the dog does not have food aggression, it’s a good idea to reinforce their “food non-aggression,” because that’s what you want! This process teaches them that this new environment is one that is safe and where food does not need to be guarded.

You can also do some simple training exercises to reinforce the idea that the absence of food guarding leads to good things. Dogtime suggests “the disappearing food bowl”:

  1. Hold your dog’s food dish while they eat their dinner.
  2. Offer them a dog treat, temporarily remove the food dish while the dog eats the treat, then immediately give the food dish back. Repeat several times until it is clear your dog understands the game.
  3. Do the same steps with the change of removing the food dish prior to offering a treat. Repeat several times. 

This game will teach your dog that the removal of their food dish signifies that a treat is coming. (The aforementioned Dogtime link also has other smart training game ideas for food aggression and other types of resource guarding.)

Training guides for food aggression in dogs

There are some great training guides for dogs with food aggression. Here are a few of our favorites:

The ASPCA’s Guide to Food Guarding (scroll down to the headline “Stage One”)

Dog Training Excellence: Control Dog Food Aggression with Positive Methods

Karen Pryor Clicker Training: How to Recognize and Manage Food Aggression

Remember that food aggression is a common dog behavior and is “normal” in the sense that serves the dog as an evolutionary behavior. It’s also important to remember that you should never punish a dog for food aggression. Instead, use the positive reinforcement techniques outlined in the guides above. This may also be a good time to call in a dog trainer. Check out the AKC’s guide to finding a qualified trainer.

Good luck and happy training!

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Danette Johnston
​Owner – Dog’s Day Out, Ballard, WA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA)
Licensed AKC CGC Evaluator
NW Coordinator, Doggone Safe

How To Handle A Dog Chewing

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Dogs may not be able to actually talk to us, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own ways of communicating when something is up—it’s just up to us as pet parents to notice when they’re trying to send us a message. If you’ve noticed that your dog is chewing on things he shouldn’t be, for example, it doesn’t mean that he’s a bad boy or that he’s trying to ruin your life (or even your belongings). It just means that something else is going on with him that you need to address. Here’s what you need to know about how to handle a dog who is chewing on all the wrong things—and how to solve the problem. 

Why dogs chew

Before you can start to correct any undesirable behavior with a pup, you first need to understand why dogs chew. When it comes to chewing, there are several possible reasons behind the behavior. 

The first factor to consider when you’re trying to determine why a dog is chewing is their age. For puppies, chewing is incredibly natural. Just like human babies, puppies put things in their mouths when they’re getting to know the world around them. This doesn’t always mean that those things should be in their mouths, of course, but it also doesn’t mean the chewing is necessarily indicative of any underlying issues. When puppies are 3-4 months old, they start teething, which can also prompt chewing as they try to alleviate the discomfort. 

For adult dogs, however, chewing can be a sign that something else needs to be addressed. If your adult dog is engaging in destructive chewing, several issues could be at play, including: 

To determine what’s triggering your dog’s destructive chewing, you’ll want to pay close attention to the circumstances that surround incidents of unwanted chomping. Dogs who are suffering from separation anxiety, for example, will typically only act out when they’re left alone, so if your pup never even needs a gentle reminder not to chew when the humans are around, it could be a sign that separation anxiety is at play. 

Boredom-driven chewing will almost never occur when your dog’s body and mind are thoroughly stimulated, so if your dog is chewing on furniture and shoes right after a long walk or trip to the dog park, boredom probably isn’t the issue. Dogs who chew because they’re dealing with other anxieties may chew more when there’s a trigger present—like a stranger visiting the house or loud noises like construction work or fireworks outside. Whatever is motivating your dog to chew inappropriately, by paying close attention to what’s going on when the unwanted chewing occurs, you should be able to identify the root cause. And, of course, if you’re struggling to get to the core of the issue, you can always enlist the help of a well-reviewed, positive-only trainer in your area to figure it out.

How to curb destructive chewing

dog chewing on ball toy

If your dog is engaging in destructive chewing, don’t panic. There are plenty of simple steps you can take to discourage the behavior and even help correct it long-term. 

1. Set your dog up for success. 

If your dog has been struggling with what to chew and what not to chew, make things easier by picking up any items that should stay firmly on the “no chewing” list and keeping them out of your dog’s reach. After all, they can’t chew what they can’t get to. 

2. Don’t leave your dog alone if you don’t have to. 

Dogs are like kids in that they need constant supervision when they’re young or just learning a new set of rules. If your dog is still getting a handle on what’s appropriate to chew and what isn’t, it will help to have you close by to praise him quickly and consistently when he’s chewing on the right things and to give him replacement chews when his chewing attention is focused on the wrong items during the learning process. 

3. Buy the right dog toys. 

Image: https://www.aspca.org/sites/default/files/dog-care_common-dog-behavior-problems_destructive-chewing_main-image.jpg

If your dog is having a hard time sticking to his own toys for chewing, make things as easy as possible for him by stocking up on dog toys that are obviously different from the household items you don’t want him chewing. 

4. Exercise your dog’s body and mind. 

One of the most common causes of inappropriate chewing among dogs is boredom. When dogs are bored, they look for ways to amuse themselves and, in dog world, chewing is a fantastic source of entertainment. By keeping your dog physically tuckered out with plenty of walks and play (like running in a Sniffspot near you) and mentally worn out with things like puzzle toys and scent walks, you’ll help curb the urge to chew. 

5. Interrupt inappropriate chewing as soon as you see it. 

When you do notice that your dog is chewing on something he shouldn’t be, don’t punish him. Instead, just remove the thing your pup shouldn’t be chewing from the area and then have an appropriate chew toy handy to give them as a replacement. When they chomp down on the toy instead of your favorite pair of shoes, be sure to praise them lots to reinforce the positive behavior. 

6. Make chewing on the wrong things less tasty. 

Image: https://dq9sl48gkeyxk.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/destructive-chewing-1024×683.jpg

If your dog is really struggling to kick the habit of chewing on high value items like furniture, consider investing in a taste deterrent (like Bitter Apple® spray) to make the act of chewing on those items literally leave a bad taste in your dog’s mouth. But remember, you must supervise your dog really carefully when first trying a taste deterrent. For some dogs, they won’t actually be effective and the chewing will continue on just as strong as before. 

7. Be patient and realistic. 

Correcting any undesirable behavior won’t happen overnight and chewing is no exception. If your dog is struggling with chewing on the wrong things, be patient with him and accept that you’re probably going to lose a few items in the process of teaching your pup what to chew and what not to chew. Just remember that your dog and your amazing relationship with him is worth more than any pair of shoes or your favorite phone case. 

dog chewing on rope toy

What not to do

When you set out to train your dog not to chew on the wrong things, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what you should be doing. If you catch your dog chewing something he shouldn’t be—whether it’s during the act or after the fact—don’t punish them. And yes, that includes verbal punishment like yelling or scolding.

We never advocate negative reinforcement of any kind. Positive-focused training—in which desirable behavior is praised and rewarded and undesirable behavior is ignored—is always the best way to train a dog. While scolding and other forms of punishment won’t ever help the situation, when applied after the fact (like when you come home from work to find something chewed up in the middle of the living room floor), they only serve to confuse your dog and can actually trigger anxiety and additional undesirable behaviors. If you don’t notice inappropriate chewing as it’s happening, fight the instinct to scold your dog and just ignore it. 

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Shannon Finch
AnimalKind Training
M.Ed. Humane Education
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner

Bikejoring: What Is It & How To Get Started

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Have you been looking for a new and interesting way to exercise your dog? You might be a good candidate for bikejoring. Read on to learn about what bikejoring is and how you can get started.

What is bikejoring?

Active Dog Sports describes bikejoring as “similar to traditional mushing on a sled except it’s with a bike.” Essentially, one dog or a team of dogs are leashed to a bike (with a person riding it), and they pull the bike like a sled.

Bikejoring history

The exact origins of bikejoring are not known, and we aren’t sure what time period bikejoring grew out of. However, we do know that it was born out of traditional dog sled mushing. It is thought that skijoring, in which a person on skis is pulled by a dog (in the snow), came out of dog sled mushing, and that bikejoring came after skijoring. 

Why is it called bikejoring?

“Bikejoring” is a bike-centric version of the word “skikjøring,” which is a Norweigeian term meaning “ski driving.”

Popularity of bikejoring

It’s tough to say exactly how popular bikejoring is, but the sport, which was already well-established in Europe, has been gaining popularity in the US since about 2010. There are more and more bikejoring race events happening in the U.S. every year!

dog running while bikejoring

Is bikejoring for me?

Bikejoring is definitely a “high adrenaline” sport, and is probably not for everyone—it’s a more intense sport than many other outdoor dog exercise activities! But if you like high adrenaline activities and your dog loves running and pulling objects, bikejoring might be a good option to consider.

Bikejoring does involve some level of difficulty, as it involves new experiences and training for you and your dog. You’ll need to start slow and teach them some basic cues before you jump on your bike. Active Dog Sports has a great list of basic cues to teach your dog in the beginning stages of bikejoring. 

What kind of dogs enjoy bikejoring?

First, let’s start with what dogs should not participate in bikejoring

  • Puppies (their bones are still growing)
  • Small breeds
  • Senior dogs who have mobility issues

Now onto dogs who are likely to enjoy bikejoring: 

  • Athletic dogs that love running
  • Dogs that are bred for mushing, like Siberian Huskies 
  • Dogs that enjoy pulling things (you might have to test this out if you’re not sure

All of these dogs should be medium or large breeds, weighing 35 pounds or more.

Make sure to take your dog to the vet for a checkup before getting started—you’ll want to make sure your dog is healthy and does not have any hidden issues that could make bikejoring too stressful on his body.

Is bikejoring dangerous?

Bikejoring is inherently dangerous. Although there are plenty of ways to take precautions, the sport itself involves attaching a dog to a bike, which itself contains many moving parts. 

You also need to consider the weather and the type of ground you’re on. Bikejoring is an intense workout for your dog. It should not be done in hot weather, and you should always provide your dog with plenty of fresh water. You should never do bikejoring on pavement, as it can be tough on your dog’s joints. You must also be diligent about checking your dog’s paw pads to make sure they have not sustained any injuries or “blown a pad,” meaning the skin is ripped from the bottom of their paws because of an abrasive surface.

Additionally, even if you train your dog well, there may be things and people on trails that are beyond your control. Be aware of the possibility that you may encounter unleashed dogs, squirrels, or small children. 

dog and owner casually bikejoring

Is bikejoring ethical?

You may have heard the many allegations of cruelty in the Iditarod, a famous sled dog race in Alaska. This may make you wonder whether there are ethics concerns around bikejoring as well, since it’s also a “mushing” sport. 

While ethics around dog sports can be tricky, the concerns around the Iditarod largely stem from the conditions that the dogs are kept in. Additionally, the Iditarod is a 1,000-mile race, an extremely long distance to force a dog to run. 

Since bikejoring is only between you and your dog, it is up to you to make the conditions humane. Some people may believe it is inherently unethical to have your dog pull you. But if you don’t believe the act is inherently unethical, it’s up to you to make it humane and enjoyable for your dog. You should only try bikejoring if you truly believe your dog is the type who would enjoy it, and then, you must check in with your dog frequently to see how they are feeling. If they give any indications of discomfort or just don’t seem “into it,” then bikejoring is not for your dog, and you should stop immediately.

How to get started with bikejoring

Equipment

Bike and bike accessories: If you have a mountain bike, it’s probably good enough to start bikejoring with (you don’t need to buy a special bike). Take it into a bike shop to have it tuned up before you get started. You’ll also need a bike helmet for yourself. Make sure it fits properly and adjust straps, etc as needed. Goggles (for yourself) are also a good idea, as dirt and gravel can fly at your face during bikejoring. You’ll also need bike mirrors for safety. Lastly, you’ll want to purchase side bags for your bike to keep water and safety gear in.

Gangline: A gangline attaches the dog to the bike. K9TrailTime has some helpful tips on choosing a gangline.

Harness: Most dog sports harnesses can be used for any sporting activity, so you don’t necessarily have to purchase a special bikejoring harness. The harness should be comfortable for your dog, and should not restrict their movement in any way. K9TrailTime also has more information on choosing a good harness.

Protective dog booties: Optional but a good idea for keeping your dog’s paws safe. (If your dog does not regularly wear foot coverings, you will have to take some time to get them used to the booties.)

The above equipment is for beginners who are getting started with one dog (rather than multiple dogs). If you add another dog or want to become more advanced, you might need additional equipment. Check out Active Dog Sports’ bikejoring gear checklist for more information.

Training

You can choose to train your dog yourself, or you can hire a trainer for help. (The AKC has a great article about how to find a qualified trainer.) As mentioned above, Active Dog Sports has a great list of basic bikejoring cues to teach your dog. You’ll need to start teaching your dog these cues while walking, before adding the bike. Make sure your dog is very comfortable with everything they’ve learned before getting them started with the bike.

Safety and health

  • Never run on pavement, as it’s bad for your dogs’ joints (and gets too hot in warm weather)
  • Only bikejor in areas that are appropriate, such as trails with relatively few other people and animals
  • Always carry a first aid kit with you (you can create one with supplies for both you and your dog)
  • Always carry plenty of water for both you and your dog, as well as snacks if you’re going to be out for a long time
  • Do not bikejor in hot weather, as it is strenuous exercise for your dog and you do not want them to overheat
  • Always hold bike handlebars with both hands, and only use the hind brake while riding—using the front brake can cause you to flip over.
  • Never overexert your dog, and always stop if they seem tired or overheated.

Further reading 

A good source is the United States Federation of Sleddog Sports, which can teach you about bikejoring as well as other mushing sports. The Northwest Sled Dog Association is a helpful resource as well, as is K9 Scooters Northwest. (Both are based in the Northwest but have information that’s helpful to anyone.)

The AKC also recommends seeing if you have an established bikejoring club in your area—if you’re interested in advancing to races, a club can provide you with information on how to get started. 

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Olivia Peterson, CCS
Owner – Sound Connection Dog Training
WSU Bachelors in Animal Science Business Management
​Northwest School of Canine Studies (NWSCS) Certification

Guide to Fear Aggression in Dogs

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Fear aggression in dogs is a tricky topic. This is because it’s difficult to identify with 100% certainty. Why? Because aggression is very commonly confused with reactivity.

Some of the behaviors of reactivity and aggression may look the same: a dog displaying aggression may bark, growl, lunge, or snap, and a reactive dog may do these things as well.

According to the American Kennel Club, “aggression can be due to guarding territory or protecting a family member, resource guarding, fear, frustration, prey drive, and/or pain.” (Fear aggression is what we will specifically cover in this article, but as you can see, there are many other reasons or situations that may cause a dog to act “aggressive.”)

Reactive dogs, on the other hand, are reactive (meaning they overreact) to certain things or situations. To be considered reactive, a dog must have a trigger, such as people wearing hats, men with beards, feeling trapped while leashed, and so forth.

To complicate matters further, your dog may be showing one of the above behaviors, but that does not mean the dog is necessarily aggressive or reactive. The situation that elicits the behavior determines this. A dog may bark or growl in a certain situation, but that does not mean the dog is aggressive or reactive. 

For example: If your dog barks excessively in reaction to a trigger (or triggers), like seeing a person with a hat, that is reactive behavior. If they bark in a loud and constant way because they feel cornered by a person, that is fear aggressive behavior. If they bark because they see a squirrel in a tree, that’s just barking because they see a squirrel in a tree—probably normal behavior based on their prey drive. (If the barking becomes excessive or compulsive, or if seeing the squirrel causes the dog to behave in ways that could be dangerous to the dog, it could veer into “reactive” territory.)

As you can see, identifying the behavior can be tough, and might take some practice. But don’t worry, you’re not alone and we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll cover how to identify fear aggression and how to manage and modify fear aggression.

dog with fear aggression on sidewalk

How to identify fear-based behavior

A dog with fear aggression will display body postures that signal fear. These may include:

  • Lip licking
  • Baring teeth
  • Cowering
  • Growling, lunging, snapping or biting if cornered
  • Nipping at the “scary” person as they walk away
  • Inflicting shallow, rapid bites on the person 

Much of fear aggression occurs when the dog feels cornered. According to the ASPCA, dogs, like most animals, would prefer to get away from the perceived threat. They become aggressive when they feel it is their only recourse. A dog exhibiting fear aggression is trying to protect themselves from the thing that is scaring them.

What this means is that we can (in some cases) prevent fear from turning into fear aggression by becoming more familiar with body language cues from our dogs

Here are some body language cues that indicate your dog is stressed or worried:

  • Body freezing
  • Lip licking or tongue flicking
  • “Whale eye”: when a dog turns their head but keeps their eyes on you (or on the perceived threat), showing a large amount of the whites of their eyes
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning (depending on the situation—the dog may also simply be tired)
  • Facial tension/ tensed jaw
  • Hair on neck and back standing up
  • A lowered body

Being able to recognize these signs of stress can help you remove your dog from the situation (when possible) and prevent fear aggression altogether. If, for example, your friend is approaching your dog and you notice the dog licking their lips or freezing, intervene and direct your friend away from the dog, and give the dog a safe space to retreat to. This cuts the situation off before it reaches the point where the dog feels they have no choice but to act aggressive.

If displaying fear aggression is a last resort, we can take steps to keep the dog from feeling the need to resort to it.

dog barking from fear aggression

How to manage and modify fear aggression

Management

  • Intervention: As mentioned above, intervening in a situation that might lead to fear aggression is a key way to manage it. Practice reading your dog’s body language, and use that knowledge to intervene in situations that you notice are stressing your dog out. You can also do this preemptively: for example, if your dog is stressed out by your child, always place yourself between the dog and the child when you are in a room together. Alternatively, put the dog’s bed in an area the child does not have access to (if possible). Set your dog up for success in any way you can given the situation. The key here is to cut off fearful situations at the root whenever possible.
  • Rituals of behavior: Dog trainer Victoria Stillwell also recommends creating “rituals of behavior”, which she describes as “actions and behaviors your dog can practice any time she is in a situation that might make her uncomfortable.” These are tasks that keep your dog working and thinking, which will help the dog stay below their stress threshold. The rituals of behavior will be different depending on the situation, and you can make up any ritual that you want. (On the aforementioned page, Stillwell gives an example of a ritual for when someone new to the dog comes over.)
  • Priming: Priming simply means doing something to put your dog in a happy mood before they encounter a stressor (or multiple stressors). If you know your dog is going to encounter a stressor later, do something they like first, such as playing fetch or another game they like. The principle here is that the dog is better able to deal with a stressful situation if they’re in a good mood going into it—just like humans!

Modification: 

As the ASPCA states, it’s very important to work with both your veterinarian and a professional dog behavior expert when dealing with any issue of aggression. The veterinarian can help you make sure your dog isn’t acting aggressive out of pain or illness. (It’s important to eliminate this possibility first.) The behavior expert should be experienced in working with dogs with fear aggression. They can help you figure out a plan for behavior modification based on your dog’s history and risk factors. The plan will most likely involve counterconditioning and desensitization.

It’s important to bring in a professional behavior expert because any dog that acts aggressive comes with certain risks (which are outlined in the ASPCA article in the above paragraph). For instance, a dog with a history of biting people is an insurance liability and can be at risk for euthanization (in some places). You do not want your dog to hurt you, other people, or other animals. Our article When And How To Think About Medication For Anxious Dogs contains a breakdown of the difference between vets, veterinary behaviorists, and certified applied animal behaviorists. The American Kennel Club also has a handy guide to choosing a dog trainer.

dog with fear aggression pulling on leash and snarling

Dealing with fear aggression in dogs can be scary, but with some professional help, the ability to read your dog’s body language, and a lot of patience, you can help your dog be less afraid, and improve the quality of life for both of you.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Lindy Langum
Founder – K9 Fun Club
Staff Trainer – Summit Assistance Dogs
Certified in Canine Studies (CSS), ​NW School of Canine Studies

Introduction to Lure Coursing

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

There are a number of activities designed to keep dogs active, mentally engaged, physically stimulated, and bonded with their guardian. Some dogs are best suited to use their noses, while others are perfectly content to have their needs met by socializing with other dogs at the park or joining their favorite people for a jaunt around the block. Other dogs, however, are extremely motivated by the thrill of the chase, be that a live squirrel in the woods or a mechanical toy around a track. Lure coursing, which involves the latter, is beloved by dogs with energy to burn, a knack for spotting movement, and a swiftness in their steps. 

What is lure coursing?

Lure coursing, sometimes known as lure chasing or lure racing, is an activity for dogs to engage their natural prey drive instinct to hunt. Not the same as simply chasing a tennis ball across an open field, lure courses are established paths made of pulleys with a lure, usually a piece of plastic with a bag attached to it. The lure is then released, moving through the course, which the dogs chase to their heart’s delight. In many lure coursing trials, dogs are released into the field in teams of around three, with each dog outfitted with a different colored fitted blanket to tell them apart. 

For dogs who are naturally drawn to chasing a moving object, lure coursing can provide countless benefits, both physical and mental. Physically, chasing items across a field will tire just about any dog out, and yields strong and fast canines who are generally in good health. Mentally, lure coursing is stimulating for dogs as it encourages focus, and it leaves them feeling more content and satisfied by allowing for their hard-wired, natural instincts to be indulged.

sight hounds lure coursing

So, what makes lure coursing especially fun for dogs? When it comes to AKC lure coursing and other established organizations, the activity is so engaging because the lure is controlled by an operator, who moves it around the track while still following the established course. This erratic movement simulates the unpredictability that comes with chasing actual live prey in the wild, who don’t often just run in a straight line or around a smooth circle to get away from their predators. The moving target forces dogs to zig zag through fields in an attempt to capture their target, and requires constant focus and engagement, traits that coursing dogs are naturally prone to rely on. 

Is my dog a fit for lure coursing?

While lure coursing is possibly the most fun and rewarding activity for some dogs, not all dogs are especially excited by it. Those that are adept at dog lure coursing are breeds that fall into the sighthound category. Sighthounds, which are sometimes called gazehounds, rely on their well-attuned sense of sight and their physical ability to run at high speeds to hunt prey. Sighthound breeds include:

  • Greyhounds
  • Whippets
  • Afghan hounds
  • Borzoi
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Salukis, among others. 

These dogs are most often born with a few common traits which equip them to spot a target and hunt it down with speed and proficiency, like pointed snouts, long legs, high hips, and slender waists. 

Of course, any dog, regardless of their breed, size, and age can enjoy and excel at lure coursing for fun if they naturally enjoy the thrill of the hunt (although only eligible breeds are allowed to compete.) Not sure if your dog may be a coursing dog? One way to find out is to keep an eye on what grabs your dog’s attention on walks, at the park, or even while they’re looking out the window — if you have a canine who whips their head around at the slightest movement, or may pull you toward a bag blowing in the breeze, they may enjoy lure coursing as an exercise activity. You can also create your own DIY lures on a much smaller scale by attaching a bag or other bait to a pole, then moving it around to see if your dog takes an interest. It is not advised that anyone just learning about lure coursing attempt to set up their own course, however, as an improperly designed course could potentially injure a dog.

dog lure coursing with muzzle

How to get started

If you’re interested in learning about lure coursing, there are a number of steps you can take to familiarize you and your dog with the sport. 

  • Attend a trial run. If you’d like to see if lure coursing is for your dog, it’s recommended that you attend a trial to see what it’s like. There, you can talk to people about their experiences with lure training, and possibly learn tips for how to get started. To find a lure coursing club in your area, you can check with the American Sighthound Field Association, or the American Kennel Club for ideas. The AKC offers coursing ability tests for dogs of any breed aged one year or older to introduce more people and dogs to the sport. Additionally, if you know other sighthound pet parents or can joins groups online, like this one on Facebook, they may have ideas for getting started as well, whatever your dog’s experience level may be. 
  • Try some basic tests at home. One easy way to frustrate your dog is to get them involved in an activity they aren’t naturally prone toward, or simply don’t enjoy. Not all dogs will enjoy lure coursing, but the one that do usually lend a few easy-to-read cues that you can look out for. Keep an eye on what your dog lends their attention toward, or try creating a lure at home and see if your dog goes after it. 
  • Try a lure coursing test. If your dog seems like they might enjoy lure coursing, look into instinct testing events in your area. Here, dogs are given the opportunity to chase a lure alone, without the distraction of other dogs, to see if they might be a fit for lure coursing. Although some dogs are naturally prone to chase, the focus and precision is usually practiced in a testing environment, which can keep things fun and safe for your dog and the dogs around them. Established lure coursing training complete with lure coursing equipment can teach your dog the basics of what to look out for, as well. 

Many people start out with lure course testing as an informal way to offer their dog an outlet for exercise and mental stimulation. Eventually, some people may go on to participate in more formal, competitive events, although these are only attended by dogs who have experience with lure training. Informal activities are known as tests, while formal activities are referred to as trials. Dogs are ranked by a variety of lure coursing titles, ranging from Junior Courser (JC) to Dual Champion (DC). Titles are obtained by earning points during tests and trials, and judges measure a dog’s aptitude at speed, following, agility, and endurance.

Trainer that reviewed this article

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This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Julie Pitt
AKC CGC Evaluator
Former board member and president of the Rainier Agility Team
Former board member and president of the Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation

Variety Is The Spice Of Life: Canine Exercise Recommendations From The Latest Research

By: Danette Johnston
Owner – Dog’s Day Out, Ballard, WA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA)
Licensed AKC CGC Evaluator
NW Coordinator, Doggone Safe

​​When I opened a dog day care 19 years ago, I did so because I had been working a shelter and noticed that the majority of the dogs in the shelter were there because they were not getting enough stimulation, both physical and mental. I thought a dog coming to day care five days a week would be swell. “A tired dog is a well behaved dog” right? Well, what I found in reality is that five days a week of day care is actually quite stressful for a dog, and an over-tired dog is not relaxed, but stressed. I believe the worst part of a dog attending day care everyday was that the dog was not doing OTHER things or going other places. Unfortunately, we (myself and the dog’s guardians) thought we were doing the best thing for the dog by having them active five days a week but what really happened is that the guardians did not do other things with the dog or take him other places because he was so “tired” from day care. So, the dog ended up “well-socialized” in the day care setting but not at all comfortable in new circumstances. In fact, now we do not allow dogs to come to my day care everyday and recommend maybe 2-3 days of day care with alternating days going elsewhere doing walks and various indoor and outdoor activities (off leashtricks, games, nose work etc.).


What changed? I blame scientific research! People started studying dog’s brains in more depth. Studies started around the world including, in the United States, with
Dr. Gregory Berns doing a MRI on an awake dog at Emory University in 2012 and Brian Hare working on Dognition at Duke University. In Hungary, the Family Dog
Project continues to study our pet dogs’ brains and behaviors. We were and are, getting much more information on the canine brain.

So what do we know now? Respect The Nose! We now know a dog’s walk is much more about his nose than about his legs and lungs and that, for some dogs, 10 minutes of mental enrichment can be the equivalent of 30 minutes of physical activity.

What can you do to enrich your dog’s life?

  • Give your dog variety – take him to lots of different places! Don’t forget your reactive dog or senior dog who too often get isolated but who will benefit greatly from being able to sniff and explore different places. Sniffspot is a great resource to find new, safe spaces for your dog – young, old, reactive or social!
  • With puppies always be sure to socialize correctly by pairing the new spaces and activities with great stuff (food and fun!).
  • Change the way you walk. Ditch the perfect “heel” and instead, let him sniff. A lot!
  • Increase your dog’s mental enrichment by playing games and teaching tricks.


Further reading:
admin.avma.org/News/Journals/Collections/Documents/javma_220_7_965.pdf
www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/all-exercise-is-equal-but-is-some-more-equal-than-others