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

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:

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

9 Unusual Enrichment Ideas For Reactive Dogs

Many folks in the Sniffspot community are looking for more enrichment options for reactive pups. We did some research to find the most interesting enrichment options for reactive dogs by 1) asking reactive dog owners in the area, and 2) asking some local trainers for input to make sure these are the highest quality options for you (see the end of the article for more information on the trainers that reviewed this article). 

For those of you not familiar with canine enrichment, enrichment is about providing activities for dogs that stimulates their brains and their bodies. By enriching your dog, you can make them happier and healthier. Specifically for reactive dogs, enrichment can help them with focusing on positive stimuli rather than negative stimuli, and reduce reactivity.

We recommend some local options for getting started with these, but you don’t need to take classes or work with a trainer to get started. You can also get great resources online, for instance, the Canine Enrichment Facebook Group.

1. Try truffle hunting

This may seem strange to you, but truffle hunting is actually a popular outlet for reactive dogs because of the concentration required, game aspect and being alone in the woods! Kristin Rosenbach at Wagnificent K9 is a good resource in the Seattle area for this!

2. Recycle things into dog toys

You can really do anything you can imagine here. We recommend empty cardboard milk cartons with peanut butter for an easy everyday option, but use your imagination. Make sure it is safe and there are no pieces that could tear off and cause issues if swallowed. Here are some more ideas.

3. Try nosework

Nosework is a sport where dogs need to find a hidden object using smell and alert their handler. It’s popular for reactive dogs because it is generally solo and it teaches concentration. A local trainer we recommend for this is Erica Wells at Dogs Day Out.

4. Try out a snuffle mat

A snuffle mat is a mat with rows of fleece strips where treats can be hidden for the dogs to find over time. Reactive dog owners are raving about how much their dogs love them! You can find these to order on many online outlets.

5. Give them a sandbox to dig in

Some dogs love digging, but most dogs don’t get to do it very often. Give them free rein to dig to their heart’s content by creating a sandbox for them. You need the yard space to cordon off a small area for the sandbox. Or you can visit one of our wooded or farm sniff spots to let your dog dig all they want.

6. Take your pup swimming

Swimming is an amazing way for dogs to find a new way to exercise and explore. Give them time to get used to the water and get comfortable. Make sure to always swim in a safe area and use a doggie life preserver if appropriate. Check out some of our most popular sniff spots for areas to swim.

7. Have fun with a flirt pole

Flirt poles are like fishing poles for dogs, except instead of a hook at the end, there is a dog toy. They’re great for teaching self-control to dogs that have a hard time focusing, because they allow you to control the toy. And they are just a lot of fun to give your pup a work out. You can read more about them here.

8. Try sheep herding

Ever wondered whether your dog would be good at herding? Well, you can now find out! Many of the highest energy dog breeds actually have a history in herding and this can be a very productive way to get their energy out. In fact, many herding breeds tend to be more reactive than other breeds. You can try herding out with your pup at Fido’s Farm, located just south of Olympia.

9. Try canine parkour

This is a great activity for reactive dogs in urban environments. Parkour can help to focus pups on their activity, so they are less focused on scary things in their surroundings. You can read more about parkour here.

Of course, our local sniff spots also offer myriad opportunities for enrichment for your pup. Check them out here!

Trainers 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. 

These are the trainers that reviewed this article:

Lori Stevens.

Lori Stevens (CPBC, CPDT-KA, CCFT, SAMP) is an animal behavior consultant, a professional dog trainer, a canine fitness trainer, an animal massage practitioner, and a senior Tellington TTouch® Training practitioner. She continually studies the interactions among animal behavior, movement, learning, fitness, and health. She uses intimidation-free, scientific, and innovative methods, in an educational environment, to improve the health, behavior, performance, and fitness of animals. Lori’s most recent of three DVDs By Tawzer Dog Videos is co-presented with Kathy Sdao and called ‘The Gift of a Gray Muzzle: Active Care for Senior Dogs’ –it focuses on improving the life of our aging dogs. Lori gives workshops worldwide and has a private practice in Seattle, WA.  She also teaches online classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

Lori gets joy from helping others help their dogs whether for competition or daily life. She enjoys hiking, training, and playing with Cassie, her Australian Shepherd.

Read more about Lori Stevens at SeattleTTouch.com

Eric Sueltenfuss

Eric Sueltenfuss is a Certified Canine Specialist through the Northwest School of Canine Studies.  He is dedicated to furthering his knowledge through continuing education courses and trainings. He has studied animal learning theory and a broad range of science-based training techniques and practical applications.

Bridge The Bark is part of a community of Force-Free practitioners, dedicated to changing the world of canine training.

Read more about Eric here.

Five Ways Truffle Hunting Helps Reactive Dogs And Their Owners

By: Kristin Rosenbach
Owner – Wagnificent K9 Truffle Dogs, LLC
Freelance Truffle Hunter & Teacher
Reiki Master Teacher

When I made the decision to begin truffle hunting, I never imagined how much our lives would change.

​I became fascinated with truffles after tasting them on a trip to Italy. I joked that I was going to teach the dogs to find truffles. One day, in a random internet search, I discovered that they grow where I live, here in the Pacific Northwest. I decided that it was meant to be. And I’ve never looked back. I learned everything I could about truffles and scent detection. The adventure began.

During that time, Callie, my Border Collie, was injured in an agility accident and would be on restricted activity for several months. We needed an activity to keep her happy while being compliant with her restrictions. Truffle hunting is a scent detection activity where a handler and dog work in partnership to locate underground gourmet fungi called truffles. It was perfect! Little did I know that learning to truffle hunt would not only satisfy her mentally and emotionally during her recovery, but it was also going to change our relationship.

Many years ago, I made an agreement with Callie to stop using the term “reactive” because it feels limiting to me and I want the two of us to evolve in our partnership. I stopped seeing her as reactive and began respecting her discomfort around other dogs by protecting her space. Gradually, she became more accepting of less space and I, perhaps more importantly, became less charged by OUR triggers. We both understood each other better. We both saw the world as a less scary place.

Part of that process for us involved learning to find truffles. It was an activity we could do without the stress of being around other people or dogs. We could connect in a way that was much deeper than ever before. One person and one dog, hands and paws in the dirt, and surrounded by the soothing energy of nature. We made up our own rules and learned our own language, one that is perfect and unique to only us.

As the years went by, I began noticing significant changes in our ability to cope with suburban challenges, recover from stressful events, communicate with each other, and respond to the other’s needs. I owe this partnership that I cherish so much to the discoveries we made while learning to find buried treasures that only a dog’s nose can find.

​Here is why I believe truffle hunting is a great activity for reactive dogs and their owners:

  • Truffle hunting, at its very core, is an enrichment activity. When truffle hunting is taught through organized and carefully planned enrichment activities, learning and team partnership unfold organically. The dog and handler learn trust, communication, and cooperation in a naturally rewarding way.
  • Sniffing is a soothing activity for most dogs and smell is the fastest route to the emotional center of the brain. The activity of seeking uses a part of the brain that is incompatible with fear. By creating a positive emotional response to a scent, that scent supports beneficial hormonal and chemical responses that can support the dog in feeling more comfortable in the world. Engaging in a meaningful sniffing activity is emotionally and physiologically rewarding.
  • Nature has a grounding and calming effect on us all. Between fresh air and a natural environment, hormones and chemical responses that influence emotions can harmonize to improve our experiences. Fresh, rich air found in nature has many health benefits including an effect on brain waves that can be calming. Being in nature can reduce stress hormones as well as give the brain a break and allow the body to relax. The most interesting effect of being in nature might be that there is a bacteria commonly found in soil that can boost serotonin levels. You and your dog will literally be bathing in the medicine of nature.
  • Truffle hunting doesn’t involve other people or dogs (unless you want it to). Creating spaces where dogs feel comfortable is important so that the dog feels safe and you, as a team, can be fully engaged with one another without the likelihood of encountering a trigger. Instead of managing a dog’s space in a group setting, truffle hunting teams can experience the freedom to move and interact in a way that is unique to them and not influenced by the environmental factors or structured group dynamics. (Note: sometimes truffle hunting is on public land, so make sure to be aware if there are other folks in the area)
  • Truffle hunting shows you how to be in conversation with your dog, perceiving the subtle information your dog is providing. Deepening this connection in a natural way can assist you in understanding your dog’s communications elsewhere.

Each truffle hunt is unique so you and your dog will be continually developing your communication skills while diving deeper into your relationship and understanding of one another.

I’ve been truffle hunting with Callie for 8 years now and we continue to experience shifts in our relationship as we grow. We come back from every hunt filthy, exhausted, and happy.

You can learn more about truffle hunting with your dog and get started for free through my masterclass series on the podcast What The Dog Nose. I’ll be releasing new lessons during the 2018-2019 fall and winter truffle seasons. I encourage you to choose the best learning environment for you and your dog and that is why I’m making these masterclass lessons free.

Happy hunting!

Kristin Rosenbach
Wagnificent K9 Truffle Dogs, LLC

“Shifting the way people relate to and partner with animals.”

How To Introduce Dogs

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

Whether you are looking to bring a new dog into your home or you just want your dog to hang out with your friends or family members’ dog, being able to read the dogs’ body language is imperative for success when introducing dogs. Be sure to give yourself an education on canine body language before proceeding with dog introductions!

​I have two ways I generally recommend having dogs meet each other:

1. TANDEM/PARALLEL WALK– For non-leash reactive dogs.

Equipment needed: Dogs on regular leashes (no flexi-leads) and harnesses (no neck collars).

  • Depending on the individual dog, you may need to start out at a good distance (across the park or street). For others, you may be able to start closer.
  • Set it up with the human walkers next to each other and the dogs on the outside.
  • With both dogs on leash, just keep moving forward, parallel to each other.  You do NOT want the dogs to meet head-on as there are significant problems with this type of introduction.
  • If one or both of the dogs are vocalizing or pulling towards each other, get more distance.
  • Now, watch both dog’s body language carefully. Here is what you do NOT want to see: Sustained direct eye contact, quick side glances, tense, still postures or hackles up for an extended time (OK when they first meet but should go down within a minute or so).
  • Keep walking until the dogs are relaxed walking side-by-side and basically don’t care about each other.
  • During this walk, shift so that one dog is in front of the other and then switch. That way both dogs can “get a whiff” of the other without stopping. They do not need to go right up to each other to smell; they can sniff from a distance of a few feet and still get lots of information.
  • Often, the dogs will find a good spot where they will both sniff the ground. This is a great sign but watch here that neither dog stiffens, get still or does a hard side glance at the other dog while sniffing.
  • This may take more than one walk for the dogs to get comfortable next to each other. Take as many walks as needed until they relax.
  • Once the dogs are relaxed in each other’s presence, go to a neutral space such as a Sniffspot, and walk the dogs around there. Let them sniff and investigate the space still on leash. If you feel comfortable and the dogs are relaxed, you can drop the leashes. I generally keep them on for a few minutes just so I have “handle” if I need to remove them.
  • If you are unsure of how either dog will react, use muzzles and long lines (see below) for safety.


2. TANDEM PLAY – I use this when one of the dogs is too leash reactive to be able to do a parallel walk, even at a distance. We often use this with shelter dogs who we want to let play with other dogs but are so leash reactive that it would take months working on the leash reactivity before allowing them to get the much-needed play with other dogs. Reactivity on leash is not necessarily indicative of off leash behavior.

Equipment needed: A large, preferably neutral yard such as a Sniffspot or large room with some sort of barrier in the middle, dogs on leashes and harnesses, and possibly muzzles and long lines (see below).

  • Start with dogs on opposite ends of the space, separated by the barrier.
  • The dogs are on leash for safety but the leash should be long and loose (no tension!) to prevent the leash reactivity.
  • With a handler for each dog, keep the dogs from bolting towards the barrier/other dog by treating and tossing treats on the ground to allow sniffing and finding.  
  • If the dogs fixate on each other, your space is too small and you need to get more distance.
  • As with the tandem walk process, you may need to repeat this several times before the dogs share a space.
  • Once the dogs are relaxed and not fixated (again, you much be able to “read” the dogs’ body language) on the other dog you can remove the barrier or get both dogs on the same side.

TOOLS TO USE – if we are unsure of how one or both of the dogs will react, I will often use long lines and basket muzzles. A long line gives the dog freedom of movement with no leash tension but a “handle” for the humans to grab if needed. It is crucial that a dog be conditioned to a muzzle before using during introductions. I do NOT want to slap a muzzle on a dog and then toss him in with other dogs. Use a basket muzzle (not cloth) so the dog can get treats through it, drink, pant and play. A fantastic and comprehensive resource for muzzle training is the Muzzle Up Project website.

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