Sports addict….

I have competed in various dog sports for fast approaching 30yrs, and I am very aware that the premier purpose is for my pleasure, ego and personal gratification.

I am under no illusions that as much as I would like to believe that my dogs will the days away, waiting to attend a show, trial or competition… I am neither naive of foolish enough to believe anything of the sort. Dog sports is for me, and my pleasure.

So why do it? Surely, I could train my dogs to the standard I aim for, in the manner I choose to and go over the park and have as much pleasure and joy? Absolutely, I do and I will. However dog sports adds another dimension to my training that I would otherwise not have to address or deal with.

At your average competition, there are numerous factors to consider and challenges that will guaranteed to be presented.

To start with, there will be dogs. And most probably lots of them. Depending on the sport you do, you may have anything up to several hundred dogs all at a competition at the same time. This means male, female, little, large, hairy, pointy, squashed face dogs… all colours, shapes and sizes.

There will be people. Hundreds of people. All shapes, sizes and looks.

There will be strange noises, sights and sounds.

Tents, awnings, speakers, odd smells, maybe children, maybe wheelchairs, maybe dogs that lunge, or bark or whine…

And there may be even lycra… and in some cases, this can be terrifying!!

So why do it? Why put my dog through it. Well, yes you could say it is my ego. But on a deeper level, I believe that dog sports has attributed largely to my Dogs characters and disposition, because in preparing them for dog sports thoroughly, I have no choice but train and create a dog that can cope with the rigours of competition, and it doing do, I create a dog that can cope with life.

One of the questions I am asked frequently since becoming a father is how did I inter-grate my baby girl into my home when she was born. The simple answer is I walked into the house let the dogs investigate what I was holding in my arms, and that was it. Now considering that I have 8 dogs, in various breeds and most of which are what you would describe as high drive, and some of which have unknown histories, rescue dogs, initially were fearful and nervous of people, and have an extreme prey drive, this is no accident. Don’t misunderstand me, dogs and kids are always a combination to be treated respectfully, and with sense. But my involvement and preparation in Dogs sports can be attributed to the way in which my dogs act and behave.

As part of preparing my dog to ‘cope’ with the environmental challenges that they will most likely to encounter on attending even a small competition, I have to create a dog that has a robust temperament. With dogs, people and environments.

They have to have social skills, and I have to train them to cope with the unpredictable nature of having several hundred dogs and people in a relatively close proximity. I have had dogs that had dog aggression issues, that had to be taught to remain in a controlled position whilst I was out of sight and possibly some distance away, whilst having another dog less then 6ft away. I have had nervous and fearful dogs that have had to learn to cope with people in close proximity to them, even handling them or restraining them, I have had dogs with high chase drive that have had to learn to remain still and calm whilst another dog is running flat out in front of them.

These are just some of the challenges that dog sports has presented.

This is not to mention the challenges for me, as an owner.

I have had to step out of my comfort zone. I have had to develop patience, persistence and perseverance. I have learned discipline and structure, planning, effective use of time and dedication. I have had to dig deep, soul search and get up from being knocked down… these life lessons serve me far beyond the confines of an show ground, or trials field. I have had to learn to have reliance to criticism and develop a thick skin. I know what it is like to work for, strive towards and achieve goals. The mental composure needed to compete at the top level in any sport, requires attributes that can be carried through to life, business, relationships, society in general and many more walks of life.

And along the journey I have accumulated a people who I deem family. They are my daughters family as much as my blood. I have travelled the world, and followed my passion.

All this from doing something with my dogs at a weekend, in a muddy field, with a burger van and a cup of something hot…

So, in truth whilst it may be my ego that drives me to compete in dog sports, the ‘wins’ are far more then rosettes, certificates and accolades.

Success comes in many forms. I have been fortunate to be successful.

Sink or swim

Last Friday I took Neave, my 1yr old daughter to a swimming lesson.

This was with a group called ‘Puddle Ducks’, you can check out the website https://www.puddleducks.com

As a coach and teacher for competitive dog sports, and someone who works extensively with behavioural issues in dogs, I am always ‘aware’ of how others ‘instruct’, seeing if there is anything I can take from how others approach teaching and communicating. Great teaching is great teaching, whether it be aimed at two or four legged subjects!

Well I can definitely say, Neave’s swimming experience was definitely teaching at its best!

Teaching someone that has no ability to communicate with you verbally, is reliant on clear communication in other ways… body language, expression, posture, tone of voice and gestures are some of the ways the instructor created a positive learning environment for Neave to learn.

The lesson was going to particularly challenging for Neave, as she was going to be briefly submerged underwater. This in itself can be incredibly stressful if not handled correctly and safely.

The first part of the lesson Neave had was how to enter the pool appropriately. She had to sit at the edge and wait briefly to be lifted into the pool. She was given information about what was happening and allowed to come in the pool when she was calm and attentive.

We initially played games to build Neave’s confidence in the water. Although, she had been previously, and we were comfortable that she was happy in the environment, the start of the session was confirming this feeling.

The first part of the sessions comprised of games that were familiar to Neave, and she appeared to recognise theses games and the songs that were sung.

This helped start the session with some ‘successes’. It built her confidence in the process. It also ensured she found the session fun.

Next was the challenging part of the session, where she was to be submerged briefly underwater.

This was done incrementally and at each stage, we ‘checked’ Neave was comfortable and happy with what was happening.

Initially, a small container was used to pour water in front of her, and she was encouraged to play and interact with it. She was allowed to indicate the speed at which the session progressed and when to move on to the next part. Her body language was closely observed and monitored.

The water was then poured on the back of her head, then across her face. Again, each stage was monitored and a visual ‘thermometer’ taken of how she was coping. Although Neave cant speak coherently to exclaim her joy, it was clear to see.

Next, was the submerging.

My role was clearly explained, what I was to do was demonstrated with a doll several times. I was allowed to ask questions and then, when I was ready allowed to submerged Neave briefly.

It was explained clearly how long for and what to do directly after. I was advised to distract her with games immediately after and not to instantly react by turning her towards me. This was to ensure I didn’t create anxiety around the experience. As Neave’s parent, this was clearly a nerve wrecking experience for me! Instead I was advised to distract her and make it fun!

We did variations of this exercise and at each stage Neave’s response was monitored and gauge. She dictated the speed of the session and the rate of progression. She loved it, and even when there was a moment of hesitation after her first submerged, because she was refocused onto another game, she quickly gained confidence.

After a few more repetitions, we finished on some easier challenges and the session was ended.

Neave loved it! Largely because of the expert guidance and instruction.

This was an excellent example of growing confidence, pushing beyond your comfort zone, making learning fun, using interaction and games to teach important lessons. It incorporated shaping, desensitisation, acclimatisation, impulse control to name but a few, all merge into a series of games, songs and fun experiences.

This is everything that a great learning experience should be, irrespective of whether it is a one year old learning to swim or a dog learning to face the world, or nose target a cone, or pick up an article.

Learning should be fun, but it can be stressful and create anxiety but rather then avoid it at all cost, create confidence in the subject so that they can cope with challenges, and perceive situations that may invoke stress and anxiety as a positive. Fun isn’t just fast and furious, it can be a mind game, a challenge, physically or mentally.

This session built up to the challenge in increments, they also paid attention to Neave and what she was coping with.

There was no rush, no hurry and no time frame to adhere to. But yet they also took her further in her learning, slightly out of her comfort zone and above all, made it a game.

The session was clearly planned out, and strategic. This one of a series of lessons designed to teach core skills and foundations for swimming and safety in and around water.

If only all teaching could follow this pattern. Either end of the spectrum, being to forceful or shying away from challenges, can inhibit growth. Both moving at a snails pace or racing to the finish line, are counter productive.

Strategic planning, clear vision, enthusiasm, passion are just some of the attributes that a great teacher has. They create a student that wants to learn, will relish challenges and have confidence in everything they engage in.

Be that person for your dogs, your students and yourself.

Let me lead the way…

I always believe in listening to what the universe tells you, this may sound a bit crazy, but the more you pay attention to it and don’t try and fight it, the more you will glean from the direction you are driven in.

This also works with the universe sending me a message…. sometimes its a whisper, sometimes its a brick upside my head!

Well the latest concept that I have been sent is that of leadership. Recently, this word has been presented to me in many forms and yet I have tried to avoid it, ignore it and deny it. But the universe always knows best.

Leadership is something that takes time to adjust to and understand the responsibility that comes with it, to quote spiderman himself… ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’.

In my previous vocation, where leadership was thrust upon you, I knew and understood this so was comfortable in this role. Even as a tender teen, I was looked upon by others at times of stress, anxiety and chaos, to give them leadership and direction.

In my current profession, the concept of being a ‘leader’ is often associated with dated dominance based theories and synonymous with competitive approaches to training and behaviour. And as a result, I’ve refrained from acknowledging this aspect of my role.

The universe had other ideas. I was forced to face up to the concept of leadership and the responsibilities that come with it.

I have often refrained from defining my role as ‘a’ leader or ‘the’ leader for fear of that being misinterpreted. I felt uncomfortable with being defined as ‘leader’ because of the association to differing methodologies and needing to be the ‘pack’ leader.

When dealing with fearful timid dogs, with reactive issues or a newbie dog owner or trainer, who is starting their first step into the world of responsible dog ownership or sports, I give them leadership.

In my daily life, I give my daughter leadership, in my professional life as a coach and teacher, I give my students leadership. I advise them, I educate them, I enlighten them, I don’t try and dim their shine, I merely highlight their brilliance. Looking closer at what leadership meant to me, allowed me to redefine my perception and embrace it.

For me a leader is a person who inspires, who guides, who gives confidence but ultimately lets the individual shine. They don’t want to suppress or stifle the spirit of the being. It isn’t about oppression or domination. As a professional dog trainer, teacher and coach, I am required to be a leader.

A leader is also a person that gives boundaries where appropriate, denotes acceptable conduct and even some rules of engagement. This creates a fair and even playing field, it creates clarity. Everyone has the choice to participate or walk away. Leaders are honest, they are open and they support those that choose to bestow their trust on them. And true leaders, don’t use fear.

For those of us who have a role in the dog care/training/behaviour industry, we have responsibility to uphold this level of trust. All to often I hear of scenarios where someone has had this broken. This may be a person who has followed poor advice for a dog that is fearful. Or given advice that has compromised the relationship they wish to have with their dog. Leadership must be based on trust.

Being a leader comes with a price. Being willing to step against the trend, or put your head above the parapet is part of the role. Being a leader can be a solitary process at times, whilst others question themselves and if they wish to follow you. Having a genuine and truthful agenda for your intentions is critical. It cannot be monetary, it cannot be egotistical. Both these could be alluring, and test your intentions. When faced with a dog that needs leadership, it cannot be about ego or getting the job done. When wanting to help someone or conduct a seminar, it cannot just be about the pay cheque. It has to be about the subject, the intention and the truth.

Leadership takes understanding and acknowledgement, leaders inspire, uplift and build confidence. Whether the subject is two or four legged.

Be the leader you’d want to follow.

Taking the scenic route

I have numerous roles within the heading of being a professional dog trainer and sports dog coach.

I am teacher, there to educate people on how to train their dogs. To inform, inspire, enlighten and create the desire within my pupils to follow me on this

I am a coach, there to mentor, support, build confidence, guide and nurture my students to get the best out of their dogs. This is different to the role of teacher.

These are the main roles I have, however there are many roles within these.

I am chief butt kicker, on occasion… I am the therapist and shoulder to cry on when needed, the confidante, the deliverer of truth and honesty and also a friend.

These are some of the roles, that I fulfil.

But the key to me being able to complete the role successfully, and to the best of my ability is having a pupil/student/client that is receptive to the information.

This doesn’t mean a ‘yeh but, no but’ person, someone who doesn’t ‘want’ to hear what I have to say. This is totally different. It wouldn’t matter what I said or anyone else for that matter, they don’t want to listen. And thats ok. Everyone is on their own journey, and its not for me to ‘tell’ them they ‘have to’ listen to me.

I am referring to the person ‘ready’ to hear what I have to say, and willing but they aren’t ready to action on it, or implement what I’ve suggested.

This is the biggest frustration for students and clients I teach and help.

That readiness may be dependent on skill level, where they are at as a trainer/owner etc. We have all been there. When you first take a step on the path that is dog training, sometimes you won’t be ‘ready’ for that element, trusting your coach to call it is part of the process. I will often overlook something with a pupil, as it’s not relevant for where they are at.

It may be down to their dogs readiness, age, previous history, re-Training, breed etc. The dog may have a over riding issue that supersedes the short term goal. This may be choosing to expose your dog to a situation or environment as they may not be ready.

It may be down to their own ‘stuff’. They may not be quite ready to embrace what I have suggested, and thats ok. It may be scepticism or not quite ‘believing’, or we haven’t built up enough trust. Or they may revert back to what they have previously done.

The defining factor as to whether I can really ‘help’, isn’t actually about them, or the dog. It’s actually about me.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt as a professional dog trainer, coach and someone that deals with behavioural issues is learning to align myself with the goals and objectives of the person I am working with. My goals are secondary to theirs. This may sound obvious, but the ego is a powerful thing and often gets in the way.

My goals aren’t their goals, and their goals aren’t my goals. My role is to align myself with what THEY want, and what THEY can do. Its not about the perfect picture or even the ideal end result. Its about facilitating what the person wants to achieve.

This may be a world class competition dog, and win major championships. Great, I can do that and have had pupils do exactly that.

Or their goal may be to have a dog that doesn’t bite people. Great I can do that, and I have helped numerous people achieve that precise goal.

Or it might simply be that they want a dog with a recall, and I’ve helped them achieve that goal too.

But the reason I have been able to do so, is because I understood what THEY wanted.

I may look at the dog, and see the magnitude of potential the dog has, but if thats not the persons goal, I have to let it go.

The other side of the coin, is when their goals don’t align with my beliefs. And the pill to swallow, is that I can’t help them and thats ok to.

The biggest realisation is that you can’t help EVERYONE. And its ok.

Thinking you can, will only leave you feeling a sense of failure or being overwhelmed.

Sometimes the hardest thing to accept is that you can’t help someone, not because you don’t have skills or knowledge, but because your goals and their goals are either not aligned or they are ready. And thats ok.

As a professional who feels passionate about my role, it was an early struggle that took a lot of understanding. Early in my career, my ego led me to believe that ‘I’ could help everyone, whether they wanted it or not. I can’t, its ok. Its not about me, it’s about them.

The reassuring thing to know, is that sometimes allowing someone the space to follow their own journey will bring them back to your path, if even via the scenic route…. everything happens just as it should, and trusting this can be an empowering lesson for any one embarking on a career where they want to genuinely help others.

Calm before the storm

As I lay wide awake at 3am, unable to get to sleep, my mind starts to ponder and tick away. I’ve always had this trait, and it got me thinking about a blog…. I have now ended up writing about 4 or 5 blog posts! All in an attempt to off load some of the mental ‘energy’ buzzing around, and try and get back to sleep!

I’m giving you an insight into my personality here LOL…. I expect some of the readers of this blog, that know me personally will be sniggering or quivering, thinking ‘oh lord… here we go!’

I am most definitely a hyperactive person, and I would definitely say that when I was a child, if the awareness was there, I would most definitely have been diagnosed with ADHD. My family used to quip, that if ever I was quiet you knew I was up to something! My parents recoil stories of my antics, and clearly recognised it from an early age. Evidently, my father was the same, and I can see that same need to be active and doing in my daughter… so it’s definitely in the line!! Still to this day, I hate being still. I struggle to be still, and even if I am… my thoughts are running a mock! I can have a conversation with you, and think of 3 other things at the same time! I am also enthusiastic and optimistic. I am always a ‘can do’ person. Lets find a solution.

But when I was a child, my parents took the issue and channelled it. From 5yrs old my dad took me to martial arts classes, and I was able to focus my energy somewhere. This and dog training, were two grounded forces in my life. To this day Physical activity and my dogs are the two things that quiet the ‘monkeys’ in my head. I need to have my ‘fix’ to feel settled.. or more importantly, feel content.

But yet, in the midst of the storm I can be calm. In my former vocation as Police Officer, I was often in situations of extreme stress and pressure, yet I could remain calm and unflustered. In a situation where the world is falling apart, I can think clearly and rationally.

For a person that struggles with being still, I can be ‘calm’ when appropriate. This is through training, teaching and learning to think clearly whilst under stress. In competition, I can think under pressure and focus my mind.

The concept of calmness is becoming a prevalent word in dog training and behaviour, for some reason more now then ever. But what is calmness to your dog, or are we athromorphising behaviour?

The awareness and understanding of dog behaviour and body language has opened up our eyes to the things our dogs are telling us, and the knowledge of calming signals has become more wide spread.

But have we confused the appearance of calm, with true contentment?

Albert Einstein said “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

If we substitute the word peace for ‘calm’, we may have the answer.

So ‘Calm cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding’.

And this applies to approaches used in dog training. Understand what your dog needs, and honour it.

There is a trend to reinforce or create calmness, with the intent that the physical behaviours will cause the brain to ‘default’ into a calm state. I am simplifying this explanation, but the link between physical and neurological states has been well documented.

However, there is a caveat to ‘creating’ calm. Have you first created contentment? Have you appeased  your dogs basic needs, to create contentment.

Reinforcing calming behaviour with a dog that has an abundance of energy is like putting a lid on a pressure cooker. Or trying to create calmness with a dog that is in physical discomfort, is like asking you to be calm whilst having root canal surgery without anaesthetic… Or trying to create calm whilst your dog is full of additives ingested from its poor quality food, is like asking your 2yr old to sit still after having a bottle of fizzy drink!

The concept of calmness is simple, if you create contentment first. I know this from experience.

And what create ‘calm’ for one, doesn’t necessarily create calm for another. I feel at ‘peace’ doing anything physical, and repetitive… running, cycling, on the rowing machine…. I feel a sense of calmness through the repetition of the action. I know in my own dogs, my high drive typically ‘un-calm’ dogs, exhibit a zen like aura when I used to bike them. They would be all excited and hyped when they saw the big, but as soon as it set in motion and started to move, they would instantly ‘zen’ out. It wouldn’t matter if it was after 30secs of bilking, or 30mins… they would hit this repetitive trot, and start to be almost in a mental cocoon’.

‘Calmness’ comes from being physically and mentally content, being satisfied in both areas and also finding what works for your dog. Like meditation, spiritual practices and rituals… calmness is a daily routine. Your dog needs a daily input to create calm.

I have a confession. My name is Kamal Fernandez and my dogs are lazy when at home! They literally spend the majority of the day milling around and sleeping! Incredibly un-inspring and lack lustre. But I am fully aware, that this is because they lead a full and varied lifestyle. They have ample physical and mental stimulation, which means they are content… which creates calmness. This state of ‘calm’ comes through into their training. They can ‘think’ because they are content.

Enthusiasm, drive and energy are not to be frowned upon and subdued. They should be utilised, channelled and acknowledge. They are attributes. However they can often be perceived as ‘flaws’ if not dealt with appropriately.

“He is so hyper, I wish he would calm down”…

“He gets so excited! I wish he would just stop and think”

“He’s a nightmare to live with, he just doesn’t stop”

“its like he’s on a knife edge, I wish he would just chill out”

Sound familiar? But what are you doing to create contentment?

Whenever I have dog that comes to me with Reactivity issues, this is one of the first things I look at.

Strive to create a dog that is content, this will create calm without even trying.

Enjoy your dogs.

Kamal Fernandez

Copy That…

Today I got an email from my friend, colleague, founder of the Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, Denise Fenzi.

She sent me a message asking if I had read an article.

Here is the link.

https://suzanneclothier.com/article/just-wants-say-hi/

I read clicked on the link, and didn’t initially take note of the name. As I read through the article, it appeared strangely familiar to a blog that I had recently written. The more I read, I assumed that the author had ‘copied’ or adapted the blog post I had written…. So I just dusted it off, and took it as a back handed compliment… after all, its not the first time this has happened with ideas/methods I have put out into the world. As a professional dog trainer, its kinda par for the course. Its what happen when you put your ‘stuff’ out there.

So I asked Denise, when had it been written…. to which she said… ‘About 20yrs ago’! LOL. The author is the brilliant Suzanne Clothier.

Although I have been training dogs for close to 3 decades (geez that makes me sound ancient!), I think it would take some feat only achievable through the pages of science fiction or Doctor Who, I definitely wasn’t writing a blog 20yrs ago… in fact, did ‘blogs’ even exist?? Did the internet exist?? How ever did we manage!

So the assumption could be drawn that I ‘copied’ what the author had written. Don’t get me wrong, of course I am familiar with Suzanne Clothier’s work, she is fantastic! And my passion is dog training and behaviour, so of course I know her work! Her book ‘Following Ghost’ is a must for anyone interested in nosework, and her principles to dealing with dogs and horses with behavioural issues are fantastic, there are so many parallels to my own ethos and principles. I have referred others to her work. However I have not ever come across THIS particular article before. Its plausible to conclude that I had copied what Suzanne had written as passed it off as my own. However given that the blog post I wrote, was completed in my lunch break on a seminar I was teaching, after a conversation with some of the attendees. I flippantly used the analogy of jumping on unsuspecting members of the public, as we all compared our experiences…. Inspiration comes from many places.

So what does that mean? It means that there is someone else who sees the world of dog training and behaviour as I do! I’m not sure the world is ready for two of ‘us’…. But it also says that there is plenty of room for us all, and many more like you rather then different. If you adhere to a particular approach to training, you will naturally gravitate to those that share your perspective. This perspective should sit with who you want to be as a dog trainer, and dog owner.

The universe works in amazing ways, and send you the people, dogs and lessons you need irrespective of whether you are aware or even know you need them. Choosing a certain path of training your dog, will be reliant at times on the universe sending you the right people at just the right time. Especially those of you that are in isolation, either through geographical position or knowledge. I know that at each juncture of my career, I have been fortunate to have the right person/s come along at just the right moment. I am fully aware of walking a path laid down by many more before me. And I have always acknowledged their contribution.

There is no shame and it doesn’t detract from your own shine, to beam the light on others. This applies to business, work, sports, dog training and much more.

With information being more readily available, everyone is trying to carve their own niche and make an impression on the world of training dogs and behaviour. Outlandish stunts, dynamic video clips and eye catching marketing are like shiny buttons to a magpie. I include myself in this, as I am currently working on a my own online project. My two biggest source of advise were in fact two people Denise Fenzi and Susan Garrett, who both have their online communities! Why would they give me advice and allow me to ‘glean’ from their experience? Because, they know that facilitating others success and joy, doesn’t detract from theirs… in fact, it contributes to it. Raising others up, sharing their work and acknowledging the achievement of others doesn’t take anything away from the light that already shines on you.

This could be acknowledging how well behaved someones dog is, unbeknown to you the struggle they have gone though to get to that point. This could be competition, if you see someone do a fantastic round, or run… tell them. Even if they are in the same class as you, it doesn’t mean you weren’t great, it just means that you aren’t afraid to let others know how great they are. And you know what, the Universe is listening. When you need a pick up or some acknowledgement, it’ll come your way.

Sometimes we all need assurance and acknowledgement. Reading Suzanne’s words, made me realise that my own words may have merit. The similarities may be pure coincidence, but it was the universe affirming my thoughts and perspective. And in return, without even knowing it, her work from 20yrs ago has been echoed. The universe at work again.

I know that in my journey to follow a path of training based on certain principles, it has directed me to those that share my views and attracted others wanting to embrace a new perspective. Indeed, I became involved with the Fenzi Sports Dog Academy because of this want to share this perspective on a platform which I believed in. The more we shed light on those who share our beliefs, the greater the chance of us ‘all’ succeeding. There is no need to be afraid to share that light, or take it away from others, whether they share your beliefs or not. Focus on the energy you project and let the universe do the rest.

‘In our togetherness as a team, castles are built’. Irish Proverb.

He just wants to say hello….

I was at the supermarket the other day, doing the things ‘normal’ people do, like buying chia seeds and oat milk for my vegan baby.. when I saw this couple in one of the aisle. They seemed busy looking at the shelves for something, totally oblivious to me. I really wanted to say hi to them, I just couldn’t help myself… so i just ran over and stuck my nose up the lady’s skirt…. the guy went mad! Not sure what his problem was, I was only being friendly…. geez some people. Total over reaction!

I thought it best to leave them for the moment although I will probably go back later to say hi again, and definitely if I see them again, I’ll definitely say hi!

So I just continued minding my business and I saw an older lady doing her groceries, she looked kinda frail… and clearly from the way she was scrutinising the wording on the packaging, her eyesight wasn’t the best. But you know what, I just had to say hi! I rushed over to her, and just jumped on her. She toppled over, but hey ho, thats life. And I just couldn’t help myself, I started dry humping her in the 6th aisle of the supermarket, right next to the tin beans and tomato ketchup! For some reason, she didn’t appreciate my greeting and started using the most obscene language I think I’ve ever heard! Geez some people!

Ok… you get where I am going with this? I’m not writing this blog for the inside of a police cell, after being arrested and probably sectioned!

But substitute this scenario, for a park… or field and the person rushing up to someone and over zealously greeting them isnt a ‘person’, its a dog… perhaps even your dog. Or someone else’s.

This an all too common scenario that plays out on a daily basis for most of people, unless like myself you are blessed to be able to walk in a location where you can largely avoid people and dogs for an entire walk, which can be hours! And before you assume this was always the case, it most definitely was not. I used to live in the middle of London and walk my dogs in local parks, woods or fields where it would be more like a scene from ‘Blade Runner’ rather then a peaceful walk. And I had a dog that really didn’t like other dogs in his space at all. So I can definitely relate. And even now, I attend parks and fields to train my dogs, and don’t always have the option to avoid people.

Here is a video showing a prime example of exactly this, not once but twice

in the space of 15mins. Watch the video and note, What would your dog do? What would you do?

Typical park meeting

Its super frustrating, right? When all you want to do is enjoy your peaceful walk or train your dogs, leaving with the number of dogs you set out with, not any additional extra who decide to join you!

Or worse still, you have put months and months of work with your dog that is ‘reactive’ or aggressive, or nervous only to have one unplanned interaction that could potentially put you back months, if not further.

So what can you do about it?

Here’s the answer. Not a dam thing. Sorry people, but there’s nothing you can do about it….well certainly not the other dog or person. But you can do things to help yourself and your dog. The chances are that its probably going to happen. So welcome it, plan for it and expect it.

The reality is, you are unlikely to be able to control every single scenario your dog will encounter in the ‘real world’. I wish that we could, it would make training SO much easier. But for most of us, we have to take our dogs to public locations to train or exercise them. You could invest countless hours into counter conditioning, exposing your dog to other dogs strategically and systematically, and yet when you take your dog for a morning walk, they get rushed by that over zealous cockerpoo that notoriously frequents your local park, and sets you back another 6months.

So what can you do? When I say, not a dam thing… thats a broad statement, but you can’t concern yourself with the dogs and people that are going to approach your dog, because you can’t control them.

You can’t control the millions of un-trained dogs with poor social skills, and owners who genuinely don’t see it as a problem… you can try and educate them, but dog ownership is a bit like telling people how to parent their kids. Is a sensitive subject. People get defensive. However, you can demonstrate to them what a well behaved dog looks like and set an example they may then wish to follow.

In most instances, its not malicious, its just people being ignorant of the greater picture. They probably go through their entire dogs life without having any awareness of the affects of their dogs behaviour. Those oh so familiar phrases of ‘oh thats ok, he’s only being friendly….’ or ‘ its ok, he could do with a telling off’…. or ‘if your dog doesn’t like dogs, it shouldn’t be in public’…. the list goes on.

Now we could stand their and give them a crash course in canine communication, discuss serotonin levels in dogs when under stress, appropriate social etiquette etc but in reality, in the mindset you are in, are you going to want to stand and discuss calming signals with someone who’s labrador has just molested your geriatric old toy poodle, whilst the last thing you are displaying is anything but calmness!

What you can do is focus on your dog. You can create a dog that has so much value for the appropriate responses and behaviour, that they are almost bullet proof, or at least have so much ‘bubble wrap’ via training that they learn how to deal in those situations you can’t plan for. You can create a dog who’s sole focus is you. You can build so much desire to remain with you and attentive, that your dog isn’t interested in anything else. If it it is, the interest is minimal and brief.

Having a few simple skills, behaviours, and practical management techniques can help even the most stressful situation, pass with ease.

  • Build focus for you. A dog that is engaged and focused, is less likely to want to focus or redirect its energy. Build value for you. All good things come from you.
  • Teach your dog to love their collar being grabbed. This is a basic and simple go to skill in a situation that could be volatile. If a dog approaches your dog unexpectedly, you want to be able to grab their collar and not trigger a explosion or potentially make your dog even more ‘reactive’.
  • Teach a solid and stable control position, sit or down. This needs to be well proofed so that the dog will cope with any distraction you can create, and eventually any distraction from the outside world.
  • Invest daily in your recall, so that you can always get your dog back irrespective of the distraction.
  • take high level reinforcement with you, so that you can always distract your dog away if need be. This is about making the best of a situation and getting out of it unscathed.
  • Rather then telling people your dog doesn’t like other dogs, tell them your dog has an eye infection, which is highly contagious to close contact… you’ll be amazed how quickly they’ll come and ‘retrieve’ their dog!
  • Stay calm. Getting irate only adds fuel to the fire, breath….think clearly and don’t panic.
  • Create distance if possible, remedy the situation as best you can and calmly move away from the issue. This is not the time nor place to have a stand off about who’s right of way it is. Walking away unscathed and unharmed is a win!
  • Being proactive. Don’t avoid opportunities to improve your dogs confidence, even if its a good distance away. Be patient and keep working.

A set back isn’t the end of the road, just a detour.

Dust yourself off, rant to a friend, let it go and keep moving forward.

Kamal Fernandez