Getting Fit With Your Dog!


Fitness for Dogs and Owners is real : introducing Wag and Tone!

One of the greatest things about being a dog owner is spending time with our dogs and finding activities we can do together, with walks with our dogs and being out together being something we can do freely and which also helps with our joint fitness. Did you know that there are additional dog activities that also help towards a healthy lifestyle such as dog sports.

A relatively unheard of dog activity is Wag and Tone: Fitness for dogs where the owners join in as well so we get to work together on the exercises!! Wag and Tone can be tailored to suit various fitness levels for both the dog and the handler which means it can be suitable for younger dogs, older dogs, owners with physical difficulties etc. I myself have M.E. And Fibromyalgia which makes typical exercising incredibly difficult due to pain and fatigue but doing the Wag and Tone I am able to reduce my difficulty levels compared to what my dogs are doing so that I don’t need to lift my arms up high or lunge too low!!

Wag and Tone was created by trainers Karen Laker and Sue Holstead along with fitness coach Ruth MacGill several years ago and includes warm up exercises, fitness and cool down. Equipment used is mostly items found in the home or can be replicated quite easily and can be run as classes or 121 equally well. I started practising Wag and Tone exercises around 2015 with my own Norwich Terriers, Cassie age 15, Taylor age 11 and Merlin who was 3 at the time and quickly found its a lot of fun to do as well as having the added benefits of helping with fitness for us all! I was able to adjust exercises if needed for Cassie although she was able to do most things no problem.

I’ve then provide numerous Wag and Tone training sessions at my own Dog Training venue, Dog Training for Essex & Suffolk, as well as via our Facebook pages as online progression and it has attracted owners and dogs of varied ages and abilities to give it a try! Each session we have several warm up exercises to prepare dogs and owners for the exercise. As we have people who have attended multiple Wag and Tone sessions with us we try and change the warm up exercises so that everyone gets to try something new plus we can include warm up exercises from previous sessions as well and people returning get to practise and progress.

For the main exercise components there are a large variety to choose from so running regular classes is not repetitive and there are various levels of difficulty so dogs and owners can progress. Some of the main equipment used includes an Aerobic Step, Small Cones and Yoga Balls plus we also make use of yoga mats and regular chairs! The way owners join in with our dogs varies: sometimes we are doing the same movement as our dogs such as a step up and back off again, while other times we are sitting on a yoga ball working on posture and strength while our dog does something like paw lifts or neck stretches. Having the variety of exercises and levels means dogs who are not their ideal weight and either need to loose weight or gain some can work on the exercises that will help them the most and the weight loss or gain can be gradual and safe. Dogs working on maintenance or coming for a fun training class with have their exercises adjusted so they aren’t loosing or gaining weight! 

So why consider Wag and Tone with your dog? It’s fun, can be done at home easily without needing specialist equipment, is adaptable for different dogs needs as well as different owners needs, can be done with friends and their dogs as easily as doing on your own, and there is a DVD available by the original creators so you can work on the exercises at home if you cannot find a class to attend near you!! 

Exercises are so easy to work on anywhere that we have done Wag and Tone demos at dog shows to show people how it all works and run Have A Go training rings so dogs and owners can try some exercises. It’s incredibly user friendly!

Look up Wag and Tone on Youtube for some examples of the exercises and to see what is available near you in the form of classes, workshops or private training.  There’s even online small courses starting in 2020 that will be linked to sessions I’ve run alongside in person workshops! If you’re interested in doing more you can look us up on Facebook as well as our Canine fitness Group “K9 Conditioning with Joe Nutkins” plus if you are looking for fitness work for your dogs where you help but don’t join in there are numerous programmes for dogs to work on strengthening, body awareness, confidence, Senior dog help etc too.

Joe Nutkins, CPCFT, CSDT Dip.DTBC

Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer 

Accredited Pet Dog Trainer with the Kennel Club 

Certified Trick Dog Trainer 

Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructor 

Wag It Games Instructor Level 1

New Year, New Ways to Help Dogs and Families

So tonight I’ve decided to start a blog! This is brand new to me but I’m hoping to be able to post about the training I do with my own dogs plus dogs I’m privileged to meet in my training classes and my online classes!

This first post really is to say hi and introduce myself – I’m owned by 3 Norwich Terriers, Cassie (15), Taylor (11 1/2) and Merlin (4) and have run Dog Training for Essex & Suffolk dog training centre for several years.

I’m incredibly eager to help as many dogs and families be happier, communicate better and help dogs continue to be active in both mind and body as they get older, following illness or injury and for the day to day health and welfare of our dogs.

I still teach Cassie new things regularly in brain stimulation as well as physical conditioning and strengthening and she loves it all!

I hope to be able to offer tips, insights and definately hope to entertain some people along the way – while I’m learning about blogging please bear with me!

Happy 2016 and here’s to trying something new!




Pick n Mix Training for you and your dog!

Deciding on a route to take with your dog within dog training can be a daunting task; aside from the more well known activities such as obedience, agility and formal competition there are many more different types of training to suit every breed type and breed character!

As pet dog owners we can choose to stick to formal training in Obedience or Obedience competition, Good Citizen Dog Scheme, Agility training, Gundog work and tests, Working Trials or Heelwork to Music training – all of which have clubs throughout the world and advice online. Typically there are clubs specialising in one or two of these activities with trainers who are knowledgable and take part with their own dogs, and this is what you focus on, both for enjoyment only and to work towards trials and competitions. You’ll find a diverse range of dog breeds and characters taking part in these canine sports and observing can be as exciting as taking part!

These traditional styles of training have developed and merged to create many new forms of dog training activities with some moving over to online courses and trials and others remaining taught in classes with face to face competition. With all the new activities available it’s more achievable to find something that suits the needs of a dog, owner, family as well as options for days, times, travel etc!

Having started in obedience with my Norwich Terrier Cassie around 13 years ago I found it enjoyable to share the time training with Cassie and competing – seeking more trainers and techniques took me around the UK and helped me meet other like minded dog owners who in still in daily contact with now! However it wasn’t as interesting to Taylor, so he tried agility and had an interest in training and competition but as my own work took off it was impossible to be away for 2-3 days competing so I continued taking part in new workshops and training days!

We were lucky enough to try the new at the time Rally Obedience, K9 Multisport and dabbled in Heelwork to Music amongst other things. These types of training offered a wide range of exercises and challenges within their own guidelines which was perfect when training more then one dog as you can focus on different areas for each dog! This also meant dog owners had lots to try and learn about too!

After attending workshops in Gloucester, New Forest, Surrey and Kent to name just a few I was very excited to discover Pet Dog Rally O just in the next county in Suffolk!! Developed by Janet West it provided different exercises, various levels of trial/competition and plenty to train for plus it attracted breeds of all sizes and helped with motivation for dogs working towards Obedience Competition. Rally O also spilled into the Agility area and an Agility O started, although sadly wasn’t as popular and there was less taking place.

Following the expansion of regular obedience and agility there have been a lot more new and exciting dog activities created all round the world, including Heelwork to Music various categories for competition and online awards, Wag It Games with several styles of skills, Tricks Training and Titles, Treibball, Canine Parkour, Conditioning and Fitness work, Scent work and Nose work trials, and much more! Trainers are developing new training methods, new activities and new ways for dogs to achieve titles and certificates and it’s a wonderful selection box of skills for dogs to work on and we can choose different activities for different dogs and see them excell in their own style!!

Many types of training activity overlap in places; Rally O has obedience elements mostly but with some HTM basics and some foundation Agility such as using a jump. HTM and Tricks share many types of exercise and Canine Parkour incorporates an Urban style of Agility plus Conditioning exercises! We can utilise training one activity and it gives us a head start in something else!

If you’re trying to decide what your dog might enjoy taking part in, I would urge you to try taster days and workshops to get a feel for what’s involved, how the trainer trains, how you can progress and then see what else is also on offer! Starting out in one activity is more likely to give you a chance to try several areas of training and if you find one you enjoy the most ask about doing more in that style! If you are able to do private training you could ask to do a mixture of training types – I have regular customer who come and do some Obedience and Good Citizens work, then we might look at Tricks involving the paws which leads on to target training and then we try some Canine Parkour and the dogs continue to be motivated and focused plus owners find it really fun too!!

Have a search about locally and online and see what catches your attention – if what you’re interested in isn’t offered nearby have a look for online classes and courses as these can be very useful. I run several online classes including Tricks and Senior Dogs Training plus take part in online classes regularly and have given my own dogs (& myself) lots of new things to learn!!

Good luck in your search for training for your dog and enjoy your time training together!!!



Fireworks Fears – supporting our dogs during Fireworks Season


End of October marks Autumn in full swing with evenings drawing in, temperatures dropping and trees becoming bare.

It also brings on the start of Fireworks season; no longer are fireworks focused around 5th November but often start in October and run through to Christmas and New Year, as well as being more available all year for bank holidays, birthdays and weddings.

If you are the owner of a dog who is fearful of reactive to fireworks this makes for a really scary and stressful time for your dog and a tough time for owners as there’s rarely a break from fireworks each evening for a number of weeks so a fearful dog has no chance to recover in between exposure.

October and November are not times where we can easily work on solving fireworks fears with dogs due to the lack of break from the noise, smells and vibrations, but there are many things that owners can do to help their dogs to cope better, not become worse and in some cases can help them be a little less fearful. The best times to work on fireworks fears is March through to June so dogs can work gradually on the methods without risk of constant exposure to fireworks.

Management for Fireworks Fears involved several areas and here is my foundation guide for you – people who have attended our Noise and Fireworks Fears Seminar or Practical Workshops have been given in depth guidance and help more specific to their dogs but this guide is to give you something to focus on to help your fearful dog and prepare you for starting more individual work next year if you would like to help your dog fully!

Guide for Firework Fear Management:

– Start helping your dog by preparing an area for them to go to to feel secure such as their crate with a cover on in a quiet place (not by a window or outer door!!), adjust a table or sofa so they can go behind or under, open a cupboard door and prop open and have a cosy blanket there to create a safe zone. It can even be a play tent or washing basket if that’s where your dog feels safe!. This area needs to be accessible to your dog as much as possible at this time starting immediately and let your dog know it’s there by sitting with them, giving treats or playing with toys to make it appealing and somewhere they want to be.

Having this safe area means your dog can take themselves off to their cosy space to cope better. A cosy space naturally makes dogs feel secure when it’s somewhere they like and gives them space to cope.

– Give your dog a boost by looking into something to help nerves and stress. There are many products available and there isn’t one specific on that I would recommend to all dogs specifically but there are several that have helped different dogs;
* Bach Rescue Remedy – in your dogs water bowl each time you refresh
* Individual Remedies created for your dog, including essences by Bach, Bailey etc
* DAP Diffuser – plugged in 24/7 in the room your dog spends most time in
* Skullcap and Valerian – many places sell this but Dorwest Herbs do a variety of types
* Oil burners with essence in used each afternoon / evening
* Massage therapy
– Try to continue routines as normally as possible without becoming tense or worried yourselves. If your dog sees their family running about closing curtains, turning up the TV or commenting on each firework being heard they are going to believe that everyone is bothered and this increases their own fear or weariness
– Be accessible to your dog. If they need to have some interaction then sit somewhere they can reach you – sitting by your feet, curled up by you on the sofa, laying on your lap – this can provide enough comfort and familiarity to help many dogs cope to get through without getting worse. Ideally just be there without going overboard with your praise and fuss as this is acting out of the ordinary for a cuddle (unless you usually fussy your dog hugely for sitting near you!) and can cause suspicion leading to more apprehension!
Every dog is different, with varying levels of fear and location makes a difference to as fireworks taking place next to your home will affect a noise fearful dog more then fireworks many miles away so the guide here is simply to give you some help for now to see your dog through but isn’t intended to remove the fear long term or cure for this firework season. For next year look at working with your dog on specific training work and for now try these to help.

If this is your puppies first firework session try acting perfectly normal or even grabbing a toy and having a game with your puppy to get them having fun and showing you are not fussed about the new noises, Windows rattling or smells in the air and this will help prevent fireworks fears.

There are many methods to help dogs fearful of fireworks and each dog requires methods to suit them best and a programme of work that fits in with each family individually and cannot be identified as a general guide but start with this foundation list to manage for now.

Wishing you all a safe and stress free fireworks season 🐾

Joe Nutkins

Focusing on our Canine Golden Oldies

Older dogs hold an extra special place in my heart. Owning two older dogs myself I am privileged to experience how amazing senior dogs are every day, plus many dogs I work with in training are in their senior years and are amazing dogs!

I do meet a lot of people who have an older dog at home and who genuinely believe their dog is now too old to learn anything new, or to start training or that as their older dog now doesn’t do much then they don’t want to do much – but in so many cases this is the complete opposite!!

We’ve all heard the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ but I haven’t found this to be at all true!! Not only can older dogs learn new things but they also enjoy practising things they already knew from years ago but perhaps haven’t practised or tried for a while.

Giving older dogs plenty to challenge the brain is an excellent way to help keep the brain healthy and functioning well and can help give your elderly dog more to look forward to – especially if their mobility is greatly decreased – as well as helping helping prevent cognitive issues for a longer period of time.

Brain work for older dogs will vary from dog to dog – some senior dogs have very good mobility and have trained all their lives and therefore they have very few restrictions on what they can learn. Other older dogs have lost strength in their back legs, hips, lower back or forelimbs or have perhaps lost their sight/hearing  or haven’t ever done any kind of training so the types of training and brain work needs to suit each dog! Interactive toys for their meals/treats, learning basic training exercises or tricks specific to their abilities and even games which allow them to really think about playing are wonderful ways of keeping the brain active while spending quality time with an older dog.

Conditioning work and overall fitness and health can help keep older dogs active, even if slower then they were a few years ago, and help them keep their independence for longer. Conditioning work helps to strengthen as well as increase body awareness and confidence which provide an older dogs body with a large amount of benefits. Likewise older dog vets checks and alternative treatments can all help detect weakness or issues which help make staying mobile less uncomfortable and easier for dogs of all older ages.

I currently work with several veteran dogs including an awesome Border Terrier who is now 11 and works on conditioning, scent and tricks, a gorgeous Cavalier King Charles who is 9 and still does agility with me, a super Parsons JRT who is 10 and is now working on her Champion Trick Title and my own Cassie age almost 16 and Taylor age 12 who both do tricks, conditioning, dabble in agility and htm and are huge motivation for me and my own health issues! I feel so privileged to be able to work with these Golden Oldies and share their owners joy with each achievement and progression!

Senior isn’t a set age with dogs – typically dogs are classed as ‘veteran’ at age 7-8 but this can be very young for some breeds, especially smaller dogs, and for others you may observe a dog slowing down by age 6 with some giant breeds.  Senior is part age but also a large part what a dog can still do and what needs adapting. With this in mind it’s worth thinking about the future with our young adult dogs! So dogs around 5-7 are heading towards senior times so we can help the transition over a couple of years as our adult dog starts becoming a senior.

Preparation can include teaching you dogs brain work they can continue to use when they are older, or teach sign language motets prepare for age related deafness. Looking at supplements to help prevent joint and mobility problems or protecting eye health are great to start earlier. Getting your dog in good shape now will be easier then a couple of years down the line plus can extend your dogs life if they are not overweight! This can include checking diet, starting conditioning and toning work or adding some endurance or changes to fitness work.

The important element to remember is to not see your older dog as retired simply due to their age, but to consider age alongside your dogs capabilities and look at what might be possible for them to try. In many cases an older dog stops doing a lot around the home not because they find it hard to move about or are more lethargic but because they aren’t being invited to go out for a game or to go on the training days they used to have so they adjust and learn to use their time for snoozing and laying about. Asking your dog to come and join you sometimes to do something fun, stimulating or a previously favourite past time can really motivate your dog to take part in more again!

Being so passionate about Senior Dogs I do have a guide for Senior Dogs which is an EBook providing suggestions and ideas for continuing physical strength, mental challenges, adapting for your older dog, and giving examples of as we can help where needed.  It has been influenced by the older dogs I train with and by my two older dogs Cassie and Taylor, and feedback so far has been amazing that people who find the information and advice so helpful and enlightening!

The Ebook is called ‘Older Dogs DO Learn New Tricks!’, plus there are other books about with info for owners of older dogs. On top of this you might like to come across and look at our Senior Dogs Progress Awards which launched in 2015 on Facebook and have two levels and two training ages which are aimed at providing mental and physical activities for you and your dog to work towards together and work on strengthening the body or keeping the mind sharp. If you fancy trying something new with your Golden Oldie dog come along to this free class and a look!!!

Enjoy your dogs, no matter what age they are, and appreciate them more if they do happen to be Seniors!


Importance of Knowing your Dog: Health andFitness


As many people know I have 3 of my own dogs of varying ages. On top of their daily routine of meals, naps and enrichment, their walks and their training there’s an area I stay as focused on as I possibly can.

The area of my focus is conditioning, health and overall checking on how my dogs are doing physically. I can easily see how their appetite is from meal times, their regularity from time out in the garden and levels of stimulation from the training time we share.

This additional area of focus regarding condition is something that may sound obvious but isn’t always easy to maintain or even start!

Knowing your dog means knowing what their general body type is, how do they usually walk, stand or sit, how do they feel as you stroke them or groom them, what are their gums like usually. This information gathering requires a short amount of time checking your dog over but could highlight any changes for the future.

Get your dog used to be handled as part of praise and play which then allows you to determine what your dogs back and shoulders feel like, the abdomen elasticity, how each leg moves to give paw, any typical lumps and bumps that are part of your dogs charm or areas of tenderness etc. Knowing all of this type of information will help flag up something unusual and give you the chance to help your dog as well as potentially preventing a health issue or catching it very early on.

If your dog appeared stressed would you know what colour their gums usually are to compare? How does your dog move about when they first wake up – stretches first or straight up into walking? Do you know what your dogs belly, ribs, back and chest usually feel like to spot any discomfort, hot spots or a new bump?

This week Cassie had some unusual moments, all first thing in the morning and varying each day, which is highly unusual for her indeed. One day we had a tighter, more solid feeling belly, another day her back legs seemed greatly weakened for an hour or so. Cassie also took longer to settle back down after her garden time for a couple of mornings. As I handle Cassie every day it prepared me to notice her abdomen felt different but this hadnt moved to the chest. I know how Cassie walks, turns and stands still so when her back legs showed some weakness and Cassie struggled to stand up momentarily I could see what changes were taking place and therefore what to do to help including massage, use of herbal supplements and a check up today at the vets!

Im pleased to say all three dogs have an excellent overall health and very healthy hearts too! Plus using supplements and herbal items I was able to boost her immune system, reduce the apparent bloat  in her belly and give her additional strength. My training in the canine conditioning areas meant I could act on those weaker back legs and 6 days later with very gradual building up of exercises she is back to mooching, jumping back in the back door, asking to do more conditioning exercises with me and looking stronger and settling quicker when she goes back to bed 🙂

A couple of years ago I noticed Taylor having very occasional twinges in his back. So occasional in fact he could go several months between twinges!! Knowing Taylor doesn’t usually do this I took him to my vets to confirm some discomfort and from here was able to be referred for laser treatment. Taylor still goes 1-2 times a month and his back is so much improved you rarely see any twinging, he is faster on the agility dog walk, jumping better, more playful, enjoying scrapping more and more relaxed around dog types that used to worry him – turns out the discomfort caused him to be anxious with a few breeds. It’s wonderful to know we could help take away some pain that he would have been experiencing otherwise and being able to identify what was happening and how he could be helped with various treatments.

Keeping track also of your dogs weight every month or so helps see not only if they are gaining weight or loosing it but also if the weight loss or gain has happened very suddenly, or isn’t in keeping with their meals. Measuring your dogs body if they are working on fitness or conditioning helps to see if they are in fact building muscle but also would highlight any new muscle loss which again could potentially highly something your vet could help with.

So take some time with your dog or dogs and check them over to get to know them thoroughly and this can potentially help you to help your dog in the future in a number of ways. Not just for negative occurances but also to highlight positive adjustments too!!

Go fuss your dogs and give them a quick fuss for me!!!

Refresher Training: Useful recap or just going over old exercises?

A few weeks back I posted about returning to exercises started that you were getting a mental block on with your dogs to Serbia a break helped. So now let’s address returning to exercises you have already done before and succeeded in!!

Its rare to find someone who hasn’t covered something previously at some point – I’m obviously referring mostly to dog training but also in any area of life we go to learn and discover we have to start with basics we did a few years back – how frustrating!

But is it really so frustrating when you think about it. This weekend I taught my lovely Senior Dogs class and was privileged to have a group of dogs who have previously done formal training and some still in regular training (if often get to work with older dogs who have never done any training ever!). So when I started early on asking for a sit, down and stand exercise I could see there wasn’t the usual buzz of excitement you get when introducing something brand new (which we got with place boards, cavaletti and balance cushions!), and this was because each owner knew their dog could do this already.

However, the purpose of the exercise was partly to warm up and partly for me to see how well each dog could stand as this was needed for several exercises – and we discovered that although all 5 could get into a stand using luring and guidance there were at least 3 who needed some help staying in the stand instead of sitting or moving about, or who did stand but then quickly offered several extra exercises too!

So by going back over an exercise considered by me as foundation, not high level, and ‘my dog can do that’ by owners we were able to improve and succeed in that area plus use it for the progression I had planned! Every dog did brilliantly!

Often when we see that we need to repeat training we have already done previously we loose a little interest, not put so much enthusiasm in, see it almost as a waste of time, especially when on a course for a specific topic that means we have a lot to cover in a set time! In reality, it can be a great time for a refresher – how well can your dog do this ‘old’ exercise now? When did you last practise it and did you succeed in all areas? Is there any means of progressing with duration, distance, body language? When learning so much we can move forwards and forget to practise the basics so covering these can create a challenge for dogs who want to offer their newest Behaviour so need guidance in recalling the basics again or it may be that although your dog recalls some of the past exercises but there are areas that need sharpening or weren’t finished before but you were able to move on without problems – so now is a great time to really strengthen the basics again!!

Take the sit, down and stand for example (distance control) – one dog knew how to be guided into the stand easily but after 1-2 seconds moved round, curved his body, walked more, sat, went to his bed …. There was the very start of a stand taught many years ago (taught by me!!) but without the practise he only knew how to get into a stand from a sit, not how to remain in the stand position! So a new a achievement was made as he was able to hold a static stand for all of the other exercises we needed it for during the session 🙂

We also may find when offered some basics we have already done as part of a training class or worshop that we did like the exercise the first time we covered it but with so much else to remember we just forgot to practise! So now we have a reminder that the exercise exists as well as the means to spend time on it and to progress or strengthen it – brilliant opportunity!

When I’m planning my weekly obedience classes, 121 training or some of my workshops I will often think ‘oh I haven’t done this with my own dogs for some time’ so keep the plan and work through it myself at the weekend – through planning for other dogs I’ve reminded myself of some training I haven’t practised! This includes the Good Citizen test exercises after passing the awards, basic positioning and stays, recall with distractions and recall presents, plus exercises we needed for titles etc in the past but haven’t looked at since passing!! All that time spent training towards achieving it but now it’s not even used! An example for me is Reverse Around Handler with Taylor. I worked very hard on this to include for his Champion Tricks Title, the early stages causing huge hip and back pain for me and gaining a huge sense of achievement on succeeding – however he passed his Champion title over a year ago and we haven’t practise the exercise since last autumn at least! Guess what I’ll be looking at this coming weekend!!!

So stay positive when it comes to an exercise you already know well when training with someone – you may find they have some new ways of using the basics that you haven’t tried before, but even if it’s the exact exercise you used to do treat it as an opportunity to recap and refresh, and sometimes letting your trainer know and see your dog achieving will prompt to be given some new progression too 🙂

I’ve been told ‘my dog is bored’ when recapping distance control basics or foundation recall, to which I respond with ‘Really? That’s a real surprise as my own dogs who are very high level would be thrilled to be getting rewards and praise for a single sit nowadays’! I then offer to have a try with their dog, and wow their dog is excited to be practising sits, downs and stands in return for praise and fuss, treats, toys played with … For a dog who is working harder exercises going back to basics is a dream with quicker rewards for doing much less lol!

Embrace and enjoy the basics and the classic exercises from the beginning of your training – your dog will and will enjoy even more if you’re taking part too!

Training for Real Life!

Amongst training classes, workshops and private training all in various halls, paddocks and training centres there is an area of training that isn’t always practised but when needed makes the world of difference.

Training your dog in real life means training in many different locations and with all kinds of distractions. Where you train depends on what you have available to you as well as what your dog finds distracting! So if your dog isn’t distracted by a sandy beach but does find a field really great for sniffing then trying some basic training or play on a field will start benefitting you long term more then always being at the beach to practise.

Consider also what you might be wanting to training towards; being able to sit in the park for a picnic with your family and your dog, competing in obedience, agility etc in new places, your dog being able to come with you to visit people and settle in their home, taking your dog on days out or holidays. When you have a goal in mind you can plan to train towards this.

Teaching a settle in the back garden then applying this on quiet walks will start you on your way towards family picnics. That same settle exercise in different areas around your home and garden will help start a settle for other homes and then continuing when visiting people with calm households to start helping your dog generalise settling in different homes and with different people, family members etc.

Over Easter weekend I ran a Training Ring at All About Dogs Show which included a Tricks Demo. Our Tricks Demo Team is made up of members of our classes and their dogs along with myself and two of my dogs. To be able to work our dogs in a new place in front of groups of strangers we have practised at our Training premises, at home and on walks. We practise the tricks included in various places and keep practises short so our dogs continue to enjoy them. We all practised in our training ring throughout the day before the demo to help our dogs settle in the environment with people and dogs passing, loudspeakers nearby, start pistol on the scurry run, smells from the food stalls plus the ground inside our ring and each other!

By practising in many places and keeping the training fun it helped our dogs, and us, feel comfortable with so much going on and meant the demo looked as good to spectators as if felt taking part! Our Dogs were happy and enjoying their tricks, we enjoyed spending time with our dogs, and more people have gone home motivated to try something new!!!

So when working on training exercises with your dog and you realise you would like something to be used in set situations, work out a plan for how you can practise to help your dog settle and focus around the distractions involved. It might mean starting with just play or running about with your dog and build up to the training exercises you want, or it may be starting further away from a certain distraction while working on the set tasks, but starting small and building up with location and distraction is just as important as building up the exercise itself!

Enjoy your time with your dogs and I hope you’re motivated to begin something new!


Re-returning to Old Exercises in your Dog’s Training

imageWhen training your dog(s) you will no doubt come across the occasional type of exercise that just doesn’t seem to ‘click’. It might be the progression of an exercise where you’ve been good at one point but just cannot progress, or it might be trying something completely new and your usually quick to learn dog has a block on understanding, but it can be a real head scratching moment for us owners!

Ive had this with numerous types of exercises; last summer it was Cassie’s ‘Fishing’ tricks she needed as her last trick towards her Expert title. Taylor this month learnt his Playbow without hand signals yet started learning this many years ago intermittently. And last night Merlin and Taylor tried a slow pace treadmill for strengthening and understood completely yet last time we tried 2 months ago it was far too alien for them!

What did I do to suddenly warrant these changes in learning? Left the exercise well alone and came back to when we were all completely fresh! Often when we are ‘this close’ to progressing or achieving what we aim for we just keep pushing and pushing – in a positive manner – which can be tiring and frustrating for us but can really create blocks in learning for our dogs too. Dogs get tired when learning new things or progressing. Dog pick up on our frustrations and see them as stress signs which in turn can upset our dogs. Sometimes we have just gone so far down one route and it looks like we are just 1 or 2 steps away for our goal that backing up and trying another route isn’t even a thought!

As much as regular practise is important when teaching our dogs something new, sometimes having a break can benefit also. Taking some time out from high level Heelwork, coming away from Retrieve or stopping and teaching a trick your dog can do more easily for a few days or weeks can give us a break and help us relax again and in turn our dogs can focus on something new, reap the rewards and celebrations of getting it right and not feel the pressure of almost getting something perfect!

Coming back to that tricky exercise days, weeks or even months later means you may have a fresh look at things to help your or your dog. It could mean in that time you’ve picked up one or two new ideas that you can try. It could be as simple as when going back to it you start back at the beginning as a refresher then spot somewhere an extra step could be put in which helps your dog connect the dots.

There is no actual defeat in returning or even re-returning to an exercise to see how it feels at a later date – you might even discover new ideas that feel better for you or your dog or find you bypass the previous ‘stuck’ area and push on through!!

Yesterday I restarted introducing Taylor and Merlin to my land treadmill which we hadn’t looked at since Christmas. They were fine near it being on, fine if I helped them on and gave them a platform to head to but wouldn’t voluntarily go on. I watched some nice ways of introducing dogs to treadmills using play and toys – something my own dogs do not do. However it gave me some ideas on methods I could adapt to suit my dogs! Going back to the treadmill I worked on fun things like twists and spins and hand targets next to the running treadmill then guided them around the end and onto the treadmill and continued the upbeat exercises which kept them more focused and thrilled to be working – two dogs happily and eager to get on the treadmill themselves and in fact having to be held back to not keep getting on when it wasn’t there turn!! When I left off at Christmas I was reasonably pleased with what they were doing but disappointed in my own skills that we were unable to progress and that I couldn’t see more ways to help my own dogs but having taken time out and re-returned to this fresh and going back a few steps we have actually leapt forward about 5 steps!!!

There is so many different things we can teach our dogs! If you find a block time and time again maybe try time out and do something else for a day or to and see how things are when you come back to it or take a few days or weeks off to focus on other things with your dog and come back all refreshed – it’s not quitting or admitting defeat but taking time to develop your approach and finding methods that can help you progress even more.

Enjoy your training – it’s a fabulous chance to bond with your dog! And if you find you’ve returned to something and achieved your goal I always love to hear what you have been working on and how things are going!



When the unexpected comes along and interferes with your dogs world


Sometimes we get to a point where we know what we are doing with our dogs, happy with feeding and grooming, have found some walks to suit your needs, maybe have even found training to work well for you or dog sport you feel comfortable with.

Then Bam! Something new turns up to turn everything upside down!

Last week Cassie achieved a Merit for her first ever Heekwork to Music Progress Award, for submissions done in December.  This week Cassie started new medication as per new vet plus advice from a neurologist to help the irritation and discomfort she has had in her ear and neck for over 2 years (we have been trying to get to the bottom of this during that time). The meds main side effect of ataxia and this hit Cassie hard 3 days into starting the meds.

If you don’t know what ataxia is, put simply your dog looses control of their legs and look like they are drunk. They stumble, fall over nothing, walk into walls and in Cassies case can’t even stand still and up to toilet without help being held off the floor. Very disturbing for dogs to experience and quite a shock for owners when the day before the same dog was running, training etc!

So, what can I do for my dog? First thing was to get upset. I’m giving her these meds that are causing this so we had guilt also. Next thing was feel sorry for her.

Then I got pro-active – my little dog needs my help! All the previous conditioning work has meant she was already strong. So go back to the beginning and let’s look at real basic leg awareness exercises – stepping over the smallest pole on the ground, standing still, walking slowly, standing on solid items for a few seconds. Cassie loved it – we did everything slowly and I supported her throughout but after the first small session she wasn’t banging into things as much. Today, 3 days later, she is holding herself up to toilet and using the ramp for the garden!!

Dogs do get used to meds and the side effects – they ‘learn to cope’ – but helping your dog with something gentle yet familiar can help take away some of the confusion and help the brain and body remember what it CAN do. You can’t push your dog to bounce straight back and Cassie is way too wobbly to try standing on a balance cushion or do a set of cavaletti but we are maintaining familiar exercises which are helping her body remember plus keeping her level of conditioning good so when she is used to the meds she won’t have lost strength or awareness.

This brings me onto meds themselves. If your dog has a condition or gets ill try joining associations, help groups or forums specially for that condition rather then just looking it up online. Online can be scary and you may find things that upset you more and that may not apply to your dog! By being part of groups created by owners of dogs with the same condition you will hear about how other people cope, how they help their dog, what meds or supplements to be careful with or to try.

Through a group I have been a member of for about 9 years I had learned a lot about the meds Cassie has just started – always fearing she may need it eventually but hoping not! This meant that although the vets didn’t give me all the insider info I already knew the side effects, the best way to give it, how to also support Cassie’s body from the meds’ physical side effects. Info from people who have experienced the same thing – and got through it!

Todays blog isn’t about sympathy for Cassie, or about moaning about vets not having all the info for every illness – that’s impossible to specialise in everything! But it’s intended to highlight how suddenly things can change but can be worked around. So if your dog gets an injury and has to have crate rest for 4 weeks instead of 2 hour daily walks and agility classes that’s a great time to start interactive toys, static training like prolonged nose targets and stays. If your dog has new meds and can’t continue their training for something active, remember their brain will still be active, so a great time to look at training something new that doesn’t require your dog to move much – cross paws? Focus exercises like Watch, working on Hold.

There’s the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ – your dog being benched for days or weeks will be sad and possibly upsetting if you discover a terminal illness, but talk to owners of dogs with the same issue and see how you can help- I’m so glad I did and it’s helped me advise many other dog owners too. In fact my KCAI project is based on 13 years of research in one area of canine illness!

I work with dogs who have had surgery on legs, who are now deaf or blind, who have a life changing illness and each dog has needs and needs to be understood, but they still enjoy interacting and doing fun things with their owners – so please take time to accept your dogs condition and when you’re ready look at what they now can do instead of focusing on what they can’t.

Thursday morning Cassie literally couldn’t stand to toilet and I needed to hold her and help move her away after, today (Sat) she did the weaves in the photo – slowly and with guidance, but she didn’t fall at all and loved it!

Every dog is different, every owner is individual, but we can share our experiences to help each other help our canine companions x