Monday, 10 June 2019

What colour are you right now? Checking in with yourself and your dog

Back in March 2017 I completed the Hardmoors 55 mile ultra race along with Freya the ultimate Ultra Collie.  The funny thing is, I was absolutely certain that I would be pulling out when I met up with my support crew just after the last checkpoint.

*if you'd rather listen than read, here's the video version which is almost the same but with added Bronte disruption and even more excitement!

 At 10 PM I had been running for just over 12 hours, my knees were agony, there were massive blisters on my feet and I was just a little bit tired. The batteries in my head torch were unexpectedly failing and I got lost in the woods at least once.

I hobbled into the Captain Cook Monument car park to meet my support crew with every intention of stopping. And yet 20 minutes later I was on my way back up another hill, wondering how on earth that had happened.

And the simple answer is because I forgot to tell my support crew that I wanted to stop. It was in my head but it failed to come out of my mouth. I utterly failed to use the colour check system!

What is the Colour Check System anyway?

It was created by my hiking group after a memorable occasion when one member of the party announced at the top of the hill (some way into a very long walk) that they were going to need to pull out because their feet were just too painful.

Of course, we were at the top of the hill. And getting him off the hill and back to safety was not straightforward. Up until that point we didn’t realise how much trouble he was in.

So the colour check safety system was born.

Every time we stopped for a planned break, you ask each other what colour you are.

  • Green meant fine, you were feeling good, able to carry on and complete the route, not needing any intervention at this stage.
  • Yellow through to amber meant that things were a little bit tricky, you might be sore somewhere or you might need food caffeine or medication – some kind of intervention!
  • Red meant that there was a problem. Either you were in a lot of pain, you were exceptionally exhausted, or in some way you felt unable to carry on. 

The advantage to this system is that it’s consistent, we all have a shared understanding of roughly what each colour means. Because we check-in consistently and regularly, there is much less chance of anyone apparently moving from green happy to carry on to red emergency escape required.

It’s also really important when your natural tendency might be to push on just a little bit further than you maybe should. That’s what happened to me in the hardware is 55!

On Sunday Laura and I ran the Whitehorse half marathon (16.9 miles) and we made an effort to do a colour check at every checkpoint. We finished the race feeling fairly strong and knowing how the other person and dogs were doing.

So, what exactly does all that have to do with dogs? 


How many times have you been on a walk with your dog, at a training class, attending a workshop or some other kind of ongoing activity-and it felt like your dog had a meltdown out of nowhere?

I don’t just mean that your dog started lunging and barking, I also mean those situations where your dog suddenly stops listening to you. Or, they get so overexcited they hump your leg. Or they suddenly take off, running away to try and find safety. Those reactions would come under the heading of red.

Just like us, our dogs don’t generally move from green (comfortable, relaxed, happy, responsive) to red (unable to listen, barking and shouting, no brain left) without there being any intermediate stages.

The question is can you notice in time and take avoiding action?

Observing your dog’s body language is a great way of checking in with their emotional state.

However, it can be tricky to get right, and sometimes we get caught up in whatever activity is that we are doing, just like I get caught up in running and forget to check in.

The colour checking that we use on walking and now running events happens automatically. It’s just done regularly throughout the activity rather than when we think we need to.

So I’m suggesting that it might be useful to have some clear and easily observed behaviours where your dog’s response will correspond to a colour check in your dog, and that you consistently and routinely make a note of these.

Here’s some ideas to get you started: 

 Of course this only works when your dog has
  • a range of behaviours or skills that you can ask for 
  • reliable basic training 
And when you know what “normal” and “happy” looks like for your dog!

I’d love to hear what your “colour-check” behaviours might be – tell me about it on email, or in the WCC special FaceBook group here.

Happy colour checking folks!

Morag, the collie girls and Laird the Enabler (named by Laura for making us run up hills) 

What’s coming up in WCC Land 


Activity Weekends - your chance to book on early

We’re offering a range of fun things to do with your dog in half day weekend workshops over the summer! From Herding Dogs to Parkour, with Scentwork and Gundog Games there’s something for everyone even if your dog struggles around other dogs.

All based at the PawPark, Sand Hutton or Sand Hutton Village Hall.  All morning workshops to avoid the summer heat - do check the start time carefully! (click the workshop name for more information and book your space)

Sat 29th June AM
Gundog Games (fully booked) with Clare

Sun 30th June AM
Herding Dog Games with Morag
Sat 20th July AM

Sun 21st July AM
Sniffing Progressions – patterns for perfect teamwork (with Morag)

Sat 27th July AM
Gundog Games with Clare

Sun 28th July AM
Herding Dog Games with Morag


Events and shows 


Sat 6th July Charity Dog Event, The Fox Inn, Holgate (York) is hosting a charity dog event with Claire’s K9 Clips, and we’ll be there to create more Scentwork Addicts. Come along to enter the fun classes, socialise with your dog and sneak in some extra sniffing too.

Sat 7th September, WCC 10th Birthday & Open Day at Murton (Yorkshire Museum of Farming) with canine activities, stands and stalls to treat yourself or your dog, challenges for all the family and more. Help us celebrate TEN years of building better relationships with our dogs!

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