Friday, 13 September 2019

Why labels matter – is your dog “reactive”?

Human language is full of labels. It’s a verbal shorthand, one or two words to use instead of a long sentence of explanation.

But sometimes we might have different understandings of the same word or label.

And then that convenient shorthand gets in the way of developing our understanding.

In the dog world, there’s been a noticeable shift away from describing dogs as aggressive or dominant which might feel like a positive step forwards.

Instead you’re more likely to see words like reactive.

Beware of trainers who use the word “reactive” and then use" dominance reduction" and  punishment as a training technique. 

“Reactive” as a label can feel like it carries less judgement than “aggressive”, but it still fails to accurately describe what our dog is doing and how they are feeling about that.

Reactive usually seems to mean “my dog will bark and or lunge at….” either people, dogs, or both in a particular set of circumstances. So your dog isn't "reactive", they lunge/bark at men walking past wearing hats!

What about the dogs that "react" by going quiet?

Choosing to back away, avoid confrontation, retreat from the situation or even freeze.

So, from now on you’re more likely to see Clare and myself writing and talking about sensitive dogs.

Dogs that struggle in specific situations.

This includes dogs that find life difficult for whatever reason, and whose responses are problematic to both the dog and you.

Sensitive dogs might
  • struggle to concentrate and fool around when they get overexcited
  • lunge or bark when they feel frustrated, or threatened
  • shut down when they feel like there’s a lot of pressure to do something
  • get worried when they hear loud or unexpected noises
 Sensitive dogs often struggle to bounce back from stressful situations-but this reaction can look very different for each dog.

Practically here’s what that means for WCC!

We are updating our courses workshops and classes to clearly label some as S-Rated, that means suitable for sensitive dogs!

Social Skills
Rehab club has been revised and renamed to focus more on social skills for dogs that struggle
  • I want to be your friend (I think!) is designed for dogs who really do want to make friends but might be lacking in the finer social skills. Frustrated greeter is another common label! 
  • I want to be alone is designed for dogs who will have happier lives if they can learn to tolerate the presence of other dogs around them, but have no real interest in making social connections. 

We think labels matter.

Labels can make it easier to communicate about our dogs, their needs, and find effective interventions.

Labels can also conceal acres of misunderstanding, influence your attitude to your dog (are they stubborn or struggling to hear you) and sometimes accidentally exclude the very dogs we want to help.

If you feel like you have a Sensitive Dog, get in touch to talk about how we can help you both enjoy life together with less stress (email:

Completed an Orientation or Behaviour Assessment with us already? One of these activities might be just what you’re looking for!  Look in the private Facebook Group or email us for the booking link (that way we can make sure you book onto the most suitable session)

Have a wonderful weekend with your dogs!

Morag and the beasties

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

New member of the team

The well connected canine team has a new member, meet Quest

Quest Adventure Ross

She’s an 8 week old working cocker spaniel and a new addition to our family. We are absolutely in love with her. My dogs on the other hand, not as much!

Poppy, Spencer, Summer and Scout are not really sure about the new addition yet!

Scout (Border Collie) just wants to herd her, so follows her around moving from side to side as he moves behind her. We’re interrupting when we need to and limiting how much he practices this behaviour, as I’d prefer him to relax around the puppy rather than constantly watching her every move.

Poppy (Cocker Spaniel) is pretending she doesn’t exist, she’ll tolerate the puppy being around her, and even lying with her, but will tell the puppy off appropriately if she starts to jump on her or bite her ears. We’re making sure Poppy can escape the puppy if she wants to, but the puppy is being pretty respectful so we don’t need to step in too much.

Summer (Flat Coated Retriever) thinks the new puppy is OK. They’ve had some really nice play together. Summer has been gentle with her and even self-handicapping during play by lying down so they can have little wrestling sessions. She’s not been doing her usual body slams and neck grabs, it’s nice to see that she’s able to moderate her play style for the puppy.

Spencer (German Shepherd) is still a bit concerned about her. He spends his time avoiding her and sniffing her when she’s not looking or asleep. For such a large dog is really is a worrier. The puppy isn’t really pestering him, so we’re just supervising and making sure he has a safe place to move away to if he needs it.

My dogs could easily find this new addition overwhelming, especially Spencer. He can be quite an anxious boy, and used to really struggle with meeting new people and other dogs. He still shows some signs that he feels uncomfortable when the puppy approaches him, like turning his head away, avoiding her or moving away, but I’m really happy he is able to make those choices as they tell me is coping much better than he used to, previously he would bark and charge towards something which worried him.

Spencer being brave while the puppy sleeps!
If you’ve got a ‘Spencer’ – a dog that struggles – don’t forget to check out the exciting activities and sessions we’re running specifically for dogs that can’t cope in standard class or workshop settings yet.

Practical skills sessions for dogs that struggle

These group sessions are specifically designed to progress the training you've already started with one of the team, in a safe and secure environment. 

Social skills sessions are designed to help your dog to learn to relax around other dogs and/or people, whether they are a frustrated greeter (I think I want to be your friend) or a wallflower (I want to be alone) 

Social Skills for Dog that Struggle - I want to be alone

Social Skills for Dogs that Struggle - I think I want to be your friend?

Essential Skills is a 4 week class working on some of the core skills required for having more enjoyable walks with your dogs, including; recall, loose lead walking, settle and emergency stop & escape. 

Essential Skills for Dogs That Struggle (4 week class)

Activity classes and workshops, because all dogs deserve to have fun :) 

Activity Foundations for Dogs That Struggle (4 week class) 

Introduction to Sniffing School for Sensitive Dogs 

Parkour Progressions for Sensitive Dogs

Parkour Fundamentals for Sensitive Dogs

Happy training

Clare, Poppy, Spencer, Scout, Summer and Quest 

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

What have you learned from your dog? And what are you going to learn next!

(Blog written by Morag)

The only time you’re not learning is when you’re dead (probably).

At least, that’s certainly what it feels like. Clare has just spent a whole week at a gun dog training camp with Summer, her flat coated retriever. I took the brave step of attending a competition obedience workshop with Laird (yes, the Big Yin) on Sunday with Jo Hill.

Not that either of us are particularly planning to compete in these activities. But despite being fairly successful dog trainers, we are always keen to learn more from the experts. And it’s worth remembering, that the best expert who has the most to teach you is the dog sitting right in front of you…

As we move rapidly towards the open day at the Yorkshire Museum of farming and our 10th birthday celebrations, I wanted to remind you to think about what you have learned or are learning from your dog.

Laird is a wonderful dog. I adore his deep brown eyes, his expressive eyebrows and disreputable a shaggy beard. I am frequently challenged by his enthusiasm, his size, and unerring ability to find any socks left around the house, and his near addictive obsession with tennis balls.

Sometimes, Laird struggles to give things back. He gets conflicted. Between wanting me to play with the toy with him or throw the ball, but not wanting me to steal the item.

What Laird is continuing to teach me is to relax. Breathe. Smile. To love him unconditionally and tell him so, even when he is holding onto and refusing to give something up! When I take the pressure off our relationship, when I give Laird real choices, that’s when the magic starts to blossom.

I get frustrated with my dogs and sometimes I do wonder what I’m doing! But I am doing the best I can with the knowledge I have right now. And my dogs generously offer me new knowledge and information every day of my life.

Please, come and celebrate our 10th anniversary on Saturday 7th September at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, Murton Park between 10am and 3.30pm.

Attending or not, please hit reply to this email now and tell me what are you learning from your dog?

It might be something you’ve learned in training with Well Connected Canine or something totally different. I’d love to know, and I’d love to see pictures of your amazing dogs. Each and every story will be represented on an inspirational poster dotted around our open day, so get typing!

And as we move towards autumn, it’s time to start thinking about our next training goals, classes and workshops. Laird and I have signed up for Clare’s Gun Dog Games to work on that happy retrieve and relinquishment of items.

What are you going to learn with your dog before the end of 2019?

Our autumn classes are now ready to go and we'd love to help you achieve a new training objective.  Weekly classes that are now open for booking

General skills building

Why not master that recall, conquer that nice lead walking or stop that scavenging with one of our three week intensive skillbuilders?

 Book your three week intensive here

For an all round challenge, you can take on the APDT Good Companion Award

Sign up to the challenge

Canine sports and activities

Ever wondered about sniffing like a REAL bomb detector dog?  Try our Sniffing School Detection courses to introduce passive indications into your scentwork challenge

Sniff like a pro here

Take on our Parkour challenge and see how inventive you and your dog can REALLY be?

Show off your skills here

Or build up your canicross skills with our new-look three week courses, all built around specific skills to make you into the sharpest team on the trail

Find your canicross challenge here  

Special classes for special dogs

Not that all our dogs aren't special, but for those who find the normal class set-up a little too much to cope with, we also have another offering of our Essential Skills as well as a new Activity Foundations for Dogs that Struggle (this will be the last block of these class types this year, so do come along and join us if you can)

Book your Essential Skills for Dogs that Struggle place here  

Whatever you decide to do, happy training!

Morag, the collie girls and the big yin