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Carefully managed paired work with a reactive dog can build confidence at closer distances. It's all about how you set it up.

FIRST, FIND YOUR DOG! Finding a calm, connected dog to work with is the first step, and it can be hard to do! Most of us have friends with dogs, but they don't always tick the Calm, Connected and self-Controlled boxes!

Once you've found a dog who is responsive to his/her mum or dad and who can work calmly without staring at your dog (and they definitely need to not want to approach your dog), then you can set up a meeting.

FIND WHAT FEELS SAFE You don't need a huge amount of space to work in. This is our school yard at Dunholme and is about the size of a tennis court (I think! My days of energetic sports are long gone and I'm not so hot on measurements either...).

DISTANCE AND SNIFF TRAILS CREATE CALM Start both dogs off at a comfortable distance where neither of them show any interest in the other dog and give them each a Sniff Trail. Pay each dog with treats if they offer either handler any connection. You can help them settle by using the Connection Game or the Countdown Game.

MOVEMENT DISPERSES TENSION Let each dog walk around in their area (about a 3m square area is big enough for each dog), using either Ok-releases or the Countdown Game to put movement into the situation until they're comfortable at a safe distance from each other. Muscles can build tension when still, whereas moving calmly and slowly can dissipate any muscular stress.

Don't rush this mooching about stage- they need to be completely comfortable and show very little interest in each other, (apart from the occasional glance across at each other) before moving onto the next steps.

LOOKING IS GOOD! This is probably where most reactive dog training falls apart. A lot of training is based on distracting the dog from triggers, which means that s/he never gets to gather information about them and never gets to learn that other dogs are safe. Using distraction generally happens when people push their dogs to get too close to other dogs, and when they need to distract their dog to stop it reacting. It's a risky strategy. The other dog may get too close for comfort, or may lunge and bark, which can add to a sensitive dog's mistrust of other dogs. Doing this also erodes our dogs trust in us: if we're constantly pushing our dogs to deal with other dogs at distances that make her/him feel threatened, we're not listening to how anxious they feel. And most reactive dogs are highly anxious about other dogs.

DISTANCE, DISTANCE, DISTANCE If we give our dogs safe distance from other dogs and allow them to look at other dogs calmly, then they can start to understand two things: A Other dogs feel safe at a manageable distance. B Our dogs can trust us to keep them safe by not exposing them to other dogs at close distances.

PAIRED WALKING Once the dogs are able to glance at each other safely at distance, you can check to see the sign that they're ready to do some paired walking. If they're taking turns at looking at each other, then they're communicating in fluent, unthreatening ways and this turn-taking is the sign that they're ready to do some parallel walking.

It can be subtle! Some dogs will very briefly glance at the other dog (which is the canine polite way of looking at each other). Some will sniff the ground and glance at each other. Learning to observe and read our dogs really well helps us to notice all these subtle gestures.

SETTING OFF Ideally, have at least one other familiar person ready to walk between the 2 dogs and then set off, at a safe distance, with the person walking between them.

This distance is generally bigger than we think. We don't want our dogs to be staring at us because they need to anchor on us because they can't bear to look at the other dog. We don't want them to have raised tails, stiff bodies and tense faces. We don't want them to be moving quickly, with agitated gestures while panting.

What we want is soft, fluid movement, softly waving tails and soft muscles around the face. If they can be like that, then you've found your safe distance.

SNIFF TRAIL BREAKS Walk up and down once, then give them both a break away from each other using a Sniff Trail or scatter treats on the floor. Keep on paying for any kind of connection they can give you.

Go up and down a few times, with a sniffly break each time, and then end the session.

SHORT AND SWEET Ideally a session should last between 15 and 30 mins. Any longer than that becomes tiring and both dogs are likely to lose at least one of their 3 Cs! Keeping things Calm, Connected and self-Controlled should result in a healthily tired pup who will sleep happily and restfully once home.

Having one of these sessions one a week with one or two other safe dogs can go a long way to building a sensitive dog's confidence.

Jess has done so well that her next step is to join Foundation 2 Classes 😊 She and her mum have a very special bond and are a great team. And Colin was a little star as a buddy-dog 😊🐾 Eryn handled him beautifully.

THINKING-DOG BEHAVIOUR PROGRAMME Contact us for support with reactive dogs on our Thinking-Dog Behaviour Programme. Claire can be contacted at


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