Teaching the way dogs learn

Firefighting for dogs

Kizim is one of the happiest little sausages I have ever had the honour to meet. She loves to potter in the garden and chill with her human, dog and cat family. She does NOT like drama. And unfamiliar dogs racing towards her in the park looks, to her, a lot like drama.

So why weren’t we training in the park where the drama dogs are?

A friend of mine recently became a firefighter, and I learned a lot about the training process. For weeks on end, you tie knots and position ladders and extend and retract hoses and put breathing apparatus on and run up stairs and slide down poles and crawl through “smoke”-filled rooms and practise and practise and go through assessment after assessment until all those movements are second nature to you. Then, and only then, are you ready to be anywhere near a burning building. Because if there is any chance at all that those skills will fall apart in a high stress environment, you are a danger to yourself and your team.

Kizim is doing the reactive dog equivalent of firefighter training. She will build up her proprioceptive skills and physical confidence, practise targeting her mum’s walking stick and getting behind her on cue and doing 180 degree turns first in a safe, low-stress environment, and then she will do it all again where other dogs are present at a safe distance. If those learned behaviours are not totally do-it-in-your-sleep fluent and joyful, they’ll collapse under stress and the self-preservation behaviours she has used all her life – lunging, barking, pulling – will pop up instead.

We don’t train firefighters in a burning building. And we don’t train reactive dogs in the middle of a crowded dog park.


Canine Pawtonomy offers basic and intermediate training and behavioural work for individuals and small groups across South-East London. If you have a dog, an enquiring mind, plenty of treats and a sense of humour then get in touch - you’ll fit right in!