Turid Rugaas

/Turid Rugaas
Turid Rugaas2018-02-05T15:49:12+00:00

Bestselling author and undisputed authority in the field of dog, Turid Rugaas has devoted her life to the welfare of dogs. The Norwegian dog trainer became known for her discovery and description of the calming signals. Turid is a popular speaker and her coach training around the world is fully booked.

Symposium topic: Learning to see the synergy of a dog’s behaviour and his physical limitations.

Turid Rugaas, november 2017 © Dogsymposium Holland

In the old days the only thing you had as a dog trainer, was training. It was not about what your dog was like, or what you were like. Luckily nowadays we are more observant of the complete dog, we look at the whole picture. Turid Rugaas has over 50 years experience in dog training, every 4-5 years there is new research available. Her message: be aware of what a dog is doing and is telling you. There are a lot of things to learn about. Never be afraid of changing your perspective, when it is for the better. If you went to dog school 10-15 years ago, you have to revise your knowledge.

90% of the problems with dogs are physical and learned behaviour. We, people, are very good at teaching a dog the wrong things.
There are still seminars about operant and counter conditioning. You can go on learning about that till you puke: it’s old fashioned and distracts the dog all the time. Having choices is the only way a dog can learn to cope with a situation. Therefore Turid’s mission with dogs is a little different: it has always been to help the dog. And there is so much to learn. We have to practice observing dogs, again and again. You always can get better in that, and specialize, learn about new things. Thanks to modern technology there is a lot of new research available on the brain, bones and muscles of dogs. Use this in your daily work as a dog trainer. See, observe, and find out when a dog needs some more help than training.

Complicated machine

The body of a dog is a complicated machine, lots of parts are working together for the existence and survival of a dog. If one part is failing, it will affect the rest in some way.
Therefore you have to see beyond the pure behaviour, look at the physical and mental state of the dog. Look at the dog’s head, tail, legs, colour, size, ears, fur, sex and breed.
Understand what a dog is bred for. This gives you some important information. Lots of dog owners want to do therapy work and rescue. But no dog was bred to do therapy. A Newfoundlander, for instance, was bred for
water work, pulling. It’s a big breed that walks slowly. A Newfoundlander was not bred for speed, just like a Malamute isn’t. Dog trainers should have knowledge enough about breeds to be able to recognize a type of breed at first sight. That’s why the International and National Dog Trainer Education contain a broad variety of breed studies.

Breeds and behaviour

Every breed has a specific behaviour. Border Collies are bred for herding, an Irish Wolfhound is bred for hunting, Nova Scott Duck Tolling Retrievers make duck sounds to lure their prey. Each dog breed has a specific function, working method, hunting method and therefore a specific behaviour. Don’t try to change that. If you are trying to combine a
Corgi with kids, don’t: they are not bred to be with kids. The type of breed can sometimes give answers to behavioural problems.
The size of a dog gives you information on what to be careful about when growing up. Dogs are not build for long walks and obedience exercises. This gives too much pressure on the joints and shoulders.

Therefore young dogs should not climb stairs, jump or be told to sit. The first two years the muscles of a dog’s body need to develop.
Muscles are build up little by little, from the inside out and step by step. How fast the body of a dog is growing, is indicated by the size of a dog. During this growing period, think carefully about the things you make the dog do physically. Sit commands are not good for young dogs, especially fast growing, heavy dogs. A dog should only sit if he wants to. The joints in a puppy are not properly connected yet, instead there is a lot of soft tissue. A dog that is getting too much sit commands while growing up, will suffer from poorly connected joints. If you train too fast, too much and make your dog do things he is physically not able to, he will develop physical problems.

The importance of free movement

Dogs should be able to move freely as much as possible on different terrains. Avoid walking straight on flat roads, this is not good for the joints. Static walking on a leash should only be practiced to learn how to walk on the leash, and no longer than 5, 10, 15 minutes.
The shoulders of a dog are attached to his body with muscles only, dog’s don’t have a collar bone. That’s why it’s so important to use a harness that’s not harming the shoulders. Too much pressure on the shoulders and stiff movements can cause injuries in muscles, neck, back, everywhere. The tension in a dog’s body has a bad affect on his muscles. Hot or cold spots on a dog’s head can indicate pain in the neck, or image elsewhere. That’s why you have to examine your dog’s head and body regularly.


A good balanced dog is standing straight, has a healthy curve in the neck and back. When they move they have a 4-step trotting gait and easy walking gait. In this walking gait muscles and balance are being build up. Don’t let them play or do intense activities more than a few minutes. A dog has to vary positions by choosing his own free movements. This also builds up confidence, control and coordination in the dogs body. You can use fenced in properties to let the dog move freely and safe. A dog out of balance is not able to move freely, wrong movements cause pain in the muscles. For instance: a dog that has to follow his owner all the time and is forced to look up at him, will have a stiff and painful neck. Dogs cannot keep the upward head position too long, so they will sit to ease the pressure. A bump up or down in the back, at the point where the ribs are stopping, indicates an injury due to wrong exercise.

A leash attached in front of the harness also makes a dog walk crookedly, he will experience tension and pain. Pain always has an effect on the dog’s behaviour. If a dog is in pain you cannot start training. Try to find a massage- or physiotherapist instead.

Complete picture

Observations of a dog must include the physical and mental state of the dog to be able to get a full picture. So, what do we look for and how do we do it? Not by listing to the dog owner, they tend to keep on telling too
much about their dog. Instead we have to observe the dog and look for curiosity, insecurity, fear or learned behaviour. To observe, Turid uses an enriched environment at a place the dog is not familiar with.

The curiosity, insecurity, fear or learned behaviour of a dog are essential elements to find a starting point for making a plan for training. Curiosity is the key to learning, remembering. A curious mind is a healthy mind. The brain lights up like a Christmas tree, that is what it looks like learning new things. You can’t motivate the dog when it’s not motivated by his own curiosity. New places
will trigger the dog’s curiosity. How a dog deals with new things he has never seen or heard, tells something about the way he is looking and checking out new things. Dogs
that don’t dare to be curious are in a state of learned helplessness. They never got the time or chance to figure things out for themselves at a distance. Therefore it is important to give the dog time enough to see, figure out what it is he is looking at. Dogs are hunters by nature and as such the sight is important. Puppies have a different technique to explore new things: they use their mouth to taste new things. Therefore you have to have a plan with puppies, they need a safe environment. If you stop the puppy over and over again, it image destroys them. Don’t make it more complicated than necessary when you use an enriched environment to see how much the dog explores. It can be 100%, 50%, 10% or nothing. A dog that is not curious and not eating, should alarm you. These two things are very natural behaviour. If a dog does neither, there seriously is something wrong.

Case studies

Newfoundlander, male, 1 year old

Newfoudlanders are bred for water work, pulling. It’s a big breed that walks slowly. Newfoundlanders are not bred for speed. They are 100% curious, self confident and overcoming quickly, mentally strong, ready for anything.

His problem: he is a food maniac.

Plan: should be about physical development, free varied movement, keep the dog self confident by searching and tracking and visiting new places. This Newfoundlander is a food maniac, a problem you can deal with practically. There always will be some problems, nobody is perfect.
Dogs are scavengers and looking for food is a normal behaviour. If they find food and nobody stops them, it’s theirs. To solve this food maniac problem, the owners were given the advice to feed the dog in a better way. At least two proper meals a day to fill up the digestive system, instead of keeping the dog searching for little pieces of food. In between meals they
can offer some treat search in addition to the meals.

Golden Retriever, female, 7 months

Golden Retrievers are hunters, they retrieve: go out and pick up birds that are already dead. That’s why retrievers have a soft mouth.
Retrievers do not chase their prey. If they are exited retrievers look for something to carry, so they should be allowed to. They are very good at scavenging, are no guard dogs and often like mud and water.

This dog is out of balance, she spreads her legs while sitting and has difficulties crossing low things. Dogs that experience physical limitations often feel insecure in social situations, they can show unsocial behaviour towards people, dogs or other. The only way to handle with insecurity is looking away when the insecure dog is looking at you: this is learned behaviour.

Plan: In this case the owners have to start with a plan for physical development; building muscles, balance and coordination. They were given the advise to practice crossing low obstacles, walk in water, use a little hill to go up and down and visit new places such as an industrial area. Besides the plan for physical development this dog needs a plan for social development. She has to have freedom of choice, meet one dog at a time and a careful selection of the dog to start with. Remember: choices are
the only way to conquer fear. Don’t mess up with distractions like praise, treats etcetera. Treats should only be used to learn something new, only then and not in case of fear – then it is a disturbing distraction.

Rhodesian Ridgeback mixed with other hunting breed, male, 3-4 years

The Rhodesian Ridgeback mix was bred for hunting and guarding. This dog has lots of bulging muscles, stiff front legs, a low head and is too thin. It indicates this dog had too much static movement. Barking was his problem, according to the owners.
While observing the dog it seemed that barking only was the symptom. The dog was running around the enriched environment area very fast. He had 0 curiosity, was exploring none, he wasn’t even looking. He was running to the fence at everything moving. The dog was totally learned helpless. The barking only was redirected behaviour; an outlet for stress, physical pain and never been allowed to be curious. Other dogs that are learned helpless can bite, role around, etcetera.

Plan: This dog should be allowed to sniff and explore. He has to walk slowly on varied terrain. The owners have to change half of his walks to nosework (treat search) and make an appointment for a physical check up: massage, physiotherapist and maybe a pain killer. A hanging head often is an indication of headache. Skeleton damage in an adult dog cannot be healed, you only can try to ease the pain and discomfort. Try to make life more comfortable and pleasant.

English Bulldog, male, 2 years old

The problem according to the owners of this English Bulldog, a breed designed for bull-baiting: he was nibbling them when he was out of his crate.

Observation: this dog moved slowly, was mostly walking, and changed to trotting very fast. He avoided contact with his family (parents and children), was afraid of the objects in the enriched environment, it took him 5 times to get to the objects and needed rest in between. But: he never gave up and got braver when he started to conquer his fears.

Plan: the owners were asked to stop having him crated. This dog needed to move much more, explore new places twice a week and needed mental stimulation. He stopped nibbling two days after the owners stopped using the crate. Two months later he was a happy, outgoing dog.

Pincher, male, 10 months old

This Pincher, originally bred for ‘pest’ control (mouse, rat, etcetera) lived in a very sterile apartment. There was no toy or anything on the floor. The problem according to his owners was that he got hysterical near other dogs while walking.

Observation: this dog had no physical problems, but was very stressed. He was running around looking for something to do, checking handbags.
Plan: give the dog something to do. The first dog toy he got made him happy: he grabbed it, carried it around, pushed it around the floor with his nose. Other homework: go out to get more toys, do some treat search inside and outside every day, find another dog to take walks with. This dog just wanted to be together with other dogs and needed something to do. It was not more complicated than that.

German Shepherd, male, 3 years old

This German Shepherd, a dog that was breed to herd, was aggressive according to people. Observation: this dog was in severe pain. His neck and back were hurting, hot spots in his face indicated he had a headache caused by bicycling and having to look up at people. His hind legs were a little apart, he had no balance enough to lift a leg. At first he was pacing, he never sat down, never scratched himself or rolled around and did not chew. The pain in his back affected his chewing muscles. The dog was very curious, but asked permission for everything. He was sweet, gentle and needed space.

Plan: free movements around the farm, no commands, no petting, using a harness instead of a collar and keep an eye on drinking. This dog did drink a lot, which can be a signal of diabetes or stress. Short walks on a leash, 15- 20 minutes walking slow, 10-15 minutes exploring new places. He was given teddy bears, treat search and toys. And got massaged, laser therapy, went to a chiropractor and was given pain killers. His curiosity bloomed, he
developed very fast. Drinking became normal, he could lift his head. He trotted more, was pacing less and could scratch himself. After three years he was able to jump obstacles.

© Images: Peter Steiner, Turid Rugaas, Winkie Spiers