Talking Dogs Scentwork®

Ettie looking out of flat window

Stressed in Scotland? How to observe your dog to find out if, and help her when, she’s stressed.

Had I had time to think, relocating Ettie from a house to a flat might have caused me some anxiety. To have people moving around above, below and across from her might trigger alarm barking. Not having her own garden to toilet in could prove very distracting. And being in a whole new environment, not to mention country, could be a big culture shock. Oh, and not forgetting the long hours of travel to reach our new digs.

Travel stress

As it was, we packed up and headed up to Scotland to stay with my mum who’d had an unexpected spell in hospital. There wasn’t time to worry. We just piled the numerous bags and  beds (so much stuff for just 3 dogs and me!) into the van and headed North. Travel has never been particularly easy for Ettie. Her trip home from the breeders lulled me into a false sense of security, as she slept contentedly for the duration. After that successful drive, I confidently popped her into the van with the other dogs only to discover that she was travel sick. Poor love would throw up during the shortest trips. 

Taking it slowly – literally – I helped her build her tolerance to the movement. Short, slow drives around the block gradually stretched to local walks where she could learn to anticipate the end point of the journey rather than just the swaying of the van that took her there. And so we cracked travel. Or so I thought. 


A few weeks ago we went on a lovely long walk in a new area. Unfortunately, Ettie scoffed some animal droppings, and on our return journey was sick multiple times. Since then her love of travel has somewhat diminished. She still happily jumps into the van but when we start to move she quickly starts to pant and become anxious. Again, we went back to basics. No food before travel. And short trips ending in fun walks. 

Scotland calls!

All was going well. Then Scotland called. The 7 hour drive was going to be challenging for her. After a good run to toilet and tire, we set off. The first hour was great with her watching out of her cage, tired, happy and relaxed. But then the anxiety kicked in. Looking in my rear view mirror I could see her panting and drooling, eyes wide – not a happy girl. Finding the nearest services, I pulled in and ‘rescued’ her from the van. Taking more time than usual, all four of us went for a socially distanced walked around the site. She calmed immediately, too interested in all the comings and goings of the service area to worry about feeling queasy. 

Returning to the van, I decided to put her in the bottom cage so that Ella now had the penthouse view. My thinking was that by reducing the sight of the road and other vehicles flashing past, she might not feel so poorly. So off we set and as hoped, she settled well, not sleeping but not stressing. 2 hours later I heard the speedy panting start up again, so we pulled into the Scotch Corner services to give her another break.

Dog friendly services

I like these services as there is plenty of space to park, green areas to walk the dogs and there’s even a walk just across the road where the girls can go off lead and really stretch their legs. Plus they seem very Covid safe with staff waiting at the door to greet you, limit numbers entering the building and provide sanitiser for everyone. I haven’t see that at any of the other services we’ve visited. 

And this is how our journey North proceeded. Stopping every 90 or so minutes and having a decent walk around before resuming our trip. Following our final stop-off, Ettie went to sleep and was comfortable for the remainder of the journey. Job done! And while we’ve not ventured too far from base, all journeys since have been trouble free. 

Flat stress?

Trouble free is how I would describe her behaviour in the flat too. Much to my surprise, she has been completely unfazed by it. Thinking about it, she’s used to hearing the floorboards creaking upstairs at home. And the close is pretty quiet, with any noise or movement on the other side of the front door being fleeting. Yes, there have been a few grumbles when the seagulls swoop and call outside the window (this most definitely does not happen in Peterborough!) or when there’s a canine kerfuffle in the street, but overall, it’s been uneventful. A surprise and a relief.

Having a barking dog is not ideal when you’re convalescing. But I shouldn’t have worried. She has completely won my mum over. Her cute little face and one up one down earage prompts smiles and laughter. Watching this new friendship blossom is a joy. Who needs a therapy dog when you have little Ettie!

Sociable Scotland

Visiting my old dog walking haunts, I have noticed a difference in attitude. Down South, in my area, we, myself included, are generally more careful about how our dogs meet and mingle. I always call my dogs to me when we see other dogs or people to ensure that any meetings are appropriate. However, up here folks are much more laid back. Walking in the local park on a Saturday morning, there must have been sat least 40 dogs and their people doing the same. Most were off lead, playing with balls or more likely sniffing around, stopping to sniff other dogs and check in with the people to see if there were any spare treats on offer. I found this very stressful! 

I worried about how the other dogs would behave with my girls and I was concerned about my dogs jumping up to say hello to strangers. And I worried that they would practise or even learn bad habits. Granted, there were a few dogs who perhaps shouldn’t be in such a dog dense environment. The reactive shepherd and the scared cocker spaniel weren’t having the best time.

But overall, everyone just muddled along. There was the odd grumble, the odd rise of hackles, but dogs who wanted to socialise together did so, sniffing, posturing and then moving on to the next dog. Some wanted to play while others pretty much ignore their fellow canines preferring to focus on the people instead. And nobody was worried if a wet paw grazed their trousers or if they were followed because they had the best treats. It was accepted that these were dogs and as such their behaviour was normal. 

Dogs will be dogs

Now while I won’t be making any major changes to my own walking routines, it was nice to see everybody – dogs and humans – getting on so well. Perfect behaviour wasn’t expected. On one level I found it rather refreshing. Ettie met more dogs in one hit than at any other time. I kept her on lead when other walkers were close by, but when there was the chance, I let her off to play fetch with Cherry and Ellie. Free running around so many other dogs isn’t something we’ve been able to practise. Never one to miss a training opportunity, when risk assessment allowed, I took my chance. 

Having spent so much time teaching her to play with toys and to retrieve and give up toys to me, I was confident that she would focus more on the games than on the other dogs around. And I was right. (You can teach your dog this skill too on my Support Skills course.) She had a lovely time, running as fast as her tiny paws would take her in order to reach the ball before her ‘sisters’. I was careful not to do this around other dogs who were playing. I’m not convinced that she wouldn’t snatch their toys too! Plus I didn’t want to set up any confrontations over toys. Little Miss Ettie can be a fierce guarder of anything over which she has possession – real or imagined!

Squirrels love Scotland

Experienced laid back Cherry was off lead most. Ella was on lead more than Cherry but less than Ettie. Her restriction was due more to the abundance of squirrels rather than dogs. Sadly – for me – she discovered squirrels about a year ago in Hinchinbrook Park. Since then, her rodent radar has been on high alert in parkland wooded areas. She is very specific, having learned fast where these grey delights are most likely to be found. With the abundance of squirrels in our local park, the chances of avoiding chases were slim, so discretion was the better part of valour. Not only did I not want her to chase them and perhaps get lost, but I didn’t want her to teach Ettie. This is one behaviour that I don’t want them to share. The longer I can keep squirrels secret from Ettie the better. 

Stress-free Scotland

And so our unplanned trip to Scotland has turned out better than I might have predicted. My mum is on the mend, and my girls have stepped up to each new challenge with curiosity and resilience. As time goes on, we are settling into more of a routine. Today they’ve snoozed away while I write, just as they would back home. But this afternoon, they will get to discover another new walk and tackle more Scottish slopes. I wish I had the lung capacity and fitness to bomb up the hills like they do. But like them, I’m embracing our current situation and making the very best of our time in what will always be my true homeland. Time with family is always time well spent.    

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