We’re sitting in Central London with Oli Juste, one of London’s most colourful and prominent dog trainers. It’s flat whites and dessert biscuits all round as we get on to today’s topic of conversation: creating a ‘safe space’ for your four-legged friend, a concept that Oli cares passionately about.
Working for many years across London as a dog behaviourist, dog trainer and all-round pup expert has gifted Oli with invaluable experience. Interestingly, the idea of a safe space has become priority teaching. Deftly lifting the foam from his coffee like a true Frenchman, he launches in: “Having a safe space is essential for everyone,” he earnestly advises, “I mean for everyone, both human and hound. Everyone should have a single space, where they can properly relax and be themselves.”
We were fascinated to understand how our pets could always have this kind of space at hand – both at home and out and about. Oli explains that a safe space is a place where your dog (and by extension, other pets) should be able to feel completely safe. For people, our homes are usually a safe space, focusing on beds, favourite armchairs or chill-out areas where we can completely wind down, uninterrupted and unrestricted by social etiquettes, anxieties and general hustle and bustle. “The same goes for dogs!”, Oli chuckles. “And like us, it’s important that dogs choose their own safe spaces, somewhere they can sleep without disturbance, with no risk of feeling vulnerable.” He continues, “beds are great safe spaces for dogs, like a crate that feels like a den. It’s private and they can sleep with their favourite blankie or toy, which they then associate with feeling safe.”
But, we wonder, what about when you go out and about with your dog? “It’s really important that you, as the owner, become your dog’s safe space,” Oli expertly advises, “so your dog never feels vulnerable and can completely rely on you.” Oli explains that developing this relationship depends on trust and involves a lot of teamwork. “Dogs are very chatty creatures,” he smiles, “and it is important to have a conversation with them to learn how to read each other’s behaviour.” Earning your dog’s trust is key to becoming their safe place and also helps to manage their behaviour when out and about. Oli gives the example of going to the park. Just like us when we encounter new or unfamiliar environments, dogs will do a mental risk assessment: Do I feel safe? Where do I want to go here? Who do I want to speak to? Nervous dogs won’t enjoy encountering more aggressive or vocal pooches. As your dog’s safe space, you’ll have assessed what makes them feel a certain way and manage their feelings accordingly by not putting them into situations where they feel vulnerable, scared, angry or anxious.
Becoming the safe space is also beneficial for when you bring your dog on holidays and weekends away – it’s all part of a pet-friendly lifestyle. “Going to and staying in new places can lead some dogs to feel anxious,” Oli says, “which is perfectly normal and completely understandable, of course.” But there are a few simple steps you can follow that will really help make sure that your pup feels comfortable by your side. So no matter where you go together, wherever your pet-friendly adventures lead, you’ll both thoroughly enjoy exploring out and about together.
Becoming your dog’s safe space
Especially for All Four Paws, Oli gives us some of his top tips for going away with your dog:
- Start by creating a safe space at home
- Try to bring part of the safe space with you when you travel, something like a blanket, that your pup associates with the safety and comfort of home
- Keep the same rules in your hotel room as you have at home
- Introduce your dog to the new room properly; while humans live in a world of colour, dogs live in world of scent, so let pup sniff around first
- Make sure you have the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door at all times when in the room with your dog, so no staff can come in and surprise your dog, and your dog won’t frighten/surprise the staff
Creating, and also becoming, a safe space involves a lot of positive reinforcement, something that Oli believes in strongly. “Trust is absolutely imperative,” he stresses, “and so is a constant assessment of your dog’s behaviour.” As a professional dog trainer and behavioural coach, it’s evident that a massive part of Oli’s job is elicitation. Eliciting responses from an owner around their dog’s behaviour is all part of helping human and hound’s relationship and forms a deep and mutual understanding – and works towards becoming the safe space.
And there are so many benefits towards creating that safe space. “First and foremost, you’ve got a much happier dog!” Oli says. Drawing on past and present experiences, he describes how safe spaces really do encourage dogs to feel safer, less vulnerable and ultimately more likely to cope with new situations effectively. As a parting piece of advice, Oli adds, “remember, if your dog feels really uncomfortable, ‘exit stage left’ and leave the situation, just like you would for a child, so you’re not putting any unwanted stress on your four-legged friend.”
For dogs young and old, the safe space presents so many useful benefits – both at home and away. And it’s never too late to start. For more information on Oli, head over to his website which is jam packed with helpful videos and blogs.